A Weekend Guide to Waterloo with Kids, today we’re sharing our favorite family attractions in Cambridge, Waterloo and St. Jacob’s Ontario.
What to do in Waterloo Ontario with Kids
We spend nearly every Easter and Thanksgiving visiting family in Waterloo, so we thought it was about time we explored what else the city has to offer beyond my aunt’s house!
Waterloo is often lumped in with Kitchener – it’s big sister city – but it has a rich culture all of it’s own and many family-friendly offerings. We didn’t even get to visit all of the places on our list (so we will definitely have to head back soon).
Cambridge and St Jacobs are smaller cities located within the Waterloo Region and the activities offered in each area are super close, so this list is a mix of family attractions from each city – showing the diversity of offerings in the Waterloo Region.
My daughter was amazed at the bevy of horse-drawn carriages in the area, as there is still a vibrant and strong Mennonite community, and it provided a great opportunity to learn about how multicultural Canada is and how each of those cultures help contribute to our country. Being able to visit Mennonite businesses and interact with the women who ran the shops was wonderful for allowing her to experience how we all exist and thrive in community together.
None of the activities listed here are just for the kids – because that’s not my idea of a family vacation. We brought my mom with us (as a Mother’s Day road trip) and all three of us enjoyed all of the attractions that we visited.
Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory Review
The butterfly conservatory was my personal favorite stop on our trip – so it gets top billing!
A lush, tropical paradise – stepping into the butterfly area was like being transported to the rainforest (without any risks of encountering other rainforest animals…)
Thousands of butterflies freely roam in the room, which also features a tranquil waterfall, lush floral landscaping, and educational activities for the kids.
Outside of the butterfly room, there are other insects on exhibit – from scorpions and tarantulas, to stick bugs and beetles! I was even allowed to hold a stick bug, and there was a parrot that we got to interact with.
Ella loved the sensory bin on offer full of meal worms, and it was absolutely magical walking around and having the air filled with butterflies – and even having them briefly land on us! (This happens even more on sunny days.)
The butterfly conservatory also has additional activities for the kids in the summer (like scavenger hunts, games, and educational presentations) and a small cafe that also hosts events like Mother’s Day brunches.
I wasn’t expecting the experience to be so educational and was blown away by the knowledge and passion for all things entomology by the staff and volunteers. They dispelled some myths about scorpions and tarantulas that we had and gave us a newfound appreciation for some of the under-appreciated bugs of the world, like cockroaches! I also was really surprised to learn about how controversial (and damaging to our environment) the sale of butterfly kits can be and they provided a great alternative of planting a butterfly garden so that you can naturally attract butterflies to your yard and help provide the plants that they need to survive and thrive.
Waterloo Central Railway
The Waterloo Central Railway experience is a scenic train ride from St Jacob’s Market to Elmira, Ontario with stops for you to get off and explore St. Jacob’s Village.
The train is old-fashioned and charming, with volunteers who are knowledgable about trains and the area, and the ride provides some amazing views of the Waterloo Region countryside.
My daughter isn’t a huge trains fan (which I wish I knew before I made her a homemade train table years ago...) but she said this was one of her top two activities that we did on our weekend, so if you have a child who loves trains this is a solid bet!
(Just be sure to let the staff know which stop you want to get off on as it’s not like a traditional train where the stops are called out.)
Waterloo Pioneer Memorial Tower
We ran out of time to visit Doon Pioneer Village, but a quick Google search resulted in finding this gem!
My daughter was thrilled that WE FOUND RAPUNZEL’S TOWER (!!!) while my mom enjoyed the views of the river and exploring the (very old) mini cemetery that was located close by.
There was also a small playground right beside the field with the Lookout Tower, so Ella ran off some energy there before we got in the car to head home.
This would be a great spot to bring any picnic items that you may pick up at St Jacob’s Market (or there are some fast food joints close-by).
St Jacob’s Market
The largest year-round market in Canada, St Jacob’s Market has a variety of offerings: from handmade goods like the hand-woven basket Ella carefully picked out, to antiques, to garden supplies, to fresh fruits and vegetables, hot lunch offerings and pantry staples (homemade jams, hummus, pitas) and lots and lots of baked goods.
We treated ourselves to several of the baked goods – fresh scones, sausage in a bun, homemade soft pretzels, pink bread (naturally colored from beet, carrot and apple), mini donuts and chocolate eclairs. And to balance it out, we also hit up the vegetable stands for some amazing tomatoes, green beans, pears and plums. (I don’t think I can call potatoes amazing – but we got some of those, too!)
We spent over two hours exploring the market and there were still several stalls that we didn’t get to see. It’s a great place to get some unique gifts, grab some lunch, and maybe pick up some groceries or plan your garden.
(There’s also an antiques market next door and an outlet mall across the street – so depending on the type of shopper you are, you could easily spend a day exploring the three!)
St Jacob’s Village
We took the train from St Jacob’s Market to St Jacob’s Village, though it is completely accessible by car. (The train was just more fun!)
I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to pay for parking at any of the locations we visited so there were no hidden costs in our weekend.
St Jacob’s Village is a small shopping area filled with unique stores offering everything from handmade brooms and wizard’s wands, to hand-thrown pottery and just about anything with a Scottish tartan!
The church bells ring every hour, adding to the charm, and nearly every store elicited oohs and aahs from us as we discovered treasure after treasure. We spent over three hours in the area and we still didn’t get to see all the shops.
Our favorites that we got to see were Hamel’s Brooms (where Ella was able to watch her broom being made and we also picked up a couple of handmade wooden wands for good measure), Algonquin Vibes, and Toy Soup – an amazing toy store in an old church! I have never been in such a gorgeous toy shop and there were offerings for every interest and budget. (We scooped up the unicorn horns in the picture above and wore them the rest of the time we were walking around St. Jacob’s… with my mom considerably further ahead of us, pretending not to know us.)
We ate lunch at Jacob’s Grill which was phenomenal and highly recommended. When I ordered the nachos (with pico de gallo, 3 cheese blend, and lime creme fraiche drizzle) I was not expecting the tower of nachos that arrived! The broth for the Mussels was good enough to eat on it’s own, and I really enjoyed my meal of Cashew-Crusted Salmon while Ella had an order of the Fish and Chips.
While Jacob’s Grill has a delicious-looking dessert menu, you also have the option of heading to the Stone Crock Bakery next door which had pies, buttertarts and cookies on offer, along with homemade jams and breads to take home.
Back in Waterloo, you can grab lunch or supper at Beertown (which has now franchised and has 3 other locations in London, Burlington and Cambridge).
We popped in and were pleasantly surprised at the number of vegan and gluten-free options. My mom tries to eat gluten-free and I often struggle to come up with restaurants that both my vegan friends and I would both enjoy, so Beertown would be a great choice for any party with mixed dietary needs because no one needs to compromise here!
I tried a couple of the vegan offerings just to see (because if I – as a meat-eater – think they are tasty, then you know it’s good) and I actually enjoyed their vegan faux tacos more than their regular fish tacos! There was nothing lacking in texture and taste. I didn’t like the vegan chick’n pad thai as much, but the shared gluten-free Warm Spinach Artichoke Pot was perfection and we were all vying for last bites of the Sweet Board (warm sticky toffee pudding topped with vanilla ice cream, raspberry white chocolate cheesecake, and a Beertown brownie). I will definitely be back for those vegan fish tacos and warm sticky toffee pudding… I’m already craving it now!
Other Waterloo Family Attractions:
We didn’t get to experience these attractions while visiting the area, so I can’t vet them for sure – but they all sound promising and fun! We’ll definitely have to check them out on our next visit.
Doon Heritage Village in Waterloo
Fashion History Museum in Cambridge
Afternoon Tea at Langdon Hall in Cambridge
St. Jacob’s Country Playhouse in St. Jacob’s
Chicopee Tube Park in Cambridge
Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario in St Jacob’s
We hope this guide helps you with planning your own weekend in Waterloo with kids!