There’s so much to see and do as festival season heats up in Waterloo Region

by Ian Shantz | UPDATED June 2024

Summer in Ontario has forever been the season for those quintessential festivals, a chance to get out and celebrate the best of what’s around. 

Waterloo Region is brimming with a diverse range of events symbolic of the people and places that shape the area’s identity. The only issue will be finding enough room on your calendar! 

From popular mainstays such as the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival to newcomers like Art Hop and Caribana Ignite, there are numerous ways to get out and play over the coming weeks and months.

Waterloo Region’s proximity to the GTA and surrounding areas makes it an instant, year-round favourite for road-trippers and locals alike. With Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge located minutes apart and the region’s four townships easy to access, visitors can easily fill their day or weekend with an assortment of experiences.    

We’ve put together a quick-hit guide of the festivals set to heat up Waterloo Region this summer. All that’s left for you to do is show up and enjoy!


Downtown Kitchener Ribfest & Craft Beer Show, July 19-21

This saucy event has been attracting messy-faced visitors for 20 years this summer. Running July 19-21 in the downtown jewel that is Victoria Park, this free event is a community favourite and a well-oiled machine. Mouth-watering barbecued ribs and chicken, some 20 craft beers, most of which are local, daily live entertainment and the Kids Fun Zone make this event an instant hit each year. Eventgoers are encouraged to bring donations for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. Those under age 19 must be accompanied by an adult. Chestnut Park in the Park VIP Zone passes are available, granting special access and souvenirs. Gates open at noon on Friday and close at 6 p.m. on Sunday. 

Cambridge Ribfest & Craft Beer ShowAug. 9-11

An event so nice you could do it twice. The Cambridge Ribfest & Craft Beer Show mirrors what is offered by its Kitchener neighbour but with a later date. Held in beautiful Riverside Park, the event is in support of Rotary Cambridge Sunrise. Several Cambridge breweries highlight the list of brews on offer at this marquee regional event, attracts 25,000 people annually. There is no admission fee, however, donations to Rotary Cambridge Sunrise will be accepted at the gate. The event starts at noon on Friday and ends at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, Saturday, Sept. 28

Get to know your ABCs at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, a festival mainstay in the region and the perfect foodie event to bookend the summer. Not surprisingly, the festival puts a spotlight on the popular Wellesley brand apple products which includes apple butter and apple cider.
There’s much more on offer, however, at this Wellesley Township festival, which drew inspiration from the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival and New Hamburg Quilt Auction when it was formed in 1976. Food, craft and specialty vendors set up in the village, including the Queens Bush Road street mall, on the final Saturday in September. Limited edition die-cast model trucks are available for purchase at the festival, attracting avid toy collectors from all over, while the annual horseshoe tournament is a crowd-pleaser. Don’t miss the pancake breakfast that kicks off the festival bright and early at 7am!


Kultrún World Music Festival, July 12-14

Kultrún, our signature event, is a free outdoor festival celebrating the music of the world.

The Kultrún World Music Festival has been dubbed the region’s largest annual outdoor dance party and is produced by Neruda Arts. This festival is a free, family-friendly event that attracts both visitors and residents alike. Kultrún brings together top talent from around the world to help celebrate diversity. It’s a festival that continues to grow every year: in fact, this year Kultrún is moving to a new, bigger location to make room for all of the dancing. Join in the celebrations as Kultrún takes over Waterloo Park in 2024!

Sun Life Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, July 19-21

If there’s a festival that needs no introduction, it’s the Sun Life Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival. This event draws thousands to Uptown Waterloo for performances from award-winning jazz musicians. Canadian singer-songwriter Laila Biali is the scheduled headliner on Friday, July 19, followed by headliner and multi-Juno Award winner Hilario Duran & His Latin Jazz Big Band on Saturday night. The weekend event will wrap up with a 3 p.m. performance by the Canadian Jazz Collective on Sunday. The three-day festival runs in the Waterloo City Centre parking lot across from Willis Way, 100 Regina St. S. There is no admission charge. 

Kitchener Blues Festival, Aug. 8-11

This event’s musical landscape has shifted in recent years, gearing more to a younger audience. As the TD Kitchener Blues Festival prepares to enter its 24th year it will do so as a perennial powerhouse among the region’s summer events. The festival has been touted as the biggest free-admission blues festival in Canada, drawing up to 150,000 people to downtown Kitchener. And with good reason. The demographic has gone from predominantly a 50-plus crowd to mostly 30- to 50-year-olds in recent years and this year’s lineup is reflective of that, according to artistic director Claude Cloutier. Among the more than 60 acts set to hit five downtown Kitchener stages over the weekend will be ’90s hitmaker Collin James, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The entire 4-day lineup can be found on the Blues Festival website.


Cambridge Scottish Festival, July 14-15

Be glad in plaid at the Cambridge Scottish Festival, which has been celebrating Scottish culture and heritage for more than four decades. This year’s festival will once again take place at Churchill Park, 200 Christopher Dr., Cambridge, where it returned last year after a two-year hiatus. Bagpipes and drums will be prevalent throughout the two-day affair, highlighted by its Games Day featuring pipe bands, dancers and athletes from across the province and beyond. Visitors can learn about Scottish heritage in the festival’s ‘Avenue of the Clans’ and the Heritage Tent, while exhibitors and vendors including a beer tent and a variety of food will round it all out. The Friday concert featuring the Mudmen starts at 7 p.m. There is free parking on site.

Moparfest, Aug. 17-18

Car culture lives in the fast lane at the annual Moparfest at the New Hamburg Community Centre (251 Jacob St.). This will mark the 43rd edition of the summer staple in Wilmot Township. Regarded as Canada’s largest all-Mopar car show, Moparfest is a festival for all ages and backgrounds. While car enthusiasts flock to this event from all over each year, being a car buff is not a requirement. Aside from access to the car show and an abundance of car-related activities, there is a non-automotive market, 50/50 draws, a kids’ area, a silent auction table and food trucks. The show is open both days from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., General admission is $20 and there is no admission fee for children under 12. Free parking and a free shuttle are included. 

Caribana Ignite Aug. 21-25

Waterloo Region’s newest festival is Caribana Ignite – and it promises to add heat to your summer! Experience the vibrancy of Caribbean heritage, and celebrate the legacy, culture, and spirit of the Caribbean diaspora.
Carl Zehrs Square in Downtown Kitchener will be transformed into Carnival Village, where you can enjoy the diversity of Caribbean culture and arts. Caribana Ignite will feature a stunning street theatre presentation and street party that showcases the true essence of carnival. The festival’s kickoff features a Glow Party: there’s also a performing arts showcase, a comedy night, concerts and night parties.

Waterloo Busker Carnival, Aug. 22-25 

The Sun Life Waterloo Busker Carnival juggled a two-year absence due to the pandemic before returning last year. This year, the not-for-profit, volunteer driving carnival is marking more than three-and-a-half decades of entertaining families in the Waterloo Region with acrobats, contortion, comedy and fire-breathers wowing festivalgoers at the popular carnival. Vendors include a variety of crafts as well as international food, while midway games and a Ferris wheel have previously been part of this family-friendly festival. There is no admission fee to the carnival. While the participating artists receive some travel assistance, they are not paid by the carnival and make their living on the tips they receive. After each show, the artists will “pass the hat” for tips and donations. While you’re at the festival take some time to stop at the vendors to enjoy some international foods and do some shopping.

Lumen, Sept. 21

In an area known as Silicon Valley North, it seems only right there would be a festival that features the city’s tech innovation side, while also celebrating the arts. Light, art and tech meet at Lumen, a one-night festival that takes over Uptown Waterloo.

Featuring light-based new media, media art and projections-based work, Lumen’s installations will feature the work of artists using various mediums and incorporating technology platforms to “explore the exchange between technology and creativity.” The festival aims to celebrate the public spaces in Uptown Waterloo and animate them in ways that invite visitors to explore the city through a new lens. Lumen features the work of local and international artists, entrepreneurs, and technology. More than 30 artists will be showcased during Lumen, which runs Saturday, Sept. 21 from 6-11 p.m. This is the eighth year for the festival: watch the website for the full schedule of events. 

Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest Sept. 27-Oct.19

Although it’s not officially a summer festival, tickets for many festhallen and events that are part of Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest are already on sale – and sell out quickly. So summer is the perfect time to do some planning to ensure you’re ready to take in the vibe that is Gemutlicheit come fall!
Get ready to don your ‘tracht’, raise a stein, polka around, and enjoy delicious Bavarian cuisine from Waterloo Region’s German Clubs and local restaurants! Here’s to good times and good cheer, and to celebrating the 56th annual Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest – PROST!


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