Winnipeg is a vibrant mid-sized city of just over 700,000 people that has managed to wow most of its unsuspecting visitors (including me). It may be right in the middle of Canada, but this city does its best to make the most out of its geographically unique and historically important location – right at the intersection of the Assiniboine and Red rivers.
As the largest urban center in the province of Manitoba, Winnipeg is well known for creating an important niche where locals and travelers can learn and enjoy the arts, its local culture, and the countless miles of the unspoiled nature that surrounds it.
From its indigenous roots to its modern development, Winnipeg has evolved into a destination that shares stories of its past in sync with its visions for the future.
Here I share how to plan your trip to Winnipeg and everything you must do to enjoy the best the city has to offer.
Arriving in Winnipeg
The most common way to reach Winnipeg is by flying to its international airport. You can check for the cheapest airfare to Winnipeg on Kayak and Skyscanner.
You can also check on the airport’s Wikipedia page which airlines there and from which destinations.
Alternatively, if you’re doing a trans-Canadian road trip, you can reach the city via Road 1 from the Ontario Province on the east or Saskatchewan Province on the west. Americans can drive north from Minnesota or North Dakota, which are less than two hours away from the city.
Buses from all over Canada and even the US are also a good option to reach Winnipeg. You can check bus rates and schedules here.
You can also reach the city by train with VIA Rail. The train station is right in the city center, which is very convenient for anyone looking for easy access to the most popular areas in the city.
When to Go to Winnipeg
In my opinion, the best time to visit Winnipeg is during the summer when it is warm and the weather is perfect to do all kinds of outdoor activities like canoeing, hiking, camping in its many provincial parks – like the popular Whiteshell Provincial Park which is less than two hours away from the city. This is also the best time to do many day trips across Manitoba.
Winnipeg is blessed to be surrounded by so many great provincial parks that you could spend weeks exploring the region and still find new things to do every week.
Summer is also great for events and festivals. In July you have the Winnipeg Folk Festival and in August there is the Folklorama Festival which is Canada’s largest and longest-running multicultural event.
If you’re looking to see Beluga whales, you could do side trips from Winnipeg to Churchill during July and August, or head up there in October and November if you’re looking to see Polar bears in their natural habitat.
Late fall, winter, and early spring are perfect to see the northern lights and do other winter activities like ice skating on the river, cross country skiing, and more.
There is also the Winter Wonderland display, which is Manitoba’s largest drive-thru light show. It provides a brilliant presentation of over one million lights in 26 different theme areas. It also has a skating rink and Horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Have in mind that winter in Winnipeg is really cold, to the point of its rivers freezing enough for you to skate on them, so bundle up! But hey, winter is also fun!
Where To Stay in Winnipeg
In my opinion, the best places to say are the Forks and the Exchange District. These are two of the most central, active, and historically significant regions in the city.
With over 6,000 years of history, The Forks is the historic center of Winnipeg. This is where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River, a convenient trading and gathering point for indigenous people, traders, early settlers, and still to this day, locals and tourists alike.
On the other hand, the Exchange District is considered one of Canada’s architectural marvel. This charming 20-block district boasts some of the best examples of turn-of-the-20th-century buildings, making it one of the most beautiful districts in the city. It is full of restaurants, bistros, shops, galleries, and hotels.
I stayed at the Inn at the Forks right in The Forks park, which in my opinion, is the perfect spot to stay at since you’re right there in the middle of everything.
You have the park on your doorstep, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights behind it, the historic river meeting point just steps away, and dozens of shops and restaurants a stone throw away.
For me, location, location, location is one of the most important things I require when looking for accommodation, and the Inn at the Forks is the definition of an excellent location. And of course, the hotel’s contemporary décor and comfy rooms do add to the experience.
Moving Around Winnipeg
Winnipeg’s public transportation is not the best, but there are many ways to move around the city easily. Most downtown attractions and central neighborhoods are walkable within 25 minutes of The Forks and Exchange District.
Some hotels, like in the case of the Inn at the Forks, do offer complimentary bikes to move around, but, should your hotel not have any, you can rent them with White Pine Bicycle Co. Winnipeg is flat, so biking around is a breeze!
There’s no Uber in Winnipeg, but the city has its own “Uber” made by one of their local taxi companies. You can download the Unicity Taxi app beforehand so you can order a taxi the same way you order an Uber. Their fares are decent.
Using the app is preferred to hailing a taxi on the street as there are not that many taxies roaming around at all hours.
Additionally, at The Forks, you can catch the free Downtown Spirit transit bus to help you get to the best restaurants, shops, and sights all over downtown. You can check their routes here.
You can also take the free Assiniboine Park Trolley shuttle that takes you to and around Assiniboine Park and its zoo. This service runs in July and August only. You can check the schedule and routes on this page.
If you’re staying at The Forks or near the river, also consider taking the Splash Dash water bus which will help you get to different neighborhoods via the water. This service runs in July and August only. It costs $4 CAD each way or $20 CAD for a day pass and accepts cash only.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss Doing in Winnipeg
No matter when you go to Winnipeg, what kind of traveler you are, and which type of activities you love, you’ll find dozens of things to do that’ll keep you busy and entertained for days. Here are some of the top things to do in Winnipeg.
1. Get Up-close to the Wild with the FortWhyte Alive Buffalo Safari
This might be my favorite activity there as it was the first time I saw a buffalo! ForthWhite Alive has six hundred-forty acres of pristine prairie that serve as a natural oasis just south of the city.
A fun fact is that part of FortWhyte used to be a cement quarry that was later flooded to create a series of lakes and hiking trails. Take some time to bike or hike several of its trails.
It is here where you can see North America’s largest animal, the bison/buffalo, roam in its natural habitat. You can do a short safari that takes you up-close to the bison herd.
During winter you can also go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on its many trails.
2. Go Canoeing on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers
The guys at Twin River Travel were pretty amazing at showing me the city from a different perspective; that is, from the water!
You can do a sunset trip canoeing along the Red River and a bit of the Assiniboine River. From there you can see some of the most iconic buildings in the city like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Esplanade Riel, the St. Boniface Cathedral Basilica, and more.
Along the way, they gave me some historical background of the city, which made the canoeing ride even more interesting. We started and ended our trip right at The Forks, where we also took some time to enjoy a few beers right on the park square.
Twin River Travel doesn’t have a set schedule for this trip, but you can inquire with them if you’re interested in doing it.
3. Do a Helicopter Ride Over the City
Wish to see the city from above? Enjoy an exciting flight over downtown Winnipeg in a four-passenger Bell 206 Jet Ranger Helicopter. This 15-minutes long tour departs from the airport and will show you the beauty of the city from a different perspective.
This tour operates year-round.
4. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Chances are you’ve already seen this building several times when searching for information about Winnipeg.
With its unusual curved shape and glass spire that dominates the Winnipeg skyline and its series twisted interior white-alabaster ramps, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has the most iconic building in the city and in my opinion one of the best museums there too.
Designed by architect Antione Predock, this museum creates an immersive experience with the blending of its architecture and its 11 powerful, interactive and awe-inspiring exhibits that gradually climb to the museum’s pinnacle, the Tower of Hope.
Start your journey from the dark and heavy base of the museum, traverse its twisted bridges and ramps as they zig-zag between each exhibit, until you reach the top of the tower, from where you’ll get a stunning view of the city.
Each exhibit is excellently curated to show the human experience around the world and foster dialogue to promote change for a better world.
Want to know a fun fact? This museum is now shown on the back face of the Canadian $10 note.
Also, the museum offers free admission to its 11 galleries on the first Wednesday of the month from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. All other Wednesdays it is just $5 CAD after 5:00 pm.
5. Take a Journey to Churchill at the Assiniboine Park Zoo
The Assiniboine Park is a great spot to reconnect with nature as you explore its kilometers of trails, green spaces, gorgeous pavilions, and gardens – including the popular English Gardens.
But beyond being just a park, there’s also a Nature Playground with colorful slides, swings, and tunnels; and the Lyric Theatre, often used during the summer for concerts and other events.
There’s also the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden with its amazing sculptural craftsmanship, and then there’s the zoo – which is the park’s highlight for most people.
While I’m not a fan of zoos, I have to say that the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Journey to Churchill section is worth visiting if you’re looking forward to seeing up-close a few polar bears and seals.
These polar bears are the main attractions of the zoo. Watch these majestic mammals dive, swim, and frolic above you through the exhibit’s glass dome. You’ll feel like you’re underwater with them. Well, technically you are!
Other animals at the zoo are muskox, wolves, moose, and some rare animals like red pandas and snow leopards, along with over 200 other species.
The zoo also has Stingray Beach, which is a pool where you can interact and feed these amazing creatures.
6. Have a Chill Time at The Forks
With over 6,000 years of history, The Forks is the long-standing beating heart of Winnipeg. This is where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet – a crucial gathering place for people since its inception.
Today, it is still Winnipeg’s center, and where many locals love to go to either spend a chill time on its park or a social time eating and drinking in one of its many restaurants and cafes.
Across its 54 acres you’ll find a bustling central market, exceptional dining, great indoor and outdoor spots to drink, and a series of treelined paths overlooking the riverbank. There is also a world-class skate park, a children’s play area and water park.
During winter, it hosts one of the world’s longest skating rinks.
From the park, you’ll also see not only the iconic structure that is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, but also the Esplanade Riel, one of the most recognized symbols of the city.
This bridge connects The Forks with the city’s French Quarter along its 250-meter long pedestrian path full of imprinted patterns representing the diversity of Winnipeg’s cultural origins. The bridge has a French cuisine restaurant, the Mon Amis Louis Brasserie.
Right at The Forks, there’s also the Children’s Museum, The Forks Market and the old Johnston Terminal, both with so many delicious restaurants, food stalls, and several shops.
Climb to the top of the Forks Market glass tower to get a panoramic view of the city, sit inside the Oodena Celebration Circle, take a boat tour to see it all from a different perspective, or just sit outside on the park’s steps and drink a beer from The Commons.
However you vibe, you’ll find that The Forks is certainly a place you can’t miss.
7. Go Back in History at the Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park
The Upper Fort Garry National Historic Site is one of Winnipeg’s newest attractions, yet it is located at one of its oldest sites. In fact, it is known as the birthplace of Winnipeg.
As you explore the fort with the use of its informative and interactive app, don’t forget to stand under the fort’s 168-year-old gate arch, the only structure to have survived the fort’s dismantling.
See history come to life along the 440-foot weathering steel Heritage Wall, which is Canada’s largest free-standing public art installation. This interpretative wall uses light and sound to illustrate episodes of Manitoba’s thousand-year history.
8. Do the Hermetic Code Tour at the Manitoba Legislative Building
The Manitoba Legislative Building might look like just another legislative building, but it is here where history, politics, and mystique intersect. Designed by a Freemason architect, the building boasts many secrets hidden in plain sight.
Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour or book a free guided experience to gain deeper insight into the legislative process and history of this iconic building.
The grandiose interior of this building is studded with hieroglyphics, numeric codes and Freemasonic symbols, all of which are unveiled in the Hermetic Code Tour. On the top of the building is Winnipeg’s most beloved citizen: the beaming Golden Boy. It is their nod to Hermes holding a sheath of wheat.
9. Explore The Manitoba Museum
From the towering dinosaurs of the cretaceous period to the buffalo-laden prairie plains to the cosmos, the Manitoba Museum offers an expansive history of the natural and historical environment that has created and shaped Manitoba.
I recommend seeing the 45-minute long planetarium’s show as it is quite educational and visually impressive. Don’t miss seeing the Nonsuch Gallery, where you’ll see the Nonsuch ship. Nonsuch was originally built as a merchant ship in 1650. The name refers to “none such,” meaning “unequaled.”
10. Feel the Weight of Gold at the Royal Canadian Mint
You can have a guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint not only to learn about the minting process of money but also to have the unique experience of holding a $600,000 gold bar.
You’ll also see the Olympic gold medals that were made for Vancouver 2010, and witnessing thousands of coins being produced for over 70 different countries.
11. Relax at Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature
Take a break from sightseeing to relax at Thermëa. This spa is a bit of Scandinavia in the heart of Canada. Soak in the thermal pools, indulge your sense in its Finnish sauna, and treat your body with one of its massage therapy and body treatments.
The ideal routine at this spa is to get hot, get cold, and then relax – a 2,000-year-old thermal cycle ritual from Scandinavia. I skipped most of the cold part (since I hate cold water), but I still loved every minute at Thermëa.
It is recommended you book your visit in advance, especially if you’re interested in a massage or therapy.
12. Check out the St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica
Originally built as a small log chapel, the St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica is now a major architectural symbol in St. Boniface – a francophone district in Winnipeg.
Take a close look at the dramatic limestone façade, walls, and sacristy – built in 1906. These are the only remaining portions of the former cathedral which burnt down in 1962. In it, you’ll see detailed floral motifs as well as many other original architectural details of its time. This is now a Manitoba Heritage Site.
Here you can also learn about Métis leader Louis Riel who is considered to be a founder of Manitoba. He is buried on-site in Western Canada’s oldest Catholic cemetery.
13. Walk along the Exchange District
Spend the afternoon wandering this 20-block district that is well known for its turn-of-the-20th-century architecture. Here you’ll see an interesting combination of heritage buildings with some of the trendiest tech start-ups and art galleries.
Its charming streets will have you hopping between cute coffee shops, trendy bars and restaurants, and chic stores.
If you look closely, the Exchange District has a bit of a resemblance with some parts of Chicago. In fact, several films and tv shows have been filmed here posing as Chicago and other American cities and small towns.
If you time it right, head to the Exchange District the first Friday of the month, when shops, restaurants, and galleries open their doors for unprecedented public access.
Talk to up-and-coming artists about what they’re creating, discover your new favorite restaurant, or simply explore its many stores.
14. Go Up The Saint Boniface Ice Climbing Tower
If visiting during the winter (end of December to early March), don’t miss climbing the St. Boniface Ice Climbing Tower. Winnipeg may not boast any mountains, but thrill-seekers can still get their climbing adrenaline on this freestanding 20-meter tall ice tower – the tallest of its kind.
Where to Eat in Winnipeg
As expected, there is no shortage of delicious cuisine in Winnipeg. Here I’ll share some of my favorite and top restaurants in the city.
1. Segovia Tapas Bar & Restaurant
I loved the ambiance in this Spanish tapas restaurant, and the food, of course, was superb! Since they serve tapas, their plates tend to be on the smaller side, but the BBQ Chicken & Chorizo Paella I ordered was more than fine for one person. And oh so good!
2. Passero at The Forks Market
More than a restaurant, the Forks Market is like a conglomerate of small restaurants and food stalls, kind of like a food court. But unlike a typical mall food court, many of these eateries are top-notch!
Passero is one of these restaurants known for its great service and nice atmosphere where food is nothing but delicious. Other good options are Skinner’s, Nuburger, and Fools & Horses.
Don’t miss having a drink at The Commons (The Forks’ bar). Their selection of beers and wines has been curated by the world’s best female sommelier – Véronique Rivest.
Clementine is such a cool hidden spot (yet quite popular) to have a wholesome breakfast or brunch. It is located in the basement of an old Exchange District building, so exposed bricks and steel beams are the expected yet welcomed décor.
Their Belgian Style Waffles are worth a try. Order a side of their bacon. It’s so thick and sweet! You shouldn’t miss it.
4. The Keg Steakhouse
Come to Keg Steakhouse for their steaks. They are well seasoned and flavorful. I couldn’t stop eating their bread!
5. Café Carlo Restaurant
Though it is an Italian restaurant, Café Carlo also has a mix of dishes that include a rack of lamb, veal chop, spring rolls, and fish tacos, among other dishes.
They are famous for inventing the Fett-Chile, a dish made of fettuccine with chicken, chorizo, cashews and roasted red peppers in chili cream sauce.
6. Marion Street Eatery
This contemporary café offers gourmet comfort eats all day. Popular dishes are their mac & cheese, breakfast wrap, pancake stack, French onion soup, and meatloaf dinner.
Hopefully, with all this information you’ll be able to plan a comprehensive trip to Winnipeg and enjoy the best the city has to offer.
Have you been to Winnipeg before? What else would you recommend as a must-do in the city?
I visited Winnipeg in collaboration with Travel Manitoba, but all opinions shared here are my own.
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