Updated: September 29th, 2020
Smack dab in the middle of Canada and often overlooked, Manitoba is home to some of Canada’s top signature experiences, including beautiful landscapes and unique adventures. It’s home to Winnipeg, which is one of Canada’s biggest cities as well as some of Canada’s top lakes and beaches, festivals, and world-famous northern attractions.
Kayaking with beluga whales, spying on polar bears, learning about human rights, cracking the code of mystic messages and Masonic symbols, and admiring the Northern Lights are just some of the incredible opportunities in this central province.
We’ve been to Manitoba many times and even lived in Winnipeg for five months, giving us first-hand insight into this wonderful place. In this Manitoba travel guide, we aim to let you know about the top things to do in Manitoba, as well as how to get there, where to stay, and more!
Fun Facts about Manitoba
- Churchill is not only home to polar bears but is also home to the largest beluga whale migration in the world!
- The character of James Bond was inspired by a spy from Winnipeg! So was Winnie the Pooh!
- The Centre of Canada landmark is less than 30-minutes from Winnipeg!
Getting to Manitoba
Located right in the middle of Canada, Manitoba is quite convenient for those looking to visit. Known as the heart of Canada as well as a historic transportation hub, there are a variety of options for arriving. It is located east of Saskatchewan, west of Ontario, and north of both North Dakota and Minnesota.
Getting to Manitoba By Car
Travelling by car is typically the best way to explore Canada. With such vast distances, it’s just an easier way to travel. The Trans-Canada Highway runs right through Manitoba, including the biggest city of Winnipeg. You’ll either enter from Ontario to the east, Saskatchewan to the west, or the USA to the south. The distance from Regina, Saskatchewan to Winnipeg is about six hours, whereas the distance from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Winnipeg is about eight hours.
Getting to Manitoba By Plane
If you’re flying into Manitoba, then you’re likely going to be flying into their capital city of Winnipeg. There are several airlines with regular flights to and from the Winnipeg International Airport, with connecting flights to destinations throughout the world.
Getting to Manitoba By Bus
For those keen on travelling via bus, there are several bus lines and local companies that offer daily transportation to and from Winnipeg and dozens of Manitoba’s rural centres.
If you’re heading to Brandon, Brandon Air Shuttle provides daily shuttle services between Brandon and Winnipeg for pre-booked flights, while Dauphin Air does the same for service between Brandon and Dauphin with Dauphin Air Shuttle.
For northern Manitoba, you can travel with Maple, Mahinkan or Thompson Bus lines, and as the only bus line travelling outside of the province, you can travel with Kasper between Manitoba and Ontario.
Getting to Manitoba By Train
Via Rail Canada, Canada’s major rail passenger service, arrives and departs from Winnipeg and many of Manitoba’s smaller communities. There is also a 2-night train that goes from Winnipeg to Churchill if you’re looking for polar bears and beluga whales.
Getting Around Manitoba
Like most of Canada’s provinces, Manitoba is quite spread out and underpopulated. With the exception of Winnipeg, there is very little public transportation infrastructure and it is best to have your own vehicle. However, if you’re just looking to get from one city to the next, there is often some sort of shuttle service. There is also a train that connects Winnipeg to Churchill, as well as the options for flying.
Since Winnipeg is the only major city and the main place tourists visit, there are lots of normal city options, including bus and taxi. There is no metro in Winnipeg but there is the Splash Dash Water Taxi service, which takes you around the city via the river. A popular place to jump on is at the Forks.
Best Time to Visit Manitoba
Manitoba is known to have some of the most extreme weather in Canada, with very hot and humid summers and very cold winters. We lived in Winnipeg for the summer and we can confirm that it is indeed very humid and quite hot. This is due to all the surrounding lakes. Winnipeg is also home to some of the coldest winter temperatures in the country and in fact, Winnipeg is known as the coldest city in all of Canada.
With that being said, there are many things to do throughout the year. However, the summer is definitely the most popular time to visit, with many incredible outdoor festivals, boating, fishing, rafting, golfing, and so much more. In Churchill, this is also the time to witness thousands of beluga whales migrating through the Hudson Bay.
The shoulder season can also be a good time to visit Manitoba, especially in the fall when the temperatures are neither hot nor cold. The tourism season is slower and so prices will drop and there will be fewer crowds. In Churchill, this is also the time to see polar bears.
For the winter, although it can be cold, there are many incredible opportunities, such as snowmobiling, dog-sledding, ice fishing, and a variety of opportunities to see the Northern Lights!
Please note: If you visit in the winter, make sure you know how to dress for Canadian winters!
Road to 150 – Manitoba
Back in 2017, we did a 150-day road trip across Canada to showcase the best of each province, coast to coast to coast. This series, which has more than three million views on YouTube, features Manitoba as our 7th episode and includes snorkelling with beluga whales in Churchill, exploring the Museum of Human Rights, learning about Canada’s history with the Hudson Bay Company, and splashing around one of the many lakes near Winnipeg.
What To Do in Manitoba
Manitoba is a big province with lots of things to do and places to see. However, outside of the capital city of Winnipeg, the towns are small and the distances can be vast. To simplify it, we’ve broken down the areas into Winnipeg, north of Winnipeg, Western Manitoba, and Churchill.
Things to Do in Winnipeg
Winnipeg is a vibrant multicultural city with loads of incredible festivals during the summer months. Here you’ll find beautiful museums, gorgeous legislative buildings, historical areas, and so much more. You can also take a short drive out to the centre of Canada, visit the Canadian Mint, or explore lots of outdoor attractions nearby.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Not only is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights the first museum dedicated to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights. It’s also one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the country. It can be heartbreaking to learn about human rights violations that have happened in Canada and around the world but also a very important topic that everyone should learn about. You’ll also learn about the inspiring people who’ve fought for human rights and will leave the museum feeling inspired as well as getting one of the best views of the city.
A visit to Winnipeg just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Forks. Located right next to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and saturated in 6,000+ years of history, the Forks is both a historic site and the #1 outdoor gathering space for locals and tourists alike. It’s the place where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet and is located in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. At 54-acres in size, you’ll find all sorts of things to do, including a bustling central market, exceptional dining and accommodations, beautiful treelined paths overlooking the riverbank, a world-class skate park, a children’s play area and water park, and all the best things a Winnipeg winter has to offer, like skate rentals and access to one of the world’s longest skating rinks.
Assiniboine Park Zoo
Everyone loves polar bears and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is home to a polar bear that came from Churchill, Manitoba. It’s the main attraction of the zoo and everyone loves walking under the glass tunnel to see the polar bear swim all around them. However, there’s much more than polar bears. The zoo is also home to muskox, wolves, moose, and seals, as well as rare animals such as red pandas, snow leopards, and more than 200 other species.
Lower Fort Garry Historical Site
This national historic site is a former Hudson Bay Company trading post filled with some of Canada’s important history. As a “living museum”, costumed interpreters recreate life from the 1800s, including a general store, blacksmith, and various households. You’ll also find Canada’s oldest collection of stone fur trade buildings!
Tip: After visiting Lower Fort Garry Historical Site, continue heading north to Grand Beach and experience one of the best lake beaches in all of Canada!
Royal Canadian Mint
Not only does the Royal Canadian Mint produce money for Canada and other countries around the world, but it’s also situated inside one of Winnipeg’s most beautiful buildings with a reflective glass exterior that is quite remarkable at sunset. It’s a cool place to take a tour and learn about how money is made and you’ll also get the opportunity to hold a $600,000 gold bar, admire Olympic gold medals, and get a photo of your face inside a penny!
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Architecturally striking and centrally located in the heart of downtown, the WAG houses an internationally acclaimed collection of nearly 24,000 works of art featuring a great deal of Canadian pieces, including the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art. Critically acclaimed touring shows are also brought in throughout the year, featuring everything from the Renaissance to Dadaism, to Ancient Greece and the best in contemporary photography.
The Manitoba Museum
If you’d like to learn about ancient creatures of the Cretaceous Period, the cosmos, and the prairie plains all under one roof, you’ve come to the right place. The award-winning museum features immersive permanent galleries that adults and kids will like. Whether you catch a Planetarium show on one of the world’s most advanced projection systems or admire some of Canada’s most important historical artifacts and specimens, the Manitoba Museum is one for the bucket list.
Hermetic Code Tour at the Manitoba Legislative Building
For a whole summer, we lived near the legislative building and didn’t get tired of its beauty. However, admiring the outside is just one of the things to do. Even more remarkable is the Hermetic Code Tour, which takes visitors on a journey to decipher the hieroglyphics, Freemasonic symbols and numeric codes that are housed inside this grandiose interior of this ode to Olympus.
If you’re looking for beautiful wilderness within the city, there’s no better place than FortWhyte Alive, which is home to 640 acres of pristine prairie beauty. In the summer, you can go canoeing on one of the many lakes or simply admire the views while sipping a locally brewed beer on their restaurant patio. You may even spot some bison, North America’s largest animal. Even in the winter, it’s a great place to be, with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sliding on the Richardson Rrrun Toboggan slide, and more!
The Exchange District National Historic Site
By far the most beautiful part of downtown Winnipeg is the Exchange District, which is home to North America’s most extensive turn-of-the-20th-century buildings. It’s a great place to go for a stroll, step into some of the city’s trendiest and tastiest small plate restaurants and bistros, admire a number up-and-coming and established galleries, or go shopping in a variety of vintage and antique shops.
Birds Hill Provincial Park
Not very far from Winnipeg is Birds Hill Provincial Park, which is also the site of the world-famous Winnipeg Folk Fest. Featuring hills and ridges formed by ancient glaciers, this park is home to a lake, oak and aspen forests, native prairie wildflowers, deer, waterfowl and songbirds. There are also opportunities for hiking, walking, camping, swimming, having a picnic, fishing, and more! Interpretive programs are available on a year-round basis for groups of all ages and the Winnipeg Folk Fest takes place in July.
Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Although this attraction is 1.5 hours south of Winnipeg, it’s really in an area of its town. Home to the largest collection of marine reptile fossils in Canada, this is your opportunity to see some of the most amazing and ferocious toothed beasts to ever exist.
Thermëa Nordik Spa
This is truly paradise within the city. After 75 days on the road, this was like a dream. After an incredible 1-hour massage, we spent the entire day rotating between eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, dry saunas, hot pools, and relaxing in hammocks amongst the tall trees. There’s also a restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. I would literally travel to Winnipeg just to go to Thermëa. It’s that good.
Things to Do North of Winnipeg
Since Winnipeg is practically the only city in the province, it’s a great base for exploring further into the region as well. In fact, many awesome things to do can be found just north of Winnipeg.
Grand Beach Provincial Park
Beaches are likely not the first thing you think about when it comes to Manitoba, but it’s actually home to some of the top beaches in Canada. This is a popular place to swim, windsurf, hike, or relax in the sun, as it rests along the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, Canada’s sixth-largest lake. You’ll also find the historic La Vérendrye Trail, which is home to powdery white sand beaches and grass-topped dunes that can reach as high as 30 feet!
The Park also features a campground, outdoor amphitheatre, picnic shelters, a restaurant, concession services and wheelchair access to the beach.
Another popular feature of Lake Winnipeg is the charming town of Gimli. Canada is never short of small-town surprises and Gimli is no different. Gimli is actually a settlement created by Icelanders who came here to found “New Iceland” back in 1875. It’s now home to some charming restaurants and accommodation, as well as the wonderful New Iceland Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to preserving and presenting this fascinating chapter of Manitoba’s history.
Gimli is a welcoming harbour, an ideal spot for scenic drives or bicycle rides to the small towns, beaches, unique eateries and artists’ studios. Watch for pelicans, bald eagles, ducks and purple martins, which have their own downtown apartment tower.
Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre
Located just 20 minutes outside of Winnipeg on Highway 67, Oak Hammock Marsh is one of North America’s top birding hotspots. This wetland is home to 25 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, numerous amphibians, plus reptiles and fish. During the migration season, the number of waterfowl can exceed 100,000 daily!
Hecla Provincial Park
Yet another incredible feature of massive Lake Winnipeg is Hecla Provincial Park, which is home to lush forest, rugged shoreline, beautiful beaches, and lots of wildlife. In the park, you’ll find many hiking and cross-country ski trails, as well as a campground, vacation cabins, tennis courts, a championship 18-hole golf course, and so much more.
The park is also home to Hecla Village, which features a 1-km self-guided trail through the restored village, allowing you to trace the history of Icelandic settlement in the area. Restored buildings include a church, community hall, 1920s school, an Icelandic home and a village store still in operation. Guided walks by a park interpreter are available in summer.
Stonewall Quarry Park
Mostly popular with locals, Stonewall Quarry Park is a summer excursion, located 40 minutes north of Winnipeg. Giant limestone kilns form the focus of this unique park and it’s popular for its walking trails, picnic areas, white sand beach, and swimming in the man-made lake. However, it’s also home to a campground and the Quarry Park Heritage Art Centre, which is open daily.
Things to Do East of Winnipeg
Winnipeg is also in the Eastern part of Manitoba, but there’s much more than Winnipeg.
Whiteshell Provincial Park
This spectacular park offers over 2,729 km² of lush forests and lakes. Park visitors can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, quiet beaches and water sports of all kinds. In fact, there are more than 200 lakes, all of which offer fishing for fish such as walleye, northern pike, perch, smallmouth bass and lake trout. Whiteshell Provincial Park is also year-round, as winter explorers can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, winter hiking, skating, and snowmobiling.
Things to Do in Western Manitoba
Western Manitoba, in terms of this article, is going to range from the border of Saskatchewan to the half-way point between the border and Winnipeg. There are no major cities but there’s a lot of beautiful nature and some small towns to be seen.
Riding Mountain National Park
There are only two national parks in Manitoba and Riding Mountain National Park is the most accessible. The other one is way up near Churchill. We’ve been here a number of times and truly love it. In fact, on one short drive, we saw a Moose and three bears!
Located approximately 100 km north of Brandon, Riding Mountain National Park has something to offer everyone. Not only is it a great place to spot wildlife and enjoy outdoor adventure, but it’s also home to the charming cottage town of Wasagaming, a picturesque town located along the shores of Clear Lake, which gets very busy during the summer as it’s home to a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as a beach, golf course, boat rentals, and even a dinner cruise around the lake.
It’s also home to one of the very few remaining original park entrances that were built in the 1930s. So, whether you’re looking for a laid-back lake town or some outdoor adventure, this is a great place to visit.
The City of Brandon
The only other “big” city in Manitoba is Brandon. With a population of less than 50,000, it’s dwarfed by Winnipeg, but still home to some cool things to do, such as visiting the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, the Daly House Museum, and the Westman Reptile Gardens.
Fort la Reine Museum
Located right in between Winnipeg and Brandon, The Fort la Reine Museum is dedicated to preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Canadian Prairies, and of the City and Municipality of Portage la Prairie. The Fort la Reine Museum has over 25 buildings displaying thousands of individual artifacts including pre-European contact First Nation’s artifacts to more modern collections including historic fire trucks, an old print shop, a general store, the “West Prospect” school, churches, and historic homes.
Just north of Riding Mountain National Park and tucked between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, Dauphin is a hub for arts and culture, outdoor recreation and specialty shopping. With three stages and an 11,000-seat amphitheatre at the Selo Ukrainian festival site, the town also attracts North America’s premier country music acts each July during Countryfest.
It’s also home to the Fort Dauphin Museum, which takes you on a history tour throughout their village, including a trapper’s cabin, a trading post, a blacksmith’s shop, a pioneer log house, a schoolhouse, a church, and the main log building, which are all located inside palisade walls. In addition, the Parkland Archaeological Laboratory houses over 80,000 artifacts and the Museum hosts the Fur Traders Rendezvous in September.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park
Looking for some unique outdoor adventure? Head to Spirit Sands, a desert-like area with sand dunes that tower 30 metres above the prairies or visit Devil’s Punch Bowl, an eerie pond formed by underground streams. Spruce Woods Provincial Park is home to self-guided trails and horse-drawn covered wagon rides. You may even spot the unique northern prairie skink (Manitoba’s only lizard), a western hognose snake and/or two species of cacti.
The little community of Boissevain is steeped in history and beauty. It’s home to four museums, a giant outdoor art gallery, Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, the International Peace Garden, and Tommy Turtle.
Turtle Mountain Provincial Park
The International Peace Garden
Located right on the Canadian/American border, not far from Boissevain, is a park where visitors can roam freely within the garden from one country to the other. The Peace Garden is home to many flowers, as well as summer camps and camping. However, it is also dedicated to peace and has sites such as our Conservatory, Interpretive Centre, North American Game Warden Museum and Peace Chapel.
The Garden is open year-round with the exception of the week between Christmas & New Year and it’s an exquisite example of landscaping, featuring nearly 3,000 flowers.
Manitoba Agricultural Museum & Campground
Interested in farming? The Manitoba Agricultural Museum holds the largest collection of vintage farm machinery in Canada with more than 500 implements, many dating back to the Pioneer era of Manitoba. You’ll also find the Homesteaders’ Village, which represents village life in the late 19th century with an 1883 schoolhouse, a post office, typical log houses of the era, an elegant clapboard mansion, a general store, a railway station, and more! In July, you’ll also find the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s annual festival – the Manitoba Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede.
Asessippi Ski Area and Resort
Manitoba is certainly not a skiing hotspot, but it is home to the Asessippi Ski Area, which has 3 chair lifts, 26 downhill ski/snowboard runs, 2 terrain parks and a snow tubing park. It’s not Banff National Park, but it’s a great place to enjoy the winter in Manitoba!
Things To Do in Churchill
Located in Canada’s deep north, Churchill is an unforgettable place for those interested in unique wildlife encounters and Inuit culture. After all, it’s both the polar bear capital of the world and the beluga whale capital of the world. It’s probably one of Canada’s most accessible northern communities, but it still takes some work or some money. There are two ways of getting to Churchill. You can fly (it takes about three hours from Winnipeg) or you can take the train, which takes about 40-hours coming from Winnipeg.
Snorkel or Kayak with Beluga whales
Although the rules have changed since we were there in 2017, we will never forget the experience of snorkelling in a dry-suit with dozens of beluga whales, all of whom were just over an arms-length away, singing to us as we sang back to them. It was truly a magical moment. These days, snorkelling is no longer allowed but visitors can still dip their heads in the water from a floating dock towed by a boat, giving you a similar experience, albeit a bit different.
Regardless of whether you choose to admire them from the boat, a kayak, or the floating dock, this is a rare opportunity to witness the highest concentration of beluga whales in the world. This typically occurs from July to August.
For our experience, we went with Lazy Bear Expeditions.
Get Close to Polar Bears
Perhaps what Churchill is most famous for is the polar bears. After all, polar bears have been enchanting people for decades. Although quite fierce, even by “bear standards”, tours will bring you up close and personal, typically between September and October. The most popular tours are typically done in heavy-duty arctic buses, all of which have the windows barred off by metal pipes. This allows you to see them, and sometimes even feel their breath, without the risk of being eaten. We haven’t done this yet but it’s on the top of our bucket lists.
View the Northern Lights
Canada is known for its incredibly beautiful Northern Lights and Churchill is one of the best places in the country, and in the world, to see this wonderful natural phenomenon. We actually see them during our summer tour to see the beluga whales, but they’re even easier to see during the colder darker months of the fall and winter. They can be hard to time, but if you get the chance to see them dance amongst the sky, you’ll never forget!
Another delight of visiting Churchill is stepping foot into the small but impressive Itsanitaq Museum. This museum has a collection of Inuit carvings and artifacts that are among the finest and oldest in the world dating from Pre-Dorset (1700 B.C.) through Dorset, Thule and modern Inuit times. The gift shop specializes in northern books, Canadian Inuit art, unique postcards, art cards, stationery and local wild berry preserves.
Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site
The British certainly left their mark on Canada, including all the way up in Churchill with the Prince of Wales Fort. This National Historic Site is visited only by tour (it takes a boat to get there) but is quite impressive to see, especially with the stories that come with it. Built more than 250 years ago, you’ll get a real sense of a fur trader’s life in the subarctic at this massive stone outpost.
Wapusk National Park
This national park, which is located in a remote subarctic region of Canada, is a whopping 11,475 square kilometres in size! It encompasses the transition between boreal forest and arctic tundra and even protects one of the largest polar bear maternity denning areas in the world! Wapusk is located within the range of the Western Hudson Bay population of polar bears, which numbers approximately 1000 bears. Nature lovers can hope to see arctic foxes, arctic hares, wolves, caribou and wolverine as well as more than 200 bird species. This park is remote and only accessible with authorized commercial tour operators in Churchill.
Miss Piggy Plane Wreck
In terms of great spots for an “Instagram photo”, this is probably the best. Home to the remains of a plane crash, and now decorated in graffiti, this makes for one of those interesting, unique, and obscure tourist attractions. This is the wreck of a Curtiss C-46 “Commando” twin-prop cargo aircraft owned by Lamb Airways Ltd. Widely used by the US military during the Second World War, the plane crashed on November 1979 as it attempted to return to the Churchill airport shortly after takeoff. The plane landed in rough terrain and was badly damaged but no one died.
Things to Do in Thompson
Although Thompson is virtually in the middle of nowhere, it is on the way to Churchill if you’re going by train. It sounds like an interesting place, so if you make it there, here are some things to do.
This award-winning walking and biking pathway highlights 16 remarkable points of interest including Canada’s largest mural of a Robert Bateman wolf painting, the start of Canada’s largest rockface sculpture, an aviation tribute, scenic vistas and more.
Snow Lake Mining Museum
The Manitoba Star Attraction Mining Museum has a collection of mining artifacts complete with mining equipment such as drills, mucking machines, old mine rescue equipment and old maps. See a replica of a raise and drift, a painting of a cross-section of a mine, and clothes the miners wore. Guided tours are offered late June to September long weekend.
Exploring Manitoba and Beyond
As you can see, Manitoba is an exciting province to explore. Whether you’re looking for the city delights of Winnipeg, the incredible wildlife adventures of Churchill or some of North America’s top lakes and beaches, Manitoba has something for everyone.
If there’s something we missed, please let us know in the comments.
For more on things to do in Canada, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Winnipeg
- Things to Do in Saskatchewan
- Things to Do in Ontario
- Things to Do in Regina
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