Updated: September 26th, 2020
Growing up in Alberta, the only thing I was ever told about Winnipeg was that it was cold and boring. It was often included in various jokes, which made me think that there must be nothing to do there. Then, in the summer of 2015, both my wife and I had the opportunity to live in Winnipeg for the summer. I had been working a sales job in Calgary and had been promoted to manager. They wanted me to start a new sales team in Winnipeg and so we had to move there for five months, from mid-April to mid-September. We rented a furnished apartment right downtown and got ready to experience as much of Winnipeg as possible. Turns out, Winnipeg is not boring at all. We loved it. Sure, the winter is very cold, but it’s quite cold all over the country. The summer, however, turned out to be incredible. There are all sorts of festivals, two beautiful rivers, a variety of ethnic restaurants, delicious ice cream shops, and quite possibly the best museum in Canada. It’s also surrounded by many lakes, including massive Lake Winnipeg, which is home to one of the largest white sand beaches in the country!
We always look forward to going back, so if you do get the chance to go, here are some things you shouldn’t miss.
Getting to Winnipeg
First things first, you have to get to Winnipeg. If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Winnipeg, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Winnipeg by Car
Winnipeg is practically located in the middle of Canada, right off the Trans-Canada Highway. In fact, the “Centre of Canada sign” is 20 minutes away for that awesome Instagram photo op everyone wants. It’s also fairly close to the US border with both North Dakota and Minnesota. If you’re on a Canada road trip, you’ll either be visiting Winnipeg from the west, coming from Saskatchewan, or from the east, coming from Ontario.
Calgary to Winnipeg: The drive from Calgary to Winnipeg is approximately 1,350 kilometres in length and takes around 13 hours to drive. If you’re doing it all in one day, it’s a fairly boring drive of mostly flat prairies. It is, however, straight forward. I mean that literally. It’s almost entirely straight and flat the entire way. During the fall, we actually saw the Northern Lights a few kilometres outside of Winnipeg as we made the road trip from Calgary. Popular stops along the way would include Medicine Hat, Regina, and Moose Jaw.
Regina to Winnipeg: If you’re driving from Calgary to Winnipeg, Regina is the half-way point. From Regina to Winnipeg is approximately a 6-hour drive over about 570 kilometres.
Toronto to Winnipeg: Despite being in the next province over, the drive from Toronto to Winnipeg is a long one. It’s approximately 2,300 kilometres and about 23 hours of driving. You would want to do this drive in two days minimum. However, if you have more time, you could easily enjoy the beautiful Lake Superior along the way. Aside from the lake, this is also a fairly boring drive, consisting mostly of trees the entire way. You could also cut through the USA, which is technically 250 km shorter, but you’d have to cross the border twice, which would take time.
Winnipeg to Minneapolis: As mentioned, the province of Manitoba borders both North Dakota and Minnesota to the south. The drive between Winnipeg and Minneapolis is only 450 miles and takes around 7-hours, not including border time.
Getting to Winnipeg by Plane
Winnipeg is home to the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. It is the 7th busiest airport in Canada, serving around 4.5 million passengers each year. It is served by a variety of airlines, including WestJet and smaller airlines that travel to Northern Canada. Daily non-stop flights are operated from Winnipeg International Airport to destinations across Canada as well as to the USA, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The airport isn’t too far from downtown Winnipeg. There are a variety of transportation options, including public transit ($2.50, 40 minutes), taxi ($16, 20 minutes), limo ($35, 20 minutes), and renting your own car.
Getting to Winnipeg by Bus
There are not a lot of options for bus travel but some options include Kasper from Ontario and Quebec, Maple Bus Lines from the north, and a variety of others from around Manitoba. We typically like searching Busbud to see availability and options for bus transportation.
Getting Around Winnipeg
Winnipeg has a lot of options for getting around the city, including public buses, taxis, and Uber.
- Public Transportation: As with all major cities, Winnipeg has a robust transit system. There is no subway but there are many buses that will take you around the city. They even have a free transit system for downtown Winnipeg. Check the website for more details.
- Taxis: Taxis are plentiful in Winnipeg. Examples include Blueline Taxi, Dignity Taxi, Duffy’s Taxi, and Unicity Taxi.
- Rideshare: While there is no Uber in the city, there is a similar service called ReRyde. We have not used this before though and can’t confirm how it operates.
- Peddle Bike: For those into biking, Winnipeg has a lot of great trails along the river and around the city. Rentals are available, including Bee2gether Tandem Bike Rentals, Natural Cycle Works, White Pine Bicycle Company, and Woodcock Cycle Works.
Fun Fact: Winnipeg is known as the coldest city in Canada (despite being south) and was actually once known as the coldest city on Earth with a population of more than 600,000. It’s coldest temperature ever recorded, however, was in 1879 and clocked in at -47.8°C (-54°F) in December. This is because of its geography, making it susceptible to polar highs which are in effect Arctic high-pressure systems bringing in lots of cold air. At the same time, Winnipeg has very hot and humid summers. So, if visiting during the summer months, you won’t have to worry about the cold.
Another fun fact is that both the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh and James Bond was derived from Winnipeg. Look it up!
Weather in Winnipeg (Best Time to Visit Winnipeg)
Winnipeg is quite infamous for its weather. In the summer, it’s very hot and humid, sometimes reaching as high as 40°C. However, it’s also the coldest city in all of Canada, which means the winters can be brutally cold, reaching down to -40°C. For this reason, we would recommend visiting in the spring, summer, or fall. The only reason to visit in the winter would be to experience something specific to the winter months or to say you survived one of the coldest cities on the planet.
The ultimate time to visit would be the summer months between late June and mid-July. There are so many festivals at this time, including the world-famous Winnipeg Folk Festival, as well as the multi-cultural Folklarama. The city also comes alive and people are out walking the streets and biking along the river. You can even take a boat taxi up and down the river, which is a unique way to get around. Plus, Winnipeg is surrounded by massive lakes and white sand beaches, so this would be the best time to enjoy those as well.
What to Do in Winnipeg
Okay, now for the most important part. Things to do in Winnipeg, Manitoba. After all, this is why you’re visiting the city! We’ve experienced most of what we’re recommending below but there are a couple of things we just didn’t get around to. Either way, the list below is all the top things to do in Winnipeg and a great way to experience Canada’s middle city.
Walk the Historical Exchange District
Winnipeg’s Exchange District is one of the most iconic and vibrant neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and home to some of the coolest historical buildings in Canada, which make it great for Winnipeg sightseeing. This area will take you back 100 years, with beautiful brick facades and pillars. Nicknamed the “Chicago of the North”, the Exchange features over 150 heritage buildings that were built between 1880 and 1920. This is also Winnipeg’s cultural hub, with an array of restaurants, coffee shops, galleries, and lifestyle stores, making it one of the top things to do in downtown Winnipeg. Whether you’re looking to shop around, gaze up at the amazing architecture, or just looking for things to do in Winnipeg this weekend, this is a neighbourhood you don’t want to miss.
Visit the Forks
The Forks is an area where two rivers meet; the Red River and the Assiniboine River. This is basically the heart of Winnipeg, where people gather to shop the farmer’s market, eat at the various restaurants, enjoy buskers and live music, and spend time by the river. In fact, its history as a meeting place dates back over 6,000 years when it was used by the indigenous people. There’s even a water taxi service, which allows you to jump on a boat and be escorted along the river to other popular city points. This is a great place to feel the vibe of Winnipeg and is located close to many other popular attractions such as the Children’s Museum (one of the best things to do with kids in Winnipeg) and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Explore the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Located right next to the Forks, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is one of the best museums in all of Canada and one of the top Winnipeg attractions. Housed inside the most stunning architecturally-beautiful building in the city, the museum takes visitors on a journey of inspiration. The building has been well-thought-out, with the entrance going slightly underground into a place of relative darkness, all the way up until you reach the light-filled Tower of Hope with sweeping views of the city. The only museum in the world solely devoted to human rights awareness and education, it inspires people from across the globe. Multi-sensory exhibits explore human rights concepts with an international scope, but through a uniquely Canadian lens. While the focus is on Canada and our human rights challenges throughout the years, there are also exhibits detailing some of the worst human rights atrocities committed around the globe as well as the inspirational people who’ve made a difference. This is one of the top things to see in Winnipeg.
Assiniboine Park and the Zoo
Located smack-dab inside Winnipeg’s most beautiful park, the Assiniboine Park Zoo provides visitors with the opportunity to interact with animals from all over the globe. Open year-round, with over 80 park-like acres to explore, the Zoo has become one of the top Winnipeg tourist attractions. One of the most popular animals to see actually comes from the same province. The award-winning Journey to Churchill exhibit is home to polar bears, muskoxen, Arctic fox, wolves and other northern species that can be found in Northern Manitoba. It is the most comprehensive northern species exhibit of its kind in the world. Watching a polar bear swim by you as you look through the glass has become an iconic symbol of Winnipeg’s Zoo. This is also one of the best Winnipeg attractions for families.
Fun Fact: The polar bear that is housed at the zoo actually came from Churchill after its mother was euthanized for attacking a person. Well, maybe it’s just a fact. Not fun.
Aside from exotic animals from all corners of the globe, there’s also the McFeetors Heavy Horse Centre, which covers 4.7 acres and includes a barn, pastures, paddocks, and a carriage shed. Visitors to the Zoo have the opportunity to experience barn tours and learn about the pioneer era of Manitoba’s history when heavy horse power was relied on in industries such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and road construction. There are even wagon rides for the young ones.
Bonus Tip: Right next to the park on Portage Avenue is an ice cream shop called Sargent Sundae. It’s one of the most popular ice cream shops in the city and is truly a must-visit if you’re in the area. Try the homemade maple walnut. You’re welcome.
Relax at Thermea Spa
It seems weird to recommend a spa as a top thing to do in a city but Thermëa is so unique. This Nordic-inspired spa brings a bit of Scandinavia to the heart of the Winnipeg. Soothe your soul in the various thermal pools, steam rooms, or hot saunas. Let the day go by in a hammock as you swing blissfully beneath the pines. Treat yourself to a massage, sip on some infused water, give yourself a scrub down with mint soap salts, and then do it all over again. This is one place we never miss when we visit Winnipeg and we tend to spend the better part of an entire day here. We usually start off in the dry sauna before walking under a cold waterfall for a shock to the senses. Then we mellow out in the body temperature pool, before jumping into the orange-peel infused steam room. This is one of the most fun things to do in Winnipeg for adults and has become one of the most popular Winnipeg activities in general.
Tip: If you’re looking for things for couples to do in Winnipeg, this would be one of our top recommendations.
Royal Canadian Mint
Whether it’s the reflective glass building that attracts you or the fact that coins are produced here for 70 different countries, this makes a really cool tour and insight into currency production. Guides show visitors around the area while explaining all sorts of facts about money while also giving you the chance to hold a $600,000 gold bar or looking at the beautiful Olympic gold medals that were made for Vancouver 2010. It’s not like you’ll find the Royal Canadian Mint everywhere you go, so if you’re in Winnipeg, this is a cool place to check out.
If you’re looking for a big slice of nature within the city, look no further than FortWhyte Alive, which is home to 640-acres of prairie beauty, making it one of the best parks in Winnipeg. Here you can go sailing, kayaking, or canoeing on the various lakes, admire North America’s largest animal (the bison), or even sip on a locally brewed beer on the restaurant patio. Even in the winter, you can strap on the cross-country skis or snowshoes and get some exercise in a winter wonderland. Whether you’re looking for a quick escape into nature or an all-out fun adventure, FortWhyte Alive is a great place to visit. This is also one of the best free things to do in Winnipeg.
The Manitoba Museum
Whether you’re looking to catch a Planetarium show on one of the world’s most advanced projection systems or admire the nine permanent galleries, this Winnipeg Museum is a wonderful place to spend the day. You can learn about the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period, the mesmerizing cosmos, or the prairie plains that make up much of Western Canada, all under one roof, making this one of the best indoor activities in Winnipeg. If you want to continue learning about the history of Winnipeg and Canada in general, we suggest going to Lower Fort Garry Historical Site, which is about one hour outside of the city. This is one of the best historical sites in Winnipeg and is basically a living history museum with actors in period clothing demonstrating life back in the 1800s.
Hermetic Code Tour in the Manitoba Legislative Building
This is the one thing in Winnipeg that we regret missing. We keep hearing about how amazing it is, but due to its select timing, we weren’t able to make it work. While beautiful in and of itself, it’s the grandiose interior, which is studded with hieroglyphics, Freemasonic symbols and numeric codes that really draw the interest. The Hermetic Code Tour is a must for anyone with a sense of intrigue and curiosity and will take you on an eye-opening tour through Canada’s finest provincial legislative building. This is one of the more unique Winnipeg attractions for adults as well and one of the cool things to do in Winnipeg.
Catch a Sports Game (Hockey, Baseball, Football)
Winnipeg is also a great city for sports lovers. It’s home to an NHL hockey team, a CFL football team, and even a Northern League baseball team. If you’re in the city in the fall, winter, or spring, try and get yourself to a Winnipeg Jets game. Not only is hockey an incredibly fun sport to watch, but the fans in Winnipeg are some of the best in the league. In fact, despite being one of the smallest franchises in the NHL, they sell more merchandise than almost any other team. The arena is located right in the heart of downtown Winnipeg as well, making it easy to attend.
for those visiting during the summer months, your options will be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League or the Winnipeg Goldeneyes baseball team. Another option for watching a baseball game is to grab a seat on the patio of Clay Oven, one of the top Winnipeg restaurants for Indian food. This delicious Indian restaurant is located within Shaw Park, where the baseball team plays. So you can sit on their patio, watch the game for free, and enjoy some great food.
For the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, you’ll be watching it from the beautiful IG Arena, which is located within the University of Manitoba.
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Located in the heart of downtown Winnipeg Canada, this WAG houses an internationally acclaimed collection of nearly 24,000 works, including the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art. Critically acclaimed touring shows are also brought in, featuring everything from the Renaissance to Dadaism, to Ancient Greece and the best in contemporary photography.
Camp and Party at the Winnipeg Folk Festival
The Winnipeg Folk Festival is one of the most famous folk festivals on the continent, combining a variety of musical talent and camping, all inside a beautiful provincial park located just over an hour from the Winnipeg area. It’s one of the few folk festivals that have the opportunity for camping, which creates a really special musical experience. Held each summer in Birds Hill Provincial Park, the festival features a variety of artists and music from around the world, including a number of local artists. The festival exceeds 70,000 people, making it almost the size of Burning Man. You can expect to hear everything from bluegrass, Celtic, and blues to roots, indie-folk, Americana, folk-rock, and French Canadian.
Get Cultured at the Folklorama
Then there’s Folklorama, one of the largest and longest-running multicultural festivals in the world. This two-week inner-city festival takes place in August and showcases unique cultures in venues throughout Winnipeg, providing lively entertainment, cultural displays, warm hospitality, and authentic ethnic cuisine. If you’ve ever wanted to travel the world without actually travelling the world, this is the festival to attend. This is one festival we really miss now that we’ve moved back to Calgary. There’s simply nothing like it. From partying the night away with Cuba to watching Irish Dancers take the stage, this is an event you don’t want to miss.
Brush up on Canadian History at Lower Fort Garry
One of the coolest places in the country to learn about Canadian history is at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, which is located by car just 30-minutes away from downtown Winnipeg. Built on the western bank of the Red River in 1830 for the Hudson’s Bay Company, this place served as a hub for First Nations Trappers and European traders who helped build modern Western Canada. It’s also the location of where Treaty 1 was signed. Restored by Parks Canada, it’s now a “living museum”, in the sense that actors dressed in period clothing can be found all over the property, helping to recreate this special time in history. It’s a great place for kids and adults alike, as it’s not only scenic but a great place to learn and get engaged.
Explore Musée de Saint-Boniface (PHS)
Le Musée de Saint-Boniface (PHS) is the oldest building in Winnipeg. Built for the Grey Nuns between 1846 and 1851 as the first convent and hospital in Western Canada, it now serves as a showcase of Métis and French-Canadian history. The site is in the heart of old Saint-Boniface and is a short walk across the Esplanade Riel from The Forks. The neighbourhood itself is great to explore but this just adds to it.
Located at The Forks in Winnipeg, the Children’s Museum is housed in the oldest surviving train repair facility in Manitoba, featuring 12 permanent galleries that spark creative learning. Visitors can hop aboard the authentic 1952 diesel locomotive and 1920 Pullman passenger coach. Whether you have kids or are just a kid at heart, you’ll want to stop and by and explore this museum.
Living Prairie Museum
Did you know that less than 1% of tallgrass prairie remains in North America, making it one of the most endangered habitats in the world? Well, at the Living Prairie Museum, you’ll find 12 hectares of remnant tallgrass prairie as well as the wildlife it attracts such as grassland birds, mammals, prairie insects, and a diverse assemblage of historically, culturally, and ecologically significant plant life.
Spend some time at the interpretive centre to learn more about this unique landmark and the story of settlement, habitat loss, and conservation.
Another great spot to learn about history is at the historical Fort Gibraltar where you’ll be able to get a taste of the life of the voyageurs. It all comes to life thanks to costumed interpreters who take you back into time at this reconstructed 19th-century fort. It’s also a popular spot for weddings!
Relax on the Beach
It might seem odd that a city in the middle of Canada would have epic beaches, but that’s one of the unique things about Winnipeg. Surrounded by massive lakes, there’s no shortage of beaches and water activities, but the most popular of them all is Lake Winnipeg. Located just 100 kilometres north of the city, you’ll find Grand Beach, which is ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the entire country. Not only does the massive lake create waves like the ocean, but you’ll also find sand dunes that can be up to 12-metres high. Whether you’re into swimming, lying in the sun, or playing beach volleyball, this is a wonderful way to spend a hot summer day. Another option is Winnipeg Beach, which is only half the distance from Winnipeg.
Experience Icelandic Culture
It’s not very often you’ll find a community of Icelandic culture, but Gimli, Manitoba is one of them! Located just 89 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Gimli is a unique community created by Icelandic settlers and also a beach town, which is perfect on hot summer days. One of the most popular times to visit is during the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba comes to town.
Where to Stay in Winnipeg
We’ve both lived in Winnipeg and have stayed there as tourists, so we know some of the good spots to go.
Inn at the Forks: Although one of the pricier options in the city, it’s in the best location. Located just steps from both the Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, there’s no better location to stay in the whole city. It has an on-site bar and restaurant, beautiful rooms, Free WiFi, a spa and health club, and more.
Hotel Best Western Plus Pembina Inn & Suites: Another great hotel is the Best Western Plus Pembina. This hotel is about 10-minutes outside of downtown but is practically walking distance from the incredible Thermea Nordik Spa. Not only does it have all the usual features of a Best Western Plus, but it also has a good free breakfast, wonderful evening snacks, and a pool with a waterslide. They have a free airport shuttle and free on-site parking.
Things to Do in Manitoba
As you can see, Winnipeg is an awesome city to visit and explore. But there’s much more to Manitoba and the surrounding area if you’d like to stay longer and see more. Not only is Ontario and Saskatchewan right next door, but there’s also Northern Manitoba, which is one of the best places in the world to see Polar Bears and the Northern Lights in the fall, or Beluga Whales in the summer. There’s no shortage of adventure in Manitoba, Canada.
For more, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Manitoba
- Clear Lake, Manitoba
- Things to Do in Ontario
- Things to Do in Saskatchewan
- Things to Do in Regina
- Things to Do in Toronto
Have you been? What would you add?
LIKE THIS POST? PIN IT!