The surprise of our Canada road trip was Winnipeg. Yes, Winnipeg, you read correct! I’ll admit I did not know much about Winnipeg before visiting. Sure, I knew it was the capital of Manitoba, but that was about it. But you know what… Winnipeg is supercool and there are so many things to see and do!During the weekend of our visit it was actually rather hot (about 30 degrees Celsius) but in winters temperatures of -40 Celsius are not uncommon. And the temperature isn’t the only thing that varies quite a bit, Winnipeg itself is really diverse!
Things to do in Winnipeg: a complete city guide
Winnipeg is a vibrant city which deserves a lot more attention and should feature on any Trans-Canada itinerary. Let me share my Winnipeg weekend itinerary and convince you to visit the Chicago of the north!
In the map below you can find all the Winnipeg highlights we visited during our weekend trip, as well as recommended places to eat and the hotel we stayed at.
The best things to do in Winnipeg
- Take a Hermetic Code tour in the Manitoba Legislative Building
- Catch a show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival
- Hop aboard the Winnipeg Trolley
- Learn about coins at the Royal Canadian Mint
- Stroll around Forks Park and the Red River
- Eat your way through the Forks Market
- Explore the Exchange District
- Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
- See the polar bears play in Assiniboine Park Zoo
- Relax at Thermëa Spa
A brief history of Winnipeg
The name Winnipeg is derived from the Cree words ‘win nipee’ meaning muddy waters. For centuries, First Nation people used to gather here, where the Assiniboine and Red River meet (nowadays called the Forks).
During the fur trade period French settlers founded St. Boniface. Métis leader, and in retrospect Canadian hero, Louis Riel was born here. However, the growth of Winnipeg really took off when city officials bribed the Canadian Pacific Railway to make sure the train tracks to Western Canada would go through Winnipeg.
A clever move, Winnipeg grew rapidly and became a busy train and trading center, with more millionaires than any other city in North America. Unfortunately the opening of the Panama canal in 1914 ended Winnipeg’s reign over freight to the West, and so did the rapid growth.
Nevertheless, that boom made Winnipeg the city it is today. A city with the highest concentration of turn of the century buildings (built between 1880 and 1910) in North America. A city with grand buildings, such as the Manitoba Legislative Building and the Fort Gary Hotel. A city with lovely green spaces, like the Assiniboine Park and the Forks area.
Add super friendly Winnipeggers and a full festival calendar to the mix and you get modern Winnipeg, the perfect place for a (weekend) trip!
Things to do in Winnipeg
Go on the Hermetic Code Tour in the Manitoba Legislative Building
The Hermetic Code Tour is epic, I had so much fun! Our knowledgeable guide Don led us around the Manitoba Legislative Building and unraveled her secrets… The story about the architecture of the building is a fascinating one, a story that took 10 years of research to uncover! You can read all about it in this book.
Anyway, for me the Hermetic Code Tour tour was a perfect occasion to finally apply all my knowledge from the Da Vinci Code and the Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series (can you tell I’m into fantasy books?).
The Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods (Ra, Mercury and Athena) and the Da Vinci Code facts (the Fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio and the four elements) come together in this extraordinary tour through the Manitoba Legislative Building.
When you finish the tour, you will have learned that this isn’t just a beautiful building to see, the architecture is like magic! I won’t spoil the surprise, however, when you visit the building be sure to stand in the middle of the star in the basement and say something out loud, you’ll be amazed…
Watch a show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival
The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is the 2nd biggest Fringe Festival in North America, with over 170 theater companies attending. We watched 2 great shows:
Visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo
I’m always a little apprehensive about zoos because I would much rather see animals in the wild instead of behind bars. But as we humans do, we mess up the earth and now there is no (safe) place in the world anymore for many animals. Some have already become extinct and many are endangered.
The the Assiniboine Zoo plays an important part in conserving several endangered species, such as the Amur tiger, the snow leopard and of course their famous polar bears.
There is an underwater tunnel where you can see the bears and seals playing in the water (obviously not in the same tank?). Be sure to check the bison enclosure and see if you can spot Blizzard, the white bison!
Ride the Winnipeg Trolley
I love walking around a city, but sometimes there is just too much to see to be manageable on foot. As this was the case in Winnipeg, we hopped aboard the Winnipeg Trolley Tour. I learned a lot about Winnipeg and its history during this 2 hour tour!
For example: did you know Winnipeg’s Exchange District is a very popular filming location? Movies like ‘Shall We Dance’ (with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez) and ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ (with Brad Pitt) were shot in this beautiful historic district! Another beautiful and important neighborhood of Winnipeg is St. Boniface, the French Quarter. This area is especially important to the Métis and Métis leader Louis Riel was buried here after his execution.
On a happier note, there is also a very cute chocolate shop in St. Boniface called Constance Popp. Even her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is fond of these chocolates!
Two other Winnipeg neighborhoods we visited on the tour were Osborne Village (voted Canada’s greatest neighborhood in 2012) and Tuxedo.
I could write much more about this tour, but you should really just go on it yourself! Let me share one last fun fact: did you know Winnie the Poo also has roots in Winnipeg? I bet you didn’t, neither did I. Read the full story on Wiki.
Go on a tour in the Canadian Mint
I was really excited about our visit to the Canadian Mint! You see, my office job back in the Netherlands was all about process optimization (it really is a lot more fun than it sounds?). Whenever I visit a factory my professional curiosity kicks in and I want to know all about the production process and the teams working there.
Anyway, visiting the Royal Canadian Mint was very interesting! Did you know the Mint produces 15 million coins each day?! Arout 20% of these coins are Canadian, the other 80% are international coins. More than 75 currencies have been produced at the Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, pretty impressive! Furthermore, the Canadian Mint is the only facility in the world that used pad printing, enabling them to produce coins with colors.
Another fun fact has to do with transportation of the produced coins: obviously you have never seen a truck that says Royal Canadian Mint. That’s kind of like: hey, lots of money here, please rob me!
Instead, random trucks from random companies (say Pepsi or Walmart) are selected to transport coins. Nobody knows exactly which truck will be used, so next time you are on the highway passing a Pepsi truck, you might be driving next to 15 million coins…
Stroll around the Exchange District
The Exchange District is a beautiful district with lots of turn of historic buildings (built between 1880 and 1910). Many buildings which were previously used as a warehouse have been turned into lofts, art galleries and cute boutique shops.
A prime example is Forth, a very popular Instagram spot. Forth is many things: it’s a great breakfast spot, Dogwood Coffee Canada roast their coffee on the 1st floor, there is a co-work space and office on the 2nd floor and in the basement you’ll find a bar (check the calendar for activities).
Finally, on the roof there is another bar with a great view over the Exchange district, perfect for a warm summer evening.
A very cute shop in the Exchange District is Tiny Feast (pic below on the left), which sells stationery with a Scandinavian design: simple and elegant. I had to constrain myself not to buy a bag full of pretty notepads and colorful posters.
A stop at Lennard Taylor (pic above on the right) is a must on every Exchange District itinerary and not just because Lennard creates beautiful clothe. What’s mre: a visit to his shop will make you smile!
Lennard’s motto in live is to make people happy and I can guarantee you even a 10-minute chat with Lennard (pic below on the left) will put a smile on your face. His enthusiasm and energy are contagious and you will walk out with more than a beautiful garment.
Our last stop was at Toad Hall Toys, a unique toy store celebrating its 40th birthday (pic above on the right). The products sold in this shop aren’t ten a penny, but a lot more special. The owners travel the world to find unique products to sell in their shop, I could have spent hours browsing through the aisles of merchandise…
Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights opened its doors in 2014 and is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to Human Rights. The goal of the museum is promoting thought and conversations about Human Rights, an important and ongoing theme throughout the world.
The Museum doesn’t just touch upon Human Rights in Canada, though naturally the history and current situation of the First Nations are an important theme.
In the museum you’ll find a section about genocide, but also a floor with inspirational stories how people stand up for human rights (a beautiful example is like Pink Shirt Day). Another impressive gallery is dedicated to stories of people wrongfully treated because of their race/religion/sexual orientation/etc. (like the moving story of Viola Desmond). There is much more to see and read, too much really for one day…
The themes discussed in the museum are not easy, so to end your visit on a lighter (quite literally) note climb up to the ‘Tower of Hope’. From the tower you have beautiful view over Winnipeg and you can contemplate and process everything you learned in the museum.
Relax in Thermëa Spa
We were quite tired after our action-packed weekend in Winnipeg and ended our trip with a visit to Thermëa. It was the perfect way to relax, we thoroughly enjoyed steaming in the sauna, bubbling in the hot tub and having dinner in our bath robes, bliss…
Where to stay in Winnipeg: the Mere Hotel
As much as I love our beautiful red van, it can’t compete with the comforts of a hotel. For starters, if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night there is an actual bathroom to go to…
Also, running water! Sure, we manage fine with our water jug, but you don’t realize what a luxury it is to have water on tap! That is, until you don’t have it anymore. Anyway, I’m rambling.
The Mere Hotel is a lovely boutique hotel in a central location, from the hotel you can easily walk to the Forks and the Exchange District.
The bathroom was beautiful and had a rain shower. Sure, camping showers are okay but rain showers are the best… Also, after sleeping in our van for 2 months I had a little trouble finding my husband in our big hotel bed.
The complimentary energy bars and fruit juice were a perfect snack before heading out to explore Winnipeg! Altogether a highly recommended place to stay during a Winnipeg weekend!
Where to eat in Winnipeg
There are lots of restaurants in Winnipeg, I sampled as many dishes as I could. Here are my Winnipeg favorites!
Breakfast at Forth
It may have something to do with the fact that I hadn’t eaten avocado in months, but the avocado toast with a poached egg was divine… Together with a latte (of course made with beans roasted on the spot by Dogwood Coffee Canada) it was the perfect start of a busy day in Winnipeg!
Lunch at Era Bistro at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
A great place for lunch! I had homemade ice tea and the Californian Club Sandwich with carrot fries. Despite the fact that it were carrot fries it was probably still not a healthy option. Totally worth it though, they were so yummy!
Dinner at Thermea restaurant
We sampled a delicious fresh 4 course menu with matching wines. Usually I feel like I ate way too much after eating four courses, but the dishes on this menu were very light! The crème brûlée was perhaps the least healthy course in the meal, but hey, it’s desert?.
Snacks and treats at the Forks Market
I love street food and food markets! The Forks Market offers dishes from all around the world and I had a hard time choosing what to eat. I sampled some empanadas with figs and blue cheese but because I haven’t made it to south America I can’t comment on how authentic they were. Still, I thought they were very tasty.
I love frozen yogurt, unfortunately that’s hard to find in Canada. But I was in luck, at the Forks Market they sell more than 20 flavors of frozen yogurt with lots of toppings!
Last but not least, I finally had poutine! At the Canadian Summer Games we stumbled across the Poutine King food truck. Of course we had to try this famous Canadian dish, we choose original poutine with French fries, fresh cheese curds and gravy. Probably the least healthy food in the world, but very good!
How to get around in Winnipeg
The Mere Hotel offers complimentary bikes, for us this was the perfect way to get around in Winnipeg! We drove to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, the Canadian Mint and Thermëa by car, all the other activities listed on the itinerary are easily reachable on bike or foot!
That’s everything about our Winnipeg trip, let me know if you have any questions! Looking for more Canada travel advice? Check out my other Canada posts:
- Canada travel budget
- Guide to Vancouver Island
- Vancouver sightseeing itinerary
- Driving the Sea to Sky highway
- Guide to Drumheller
- How to buy a car in Canada as a tourist
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba. Nevertheless, all pictures and opinions are my own.