10 Essential Winnipeg Experiences

By the time you read this, I’ll already be on my way to Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of my favorite prairie cities. Here’s peek into some of my favorite neighborhoods, photo-friendly attractions, and locals’ only spots in town. (I had a few Canadian friends help me out with some insider tips!)

If you want to explore a few more photogenic places or find the most striking places to stay Winnipeg — including a historic hotel with its own ghost (!) and a suite where you can play pinball in your room (!!!) — check out this story I wrote for Room5 a few weeks ago. If you’ve never been to Winnipeg, make this the year you check it out. And if you’ve been there before, make this the year you find a few special spots of your own.

Downtown Winnipeg by Stan Milosevic

Here are ten of my favorite Winnipeg experiences. Be sure to share yours in the comments below.

1. Gather at The Forks:
I always try to start or end every Winnipeg trip at The Forks, which has been the heart of commerce at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers for centuries. Now it’s a National Historic Site, a public gathering spot, a place to shop, eat and explore the outdoors.

Personally, I like to stroll the riverwalk before a little shopping and lunch at Forks Market. (I’ve also had some great beer there!) Jenn Smith Nelson, a photographer and travel writer from Regina, Saskatchewan is also a fan.

“I like taking pics from above the bustling food scene at The Forks,” says Jenn, who writes about her adventures on travelandhappiness.com. “It captures such a dynamic and open space where the community comes together to enjoy local fare.”

2. See Winnipeg From The Water:
Seeing the Red and the Assiniboine from The Forks is one thing. But seeing the Forks and the entire city of Winnipeg from the waterways that have been its lifeblood for thousands of years is quite another. I love paddling, so I’m dying to take a canoe out on the Assiniboine when the weather warms up.

Splash Dash Tours offers canoe rentals in the summer, as well as guided boat tours and the River Spirit Water Bus, which stops at The Forks and four other city docks every day during the height of summer. No matter how you do it, seeing Winnipeg from the water is highly recommended.

The Winnipeg Skyline by William Au

3. Ponder the Canadian Museum for Human Rights:
The curvy Canadian Museum for Human Rights is one of the newer buildings on the Winnipeg skyline, but it’s already one of the most recognizable. The alabaster walkways are maybe my favorite interior design element, anywhere, and the rest of the interior is designed to be as affecting as the exhibits. This is one of my favorite museums on the planet and I really recommend it. (I wrote more about it in this story, so I won’t repeat myself.)

Once you’ve reflected on the exhibits (or if you need a little break) check out the observation platform in the spire that towers above Winnipeg. It offers incredible views of the city.

4. Say “Bonjour” to the French Quarter:
The Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface and its sweepingly romantic cemetery are the symbols of St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter. (Fun fact: It’s the largest community of French speakers in Western Canada!) But the sweet boutiques and cafes along Le Boulevard Provencher are its heart.

This is a charming neighborhood to wander, full of quiet nooks, picnic spots and a high concentration of historic buildings. I always see people riding bicycles and it makes me want to take a cruiser out along the river. Bee2Gether offers bike rentals at The Forks, which would be a perfect way to explore this neighborhood and all the the attractions I’ve mentioned so far, since they’re all located near each other.

The Esplanade Riel Bridge by Zyron Paul Felix

5. Stroll Across the Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge
The 250-meter pedestrian bridge that spans the Red River is a Winnipeg landmark and a fabulous selfie spot. (You’ll get great landscape photos from the bridge as well.) The cable bridge connects The Forks and St. Boniface and it’s a great spot for a leisurely stroll.

I just saw that Mon Ami Louis is open for the summer, so maybe this is the year I finally get to try a lemon tart with a view. The restaurant is located right on the bridge, for maximum charm.

Bridge City Drive In by Ryan Wakshinski

6. Indulge at Bridge City Drive In:
Speaking of food (and bridges!) the locals have spoken. No visit to Winnipeg is complete without a stop at a particular ice cream shop that’s located near another Red River bridge.

“BDI (Bridge Drive Inn) is a vintage, walk-up ice cream shop beloved by Winnipeggers and heralded as the best ice cream in the city,” says Jillian Recksiedler, Senior Content Specialist at Travel Manitoba. “It’s widely photographed….and looks great.” The treats, which include absurdly Instagram-worthy waffle cones, a PBJ Parfait, made with Nova Scotia blueberry jam and The Goog, a cult classic that combines a shake, a sundae and lots of whipped cream and bananas, look even better.

7. Shop and Snack in Osborne Village:
Osborne Village, with its quirky boutiques, bars, restaurants and yoga studios, is one of my favorite Winnipeg neighborhoods. “There are so many notable places in Osborne, but that intersection at Osborne and River is the heart of it all,” says Natalie Bell, a social media wizard who blogs at pegcitylovely.com and is basically my pick for the title of queen of Winnipeg. “For scenic walks, head down Roslyn Road along the river, take in a ton of shopping and fabulous eats between River and Stradbrook.”

If Natalie’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because we met up IRL at Stella’s Cafe and Bakery (a Winnipeg institution and a killer breakfast spot) last summer and I wrote about it here. (‘Cause that’s what I do!)

The Assiniboine Forest by Michelle Arnaud

8. Escape Urban Life in the Assiniboine Forest:
“My favourite ‘locals only’ photogenic spot would have to be Assiniboine Forest,” says Michelle Arnaud, a Winnipeg teacher who created and curates belleinthenorth.wordpress.com. “Not a lot of tourists know about this place, even though it is right across the street from the zoo. Paths from within the zoo will take you directly across the street and into the forest.”

“When the seasons change from winter to spring, and life comes back into the trees, the forest is lush and beautiful and filled with colour,” she continued. (I love when my Canadian friends write to me and I can use their original Canadian spelling. We live just a few miles — or kilometres — from each other, but the way we use language is so different. The writer and language nerd in me adores that. Anyway, here’s Michelle again…) “The forest is a great place to walk/bike as there are several different trails that will take you throughout the forest[…]This is where I come to unwind with the help of a long walk and to me, this is photogenic!”

I’ve been in this neighborhood several times, visiting the zoo Michelle mentioned (more on that in a sec), but I had absolutely no idea that it contained one of the largest urban nature parks in Canada. There’s lot of wildlife here too. If you look closely, you’ll find geese, ducks, muskrats and deer.

Old and New in The Exchange (photo by me)

9. Embrace Great Design In The Exchange District:
The Exchange District (or just “The Exchange”) is one of the best-preserved historical neighborhoods in Canada. It’s an awfully photogenic collection of stone and terra cotta buildings, warehouses and quaint cobblestone paths centered around Old Market Square. (This public space hosts outdoor festivals and gatherings now, just like it has for decades.)

The finely honed appreciation for history and aesthetics extends to the art galleries, restaurants and eclectic boutiques in The Exchange. They’ve actually kind of formalized the design-friendly concept with Design Quarter Winnipeg, a website that helps creative and aesthetics-obsessed folks like me explore this super walkable and visually appealing neighborhood and check out shops and experiences along the way.

These polar bears are kinda magical. Photo by me.

10. Watch Polar Bear Ballet at Assiniboine Park Zoo:
Look, I don’t normally get intrigued by zoos. But I am kind of obsessed with The Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The rest of the zoo is nice as well, but the polar bears in the exhibit fascinate me. I think that’s partially because they’re orphans from Churchill, Manitoba, who have been introduced to an environment that mimics Churchill’s habitat so precisely that the bears seem to really like this place.

But the best part is the underwater viewing tunnel. Watching the polar bears swim gracefully above your head is strangely beautiful.

What about you?
Which of these Winnipeg spots have you visited and what did you think?
What items would you add to my list?
Which Winnipeg writers, thinkers, artists, bloggers and photographers should I know more about?
What places and experiences are on your Winnipeg must-see list?

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A note from me: Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg have hosted me in the past and paid for my admission to the Assiniboine Park Zoo and a beer flight at The Common. All opinions are my own and trust me, I’d recommend them to you no matter what.

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