A guide of what to do in Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city is an overlooked gem and a place that you need to visit.
I let the locals lead the way as I discovered what to do in Winnipeg. When Travel Manitoba invited me to spend five days in Winnipeg and let me plan my time (usually tourism boards provide writers with packed itineraries) I decided to ask locals where to go and let that be the basis for my exploration.
Tamara from Travel Manitoba sent me to Mon Ami Louis, Lennard Taylor, Bothwell’s, and Forth. Adam, one of the baristas at Forth, recommended Passero and Phantom Amusements. My server at Passero sent me to Segovia. My hotel offered a run with a concierge named Marie who told me to go to Oh Doughnuts. The staff at Oh Doughnuts told me to go to Better than Baba. Jess from Nonsuch Brewery recommending shopping at Out of the Blu. The recommendations turned the trip into an adventure where I never knew what was coming next!
Recommendations from Travel Manitoba and a reader named Julie, who grew up in Winnipeg, served as references and helped me to plan out my time in specific neighborhoods and fill my days. I never ran out of things to do, and I spent 5 packed days exploring Winnipeg.
What to Know About Winnipeg
The flight from Chicago takes less than 2 hours. United has direct flights. So easy!
When you leave Winnipeg, you go through US Customs at the Winnipeg Airport. This is huge considering what a nightmare going through customs at O’Hare can be.
For Americans, the exchange rate is in your favor. $1 USD is equal to $1.33 CAD. It’s basically like getting everything for 30% off.
The food scene so good that I am upset that no one told me about it. It’s modern, it’s globally inspired, it’s unpretentious, it isn’t overpriced, and it’s relatively easy to get into even the top restaurants.
It’s home to one of the best spas that I have ever experienced. Thermea is reason enough to go to Winnipeg.
Uber and lyft do not operate in Winnipeg, but one of the local cab companies, Unicity Taxi, has its own mobile app that makes ordering a cab easy.
For some reason, Canadians don’t always speak highly about Winnipeg, but I thought it was truly lovely. It’s an ideal destination for a long weekend away for Chicagoans.
What to do in Winnipeg
The Exchange District
If you visit Winnipeg, you will certainly find yourself in the Exchange District at least once. Take the time to admire the historic Chicago-style architecture. Winnipeg was a booming city considered the “Chicago of the North” until the Panama Canal was built and hurt the city’s railway industry.
One of the things that makes this district distinctive is the amount of Brutalist style buildings. Brutalism is a post-war architecture that utilized inexpensive building materials like cement. If you are from Chicago, you might recall the old Prentice Hospital was built in the Brutalist style (and sadly could not be saved from the wrecking ball).
If you want to dig deeper into the city’s history and architecture, sign up for the Hermetic Code Tour that takes place on Wednesday nights. It unpacks the architectural symbolism of the Manitoba Legislative Building and its ties to the freemasons. I didn’t have a chance to go, but I heard it is one of the best tours in Canada.
Old Market Square is the centerpiece of the Exchange District. Its cube-shaped stage hosts concerts and open mics.
This is the buzziest brunch spot in Winnipeg – and they are open on weekdays! Located in the Exchange District, Clementine is open daily until 3. Be sure to ask about the specials which locals say are always amazing. I had Eggs Benedict with brown butter hollandaise and thick-cut bacon on a homemade black pepper biscuit. The breakfast potatoes are a must-order, they come fried and topped with a chickpea mayo with bbq spice and maple.
A stationary store with a beautifully curated selection of all things on paper, plus some gifts.
A shop that specializes in vintage hats, accessories, and clothing.
A large art gallery showcasing work from Canadian artists. I love how much of the artwork depicts Canada’s wild nature.
A boutique specializing in women’s clothing with minimalist designs.
A coffee shop/cocktail bar/co-working space hybrid. I loved that they have a shelf of plants that you can bring to your table if you want some company while you work or sip your coffee.
This Winnipeg-based fashion designer has a storefront/studio space in the Exchange District. One of the trademarks of his designs is adding pockets to almost every dress. In addition to Taylor’s designs, the shop also sells accessories by Canadian designers.
The hotel I stayed at, The Inn at the Forks, had a concierge led run through downtown and Marie, the Run Concierge, stopped to point out this doughnut spot mid-run. When I walked by later, I had to stop in. Most of the doughnuts on the menu are vegan and the flavors appeal to those who like their doughnuts fruit-flavored and people who prefer chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter.
Food trucks line Broadway in Downtown Winnipeg during lunchtime on weekdays, and the folks at Oh Doughnuts recommended this pierogi truck. I had the traditional pierogi filled with potato and cheddar and topped with caramelized onions, bacon, sour cream, and dill. Definitely a great choice.
Nonsuch and Little Brown Jug are two of Winnipeg’s most popular local breweries and they are located within walking distance of each other in the Exchange District. Nonsuch has an elegant restaurant/taproom with matte black walls and light fixtures made out of golden umbrellas hung from the ceiling.
This brewery is the opposite of Nonsuch. It is barebones and visitors can see the brewing in action from the small taproom. The friendly staff let me taste their brews before I ordered a pint, and my favorite was the 1919.
This art museum is home to the world’s largest collection of modern and contemporary Inuit Art.
This neighborhood is the French section of Winnipeg and the center of Manitoba’s French community.
This restaurant is located right on the bridge between the English and French sections of Winnipeg. They are known for having the best poutine in Winnipeg. I stopped in for a glass of wine and to escape the rain and I enjoyed watching people practice for dragon boat races in the river below.
More than a cheese shop, Bothwell also sells other Canadian food and kitchen products. But, the main reason to visit is to buy their own cheeses, which comes in varieties like red wine cheddar.
A locally owned chocolate shop that sells chocolates, pastries, and cakes.
This section of Winnipeg where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet is a center of activity. The riverfront is home to parks, restaurants, The Forks Market, and the Children’s Museum. It’s a part of the city that visitors can’t miss.
I felt right at home in the Creator’s Suite set up at Inn at the Forks. The room itself had a desk for me to do work, a sitting area with a fireplace, and a separate bedroom.
Throughout the summer different “creators” had been staying in the suite and it was set up with a bulletin board of day trip ideas that I used to plan a day in Hecla.
The location of the hotel put me within walking distance to the Exchange District, and there was much to do right in The Forks.
One of my favorite parts of my say was the run concierge! The hotel offers guided runs at 6:30 am on Wednesdays. Marie, the run concierge, led a group of four hotel guests on a 5k run that took us through Downtown and the Exchange District, and we stopped along the way so that she could tell us bit of Winnipeg history, told us about landmarks, and explained how the Jets return has helped to revitalize downtown.
It’s rare that a hotel has a restaurant that feels like a destination and not a hotel restaurant, but I loved Smith so much that I visited four times. Their breakfast is excellent, and the bar at Smith came to life with live music on Fridays and Saturdays. I ended my Saturday night with a glass of wine and sticky toffee pudding while listening to the band.
These thirty-minute boat tours start at the Forks and go up and down the river past landmarks like the Manitoba Legislative Building. In addition to tours, the company also offers a water bus service stopping at destinations along the river.
Winnipeg is very proud to be the home for this national museum that shares the history of human rights struggles around the world. The architecture is filled with symbolism. The exterior windows are all distinctly shaped, made to withstand extreme Manitoba temperatures, and form the shape of dove’s wings. The central tower, named the Tower of Hope, has two shades of glass so that it looks unfinished to represent that the work of human rights is never complete.
Inside there is even more symbolism, it’s dark when you enter and gets lighter and brighter as you work your way through the exhibits and towards the tower of hope.
This large market and food hall is located in a historic building that was once a stable. Inside you will find a variety of shops and restaurants. The restaurants include small takeout joints and sit down restaurants representing cuisines from all over the globe. I dined at Passero, a modern Italian restaurant were I enjoyed a very memorable meal of pasta with short rib, horseradish mascarpone, and peas – definitely one of the best meals I have had this year.
A shop selling macarons, cookies, and other confections on the second floor of the Forks Market. I had a sandwich cookie stuffed with buttercream frosting.
This modern Italian restaurant served up one of the best meals that I have had all year. I had the meatballs, which were the perfect texture and coated in a fresh tomato sauce, and then I had pasta topped with shortrib, peas, black truffle, and pecorino romano. Eating here is a must.
The Common is the wine and beer bar in the center of The Fork’s Market. They don’t serve food, but you are welcome to bring your meal from one of the take out places at the Forks over to eat at their bar.
A no-frills stand serving up seriously delicious steak frites. I ordered beef tenderloin and fries and then took it over to The Common’s bar and paired it with a glass of Malbec.
An unassuming wood-fired pizza joint with excellent pizza, the crust is thin yet doughy and their menu hits all the classics and includes some more unique offerings like The Gobbler with Manitoba turkey sausage, red onion, kale, mozzarella, and Parmesan cream and The Ratatouille with fire-roasted zucchini, red pepper, eggplant, red onions, house-made Manitoba tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella.
I had completely forgotten how fun pinball is! It’s a blast. After dinner at Passero, I played a few rounds of Guardians of the Galaxy pinball and now I am trying to figure out if I have space for a pinball machine at home.
Go to Wolseley to see street art, shop at locally-owned boutiques, and to dine. All of these recommendations are very close together, most are on Sherbrook Street and you can easily walk between them.
Julie (the reader who sent me a great list of recommendations) told me about this alleyway where an artist named Kal Barteski has painted Arctic wildlife on garage doors. You want to enter Arctic Alley at 157 Ethelbert Street, you will find two alleyways where nearly every garage is painted.
I ate brunch at Stella’s before wandering down Arctic Alley, and I recommend doing the same. You don’t want to miss out on Stella’s and the two are very close together. After Artic Alley I got a tea at Thom Bargen – make an event out of it!
I want to mention have lovely this area is. I loved just walking around admiring the homes and beautiful flower-filled gardens.
I didn’t make it to this restaurant, but it was recommended so I want to mention it. It’s known for serving comfort food brunch. The menu has egg dishes, soups, salad, sandwiches, and comfort food classics like macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles, matza ball soup, and chicken noodle soup.
Stella’s came up again and again, it’s considered to be one of the best places for brunch in Winnipeg. I got up early on my last day in Winnipeg to go, only to find out that they also have a location right at the airport! There are seven locations in total and they whip up breakfast classics to satisfy people who like sweet or savory meals in the morning.
A store selling a mix of clothing, jewelry, and home products.
A coffee shop that makes the most amazing London Fog that I have ever tasted, they seem to create their own seasoning mix to make it.
James from Little Brown Jug said that this is the place to listen to live music, have some drinks, and eat fried chicken. Other people said the same thing, unfortunately, it just didn’t fit into my itinerary.
I spent an evening in this neighborhood and fell in love with it.
Tamara lit up when she told me about Chaeban’s, it’s owned by a dairy scientist and he makes the creamiest ice creams. The flavors include classics like vanilla, chocolate, and caramel with unique twists and their own creations like Mojito Mint Patti.
Segovia was recommended again and again by almost everyone I asked. James at Little Brown Jug told me to “order anything, it’s all good”. My server at Passero mentioned it, Julie put it high up on her list of recommendations. Travel Manitoba listed it second on the long list of Suggested Activities they gave me (Passero was first). I loved the beets and plums with goat yogurt and cashews.
Out of all the shops I visited in Winnipeg, Out of the Blu had the best selection of women’s clothing and accessories. They stock small independent brands that I had never heard of and the prices are reasonable.
I love the concept of Small Mercies, it’s part coffee house, part gift shop, and part florist with a welcoming courtyard in the back. Also visit Rooster and Silver Lotus, a shoe store and jewelry shop beside Small Mercies, all three share the same owner.
Julie told me to go here and order the “schmoo”. I ordered it not even knowing what it was. As I was checking out I learned that schmoo is a pecan angel food cake with whipped cream frosting and caramel sauce. It’s heavenly.
Heads up – be sure to bring cash. They accept only cash and debit cards, but US debit cards do not work here.
This spa is exceptional and visiting is something that you must-do if you visit Winnipeg. You can go for a massage or other treatment, or just opt for the thermal spa experience. The Thermal Experience is $58 CAD ($44 USD) and includes a variety of saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, relaxation pools, cold plunge pools, relaxation areas, and an outdoor lounge area/beer garden. It’s the ultimate place to relax; I spent four blissful hours here.
Bring your own flip flops and robe if you have them, and bring a book or magazine to read if you want. Wear a bathing suit, these are required since all areas are co-ed.
A large mall not far from the airport. This is something fun to do on a cold or rainy day.
This outlet mall has shops like Sak’s Off Fifth, Lululemon, DSW, and Kate Spade, and the deals are even better given the favorable exchange rate.
Located in River Heights, Enoteca is a sister restaurant to Passero. Enoteca is a small cozy restaurant on Corydon Avenue and their fried chicken with black garlic ranch and creme fraiche is phenomenal.
The most popular exhibit at this zoo is “Journey to Churchill” which explains how researchers travel to Churchill in Northern Manitoba to study polar bears.
The West End is a diverse neighborhood that many immigrants call home, and for this reason, it is home to restaurants representing many different cultures. The West End Food Tour combined the history of the neighborhood with a series of tasting at local restaurants.
I met Rob when I did the West End Food Tour (he was also a guest, not the host) and when he told me that he hosts free walking tours on Saturdays I knew I had to go! Rob blended Winnipeg history with walks over two bridges that divide the north and south sections of the city. I loved getting to see the street art on the tour.
If you are a hockey fan go see Winnipeg’s NHL team. Or plan your trip to Winnipeg based around when your team is playing the Jets!
Winnipeg’s baseball team is the Goldeyes, they play at Shaw Park which is near The Forks.
Ballet in the Park
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet puts on free shows Assiniboine Park’s Lyric Theatre in the summer.
Corydon Avenue Concert Series
This summer concert series takes place in different locations along Corydon Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer.
Day Trip Ideas
I got the chance to spend a day outside of Winnipeg enjoying nature. I drove up to Hecla, stopped in Matlock, and drove past sunflower fields.
It takes just under two hours to drive from Winnipeg north to Hecla Island and Grindstone Provincial Park. Once there walk the Grassy Narrows Marsh Trails that take you over the marshland to the water.
Then drive further north to see the lighthouse in Gull Harbor. There is a small yet lovely restaurant beside the lighthouse where I stopped for lunch. From the lighthouse, you can walk a trail through a wooded area to an elevated viewpoint. It’s a very beautiful and peaceful area, loved getting to experience this nature.
Stop in Hecla Village to walk around and see the historic wooden buildings like Hecla Church which was built in 1890 and the Sigurgeirsson Log House which has been a home, store, and post office.
A town with Icelandic roots and just over an hours drive from Winnipeg. Today visitors to Gimli can learn about Icelandic culture at the New Iceland Heritage Museum. There is also a Glider Museum and a Viking Statue.
Gimli is home to an Icelandic Festival and a summer film festival where movies are shown on a screen in the lake and people watch from the beach.
This beach town and resort community on Lake Winnipeg is less than an hour from Winnipeg. This is the place to go on a hot summer day.
Matlock is known for its series of wooden piers extending over Lake Winnipeg.
If I missed any of your favorite things to do in Winnipeg in this post, please share them in the comments.
Read More About Winnipeg
I partnered with Travel Manitoba on this trip. As always, all the opinions expressed are my own.