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Generally, you don’t really think about going to Winnipeg for a weekend getaway. On the west coast, we associate weekend adventures with going up to the Okanagan for wine, down to Seattle or Portland to eat and shop, or heading over to Victoria or one of the Gulf Island for a slower pace. After my recent trip to Winnipeg, my eyes have been open to the idea of going a little further and think you should too!
You can occasionally spot some really good round trip deals which make Winnipeg an attractive choice for a getaway. Now with the new low-cost carrier, New Leaf, you can travel to Winnipeg for a very affordable price from across Canada.
I was pleasantly surprised by everything Winnipeg had to offer. To help you make the most of your weekend in the city, here are my top picks of how to spend 48 hours in Winnipeg.
Flight to Winnipeg
With direct flights and a flight time of less than 3 hours from the three largest Canadian cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, getting to Winnipeg is easy and quick. Wrap up your workday, head to the airport and you can sleep in a completely different city.
Check into the ALT Hotel
Located downtown Winnipeg with easy access to numerous attractions, the ALT Hotel is a sleek and comfortable home away from home. The bed is super comfortable and I thoroughly enjoyed the pillows.
There is free wifi throughout the property. I really enjoyed the scent of the soap and shampoo in the washroom and the pressure from the shower head was amazing. All the things I appreciate in a great hotel room. There is a continental breakfast available in the morning if you’re like me and need something to nibble on as soon as you wake up.
Morning – Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Spend the morning wandering through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). Housed in a beautiful building, the museum is home to exhibits that explore human rights as a way to inspire change for the future. Over 7 floors and 10 core galleries containing stories from around the world and across Canada, there is a lot of information and displays to explore within the museum.
Hop on one of the museum tours for a great overview of the exhibits which highlights some of the museum’s more unique offerings. Be sure to head to the top of the museum to the Israel Asper Tower of Hope which offers panoramic views of Winnipeg. To make the most of your visit, carve out at least 2- 3 hours to see the museum. I was there for about 2 hours and needed more time to fully see everything.
Afternoon – The Forks and the Manitoba Legislative building
Following your visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, make your way over to The Forks, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, which is just down the street. The Forks, aptly named as this is where the Assiniboine River and Red River meet (or fork depending on how you see it!), has been a meeting place for traders, settlers and many others for thousands of years. Today, it is home to a market full of shops, food stalls, restaurants and entertainment options.
Wander around the market and enjoy a nibble or two at one of the food stalls. Take a stroll down the Assiniboine Riverwalk to see where the two rivers meet. During the winter you can rent skates and experience a variety of skating rinks, trails and snow parks.
If interested, you can take the free shuttle, The Downtown Spirit and head over to the Manitoba Legislative building. In the summer months, the Legislature offers free tours of the building, its history and architecture every hour, but must be booked ahead of time. In the offseason, all tours must be pre-arranged. Otherwise, you can go on a self-guided tour.
Afternoon – Trolley Tour
Once back at The Forks, hop on a tour with the Winnipeg Trolley Company and find out about Winnipeg’s fascinating history as you explore its various neighbourhoods. Over the course of an hour and forty-five minutes, you’ll wind your way through the best sights in Winnipeg. You’ll find out how this city is linked to James Bond, why Winnipeg was once called the ‘wickedest city in Canada’, and how the opening of the Panama canal affected the city.
Generally, I avoid this type of tour, but the tour was really entertaining and, being the trivia nerd that I am, I loved all the cool trivia I found out about the city. It definitely changed the way that I thought about the city and the province in general. The tour departs from the front of The Forks Market – you can’t miss spotting the trolley out front. For the most up to date schedule, check on their website. You can purchase tickets in person at the Forks, but it’s recommended to purchase them online in advance.
Pro-tip: If you are intending to go to the Assiniboine Zoo the next day, consider purchasing a ticket in advance for both. You can save 10%, but you must purchase the ticket online.
Evening – Royal Winnipeg Ballet or Explore the Exchange District
In the evening, enjoy a performance by the world-renowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet. They have a variety of performances throughout the season and if your visit lines up with a performance, be sure to grab tickets.
If there is no performance, or you’re not interested in going to the ballet, then head to the Exchange District for dinner. The Exchange District is a National Historic Site home to North America’s largest preserved collection of heritage buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Today its warehouses have been converted to be filled by restaurants, shops, art galleries and museums. Wander around and pick a place for dinner. Multiple people suggested Deer + Almond to me, but I didn’t have any stomach space left!
Morning – Assiniboine Zoo
Start your last day in Winnipeg by taking a Journey to Churchill at the Assiniboine Zoo. While some are lucky enough to travel to northern Manitoba to the city of Churchill to experience the polar bears first hand, many are not, but you can get close with the Journey to Churchill experience. This exhibit is the most comprehensive northern species exhibit in the world featuring polar bears, muskoxen, Arctic fox, wolves and other northern species. The zoo has even recreated parts of the Churchill facade down to the “polar bear jail” that the real Churchill uses to house polar bears that wander too close to the city until they can be released back into the wild.
Home to seven polar bears, there are a number of viewing points as well as an underwater viewing passage to watch them swim. The polar bears here were either orphaned cubs rescued from Churchill or brought here from other zoos when their mothers rejected them. Beyond the animals, there are numerous displays discussing climate change, conservation and what you can do to reduce your environmental footprint.
While the Journey to Churchill exhibit is one of the highlights of the Assiniboine Zoo, there are a number of other exhibits that highlight animals from around the world that you can explore as well.
Afternoon – Free afternoon
In your last afternoon in Winnipeg, you have a number of options. If you decided to go to the ballet the previous evening you can opt to explore the Exchange District and eat your way around the neighbourhood. Alternatively, you can go to Osborne Village, one of Winnipeg’s oldest neighbourhoods. Its streets are filled with speciality shops, restaurants and cafes to pass your time.
If you feel up for a walk, you can also head over to the nearby Corydon Avenue, once Winnipeg’s “Little Italy” to enjoy a patio or scoop of ice cream. Another option is to explore the streets of St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter and home to the largest francophone communities west of the Great Lakes. The Métis leader, Louis Riel, was born here and the area is rich in history.
If it’s relaxation that you’re after, I’d suggest heading to Thermea to soak in their Scandinavian-inspired spa. With three outdoor baths of varying temperature, four saunas and beautiful resting spots inside and out, you’ll leave feeling rejuvenated. Make sure to stop for the Aufguss ritual which happens several times a day in the sauna. Water is frozen with essential oils and as it melts in the sauna, the ritual performer moves the vapour around with the use of a towel. It can get quite hot, especially when he or she is right in front of you, but it’s quite the unique and memorable experience. Just remember to pack a bathing suit, sandals and a reusable water bottle if you intend to go!
Evening – Flight home
After a full weekend of exploration, it’s time to head to the airport and say goodbye until next time.
Where and What To Eat
Looking for places to eat? Check out this post full of my favourite bites in Winnipeg when you only have a couple meals to enjoy in the city.
If you are visiting during the summer months during the week, I’d highly suggest booking yourself for a food tour with the Exchange District Biz. The food tours, which vary from year to year, are grouped by theme and highlight some of the best food in the neighbourhood. Prices depend on the specific tour you book.
The Little South America food tour that I went on has since been replaced by the Ales and Tales pub crawl for beer lovers and the Savour the Exchange food tour which highlights local foods in a fine-dining atmosphere. Tour groups are small and intimate allow for lots of interaction with your tour guide. The tours are almost like a progressive dinner with appetizers in one location, a main in another and finally dessert in a third destination. In between, you walk from restaurant to restaurant, learning about the history and interesting bits of trivia about the district. Unlike a number of other food tours I’ve been on, you actually get a lot of food and you leave the evening fully satisfied (and buzzing if you choose to partake in the alcoholic beverages!).
The city of Winnipeg offers a free shuttle around its downtown core which allows for easy access to many of the city’s sights. You can find maps and schedules for The Downtown Spirit on the Winnipeg Transit website. Otherwise, there is an extensive network of buses that can get you around the city. Pick up a peggo card which allows you to easily tap on and off transit. You can purchase a pass for 24 hours, 3 days and longer.
Getting to and from the airport is easy. Bus route 15 connects the Winnipeg airport with downtown Winnipeg. Otherwise, a taxi ride is an affordable option that would set you back about $20 to downtown Winnipeg.
As the literal Heart of Canada, Winnipeg is a great place to explore on a weekend getaway. Add it to your itinerary when crossing Canada or make it a destination for your next getaway. You’ll never know what you’ll discover.
Experiences in this post were made possible in partnership with Tourism Winnipeg, however, I selected my favourite activities for this itinerary and they’re all things I would do again in a heartbeat.