Winnipeg: Canada’s Most Surprising Capital (and the Perfect City Break)

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Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

I’m ridiculously terrible at keeping secrets.

Here’s the truth: when I find a place I like, no matter how much a hidden gem, I’ll be sure to yap about it. Sometimes, for weeks and weeks.

That’s precisely how I am now with Winnipeg, Canada – the Manitoban capital I never knew I’d love.

And somehow, despite its cool array of attractions (from polars bears and Nordic spas, all the way to belt-busting cuisine), Winnipeg still manages to fly stealthily under the tourist radar.

I mean, for a place that I always associated with ‘cartoon tumbleweed’ and ‘sepia toned flashbacks’, I sure wasn’t expecting architecture like this:

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

So how exactly did I waddle my way into this underrated city? Well, when the opportunity came to explore Canada by train last month, I made it my priority to visit the lesser known bits of my country, beyond the aqua lakes and glassy skylines that haunt most #Canadian Instagram feeds.

And as my train came to a slow stop into Winnipeg, I knew instantly that I was about to get sucker punched with surprises. In place of rolling wheat fields were tall glass buildings and architecture straight from the future. I expected farmlands and boredom – instead, I got a big, special city densely packed with cool neighbourhoods, things to do and of course, food that awaited my consumption.

This is a bold statement, but Winnipeg might just be the coolest Canadian destination you haven’t heard of (and not just because of its low winter temperatures). Here’s why I truly believe it makes the perfect city break:

It’s a big city with a small town heart.

Winnipeg may boast a mega cool skyline and a bumpin’ downtown core, but in many ways, it combines the best of big city amenities with the community and kindness of a small Prairie town. After all, the province’s slogan was formerly “Friendly Manitoba” – a name well deserved based on the few local interactions I had. I mean, when you leave wanting to be BFFs with your hotel receptionist, or in want of Friday night cocktails with your restaurant server, it’s easy to wonder whether there’s love potion being dispensed in the air.

The friendliness of the city contributes to an overall welcoming vibe that we Canadians are known for, and of course, cranks up the charm factor to over 9000. The city’s open celebration of diversity helps too. In fact, 1 in 5 Winnipegers have a mother tongue other than English… which has created a very diverse sense of community (not to mention a ridiculously good International food scene).

As a bonus fun fact: The city even has a Facebook group dedicated to leaving positive, painted rocks around the city to brighten people’s days. If that doesn’t melt you, you are legitimately made of stone. *wipes away silent tear* 

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

There’s a ridiculous amount of things to do.

For me, the ideal city break combines cool, unique activities with the occasional opportunity to relax like a chill potato.

And when it comes to cool things to do in Winnipeg, ‘spoiled for choice’ is a cliched understatement.

In the span of a day, it’s possible to soak in the waters of a relaxing Nordic spa, take a peek at the province’s unique wildlife, visit museums that will (no joke) make you cry or eat until your belt buckle screams for mercy.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

A few of the cool, unique stops during my 48 hour trip included…

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights: a destination in itself, and the only museum in the world entirely dedicated to human rights awareness. It’s a truly powerful (and high tech) museum, housed in an incredibly designed building.

The Assiniboine Park and Zoo: the highlight of which was Journey to Churchill, which puts the spotlight on the impressive wildlife to be seen up in Northern Manitoba, ft. rescued polar bear orphans that would have otherwise been unable to survive in the wild. Also home to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

Thermëa: A brilliantly Canadian twist on a Nordic spa. Beautiful grounds, awesome facilities (including a hammock chill-out spot and fire pits for roasting your own smores! *faints*)

Saint Boniface: Crossing the Esplanade Riel (Winnipeg’s photogenic main bridge), you’ll be immersed in a fully French community, the largest Francophone community West of Quebec in fact. In Saint Boniface, you’ll find a truly charming neighbourhood with cute shops and plenty of beautiful sights, like the Saint Boniface cathedral.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.
Saint Boniface Cathedral

FYI: There’s always cool events happening too. Click here for a list of big events and festivals in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg food scene? Absolutely booming.

Once upon a time, a friend I met while travelling raved that her favourite place in the world to eat was Winnipeg.

As a Canadian (who had ever known of Winnipeg as the butt of ‘Winterpeg’ jokes), I was surprised to say the least.

BUT, sure enough, Winnipeg’s food scene is increasingly getting worldwide recognition. With lively new restaurants and inventive dishes popping up all over town, the city’s reputation as “Canada’s most overlooked food destination” is quickly catching on.

Especially with the city’s diverse community, a wide variety of International cuisine is readily available to satisfy any craving. For a real treat though, I recommend digging into the goods at Feast Cafe Bistro, where Indigenous Canadian flavours take the forefront. There are no words to describe how tasty this place is!

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.
A yummy bannock burger at Feast.
Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.
Delicious jambalaya from ERA Bistro

Last but not least, it’s a fun city to explore and discover for yourself.

There’s a certain charm to cities that have resisted the clutches of mass tourism. Those arriving in Winnipeg might assume (wrongfully) that it’s like most big cities, wherein the downtown core is the place to be.

But, the truth is, where Winnipeg really shines is its unique set of neighbourhoods.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.
Forth, a beautiful cafe in Winnipeg’s Exchange District

Forget attraction-hopping with a list of must-dos – one of the best things about Winnipeg is there’s still enough mystery that you can uncover the coolest parts of the city for yourself. Besides bumming around cafes in the buzzing Exchange District and Saint Boniface, I also got the chance to tour through Winnipeg’s West End to explore the 60+ murals that deck its dynamically diverse walls. Unexpectedly, it was here that I found some of the most interesting street art I’ve seen in recent memory, all oozing with unique stories and history.

And with plenty of neighbourhoods just like this, all steeped in character and unique charm, Winnipeg is ripe for exploration.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

So, in sum, I have to say: there really is a unique energy in Winnipeg. And I can’t lie, when I catch someone saying that there’s nothing to do in the city, or that it’s not worth stopping for, I get oddly defensive. Sure, Winnipeg often finds itself at the mercy of jokes (even among its self-deprecating population), but check it out for yourself, and I’m sure you’ll see why it’s such a worthwhile city break, despite its notoriously cold winters.

No doubt, I’ve left a bit of my heart in this surprising city, and I can’t wait to find my way back someday. (If only just to eat until implosion).

So tell me, what’s the most underrated city you’ve ever been to? Or what surprises you most about Winnipeg?! Let me know in the comments 🙂


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Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of Canada's most underrated city! Here's why it makes the perfect city break, featuring inspiration for things to do in Winnipeg and popular sights to visit.


A huge thanks to Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba for hosting me during my stay! All experiences, photos and opinions are my own 🙂


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53 thoughts on “Winnipeg: Canada’s Most Surprising Capital (and the Perfect City Break)”

  1. Canada just seems to have so many great places to visit. Really like big towns that feel like small ones. The fact that you have city and nature so close is also great. And the Human Rights Museum sounds really interesting! Thanks for sharing your secrets:)

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  2. Human rights, spa and zoo all in three paragraphs?! *booking ticket*
    This city looks lovely! Hoping to make it to Canada finally next year… and get my hands on literally all of the food.

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    • Right?! That was my reaction too when I started researching the things there were to do. What an underrated city. And eep Canada is so wonderful! Come visit. you’ll love it <3

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    • It’s also a city in rapid development as well – lots of construction! Excited to see what it looks like in a few years 🙂 ooh and those two attractions are good picks! I hope you get to visit Winnipeg to see them for yourself sometime soon.

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    • Ahh I know hey?! Cost was one of the main things putting me off from exploring Canada, but when the VIA Rail $150 passes came out this summer, I jumped on the opportunity and had SO much fun. Canada is ridiculously beautiful, and there are so many spots (especially around the Prairies) that are so underrated. I hope you get the chance to see for yourself soon!

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    • Haha I don’t blame you! It’s not super well known internationally, but I can imagine that changing really quick. It’s an up and coming destination for sure. Hope you get to see for yourself someday!

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  3. As a (almost) lifelong resident of Winnipeg, I thank you for your kind words about my home town. I hope you return for another visit perhaps in the winter. It can get pretty cold but there are so many fun winter activities here as well

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    • I’d love to see Winnipeg in the winter! I’ve heard the river freezes over and there’s lots of fun stuff happening? Sounds magical.

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  4. I come from Paris but am living in Winnipeg, which surprises every single person I meet, and I honestly love the fact that it’s so decried and underrated, it’s better for us here to keep our secrets! I am not sure I would want to live anywhere else in Canada.

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    • That is such an interesting switch!! Was there a particular reason why you chose Winnipeg? Either way, sounds like you’re loving it 🙂 I can see why!

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  5. I am a resident. If you can manage to book a car for a few days I highly recommend leaving the city and explore the provinces amazing nature. Nopaming Park, Riding Mountain National Park the oldest park in Canada and Whiteshell Park are not to be missed. In the city best breakfast and prettiest patio hands down is Stella’ s. La Roca bar is amazing drawing a sophisticated crowd with unique cocktails. Osbourne Village for independent interesting little shops and the heart of hanging out in Winnipeg stop for a pint at The Toad and people watch on the patio. Want a killer vegan burger that will blow your mind.. boon burger is in the area..best sushi sooo good Naru. Visit St Vital park and walk around the ponds stopping to feed the ducks. Do not miss The Forks Market with their cobble stone streets take a sweet break at sugar mountain followed by a 6.00 boat ride on the red to learn it’s history. There is SO much more…ill leave the rest up to you.

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    • Wow that all sounds amazing! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂 I did manage to visit the Forks Market but not in depth. I’d love to come back and see more of the province though. Manitoba looks beautiful!

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  6. I’ve always loved living here, but sometimes we are our worst enemies; putting down our city on a regular basis. I think we have an insecurity issue!

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    • I think a lot of people enjoy making fun of their own cities – don’t worry, it’s a sign of good humour 😉 Winnipeg looks like a fun place to live for sure!

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  7. Thanks for the great review! I’ve been living in Winnipeg for 30 years and love my city.
    There are many more parts our beautiful city that you must explore the next time you visit. The super active local music scene, Folklorama in the summer, a short drive to Lockport down the very scenic Henderson Highway for a hot dog at Half Moon, Assinaboine Park, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, or Symphony Orchestra, the bustling night club scene, the Winnipeg Wine Festival, a Winnipeg Jets game or concert at the Bell MTS Center, my personal favorite… The Forks, and sooooo VERY much more! Winnipeg is also just a short drive to some of the most beautiful Canadian Shield cottage country and fasntastic fishing. There is really always something to do here. The winters can get a little cold… not all the time though and not for the whole winter. Just more reason to stay inside at that time of year and spend quality time with family, or take in some outdoor winter activities like skating. The cold winters make one appreciate the beautiful summers even more. Its amazing to have 4 real distinct seasons. So glad you enjoyed our little hidden gem!

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    • Wow, thanks for all those recommendations, Miles!! What I love is that it sounds like there’s always something going on, so you’re never bored. I’d love to come back and see more. 2 days was no time at all!

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  8. Thank you for your kind words. As a native Winnipegger, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Sports, culture, history, dining, nature, whatever is your pleasure, you can find it here no matter the season. I hope you come back to see some of our other treasures.

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  9. How is it possible that as a fellow Canadian i never even looked into Winnipeg as a travel destination?

    I lived in Toronto for two years and it was right in the next province!

    Can’t believe it but now after reading your fun days visiting, i’m definitely adding it to the bucket list!

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    • I don’t blame you! Travelling within Canada is so expensive, even when the locations are geographically close. I likely wouldn’t have visited if it weren’t for the VIA Rail pass I got. It was amazing though. I highly recommend it 🙂 we canadians ought to see more of our own country before running off abroad haha.

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  10. I live in Vancouver and when my partner suggested a road trip to Winnipeg my first reaction was why? I am currently resting up in the Fort Garry Hotel, exhausted from seeing so many amazing and wonderful things! We cannot cram all of the places we want to see into four days and will have to come back. This has been a fabulous vacation. Thank you, Winnipeg!

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    • So happy to hear about another traveller having such a positive experience!! There really is so much more to do than expected, hey? Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 Hope you had an amazing trip!

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  11. Thanks for such a grew view of my beautiful city! I’m used to people making it the butt of jokes – winter, people being cheap, etc – but it’s so refreshing to see it viewed so positively and from such a different perspective we’re used to. I love our big little city!!

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  12. Your words about my hometown (and favourite Canadian city) actually brought a few tears to my eyes! Winnipeg has so much heart and culture, and a very passionate group of young people who are heavily invested in making this city so much more than a pit stop on the way to either coast. Thank you!

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    • Aw, Janelle! Thanks so much for the sweet comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to share. I definitely see Winnipeg as an up and coming destination. Excited to see where it goes from here!

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  13. I am a Winnipeg resident and enjoyed your feature which included a restaurant I will have to try. I just wanted to add that as wonderful as the Cdn Museum for Human rights is, we also have our provincial museum, the Manitoba Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Man and Nature. As a museum aficionado who has enjoyed many of the world’s greatest museums, that this one is an excellent museum with great life-sized dioramas and a full-size re-creation of a 1800s sailing ship. Well worth a visit.

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    • Thanks for the recommendation, Alan! 48 hours in the city simply wasn’t enough to do all the things I wanted to do, and that of course included seeing more museums. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to come back soon and explore more!

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  14. I live in Winnipeg and love this city. Another great feature of living here is just an hour north by car… Grand Beach! A beautiful miles long beach with white sand, blue Prairie sky and a ton of beautiful people. A true hidden treasure that shocks everyone I take there.

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  15. This article boasts of Winnipeg like its the safest place to live in Canada. When in reality it is one of the most dangerous places to live in Canada! I was born and raised in that city, and it’s not the kind of place you just “wander” around, unless your looking for drugs, or trouble!

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    • Hey, thanks for the comment but I should clarify this article comes purely from the perspective of a traveller/visitor who was in town for all of two days. I can’t comment on what it’s like to live there, but in the two days I explored the city, I never once felt unsafe. Of course everyone will have different experiences though, so I apologize that you don’t feel the same way!

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  16. We have gone to Winnipeg multiple times and have enjoyed many of your suggestions.

    The art scene is a big draw for us and Winnipeg has so much to offer. We have attended musicals, ballets, plays, and live music venues.
    An additional gem, we have found their horse racing to be a very fun day.

    It is a clean, easy to navigate, welcoming city.

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    • I would have loved to take greater advantage of the art scene! I guess that’s something to look forward to next time 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions!

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  17. Glad you loved Winnipeg so much! Some of many other great things we have to offer, that attract people from all over the world:
    – Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    – Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre
    – Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
    – Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival
    – Winnipeg Jazz Festival
    – Winnipeg Folk Festival
    – Prairie Theatre Exchange
    – Many, many indie music venues where you’ll hear great acts from here and away
    – Canada Day’s Osborne street festival
    – In winter you can actually skate at The Forks where two frozen rivers meet!
    – Many, many, many other things besides what I’ve listed…and if you are lost, locals will go out of their way to help you find your way
    – If you have the time and access to a vehicle, in about an hour you can be at one of the best beaches in the world
    – Thermea is cool, though my fave spa experience is still the amazing Ten Spa at the Hotel Fort Garry

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  18. It would be nice if you didn’t disregard farmlands and call them boring. Farmers are the hardest working people out there and their fields are beautiful. Who do you think supplies all the food that you are raving about?? Take an aerial view and see the patchwork quilt that makes up rural farming areas.

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    • Hey Art – definitely didn’t mean to offend! Of course I recognize the importance of farms & farmers. I was purely writing from the perspective of a traveller coming to visit for a few days. I was trying to say that Winnipeg was a way more modern, vibrant and buzzing city than I expected, and that there were a lot more attractions and things to do (as a tourist) than I previously thought. Apologies if my choice of words caused offense.

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  19. If you like history. Just a 30 minute drive north of the city is Lower Fort Garry. This is an original stone fort situated on the Red River which dates back to the Fur Trade days of the mid 1800’s. Guides dress in clothing of the era and take on rolls of original inhabitants of the Fort and region.

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  20. If you pass through again you should try to find a local to show you around (including myself if I’m around). There are all sorts of events happing in Winnipeg that you’ll never hear about unless you know a local… because we don’t expect anyone to come visit. The local music and fine art is incredible. It’s so cheap to live here that we end up full of artists.

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  21. Winnipeg has so much heart and culture, and a very passionate group. I really wish people will come to see this city more. there is a group called Reves Magazine, they are really doing so much to push creative. their website is revesproduction.ca

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