Photographer Matt Scobel and I were provided with access to a variety of activities during our five days in Winnipeg to experience what all the city has to offer. But as always, all thoughts, opinions, advice and adventures are 100% my own.
How do you decide what to see and do when visiting a new destination?
I find it overwhelming to figure out how to prioritize my time when I only have a few days. I want to pack in as much as possible as I’m the type of traveller that doesn’t want to miss anything.
What I’ve found over years of exploration is that the best way to source travel “musts” is to ask friends, family and my online community. I want the best thoughts and ideas from those who live or have travelled in the destination. It makes for the perfect mix of experiencing tourist sites as well as local destinations.
When Matt Scobel and I found out we were going to visit Winnipeg as part of the second Creator House, that’s exactly what I did. I reached out online and asked everyone what to do for our five days in Winnipeg.
Here are our experiences on what to see and do in Winnipeg as recommended by locals and travellers.
Bike the Trails to the Fringe Festival and Explore Downtown
Recommended By: The Front Desk Staff at the Inn at the Forks
Upon check-in at the Inn at the Forks, we asked how we should start our visit. The front desk staff recommended we bike the trails into downtown for brunch and then spend the afternoon taking in the Fringe Festival.
We booked out the bikes on our first morning and headed into the historic Exchange District. We stopped at Clementine Cafe – a popular suggestion. Matt dined on the Braised Bacon Benedict and I ordered the Smoked Arctic Char with crispy potato cake, creme fraiche and cured dill cucumber.
Afterwards, we meandered past the Cube Stage and Old Market Square to catch live performances part of the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. As the second-largest fringe festival in North America, there were dozens of shows to attend throughout the 12-day festival.
Biking back along the trails to our hotel, we felt it was only appropriate to cool down from the hot afternoon by stopping at the Forks for a flight of local beer from The Common and a flight of ice cream from Neon Cone.
Consider Day 1 a success.
Get a Moon Dog at the Half Moon Drive-In
Recommended By: Local Couple Met at The Forks
While dining outside at The Forks, I was distracted by a cute dog sitting nearby. We quickly struck up a conversation with the friendly pup’s owners. The couple gave us our next recommendation: stop in at the Half Moon Drive-In located in the small town of Lockport, 30-kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
This diner is an institution spanning decades in Manitoba. Opened in 1938, it moved locations in 1983 and was renovated in 2017 to its current aesthetic as a diner straight out of 1957.
Outside, the decor is the typical bold and energetic vintage, neon signage of the 1950s. Inside, it’s true-to-style with black-and-white checkered flooring and red and white Formica tabletops and chairs. The two dining rooms are covered in 1950’s-style signs, paintings and decor.
We asked what the most popular choices were. I happily settled for a foot long Moon Dog with cheese, bacon, fried onions and pickles. Matt got a Saturn Burger with a double portion of bacon and cheese as well as three onion rings.
Both options were an excellent way to refuel after a busy day learning about migratory birds at Oak Hammock Marsh and stopping in during the film festival in the small Icelandic community of Gimli, Manitoba.
Dine at Stella’s Cafe and Bakery Then Wander Through Back Alley ArcticD
Recommended By: Koral Carpentier, tour guide and Saskatchewan-transplant in Churchill, Manitoba.
We accidentally ate dessert first.
Stopping in front of Stella’s Bakery on Sherbrook Street for lunch, I missed seeing its counterpart cafe next door. Matt and I were a bit surprised to find only bakery sweets available. But never one to say no to an excuse to eat dessert for a meal, I ordered up a spinach and feta pastry and a chocolate date square.
As we left the bakery, I walked past the actual cafe and realized my mistake. As we were planning to be in the neighbourhood for a while, we managed to stop in afterwards and grab a proper lunch.
Only a short walk from the bakery in the Wolseley neighbourhood is “Back Alley Arctic” and the (second) best place to find a polar bear in Winnipeg (the Assiniboine Zoo “Journey to Churchill” being first for real-life bears).
In 2017, painter Kal Barteski wanted to create a walkable art gallery using the garage doors, fences and pavement of her own back alley as her canvas. She painted a variety of arctic animals including polar bears, wolves, owls, belugas, caribou, puffins and seals.
You can find the outdoor art gallery in the alley between Canora and Ethelbert Street, between Wolseley and Westminster Avenue.
Experience the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in the Park
Recommended By: Meg Advent, Winnipeg local, travel writer and co-founder of Travelher
Meg and I met online in the digital world through our mutual careers as travel writers. What kept us connected by e-mail over several years was the fact that we were from two cities so close to one another – me, based in Saskatoon and Meg, originally from Winnipeg but currently living in New Zealand.
After nearly meeting in Chile in 2016 and touching base a couple of times a year since as to our current travel plans, fate finally had us meet in Meg’s hometown this summer.
On my second last night in the city, Meg and I met in Assiniboine Park at the Lyric Theater stage to take in a free performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
For more than forty years, the RWB has been offering free summer performances in the park to celebrate the start of each season. This year there were four performances from Alice, The Wizard of Oz, La Fille Mal Gardee and Le Corsaire Excerpts.
Order a “Goog Special” from Bridge Drive-In (BDI) and Stroll the Elm Park Bridge
In the middle of our visit, I received a message from the Manager of Operations and Community Liaison at the City of Winnipeg. She was inviting us to meet the Mayor and join him on a tour of the Exchange District.
Little did we know what shenanigans we were getting into. (The Mayor IS a Blue Bombers fan, after all. I should have known.)
Mayor Brian Bowman warmly welcomed us into City Hall and surprised me with a gift of a Blue Bombers hoodie. After letting him know it’s really called a bunnyhug and teasing each other about our cross-border football rivalry between Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we were taken on a historical tour of the Exchange District thanks to David Pensato and our local tour guide Kieran.
We finished our tour with a stop on the patio of a local craft brewery called the Little Brown Jug where we sampled their flagship 1919 brew. Beyond excellent beer, the building was originally the old livery stables for City Hall combining local history with the modern-day entrepreneurial spirit of owner Kevin Selch.
But the Mayor’s personal recommendations for what to see and do in the city were linked to memories of him spending time with his family. He told us we must stop in at local ice cream shop BDI to try the “Goog” then walk across the Elm Street Bridge while eating it.
Matt and I took his recommendation for eating ice cream in the hot summer weather seriously. On our final evening, we planned a sunset visit to BDI.
We’ve since been told it’s a rite of passage for visitors or new citizens to the city. We ordered the Goog – an upside-down blueberry shake with a hot fudge sundae and bananas topped with whipped cream and ate it just as the Mayor recommended: strolling across the bridge.
What are some of your favourite things to see and do in Winnipeg? Drop a comment below and let me know!
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