Winnipeg, Canada
Destinations

Winnipeg: The Canadian Prairie City With an Outsized Art Scene

Kimberley Lovato

Kimberley Lovato

October 12, 2023

7 min read

Table of Contents

Tell a friend you’re going to Winnipeg, and the typical response is, “Winnipeg?” with the emphasis on the question mark. But the Peg—as locals call the capital city of Manitoba—has enough going for it to answer confidently, “Yes, Winnipeg!” 

If you’ve traveled to Churchill to see polar bears or the Northern Lights, there’s a good chance you’ve passed through this mini-metropolis of roughly 800,000 in the middle of Canada’s prairies. Winnipeg has been called the “culture cradle” of Canada, and with institutions such as Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, diverse museums and galleries, and festivals every month of the year, this prairie city punches above its weight when it comes to appreciating the arts. 

You’ll find Winnipeggers are equally as passionate about outdoor patios in the summer as they are their hometown NHL heroes—go Jets, go! And despite winter’s notoriously frigid temps, residents never let a little cold stop them from enjoying the outdoors any time of year. If blue skies fuel your travel mojo, you’re in luck: Winnipeg averages 316 sunny days per year, making it one of the sunniest cities in Canada

As the home and traditional lands of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), Ininew (Cree), Red River Métis, and Dakota peoples, Winnipeg acknowledges its ancestral heritage and seeks to honor it through events, exhibitions, and at historic sites like The Forks at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, a meeting place and trading post for Indigenous peoples for more than 6,000 years. It’s called “Friendly Manitoba” for good reason, and Winnipeg’s welcome is way warmer than its winters, offering the best reason of all to stay a while the next time you’re just passing through.

Winterpeg

Winter in Winnipeg

Let’s just get it over with—winter is nose-hair-freezing cold, and the city’s icy moniker, Winterpeg, is well earned. From November to March, expect cold temperatures, snow, and ice. In January, typically Winnipeg’s coldest month, the temps will stay well below freezing (with an average low of -1°F and an average high of 14°F), while the annual average snowfall is 43.5 inches. 

But Winnipeggers don’t let the cold dampen their outdoor fun, bundling up to skate on one of Canada’s longest skating trails (it varies per year but is often 4.5-6 miles long), where winners of an annual warming hut competition provide shelter along the way. The frozen river is also home to a popular three-week, ticketed dinner series, RAW: almond, that brings chefs from Winnipeg and Canada to cook nightly multi-course dinners in a uniquely designed temporary venue built on the ice. The grande dame of winter fêtes is February’s 10-day Festival du Voyageur, Western Canada’s biggest winter festival, which brings more than 80,000 people to celebrate Canada’s fur trading heritage as well as ogle giant ice sculptures and nosh on French-Canadian food.

>> Read about dining under the aurora borealis north of Winnpieg in Churchill, Manitoba 

The Jets set 

This is Canada, and nothing bonds Winnipeg sports fans tighter than cheering for their Winnipeg Jets. Though the team has never won a Stanley Cup (it’s coming), the local devotion never wanes. 

You’d be hard-pressed to score a ticket to a home game at Canada Life Centre, which makes convivial sports bars like Hat Tricks a great place to watch. Should the Jets be in the playoffs while you’re in town, be prepared for a Winnipeg Whiteout, a Jets hockey tradition that has fans wearing all white to home games, waving white rally towels, and making a thunderous amount of noise to create an electric atmosphere for fans and an intimidating one for opponents. 

Park yourself 

Assiniboine Park

As city parks go,  is easily one of the country’s best. This 400-acre, year-round playground six miles west of downtown has green space, nature trails, and gardens to explore. Summers mean blankets on the lawn to watch performances and movies at the park’s Lyric Theatre
 

A crowd-pleaser for any age is the award-winning Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Zoo, where visitors can admire frolicking and swimming arctic creatures, including polar bears and seals, from an underwater transparent tunnel. New to the park in 2023 is The Leaf—an 84,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor botanical sanctuary full of flowers, tropical plants, butterflies, and Indigenous Peoples Garden, created through collaboration with Indigenous elders, designers, and community leaders.

Museum masterclass

Winnipeg art gallery

Living up to its reputation as Canada’s culture cradle, Winnipeg’s museums are not just well thought out; they also promote a commitment to diverse art, culture, history, and heritage. The Winnipeg Art Gallery is home to the world’s largest collection of Inuit art, while the Manitoba Museum houses the region’s human and natural history. 

The one-of-a-kind Canadian Museum for Human Rights is as eye-catching as it is emotional, with exhibits that highlight the ongoing struggle for social justice around the world, with a strong emphasis on respect for Indigenous cultures. The tranquil Leo Mol Sculpture Garden is home to more than 300 bronze sculptures created by Ukrainian-Canadian artist Leo Mol, and a tour of the Royal Canadian Mint reveals a small but fascinating exhibition to see where all of Canada's circulation coins are made. 

Festival fever

Winnipeg’s love of festivals and gathering outdoors makes every month of the year festival season, and you’ll find them fêting anything from music and history to whisky, food, culture, and community. 

Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival is one of the largest in Canada and brings well-known and up-and-coming performance artists together to Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District. August means Folklorama, billed as the world’s largest multicultural celebration of diversity and cultural understanding. Laughter takes the stage for seven days in April when Winnipeg’s nationally televised Comedy Festival brings the country’s best comics to town. And Winnipeg Pride flags fly at the annual 10-day show of support for LGBTQ+ communities, with art shows, live entertainment, and a Pride Day parade and rally at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Prair-eats

perogies in Winnipeg

When you live at the crossroads of a country as big as Canada, outside influences are bound to creep (in a good way) onto local tables. Here, you’ll find anything you crave and things you don’t know you want until you try it, such as Manitoba pickerel (known as walleye in the US), sweetgrass bison roast, and saskatoon berry vinaigrette at Feast Café Bistro, whose chef-owner is a member of the Peguis First Nation. 

Eastern Europeans made up the first large wave of immigration into Canada that was not of English or French origin during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The railroad and promise of cheap land in the western prairies lured them here. Today the province of Manitoba has the largest proportion of people who identify as Ukrainian, with more than 180,000 people. Eastern European and Ukrainian roots run deep in Winnipeg, which means perogies and potato pancakes are practically a hometown comfort food. 

And thanks to Winnipeg’s large Filipino Canadian community (with roughly 8% of Winnipeg’s population identifying as Filipino), Winnipeg has no shortage of places to get your lumpia and barbeque pork belly fix, too. 

In Winnipeg, summer is patio season, and securing a table alfresco is a beloved sport. For a true ‘Peg’ summer experience, grab a soft serve ice cream or a ‘Goog’ at the Bridge Drive-in (or BDI as it’s called). A Goog is a thick blueberry shake topped with sliced bananas, then layered again with a hot fudge sundae, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Peanuts optional. But really, you should go and experience it for yourself.

Exchange rate

Located in the heart of Winnipeg’s downtown, the Exchange District is a National Historic Site and arts and cultural neighborhood easily explored on foot. It’s not only the site of Winnipeg’s annual Jazz Festival but also home to North America’s largest collection of turn-of-the-century heritage buildings (more than 150) clustered into a 20-block area, making it a fun one-stop spot to spend an afternoon or evening. 

Visitors can take themed walking tours or just freestyle in and out of shops, galleries, and the roughly 50 locally owned cafés, classic pubs, trendy bakeries, and restaurants, including the oft-lauded Deer + Almond, twice-named one of Canada's 100 Best restaurants. Though patios open all over the city, the Exchange District is by far Winnipeg’s de facto capital of patio season. 

Good to Know 

Is Winnipeg expensive?

For Americans, Canada is a bargain, with exchange rates currently favoring the US dollar. But even without that benefit, Winnipeg is a relatively affordable place to visit. The average price for a 3-star hotel in Winnipeg is around $115 US/night. 

Dining out, like anywhere, depends on the type of dining establishment, and Winnipeg has anything from white-tablecloth restaurants to food trucks and fast food. An average meal for two at a mid-range restaurant, without alcohol, will be around $55.

Best time to visit Winnipeg

Winters are notoriously frigid, with an average temperature of around 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 degrees Celsius). It wouldn’t be uncommon to see snow show up in October or in April, making it a long season. But if you enjoy the combo of sunshine, cold temps, and icy outdoor fun and festivals that embrace the chill, then winter in Winnipeg is for you.

Summers are delightfully pleasant, with average temps hovering around 79 degrees. You’ll also enjoy long days, with the sun setting at around 9:30pm. in June and July, which bring Winnipeggers out in droves to outdoor events, patios, and backyard barbecues. Bring bug repellent. Winnipeg mosquitos are no joke, and the city has a fully fleshed-out mosquito control program to control them.

What languages are spoken in Winnipeg?

Canada is officially bilingual, English-French, and English is the predominant language spoken in Winnipeg. St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter, is largely French-speaking (bien sûr) and a worthy visit to see the Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum, Winnipeg’s oldest building and keeper of Manitoba’s Francophone and Métis (of European and Indigenous descent) heritage.

Winnipeg with kids

Winnipeg is extremely family-oriented, and kids are welcome just about everywhere. With numerous parks and playgrounds and other cool places to take kids, such as the Children’s Museum inside an old train repair facility, and a corn maze and a petting zoo, little ones can get their fun on all year round.

Winnipeg public transportation

The most efficient way to get around Winnipeg is by car, as the city spreads out. However, if you’re just sticking to downtown, walking is easy, and Winnipeg Transit buses are frequent and plentiful. Once you get out of the core area, however, they are less frequent and harder to come by. Ride-share apps like iCab Winnipeg is a smartphone app to secure and pre-book rides. There are plenty of taxi companies too. 

Is Winnipeg safe?

Canada is #12 in the world on the Global Peace Index and #3 in the world on the LGBTQ+ Equality Index. 

Getting to Winnipeg

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Kimberley Lovato

Kimberley Lovato

Freelance Writer

Kimberley is a freelance writer, author, and Francophile who enjoys apéro and pétanque at her pied-a-terre in Sainte-Maxime, France as well as at her home in Sausalito, California. She’s the author of Walnut Wine & Truffle Groves, a culinary travel book about the food and people of the Dordogne region of southwest France. She’s married to a Canadian whose family lives in Winnipeg.

Published October 12, 2023

Last updated January 9, 2024

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