Want to know a crafty Canadian travel secret? Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, might be renowned as a winter destination, but it absolutely shines come summer. Don’t believe me? During my September press trip, temperatures passed 100 degrees Fahrenheit! Local restaurants overflowing with regional produce and fresh flowers are everywhere.
Here are some of my favorite summertime things to check out in Winnipeg.
1. The Forks
The Forks is where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. Once an essential trade location for Indigenous people, it’s now a cultural hub with a bustling market, fabulous restaurants, and cool shops (including a little outpost of McNally Robinson, one of Western Canada’s best independent bookshops). During summer, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the riverbanks, enjoy a river cruise, and partake in various outdoor activities such as biking, skateboarding, and yoga by the river. During my visit, I stayed at the Inn at the Forks and I could see a massive art installation being placed from my bedroom window.
2. The Canadian Museum For Human Rights
Located on the edge of The Forks, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is home to thought-provoking exhibits and immersive displays. This architecturally striking museum is dedicated to promoting human rights awareness and education. Visitors will gain insights into the struggles of human rights advocates and leave with a profound understanding of the importance of justice. While you could easily spend an entire day here, I had less than 2 hours to explore. I nearly didn’t go in, as I thought such a short time wouldn’t be worth it. I’m so glad I changed my mind, as even a quick visit here is remarkable.
3. Summer Festivals
Winnipeg is renowned for its summer festivals celebrating art, music, and multiculturalism. The Winnipeg Fringe Festival, an annual event in July, showcases an array of performances by local and international artists. Folklorama, another highlight, is the world’s largest and longest-running multicultural festival. Guests can savor diverse cuisines, experience cultural dances, and explore pavilions representing different countries.
However, my personal favorite is the Winnipeg Folk Festival. You might think this because I’m a big folk music fan — which I am! However, there is a special place in my heart for this nonprofit organization because of a music event I didn’t attend. In the spring of 2020, just before the pandemic canceled all public events, the festival received its promotional sweatshirts. Talk about bad timing! Suddenly, there was no festival to sell them at and they were stuck with boxes of unusable goods — or so they thought. Fans like myself quickly snapped them up as a fun souvenir of what might have been. This is the kind of passionate community spirit you can expect at any Winnipeg festival.
4. Red River Ex
For a classic summer experience, the Red River Ex (short for “exhibition”) offers fun-filled entertainment for all ages. This annual fair features thrilling rides, games, live performances, and classic fair food (including plenty of delicious fried things on sticks). If you visit in early September, the Fall Fair will give you a mini-look at the kind of rides and fun you can expect at the summer ex.
5. Manitoba Legislative Building
Love history and architecture? Embark on a free guided tour of the stunning Manitoba Legislative Building, an architectural masterpiece adorned with golden statues and intricate designs. After you’re done, take things outside and follow a DIY-guided tour of the plants, art, and symbols throughout the legislature’s gardens.
6. Assiniboine Park Zoo
For nature lovers, Assiniboine Park is a true paradise. It boasts lush gardens, scenic walking trails, and tranquil picnic spots, perfect for an idyllic summer day. The Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, with its stunning collection of bronze sculptures, is a must-see. You can also check out the statue of Winnie the Pooh. This beloved children’s character was a real-life bear and he was named after the city of Winnipeg.
The Assiniboine Park Zoo provides an opportunity to encounter captivating wildlife from all around the globe (including bears, just like Winnie), making it an excellent family-friendly outing.
WAG (Winnipeg Art Gallery)-Qaumajuq features what is described as “an impressive collection of over 27,000 artworks spanning centuries, cultures, and media, including the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world.” Keep an eye out for special summer exhibitions and events, which add extra excitement to any visit. Throughout 2023, the big attraction is Headlines: The Art of the News Cycle, which celebrates 150 years of the Winnipeg Free Press.
8. Grand Beach Provincial Park
During the sweltering summer months, Grand Beach Provincial Park offers a refreshing escape just an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg. This iconic beach on the shores of Lake Winnipeg (the sixth largest lake in Canada) offers soft, white sandy shores, sand dunes that reach 40 feet high, and warm waters. It’s the perfect spot for swimming, picnicking, beach volleyball, and building sandcastles. The scenic boardwalk is ideal for a leisurely stroll.
9. Exchange District
Wander through the historic Exchange District, known for its well-preserved architecture and vibrant arts scene. This area was at the heart of the landmark Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, and the moving public art here commemorates the protest. Visitors can explore this trendy neighborhood’s art galleries, boutique shops, and unique eateries.
The Nonsuch Brewing Co. is a fantastic spot to grab a brew and a bite. The indoor space is cool, cozy, and funky, with an outdoor patio for sun lovers. Their cheeseburger — featuring a brisket and chuck-smashed patty, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, and dill aioli on a potato roll — may be the best in the city.
10. Saint Boniface And The French Quarter
Yes, there’s vibrant French history and culture in Canada that’s not in Quebec! Explore the nooks and crannies of Saint Boniface, the city’s French-speaking district. Visit the Saint-Boniface Cathedral, stroll through charming streets filled with boutiques and eateries, check out the city’s French bookshop, and learn about the area’s Francophone history.
11. Winnipeg Beach Provincial Park
As the name suggests, Winnipeg Beach Provincial Park is located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, albeit in a different location from Grand Beach Provincial Park. Visitors enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing on nearly 2 miles of sandy beach. The area is also home to the Winnipeg Beach Campground, which has 120 full-service sites.
12. Goldeyes Baseball Game
One of the best bargains in the city, you can catch a Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game at Shaw Park for as little as $12. Tickets are typically sold in a “summer pass” of five digital vouchers that you can mix and match (so you and four family members can all attend one game and use up all the vouchers at once, or you can go to five different games on your own). Spectators love the lively atmosphere, the craft beer corner featuring an ever-changing roster of made-in-Manitoba beers, and the classic ballpark treats.
13. St. Norbert Farmers’ Market
Now celebrating its 35th year, the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is the largest market in Manitoba. As a nonprofit cooperative, it is focused on supporting small producers. The year-round operation features over 200 local makers, bakers, and growers. Everything sold at the combination indoor/outdoor space is made, baked, crafted, and grown in the province.
While it’s nearly impossible to recommend just one vendor as a must-visit, I have to throw my support behind Kyle’s Icelandic Vinarterta. Winnipeg is home to one of the world’s largest Icelandic communities and vinartertas are an Icelandic dessert. Imagine thin layers of a flat biscuit covered in spiced fruit preserves, stacked upon each other, then wrapped in plastic. After a few days, the biscuits are soft, the flavors are well-developed, and you have a wildly delicious cake. I found it to be the perfect travel snack: It was filling, easy to carry around and re-wrap so things didn’t get too sticky, and not too sweet.