National Geographic Traveler named Winnipeg, Manitoba one of the 20 best trips to take in 2016, and with good reason! Canada’s “Little Spark on the Prairie” is one of the most underrated North American destinations for family fun.
10 Unforgettable Family Adventures in Winnipeg
Winnipeg is an American budget traveler’s dream destination: convenient to reach by car, affordable (thanks to the current exchange rate), easy to navigate without the traffic woes of larger cities, and full of more family-friendly entertainment than you could possibly cram into a week-long stay. No matter the season you visit, there is so much to do in Winnipeg! You are bound to leave wishing you had more time to explore.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
My love affair with Winnipeg began more than two decades ago, when I first visited the “Winnipegger” I was dating in his hometown. The dynamic, multicultural capital of Manitoba stole my heart and became an important city of milestones in my life.
Winnipeg was the first city I moved to after college. It’s where I landed my first post-graduate job, where I got married, where my husband and I bought our first house together, and where we brought home our first baby girl. We moved south of the border shortly after our daughter was born, but we never stay away for long. Now a family of seven, we make the 25-hour drive from Austin to Winnipeg every other year. Our kids beg to go. There is so much fun to be had in The Peg!
Family Adventures in Winnipeg
Assiniboine Park Zoo
Manitoba attracts tourists from around the globe to see polar bears in their natural habitat, 600 miles north of Winnipeg. But families can now get a close look at polar bears, and many other arctic animals, in the new Journey to Churchill exhibit at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo. My family visited in November and we were captivated by the playful seals in the underwater viewing tunnels. We also loved the indoor Polar Playground, and the 360º Aurora Borealis Theatre. It was snowing outside, to the animals’ delight, but nice and warm indoors for us!
Streuber Family Children’s Garden
It snows up to eight months of the year in Manitoba, so Winnipeggers take summer play seriously. If you visit during a mild month, get ready to explore some of the best playgrounds on the continent! My favorite is the Children’s Garden and Nature Playground in Assiniboine Park, located near the zoo. Block off an entire afternoon for this gem. Kids love the interactive gardens, the unique play equipment, and the water play area. Parents do, too!
Variety Heritage Adventure Park at The Forks
No matter what time of year you visit Winnipeg, you are bound to spend a lot of your touristy time exploring The Forks, an entertainment, dining and shopping destination in the heart of downtown. In winter months, you can ice skate on the Red River. Then visit the architecturally diverse warming huts.
When the snow melts, try the skate park. Or cool off in the splash pad, and learn about the history of the region at the awesome Variety Heritage Adventure Park playground! Different sections of this huge park teach visitors about The First Peoples, the fur trade, The Métis, early settlers, the first locomotive on the prairies, and Winnipeg’s historic French-Canadian community, Saint-Boniface.
Also at The Forks, you can find buskers, boat rentals, restaurants, theatre, museums, and the Travel Manitoba Visitor Information Center. It’s a hub of activity for locals and tourists alike.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Steps away from The Forks Market – and conveniently located next to the free parking garage – sits the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This new cultural attraction should be on every Manitoba visitor’s “don’t miss” list. This museum is as unique on the inside as it is on the outside. Visitors go on a journey upward through the galleries, traveling from darkness to light (and toward hope for a brighter future). Completed in 2014, this new national museum is truly a remarkable place. It encourages visitors of all ages to imagine a better world where the rights, values, opinions, and abilities of all are respected, because we are all connected. While some exhibits touch on subject matter that is not appropriate for young children, these areas are tucked away and easily avoided.
A self-guided audio tour of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is available, but I highly recommend joining a public tour. Our tour guide, David, made our visit to this museum an interactive, engaging, educational and impactful experience that none of us will soon forget. All of my children, ages eight to 16, loved it. In fact, they still talk about what they learned here. If you plan to visit with children, be sure to inquire about Family Days, which offer special youth-oriented activities. Also ask for a copy of the free Scavenger Hunt.
Also at The Forks, the Children’s Museum is a great place for kids to burn off steam and get their creative juices flowing. Housed in the oldest surviving train repair facility in Western Canada, 12 permanent galleries keep kids hopping from one exhibit to the next. From water tables in the Splash Lab to an Illusion Tunnel that even my teenagers enjoyed, there is plenty to explore in this cozy space. My kids gravitated toward the Pop m’Art nook, where visitors shop for free craft supplies to create their own upcycled works of art, with gobs and gobs of glue.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
If you visit The Forks during the school year, be sure to attend a performance at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. The 28,000-square-foot facility offers world-class professional theatre geared towards kids and teens, with a devotion to arts and culture that is difficult to find elsewhere. All ages will delight in the thought-provoking plays this professional company of adult actors presents in its intimate theatrical space.
Any time of year is a good time to visit Pineridge Hollow, a down home prairie experience near Bird’s Hill Provincial Park. I never miss a trip out to “the country” to dine and shop at this quaint Carriage House. Food is hearty, desserts divine, and the six acres of gardens, gifts, and goats will delight kids and adults alike. Make a reservation before you go. The two dining areas are cozy and you’ll want to stay awhile!
Royal Canadian Mint
My husband lived down the street from the Royal Canadian Mint for 22 years. But he never went inside until I made reservations for our family to join the 45-minute tour on a recent visit. It was fascinating to discover not only is every single coin in Canadian circulation made at this facility, but the mint in Winnipeg also made currency for more than 75 other countries.
On our tour, we learned about production and security. We also heard fun facts like why Canadian coins don’t work in U.S. vending machines. (Answer: they have different amounts of copper.) Our guide also shared that the Royal Canadian Mint is always developing new technology. It was, for example, the first mint in the world to use dye to add color to coins.
After learning that there are currently red poppy quarters and pink breast cancer awareness ribbon quarters in circulation, I spent the rest of our time in Canada searching for colored coins in my change!
Winnipeg has fantastic festivals, year-round. After moving away, I missed the festivals most of all.
Festival du Voyageur, Western Canada’s largest winter festival, brings breathtaking snow sculptures to the francophone community of Saint-Boniface each February. The Winnipeg Folk Fest attracts musical performing artists from around the world to perform on stages scattered throughout Bird’s Hill Provincial Park in July. Folklorama, the largest and longest-running multicultural festival of its kind in the world, shares cultural performances and cuisine from around the globe in August.
And there are many more: Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Jazz Winnipeg Festival, and the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival, to name a few. No matter when you visit, there’s sure to be something fun happening in Winnipeg!
Where to Stay in Winnipeg
On our most recent visit to Winnipeg, we stayed in this 3,600-square-foot, five-bedroom Airbnb rental for just $168 USD per night. We were amazed at the value. For our family of seven, it was wonderful to have so much space to spread out. The kids were thrilled to stay in this “mansion.” It made our vacation all the more memorable.
Now is the time to visit, while the U.S. dollar stretches so far in Canada. So, grab your passports, fill up the gas tank, and head north for family adventures galore in Winnipeg, Manitoba!
You may also be interested in the 10 Best Vacation Spots in the World. (Canada is on the list, with a Manitoba polar bear mention!).