How to Spend a Weekend in Winnipeg, One of Canada’s Most Creative Cities

Winnipeg’s gotten itself quite the TV reputation, but it’s time to set the record straight.

How to Spend a Weekend in Winnipeg, One of Canada’s Most Creative Cities

Despite attempts to put Winnipeg in a box, the city is bursting with its own artistic energy.

Photo by Brydon McCluskey/Unsplash

There was a time when Winnipeg was a punchline on U.S. sitcoms like The Simpsons and The Office. Little wonder: The isolated Canadian prairie city has winter temperatures that sometimes match those of Mars. But now, Winnipeggers are starting to think that living in -50 degree weather is something to brag about—especially when followed by near ’round-the-clock sunshine in summer.

And if those sitcoms made fun of Winnipeg, it’s also because many of the writers came from the city—which gives another clue about what Winnipeg has to offer: an outsized creative community across all boards (including current art world darlings like Marcel Dzama and Karel Funk). As the world’s fascination with the city grows, Winnipeg is getting the last laugh.

open-uri20220705-49-6jen24

This otherworldly Airbnb brings a unique take to a penthouse stay.

Photo by James Florio

Where to stay in Winnipeg

Mere Hotel
Book Now: Mere Hotel
Situated on the banks of the Red River, the Mere has a colorful, pick-up-stick-like exterior and sits in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Its 67 rooms feature such amenities as walk-in rain showers and pet-friendly room options. The hotel doesn’t have onsite food or drinks, but it is nearby several appealing eateries, including the James Avenue Pumphouse, a bar and restaurant built in a historic water pumping station where you sit among massive old equipment and sip cocktails with names riffing on ’80s hip-hop songs.

The Penthouse of a Flying Saucer
Book Now: Flying Saucer Penthouse
In the city core, you can’t help but notice a dramatic-looking pie-shaped building on stilts hard by a car overpass. “The flying saucer” is an apartment building designed by one of the city’s premier architect firms, 5468796 Architecture. The glass box on top is a penthouse suite owned by two of the firm’s principals who lend it out to visiting art world friends and also rent it on Airbnb. Staying there feels very much like being in a nest in the sky (one with a sauna, though).

open-uri20220705-49-1i2okx0

Visit places like Modern Electric Lunch to check out the trendy food scene in Winnipeg.

Photo by Kiandra Jeffery and @n0nsensesutudio

Where to eat and drink in Winnipeg

At Clementine in the Exchange District, chef Chris Gamma celebrates breakfast culture with internationally inspired dishes like Turkish eggs or chorizo verde tostada. Moroccan rugs, arts and crafts wallpaper, and original brick walls enhance the eclectic food offerings.

Modern Electric Lunch is a hip new spot for inspired vegan and nonvegan breakfast. Try one of its seasonal specialty coffees like lotus cookie latte.

Top spots for drinks

Some of the city’s most talented craft brewers, sommeliers, and chefs have come together in a hip new collab, the Two Hands taproom. This pub/restaurant offers a great neighborhood vibe, beer from Neighbour Brewing, and Manitoba-focused pub dishes like smoked local goldeye fish on stout soda bread.

For light bites and tasty cocktails, try tiny Langside Grocery, a repurposed turn-of-the-century corner store that is now a resto-bar—including original tin ceilings and a cute back patio.

Explore the cultural cuisine

Sargent Street reflects its primarily immigrant population with varied food offerings. You can fashion your own food crawl on a few blocks of the street, stopping at little gems like Gato Bakery, Gladys for Caribbean, Pho Hoang for Vietnamese, Gojo for Ethiopian, and Sargent Taco, to name a few.

Cross the Esplanade Footbridge to the historic French-speaking quarter Saint-Boniface. Here streets are rues, and restaurant patios are terraces (Resto Gare has one of the prettiest). At 116, watch chefs Michael Robins and Keegan Misanchuk, who spent time in the kitchens of London’s Pidgin and Brat, cook local vegetables, meat, and fish to perfection on their wood-fired grill.

open-uri20220706-49-rmrbp5

There are plenty of ways to learn important history, especially at places like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Photo by Salvador Maniquiz/Shutterstock

What to do in Winnipeg

Discover a cold city’s hot art scene

In a downtown corner, there’s a little art hub with far-reaching influence. At Qaumajuq, the much-buzzed-about Inuit art center, you’ll swoon over the Arctic-inspired architecture and outdoor sculptures before heading in to see the exhibits. Quamajuq is an extension of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, home to a vast collection of Canadian and international art.

Walk two minutes north to the small but influential Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, a former Venice Biennale winner that hosts landmark exhibits across all media. The ornate monolith you see across the street is the Hudson’s Bay Company department store. The Bay’s history is part and parcel of Canada’s and made its name in the 17th century selling beaver pelts to Europeans. In early 2022, it shuttered this store and turned the heritage building over to members of Manitoba’s First Nations, in an act of reconciliation and decolonization.

Be sure to check out what’s on the calendar at West End Cultural Centre where Devo, Feist, Lyle Lovett, and 30 Seconds to Mars have performed, or listen to local bands at popular watering hole the Good Will Social Club. For more events, head to Old Market Square, which is an urban park and summer festival hub providing music, fringe theater, and more with an architecturally edgy open-air stage.

Shop, canoe, and learn about the past

Spend some time wandering around the Exchange District, home to an unusually well-preserved collection of turn-of-the-century stone architecture from when Winnipeg was known as the “Chicago of the North.” The warehouse buildings made up the city’s manufacturing district then. Today, they’ve been transformed into shops belonging to “artrepreneurs” and mochi batter doughnut bakers, while a hip new generation of upholsterers and leather artisans work on the floors above. Vantage Vintage is also worth a stop for rare collectibles like a 1940s Gilbert Adrian suit or else ’90s Versace.

For a different perspective of Winnipeg (and a possible beaver sighting), rent a canoe to take out on the Assiniboine River, which flows through the center of the city. One spot to visit is the Forks, a multipurpose revamp of the place at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, where First Nations people met and traded for thousands of years. On the grounds of the Forks is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an ambitious museum meant to foster dialogue and promote change through exhibits of past atrocities.

How to get around Winnipeg

Winnipeg is a car-centric city (it’s big and spread out) but you don’t need to have one to get around. Cab it, walk, or rent a bike: Kendricks and Type Eh Bikes maintain unique fleets of two-wheelers.

More From AFAR