Winnipeg is ready for its close-up. The prairie city might look unassuming on the surface, but it’s packed with photo-ready spots to tempt both shutterbugs and curious travellers. Here’s a look at the most photogenic attractions, the hottest neighbourhoods, the most striking places to stay and the under-the-radar, locals-only spots in Manitoba’s capital city, including tips and photo tricks from tastemakers who live and work in the Peg.
Start your photo tour at The Forks, the spot where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. This National Historic Site (a trading hub for thousands of years) has evolved into one of Canada’s premiere public gathering places, a vibrant mix of history, green space, shopping, dining and entertainment. Hike along the riverwalk or view Winnipeg from the water on a guided boat tour, a rented canoe or a waterbus during the summer months. Then head inside to The Forks Market to photograph travelers and Winnipeggers enjoying local food and drinks around a common table.
In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, Tourism Winnipeg suggests getting hands-on while at The Forks with The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s ART EXPRESS’D/ART EXPRIMÉ studio offering art activities all summer!
“I like taking pics from above the bustling food scene at The Forks,” says Jenn Smith Nelson of travelandhappiness.com, a travel writer and photographer from Regina. “It captures such a dynamic and open space where the community comes together to enjoy local fare.”
Sample a flight of Canadian beer or wine at The Common, gorge on savoury fried fish and Manitoba-grown chips at Fergie’s Fish n’ Chips or try borscht, pillowy perogies and cabbage rolls at Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry. There’s gourmet cheese, meats and crafts and art created by over 300 domestic artisans for sale as well.
Inn at the Forks
Stay just steps away from this Winnipeg landmark at the Inn at the Forks. The Riverstone Spa is the perfect place to rest and recharge after a day of sightseeing. Don’t miss weekend brunch and an artisan cocktail or two at the hotel’s Smith Restaurant. The farm-to-table dishes, rustic wood walls and antler chandeliers are awfully Instagramable.
Fort Garry Hotel
For stately, historical luxury, you can’t beat Winnipeg’s Grand Dame. Now over a century old, this Chateau-style stunner boasts an opulent lobby and a friendly ghost! Your stay includes extras like plush robes, complimentary morning coffee, tea and cookie service and free yoga classes. Unwind in Canada’s only co-ed Turkish bath at Ten Spa, on the hotel’s 10th floor.
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Its distinctive curved shape makes the Canadian Museum for Human Rights one of the most recognizable buildings along Winnipeg’s skyline. The interior design elements (which include lit-from-within alabaster walkways) and exhibits are as visually appealing as they are thought-provoking and an observation platform on the 23rd floor offers panoramic views of the city.
Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge
Rent a bike at The Forks (May-September) or stroll across the 250-metre pedestrian bridge that links The Forks and St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter. This cable bridge is a city landmark and a popular photo spot. Get a taste of what you’ll find in the French Quarter at Mon Ami Louis, a warm weather restaurant located right on the bridge. You can nibble on crepes while the Red River flows beneath your feet.
Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface
This site has been culturally important to the French and Métis (the descendants of the children of First Nations peoples and French immigrants) since 1818. The cathedral was badly damaged in a fire in 1968, but the façade remains as the symbol of the neighbourhood, which is the largest French-speaking community in western Canada. Take a guided walking tour of the historic sites and visit the charming boutiques and cafes along Le Boulevard Provencher.
The Exchange District
The Exchange District’s well-preserved cut stone and terracotta buildings, early 20th century warehouses and quaint cobblestone paths make it a National Historic Site and one of the city’s most photogenic neighbourhoods. It’s home to an eclectic mix of local boutiques, restaurants and art galleries.
Start at Old Market Square, a public gathering place since 1889. Get a photo of The Cube, a shimmering aluminium art installation and stage that anchors the city’s festivals, including the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, the Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME) and the Soca Reggae Festival. Then scour The Exchange for Pinterest-worthy products, including stationery and gifts at Tiny Feast, wearable art from fashion designer Lennard Taylor and photogenic craft cocktails at Albert Street Cocktail Co.
The sleek design of this boutique hotel, located on the bank of the Red River, provides a modern counterpoint to the neighbourhood’s historic elegance. Extras include complimentary water, juice and snacks, perfect fuel for a photography excursion. Nearby Cibo Waterfront Café, offers Mediterranean-inspired fare in a repurposed industrial setting. If staying in and photographing your room’s hypnotic wall coverings proves too tempting, it also offers a take-out menu for Mere guests.
Mariaggi’s Theme Suites Hotel and Spa
Want to treat someone special to a four-course dinner and a bubble bath in a waterfall hot tub shaded by palm trees? Try the Morocco Suite. Feel like playing pool, darts and pinball with your entourage? Then the 3,000 square foot (!) Jakarta Suite is for you. Day rates are available for those who can’t stay the night but just can’t resist the lavish photo opp.
Both the Forks and The Exchange District are technically part of downtown Winnipeg, a bustling business and entertainment hub. It’s home to the iconic Portage and Main intersection, supposedly the coldest and windiest spot in the country.
Alt Hotel and Suites
Alt offers contemporary design and a boutique hotel experience at an affordable price. There’s no check out time, so if you sleep in and miss the free breakfast in the colourful lobby, you can grab snacks and drinks near the front desk and explore the neighbourhood on one of the hotel’s free bicycles. Or pop next door to The Merchant Kitchen for Latin and Asian street food and creative cocktails.
Hockey at the MTS Centre
Looking to capture the feverish fanfare of hockey in the Peg? Both the NHL team, the Winnipeg Jets and the AHL Manitoba Moose play at the MTS Centre September through April. The arena also doubles as a popular concert venue.
Manitoba Legislative Building
This dignified building is packed with photogenic spots, from the soaring rotunda dome and grand staircase to The Golden Boy sculpture perched atop the roof. Free guided tours are available May through Labour Day weekend and by appointment during the rest of the year. For added intrigue, take the Hermetic Code Tour to learn how to spot hieroglyphics, numerical codes and symbols of Freemasonry.
West End Murals
The West End neighborhood boasts over 70 bold and colourful murals (some several storeys tall) that reflect the area’s diverse cultural heritage. Guided walking tours begin in June or you can explore the neighbourhood yourself. Many of the murals are clustered around the University of Winnipeg and along Sargent, Ellice and St. Matthews Avenues to the west.
The Journey to Churchill at the Assiniboine Park Zoo
This exhibit precisely replicates the habitat of Churchill, Manitoba so its most famous residents, orphaned polar bears from near the remote Hudson Bay community, feel right at home. Keep your eyes (and your camera) up as you descend into the underwater viewing tunnel. Watching the polar bears’ aquatic ballet unfold above your head is a magical experience.
“My favourite ‘locals only’ photogenic spot would have to be Assiniboine Forest,” says teacher Michelle Arnaud, who writes about her life in Winnipeg at belleinthenorth.wordpress.com. “Not a lot of tourists know about this place, even though it is right across the street from the zoo. Paths from within the zoo will take you directly across the street and into the forest.”
The oak and aspen forest is one of the largest urban nature parks in the country. Hikers and cyclists have spotted deer, ducks, geese and even muskrats along the seven-kilometer trail network.
The funky boutiques, dive bars and yoga studios along Osborne Street give this walkable neighbourhood an artsy, bohemian vibe. “There are so many notable places in Osborne, but that intersection at Osborne and River is the heart of it all,” says Natalie Bell, social media guru and pegcitylovely.com blogger. “For scenic walks, head down Roslyn Road along the river, take in a ton of shopping and fabulous eats between River and Stradbrook.”
End your Winnipeg photo tour at two of the city’s most beloved culinary institutions. Stella’s Café & Bakery is often voted the best breakfast in Winnipeg, but it also offers fresh baked artisan breads, house made jam and from scratch cooking (including vegetarian and vegan options) all day long. Save room for dessert at Baked Expectations. Get a close-up of the deliciously indulgent Schmoo Torte. This addictive combination of angel food cake, crunchy pecans, loads of whipped cream and a generous drizzle of caramel sauce is a Winnipeg classic.
Feature image courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg, captured by William Au.