1. Stroll through polar bear tunnels
Assiniboine Park Zoo’s award-winning “Journey to Churchill” exhibit will dazzle both children and parents alike. While the zoo is home to around 200 species, this exhibit features polar bears, muskoxen, Artic fox, wolves and snowy owls, and claims to be the most comprehensive and engaging northern species exhibit of its kind in the world. Children can wander through Sea Ice Passage, an underwater viewing tunnel where polar bears do barrel rolls overhead and seals glide past. Rest your feet and sit down to watch a film about Canada’s North in the Aurora Borealis theatre, where films are projected onto a 360-degree screen. After you’ve checked out the interactive exhibits, burn off any excess energy at the indoor polar playground. Feeling peckish? The Tundra Grill offers diners the chance to watch polar bears in a sprawling landscape that emulates northern Manitoba’s habitat—the area where these rescued polar bears hail. If your your family tires of schmoozing with the bears (is that even possible?), check out the Butterfly Garden, Toucan Ridge or the Australian Walkabout.
2. Explore The Forks
This culturally historic intersection of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers is where Indigenous peoples have been trading and meeting for thousands of years. Younger kids can run amuck in the Parks Canada playground or cool off in the water park, while older kids and teens can test out their skateboard tricks in the 44,000 square foot Urban Skate Plaza and Bowl Complex—they may even recognize the terrain from a video by skate legend Tony Hawk! The Forks hosts an expansive market with many shops and Winnipeg institutions. Kiteand Kaboodle Toys and McNally Robinson Booksellers have unique toy and book offerings for children. This is a great opportunity for parents to take a break and enjoy the wine, craft beer or locally roasted coffee in The Common, an airy, rustic market space with high glass ceilings. Kids will no doubt satisfy their sweet tooth with macarons from Oprah-endorsed Jenna Rae Cakes or a sticky cinnamon bun from Tall Grass Prairie Bakery.
3. Cruise the rivers
In winter, skaters can glide up to 10 kilometers along Winnipeg’s iconic Assiniboine and Red Rivers. The Red River Mutual Trail, a Guinness World Record-holding spot with the longest skating trail in the world, is packed with skaters of all ages and abilities—and no one seems to be deterred by the dipping temperatures. The trail is dotted with warming huts designed by local, national and internationalartists and architects. Skates can be rented at The Forks ($4 child, $6 adult) and there are several access points along the trail. If you’re visiting in summer, the River Spirit water bus is the best way to escape traffic and explore the city. The boats arrive at five docks along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers every 15 minutes and ferry passengers from The Corydon Avenue Village to the Legislature, The Forks, The Exchange District and The French Quarter. Guided river tours of the city can also be booked.
4. Play at the Manitoba Children’s Museum
This open-concept museum offers a dynamic and engaging experience for children 10 and under. There are a dozen interactive exhibits with emphasis on imagination, self-discovery and creative learning. These include a Splash Lab where children can experiment with cups, dams, flow and jets. Be sure to check out the illusion tunnel that tests perspectives and Pop M’Art where kids shop for supplies and then create works of art. There are separate play areas for toddlers and babies as well as Lasagna Lookout, a food themed structure. Parents can often be seen pulling reluctant children away from the exhibits at closing time. Budget lots of time for this stop.
5. Check out Winnipeg’s French Quarter
Families can stroll across Esplanade Riel, the city’s iconic bridge, into the largest francophone community west of Quebec. Be sure to stop at Chocolatier Constance Popp’s for a sweet treat. Each February, Saint Boniface hosts Festival du Voyageur, the largest winter festival in Western Canada, celebrating French culture and promoting the rich voyageur era. Children can play on the ice castle and tour the impressive snow sculptures. The most anticipated activity for children, however, is tire sur la neige, where Canadian maple syrup is poured on fresh snow and rolled onto a stick to create a taffy pop. Better break out the dental floss. Families can indulge in voyageur cuisine such as tourtière and pea soup while catching a lively French Canadian band. Historic Fort Gibraltar hosts events besides Festival du Voyageur throughout the year.
6. Ride the Prairie Dog Central Railway steam train
The best way to get a feel for the openness of the prairies is by hitching a ride on the Prairie Dog Central Railway. This is one of the oldest vintage steam trains operating in North America. The 50-60 minutetrain ride traverses across canola and wheat fields to Gross Isle–and boy, does this company know how to liven up a train ride for children! Passengers can purchase tickets for an excursion that includes an old-fashioned cowboy and cowgirl train robbery, where good-natured robbers on horseback surround and hold up the train (all donations collectedgo towards Helping Hands for Manitobans with Breast Cancer). There’s a Bonnie and Clyde robbery option as well. In Gross Isle passengers can purchase hot dogs, ice cream and homemade pie before wandering through an 1886 Heritage House and one-room school.
7. Immerse yourself in the wilderness
FortWhyte Alive is a nature preserve right inside the city designed to inspire an appreciation of the natural world. The facility has an interpretive centre, seven kilometres of trails and boardwalks, and activities that are open year-round to suit any interest. Children love the Bison Safari, where they head out onto the prairie in trucks to get up close with the hairy, prairie beasts. There’s also lots to see at the freshwater aquarium and interpretive center. In fall, while enjoying a hot dog and hot chocolate, visitors can catch the Sunset Goose Flight where thousands of geese return from their nightly feed as the sun dips down onto the prairie horizon. The toboggan run (sleds provided) is popular winter activity, along with Santa in the Forest, Family Goose Day, fishing, orienteering and a weekly farmers market to name just a few. Row boats and kayaks are available for rent.
8. Wander the historic Exchange District
This National Historic Site can be explored on foot and with lots of sites, shops and activities to keep children busy along the way. A replica of the infamous Nonsuch Ship built in 1650, which sailed into the Hudson Bay, can be explored in a gallery at the Manitoba Museum. Kids of all ages will love to peek into the nooks and crannies of this boat. In the same building, they can explore the Science Gallery where they can build a race car or make a stop action movie. The Planetarium regularly screens films. Don’t forget to make a stop at Toad Hall Toys, a Winnipeg institution and on Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoons, an on-site magician in the district will teach kids the nuances of magic. Parents can pick up a cup of java for the walk at the very stylish Parlour Coffee.
9. Frolic in the Streuber Family Children’s Garden
This children’s garden, located in Assiniboine Park, was designed to incorporate nature into a play area allowing children to run, jump, play and explore topiaries, a crow’s nest and willow tunnels. Did you know Winnie the Pooh was named after Winnipeg? A statue and plaque commemorating the story of Lt. Colebourn and Winnie the Bear can be found here. When kids need a rest, the Qualico Family Center offers a place to catch a quick snack before heading over to the duck pond which doubles as a skating rink in the winter.
10. Indulge in an ice cream sundae
No trip to Winnipeg would be complete without a stop at Bridge Drive-In. This ice cream shop draws connoisseurs from across the city for creamy milkshakes, infamous hot fudge sundaes and sizable signature treats like The Goog Special and Sleeping Beauty. Beware: line-ups can be long in the heat of summer, but it’s worth the wait. Be sure to take a stroll across the pedestrian bridge that spans the Red River once you have you treat of choice.
11. Embrace the summer arts and culture events
In June, The Winnipeg International Children’s Festival, also known as Kidsfest, offers hands-on opportunities for younger children to immerse themselves in art, music and theatre. Along with the performances from entertainers across the globe, there are stations with hands on activities where children can try out instruments, make crafts and conduct science experiments. The Winnipeg Folk Festival in July should not be missed. There is an entire field of fun dedicated to children and families, including arts and crafts, children’s performers and story time. Birds Hill Park has a designated camping area with quieter hours for families. And finally, Winnipeg is home to the second-largest Fringe Festival in North America. If you’re in town in late July, don’t miss the special programming and performances dedicated to younger audiences at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, a children’s theatre that operates year-round. Old Market Square is a hub where comedians, acrobats and flamethrowers wow crowds between shows.
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