Road trips in the family minivan were a staple of my childhood. While we might not have the minivan, my girlfriend and I figured it was about time we made some family memories of our own—so we packed up her four-year-old daughter Lily and an alarming amount of luggage (how can such a small child need so many things?!) and hit the road for a weekend in Winnipeg.
It’s a lot easier to fit in some time away when you can be back by Monday morning; less than two hours north of the Canada/USA border, Winnipeg is a doable drive with kids and full of attractions the whole family will love. If you’re looking for a deal, you’re in luck: with the US dollar worth $1.36 Canadian, it’s an affordable getaway too.
Out of the house
Our home base for the weekend was a spacious room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, centrally located and with enough room for all nine pairs of shoes we brought…and yes, we did use every pair. Lily loved the rolling desk chair and the hotel phone, and we were big fans of the comfortable queen-sized beds and big bathroom.
One of the highlights of the trip was the Fairfield’s fantastic pool, complete with waterslide. I think the trip would have been a success if we had just spent all three days in the pool!
Out to eat
Trying new restaurants can be a challenge when you’re feeding a picky four-year-old with a strong brand loyalty to Boston Pizza. Luckily, Winnipeg is full of delicious options that got the thumbs up from kid and adults alike.
While Winnipeg’s innovative culinary scene is gaining international attention, a good neighbourhood diner is still a city staple…and the Falafel Place is a must visit. The falafels are made hot to order and the best I’ve ever tasted, but their “Young Persons” menu offers everything from Mickey Mouse pancakes to French toast, if chickpeas and tahini are a bit too adventurous for your little one.
Feast Café Bistro was one of our dinner stops, a restaurant putting a modern twist on traditional Indigenous food. Lily loved the “Little Tomahawks” pizza, served with a Manitoba spin on bannock crust. Bonus points for their throwback Feist soundtrack, a favorite of mine who will also be in Manitoba this summer for the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
If anyone in your family has a sweet tooth (in our case, that’s me) you can’t miss Baked Expectations. We had a hard time choosing from the displays of cakes, pies, cheesecakes and more that line the front of the store…so we picked our top three and did our best to finish them all!
Out to explore
With so much to do in Winnipeg and only a weekend to do it, we settled on four main attractions that all three of us could enjoy.
Our first stop was the Manitoba Children’s Museum, home to twelve interactive galleries and one giant locomotive. The train was a runaway hit, but the multi-level water table (complete with lab coat smocks) and the pasta-themed Lasagna Lookout structure were also popular. The best part? All play places are designed to be large enough to accommodate adult-sized users, but little users can get around just fine on their own once your knees need a break.
The Children’s Museum is housed at The Forks, a hub of activity in the heart of downtown where Winnipeg’s two main rivers meet. On summer days, look for performers and musicians busking in the sun, and on any day stop into the Common to enjoy a flight of local brews (not really kid-friendly, but we appreciated it).
We were surprised with some late spring snowfall, but the weather made for perfect polar bear viewing at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. It also helped set the scene for the Journey to Churchill exhibit, a world-class experience which transports you to the northern town of Churchill, Manitoba. The Sea Ice Passage takes you as close as you can get to a live polar bear—behind a clear wall, of course! All of the animals seemed to be making the most of the cooler weather and we got close to everything from playful seals to a very loud sea eagle.
With three great attractions in the same location, a visit to the Manitoba Museum could easily take a whole day…but with only a morning we focused on the last two (though we’re already planning our next visit to the Museum galleries). Full of kid-friendly science and hands-on exhibits, the Science Gallery was a whirlwind of pulleys, lights, mirrors, moon rocks and more. Our Planetarium show about aliens on vacation clocked in at 35 minutes, just long enough for young attention spans.
We wrapped up our whirlwind weekend with a visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Though we were worried the subject matter might make it a better stop for older kids, with the help of knowledgeable museum staff we planned a tour our four-year-old loved. Between the interactive technology and the architecture of the museum itself she was just as engaged as we were. We finished with an elevator ride to the top of the Tower of Hope, a glass spire sitting 328 feet above Winnipeg’s downtown. What a view!
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights also gave me my favorite part of the trip. One of the galleries features a wedding cake made up of pictures of same-sex couples, part of the story of Canada’s path to marriage equality. Watching Lily circle the photos and name off “girl and girl, boy and boy, girl and girl” unfazed, warmed my heart. When a lot of the families don’t look like yours, it’s those little reminders that make a difference.
And I’m not one to push a gift shop but, I have to say, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has a great one. It’s worth stopping in on your way out if you’re looking for a souvenir to bring back.
With the city skyline in our rear view mirror and a bunch of new stories (and one new stuffed eagle) to take home with us, I think it’s safe to say our first family road trip was a success. Big thanks to Winnipeg for the memories!
If you want to plan your own family vacation this summer, visit Tourism Winnipeg for deals and packages.