Travel

Tired of the Same-Old Winter Activities? Winnipeg Has Revamped the Season

Canada's version of Chicago offers the world's largest snow maze, an ice-climbing tower, dinner on a frozen river, and much more.

The Forks
The Forks
The Forks

If you’ve ever dreamed of starring in your own Hallmark Christmas movie, we can’t help you there, but the city of Winnipeg will get you semi-close. Manitoba’s wintry capital city has served as the backdrop for the filming of countless heart-warming holiday movies, usually on the cinematic streets of the picturesque Exchange District. The downtown neighborhood’s 1920s-era architecture and plethora of snowflakes that seem to perpetually fall, take after take, will have you feeling all sorts of romantic clichés.

Despite being more of a transit hub for travelers heading up to the famous town of Churchill (a.k.a. the ‘Polar Bear Capital Of The World’) at the tippy top of the province, Winnipeg is worthy of its own trip. With seriously negative temperatures, crisp winds whipping through streets, loads of snow, and zero school cancellations even in blizzard conditions, it’s no surprise the Canadian city has gained nicknames like “Winterpeg” and “The Chicago of the North.”

Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba

The lengthy annual freeze doesn’t stop Manitobans from having a good time though-in fact, they make the most of the cold with creative and inventive activities. From the unique culinary scene to the world’s largest snow maze, there’s no shortage of frigid fun to be had in the capital of the Canadian region that loves being weird in a wonderful way.

Pack your parka and dive into Winnipeg’s winter wonderland with these top things to do, see, and eat in the capital of Manitoba. And remember, you aren’t a true Winnipegger unless you drink a slurpee outside in the middle of January… but these wintry activities are a good start.

The Forks
The Forks
The Forks

Eat like a Winnipegger

Your winter body isn’t going to build itself. Luckily, Winnipeg’s unique food scene is here to help. With so many Winnipeg-specific foods to try, you could easily spend a whole day eating your way through neighbourhood after neighbourhood. Get to Clementine Cafe in the Exchange District right at opening (9 am) in order to snag a table at the city’s most popular brunch spot. Tuck into maybe the best and thickest maple braised bacon you’ll ever have, or go international with the Turkish Eggs.

Head to The Forks, an indoor marketplace and historically social-meeting spot where the Red and Assiniboine rivers join. Grab a cinnamon bun from Tall Grass Prairie, play one of the onsite board games, shop for a souvenir, and you better save room for Zorba’s chicken fingers and honey dill sauce for dipping-it’s one of Winnipeg’s culinary claims to fame. Is it the best dipping sauce in the world? You can be the judge.

Visit Winnipeg
Visit Winnipeg
Visit Winnipeg

Beef it up with the classic Fatboy burger and quintessential Manitoba thing; a fast-food style burger and sloppy joe hybrid all in one messy (and mayo-y), but delicious set of buns. There are many establishments who declare they serve up the best chili-topped Fatboy burger, but if you try the old-fashioned food stands like Junior’s, Super Boy’s Restaurant, or Mrs. Mike’s, you really can’t go wrong.

Top it all off and treat your taste buds to a Shmoo Torte at the cute-as-can-be Baked Expectations, the dessert portion of eating like a Winnipegger. Whipped cream, pecans, and caramel sauce adorn a fluffy angel food cake foundation; the first bite will leave you shwooning.

Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba

Go kicksledding, skating, or ice-cycling on the River Trail

All that eating means it’s time to move a bit, and what better way to immerse yourself into Winnipeg’s frozen shenanigans than along the free-to-access Nestaweya River Trail, hailed as one of Canada’s longest skating paths. Stretching 4–6 miles (depending on conditions) along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, it’s a communal destination for fat-tire biking, ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice-cycling, and kicksledding.

The trail typically opens up at the beginning of January and is groomed daily. Bring your own gear or rent from The Forks location or by the Granite Curling Club area of the trail.

The Forks
The Forks
The Forks

Anyone can cross-country ski or go fat tire biking pretty much anywhere-might as well get down with weird Winnipeg and try the ice-cycle or the Nordic-infused kicksled, which demands a bit more cardio action. Propel yourself down the river trail with a kick of your leg on a skis-meets-sled piece of apparatus that will have you huffing, puffing, and laughing as you get your winter workout in, Winnipeg-style.

Stop at the cute and artsy warming huts along the way to defrost a bit, all of which are created by winners of the annual Art + Architecture competition.

Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba

Get lost in the world’s largest snow maze

No winter visit to Winnipeg is complete without a visit to the world’s largest snow maze-crowned by the one and only Guinness Book of World Records. Located just south of the city centre in Saint Adolphe, it’s a destination where you can marvel at snowy architectural wonders, romp around to your heart’s content, and warm up with hot chocolate or whiskey by the bonfire afterwards.

Channel your inner child as you zip down slippery snow slides, navigate your way through the massive frozen maze, tackle the speedy Giant Luge run, and top it all off with a celebratory adult beverage at The Snow Bar. This festive outdoor attraction typically runs from mid-end of January to mid-March, depending upon weather conditions and temperatures.

Festival du Voyageur
Festival du Voyageur
Festival du Voyageur

Attend Western Canada’s biggest winter festival

Don’t just embrace winter, celebrate it wholeheartedly like Manitobans do at the Festival du Voyageur every February. The 10-day festival is held in Winnipeg’s French district and pays homage to both the French-Canadian and Métis cultures of Manitoba through art, live music, massive snow sculptures, food, horse sleigh rides, and historical interpretation events surrounding fur-trading at Fort Gibraltar.

Enter the beard-growing competition or watch some cheese carving-there’s a quirky little something for everyone here. This year’s festival takes place from February 17–26, and we hope you like maple syrup, because they put it on just about everything.

Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba

Climb an ice tower

Yes, you read that correctly. Winnipeg is host to a free-standing ice-climbing tower every winter, the original of its kind, which was first constructed in 1996. Officially called the Club d’escalade Saint-Boniface Ice Climbing Tower, the nearly 66-foot-tall icy spire shoots out of the banks of the Red River to the delight of adventurers who clearly don’t have a fear of heights. Every year, the tower structure is sprayed with water, creating the icy waterfall-like mast, with each of its three sides offering climbers a varying level of difficulty.

Throw on a harness and other essential climbing gear to give it a go; if you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Winnipeg from a bird’s eye perspective. Who needs mountains to ascend when you can just build a tower of ice? Proof that Winnipeggers have gotten clever living in their mostly flat Manitoba province. The ice tower is typically open on winter weekends from the end of December until the end of March (weather conditions dependent), and you can either use your own helmets, crampons, etc., or borrow the club’s limited supply, free of charge.

RAW:almond
RAW:almond
RAW:almond

Enjoy fine-dining on a frozen river

A fine-dining festival? That’s been done. Fine-dining festival on a frozen river? Winnipeg, of course. That’s what you get with RAW:almond, an extraordinary Manitoba winter experience that lasts for 24 days, but sells out in approximately 24 minutes (give or take). The brainchild of Deer + Almond chef Mandel Hitzer and architect Joe Kalturnyk, the director of RAW: Gallery of Architecture and Design, this pop-up restaurant is anything but ordinary. What they’ve created is a “temporary tasting room” on the frozen river in Winnipeg, a crazy cool dining experience. Because this unique culinary event is returning after a three-year COVID break, it’s likely to be more popular than ever. Get in the ticket line now.

Synonym Art Consultation
Synonym Art Consultation
Synonym Art Consultation

Go to a drag brunch

Take a break from the teeth-chattering cold and enjoy a lively (indoor) drag brunch in the up-and-coming West Broadway neighbourhood. The Tallest Poppy dishes up fried chicken that will have you licking your fingers clean, amongst other amazing items like the winter salad and homemade soup of the day. The popular monthly drag brunch is a collaboration between The Tallest Poppy and Synonym Art Consultation, and happens to be the hottest Sunday party in town. Local, talented Drag Queens provide the entertainment through art, performances, and lip synching, while you indulge in food and drink to the bopping tunes of the DJ.

Mere Hotel
Mere Hotel
Mere Hotel

Where to snuggle up at the end of your winter-filled day

If you prefer to stay right near the airport, you can’t get much closer and comfortable than the Lakeview Signature, walkable from the airport doors. For boutique hotel lovers, The Mere Hotel in The Exchange District will have you centrally located to spots like The Forks, The River Trail, and perhaps even the set of a Christmas movie. Looking to get luxurious? Splurge on a stay at the Fairmont Winnipeg, part of the ever-elegant and iconic Canadian chain, where you can view some of the city’s hottest spots from your room’s window while relaxing in a fluffy robe.

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Lauren Breedlove is a freelance writer, travel photographer, and the girl behind girlwanderlist.com, a list-based travel blog where she keeps it real on the regular. She thrives on random adventures, offbeat destinations, and grilled cheese. Follow all her travel exploits on Instagram, @girlwanderlist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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