Canada’s Best Budget Destination You’ve Never Heard Of

by  Lavanya Sunkara | Aug 2, 2018

Canada’s fastest-growing city—for the second year in a row—is one you may not have heard of: Saskatoon, in the province of Saskatchewan (which borders the U.S. states of Montana and North Dakota), offers an inimitable blend of prairie charm and big-city buzz.

Divided by the Saskatchewan River, a day spent sightseeing will lead you through scenic waterside walking paths and over charming brass-colored bridges. And rich cultural institutions (including a brand-new modern art museum) and high-brow music and culinary experiences come at a fraction of what they’d cost in larger cities. 

Here’s what not to miss on your trip to Saskatoon. 

Remai Modern Museum

The new Remai Modern museum ($12 CAD, or approx. $9 USD entrance) pays homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style with its striking glass-and-wood-stacked façade overlooking the Saskatchewan River. Upon entering, you’ll find yourself in an atrium with a long fireplace and an eye-popping installation of hanging cubes, made from venetian blinds, by artist Haegue Yang. Among its 11 gallery spaces, the Remai hosts the largest collection of Picasso’s linocut prints as well as the private art collection of Fred Mendel. Those who want to tap into their own inner Picasso can learn to make their own linocuts in the museum’s three-hour workshop ($35 CAD, or approx. $27 USD). Afterward, take a refreshing walk by the river and dine at the on-site restaurant, Shift.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Learn about the sacred relationship between the land and the people of First Nations at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, located 10 miles from city along Opimihaw Creek. This proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site ($8.50 CAD, or approx. $6.50 USD) offers a window into a part of Canada’s history that remains largely undiscovered. It’s also the site of the country’s longest-running archaeological dig, where 6,000-year-old relics are discovered daily. Learn about indigenous traditions on a guided tour of the grounds, go on a medicine or archaeology walk, or participate in First Nations healing-hoop dancing. In a few years, the park will introduce a bison herd to roam Wanuskewin for the first time in the modern age.

Western Development Museum

Walking into the Western Development Museum ($10 CAD, or approx. $7.50 USD) feels like entering a Hollywood movie set: A life-size reconstruction of 1910 Boomtown features old-timey vehicles, horse carriages, a train and railway station, and artifacts from the era. Walk down the town’s main street and peek inside homes and businesses, including a feed store and laundromat. The “Winning the Prairie Gamble” exhibit shows the progression of an immigrant family over the course of several years, from their arrival from Europe to the years following the Great Depression. There’s also an exhibit on agricultural and scientific innovations from Saskatchewan. At the end, dress up in early-20th-century garb and sit for a black-and-white photo at the Boomtown Photo Studio ($40 CAD, or approx. $30 USD, includes an 8x10 print to take home).  

Prairie Lily Riverboat Cruise

Nicknamed the Paris of the Prairies, Saskatoon is best known for its seven brass-colored bridges, which cross the Saskatchewan River through the center of the city. Enjoy a glass of wine or rum punch as you sail under them aboard the Prairie Lily riverboat. The hour-long cruises ($25 CAD, or approx. $19 USD) pass painted rocks, gorgeous homes, and the stunning Delta Bessborough Hotel, dubbed the “Castle on the River” for its scale and distinctive turrets. Sightseeing, brunch, and dinner cruises are available Tuesday to Sunday, from Mother's Day through Canadian Thanksgiving.

Farmers’ Market & Fine Dining

People flock to the indoor/outdoor Farmers’ Market (open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays year-round) in Riversdale for fresh vegetables, fruit, and spreads sold by local farmers. Restaurants offer creative prairie- and internationally inspired cuisine made with local ingredients. The owners of Hearth, for instance, forage the morel mushrooms they use in their gourmet Eastern European dishes. At Little Grouse on the Prairie and Ayden’s Kitchen & Bar, owned byTop Chef Canada winner Dale Mackay, dishes are prepared with freshly caught pickerel from nearby lakes and pasta from wheat produced in Saskatchewan. If you're looking for a quick snack, you don’t even have to get out of your car at Baba’s Homestyle Perogies’ drive thru.

Saskatchewan Jazz Festival

Summer in Saskatoon officially begins with the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. This 10-day, multi-venue outdoor music festival (about $20-$68 CAD, or approx. $15-$52 USD) is one of the largest in Western Canada, attracting nearly 80,000 fans. Music lovers can enjoy jazz, blues, funk, pop, and world music on the main stage, which is set in the beautiful gardens of the historic Bessborough Hotel, and at the free stage at nearby Kiwanis Park. Don’t forget to bring folding chairs and sunscreen.

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