A first-timer's guide to Saskatoon, Canada (2024)

Surrounded by gentle wheat fields beneath a dome of great prairie skies, Saskatoon is the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Straddling the South Saskatchewan River, it has been the province’s cultural and economic hub since its settlement in the late 19th century (but not its capital – that falls to Regina).

The Northern Plains Indigenous Peoples had been guardians of this land for over 6000 years when, in 1883, white Methodists founded the town as a temperance colony, naming it after the purple berry growing in the region. While the railroad eventually reached the fledgling town in 1890, Saskatoon still only had 113 inhabitants at the turn of the century.A boom period of new settlers and entrepreneurs soon followed, and Saskatoon grew into a thriving city, albeit isolated from big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal.

Today, the sometimes stark prairie landscapes around the city look like nowhere else in the country. Downtown, you’ll find street art tours, compelling museums, craft beer breweries, a variety of architecture and some fine riverside trails. And Saskatoon now proudly explains and celebrates the Indigenous Peoples who have been here for thousands of years, with the Wanuskewen complex a majestic and poignant monument to that past and present.

These top tips can help you plan a trip to Saskatoon.

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When should I go to Saskatoon?

Though Saskatoon – one of the sunniest cities in Canada– receives plenty of sunlight (2350.4 hours annually), winters are long and cold so plan to visit during the glorious summer months between June and August. This is the busiest time of year, but since Saskatoon is a little more under-the-radar than other Canadian cities, it’s not overwhelmed by tourists and offers much better value for money regarding accommodation and eating out.

The city comes alive with music on those effulgent summer days with magnificent festivals across multiple genres including the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, Rock the River and the Ness Creek Music Festival. And for those who do want to embrace Saskatchewan winter scenes, the Nutrien Wintershines Festival hosts ice sculptures, cook-offs, stargazing and more.

How long should I spend in Saskatoon?

Allow two to three days to explore Saskatoon, but also leave time for attractions on the city’s outskirts that make use of the abundant prairie space. You’ll spend the majority of your time in downtown Saskatoon, on the river trails and the Broadway neighborhood, which is ideal for a weekend. More planning is needed for the excursions out of the city, so map out an extra day or two for those depending on time and budget.

Is it easy to get in and around Saskatoon?

Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport is 7km (4 miles) northwest of downtown Saskatoon, which is about 18 minutes by taxi, the most convenient form of travel to any downtown hotel. The number 11 bus also runs from the airport, and takes around 30 minutes to make the same journey (without factoring in walking to the hotel).

Though its streets are wide, Saskatoon’s downtown core is highly walkable and there are several bridges spanning the South Saskatchewan River that link to Broadway Ave’s bars, cafes and stores. Consider hiring a bike too, as the relatively flat landscape and serpentine river trails are ideal for cycling.Visitors to Wanuskewen will need to hire a car or take a taxi.

Traveling elsewhere in Canada? Here are our top tips on transportation

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6 of the best things to do in Saskatoon

1. Explore the Meewasin Valley Trail

Saskatoon’s huge prairie skies are evocative and entice you outside, so the best way to experience the great outdoors here is by following some of the Meewasin Valley Trail. Flanking the serpentine river, the 25km (15 mile) trails are a fine introduction to Saskatoon’s cityscape, and are best experienced on two wheels (look out for the motivational chalk murals and messages along the way).

2. See artworks in the Remai Modern

The river winds south to River Landing in downtown’s southern tip, and it’s here that the Tetris-like Remai Modernmuseum rises up on a small bluff. Alongside a permanent collection featuring over 8000 works from Canadian and international artists, there’s also a quirky permanent exhibition of ceramics and linocuts by Pablo Picasso in this spacious museum bursting with natural light.

3. Enjoy the buss of Broadway Avenue

A short walk across the Broadway Bridge brings cinematic city views followed by a stroll into arguably the most vibrant corner of Saskatoon. Airy breweries, buzzing bistros, kitsch vinyl stores and the iconic Broadway Theatre fringe Broadway Ave, which is a fine spot to spend a morning, afternoon or evening (perhaps even all three?).

4. Take yourself on a tour of downtown's murals and architecture

Back in downtown, discover an art-splashed city on a self-guided street art tour passing by huge murals and multicolored installations spanning 20th and 23rd Street East. Even if you’re not staying there, the Delta Bessborough Hotel is something of a work of art itself. Completed in 1935, the Bessborough is a soaring Châteauesque turreted and gabled affair reminiscent of Bavarian castles that looks startlingly out of place.

5. See how Saskatoon was

Towards the edge of the city, the Western Development Museum’s compelling Boomtown exhibit is an indoor reconstruction of a typical Saskatchewan small-town main street from 1910, complete with a blacksmith, church and train station.

6. Taste local produce at the farmers market

And for a true experience of this land, it’s worth a visit to the Saskatoon Farmers Market– an institution running since 1975 and stuffed with vendors selling everything from wild berries to handmade moccasins.

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My favorite thing to do in Saskatoon

There’s a magical quality to watching the sun sink behind the widescreen horizon at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. Not like the picture-postcard sunsets you see on Caribbean beaches, it’s more of a calming, spiritual feeling as the sun’s soft glow fades across the marshy creeks and wooded ridges of the Opamihaw Valley. Shortly after, I watched the moon rise against a blue evening canvas. Known as nēhiyawēwin in Plains Cree, Wanuskewin roughly translates to "seeking peace of mind" and that name couldn’t be more apt.

Around 20 minutes north of downtown Saskatoon, Wanuskewin tells the story of the Northern Plains Indigenous People’s spiritual relationship to this land and the living creatures they share it with, most notably the repopulated bison. You can explore panels, artwork, interactive classes, traditional food and much more, but most importantly that story– which is never sugarcoated– is told by Indigenous People themselves. Few experiences I’ve had in North America have felt deeper and more enlightening than this one.

How much money do I need for Saskatoon?

  • Hostel room:$79
  • Hotel room for two:$94
  • Public transport ticket: $3
  • Coffee: $3.60
  • Sandwich:$3
  • Dinner for two:$73
  • Beer/pint at a bar: $5.80

Budget for your time in Canada with out money-saving tips

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Should I visit in winter?

With an average temperature of -13°C (8°F) in January, winter in Saskatoon is only for the hardiest of souls. However, one bonus of a visit in this season– along with budget-friendly prices– is the chance of seeing the northern lights, with the aurora's stunning swirls sometimes visible if the stars align (no pun intended).Just remember to pack plenty of layers.

What language is spoken in Saskatoon?

Though English and French are official languages in Saskatchewan, English is by far the most spoken language in Saskatoon and you’ll need it for all of your interactions.

A first-timer's guide to Saskatoon, Canada (2024)
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