Last weekend, we travelled to Yellowknife to experience the Great Canadian Travel Company's aptly named Yellowknife Stopover tour package. The Yellowknife Stopover included a number of great activities, but also gave us plenty of time to explore the capital of the Northwest Territories in some detail. Combining what we learned on this trip with information from Anubha's previous visits, we have come up with our tips and top picks for travel to the Knife. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what Yellowknife has to offer, so we encourage you to add your own tips in the comment section!
Yellowknife is the largest city in the Northwest Territories, with over 20,0000 inhabitants (almost the same size as all of Nunavut!). It was founded during the gold rush as a mining town, but has evolved to become the economic and political centre of the territory.
The city is located on the northern shore of Great Slave Lake, giving residents and visitors incredible access to boating and fishing in the warmer months, and snowmobiling, dogsledding, and ice fishing in the colder months. Aside from outdoor activities, Yellowknife is also home to a lively arts and culture scene, more than decent culinary options, and of course, the famous aurora borealis.
Getting to Yellowknife
Travel to and from Yellowknife is fairly accessible, at least by Northern standards. Daily flights connect Yellowknife with the south via Edmonton, Calgary, or Vancouver, and with Nunavut via Rankin Inlet or Kugluktuk. In terms of cost, you're looking at prices well below what we pay to get south from Iqaluit: a return flight from Yellowknife to Edmonton will only put you out $300. However, travel within the North is still expensive, with flights between Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet costing around $2400.
Where to Stay
The Explorer Hotel
Locally know as The Explorer, this is Yellowknife's largest and fanciest hotel. The rooms are very well-appointed and spacious, and the location is good - just a short walk from the downtown core. Guests of The Explorer enjoy complimentary shuttle service from the airport and easy access to Trader's Grill, which is one of the city's most popular restaurants. Rates for a deluxe suite start at $182.50 per night (if you book early enough), based on double occupancy.
The Yellowknife Inn
Not as fancy as The Explorer, but still with really nice, spacious rooms, The Yellowknife Inn has a slightly more central location and is also serviced by the free airport shuttle. The Inn is connected to L'attitudes Restaurant Bistro; breakfast from L'attitudes is available at an additional cost. Rates for a double occupancy room start at about $160 per night if you book at least seven days in advance. Further discounts are applied if you plan to stay for more than three nights.
Days Inn & Suites
Great location, simple accommodations, the Days Inn also offers a free airport shuttle service. Guests also have access to Trek Restaurant. We were surprised to see that rates are also from $189 per night for a double to quadruple occupancy room - seems a bit steep, considering the nicer hotels in town have the same price.
A bit of a hike (read: bus or taxi ride) from the city centre, the Super 8 is good if you're staying for only one night and want to stock up on supplies from Wal-Mart (yeah, Nunavummiut do that). Rooms start at about $168 for two queen beds.
If you're looking to save some money and endear yourself to a Knifer or two, consider Couchsurfing or airbnb, both of which are quite popular in the area. You could even spend your stay in one of Yellowknife's famous houseboats!
What to Do
See the aurora
Yellowknife is considered an aurora mecca; we can vouch for this as we experienced the mystique ourselves. According to Kyle Thomas of YK Online, the winter aurora season lasts from about mid-December to mid-April, and the fall aurora is out from about mid-August to mid-October. From our experience, the northern lights are regularly on display in the cold months of February and March.
We had great experiences doing northern lights tours with both Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures and My Backyard Tours. Another very popular option is Aurora Village, an aurora-viewing hotspot with resort-like amenities.
If there is one thing we could have added to our Yellowknife Stopover, it would be ice-fishing in a Bombadeer (and no, Google, we do not mean Bombardier). Reach out to Shawn Buckley of Great Slave Tours to book Bombadeer fishing tours in the winter, and regular ol' fishing options during the open water months.
Yellowknife has great shopping, especially if you like local arts and crafts. If you're looking for unique handmade items like moccasins, bead jewellery, and moose hair tufting, we suggest heading to Down to Earth Gallery and Northern Images. For the fur enthusiast looking for expertly-made hats, mitts, and other accessories, head over to the aptly named Just Furs.
To make a really special souvenir for yourself, take a glassblowing workshop at Old Town Glassworks (apparently, every true Yellowknifer has at least one glass from this place). And for everything else, block off an hour or two to peruse the wondrous wares at Weaver & Devore Trading, an independently-owned general store that from our experience and the words of our residents friends, sells just about everything.
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and the Legislative Assembly of the NWT
Both of these attractions offer visitors some history ad cultural context about Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories. And, they're housed in two of Yellowknife's most interesting buildings from an architectural perspective - and the interior decor isn't bad either!
Take a Stroll
Yellowknife is a great city for walking and taking in some sites. Whether you do this alone, or are part of a guided walking tour (we did one with My Backyard Tours and loved it), you'll love wandering through the neighbourhoods (Old Town is our favourite!) and taking in the views.
Where to Eat and Drink
Gold Range Bistro
Yellowknife's favourite greasy spoon, the Gold Range Bistro serves standard North American breakfasts (eggs, bacon, toast) as well as Chinese food. The menu is moderately priced and the portions are generous. Recommended for a quick but hearty breakfast!
Thornton's Wine and Tapas Room
Thornton's is another fantastic place for breakfast, or rather brunch, on Sundays. The all-you-can-eat special includes a buffet of fruits, cheeses, meats, and juices, which are perfect to tide you over until the main event: made-to-order eggs served with stuffed French toast, pancakes, crispy potatoes, and country ham. The latter four items are presented family style on large platters, and you can order seconds as many times as you want (the same goes for the eggs). The eggs and platter items are prepared fresh and just for you - much better than a regular old buffet brunch!
We loved the brightly-lit space and tasty fresh sushi from Sushi North. The service was fast and the price was fair. Try the green tea with rice - it's a great complement to Arctic char nigiri.
This little restaurant inside of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is only open for lunch, which is too bad, because it serves some of the best food in the city. Soups and sandwiches are staples, all at a great value and even greater quality.
Despite being a Yellowknife institution, Bullock's gets mixed reviews - even by locals. The restaurant offers simple fare - fish and chips, sometimes bison steaks, too - and a carefully careless ambiance, much of which is owed to the customer scribbles and cards tacked all over the walls. The service is known to be brusque; some call it charming, some consider it rude. Our take on Bullock's Bistro? Both during our recent visit and Anubha's previous calls to the joint, we were more than happy with the food, atmosphere, and hospitality. Our fish was fresh (we actually saw it come in on a snowmobile earlier the same day), our fries crispy, and salad tangy. Anubha may have been sassed endlessly during her first dining experience at Bullock's because she was sitting alone at the bar, but that's just how the staff show you that they like you...right?!
The restaurant at The Explorer Hotel is just as fancy as its host - and also a bit pricey. That being said, it's definitely one of the nicest restaurants in town, and serves what we think is the second best Sunday brunch after Thornton's. Try to get a seat by the fireplace to really get that snuggly, Northern vibe.
Vietnamese Noodle House
When it's -40C outside, nothing can quite warm you up like a warm bowl of pho. Thankfully, Vietnamese Noodle House has pho on the menu, along with a host of other Vietnamese favourites. We recommend washing whatever you order down with a cold glass of mango shake or Vietnamese iced coffee - unless you don't like sugar!
The Black Knight Pub
The Black Knight serves food and has beer on tap- and that's a big deal for Nunavummiut! This is a great spot to meet friends for a pint and gossip. Or, if you're hungry, ask for an order of fish and chips.
Gold Range Bar
The party side of the Gold Range Bistro, known colloquially as The Range. It's been described as seedy as many times as we've heard that it's awesome. Honestly, we're not sure if the two are mutually exclusive (note our fondness for Nunavut branches of the Royal Canadian Legion), but we are certain that near-nightly performances by house band Welder's Daughter make The Range a hot spot for us.
When to Go
As stated above, the best time to see the aurora is between August and April. But the lights aren't the only annual Yellowknife attractions! The Knife hosts a number of annual festivals, the biggest being the Snowking Festival in March, the Long John Jamboree at the end of March, and Folk on the Rocks in July (for a list of local festivals, check out this list on YK Online).
One thing to note is that Yellowknife has summer, and we mean non-mosquito, actually hot summer. Boating, fishing, hiking, and camping await its warm weather visitors, making Yellowknife an attractive tourist destination year-round.