The Edmonton Rundown
From coastal village patois in Newfoundland to snowboard lingo on the slopes of Whistler, B.C., rapid-fire high-finance blather on Bay Street, Toronto to Inuktitut dialects in Nunavut, Brayon and Acadien French in New Brunswick to la belle province of Québec, Canada is awash with diversity. To this we can confidently add that bastion of rodeo, country music, cowboys and petroleum: Alberta.
The Prairie province, however, is not all grain and cattle, saddle sores and oil sands. Edmonton, for one, in a nod to the patchwork mien of Canada, is special. While the Alberta capital and scrappy Calgary rival has manifest ranch culture roots - few restaurants dare banish beef and downtown honky-tonk bars offer line dance lessons - Edmonton is also a city with a hip hop poet laureate, flagship International Fringe Festival and Bilbao-like landmark in the Art Gallery of Alberta.
As a result, visitors have plenty to explore in this city with a metro populace of 1 million plus. The “City of Champions” may have lost the services of Wayne Gretzky and native son Mark Messier decades ago but the Edmonton Oilers still fill Rexall Place. Outside of winter and the long NHL season, a parade of notable festivals dot the summer calendar, from the Fringe to Works Art & Design, Capital EX to A Taste of Edmonton. As a singular take on urban Canada and launch pad to uncommon national parks, the Alberta capital is a worthy target.
Edmonton’s Top 10
10. West Edmonton Mall is a behemoth theme park cum retail expanse that averages 75,000 shoppers a day.
5. Alberta Legislature is a grand landmark and the home of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.
9. Fort Edmonton Park is far from the only open-air heritage history museum in Canada. It is, however, the largest.
4. Telus World of Science is a vast, multidisciplinary museum with a planetarium and IMAX cinema.
8. Muttart Conservatory is a remarkable botanical garden complex in the North Saskatchewan river valley.
3. Francis Winspear Centre for Music is one of Canada’s premier concert halls.
7. Rexall Place is the home of the Edmonton Oilers. Be sure to pay homage to the Wayne Gretzky shrine out in front.
2. Art Gallery of Alberta is probably the most noticeable landmark in Edmonton, thanks to a recent flashy refurb job by architect Randall Stout.
6. Edmonton Valley Zoo is a small but decent animal park.
1. Royal Alberta Museum is a world class archaeology and natural history repository.
Edmonton, Alberta History
- Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village – See the historic Ukrainian village with over 30 landmarks from the late 19th century.
- Alberta Legislature Building – Tour the seat of Edmonton’s political structure.
- Father Lacombe Chapel – Built in 1861, this religious building is the oldest standing structure in Alberta.
- Old Strathcona District – Book a walking tour of this area of the city, featuring buildings from the late 19th century.
- Rutherford House – The historically preserved 1911 home of Alberta’s first premier, Alexander Rutherford.
Edmonton, Alberta Art & Culture
- Art Gallery of Alberta – Dedicated to exhibiting original artwork from international artists.
- Citadel Theatre – Five theatres are connected at this venue, the biggest cultural facility in Canada.
- Winspear Centre for Music – A concert hall and art venue where visitors can see live stage shows and more.
- Muttart Conservatory – An indoor greenhouse with more than 700 species of plants in their natural climates.
- Edmonton Space and Science Centre – Home to the biggest planetarium in Canada.
Edmonton, Alberta Shopping
- Whyte Avenue – The hub of activity in Edmonton, Whyte Avenue is home to several of the city’s signature shops.
- West Edmonton Mall – Billed as the biggest shopping complex in the world, this mall features a 13-screen movie theatre, a roller coaster, an indoor rainforest and more.
- Kingsway Garden Mall – Go window shopping at this indoor shopping mall with over 250 stores and restaurants.
- 104th Street City Market – This urban shopping area has multiple vendors, including a farmers’ market.
- Avenue of Nations – Take a walk through this multicultural street with goods from China, Vietnam and the Middle East.
Gay & Lesbian Edmonton
- Edmonton Gay Pride Week – LGBT individuals of all ages and races are welcome at this annual celebration in June.
- Flash – A gay nightclub with a dance floor, pool tables and nightly bottle service.
- Sherlock Holmes – Enjoy a pint at this pub for gays and lesbians near the financial district.
- Buddy’s – Open seven days a week, Buddy’s is open to both LGBT and straight partygoers.
- Junction – Have a meal and a drink at this LGBT-friendly establishment on 106th Street.
Edmonton, Alberta Outdoor
- Sir Winston Churchill Square – Located in downtown Edmonton, this square is the site for many of the city’s annual festivals.
- Fort Edmonton Park – Spend an afternoon at this downtown park that features historical re-enactments.
- World Water Park – A five-acre water park with 20 different rides, including a children’s pool, bungee jumping and private parties.
- Rundle Park – This outdoor park offers several activities, including paddle boating, soccer and tennis.
- Valley Zoo – Get close to more than 350 animals at this wildlife park.
Edmonton, Alberta Sport
- Play a round of championship golf at River Ridge Golf and Country Club.
- Book a skydiving trip.
- Take skiing lessons and hit the slopes.
- Attend an Edmonton Oilers hockey game.
- Buy tickets to watch the Edmonton Oilers play CFL football.
Metro Edmonton teems with suburbs and covers a considerable parcel of Alberta: 9,400 km<sup>2</sup> in all, which is tantamount to Cyprus. For the vast majority of tourists, however, the requisite ground to cover is much, much less. The best museums, restaurants, bars and shops reside, for the most part, within the small core of the city.
Downtown Edmonton is home to less than 15,000 people but is the lifeblood of the city. Bellwether landmarks include paragon pulse point Churchill Square, Edmonton City Hall, Francis Winspear Centre for Music, Edmonton City Centre, Stanley A. Milner Library, Alberta Legislature, restaurant row Jasper Avenue, Rice Howard Way and theWarehouse District.
Old Strathcona is the arts and entertainment hub of Edmonton, most notably in the form of dynamic artery Whyte Avenue.
For those not able to make the multi-hour drive to UNESCO World Heritage Jasper National Park or Banff National Park, Elk Island National Park, only 55 km away, provides a decent surrogate for short stays in the Alberta capital. The park is tiny by Canada’s standards (only 194 km<sup>2</sup>) but unfurls genuine prairie wilderness, with coyotes, bison, deer, and moose and beavers of course.
Edmonton Eat & Drink
Edmonton area restaurants may lack the soigné sophistication, innovation and deep, multiethnic vibrancy of a Montreal or Toronto but the city has enough capable chefs to please epicures in a pinch.
Corso Thirty Two (10345 Jasper Avenue) serves simple, rustic country Italian fare, with homemade pastas and the like.
Madison’s Grill at Union Bank Inn (10053 Jasper Avenue) serves upscale fare like pheasant, wild boar and grass-fed beef.
Packrat Louie (10335 83rd Avenue) is open for lunch but the sleek wine and cocktail bar cum pizza and prime cuts resto comes alive late at night.
Culina Muttart (9626 96A Street) is a branché conservatory café.
Bibo (9918 89th Avenue) is a convivial wine bar run by the eminent Culina restaurant group.
Culina Highlands (6509 112th Avenue) serves unfussy market cuisine with Ukranian twists.
Hardware Grill (9698 Jasper Avenue) is a stylish prix fixe spot with a lovely chef’s table.
The Blue Pear (10643 123 Street) is a top recommendation for a special night out in Edmonton.
Wildflower Grill (10009 107 Street) is a classy choice for brunch, lunch, dinner or dessert.
Red Ox Inn (9420 91 Street) wins consistent raves as one of the best restaurants in the city.
Edmonton is a proud festival city and comes alive in the months of July and August in particular. There is no shortage of events throughout the year, however, with plenty for culture buffs, nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy in and out of the Alberta capital.
The Edmonton Oilers have not won a Stanley Cup since the 1989-90 season but the small-market National Hockey League franchise has a loyal fan base who sell out Rexall Place despite win and loss totals.
The Edmonton Eskimos, a venerable Candian Football League team, play out of Commonwealth Stadium in the Norwood area of the city.
The annual Edmonton Indy race brings open wheel action to the city every July.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, as locals love to assert, is second only to Edinburgh Fringe in scope. Total attendance for the ten day August festival regularly tops 600,000.
Edmonton International Street Performer’s Festival is almost as old as the Fringe and entices some of the most incomparable busker talent from all over the world to the Alberta capital in mid-July.
Free Will Shakespeare Festival is a foremost celebration of the Bard and his works in June and July at William Hawrelak Park.
The eclectic Works Art & Design Festival competes with a slew of other summer festivals in late June and July and runs for thirteen days.
Canadian Finals Rodeo takes place every November at Rexall Place. The national championship rodeo in Canada features a purse in excess of C$ 1 million.
A Taste of Edmonton lures over half a million people to area restaurants and food tents over ten days in late July.
Edmonton's Capital EX, formerly Klondike Days, is a ten day festival in Northlands that runs in conjunction with A Taste of Edmonton and the Edmonton Indy. Think county or state fair with concerts, amusement rides and close to 800,000 people.
NextFest runs for eleven days in early June with a diverse programme of theatre, music, film, visual art, dance and nightlife.
When To Go
Atypical cold is the winter norm in Edmonton, where temperatures can plummet to -4°F (-20°C) and, indeed, well beyond when you factor in windchill. It takes a special kind of backbone and tenacity to endure a climate that features highs below 0°C for five straight months. Yet in spite of the miserable arctic cold, a Prairie winter is pure Canadiana. Moreover, a city like Edmonton has enough experience with ice and snow (1,235 mm per winter, on average) to deal with it with aplomb and help timid visitors do so in turn.
Still, not everyone can endure Alberta winters. If you prefer to trade in frostbite for sunburn, come to Edmonton between June and August, when temperatures range between 60°F (16°C) and 73°F (23°C). Most of the best festivals take place in summer and the abundance of daylight is a surefire cure for seasonal depression. A dry humid continental climate results in 475 mm of rain per annum, most of which falls, naturally, between May and September.
What To Miss
Edmonton’s most famous point of interest is also the most patent, indisputable tourist trap in the Alberta capital (and maybe even Canada). As a result, West Edmonton Mall polarises locals and visitors alike. If you do need to shop and have specific items in mind, stay in the city, where prices are generally lower and the same big chains and brand name shops abound. If, however, you want to take in the spectacle and sheer enormity of the leviathan retail space cum amusement park, take a trip to the suburbs just to say you went.
Edmonton International Airport serves approximately 6 million passenger a year, with access to every major city in Canada and the likes of London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Francisco. The hub also operates flights to a wide variety of resort destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.
VIA Rail provides passenger rail service across Canada, though tickets cost much more on the whole than in Europe. Still, for those who prefer speed and comfort, the train is a superior choice to crisscross the vast country than long-distance coach bus. By car, Edmonton is 3.5 hours drive (300 km) from Calgary, 13.5 hours (1150 km) from Vancouver and close to 2 days from Toronto (3,400 km) and Montreal (3,600 km).
Edmonton had a trolleybus fleet until 2009 but even without it, still maintains a reliable bus and light rail system. Hearty walkers can easily navigate the popular Downtown, Southwest and Northwest areas of the city, however, even in winter (with proper attire of course).
The province of Alberta has been on a phenomenal streak of hyper-growth in recent years and other than Calgary, no city has benefited more than Edmonton. While the provincial capital is famous for the massive West Edmonton Mall, the city offers much more than the opportunity to shop until you drop. Home to a metro population of more than 1 million, Edmonton is a lively town with a superb quality of life. The city contains more park space per capita than any in Canada. In fact, Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River Valley park system is 22 times the size of Central Park.
Highlight attractions in the city include the brilliant World of Science, Royal Alberta Museum and the notable Art Gallery of Alberta. Known as "Festival City", Edmonton hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year, from the best International Fringe Festival outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, to the Works Art & Design Festival, held every June and July.
Attractions & Activities
- Royal Alberta Museum
- World of Science
- Art Gallery of Alberta
- Fort Edmonton Park
- Valley Zoo
- Edmonton International Fringe Festival
- Edmonton Heritage Festival
- Edmonton Oilers
- Works Art & Design Festival
- Capital EX
Restaurants & Nightlife
- The Sultan Palace
- Wild Tangerine
- Red Ox Inn
- Harvest Room
- Blues on Whyte
- Attic Bar & Lounge
- Suede Lounge
- Black Dog
Edmonton has a northern continental climate, with dry, cold winters and mild summers.
- Winter (November to March) -16-0°C
- Spring (April to May) 0-18°C
- Summer (June to August) 10-23°C
- Fall (September to October) 0-17°C
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