Edmonton, Canada’s northernmost big city, lies in a dull and thinly populated region with harsh winters, to which it has defiantly responded by building one of the world’s largest indoor malls for shelter and filling its summer with festivals. The two provide the best reasons to visit the city; the mall for its astounding proportions and sheer variety, the festivals for their quality.
Among the best festivals are great jazz (late-June) and busking (early–July) festivals, but better still are the world-class Folk Music Festival (early-August) and Edmonton Fringe (August), one of North America’s largest comedy and theater festivals. Otherwise Edmonton can be a bit bland, as you’d expect from a city that’s simply administered and serviced various regional booms: fur-trading in the 18th-century; the Yukon Gold Rush in the 19th-century; and oil wealth in the 20th-century and beyond, which has helped keep the city population around the million mark.
Edmonton’s downtown cluster of skyscrapers huddle on the rim of the attractive meandering North Saskatchewan River valley, but aside from the Art Gallery of Alberta with its dependably good visiting exhibitions, it holds few real attractions. The construction of an Ice District, centered on a new Edmonton Oilers stadium, promises to help change this, as does the opening of a new Royal Alberta Museum here – due in 2018.
Until then, you’re better off heading down to the riverside where cool mountain waters wind though parkland for a stroll: Louise McKinney Park is linked by a foot-bridge over the river with Henrietta Louise Edwards Park and the distinctive glass pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory whose high-tech greenhouses reproduce tropical, temperate and arid climates, complete with trees, plants and exotic birds.
Also south of the river lies Old Strathcona, a rejuvenated late-19th-century district, which once marked the end of a railroad spur from Calgary. Today, its streets and old buildings have been spruced up and replica period street furniture added, producing a historic feel and Edmonton’s most wanderable district.
Most other Edmonton attractions lie well outside the center and include Fort Edmonton Park, to the southwest, where the original Hudson’s Bay fur-trading post has been meticulously recreated, with the help of costumed guides pretending to be blacksmiths, shopkeepers and schoolteachers. Some 8km north, Edmonton’s TELUS World of Science, is the city’s most impressive museum and includes Canada’s largest planetarium with its first-rate laser and star shows and an extraordinary exhibit that allows you to take part in simulated space mission.
Yet Edmonton’s most popular attraction, which draws visitors by the millions, is the West Edmonton Mall. It takes up the equivalent of 48 city blocks and boasts 800 stores – but goes well beyond shopping to include an indoor amusement park, skating rink, giant water park, several cinemas, countless restaurants and a fantasy hotel with wacky themed rooms. The most unusual attraction is probably the world’s largest indoor lake; where a full-sized replica of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria (one of the fleet that discovered the Americas) floats and some two hundred different species of marine life live. A faux environment maybe, but an undeniable local lifeline when outside temperatures drop below -20ºC, as they often do.
Despite all the choice at the mall, many of Edmonton’s best restaurants are in town. Among them dozens of great ethnic options, notably Ukrainian and Eastern European, along with many dependable Italian places. When none of the summer festivals are on, try the cafés, bars and alternative arts venues in Old Strathcona for nightlife and particularly for live music.
Otherwise, the downtown Winspear Centre provides a first class venue for theater, opera and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Or try catching a match of the fanatically-supported Edmonton Oilers in whose ranks Wayne Gretzky – the most famous ice hockey player of all time – rose to stardom.
A good day-trip from Edmonton is the small Elk Island National Park, where it’s easy to watch bison roam, but the greatest regional attraction is Jasper National Park, one of the great Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, a three-hour drive west.
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Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in C$.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double
$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person