So you’re driving into Edmonton and as soon as you start seeing the city, you realize one thing: “How am I going to see everything?”
Well, chances are you won’t. After having been to the city probably a dozen times, my most recent trip offered up attractions, restaurants and adventures that I didn’t even know existed. I can only imagine how it must feel for a newcomer.
So rather than let you feel overwhelmed, I put together a little guide of the things I think you’ll want to see in Edmonton…even if you live there. Some are well-known, others are hidden gems. But all of them offer up unique photo opportunities, a chance to relax or get your adrenaline pumping, but most importantly, when you do leave Edmonton or head home, I bet your head will be full of memories as it hurriedly plans your next trip back.
Book a room!
There’s lots of great places to stay, but in terms of location and value, check out the Chateau Lacombe, which you’ll be happy to hear has gone almost a complete renovation. The hotel is worth checking out really just for the views alone. Any direction you look, you’re treated to stunning views of the river valley or city’s skyline. The hotel’s newly renovated rooms are immaculately clean, comfortable and offered all the modern amenities we need in our hotel rooms (lamps with USB outlets!).
If you book a room on the concierge floor, you get access to the lounge, which offers free breakfast and lights snacks for supper…not to mention complimentary drinks!!!!! Sorry, my east coast roots are showing there, but I love when wine and beer are free, I’ll never apologize for that.
Float a boat!
Okay, I don’t mean you actually have to float a boat, but you can drink and eat while sitting on the upper deck of the beautiful Queen of Edmonton riverboat, all while enjoying one of the best views of the entire city. Depending on the levels of the river, there are different tours of the river valley. While I was there, the water was too low for the boat to go anywhere, but hey, drinks on the deck of a boat is always fine by me.
Take in a “show”
Order the Smoke & Oak Fashioned at North 53 and enjoy the show!
— Mike Morrison (@mikesbloggity) August 6, 2015
Find a festival!
Good luck finding just one. The week I was in Edmonton, it was for the much ballyhooed Edmonton Folk Music Festival, which more than lives up to its reputation. From it’s stellar line up, amazing views of the city, fantastic venue, delicious food, it’s too bad the Folk Festival only happened once a year. I think since I moved to Alberta ten years ago, people have talked my ear off both about the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which were both huge success this year. I’m fascinated that a city like Edmonton, which is perceived to be an “oil city” has such a rich (figuratively) and diverse arts community. Not that they shouldn’t, just that I think it’s something that people outside of Edmonton haven’t really grasped yet. I’m curious how the community developed it in the first place. To have so many fantastic festivals means that the city must be packed with energetic and scrappy people who have a bigger vision for Edmonton, something that the rest of us definitely benefit from.
I’m not sure why every city in Canada doesn’t have a Pingpong park, but I definitely think Edmonton is on to something! Located smack-dab in the middle of Winston Churchill Square, the tables are available daily from 11:30am to 8pm. You can even sign up to post your scores and challenge other players!
Take a tour!
Okay, I know politics isn’t for everyone, but I’m sort of a fan, so I would always recommend the tour at Alberta’s iconic legislature. The history of the building is practically unmatched here in Alberta. It’s stunning architecture and the chance to rub shoulders with the provinces top politicians is just such a cool experience! Free tours are available 362 days of the year! I’m letting my geek flag fly, but I’d love to go back during question period, which is always an interesting time to watch real politicians in action.
Make a move!
Head back over to Winston Churchill Square and play a game of chess! You’ve all seen these giant chess boards popping up all over Canada, but for my money, Edmonton’s offers the best views while playing the strategy-based game. The boards are available until 8pm each night!
Take a ride!
Even though I had been to Edmonton a million times, I honestly did not know about the Highlevel Street Car! What a great way of seeing a familiar city like never before. And at only $5 for a return trip, a great deal too! The trains are all run by volunteers, who give you a dose of Edmonton history while you cross over the stunning river valley. While I was in Edmonton, I talked to some hometown folks who didn’t even know about the street car. How something so cool is still a secret is beyond me, it’s definitely worth the slower trip to Whyte ave.
Sip on some root beer!
I haven’t been alive for all that long, but I definitely think in terms of being an entrepreneur, we’re living in the best time. More and more, people are willing to spend an extra dollar or two for a cool product or a neat idea, which is exactly why I loved sipping on some awesome Bodie Brothers Root Beer, which is old school Root Beer brewed in Oak barrels on the back of antique trucks. The root beer is a hit with locals, and I’m so happy I found them at the City Market downtown. Did I ever think I’d buy fantastic root beer being served from the back of a truck? No, but I’m sure glad I did. I love this idea. Here’s to it inspiring more local people having fun with business.
Meet some folks!
Depending on your comfort level, meeting locals is often the best way to get advice of the sights and the sounds of a particular city. If you’re up for it, one of the best places to do that is a weekly event during the summer called Patio. The event takes place at Latitude 53 gallery and everyone is invited. For eleven weeks during the summer, the patio is packed with Edmonton’s tastemakers, artists and generally just cool people. Seriously, the people there were so cool. I loved just standing beside them. It’s a super casual event, definitely worth checking out before a night on the town.
Learn how to use a lightsaber!
You’re forgiven if you just had to do a double-take, I know I did. But yes, back at Sir Winston Churchill Square, you can sign up for Lightsaber Training. Every Wednesday nights, kids can train from 7:00-7:45pm, then it’s the adults turn from 7:00-8:30pm. You don’t want me to attempt to make a Star Wars reference here, so please add in your own.
Devour the bacon bomb!
When asking the question: “What should I eat in Edmonton?”, the answer should always be the bacon bomb at BBQ Smokehouse. The next question can be “What’s a bacon bomb?” but you should just really trust me and enjoy! The bacon bomb is a pork smoked roast wrapped in bacon. It’s a local favourite, which means visitors shouldn’t miss it!
Try something a bit daring!
I’m probably the first to admit my surprise that segways are still a thing. But I’m starting to be glad they are. For the past couple of years, River Valley Adventure Co has been offering tours of Edmonton’s river valley. They also have a great coffee shop, so I grabbed some java and watched people go for a ride. I think my favourite part was seeing people who just walked with curiousity at first, but within in a matter of minutes were on a segway and having a blast. I think the segway got a bad reputation when it first came out, but it’s time to give it another shot. It offers the speed of biking, but the non-sweatiness similar to sitting. It’s the best of both worlds! The company also rents out bikes and fun summer games like bocce ball!
Catch a wave!
If you’re in Alberta, you probably aren’t planning on surfing, but that’s probably cause you don’t know that you can do it. I’m probably the world’s biggest waterslide fan, so I’m already a fan of the West Edmonton Mall’s waterpark, but even before the slides open and after they close, those hoping to hang ten are offered a unique opportunity. The WEM surf club offers lessons on Thursday evenings (30 minutes after World Waterpark closes to the public) and Saturday mornings, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. I took lessons and wrote about it here. Such a unique experience and one that I still talk about all the time!
Take a short drive!
I get that it’s a bit strange to write a post about Edmonton and then tell you to leave Edmonton, but you really should, just for a few hours. That’s because about thirty minutes out of town, you’ll find Elk Island National Park. First things first, the park is beautiful. Add in the fact that it’s an important refuge for bison, and thanks to its dark skies, a perfect place for star gazing, my short visit to the park wasn’t nearly enough. If you’re a fan of the stars, make sure you check out the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve Star Party on September 5th and 6th.
Spend some money!
If I’m being honest, one of my favourite things to do is spend money at a local business. I know that sounds cheesy, but knowing that you’re helping someone keep their dream alive is just such a great feeling. Luckily, I found Habitat and I think I spent enough money to keep their grandchildren’s dreams alive. This could be my favourite store in all of Edmonton. The shop located on the city’s newly revitalized 104th promenade, Habitat is packed with cool clothes, designs, terrariums, blankets, books, stationary, etc. If you are looking for a gift for a friend, or even yourself, I definitely recommend checking out Habitat, I almost guarantee you won’t leave empty handed.
To market, to market!
When Edmonton’s downtown City Market was named Best Farmers’ Market by National Geographic, I was a bit skeptical. I’m not really sure why, but I think I was probably just more surprised than anything else. But now that I’ve gone and seen it for myself, I can definitely back up National Geographic’s claim! As I wandered from vendor to vendor, I was in awe. It definitely reminded me of what Farmers’ Markets used to be, and that’s a really good thing. I love the variety of vendors, the food available, all the shopping you could ever want to do, all while chatting with locals about their fantastic city. The market is open Saturday from 9am-3pm and yes, it’s open year round. If you were in Edmonton on a Saturday and didn’t go to the market, well that would just be foolish!
Soak up the sun!
If you know me at all, you know that I love patios. (Thus I also love sunscreen, but that’s a different sort of post.) And Edmonton has a slew of great patios. Make sure you check out the rooftop patio at Craft . But most importantly, make sure you book off lots of time to enjoy the patio at the Fairmont MacDonald. You’ll think you’re only going to stick around for one drink, but as soon as you sit down, take in the view and cocktails, you’ll have a hard time leaving. Seriously, that view? Unbelievable.
Catch a film!
So picture this: I was sitting on the Sherlock’s patio in downtown Edmonton, when I heard a very strange noise. I immediately asked my friends, “Did anyone else just hear a t-rex?” They didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, likely because they knew that right around the corner was the Movies on the Square, which takes place each Tuesday in August in Edmonton. There you can catch a free outdoor movie and the night we were there, it happened to be Jurassic Park, which explains the dinosaur roar.
Watch the world pass you by!
There’s pretty much something for everyone on Whyte Ave, which means a simple stroll down the busy street will offer up a bevy of people watching, but perhaps the best and most delicious place to do so is Under The High Wheel. I discovered the cafe by happenstance, but boy, am I glad that I did. I spend an hour or two there, sipping on yummy coffee and having a delicious lunch, all while watching the world pass me by. This might have been my favourite find of the whole trip, the cafe is like the ones you see on TV shows, I already can’t wait to go back.
Then there’s the river valley…
If you live in a prairie city, you know that we’re known for our river valleys. Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon all have stunners (sorry Regina, I honestly can’t remember), and each of them offer up amazing opportunities. I really love Edmonton’s because it really does feel like you’re in the middle of a forest, but really you’re just a few steps from the downtown core. While less developed than say Calgary, Edmonton’s river valley is actually twenty different parks, all offering fantastic pathways for biking, walking, using segways and really anything else you’d like to do along the beautiful river. Edmontonians are incredibly proud of their river valley, as they should be, it’s a stunner!