Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, spans both banks of the North Saskatchewan River, situated approximately at the province’s center. Despite a longstanding rivalry with Calgary, just a little over two hours south, which characterizes Edmonton as a dull government town, the reality is quite the opposite. Edmonton stands as Alberta’s cultural hub, boasting outstanding theaters, top-tier museums, world-class galleries, and a vibrant musical scene.
The residents of Edmonton are resilient and robust. Positioned among the coldest cities globally, with a population exceeding one million, it shares this elite status with cities like Moscow and Harbin, China.
Even in the face of extreme cold, Edmontonians actively participate in winter festivals and events, such as the Deep Freeze Festival and Ice on Whyte, featuring entertaining and unconventional activities to combat the winter blues.
Discover more about the city’s exciting attractions and things to do with our comprehensive list of the best places to visit in Edmonton.
1. West Edmonton Mall
Canada’s West Edmonton Mall not only stands as the largest shopping center in the country and one of the world’s largest but also serves as a prominent tourist destination. Beyond its array of shops and restaurants, the complex features a hotel, movie theaters, an ice rink, an aquarium, and more.
The mall’s allure is enhanced by its themed sections, meticulously crafted to replicate the ambiance of popular global destinations. Europa Boulevard, for instance, showcases European-style facades and carries the names of renowned international fashion designers. On the other hand, Bourbon Street, a replica of the famed New Orleans Street, beckons visitors with Creole cuisine and live music.
Galaxy land, within the mall, ranks among the world’s largest covered, indoor amusement parks, offering an assortment of family-friendly rides. The recently renovated World Waterpark, North America’s largest of its kind, promises excitement with the world’s biggest indoor wave pool and two towering (and steep) water slides measuring 83 feet each. The park features slides catering to all levels, from beginner to extreme.
2. Fort Edmonton Park
Another outdoor museum that merits inclusion in your Edmonton travel plans is Fort Edmonton Park, featuring meticulously reconstructed historic buildings that trace the evolution of Edmonton. The structures encompass a representative fort from 1846 owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, a streetscape from an 1885 pioneer town, the burgeoning provincial capital of 1905, and buildings harking back to the 1920s.
Visitors can experience various modes of historical transportation, including rides on a horse-drawn wagon or a steam train. Adjacent to the park, the John Janzen Nature Centre hosts exhibits focusing on local geology and ecology.
3. Art Gallery of Alberta
Situated on Sir Winston Churchill Square, the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton is housed in a distinctive modernist building. Focused on visual arts, particularly those from Western Canada, the gallery hosts rotating and touring exhibitions and houses an extensive collection exceeding 6,000 pieces.
The premises include a gift shop, restaurant, and theater space. Personalized guided tours are offered, catering to specific interests. The facility provides diverse educational programs for all age groups, along with lectures and workshops.
4. Whyte Avenue
A visit to Edmonton would not be comprehensive without spending time on Whyte Avenue, one of the city’s liveliest and most popular neighborhoods. Known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, diverse shopping, dining options, and entertainment, Whyte Avenue is a dynamic hub.
Situated in the trendy Old Strathcona area, Whyte Avenue comes to life in the evenings with live music, trendy restaurants, theaters, and various entertainment venues. Daytime attractions include a bustling scene for shoppers and culture enthusiasts. The area offers a delightful mix of stylish clothing stores, unique shops, art galleries, and home decor outlets, making shopping a popular and enjoyable activity.
Throughout the year, and particularly in the summer, Whyte Avenue and the Old Strathcona area host numerous events, including the Whyte Avenue Blues Festival, the Edmonton Fringe Festival, and a weekly farmers market.
5. Reynolds-Alberta Museum, Wetaskiwin
Located one hour south of downtown Edmonton by car, the welcoming town of Wetaskiwin is home to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, a dedicated institution showcasing the world of aircraft and vehicle construction. The museum features open-air displays of vintage agricultural machinery and tools, including iconic relics such as steam tractors, threshing machines, caterpillar tractors, and trucks.
Visitors can explore nearly 100 historic aircraft, along with exhibits in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and admire numerous vintage motorcycles. On-site amenities include a café, store, and theater. Optimal times to visit include regular summer events when various machines and vehicles are in operation.
6. Royal Alberta Museum
The Royal Alberta Museum stands as Western Canada’s largest museum, offering a captivating blend of permanent exhibits on cultural and natural history, complemented by ever-changing temporary installations. A visit to this cutting-edge facility promises a valuable experience.
Noteworthy highlights include an array of fossils spanning the dinosaur and ice age periods, a substantial aquarium showcasing native fish, and a collection of live insects, featuring some exotic and colossal species.
Don’t miss the expansive feature gallery, which hosts traveling exhibits from across Canada and the world, along with a spacious new kids’ gallery and an expanded bug room showcasing live invertebrates and a visible nursery. The museum’s cultural history departments delve into the artifacts of aboriginal cultures, including those of the Blackfoot, Cree, and other First Nations. On-site amenities include a well-stocked gift shop and a café.
7. Muttart Conservatory
Situated on the southern bank of the North Saskatchewan River, the Muttart Conservatory boasts four pyramid-shaped hothouses that house rare and globally sourced plant species. Each pyramid showcases a distinct environment, representing various biomes worldwide, ranging from the tropical climate of Myanmar (Burma) and Fiji to the temperate pavilion featuring American redwoods and Australian eucalyptus. With its extensive array of plant species on exhibit, the conservatory stands as Edmonton’s premier horticultural facility.
From the elevated vantage point above the river, visitors can enjoy a picturesque view of the glistening pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory set against the skyline of downtown Edmonton.
8. Alberta Railway Museum
Situated on the northern outskirts of the city and deserving of a visit, the Alberta Railway Museum (ARM) showcases a variety of both operational and stationary locomotives and rolling stock. Founded in 1976 to safeguard the province’s extensive railway legacy, the museum boasts over 75 engines and railcars, several original railway structures, and numerous associated artifacts.
A notable experience is the opportunity to take a train ride during the summer months (refer to their website for schedules). Self-guided tour maps can be obtained when collecting your tickets.
9. Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
Founded in the 1970s alongside the Yellowhead Highway, this outdoor museum is dedicated to preserving the cultural legacy of the immigrants from Bukovina and Ukraine who established themselves in what is now Alberta in the 1890s.
Referred to locally as “the Village,” the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village features reconstructed historic buildings, with the distinctive pale onion dome of a Ukrainian church visible from a distance. The site offers various living history elements, including a blacksmith, a market, and an old-fashioned general store. Engaging with costumed guides adds to the experience, as they provide insights into the early settlers’ way of life.
For an enhanced visit, try to coincide with one of the numerous events or workshops held throughout the year, ranging from cooking demonstrations to harvest celebrations and commemorations of Ukraine’s national day.
10. Alberta Legislature Building
Nestled within a garden resembling a park, on the site where the last Fort Edmonton once stood, stands the 1913 Legislature Building. This impressive and charming structure offers stunning views across the North Saskatchewan River to the opposite bank from its terrace. Opting for guided tours is the optimal way to delve into the history of what locals affectionately call “the Ledge,” gaining insights into its architecture and hidden stories. A notable aspect of the visit is the opportunity to leisurely explore the park-like grounds surrounding the building.
Make sure to also explore the nearby Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre, featuring informative displays on local art, culture, and history. The center houses a 4D immersive experience offering a visually captivating history of the province and its people. Additionally, a superb gift shop is available, showcasing arts and crafts from various regions across Alberta.
11. TELUS World of Science
Located in a contemporary white structure, the TELUS World of Science (TWOS) in Edmonton provides an enjoyable and educational science center experience suitable for all ages, particularly for those traveling with children. The facility features numerous interactive and hands-on exhibits focusing on science and technology topics such as space, robots, forensics, and the environment.
Adjacent to the center is the impressive Margaret Zeidler Star Theatre planetarium, and the IMAX theater showcases captivating films from around the globe. A noteworthy complimentary activity in Edmonton is a visit to the on-site observatory, offering various intriguing opportunities for stargazing. Visitors can also explore the available gift shop and café.
12. University of Alberta Botanic Garden
For enthusiasts of flowers and gardening in Edmonton, another appealing attraction is the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Established in 1959 and recognized as the province’s largest garden, this expansive 240-acre site encompasses 160 acres preserved in their natural state.
Within the remaining 80 acres, notable highlights include a Japanese Garden, a spacious tropical greenhouse housing butterflies, and numerous exhibits featuring a variety of plant species both indoors and outdoors. The Indigenous Garden, showcasing plants utilized by Canada’s indigenous peoples for centuries, is particularly noteworthy.
A visit to the nearly 12-acre Aga Khan Garden is a must, characterized by its inspiration from Islamic architecture and landscapes with a northern twist. This delightful garden offers pleasant forest paths, tranquil terraces, ponds, pools, and a waterfall.
Highly recommended are the free guided walking tours of the botanic gardens. Additionally, those with a penchant for classical music should not miss the annual Opera al Fresco event, hosted by the Edmonton Opera Company each June on this picturesque site.
Q: When is the best time to visit Edmonton?
A: The summer months, from June to August, offer pleasant weather and a plethora of outdoor events.
Q: Are there family-friendly attractions in Edmonton?
A: Yes, the Edmonton Valley Zoo and Telus World of Science are perfect for families.
Q: What unique culinary experiences does Edmonton offer?
A: Try the iconic “bison burger” at Duchess Bake Shop or explore diverse flavors at Rge Rd.
Q: Which is the best area for nightlife in Edmonton?
A: Whyte Avenue boasts a vibrant nightlife with bars, clubs, and live music venues.
Q: How can I get around the city?
A: Edmonton has a well-connected public transportation system, including buses and the LRT.