If you’re eager to start exploring northern Canada, there’s no better place to launch your adventures than Edmonton, Alberta.
Did you know that 90 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border? And that precious few visitors explore beyond those communities? If you make it to Edmonton, a bustling city of 1.5 million, you’re already a travel superstar!
I visited Edmonton for the first time this December as part of a press trip and was amazed at how much the city had to offer. I felt like I could have explored for a month and still not seen everything. But if you have a weekend or so on your hands, you can easily take in most of Edmonton’s top attractions, including those listed here. And if you’re heading even further north to spots like Athabasca, Fort MacMurray, Peace River, and Wood Buffalo National Park, Edmonton is the perfect gateway city.
1. Royal Alberta Museum
The Royal Alberta Museum is western Canada’s largest museum and home to 82,000 square feet of exhibits. The Hall of Alberta Human History is home to the province’s most significant archaeological artifacts while the Daily Life and Leisure collection showcases objects that
represent fashion, grooming, wellness, recreation, cooking, furnishing, and personal faith and spirituality. The Indigenous Engagement collection is responsible for 18,000 objects of Indigenous origin dating from the mid-1800s to the present.
2. TELUS World Of Science
TELUS World of Science has unique activities, experiments, IMAX® shows, Zeidler Dome shows, and so much more. It’s the perfect place to pop in for a short visit if you’re traveling with little ones or stay for hours if you’re with older kids (or even just yourself!) Exhibits include everything from learning about arctic animals to participating in engineering activities and even a space gallery.
3. Whiskeyjack Art House
In a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot, the Whiskeyjack Art House is an Indigenous-owned and operated arts boutique that supports Indigenous arts, artisans, and cultural experiences. You can take in the latest exhibition, purchase Indigenous-made gifts, and grab lunch during the culinary pop-up events (I had homemade stew and bannock during my visit).
4. Alberta Legislature Building And Grounds
Edmonton is Alberta’s provincial capital, and during your visit, you can take a free guided tour of the provincial legislature and explore the beautiful surrounding gardens on your own time. The tours cover topics related to the levels of government; the roles of the lieutenant governor, premier, speaker, and members of the Legislative Assembly; parliamentary tradition; and the art and architecture of the building. Tours take place on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Advanced registration is required.
The legislature gardens are filled with flowers, trees, cultural monuments, and water features in summer and outdoor skating in winter.
5. Art Gallery Of Alberta
Arguably Edmonton’s most striking building, the Art Gallery of Alberta is a stunning design of zinc, glass, and steel. Inside there are more than 6,000 pieces of art, primarily from Canadian artists creating abstract paintings and sculptures after 1950. Free public tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 1, 2, and 3 p.m.
6. Green Onion Cakes
Every city needs a signature food, and in Edmonton, it’s green onion cakes. These delicious warm savory pancakes are deceptively simple and wildly tasty. Edmonton owes its introduction to the city’s culinary landscape to Siu To, who has been operating restaurants in the city for more than 40 years. He’s known as the Green Onion Cake Man and his restaurant is named the same. Siu’s passion for Edmonton, the local food scene, and caring for his customers is evident from the moment you meet him — when we met at the restaurant, locals interrupted our chat to tell me just how much they loved the man and his food! You can enjoy meeting Siu for yourself on this YouTube video.
Green onion cakes are delicious on their own or dipped in a bit of soy sauce or chili sauce. Once you try them, you’ll never want anything else on takeout night.
7. Old Strathcona Market
If you can’t get to the Green Onion Cake Man’s establishment, swing by the Old Strathcona Market. You’re likely to see a vendor or two who is selling green onion cakes (maybe hot and fresh, maybe frozen for enjoyment at home) at this indoor market. That’s just the beginning of the yummy local treats. During my visit, I fell in love with gourmet donuts and I was amazed by the sheer number of produce stands.
Nearby is one of Edmonton’s hottest brunch spots, pip. I can highly recommend the mushroom toast (complete with poached eggs, parmesan, and toasted sourdough) and oat milk lattes.
8. Tour Edmonton River Valley Parks
Edmonton’s River Valley is a stretch of urban parkland with a surface that’s more than 22 times wider than New York’s Central Park. It’s home to more than 90 miles of trails that are perfect for walking, biking, snowshoeing — and Segway riding!
The River Valley Adventure Company offers guided snowshoe and Segway tours of the area. I’m the very last person you think would thrive during an evening winter tour through the forest on a machine I had never operated before, and it ended up being one of the very best travel experiences I’ve ever had.
I was terrified before I began and convinced that somehow I would drive the Segway into the river (an improbable feat of physics, but not entirely impossible). The kind, patient instruction had me feeling confident and comfortable in no time, and it felt positively magical to glide through the forest at night. If I can do it, so can you!
9. West Edmonton Mall
It’s impossible to mention travel to Edmonton without talking about the West Edmonton Mall. This shopping and entertainment complex spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks and includes the world’s largest indoor amusement park, a three-level race track, a waterpark, a skating rink, and (of course!) a lot of shopping.
10. Afternoon Tea At The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald
If you’re yearning to feel like a prince or princess, a dose of afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald will make you feel like royalty. The special meal, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, features finger sandwiches, fine pastries, and the hotel’s signature Mac Honey Scones. Try the Lady Agnes Tea from the tea menu. It’s named after Lady Agnes MacDonald, who was married to Canada’s first prime minister.
11. Go To An Oilers Game
Edmontonians, like all Canadians, are hockey-crazy, and downtown Edmonton’s ICE District is the perfect place to get your fix. You can catch an NHL game at Rogers Place, which is conveniently attached to the JW Marriott hotel so you don’t even have to go outside if you don’t want to. In winter, the ICE District is also home to a free outdoor community skating rink.
I happened to be in the city during Teddy Bear Night. Everyone attending the hockey game on this particular night is encouraged to bring a soft stuffed animal, and at a special point in the game (often after the first goal), all the teddy bears shower down on the ice. The game stops while volunteers scoop them up so they can be donated to Christmas-time charity programs. It was very touching to see so many people streaming into the game and carrying plushies of all shapes and sizes. The community spirit here is strong!
Pro Tip: Visit The City’s Favorite Bakery
If you want delicious, delectable French pastries with plenty of local charm, you’ll want to visit Duchess Bake Shop. Everyone — and I mean everyone — I talked to in Edmonton just raved about this cute spot and all insisted I visit. I’m so glad I did. Duchess also sells bespoke baking ingredients for the ambitious home chef (like dried rose petals, salted caramel sauce, and tonka beans) that make for wonderful travel souvenirs.
Where Is Edmonton?
Edmonton is located in central Alberta. It is just over 3 hours north of Calgary, 4 hours from Banff National Park, and 6 hours from Glacier National Park in Montana.
How To Get To Edmonton
Most people fly into Edmonton International Airport, which has direct flights to Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Las Vegas, and many other destinations. The city is also connected by train to Toronto, Winnipeg, Jasper, Vancouver, and other cities through Via Rail.
When To Visit Edmonton
Edmonton is very much a year-round destination. I was there in December and I loved it! Naturally, if you’re visiting in winter you should bring appropriate outdoor attire. Edmonton’s summers are hot, so don’t make the mistake of assuming this Canadian destination is chilly all year round.