Edmonton has a long list of nicknames, from obvious ones (“The Big E” and “E-Town,”) to slogans based on its location (“Gateway to the North”) and monikers that showcase unique features (“Festival City,” after the city’s year-round schedule of arts festivals, and “The Oil Capital of Canada,” which is self-explanatory). Alberta’s capital is the northernmost city with a population over one million, the growth of which was facilitated by the combination of five adjacent urban municipalities (Strathcona, North Edmonton, West Edmonton, Beverly and Jasper Place). Its history, growth and location, as well as its status as an educational, cultural and governmental centre, have led to a diverse range of activities for visitors.
If you get too distracted by all of the attractions at the West Alberta Mall to get your shopping done, head to Old Strathcona. This neighbourhood was once the commercial center of the city of Strathcona, it joined Edmonton in 1912. Old Strathcona went into a period of economic decline, before taking on Bohemian/alternative vibe. The area has undergone revitalization in the past several decades and is now a destination for shopping, dining, and live entertainment (including music and theatre.) Take a stroll down the street any time, any day and you're likely to stumble on something, be it an outdoor vintage market, bar trivia, a concert, or a workshop. Plus, the vintage architecture here just adds to the vibe!
Canada has the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population, outside of, well, Ukraine itself and Russia. Many Ukrainians immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s and settled as pioneers in Alberta (cue the theme music from “When Calls the Heart”). Buildings from surrounding areas have been restored and moved to the edge of Elk Island National Park to form an open-air museum called the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Center. Costumed historical interpreters occupy the buildings and portray the lives of these settlers from 1899 through the 1930s.
Edmonton’s Neon Sign Museum is a collection of 20 functioning, historical neon signs that the city has collected and restored. The signs are now displayed on the east wall of the Telus Building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse building. It’s free and open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Have your camera out because this is one of those hidden gems you just have to snag a photo of.
With its four glass pyramids, the Muttart Conservatory is one of the best-known landmarks in Edmonton. Three of the climate-regulated pyramids (the Arid Pyramid, the Temperate Pyramid and the steamy Tropical Pyramid) features more than 700 species of plants from different biomes, while the fourth offers seasonal, rotating displays. The conservatory also includes greenhouses and public gardens. One can't-miss attraction? Putrella the Corpse Flower. Corpse flowers are nature's tallest flowering plants. They don't bloom often, the short-lived flowers appear once every 2-10 years, but when they do, their flowers can reach heights of ten feet. It's also the world's grossest-smelling flower, emitting a downright putrid odour to attract pollinators such as carrion beetles.
Another notable architectural landmark is the Art Gallery of Alberta. Located in downtown’s Churchill Square, the building features angular windows wrapped in a steel ribbon inspired by the North Saskatchewan River and the Aurora Borealis. The inside doesn’t disappoint, either. The AGA has over 6,000 works of art, mostly produced by modern and contemporary Canadian artists. They also have a killer terrace and even offer yoga sessions in the gallery on occasion, which will definitely beat your usual yoga studio experience.
The Edmonton Radial Railway Society operates historic streetcars on the High-Level Bridge, which crosses the North Saskatchewan River and connects Edmonton and Strathcona. The streetcar route goes between the Strathcona Streetcar Barn & Museum and Jasper Plaza downtown, with three stops in between. The bridge itself is also covered in LED lights, which are used on special occasions (like games for the local football team, the Edmonton Eskimos).
Snow Valley is a not-for-profit ski area in Edmonton that’s focused on promoting wellness through year-round recreational activities. If you aren’t quite ready for the black diamond slopes, don’t worry. Most of Snow Valley is designed for skiing and snowboarding novices, and you can buy lessons to go with your lift ticket. The complex also includes a campground called Rainbow Valley, a swanky lodge and aerial park ropes park to adventure on during the summer.
Visitors can crash for the night or keep the party going at the Crash Hotel in downtown Edmonton. Rooms, which were created by local artists, ranging from large private suites to private bunk beds. When you check in, you get tokens that can be used for drinks at the vintage cocktail and martini bar in the lobby. If you want to play mixologist yourself, the hotel also has a full-service liquor store. If this sounds like a recipe for a hangover the next day, the rooms stock “hangover-curing” pills. Nice touch!
If the hangover pills don't work, Farrow Sandwiches might do the trick. The shop’s two locations serve coffee, baked goods and sandwiches. The sandwich menu rotates, but a constant staple is the Grick Middle with fried egg, bacon, smoked cheddar, rosemary aioli and arugula. There's also always a Trick'd Grick, which features a twist on the standard. Enjoy it with a pour over, and make sure to save room for a donut afterwards. They really let their creativity run wild here, making flavoured cronuts and they've even been known to top a maple donut with a mini chicken and waffles.
Due to its northern location, winters in Edmonton can be long and cold, but the Northern Lights are visible on a regular basis. Summer lasts from June to September, bringing lots of sunlight, rain and weather that’s rarely uncomfortably hot and humid. Spring and fall are short and dry, with variable weather. The city holds festivals and events all year, so something is likely to be happening whenever you decide to visit. Sports fanatics can catch an Edmonton Eskimos Canadian Football League game during the summer, or an Edmonton Oilers hockey game from the fall to the spring.
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