Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
Last updated on September 1, 2019.
Alberta’s capital city is the farthest north of all of Canada’s capitals, but don’t expect that means Edmonton is cold, dark, and inhospitable. It is exactly the opposite of all those things – except for maybe the cold, YES, winter temps can dip quite low – but it also exudes a friendly warmth and charm. And in recent years, Edmonton has done more than just tolerate its winters, it has decided to fully embrace them, by offering experiences that will encourage you to do the same and be very glad you did.
And while their stellar festival lineup year-round enables the city’s strong claim on being one of Canada’s top festival spots, it’s their summer schedule that really makes them shine. The renowned International Fringe Theater Festival, Interstellar Rodeo (not a real rodeo!), and the Folk Festival are just a few that give a taste of what Edmonton has to offer.
Tasting Edmonton is also exactly what you should do. The culinary scene has really been heating up, rivaling Alberta’s other major delectable metropolis of Calgary. You’re going to be super hungry anyway after all of the shopping you’ll do along Whyte Avenue and at North America’s largest shopping mall (yes, this yet another tremendous thing that Edmonton generously offers), so be sure to line up some of these dining experiences to compliment your full day.
For the rest, dive into our guide below for the best things to do in Edmonton, in order to plan out several unforgettable days in this delightful city.
About the City
Edmonton is Canada’s “Gateway to the North”, and the country’s fifth-largest city with a population of nearly one million people.
The land on which Edmonton is located is Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous Peoples, including Cree, Saulteaux, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples.
The city of Edmonton started out as Fort Edmonton in 1821. The name Edmonton came from the town of Edmonton, England (which is now a part of London). People were slow to settle the area, largely because the Canadian Pacific Railway line only went up as far as Strathcona. It only received its own connection in 1905 after becoming the Capital City and being incorporated as a city in 1904.
Where is Edmonton located?
Edmonton is 610ms above sea level and is situated almost smack dab in the middle of Alberta (although the area is often called “northern Alberta”). To be exact, it’s at 53.55 latitude and -113.47 longitude.
- Edmonton’s River Valley is 22 times the size of Central Park. The urban green space is filled with many pathways for the public to enjoy.
- One of Canada’s sunniest cities, Edmonton sometimes getting up to 17 hours of daylight.
- Being farther north, Edmonton is a hot-spot for the Aurora Borealis in wintertime.
Getting to Edmonton
How far is Edmonton from Calgary? From city center to city center, 300km separate the two. It takes just under 3 hours to drive via the AB-2.
How far is Edmonton from Saskatoon? 522kms sit between Saskatoon and Edmonton, and it takes roughly 5 1/2 hours to make the drive.
How far is Edmonton from Vancouver? A whopping 1,159kms via the most direct route. If you want to make this drive (which would take over 12 hours), consider splitting it up with stops in Kamloops, BC, and/or Jasper, AB.
With non-stop service to 50 destinations around the world, the Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is a popular spot for people traveling to the city. Traveling from the airport to the rest of the city is easy through a number of options:
- There are multiple options for renting a car at the airport. Book in advance to avoid any hassle! We recommend booking via RentalCars.com, to select the cheapest rate or to book with whichever company you prefer.
- A taxi from the airport to downtown Edmonton will take approximately 40 minutes and all taxis charge a flat rate of $48. You can phone the Edmonton International Airport Ground Transportation Office at 1-800-268-7134 or 780-890-8553 for assistance booking a taxi.
- Uber is also in Edmonton and does pick-ups and drop-offs at YEG.
- The Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) operates a bus (route 747), that travels from the airport to the southern transit station of Century Park (from there you can get on the light-rail-transit, or take a bus or taxi to get to your final destination). One-way fare is $5. The ETS has this handy trip planner to help you figure out the system from there.
- The Edmonton Skyshuttle is a non-direct service from the airport to any hotel downtown (it can take awhile then, up to 90 minutes, depending on the number of stops). Rides must be pre-booked, and cost $18 one-way for adults, and $10 for kids.
The Via Rail Canadian train connects to Edmonton! Experience traveling by train and you’ll have time to appreciate all the beautiful sights out the windows. Connected destinations include: Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Vancouver.
Several bus companies also service Edmonton (easy comparisons can be made on Busbud, but a couple of the options are outlined below):
- We’ve personally taken Red Arrow several times, and always had a seamless and on-time journey. There are three drop-off points (south, downtown Edmonton, and the International Airport), and the current cost, if originating in Calgary, is near $72.
- Ebus is Red Arrow’s less-luxurious sister company, with similar pick-up/drop-off points but at a lower rate. If originating in Calgary, the cost is near $42.
Getting Around Edmonton
- Taxis – Edmonton has multiple taxi services available to get around! Download the Greater Edmonton Yellow Cab app for easy access to eight taxi fleets. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play (or just the good ol’ telephone)!
- Uber – Edmonton Uber gives you a large area of travel with nearby communities of Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove, Leduc and Sherwood Park making the map.
- Transit – A cheaper option for traveling around Edmonton is their transit system. An adult day pass is only $9.75! The Edmonton LRT map and bus route maps can all be found on their website. There is also a handy trip planner to help you figure out how to get from point A to point B.
- Cycling – Looking for a more active way to travel? Rent a bicycle at United Sport & Cycle – they’re just a few blocks south of the River Valley. Travel around on either a mountain, road, electric or casual bike. (Here’s a map of all of Edmonton’s bike trails!)
Best Time to Visit Edmonton
Though Edmonton is great to visit any time of the year, visiting from June through August will ensure a lot of available activities and a beautiful river valley bursting in green. You’ll get to enjoy summer in the prairies – mild weather and no* snow! This is also peak time in festival season so there are plenty of activities to take part in. Longer days in the summer are also something to take advantage of.
If you are not scared by winter, then Edmonton should also be on your must-visit list. For the last few years, an incredible field full of ice castles has been on full display and fun for everyone to explore. Consider also planning your visit around the Ice on Whyte Festival, which features an ice carving competition and even an ice slide!
*Once in a blue moon, it will snow in summer, but that’s Alberta for you.
Where to Sleep
Being Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton has no shortage of places to rest your head during your travels. Not all are created equal though and the quality you get is really dependant on your budget.
Luxury – In terms of luxury accommodations in Edmonton, nothing beats the iconic Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. You can’t miss this hotel as it offers spectacular views of the Edmonton river valley and features a restaurant and spa. Close to many Edmonton attractions and located right in downtown Edmonton, this hotel is worth the splurge even if it’s just for one night!
Mid-range – The Mettera Hotel on Whyte is close to the shopping and vibrant amenities Whyte Ave is known for. Fitting in with the funky vibe of Old Strathcona, Mettera Hotel on Whyte offers rooms decorated in fire, earth, air or water themes. Additionally, this boutique hotel features a cozy library with fireplace!
Budget – Close to Whyte Ave and West Edmonton Mall, Travelodge by Wyndham Edmonton South gives you access to Edmonton sightseeing without breaking the bank. Great for kids, it also has a hot tub and pool and also includes a complimentary continental breakfast.
Sights to See
There are so many places to visit in Edmonton. The city has a lot to offer and the choices can get overwhelming so we decided to narrow down the options to a top-five list of things to see in Edmonton.
Did you know that Edmonton has the largest urban park in all of Canada? With more than 160kms of maintained pathways and 20 major parks, the Edmonton River Valley provides endless outdoor opportunities for exploration and recharging in nature. Bonus: You don’t even have to leave the city to immerse yourself in nature! The 20 Edmonton parks are all easily accessible by public transit.
Edmonton Ice Castles
From January to March, step through an icy masterpiece. This stunning structure made entirely from icicles and water is a unique experience that has been compared to visiting Narnia. The acre-sized castle contains multiple rooms with instagrammable photo spots including a throne room, tunnels, a waterfall, and a winding ice maze. Edmonton is the only Canadian location that this frozen attraction comes to and is a must-see if visiting the area in winter.
The iconic glass pyramid structures of the Muttart Conservatory juxtaposes the river valley that surrounds them, however inside each pyramid is a climate-regulated biome with three different zones – arid, temperate, and tropical – with a mission of education and conservation. The conservatory is home to more than 700 species of plants and has an on-site restaurant to make a nice afternoon out of a visit. Note: the Muttart Conservatory is closed for rehabilitation work and will reopen in early 2021.
Neon Sign Museum
This museum is more of a blast-from-the-past shining in neon! The first of its kind in Canada, 20 functional historic signs tell the story of Edmonton’s neon past. You can find this installation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the east wall of the TELUS building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse building on 104 Street and 104 Avenue. No admission is required.
Alberta Legislature Building
Known to Edmontonians as “the Ledge,” the Alberta Legislature Building is definitely a sight to see during your stay in this capital city. Built in 1913, not only is the building architecturally interesting to look at, political buffs would be interested to note that the building is the meeting point for the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the Cabinet of Alberta. Free tours of the building are available 362 days a year and cover topics related to the levels of government, Alberta’s political history, and the art and architecture of the building.
Best Things to do in Edmonton
With the largest mall in North America, more festivals than any other destination in Alberta, and plenty of parks and nature to explore, Edmonton has a plethora of things to do in any season.
Festival season never seems to end in Edmonton; there is a good reason why it is called ‘the Festival City’. From music, street performing, heritage and culture, and even ice sculptures, Edmonton hosts over 50 festivals annually across all genres in locations all over the city.
West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall is a destination in and of itself! It is the largest mall in North America with over 800 stores and services. West Edmonton Mall hosts theme parks, an impressive water park, miniature golf course, multiple movie theatre complexes, and even a large indoor skating rink so you don’t just have to shop the whole time. Conveniently, there is also an on-site hotel at West Edmonton Mall that has one-of-a-kind themed rooms including Pirate, Space, Polynesian, and more.
Walk Whyte Avenue
If you are in the mood to get a taste of Edmonton and really feel what the city is all about, a trip to Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona is a must. This historic district is full of historic buildings but also is the trendiest part of town – full of art galleries, music shops, and trendy restaurants and cafes. Also take a stroll through the picturesque Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park which, in true Edmonton fashion, is a place for festivals, public events and informal gatherings at the notable gazebo.
Also don’t miss the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, which is just off of Whyte Avenue and open every Saturday 8am – 3pm year-round!
Fort Edmonton Park
Experience a true immersion into the history of Canada! Complete with costumed historical interpreters, Fort Edmonton Park is the largest living history museum in Canada by area at 64 hectares (158 acres). The Park includes a reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Fort from 1846, as well as historically accurate reconstructed streets from the years 1885, 1905, and 1920, each depicting the evolution of Edmonton’s early history.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
Can’t get enough of local history? Otherwise known as the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and located 25 minutes east of Edmonton, this open-air museum houses refurbished buildings from east-central Alberta that tell the tale of early Ukrainian settlement in Alberta from 1892-1930. These early settlers made a significant impact on Alberta’s identity and the museum showcases the stories of survival and perseverance through more than 35 restored historic buildings and costumed interpreters. The 25-minute drive is worth it for the mouth-watering Ukrainian food available at the concession!
Elk Island National Park
Another wee jaunt from the city, Elk Island National Park is also well worth the trip. Not only is this one of the best spots for stargazing and northern lights viewing, but the park is also an important refuge for bison, elk, and more than 250 species of birds. It is open year-round, but a summer visit also includes some incredible camping options (including “comfort” camping)! Note the fees that come with visiting National Parks in Canada.
Food to Eat
In recent years, Edmonton has really grown into a foodie paradise with cuisines from all over the world in many different budget ranges. Below, we have listed some of our favourites.
- Offering a fine dining experience like no other, Tzin is the perfect spot for wine and tapas in Edmonton. This surprisingly small winebar creates an intimate ambiance to experience the unique and inspired fine dining plates. Tip: We recommend trying out the “surprise me” menu option. Each dish is a surprise by the chef and pairs perfectly with a corresponding wine.
- As the #1 ranked restaurant in Edmonton, Vaticano Cucina is the place to go for authentic rustic Italian food. With a warm ambiance and creative decor, Vaticano Cucina is a welcoming place to warm your belly with fresh pasta and hot pizza that are made fresh with the highest quality ingredients for a reasonable price.
- Upscale restaurants not really your thing? Are you looking for craft beer? Edmonton is the city for you! Although a chain, Craft Beer Market is an inviting spot to enjoy great food and sample Canada’s largest selection of draft beer! With an emphasis on local for each Craft Beer Market location, the Edmonton location is a great way to sample brews from local breweries in the province. Bonus: The location is right in the City Centre, right off Jasper Avenue, and very close to the Edmonton Convention Centre, Art Gallery of Alberta, and other Edmonton attractions.
- Offering one of the best breakfasts in Edmonton, Hathaway’s Diner is a secret local’s know spot! There’s a good reason for why it is the #2 restaurant in Edmonton on TripAdvisor. You may be turned off by the lack of curb appeal, but inside, Hathaway’s rocks the old-school-cool-diner atmosphere while serving up quality food at reasonable prices. Don’t forget to finish your meal with some pie…it is to die for!
- Looking for something sweet? The Parisian inspired Duchess Bake Shop offers the perfect blend of classic French pastries with Alberta favourites that are made from scratch daily. The quality is especially notable as only the finest ingredients are used to create their fresh goodies, including imported chocolate from France. It’s no wonder they are regularly mentioned as one of the best cafes in Edmonton.
In the Area
You don’t need to go all the way to British Columbia to enjoy time at a quality lake! Sylvan Lake is one of Canada’s top ten beaches and is less than a two-hour drive away. The 2.5km white sand beach is perfect for relaxing. Grab some ice cream at the ‘Big Moo’ on Lakeshore Drive to help you cool off on those hot summer days. During the summer, catch the weekly movie at the beach. The food trucks are always out during movie nights so you can grab some great local food too! There are campgrounds, hotels and cute cabins to stay in to extend your visit.
On the southeast shore of Lac St. Anne sits Alberta Beach, just an hour north of Edmonton. The beach is in the center of town with a grocery store and ice cream store within walking distance. This cute cottage-filled village is a popular spot for boating, swimming, and fishing. There is a campground in the middle of town too, open from May 1 to Sept. 30. Check out local goods at the weekly farmers market every Sunday from spring until fall.
Even if it’s quite a distance from Edmonton (just about a four-hour drive, although there are other transportation options), we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out one of our favourite towns in Alberta. As the anchor to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, the town with its namesake is the laid-back counterpart to the more popular Banff. For more info, check out our post on traveling from Edmonton to Jasper, as well as our guide on what to do in Jasper!
ALSO, don’t forget that while you’re on the road, you can download our FREE Road Trip Alberta bingo cards, to make it just that much more fun!