Edmonton in winter can be a great time of year to visit, provided you’re dressed properly and ready to enjoy some of the many winter activities in Edmonton. After all, it is the northernmost city in North America with a population of more than one million, so they really know what cold weather is all about.
However, they also know how to enjoy Edmonton in winter. With almost half of the year with chilly temperatures, it makes sense that locals have learned to embrace it, with many winter festivals and events, winter sports, and of course, indoor attractions as well.
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Know before you go: As you likely know already, Edmonton can get very cold during the winter months, sometimes dropping down to as much as -40 °C. The coldest months tend to be between December and March, but this is also when other winter activities and festivals are at their peak. It’s not always that cold though and as the saying goes, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing”. Make sure you dress appropriately, including good winter boots, gloves, a jacket and a toque, and you should be able to enjoy everything Edmonton has to offer in the winter. One benefit of both Edmonton and Calgary is that despite the cold, they are the sunniest cities in Canada, so you should get some sunshine while you’re there.
Also, if you’re driving from Calgary to Edmonton, check out our travel guides for things to do along the way.
1. Go Ice Skating
As with most Canadian cities, ice skating is one of the top winter activities in Edmonton. Thanks to the cold weather, Edmonton has many outdoor rinks that can be used for free. Some of the most scenic options include the ice plaza at City Hall, which is behind the Alberta legislature, and Hawrelak Park, which offers beautiful views of the River Valley. Another great option is the Victoria Park Oval, which is especially good for those wanting to get some speed. Of course, there are rinks in many neighbourhoods too, so just grab some skates and hit them up!
2. Learn How to Ski
While experienced skiers will likely want to head to the Rocky Mountains, Edmonton is home to Rabbit Hill, a small ski and snowboard resort located on the outer edge of Edmonton. It’s actually a fairly large resort with over 40 acres of ski and snowboard trails suited for beginners right through to advanced riders. However, it’s especially good for families not wanting to drive hours (not to mention spending a lot more money) in the mountains and for those learning how to ski or snowboard. They actually offer group lessons every Saturday and Sunday and offer daily lessons over the Christmas holidays. Equipment rentals are available on-site as well.
The resort opens around mid-December and typically runs until the end of March with lift tickets costing roughly $40, which is about 1/3 of the cost in Jasper and other mountain resorts.
3. Go Cross-country skiing
If downhill skiing just isn’t in the cards, you might want to consider cross-country skiing, which offers g great exercise at much cheaper rates than downhill skiing. In fact, most cross-country ski trails are free, so the only cost is the ski rentals. Thankfully, Edmonton has some popular cross-country ski trails in the River Valley, opening up the sport to everyone with regularly groomed trails all winter long.
The grooming and maintenance are courtesy of the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club, which is one of the largest in Canada and has helped develop a huge system of trails throughout Goldbar and Goldstick Parks. Trails are varied in difficulty and extend for about 10 kilometres in total. We recommend dressing in layers for this sport as you’d be surprised at how much heat you can generate while cross-country skiing.
4. Go Snowshoeing
Like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is another very accessible winter activity in Edmonton. Since it’s basically the same as walking, it’s also much easier to learn than cross-country skiing, so if it’s something you’re just looking to do for the fun of getting outside, it can be a great option. However, unlike cross-country skiing, you’ll want deeper snow for snowshoeing, which means you’ll likely have to get away from the city trails and out into parks such as Fort Edmonton Park, Rundle Park, Borden Park, Victoria Park, and Terwillegar Park.
If you’re new to the sport or just visiting the city, you might want to start off with snowshoe rentals, which can be rented from River Valley Adventure Co. They even offer guided tours for those looking for a group experience.
5. Explore the River Valley
Edmonton’s River Valley is the largest urban park in Canada. It’s really one of the most beautiful parts of the city and is 22 times larger than New York’s Central Park. The River Valley area stretches along the North Saskatchewan River and has more than 20 major parks and more than 150 kilometres of trails. Since the park is so popular, many of these trails are cleared during the winter months, making it a lovely place to go for a winter stroll.
6. Join a Segway Tour
Speaking of the River Valley, another fun way to explore it during the winter months is with a Segway tour. With this tour, step onto your powerful off-road Segway and explore the region with ease. Whether you come in the depths of snowy winter or sunny spring, spin along the beautiful Trans Canada Trail with your guide and admire sweeping views along the mighty North Saskatchewan River. Tours typically run at 10:30 am, 12 pm, 1:30 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:30 pm.
7. Attend a Winter Event
Like many Canadian cities, Edmonton has lots of winter festivals and events to partake in. If you love Christmas lights as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to experience Luminaria, a beautiful light display held at the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens in Devon. We visited these incredible gardens in the summer and learned all about this event, which sees the Kurimoto Japanese Garden transformed into a stunning scene filled with candlelit pathways, dazzling ice sculptures and music. They even have heated domes, bonfires, and warm drinks.
Another great winter event for lights is Christmas Glow, a family-friendly festival alight with towering light gardens and all kinds of fun glowing activities for all ages. There’s also an artisan market to grab some unique gifts and live entertainment to bring in the jolly season.
Aside from Christmas events though, there are even more winter festivals in Edmonton after the holiday season, such as Boardwalk Ice on Whyte (ice carvings), Silver Skate Festival (one of the city’s premier festivals), Winterruption YEG (comedy), and so much more.
8. Shop at a Christmas Market
Another winter activity in Edmonton is shopping at the many Christmas markets, which are home to many handcrafts, specialty items, food, drink, and more. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the Edmonton Christmas Market at Fort Edmonton Park. Here you’ll discover captivating light displays, unique culinary experiences, roving performances, festive live theatre, family-friendly workshops, a local market of 100+ rotating vendors, tasty treats, and a whole lot of holiday cheer in one of Edmonton’s most beautiful locations.
However, there are also many small craft events for those looking to buy gifts and The Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market is open year-round for a warm indoor experience of buying a variety of goods including locally grown food, baking, and handmade items from a wide variety of vendors.
9. Visit Canada’s Largest Mall
If shopping is on your agenda during your time in Edmonton in winter, you really shouldn’t miss West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in Canada. Home to more than 800 stores, as well as loads of attractions (some of which we’ll get into below), West Edmonton Mall is one of the top attractions in Alberta. You’ll find a wide range of stores here, including very high-end options, but there’s also just so much going on inside the mall as well. There’s a Cineplex, mini golf, an NHL-sized skating rink (sometimes the Edmonton Oilers practice here), an aquarium, and even the FantasyLand Hotel, one of the coolest hotels in Edmonton, with themed rooms to suit any taste. For even bigger attractions, you’ll also find the World Waterpark and Galaxyland amusement park, which we’ll touch on below.
10. Visit the West Edmonton Mall World Waterpark
Just when you think West Edmonton Mall couldn’t get any better, there’s the World Waterpark, which is North America’s largest indoor water park, complete with many exciting waterslides and even one of the world’s largest indoor wave pools. This water park can cater to up to 40,000 people and remains a balmy 31°C (88°F) at all times, perfect for escaping the winter cold.
The World Waterpark is one of our favourite things to do in Edmonton as they have so many amazing waterslides, including Twister and Cyclone, which are both 25 metres (83 ft) high. There’s also the exciting Sky Screamer slide, which features an electronic trap-door launch that sends sliders down 85 feet at speeds reaching up to 60 km/h (37 mph)!
However, if big slides are not your thing, or you have kids, there are also plenty of smaller slides as well as the fantastic splash park and climbing structure.
11. Have a Blast at Galaxyland
Did you think the World Waterpark was the only major attraction in West Edmonton Mall? Think again! For those who prefer an amusement park without water, head to Galaxyland, the largest indoor amusement park in North America. With more than 27 rides, including four roller coasters, a carousel, a funhouse, and the Space Shot, people of all ages can have a blast here. In fact, they also have the world’s largest indoor triple-loop roller coaster, which is one of the most exciting roller coasters we’ve ever experienced. There’s just something slightly scarier about riding a roller coaster indoors.
Just like any good amusement park though, there’s more than rides. There are also lots of games you can play for prizes, dozens of arcades, and junk food such as mini-doughnuts, cotton candy and ice cream.
12. Watch the Edmonton Oilers
If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve likely heard of the Edmonton Oilers. After all, they were a dynasty in the 80s when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and many other greats helped them win five Stanley Cups in just six years. Nowadays, they’re known for the exciting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as well as having one of the most beautiful arenas in the country.
Since hockey is Canada’s winter national sport, get in on the action and watch a game while you’re in the city. You can always check the Oilers website for tickets or do what we do and buy the tickets “second-hand” through a trusted site such as StubHub or GameTime.
13. Eat Your Heart Out
Whether you’re visiting Edmonton in winter or in summer, there’s no shortage of amazing restaurants to please your belly. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, or supper, there’s a wide range of options to suit all tastes and budgets. If you want to combine your dining with some exploring, you might want to find a restaurant on Whyte Ave, one of the liveliest streets in the city. Home to restaurants, bars, shops, and more, this street is not only full of action but is quite beautiful as well.
Aside from that, we recommend checking out our article about the best restaurants in Edmonton, which goes into detail about the best places to eat.
14. Drink Some Coffee
Another great way to escape the winter chill is to indulge in some delicious coffee or other hot drinks at one of the many Edmonton coffee shops. There are so many options and it really depends on where you are, so I’d recommend typing “coffee shops” into your Google Maps app and going over the reviews to find the one that suits you best. If you love cats and want something really unique, you could opt for The Cat Café on Whyte. It’s Alberta’s first cat café and features cat-themed drinks and furry friends that are up for adoption. There is a fee to enter but some options include unlimited drinks.
15. Drink Local Beer
If you don’t care about hot drinks, maybe you’d prefer some delicious local suds? For those wanting to try some really good beer, there are lots of Edmonton breweries to choose from. We highly recommend reading our article for more information, but some popular options include Alley Kat Brewing, Campio Brewing, and Situation Brewing, just to name a few.
16. Visit the Edmonton Valley Zoo
Home to more than 350 animals and open year-round, the Edmonton Valley Zoo is a great place for animal lovers and those with kids. There’s a variety of outdoor enclosures and indoor spaces where you can witness many different animals from around the world. We had an incredible time at the Edmonton Valley Zoo during the summer months, partaking in their “behind-the-scenes” tour where we got to feed red pandas, play with seals, see tigers up close, and more.
Since you’ll be visiting during the winter months, you might want to check out the Zoominescence Festival of Light, which features lots of light displays, hot chocolate, and skating.
17. Admire the Alberta Legislature
Another beautiful sight to see in Edmonton in winter is the Alberta Legislature building, which is lit up with Christmas light displays and giant Christmas trees. Throughout December, you can also enjoy live music with afternoon and evening performances of festive music in the building’s rotunda.
You don’t have to stay outside though. Get a warm-up and enjoy their free 45-minute tour for an overview of Alberta’s political history. If the Assembly is sitting that day, you can even watch the proceeding live from the public gallery.
The Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre has featured exhibitions that change throughout the year in the Borealis Gallery and there’s also a film, “Our People Our Province” that is shown in the unique Pehonan Theatre, which has a 360-degree screen. The 11-minute film features music from Alberta artists and tells the story of the province.
For an extra cool experience, sign up for a Segway tour of the legislature building in the winter!
18. Visit a Museum
Whether you’re looking for amazing art or want to learn about the vast history of Alberta or the world, there are lots of Edmonton museums to choose from. One of the most popular options is the Royal Alberta Museum, which is in downtown Edmonton near the Rogers Centre. As the largest museum in Canada, not to mention new and architecturally beautiful, you could easily spend an entire day here learning about the First Nations and how they survived these harsh lands, how everything changed with the arrival of the traders, and everything that has shaped Alberta since. But it doesn’t stop there, you’ll also be able to learn about natural history, dinosaurs, and so much more. There’s even a gallery dedicated to bugs, and yes, you’ll actually see bugs such as black widow spiders and tarantulas. Don’t worry, they’re behind glass.
Another great option is the Art Gallery of Alberta, an art museum that occupies 86,000 square feet in what is known as one of the most beautiful modern pieces of architecture in the city. Its collection includes over 6,000 works, with a focus on art produced in Alberta, and other parts of western Canada. In addition to exhibiting its permanent collection, the museum also hosts travelling exhibitions as well as public education programs.
19. Enjoy the Nightlife
If you’re looking to kick back and party during your time in Edmonton, there’s plenty of nightlife as well. The best spots to find bars are along Jasper Avenue and Whyte Avenue with many options such as Cook Country Saloon (country music), The Blues on Whyte (soul, funk, and blues within a historic hotel), and Union Hall (concerts and dancing).
20. Get Artistic with Paint Night
If you’re looking for something unique to do, try one of the many “paint nights” offered throughout the city. These events give you the chance to create your own masterpiece while enjoying drinks with friends in a bar atmosphere. You don’t need any previous experience and all the supplies are provided.
An instructor will guide you through the process and at the end of the night, you’ll have not only had a fun time but may end up with something to take home and hang on the wall. Maybe. Tickets range from $30-$50 depending on the venue, so it’s not that expensive for a fun and unique night out.
21. Attend a Comedy Show
Sometimes we all just need a good laugh. If that sounds like you, Edmonton has lots of opportunities to see comedy shows. If you’re already thinking of exploring West Edmonton Mall, you might want to check out The Comic Strip, a great little comedy club located on Bourbon Street (in the mall). They’ve been known to host popular comics that have appeared on The Daily Show, America’s Got Talent, and the Just for Laughs Festival. This is also a great option for supper on the weekend when they offer dinner and a show. There’s also Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club, which is popular across the country, as well as the Comedy Factory and The Grindstone Comedy Theatre & Bistro.
22. Go to a Dinner Theatre
Those interested in dinner theatre will also have a great time in Edmonton in winter. Once again, West Edmonton Mall has you covered with the Jubilations Dinner Theatre, a lovely spot for an entire evening of entertainment, where you might even become part of the show. The cast is known for their hilarious parodies of popular movies, music, and TV shows.
If you’re looking more toward the fancy side, check out the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, which is rated as the top dinner theatre in Canada. Located in the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel, this venue is also bigger than Jubilations and serves a high-end buffet complete with loads of desserts.
23. Visit Local Distilleries
If beer isn’t your thing, or perhaps you like both, consider visiting some local distilleries. When small-batch distilling became legal in 2013, micro-distilleries exploded across the province, bringing in a new era of liqueur craftmanship. Unlike the big guys, these smaller distilleries are able to not only use local ingredients but can also create different tastes like no other. Some options include Lone Pine Distilling, Rig Hand Distillery, Strathcona Spirits, Black Diamond Distillery, and many more.
24. Visit a local Winery
Although you won’t find grape wineries like the wineries in Osoyoos, there is a great fruit winery called The Barr Estate. This winery is only 20 minutes outside of Edmonton and creates delicious fruit wines from raspberries, sour cherries, and rhubarb grown right on their farm. It’s a family business that started from just a few raspberry bushes and has evolved into an established winery with a great selection.
Barr Estate Winery also offers tours by appointment for $15. You’ll get to see how their wine is made while enjoying a little taste of what they have to offer.
25. Visit the Neon Sign Museum
Another unique and free attraction in Edmonton is the Neon Sign Museum, which is best seen at night. Featuring a collection of 20 neon signs from the city’s past, the Neon Sign Museum is located on the south side of the Mercer Warehouse building and the east side of the TELUS building on 104 Street. This “museum” is outdoors, so it’s free and open at all times. There’s also a tavern across the street if you need a drink and a warm-up.
26. Attend a Show at the Jubilee Auditorium
Another great thing to do in Edmonton in winter is to catch a world-class show at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. This beautiful theatre is home to the Alberta Ballet and the Edmonton Opera but also hosts plays by Broadway Across Canada. It’s actually one of the top performing arts venues in the country thanks to its stage, sound, and lighting. Check out the Jubilee Auditorium’s website for current shows and tickets.
27. Attend a Concert
If hockey isn’t your thing but you still want to get inside beautiful Rogers Place, consider one of the many concerts that are held here each year. With seating of up to 20,000 people, this venue hosts many world-class stars such as Elton John, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Garth Brooks, and Shania Twain, just to name a few.
However, if you want to see smaller acts or visit smaller venues, there are many more options for concerts in Edmonton, including The Aviary, Union Hall, Sewing Machine Factory, and many more.
28. Play Games in The Rec Room
If you love games and arcades as much as we do, you’ll want to check out The Rec Room, which is once again located within West Edmonton Mall (there’s also one located in South Edmonton). At 54,000 square feet in size, you can imagine the array of games, food, and entertainment that they have. Young or old, this place is fun for everyone.
They feature a wide variety of games such as arcade classics, billiards, shuffleboard, and even an augmented climbing wall where you get to play games while climbing 12 feet up in the air. There are also two restaurants serving a variety of Canadian cuisine and pub-style food, plus a stage and dance floor for live performances You can even watch the hockey game on their huge TVs.
29. Go Bowling
Another wonderful thing to do in Edmonton in winter is bowling. This popular game is great for all ages and there’s a variety of bowling alleys all across the city. One of the larger venues is Gateway Entertainment Centre, which is home to 30 bowling lanes as well as billiards, laser tag, and arcades.
There’s also Ed’s Bowling in West Edmonton Mall, which offers bowling, kingpin bowling, billiards, and even escape rooms. Whichever option you choose, you’ll likely want to book in advance as you’d be surprised how popular bowling is in Edmonton.
30. Explore Elk Island National Park
If you’re longing for nature while visiting Edmonton in winter, check out Elk Island National Park, which is only a 40-minute drive east of the city. This is a popular spot to see wildlife, including bison, and is great for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. There are also fire pits throughout the park if you’re looking to make a little fire to warm up. Firewood can be purchased on-site.
Admission is only $8 or “free” if you have a Parks Canada Parks Pass. If you’re keen on seeing the incredible Northern Lights, this is also a very popular place to see them, but you’ll want to check the many Aurora websites to see if they’re active, and of course, come to the park very late at night.
31. Visit Jasper
If you’re up for a longer four-hour drive, Jasper is a great destination to spend a few nights. Located in the Rocky Mountains in beautiful Jasper National Park, Jasper is a haven for outdoor adventures, including world-class skiing at Marmot Basin, beautiful frozen canyon walks in Maligne Canyon, ice climbing, and so much more.
Jasper is like a smaller, less busy version of Banff, but still offers many of the same activities and delicious restaurants. Marmot Basin, for example, offers some of the best skiing in Alberta, with 91 runs spread out over four mountains and seven different lifts to take you to the top. There’s also excellent cross-country skiing at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where you can spend the night and do a range of other activities such as ice skating and fat tire biking.
Other popular spots to visit around Jasper are Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls, both of which are very popular waterfalls to see, even in the winter when they become mostly frozen. It’s like walking around in Narnia.
In addition to Jasper, if you’re looking to drive even further, you can head south on the world-famous Icefields Parkway toward Lake Louise. This drive is absolutely stunning, but make sure you have winter-rated tires (these are mandatory) and that the highway isn’t closed due to avalanches.
For more, check out our article on the best things to do in Jasper.
32. Stand on Some Ice Bubbles
Another popular winter destination is David Thompson Country, which is a 3.5-hour drive southwest of the city. In fact, David Thompson Country is located between the Icefields Parkway and Cowboy Trail, another popular road trip in Alberta. Home to lots of outdoor adventure but significantly quieter than both Banff and Jasper, Nordegg and David Thompson Region offer a number of outdoor pursuits. The most famous winter activity of them all is witnessing the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake. These beautiful ice bubbles are created from the methane in the lake, which freezes during the winter months. It’s really cool to see and has become a very popular place for photos. There are even tours that take you to the best spots. Please note that this area is known for high winds and we really recommend wearing spikes on the bottom of your boots and being prepared for both cold and high winds. The lake freezes in December, but the best time to view the bubbles is from mid-January to early February.
Aside from the bubbles though, there are lots of cool things to do in Nordegg, such as snowshoeing, ice climbing, cross-country skiing, witnessing some spectacular frozen waterfalls such as Crescent Falls, and so much more.
Although there are lots of things to do in Edmonton in winter, there’s so much more to Alberta and Canada. For more things to do, check out our other Canadian travel guides.
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