Updated: August 12th, 2021
Known as the “Gateway to the North”, Alberta’s capital city is the farthest north of Canada’s major cities and is home to a variety of things to do and places to see. Stretched along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton is a city that can be visited year-round, depending on what you’re looking for. Due to its location, Edmonton’s winters can be some of the coldest and darkest in Canada, and yet, it can be a great time to visit if you’re looking to experience frozen castles, ice hockey, or perhaps the Northern Lights. The summers, in contrast, can be quite hot with the sun staying up until close to midnight. This is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, as well as an incredible array of festivals and events.
Speaking of festivals, Edmonton is known to some as the “City of Festivals”. This is, in part, due to the fact that Edmonton has lively festivals all year round. However, the best of them is during the summer, when the city comes to life with the International Fringe Theatre Festival, the Interstellar Rodeo (minus Matthew McConaughey), Heritage Festival, the Folk Festival, and the International Jazz Festival, just to name a few.
So whether you’re looking for some of Canada’s best festivals, a beautiful river valley, a delicious culinary scene, or North America’s largest mall, Edmonton is a great place to visit. In this guide, we’ll show you what to do, how to get there, how to get around, and more.
Where is Edmonton?
Edmonton is located in the middle of Alberta, just 3-hours North of Calgary and about 4-hours east of Jasper. Although it’s now one of Canada’s biggest cities, it was once a small fort, dating back to 1821.
Fun facts: Canada’s largest parking lot is located in Edmonton, but it’s also home to a massive River Valley urban park that is 22x the size of New York’s Central Park. So, whether you’re looking for inner-city nature or a concrete jungle, you can find it here. For more fun facts, check out our article on both Alberta facts and Canada facts.
Getting to Edmonton
If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Edmonton, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Edmonton by Car
Calgary to Edmonton: The drive from Calgary to Edmonton is approximately 300-km and takes roughly 3-hours. The highway is basically straight the entire way and the halfway point is the city of Red Deer.
Jasper to Edmonton: The beautiful town of Jasper is just 4-hours west of Edmonton. If you’re in Edmonton and wanting to experience the Rocky Mountains and/or the world-famous Icefields Parkway, this is where you’ll want to go. If you’re already in Jasper, you’ll simply take Highway 16 and head east all the way to Edmonton.
Edmonton to Saskatoon: Edmonton is fairly popular with Saskatoonians as well, as it’s the closest major city and somewhat similar in culture. The drive takes just over 5-hours, heading east on Highway 16. There are lots of things to do in Saskatoon once you arrive, including the beautiful Prince Albert National Park just north of the city.
Vancouver to Edmonton: The drive from Vancouver to Edmonton is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. While it can be relatively hazardous in the winter, it’s fairly straight-forward in the summer months. The drive takes approximately 12 hours but you’d be better off adding a few days or even a couple of weeks to truly enjoy the sights along the way, such as Wells Gray Provincial Park and Jasper National Park. If you’d rather get to Vancouver via the Trans-Canada, you’re better off driving south to Calgary and then driving from Calgary to Vancouver.
Getting to Edmonton by Plane
Edmonton is home to the Edmonton International Airport (YEG), which is one of the biggest airports in Canada and also a hub for reaching Canada’s far north, such as Nunavut, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Downtown Edmonton is about 30-kilometres from the airport, which takes approximately 30-minutes by car. There are a variety of ways for getting into Edmonton, including:
- Rental cars: We recommend using Priceline to find the best deal, however, any search engine should do the trick. Generally, it’s cheaper to book in advance.
- Taxi: taxies can be found at the airport and will take you to downtown Edmonton in 40 minutes for a $48 flat fee.
- Public Transportation: For $5, you can take route 747 that travels from the airport to the southern transit station of Century Park. Once here, you can take the light-rail transit, bus, or taxi.
- Shuttles: If your hotel doesn’t offer a free shuttle, you could take the non-direct service from the airport to any hotel downtown for $18 ($10 for kids). Please note that this is the slow option as it takes up to 90 minutes, depending on the number of stops. Rides must be pre-booked.
- Uber: If you have the Uber app, this is another option.
For more, click here to see transportation options from YEG.
Getting to Edmonton by Bus
Although Greyhound has suspended service in Western Canada, there are some options for getting to and from Edmonton by bus. The best way to search is by using Busbud. The only bus we’ve personally used is the Red Arrow, which is really good and costs around $72 to and from Calgary. We love the free snacks. There are three drop-off points (south, downtown Edmonton, and the International Airport), and the current cost, if originating in Calgary, is near $72. Another less-luxurious option is the Ebus, which is just $42 for the same trip. Prices can change so please check with the bus companies for accurate pricing.
Getting to Edmonton by Train
Getting Around Edmonton
Like most major cities, Edmonton offers a plethora of ways for getting around the city.
- Taxis: For the fastest, most convenient option, albeit more expensive, you could opt for a taxi. Edmonton has multiple taxi services.
- Uber: If you have the Uber app, this is another popular option that serves the city and nearby communities.
- Transit: Edmonton has both public buses and a light-rail transit system, which makes getting around quite easy. You can buy an adult day pass for less than $10 or pay per trip if you like.
- Cycling: If you’d rather exercise while you get around, you can rent a bike at a variety of places, including the River Valle Adventure Co., Revolution Cycle, Edmonton Bike Rentals, and United Sport & Cycle. Options include everything from mountain bikes to road bikes, and even electric bikes as well.
Best Time to Visit Edmonton
During the winter months, Edmonton is one of the coldest cities in Canada. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do if you’re willing to brave the cold. For example, you can go skiing, snowshoeing, hang out in West Edmonton Mall, or experience the famous Ice Castles! However, there’s no doubt that the most popular time to visit is during the warmer months. From June to August, the scenery is much more beautiful and the city comes to life with a variety of festivals and activities. The sun is also out until almost midnight, giving you lots of time to do everything you need to do.
What to Do in Edmonton
There are so many places to see and things to do in Edmonton, including visiting North America’s largest mall and the largest urban park in Canada! But there’s much more than that. Here are the best things to do on your next trip to Edmonton, Alberta!
West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall is probably the only mall in the world where you can stay indoors for multiple days and still have so much fun. Home to over 800 stores, it is North America’s largest mall and breaks a lot of records in many other ways as well. It’s also home to Canada’s largest parking lot, North America’s largest indoor waterpark, and North America’s largest indoor amusement park. But we’re not done yet. You’ll also find a massive movie theatre, an aquarium, a full-size replica of the Santa Maria (Christopher Columbus’ flagship used to sail to the Americas in 1492), a full-size skating rink, mini-golf, bars, restaurants, and even one of the nicest hotels in the city – the FantasyLand hotel – which is home to a variety of really cool themed rooms.
Edmonton’s River Valley Parks
Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley Parks System is the largest urban park in Canada. With more than 160-kilometres of pathways and an area of more than 7,284 hectares, the River Valley is a great place to get into nature without leaving the city. There’s also 11 lakes, 22 ravines, and a host of facilities and attractions such as the Fort Edmonton Zoo, Gold Bar Park, the Edmonton Valley Zoo, a golf course, skiing opportunities, skating, and more. There’s even wildlife, including hares, deer, skunks, and porcupines.
Perhaps one of the most iconic images of Edmonton, not to mention a great place to get views of the city skyline, the Muttart Conservatory is more than just three beautiful glass pyramid structures. In fact, it’s home to a climate-regulated biome with three different zones, such as the tropical climate of Burma and Fiji and the temperate pavilion with its American redwoods and Australian eucalyptus, all with a mission of education and conservation. This premier horticultural facility features over 700 species of plants as well as an on-site restaurant. Note: the Muttart Conservatory is closed for rehabilitation work and will reopen in early 2021.
Neon Sign Museum
Located outdoors and thus, free of charge, this first-of-its-kind museum in Canada is home to 20 functional historic signs that tell the story of Edmonton’s “neon” past. It’s always “open” and is located on the east wall of the TELUS building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse building on 104 Street and 104 Avenue.
Edmonton Ice Castles
If you happen to be in Edmonton during the winter months between January and March, you simply should not miss the chance to experience the Edmonton Ice Castles. Often compared to “Narnia”, this acre-sized castle is home to a variety of rooms and is extremely popular with Instagrammers. You’ll also find tunnels, a waterfall, and an ice maze. This is a truly unique thing to do in Edmonton.
Alberta Legislature Building
Whether you’re interested in history or just coming to look at the impressive design, the Alberta Legislature Building is well worth the visit. Built back n 1913, this attractive 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. The tours are highly recommended and this is also a great spot for beautiful views of the North Saskatchewan River.
Experience Many Festivals
Considering the fact that Edmonton is known as the “City of Festivals”, you should definitely try to experience one if you can. While the city is home to more than 50 festivals annually, some of the most popular ones include the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, the Edmonton Folk Festival, and the 10-day-long K-Days, which brings Street-parties, dancing, parades, live entertainment, gold panning, and a midway that really livens up the city.
Speaking of festival, we recently attended Heritage Days, which occurs every year on August long weekend. This is a really cool event because it showcases the many different cultures that call Alberta home. It’s also free and is perfect for families as it’s both alcohol and tobacco free as well. It’s located at Hawrelak Park and consists of a collection of Alberta Based cultural groups that come together, annually, to share their history, song, dance and food with the world. They supply all the songs, dance, crafts and music. We watched all sorts of cultural dances from Russia, Poland, Israel, Palestine, and many more, as well as food from countries such as Mexico, Azerbaijan, Nicaragua, and Ukraine. Considering the fact that Canada is known as one of the top multi-cultural countries in the world, this is a great festival to really see it up close and personal.
Walk Whyte Avenue
Edmonton’s most popular street is Whyte Avenue, which is located in Old Strathcona. This historic district is full of historic buildings but is also one of the trendiest parts of town, including many art galleries, music shops, and trendy restaurants and cafes. You’ll also find the nearby picturesque Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park, which is often home to festivals, public events and informal gatherings. If you happy to be there on a Saturday between 8 am and 3 pm, don’t miss the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.
YEG Scoot Tour
Edmonton and Calgary are some of the few cities in Canada that allow scooters to be operated throughout the city and they are really fun to ride! But besides renting them by the minute, you can also join a tour with YEG Scoot tours and get a guided scooter tour around the city and the river valley. They offer a number of different tours, including a Wanderlust Picnic tour, and make it easier to explore the city, especially if it’s your first time on a scooter.
Paddle the North Saskatchewan River
As you’ll notice, there’s a big river that cuts through the centre of Edmonton and it’s called the North Saskatchewan River. Located in the river valley, paddling the river is one of the top things to do in Edmonton, for both locals and tourists. You can kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or go canoeing down the river. During our visit, we rented a raft from River Valley Adventure, and paddled the river from the Edmonton Valley Zoo to the heart of downtown Edmonton. The river is different throughout the year but for us, it was extremeley calm, almost to the point of not moving at times. We love tubing down rivers so it was a great way to see some nature and see Edmonton from a different vantage point.
Take a Segway Tour
Another activity that River Valley Adventure offers is Segway tours. We had no idea how much fun a Segway is but they are truly a great experience. They look far more difficult than they really are but there’s something about utilizing your balance to control them that makes it such a fun experience. Even better, River Valley Adventure takes you on a tour through downtown Edmonton to see some of the top sites such as Rogers Place, the Royal Alberta Museum, and the Legislative Building. They can set up tours as you like but it’s a great way to experience your first Segway.
Fort Edmonton Park
For a deeper look into the history of both Edmonton and Canada, Fort Edmonton Park is the place to go. Home to costumed historical interpreters, this 150-acre park is the largest living history museum in Canada. The Park includes a reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Fort from 1846, as well as historically accurate reconstructed streets from 1885, 1905, and 1920, each depicting the evolution of Edmonton’s early history. Visitors can also enjoy a ride on a horse-drawn wagon or a steam train and enjoy the brand-new Indigenous Peoples Experience. You’ll need atleast a full day to truly enjoy this park as it’s both large and simply incredible to visit.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
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, which opened in the 70s, showcases the stories of survival and perseverance through more than 35 restored historic buildings and costumed interpreters. The delicious Ukrainian food available at the concession is worth the drive alone.
There are many living history elements to explore at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, including a blacksmith, a market, and an old-fashioned general store. Part of the fun is the opportunity to interact with the costumed guides who are there to explain what life was like for these early settlers. If possible, try to time your visit with one of the many events or workshops hosted throughout the year, which include cooking demonstrations, harvest celebrations, and a commemoration of Ukraine’s national day.
Royal Alberta Museum
Since its move to a new location in 2018, the Royal Alberta Museum is now western Canada’s largest museum. Home to a fascinating mix of permanent cultural and natural history exhibits, as well as temporary installations, a visit to this ultra-modern facility is a must-do when visiting Edmonton. Some of the most impressive exhibits include the many fossils from the dinosaur and ice age eras, a large aquarium of native fish, and live insects-including some exotic and enormous species.
You’ll also find a large feature gallery hosting travelling exhibits from across Canada and around the world, a new kids’ gallery, and a bigger bug room with live invertebrates and a visible nursery. The museum’s cultural history departments explore aboriginal cultures with artifacts from Blackfoot, Cree, and other First Nations.
Art Gallery of Alberta
Another beautiful modernist building in Edmonton, located on Sir Winston Churchill Square, is the Art Gallery of Alberta, which is dedicated to visual arts with an emphasis on Western Canada. The gallery features changing and travelling exhibitions and maintains an extensive collection of more than 6,000 pieces. The site also features a gift shop, restaurant, and theatre space, as well as lectures and workshops. Private guided tours are also available and can be tailored to suit your particular interests.
Edmonton Valley Zoo
Opened in 1959, the Edmonton Valley Zoo has traditionally focused on research into threatened animal species. However, its beautiful family-oriented grounds are also home to more than 350 animals representing over 100 species, from both the province of Alberta and around the world. The animals are regularly out and about meeting and engaging with guests and some of the popular species include red pandas, lemurs, snow leopards, and arctic wolves. This is also a wonderful thing to do in Edmonton with kids as the zoo also has paddle boats, a miniature train, and a carousel.
Alberta Aviation Museum
For those interested in aviation, the Alberta Aviation Museum is a must. Located near the Edmonton city center airport, the museum is easy to find with its two fighter jets mounted outside. Along with its 40 aircraft on display, the museum is home to a rare form of aircraft hangar constructed as part of Canada’s pilot training program back in WWII. Informative guided tours are available and last around 90 minutes.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
For those who love gardens and flowers, you’ll want to make your way to the 240-acre University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Founded in 1959 and the largest such garden in the province, this massive site is split into two parts. One part consists of 160-acres that have been set aside in their natural state. The other part, which includes 80 acres, features dazzling gardens including a Japanese Garden, a large tropical greenhouse with butterflies, an Indigenous Garden, as well as numerous displays of many other plant species, both indoors and out. Another feature is the Aga Khan Garden, a nearly 12-acre site inspired by Islamic architecture and landscapes, but with a northern twist. You’ll find a number of pleasant forest paths, peaceful terraces, ponds, pools, and even a waterfall.
Visitors are free to roam on their own or can opt for a free guided walking tour, which comes highly recommended. For those interested in Opera, you may want to time your visit with the annual Opera al Fresco event performed here by the Edmonton Opera Company each June.
Alberta Railway Museum
Located in the northern suburbs, the Alberta Railway Museum (ARM) features a selection of still-operating and static locomotives and rolling stock. Founded in 1976 to preserve the province’s rich railway heritage, the museum features more than 75 engines and railcars, a number of original railway buildings, and many related artifacts. One of the highlights of visiting is having the chance to ride on one of the trains during the summer months.
TELUS World of Science
For those looking to get an immersive experience, the TELUS World of Science (TWOS) is a great place to go. Fun for all ages, this educational science center experience features many interactive and hands-on science and technology exhibits covering topics like space, robots, forensics, and the environment. Another feature is the excellent planetarium called the Margaret Zeidler Star Theatre, as well as the IMAX theatre. You can also visit the on-site observatory for free, which offers a variety of interesting star gazing opportunities.
Hockey with the Edmonton Oilers
For sports fanatics, Edmonton is home to one of the most iconic NHL teams – the Edmonton Oilers. Once known as the “City of Champions”, the Edmonton Oilers had one of the top dynasties to ever play in the NHL, including players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Juri Kurri, and many others. They won 5 Stanley Cups in a period of just 6 years. They now have the NHL’s #1 player (Conner McDavid) and play in the brand-new Rogers Arena in downtown Edmonton. If you like hockey and can get a ticket, this is one of the most exciting places to watch a game.
Football with the Edmonton Elks
Another popular team in Edmonton is the CFL’s Edmonton Elks. For those who like American Football, you’ll definitely want to make it out to Canadian Football Game, which is typically faster in play and is played on a larger field at 110 yards long and 65 yards wide. Either way, it’s a fun, fast-paced sport and a great way to spend a summer day and witness the passion that Edmontonians have for the sport and for their team.
Another cool feature of Edmonton’s winter is the inner-city ski hills. These are great places for those looking to learn how to ski as they’re not that big or intimidating. Popular hills include Snow Valley Ski Hill and Rabbit Hill Snow Resort. If you’re looking for more of a thrill, you’ll want to head west to Jasper where you can ski at the world-class Marmot Basin Ski Resort.
Where to Stay in Edmonton
As with any major city, there are no shortages of places to stay in Edmonton and we recommend using our partner, Edmonton’s Best Hotels, to book your hotel as they offer the best available rates as well as additional perks at no extra cost to you.
Budget: One of the best budget hotels is actually the Best Western Plus South Edmonton Inn & Suites, which includes a hot Buffett breakfast, an indoor heated pool, a hot tub, and a fitness centre. Normally, these hotels are mid-range, but with costs often ranging lower than $100, this is definitely a GREAT hotel for those on a budget. There’s also the Jasper B&B and the HI-Edmonton Hostel.
Mid-range: While this might be considered somewhere between mid-range and luxury, we have to recommend the Fantasyland Hotel, which is located inside West Edmonton Mall and offers a truly unique experience with themed rooms, including Roman, Polynesian, and Hollywood Themes. However, if you rather be on trendy Whyte Avenue or in the heart of downtown Edmonton, we’ve stayed in and recommend The Matrix and Metterra on Whyte. The Matrix is our favourite out of the two as they offer a better breakfast and a bigger, more modern hotel, but the Metterra is a great option if you want to be where the action is as Whyte Avenue is truly alive with loads of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
Luxury: When it comes to luxury, the top choice for most would be the iconic Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. This luxurious hotel offers spectacular views of the Edmonton river valley and features a restaurant and spa.
Things to Do in Alberta near Edmonton
While Edmonton itself is a great place to explore, there’s also a TON of awesome things to do and places to see not that far away. Some examples of what to do outside of Edmonton are below:
Elk Island National Park
If you’re looking for a beautiful slice of nature, make your way to Elk Island National Park. Located just over 30 minutes east of the city, this wooded area with lakes and wetlands is a great place for spotting wildlife, stargazing, watching the Northern Lights, and camping. It’s also an important refuge for bison, elk, and more than 250 species of birds. The park is open year-round but is especially popular in the summer months when the area opens up to camping. Other activities include hiking, biking, kayaking and canoeing, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months.
Another cool area to see is Beaver Hills, which has now been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve featuring a dark sky preserve, a bird sanctuary, and a wilderness center.
One hour by car south of downtown Edmonton is the little town of Wetaskiwin, which is home to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, dedicated to everything to do with aircraft and vehicle construction. There are open-air displays of old agricultural machinery and tools, including some real old dinosaurs-steam tractors, threshing machines, caterpillar tractors, and trucks. There are also close to 100 historic aircraft housed here, as well as in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, and numerous vintage motorcycles to see as well.
Known as one of Canada’s top 10 beaches, this beautiful lake community can be reached just a two-hour drive south of Edmonton. It’s also the half-way point between Edmonton and Calgary, making it a great place to stop while visiting Alberta’s other major city. The 2.5km white sand beach is perfect for relaxing and the lake is very popular with boaters as well. There are a variety of hotels as well as campgrounds and cute cabins.
If you want a beach but don’t want to drive as fas as Sylvan Lake, head 1-hour north from Edmonton to Lac St. Anne’s Alberta Beach. This cute cottage-filled village is a popular spot for boating, swimming, and fishing but there’s also a campground and a weekly farmers market from spring until fall.
Jasper National Park
Located just four hours west of Edmonton is one of the most beautiful places on Earth – Jasper National Park. Home to the quaint mountain town of Jasper and the Canadian Rockies, there are so many things to do in Jasper, including a scenic tour on the Jasper Sky Tram, a boat trip on Lake Maligne, a hike into Maligne Canyon, and so much more. To learn more, check out our article about getting from Edmonton to Jasper.
By now, your schedule is going to be full for weeks. As you can see, there are lots to do in Edmonton and Alberta. For more, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Alberta
- Things to Do in Calgary
- Things to Do in Banff
- Things to Do in Canmore
- Banff to Jasper
Note: Many of the photos above were taken by Edmontonian photographer Steven Li of stevenliphotography.com.