Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, Canada, is often overlooked for popular, active destinations like Banff and Calgary, but the city is far more than the financial center of the province. It’s also home to a rich arts culture, an amazing food scene and the first-ever distillery in Alberta. Whether you are catching a great concert or a cheaper flight to Alberta, Edmonton is a great jumping-off point before diving into outdoor adventure among the Rockies. Here’s our road map to how to get the most out of a weekend in Edmonton.
Once you arrive and transfer into the city, check into the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. Set in a landmark 1915 building that overlooks the North Saskatchewan River, the chateau-like hotel is a warm and welcoming stay with spacious rooms and beautiful views of the parks that border the river or the cityscape.
If you’re visiting in winter, after settling in, pull out your winter weather gear and dress very warmly to visit the Ice Castle. Created from farmed icicles, the Edmonton Ice Castle has serious Frozen vibes and is filled with slides and a maze made of ice all illuminated by neon lights. It’s really a work of art to watch transform as the sun goes down.
If the cold and snow have not set in, stroll along the river and its 20 parks. The eye-catching pyramidal structures are actually the Muttart Conservatory. It houses more than 700 species of plants across its three climate-controlled biomes ranging from arid to temperate and tropical.
Make a reservation at Bundok for dinner. This sleek and trendy restaurant serves small shareable plates from a seasonally-influenced menu. Everything is locally sourced, and the creative flavor profiles are refreshing. Order a Piña de Fuego, which is like a spicy margarita on the rocks, and try the Pommes dauphine, which tends to be a cross-season staple on the menu.
After dinner, take a walk down 104 Street Northwest to see the Neon Museum. The entire museum is actually set outdoors, open all hours every day and is naturally free. Home to some of the city’s most beloved signs that still operate, the museum lights up each night and is something unusual to see.
Get the day going with breakfast at Pip, a stylish 28-seat restaurant in the Old Strathcona district. They serve dangerously delicious comfort foods and drinks. If you plan to stay in town, get a Caesar (a Canadian Bloody Mary) otherwise stick to coffee for a visit up to Elk Island National Park after breakfast. The mushroom toast with a fried cheese side salad is a complete rave, so fingers crossed it’s on the specials menu.
With bellies full, climb into a rental car and make the easy, half-hour drive east to Elk Island National Park. This park played a vital role in preserving the American bison and is home to a now huge population they still manage and conserve more than a century later. Whether you spot the large mammals or not, there’s also great hiking here in warm-weather months and snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice skating during the winter.
Head back to the Old Strathcona district for a tour and tasting at Strathcona Distillery. Set in a millennial pink building, Alberta’s first-ever distillery is the smallest in all of North America. The original and current distillery was outfitted for small concerts, though they’ve quickly outgrown their capacity and are expanding to a larger aging facility outside of the city where they plan to hold live music once again. The barrel-aged juniper gin is great, but be sure to try their newest creation: a white oak pinot gin.
Head to dinner early after all of that liquor. Cafe Linnea is an inventive and unusual choice. They make French-Scandinavian fare with farm-to-table, locally-sourced products and produce. The restaurant is light and airy with vines growing up toward the skylights, giving guests the sensation of eating in a greenhouse. There are tons of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options too.
Check out of the hotel and head to the ever-popular Doughnut Party. The menu is constantly changing and bringing guests new flavors like Earl Grey or Cinnamon Toast Crunch for a sweet start to the day. Perk up with a great cup of coffee and savor every bite before working your way back to the Old Strathcona district.
The Old Strathcona district is a quaint and lively home to tons of design-forward shopping, locally-made products and art studios and galleries. Spend some time walking along the streets, window shopping for souvenirs, but don’t forget to pick up Jacek chocolates to take on the road with you. Their flavors span everything from salted caramel and maple to orange and vegan peanut butter. The truffles are perfect little pick-me-ups along the drive to the Rockies, whether your final destination is Jasper, Banff or Calgary.
Molly Harris is a freelance journalist. You can often find her on the highway somewhere between Florida and North Carolina or taking life slow in Europe.