A Nomad’s Guide to Exploring Edmonton, Alberta

Arts, culture, history, and nature at its doorstep, Canadian natives Goats on the Road reveal why the capital city of Alberta shouldn’t be missed.

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The City of Edmonton

The main attraction in Edmonton is the West Edmonton Mall, which is the largest shopping mall in North America, and 10th in the world. Trust me, it’s not just about shopping here (although, that is of course possible).

West Ed, as the locals call it, is home to an amusement park, a massive waterpark, theaters, an ice skating rink, casinos and numerous restaurants. I’ve been here two times, once as a kid, and once as an adult – and both times I had a great time.

If you don’t think a mall is your thing, don’t worry, there are many other things to do in Edmonton.

As with Calgary, there’s a hockey team here – the Edmonton Oilers – which, as you can imagine, is a rival with the Flames! Check out a game at the Rogers Arena.

Edmonton is also home to the Eskimos, which is their Football team. Apart from sports, the Rogers Arena also hosts numerous concerts featuring top artists. Click here for the Event Calendar.

Finally, if you feel like getting active, one of the really unique things about Edmonton is that there are biking trails running through the heart of the city! The River Valley is the largest urban parkland (18,286 acres) and offers lots of trails for cyclists. Click here for the route maps.

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Day Trips From Edmonton

Although there are lots of things to do in the city, it’s always great to spend a weekend away and escape the hustle and bustle.

Here are some of the best outdoor escapes around Edmonton:

Elk Island National Park

Just a 35 minute drive east of Edmonton, you’ll find this national park. It's a great place for hiking, camping and canoeing, but its main appeal is its wildlife.

Did you know that the bison almost went extinct? Here, you can learn about how they were brought back from extinction, plus, you’ll see herds of bison, elk, deer, and moose.

If you’re into birdwatching, there are over 250 species of birds here, too. 

Elk Island National Park in Fall. Photo credit: iStock

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

In 40 minutes, you can find yourself in Ukraine! Well, sort of.

Did you know that in the 1890s, Ukrainians settled in this part of Alberta? Today, you can see an open-air village complete with restored houses and buildings, most of which are originals.

You can also learn to make perogies. Yum!

Sylvan Lake

In under two hours from Edmonton, you can find yourself sunbathing on the shores of Sylvan Lake, or hanging out in the town with the same name.

This beautiful place is surrounded by trees and quaint towns. Pack a picnic, your bathing suit, and enjoy the day.

Festivals and Events in Edmonton

Edmonton may not have the Stampede, but it has its own things going on.

The International Jazz Festival has been running since 2005. Not only are some of the musicians locals, but jazz bands from other parts of Canada and international ones also attend. There are over 200 artists performing at venues all around the city. Catch this festival from June 23rd–July 2nd.

Another really cool festival is the StreetFest, which has been taking place since 1985 in downtown Edmonton, featuring entertainers from around 15 countries.

Expect to see jugglers, magicians, musicians, stilt walkers, clowns, catapult, cabbage catchers, aerialists, comedians, dancers, balancers, tightrope, slack rope, comedy troupes, street theatre artists, mime, roving comedians, living statues, installations, characters, circus acts, fire eaters, and more. The events and shows are free, but a tip is expected. You can check out StreetFest in mid-July.

If you’re into Folk Music, you won’t want to miss the Edmonton Folk Festival, which is said to be one of the world’s premier folk festivals. In early to mid-August, artists in the blues, country, contemporary folk, Celtic and soul genres hit the stage to entertain the crowd at Gallagher Park.

Finally, for the foodies and winos, check out the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, which is held in November in Edmonton, and October in Calgary. Hey, maybe check them both out?! Tickets cost around CAD $25/day which grants you admission to the Grand Tasting Hall and access to the latest beers, wines and spirits in Alberta.

Where to Eat and Drink in Edmonton

Edmonton is a vibrant city and, naturally, there are endless amounts of bars, restaurants, and pubs to discover. Some popular areas are Whyte Avenue, known for its restaurants and party atmosphere, and 124th Street, known for its boutique, artisan dining options.

Not only can you drink in the afternoon and at night in Edmonton, but there are a few places that do a boozy breakfast/brunch as well!

Don’t miss MEAT, which offers bourbon cocktails, spiked coffees, and of course – a Canadian classic – the Caesar. It's the same as a Bloody Mary in the USA, but ours are served with Clamato juice rather than tomato juice.

Obviously, the menu features meat as your brunch choice, and in particular slow cooked BBQ. Sounds like a good hangover cure to me.

If you're looking for a fine dining experience, Edmonton’s answer to the Calgary Tower is the La Ronde Hotel revolving restaurant. Every 90 minutes, the restaurant on the 24th floor completes a 360-degree turn, giving you incredible views across the city. Sample the sockeye salmon or the rack of lamb, you won’t be disappointed.

For bars and pubs, some top choices in Edmonton include Woodwork Bar, which has a wide variety of cocktails and spirits in a cool setting; The Black Dog Freehouse is a super chilled spot serving drinks and finger food on a rooftop patio; and the El Cortez Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, which is an excellent spot for food and margaritas, salud!

Not into cocktails? Head to the Three Boars Eatery for craft beers and sharing platters.

Getting Around Edmonton

Edmonton has a fairly good transport system, which includes LRT trains and local buses. But, like the rest of Alberta, it’s best to call a taxi or an Uber within the city and hire a car for the day to explore the surrounding sites.

Want to know more about Canada? Check out our podcast. We discuss when a traveler becomes a snack; the perils of wilderness adventure, a culinary tour of the provinces for foodies, and we speak to World Nomads photography scholarship mentor Richard I'Anson.

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