There’s a new boy in town and it’s about time you met him. Let me introduce you to Edmonton. You have to work hard to see all he has to offer, but when you do you definitely reap the rewards. Big time.
Where is Edmonton?
You’re probably wondering where Edmonton is – most people gave me a quizzical look when I told them where I was going, so you’re not alone. It’s a city in Canada, in the province of Alberta to be specific.
Still not sure? If you’re looking at a map of Canada it’s basically in the middle, slightly to the west.
What’s the weather like in Edmonton?
That’s the second question everyone seemed to ask me before I left. In the week before I jetted off the weather forecast jumped around like a ball in a squash court. Seriously, the temperature predictions ranged from the low teens to late twenties within a day of each other. One day rain, one day sunshine. I gave up looking because I couldn’t keep up and I ended up packing a bit of everything.
Once we were there and got chatting to locals we discovered that they say if it’s raining, wait a few minutes for the next season. It’s so true. We visited Edmonton in May and enjoyed glorious blue skies and blazing sunshine, hot enough to multiply the freckles on my face by at least a few hundred.
We also experienced torrential rain and epic thunderstorms, the kind that make you want to curl up with a duvet by a big window, watching it unfold. Ever the giving kind of soul, Edmonton also gave us a few windy, grey days. It certainly kept us on our toes and gave us reason enough to take a big suitcase. It’s all about the layers in Edmonton!
What’s Edmonton Like?
So, what did we think of our visit? We loved it! Edmonton has a city vibe, but it’s not like London or New York. You can actually put your arms round Edmonton in a big hug and enjoy most of it in one 10-day trip. Admittedly it’d be a very busy 10 days, but if you’re not into a fast paced kind of life you could pick and choose a few highlights and still get a good taste of the place.
The city doesn’t feel like a particularly touristy place. There’s plenty to see and do, but we always seemed to be the only ones with our cameras out and we never really experienced a queue. Whenever we were with other people we were always the only English ones. Perhaps we just knew where to go to experience an authentic Edmonton or perhaps it’s still a bit of a secret destination – whatever the reason it was great to have it to ourselves (or at least it felt that way) and it was really welcoming. We felt like honorary locals.
You can spend the morning surrounded by skyscrapers in downtown Edmonton and the afternoon in a national park spotting free roaming bison. Yup, Edmonton has a split personality, but in a good way. You can’t beat an all-rounder, eh?
And I guess it’s worth adding that when you land at Edmonton airport you might be shocked to see that there’s, well, not a lot but seriously flat (as in Holland flat), green land. We weren’t expecting it and I panicked that I’d arrived at the wrong place! Trust me, once you drive 20 minutes you’ll soon find the urban side.
The city has big wide avenues like you’ve probably seen elsewhere in North America. Most of the shops are those low, one level units and most of the homes seem to be either cute bungalows or those big impressive houses you see in films. When I said earlier that you have to work hard to see what’s on offer, it’s particularly true when it comes to the shops. We found some great boutiques, but from the street you’d never really notice them. We rarely ever found a consecutive row of goodies. Instead, it’s a bit of a game. You have to really try to peep in the small front window or just take a gamble (or use this guide!).
We walked everywhere, enjoying the wide pathways that meant we could push Nova around really easily. There’s a big sporty feel in Edmonton – probably because of the gorgeous River Valley – so we’d often see local runners or yummy mummies jogging with their Starbucks and buggies. On more than one occasion we received a gasp or at the very least, raised eyebrows, as to how far we’d walked across the city with a stroller. Let’s just say the walk from Old Strathcona (a cool neighbourhood) to downtown goes down one very big hill into the River Valley and of course, what goes down must come back up. We definitely earned our calories!
And talking of which, we discovered so many cool places to eat in Edmonton. Absolutely top of the list is El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar. I LOVE this place! We even tried to go a second time during our visit and I never normally do that, especially within the space of a few days. It was fully booked the second time (sob!) so that tells you how cool it is. It’s an Instagrammer’s dream, mainly because of the cool décor, but also the seriously good food. My enchiladas were spot on.
This place carries over 140 different tequilas and mexcals, so if you’re after a party night you can’t really go wrong here. We sampled a few of the cocktails and craft beers (yup, they do those too) and the mojito with marshmallow foam came out tops. Sounds weird, but it works. Can I have one now, please?!
For a stylish, chic meal head to &27. The restaurant is gorgeous and the food is full of artistic flair. You can pick from a menu of provisions, creating a table full of delicious bites to share. Alternatively, you can just be a selfish so and so by going for one of the larger plates and hogging the lot. No prizes in guessing what I did. However you choose to dine, make sure you go for dessert. The portions are more than generous and every bite is as good as the last.
And talking of sweets, Duchess Bakery scored highly on our list. It’s a cute little bake shop and café serving a whole host of epic pastries and cakes. The scones are massive, the slices are more like wedges and yet, they’re still somehow elegant and classy, not to mention sinfully delicious. The Paris Brest is well worth a taste. Oh and make sure you pop next door into the actual bake shop. We picked up some fancy waffle mix to take back home!
For something more laidback Famoso Pizzeria seems to be popular with the locals. It’s a Canadian chain so perhaps not entirely an Edmontonian experience, but either way the pizzas are perfection. They’re baked for 90 seconds at 900 degrees Farenheit in a traditional, fire-roasting Italian pizza oven.
Blue Plate Diner is also a good place for a casual bite to eat. It’s in what’s known as the Warehouse district and it’s been open for over a decade. The walls are covered in funky art from local artists and the menu is filled with well-loved dishes. There are loads of good veggie options, which is a rarity so I think I’m probably a bit biased to this place. That said, carnivorous Jay loved it too.
Things to Do in Edmonton
So aside from eating and drinking what should you see and do in Edmonton? Loads! For culturists I’d recommend an hour or so at the Art Gallery of Alberta – the second floor was my fave. The unique building is worth the visit as much as the galleries on the inside.
Architecture-lovers will also enjoy looking at Alberta Legislature. You can even get a free tour if you want.
Shoppers should head to West Edmonton Mall. It spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks, housing a billion shops (a slight exaggeration – only just), a huge water park and an amusement park. We saw a seal having his teeth brushed at one end and an ice hockey rink at the other end. Crazy times!
If you prefer to shop at markets there’s the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market, though bear in mind it mostly sells food and plants, so I think it’s more suited to locals. There’s also 124 Street Grand Market from May to October, which is a little market selling a bit of a mixture of things. I picked up a super cute cloud biscuit. Easily pleased, eh?!
If like me you’re into cute boutiques head to Habitat etc, Frank + Oak and The Bamboo Ballroom. Oh and if you love stationery make sure you pop into Chapters on Whyte Avenue. They have the absolute best collection of notebooks and journals. I wanted to buy all of them!
The beautiful North Saskatchewan River Valley needs to be seen to be believed. We spent quite a bit of time there and only saw a fragment of the 7,400 hectares. There are a few bridges that cross the river at different sections, so I’d recommend walking, biking and driving to enjoy different views. A ride on the 100-year old High Level Bridge Streetcar is also a great opportunity to go across the top of one of the bridges. It’s run by volunteers and it only costs a few dollars to ride it. We felt like we’d stepped back in time – so sweet.
For more of the nature side, head to Elk Island National Park. It took us less than an hour to drive there, we only saw one other car once we’d arrived and within ten minutes’ of our visit we saw bison roaming the grounds.
If you’re into independent boutiques, hipster vibes and anything cool head to Old Strathcona, specifically Whyte Avenue. Stop for a coffee, take a slow mooch and basically soak it all up.
We pretty much stuck to our self-titled Epic 10-Day Itinerary for Edmonton and Jasper so you’ll find all the details via that link.
Where to Stay in Edmonton
Without a shadow of a doubt, stay at Metterra Hotel. It’s a luxury boutique hotel that’s in the best part of Edmonton, Old Strathcona. We’d read reviews saying it’d be a noisy stay because of the neighbourhood, but we never heard anything. The location really is perfect.
The rooms are spacious and the hotel has a contemporary design. The breakfast is really good, but it’s the staff that make this place stand out. They were all so friendly and welcoming, but in a genuine way rather than an ‘it’s my job’ kinda way. Top marks, Metterra.
Edmonton isn’t like anywhere else that I’ve been, so I can’t really compare it to somewhere else to help you understand what it’s like. Hopefully I’ve convinced you to visit, but if not, you just wait until I tell you about nearby Jasper National Park…
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Have you been to Edmonton? Is it somewhere you’d like to go?
Big thanks to KLM and to Travel Alberta for hosting my visit as part of #CharWithKLM