Edmonton, one of the youngest major cities in Canada, is all grown up—and it’s high time you visit. Long known as the “gateway to the north”, Edmonton may have built its economy on oil, but a quietly-growing tech industry is underway, along with a slick new entertainment district and vibrant entrepreneurial creative class. It’s also home to the largest urban parkland in all of North America, the Edmonton River Valley, which is 22 times bigger than New York’s Central Park and is best seen via bicycle or Segway—unless, of course, it’s snowing. Here is a selection of what to do in Edmonton on a short jaunt.
Where to Eat
Out of all the things to do in Edmonton, food should be at the top of the list. City favourite Café Linnea started as a brunch restaurant in 2016 before adding its much-anticipated dinner service last year. Edmontonian chef-owner Kelsey Johnson turns out Scandinavian- and French-influenced cuisine—with a small but mighty menu. The restaurant is in an industrial (yet Instagrammable) space decorated with live plants and cherry wood shelves. Tuck into a buckwheat crepe oozing with melted gruyere and house ham for brunch, or order the steak frites with sauce au poivre at night. No matter what you order, be sure to keep an eye out for the excellent cheese cart making the rounds.
Next, work up an appetite by strolling the strip and spotting kitsch vintage signs—Uncle Albert’s Pancake House, for instance. Then, dip into the busy Duchess Bake Shop for decadent baby sour cream cherry pies and flaky pain au chocolat. Snag a take-home jar of Duchess Provisions raspberry rose jam on your way out the door.
Where to Explore
Last October, the Royal Alberta Museum opened its doors as the largest museum in Western Canada. And while the rotating exhibits are fabulous, the permanent collections, which show off some of the museum’s 2.5 million objects, are the true gold. The upstairs Natural History Hall displays precious gems and dinosaur bones, while the first-floor Human History Hall is laden with memorabilia and artifacts from Alberta’s many peoples, from the indigenous populations to farmers, soldiers, and changemakers. One display is a collaboration with First Nations and Métis communities.
Nearby, glimpse indigenous artist Alex Janvier’s Blood Tears painting, paired with a must-see video interview with the artist. In another section, encounter Oilers mementos, vintage HBC coats, and a full-sized Blackfoot tipi shelter. Don’t leave the RAM without a visit to the live bug gallery—where Atlas rhinoceros beetles and black widow spiders traipse around their cages—nor the museum shop, filled with the work of local artisans.
Where to Drink
Not so much a cocktail haunt as it is a place to straight-up sample local booze (then buy a bottle), Strathcona Spirits Distillery is billed as the smallest distillery in North America, and is one of the best in Edmonton. The 750-square-foot operation in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood used to be an after-hours music venue called the Baby Seal Club. When that shuttered in 2014, owner Adam Smith turned his attention to small-batch distilling. Today, Smith and his small team produce award-winning gin and vodka using local grains, all packaged up in beautiful hand-labelled bottles. The smoky White Oak Pinot Gin is stellar, as is the bestselling Badland Seaberry Gin, infused with 10 botanicals including local sea buckthorn and juniper berries from the Badlands near Drumheller.
For a see-and-be-seen lounge, the Lobby Bar at the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District is the hot new place in town to don something fancy and order a martini. For a whimsical change of scenery, head up to the fifth floor and visit the speakeasy-style Alchemy bar for craft cocktails tucked behind a “bookshelf” doorway.
Where to Stay
This August, the JW Marriott Edmonton opened in the 25-acre downtown entertainment megadevelopment, ICE District. Its front door is mere steps away from Rogers Place—both a sports arena and concert venue—and the rest of downtown. The 346-room property is the first new luxury hotel to open in the city in four decades. With a 20,000-square-foot fitness studio called Archetype, a luxe Spa by JW, and a pool and jacuzzi, the slick JW Marriott has brought a heightened level of unpretentious luxury to the city. Thankfully, the staff are as Alberta-friendly as can be.
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