Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, stretches along both banks of the North Saskatchewan River. The bustling city lies almost in the middle of the province of Alberta. Varying economic forces, including the early fur trade, the cross-Canada railway, the 1897/1898 Klondike Gold Rush, the Alaska Highway, and oil and gas extraction have had a long lasting influence over the city. The economic prosperity of Edmonton has led to a thriving art and culture scene in the city, complete with terrific theaters and museums.
The city of Edmonton has a variety of things to offer to all kinds of travelers. Tourist attractions like museums, malls, zoos, national parks and art galleries are present all over the city of Edmonton. The city is also the home to the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL), the team with which Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, spent ten years of his career.
Here are the best things to see and do in Edmonton:
Elk Island National Park and Beaver Hills
This national park is just a 30-minute drive from Edmonton and covers a wooded area with lakes and wetlands, and is home to all kinds of wildlife, including moose, elk, deer, and beaver. But the most popular tourist attraction of Elk Island park is the large herd of buffalo (bison), which graze over a special enclosure. Anyone driving slowly along the road through the park cannot fail to catch sight of some of those massive shaggy beasts. Fun things to do here in the summer include hiking and biking, kayaking and canoeing, as well as camping. Winter activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The Beaver Hills area has now been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and includes a dark sky preserve, a bird sanctuary, and a wilderness center. Originally the tribal home of the Sarcee Indians, it was actually the Cree, however, that hunted the beaver and buffalo for pelts, which were then traded with the massive fur-trading companies.
With hunting and settlement, the buffalo were almost wiped out, though some Beaver Hills buffalo are thought to have been captured in 1909 and placed in a reserve of their own. These buffaloes were are the ancestors of the animals now living in Elk Island National Park.
West Edmonton Mall
Canada’s West Edmonton Mall is not only the country’s largest shopping center-and one of the largest in the world-it’s also a major tourist attraction. In addition to hundreds of shops and restaurants, the facility contains a hotel, movie theaters, an ice rink, an aquarium, and much more.
Adding to the appeal are the themed sections of the mall, designed to mimic certain characteristics and idiosyncracies of popular travel destinations around the world. In Europa Boulevard, for example, many of the shops have European-style fronts and carry the names of international fashion designers, while Bourbon Street, a copy of the famous New Orleans street, is a wonderful destination for Creole food and live music.
The West Edmonton Mall features one of the world’s best indoor amusement parks, Galaxyland. It features a lot of family-friendly rides, such as the awesome triple-loop roller coaster. Another great feature of Galaxyland is the recently renovated World Waterpark, the most popular attraction of its kind in North America. Highlights include the world’s biggest indoor wave pool, and two 83-foot-tall (and very steep) water slides. The park, in fact, has a variety of slides, ranging from beginner to extreme.
Royal Alberta Museum
The Royal Alberta Museum moved to its new location in 2018, and is now western Canada’s largest museum. Home to a fascinating mix of permanent cultural and natural history exhibits, as well as always-changing temporary installations, a visit to this ultra-modern facility is certainly time well spent. Particularly impressive are the many fossils from the dinosaur and ice age eras, a large aquaria of native fish, and live insects-including some exotic and enormous species.
New additions include a large feature gallery hosting traveling exhibits from across Canada and around the world, a huge 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. A well-stocked gift shop and a café are also located on-site.
Fort Edmonton Park
Another open-air museum that ought to be included in your Edmonton travel itinerary, Fort Edmonton Park has old buildings faithfully reconstructed to reflect Edmonton’s historical development. Some of the buildings of the Fort Edmonton Park include an 1846 fort which belongs to the Hudson Bay Company, a pioneer town’s street from 1885 and a lot of buildings hailing from the 1920s.
Among the various sorts of old transport, visitors can ride a horse-drawn wagon or a steam train. At the Janzen Nature Centre nearby, there are exhibits about local geology and ecology.
Art Gallery of Alberta
A twisting modernist building on Sir Churchill Square, the gallery of Alberta in Edmonton is devoted to visual arts with a stress on Western Canada. The gallery features changing and traveling exhibitions and maintains an in depth collection of 6,000 pieces.
The site also features a gift shop, restaurant, and theater space. Private guided tours are available and can be tailored to suit your particular interests. The facility also offers a variety of educational programs for all ages, as well as lectures and workshops.
Alberta Legislature Building
In the midst of a park-like garden, where the last Fort Edmonton once stood, stands the 1913 Legislature Building. This incredibly imposing building features beautiful views across the North Saskatchewan River to the far bank from the terrace. Guided tours are the best way to learn about the history of what the locals refer to fondly as “the Ledge,” including its architecture and secrets of the building. The absolute highlight of a visit is spending time wandering the park-like grounds surrounding the building.
Be sure to also visit the nearby Legislative Assembly Visitor Centre, which includes important displays related to local art, culture, and history. There’s also a cool 4D immersive experience that provides an impressive visual history of the province and its people, as well as a great gift shop selling arts and crafts from across Alberta.
Located on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, the Muttart Conservatory consists of four pyramid-shaped hothouses. Those hothouses hold some of the rarest species of plants from across the globe. Each pyramid features a distinct environment representing different biomes of the world, from the tropical climate of Myanmar and Fiji to the temperate pavilion with its American redwoods and Australian eucalyptus. With so many species of plants on display, the conservatory is the premier horticultural facility in Edmonton.
From a vantage point above the river, there’s a gorgeous view of the gleaming pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory against the skyline of Edmonton city centre.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
Established in the 1970s along the Yellowhead Highway, this open-air museum preserves the cultural heritage of the many immigrants from Bukovina and Ukraine who settled in what is now Alberta in the 1890s. Known locally simply as “the Village,” various historic buildings have been reconstructed on the site, and the pale onion dome of a Ukrainian church is visible from afar.
There are many living history elements to explore, including a blacksmith, market, and an old-fashioned country store. Part of the fun is the opportunity to interact with the costumed guides. They are here 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, from cooking demonstrations to harvest celebrations and a commemoration of Ukraine’s national day.
Edmonton Valley Zoo
Opened in 1959, the Edmonton Valley Zoo has traditionally focused on research into threatened animal species. However, its family-oriented grounds are also home to more than 350 animals representing over 100 species, both exotic and ones native to the province of Alberta.
The animals and their caregivers are regularly out and about meeting and engaging with guests. Popular species to visit include red pandas, lemurs, snow leopards, and arctic wolves, each located in specially themed areas to represent their natural habitat. The zoo also has some fun rides for children such as a miniature train, a carousel and a paddle boat.
TELUS World of Science
Situated in a modern white building, the TELUS World of Science (TWOS) in Edmonton is a fun, educational science center experience perfect for those traveling with kids. The attraction’s many interactive and hands-on science and technology exhibits cover topics like space, robots, forensics, and the environment. Adjoining is an excellent planetarium called the Margaret Zeidler Star Theatre, and the IMAX theater shows fascinating films from all over the world.
One of the simplest free things to try to do in Edmonton is to go to the on-site observatory, which offers a spread of interesting star gazing opportunities. A gift shop and café are also available.
Alberta Railway Museum
Located in the northern suburbs of the city and well worth the effort to visit, the Alberta Railway Museum (ARM) features a selection of still-operating and static locomotives and rolling stock. Established 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, as well as many related artifacts.
A highlight is having the chance to ride on one of the trains during the summer months (check their website for schedules). Self-guided tour maps are available when picking up your tickets.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
Another Edmonton attraction for those who enjoy flowers and gardening is the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Founded in 1959 and the largest such garden in the province, this 240-acre site includes 160 acres that have been set aside in their natural state.
Of the remaining 80 acres, notable features include a Japanese Garden, a large tropical greenhouse with butterflies, plus numerous displays of many other plant species, both indoors and out. Of special interest is the Indigenous Garden, consisting of plants that have been used by Canada’s indigenous population for centuries.
A new addition to the attraction is the Aga Khan Garden, a nearly 12-acre site, inspired by Islamic architecture and landscapes, with a northern twist. It’s a delightful garden to explore, and notable features include a number of pleasant forest paths, peaceful terraces, ponds and pools, plus a waterfall.
Free guided walking tours of the botanic gardens are available and are very highly recommended. Of special interest to those who also love classical music is the annual Opera al Fresco event performed here by the Edmonton Opera Company in June every year.
Alberta Aviation Museum
The Alberta Aviation Museum is a must-see for all aviation buffs. Located near the Edmonton city centre airport, the museum is very easy to locate with its two fighter jets mounted in interesting positions, one nearly vertical. 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 in the Second World War.
Informative guided tours are available and last around 90 minutes. They include a glance at the fascinating restoration facility where many of those vintage airplanes were rebuilt.
The greatest event in Edmonton’s calendar is the 10-day festival known as K Days (formerly called Capital Ex) held every year at the end of July, when the wild days of the 1890 Klondike Gold Rush come to life once more. Street-parties, dancing, parades, live entertainment, gold panning, and a midway liven up the whole city. Visitors who plan to be in Edmonton during the festival should remember to book their accommodation well in advance.
An hour’s drive south of downtown Edmonton is the sweet and friendly little town of Wetaskiwin. The town’s top tourist attraction is the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, dedicated to everything to try to to with aircraft and vehicle construction. There are open-air displays of old agricultural machinery and tools, including some really old steam tractors, threshing machines, caterpillar tractors, and trucks.
There are also nearly 100 historic aircraft housed here, as well as in the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, and numerous vintage motorcycles to admire. A café, store, and theater are also located on-site, with a good time to visit being one of the regular summer events when a variety of machines and vehicles are operating.