How about paying a visit to a four-billion-year-old meteorite next weekend? Yeah, we'd gawp at that too. And that's just one of the wonders to be found in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, perched on the mighty North Saskatchewan river.
The beauty of Edmonton is in its contrasts: it's home to North America's largest area of parkland, but also home to its largest mall. It has a vibrant theatre scene and Canada's largest living history museum, but also a fiercesome rep for sports.
Every year, it plays host to North America's oldest and largest Fringe Festival; winter sees the city transform into an icey wonderland.
So truly understanding a city like this – discovering its off-beat, authentic attractions – can be tricky. And that's exactly where we come in, to tell you what's hot and what's not. You can trust us to give you the inside scoop on where to be, what to see, and what to eat in Edmonton, Alberta.
Edmonton, Alberta: What to see and do
1. Fort Edmonton Park (temporarily closed until summer 2021)
Fort Edmonton Park is Canada's largest living history museum, and while we weren't entirely sure what that was at first, we were impressed by the accolade nonetheless. In a nutshell, the park recreates four different periods of history, through their structures (original and rebuilt) and appropriately costumed actors who guide you around the place. Think West World, but real. Cool, huh?
2. The Royal Alberta Museum
With 7,600 square metres of exhibition space, this sprawling museum is nothing to scoff at, but the best part happens before you pay admission. Located right by the entranceway is a special gallery housing Manitou Asinîy, a four-billion-year-old meteorite that's held a spiritual significance to the Cree and Blackfoot people for centuries. Step inside for quiet reflection.
2. The North Saskatchewan River Valley
Walk, bike or take a Segway tour and explore the largest swath of urban parkland in North America. (It's 22 times the size of New York's Central Park.) Around 150 kilometres of trails wind their way through Edmonton's River Valley and parks system. Depending on the weather, you can also traverse the valley by canoe, snowshoe or cross-country ski.
3. 124th Street
Lined with quaint artisan shops, art galleries and indie coffee shops, this charming area is chock-full of uniquely Edmonton finds. Stop in at Remedy Café to grab any of their drinks with chai – it's an original recipe that takes several days to brew – then stroll down the strip. Once the shopping fatigue sets in, settle in at RGE RD for seasonal Canadian cuisine, sourced from local farms, and craft cocktails.
Edmonton, Alberta: What to eat and drink
4. Duchess Bake Shop
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This Edmonton stalwart is known for delicate desserts, pastries and French macarons, which come in a rainbow of flavours from salted caramel and tonka bean to cherry cheesecake and orange, rose and cardamom. For a tasty souvenir that won't go off, founder Giselle Courteau shares the bakeshop's most popular recipes in her cookbook, Duchess at Home.
Alberta has a world-renowned reputation for its beef, and this is the place to get your hands, or mouth, on the province's best. Sink your teeth into a dry-aged, quality cut seared to perfection on Braven's hardwood grill. If steak doesn't float your boat, there's plenty of seafood and house-made pastas to round out the offerings. One things for sure – chef Anthony Walsh's creations are not to be missed at this ICE District dining destination.
6. Strathcona Spirits
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North America's smallest distillery also holds the title of the first-ever distillery in Edmonton. A tour of the fun-sized facility involves taking just a few steps forward, followed by a bit of head turning. But what they lack in size, they make up for in spirit(s). The Badland Seaberry Gin is made with wild foraged juniper from the fossil-filled Alberta Badlands, and seaberry, which grows all over the streets of Edmonton.
Edmonton, Alberta: Where to stay
7. JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District
Positioned as the epicentre of the ICE District's revitalization, this hotel has just about everything you could ask for. For sports fans and concert-goers, the hotel has an indoor walkway that connects right to Rogers Place arena – and the Grand Villa Casino. Torontonians will recognize familiar flavours at restaurants Kindred and Braven – O&B is behind the food programme.
Rooms from $290; marriott.com
8. Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
In Fairmont fashion, the castle-like Hotel Macdonald is perched on a hill overlooking the North Saskatchewan River Valley. The Confederation Lounge offers floor to ceiling windows to take it all in, and a straightforward menu. In the afternoons, you can also sit down for afternoon tea (or is that twee?). Rooms range from basic to Fairmont Gold, all outfitted in a traditional style with regal furnishings.
Rooms from $329; fairmont.com/macdonald-edmonton/
9. Metterra Hotel on Whyte
Dark wood, unique art pieces and earthy tones set the mood at this simple, yet soothing Old Strathcona hotel. This historic area has plenty of charms, with cutesy shops, cafés and more than 100 restaurants and bars packed into just 30 square blocks to while away the evenings.
Rooms from $180; metterra.com