Edmonton’s downtown core — Churchill Square. Image by Flickr user Kurt Bauschardt.
When National Geographic named Edmonton one of its Best Summer Trips 2015, residents weren’t surprised. After all, they’re fiercely proud of what ‘festival city’ manages to accomplish each summer in terms of endless events and parties.
While it may have taken the FIFA Women’s World Cup to get Edmonton on the travel destination map, it’s long been one of Canada’s hidden summer gems. With miles of parks and river walks to explore, outdoor free pools and shopping districts, and sunlight from 5 AM to 10 PM in June and July, the city becomes a hotbed of parties and festivals that stretch into the wee hours of the night.
But while Edmonton may be praised as a summer destination, the best time to visit is really in September and October.
The city puts on a show of red, orange, and gold leaves that stretch across the river valley beneath the downtown core. Outdoor patios and activities still abound, and the streets are thronged with friendly locals eager to explain why Edmonton is ‘The City of Champions.’
Have I piqued your interest? Here are three areas you absolutely can’t miss if you’re looking to find out just why Edmonton is rapidly becoming one of Canada’s best cities.
Whyte Avenue/Old Strathcona — Boutiques, Bars, Independent Arts
Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona is the perfect mix of new and old, where one of the oldest and most attractive areas of the city (think old, stone libraries; prairie-style farmhouses; and massive trees) and some of Edmonton’s newest and most modern attractions combine as a bustling shopping and residential area with unique spirit.
Farmers markets, designer cupcake boutiques, and Edmonton’s most avant-garde dining options. Newly opened clubs, ancient blues bars, cutting-edge fashion shops, and the city’s best antique market. Whyte Avenue attracts a mixed crowd of individuals to its shops, patios, and bars around the clock. It’s also the home of Edmonton’s independent arts, including theatre groups; live-music venues; art walks; and several festivals, including the world’s second-biggest alternative theatre festival, the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival.
Don’t miss: Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. Food and craft lovers will adore walking this bustling market on Saturday mornings, when dozens of vendors and hundreds of customers crowd in to purchase fresh food and one-of-a-kind gifts. You can also sample ready-made food, and exchange stories and gossip. Make sure you visit hungry, as most vendors are eager for you to sample their wares!
Downtown and Jasper Avenue — Architecture and Must-See Events
Anyone who really wants to know Edmonton needs to visit the downtown core. Far more gritty (and a lot less attractive) than other areas of Edmonton, Jasper Avenue and its surrounding streets are rapidly reclaiming themselves after years of neglect.
Anchored at either end by the Alberta Legislative Building and City Hall — both of which feature architecture tours and free wading pools out front — Edmonton’s downtown core is a mix of early 1900s, 1960s, and 21st century architecture; chain bars and restaurants; and alternative cafes and wine bars. Commercial, retail, and residential properties nestle side-by-side, and the people watching opportunities are at their best when the city’s biggest events, from Pride to New Year’s Eve, are celebrated in Sir Winston Churchill Square.
Jasper Avenue becomes part of Oliver to the West of 109th Street, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Clubs, bars, and restaurants are on every block as Jasper Avenue works towards 124th street and the equally revitalized area of Westmount.
Don’t miss: 104th Street North of Jasper Avenue, where top contenders for the city’s best coffee shops and wine bars (ex: Credo and Tzin Wine and Tapas) sit across the street from each other in old warehouses. The classic Blue Plate Diner still serves up some of Edmonton’s best dinners, and an outdoors farmers market takes place each Saturday.
124th Street/Westmount — The Best Baked Goods
124th street has spent the last 10 years becoming known for its restaurants and shops that start at the west end of Jasper Avenue and extend north for over a dozen blocks. Small businesses; boutique shops that specialize in decor, clothes, and art; brunch spots; and art galleries all line this area, with new venues opening frequently.
Events also happen here, including shopping festivals and a yearly gallery walk.
But the top draw for the area is Duchess Bake Shop. Considered one of the best bakeries in North America, Edmontonians visit regularly to try out all of the French patisserie’s fantastic treats.
Don’t miss: Create your own version of High Tea at Duchess Bake Shop. Stop by in the afternoon for cake, scones, or cookies and a cup of cappuccino or tea for a taste-buds-altering experience. Whatever you choose, be sure to add at least one macaron. While the flavours change monthly, they’re always divine.
Get There & Around
Want to visit Edmonton? Getting there’s never been easier thanks to the newly revamped international airport in neighbouring Leduc, a VIA rail station, and both Red Arrow and Greyhound bus terminals. The city is easy to navigate with Uber, lots of day and night buses, and 2 LRT lines that connect through downtown.