Situated on a vast prairie in west-central Canada, Edmonton grew from a fur trading post established in 1795. Since the first major oil discovery in the area in 1947, the energy industry has been the primary driver of Edmonton’s economy. As the capital of Alberta, Edmonton also counts numerous provincial government employees among its population of 1 million.
Many of Edmonton’s top attractions are located close to the scenic North Saskatchewan River that winds through the heart of town. For a kid-friendly adventure, head to the John Janzen Nature Centre, 14 kilometres southwest of downtown, on the river. The National Treasure program helps introduce children to nature by utilising something they already love: gadgets! Kids can check out a GPS device and use it to find objects hidden along the complex's nature trails. The indoor Tegler Discovery Zone lets kids climb up and crawl through play areas that mimic beaver dams and beehives.
Three kilometres upriver from the nature center, Edmonton Valley Zoo is a small zoo with an impressive collection of unusual animals. The 18-hectare park houses Arctic foxes, snowy owls, red pandas and a rare snow leopard. The zoo’s carousel, miniature train and paddleboats are open in summer and fall.
William Hawrelak Park, one of Edmonton’s top attractions, sits along a bend in the river 3 kilometres north of the zoo. Despite winter temperatures that rarely rise above freezing, hardy Edmonton residents flock to the 68-hectare park on weekends to enjoy ice skating on a man-made lake and cross-country skiing on the extensive trail system. In summer, visitors can rent paddleboats, play beach volleyball or attend one of many festivals at the park’s Heritage Amphitheatre.
About 7 km east of Hawrelak Park, Muttart Conservatory, also on the river, is hard to miss due to its four shimmering glass pyramids. Three of the pyramids contain permanent displays of thousands of plants representing three different climates: tropical, arid and temperate. The exhibits in the Feature Pyramid change with the seasons, showcasing everything from tulips to poinsettias.
During Edmonton’s frigid winters, a little indoor entertainment may be in order. Located in the downtown Arts District, the Winspear Centre is home to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Opened in 1997, the 1,932-seat theater supports excellent acoustics with an adjustable system of acoustic reflectors and specially designed curtains. The hall is also equipped with a custom-built Davis Concert Organ, featuring 6,551 pipes.
For pre- or post-show dining, many of Edmonton’s best restaurants are within a few blocks of the Winspear Centre. The adjacent Sir Winston Churchill Square bustles with activity year-round. The square is bordered by food vendors, sidewalk cafés and shops selling locally produced art.
No trip to Edmonton would be complete without a visit to the Old Strathcona neighborhood, 4.5 kilometres south of Churchill Square. With structures dating back to the 1890s, the area is chock full of small theaters such as the Walterdale Playhouse and the Varscona Theatre, in addition to some of the liveliest bars and best restaurants in Edmonton.