While visitors to the province of Alberta often set their sights elsewhere, the best things to do in Edmonton might be one of the biggest surprises on your Western Canada road trip.
Settled around the twisting North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton is graced with a beautiful natural setting that’s steps away from some of that oh-so-fine! nature that Canada is justifiably famous for.
Not sure what to do in Edmonton? Explore Alberta’s unassuming modern capital with this guide to the best places to visit in Edmonton, Alberta…
Top tourist attractions in Edmonton
- North Saskatchewan River Valley
- Art Gallery of Alberta
- West Edmonton Mall
- Fort Edmonton Park
- TELUS World of Science
- Elk Island National Park
- Muttart Conservatory
- Alberta Legislature Building
- Old Strathcona
- Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
- Edmonton Valley Zoo
- University of Alberta Botanic Garden
- Alberta Aviation Museum
- Edmonton International Fringe Festival
- Alberta Railway Museum
- Snow Valley
North Saskatchewan River Valley
Central Park ain’t got nuttin’ on Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. With over 18,000 acres of greenspace, this ribbon of urban parkland, snaking around the banks of its namesake river, is the largest park of its kind in North America. (Take that NYC!)
As you’d imagine with its immense size, the opportunities for exploration are nearly endless. There’s over 150 kilometres of trails within the parkland for your walking, hiking, or mountain biking pleasure.
If there’s any place to unwind from your Edmonton sightseeing adventures, it’s here.
Art Gallery of Alberta
Before you even step into the Art Gallery of Alberta, you’ll be enchanted by its unique architectural design, standing out as one of Edmonton’s most recognizable buildings and one of the coolest things to see in Edmonton.
Although this Edmonton art gallery has stood on its current Churchill Square site since 1969, the ambitious redesign project demolished much of the original Brutalist-style building, replacing it with a shimming zinc and glass exterior that represents the city’s main river and the aurora borealis (Northern lights).
Inside the Art Gallery of Alberta, you’ll discover a collection of over 6,000 works of art by Albertan, Canadian, and international artists.
Besides the collection itself, the art gallery puts on a series of drop-in workshops and is home to a popular restaurant, Zinc, serving innovative local cuisine inspired by the province.
Visit on a Tuesday between 11:00am and 5:00pm to take advantage of the pay-what-you-may-day (suggested donation is $5).
West Edmonton Mall
All it takes is one glance to know that the West Edmonton Mall is not your every day Canadian shopping complex. This gigantic mall—the largest in North America actually!—offers not just an unforgettable retail experience but a whole host of entertainment options that seats it among the top family-friendly activities in Edmonton.
The mall is carved into various themed streets, each having their own look & feel, including Europa Boulevard, Bourbon Street and Chinatown.
Elsewhere in West Edmonton Mall, you’ll bump into amusement areas like Galaxyland, World Waterpark, and the Santa Maria, a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship.
If your loonies & twoonies are burning a whole in your pocket, check out the mall’s swanky Starlight Casino for a small dash of Vegas in Western Canada.
Fort Edmonton Park
History buffs visiting Alberta’s capital should set their sights on Fort Edmonton Park, one of the most interesting places to see in Edmonton.
This living history museum recreates scenes from the Canadian western frontier dating back to the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
There’s a handful of attractions at the heritage park including a horse-drawn carriage ride through a reconstructed 1885 street, a vintage theatre, a midway, and a model of Edmonton’s original trading fort.
TELUS World of Science
Wear your science geek badge proudly? Then you’ll absolutely love the family-friendly fun at the TELUS World of Science!
Home to five interactive exhibits, this popular science museum offers hands-on experiences ranging between learning about the human body at The Body Fantastic and building cool tech at The Science Garage to creating your own lightning storm & tornado at the Syncrude Environment Gallery and exploring Mars in a rover at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.
Even if you’re not visiting Edmonton with kids, pop into the Zeidler Dome theatre for one of their evening music laser shows or attend one of the DARK MATTERS 18+ events for exclusive evening access to the exhibitions (washed down with a few adult beverages, of course!).
Elk Island National Park
Located just 35 minutes east of the city, Elk Island National Park is one of the best day trips from Edmonton and a relaxing escape from the bustle of Alberta’s capital.
Despite its name, Elk Island National Park is most famous for its bison conservation efforts. Along with the approximately 450 bison living within the park, there’s also thriving population of elk, deer, moose, beavers, and coyotes that you may catch a glimpse of on your visit.
For amateur astronomers, the park is also designed as a dark-sky reserve. Visit at night to marvel at one of the starriest skies you’ll ever witness or, if you’re lucky with your timing, to watch the Northern lights dance in the sky.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Edmonton, the Muttart Conservatory is as famous for its architecture as its horticulture.
This popular Edmonton attraction splits its biomes into four Louvre-like glass pyramids, each representing a different world plant habitat including desert, temperate, tropical, and a feature garden with rotating seasonal flora.
The Muttarrt Conservatory is also home to the popular Culina Café, serving innovative bistro-like dishes and desserts.
Alberta Legislature Building
Although watching the petty squabbles of politician would be of zero interest to most, the stately architecture of the Alberta Legislature Building will certainly inspire a visit.
With its towering marble pillars and grand central dome, the Alberta Legislature Building, affectionately known as “The Ledge” by locals, is perhaps the finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture in Canada.
The grounds are equally beguiling, centred around a large central square sprinkled with trees and home to a wading pool that’s perfect for kids to cool off in Edmonton’s summer heat.
To check out the inside of the building, snag a spot on one of the hourly free guided tours.
Centred around Whyte Avenue, the trendy downtown Edmonton neighbourhood of Old Strathcona is one of the most interesting places to go in Edmonton thanks to its mix of heritage architecture and boutique stores, art galleries, and hip restaurants & cafés.
There’s a handful of historic buildings to keep your eyes peeled for in Old Strathcona including the Strathcona Hotel, Knox Church, and the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.
The most exciting way to experience this historical Edmonton district though is to spend the day shopping the local shops along Whyte Avenue followed by unwinding with a glass of wine or craft beer at one of area’s many restaurants, pubs & bars.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
One of the most interesting open-air museums in Canada, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village pays homage to some Western Canada’s earliest settlers.
In the years between 1892 and 1930, Western Canada and The Prairies attracted an array of settlers from Eastern Europe, and, in particular, from Ukraine, to tend to its newly established farmlands.
Visiting the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, you’ll get a glimpse of the everyday lives of these early Albertans. The village is home to a few dozen historic building including churches, farmsteads, a blacksmith, and a schoolhouse. Along the way, you’ll be immersed in interesting cultural experiences ranging between learning how to tend to a garden to fitting a horseshoe.
Don’t forget to grab a traditional Ukrainian snack at the on-site food vendor to fuel up further for your Edmonton sightseeing adventure.
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is located about 25 minutes east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16 East).
Edmonton Valley Zoo
Located in Sir Wilfred Laurier Park in the leafy River Valley, the Edmonton Valley Zoo is one of the best family-friendly attractions in Edmonton and a must-see if you’re visiting Edmonton with kids.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo hosts more than 350 animals ranging between native Albertan species like bighorn sheep & prairie dogs to more exotic ones including a zebra.
Some of the zoo’s other highlights include its bird exhibit, featuring a great-horned owl, snowy owl, and a bald eagle, and the Polar Extremes exhibit where you’ll get to witness some of Canada’s arctic mammals in action including arctic foxes and sea lions.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
Stretched out across 190 acres southwest of the city, the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is a fantastic escape from the bustle of central Edmonton. The sprawling botanic garden includes 80 acres of beautiful gardens along with over 100 acres of preserved land.
Among the most popular areas at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, one of the most northernly Japanese-style gardens in the world. It meanders through over five acres of lush greenery, punctuated by a pond, bridge, and pavilions.
While visiting the botanic garden, also make sure to check out its latest addition, the Aga Khan Garden. Spread out over almost 5 hectares, this garden blends Moghul-style architecture with the garden’s natural greenery for a look that’s unlike any other place in Edmonton.
Alberta Aviation Museum
One of the most interesting points of interest in Edmonton for history buffs, the Alberta Aviation Museum relives the World War II era with an eclectic collection of vintage planes dating back over 75 years.
Included among the highlights of the Alberta Aviation Museum are the WWII-era de Havilland Mosquito combat plane, the Cirrus Moth, and a whole host of memorabilia from some of Canada’s most famous pilots.
Before you leave, see if you’ve got what take to be a world-class aviator with the museum’s fun & interactive flight simulator.
Edmonton International Fringe Festival
While it’s been (understandably) a write-off for 2020, taking in the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is a must if you’re visiting Edmonton in August. The festival is the biggest of its kind in North America and second-biggest in the entire world, trumped only by the massive fringe festivities in Edinburgh.
If you get a chance to catch the festival when it returns, prepare for 11 days of live performances scattered among the streets, parks, and theatres of Edmonton. It’s a fun, lively & colourful atmosphere that’s one of the absolute must-do activities in Edmonton.
Alberta Railway Museum
Opened to the public in 1976, the Alberta Railway Museum has long been a favourite Edmonton attraction for train enthusiasts and travellers passing through.
The open-air museum, occupying an old rail yard, is home to over 75 locomotives & train cars along with other rail-related equipment and buildings including a replica station.
Transportation buffs will love weaving in and out of the freight & passenger cars, replete with old artefacts to bring the “good-ol’ days” back to life. If you happen to visit on a long weekend, hop on one of the locomotive rides, departing at the top of every hour.
The Alberta Railway Museum is only open between Victoria Day in May and Labour Day in September from 10am to 5pm. (Closed for the 2020 summer season.)
Snow Valley Ski Club
While there are certainly better places to ski in Alberta, hitting the slopes at Snow Valley Ski Club is one of the best things to do in Edmonton in winter.
Featuring over 20 acres of skiable terrain at every skill level, this family-friendly resort makes for an excellent winter escape while roaming around the Edmonton area. Even if you’ve never strapped on a snowboard or a pair of skis, Snow Valley offers equipment rentals and both private and group lessons for fledgling skiers and snowboarders.
If carving the slopes isn’t quite adventurous enough for you, head over to the club’s terrain park where you’ll find a variety of jumps to get the adrenaline pumpin’.
Where to stay in Edmonton for sightseeing
Although it sits among the largest cities in Canada, choosing where to stay in Edmonton doesn’t present too much of a challenge. Many of the best hotels in Edmonton are generally found in the areas of downtown Edmonton, Strathcona, West Edmonton.
- Varscona Hotel on Whyte: Located in Strathcona along Edmonton’s most famous street, this excellent value hotel is a great choice for travellers looking to experience some of Edmonton’s tastiest restaurants and trendiest bars & bistros.
- Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West: Among the best in West Edmonton’s chain hotel cluster, this brand-new 3-star hotel deliver everything you’d want for a comfortable stay in Edmonton including an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness centre, restaurant, and bar.
- The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald: One of Edmonton’s most recognizable buildings, this 5-star hotel is the top luxury pick in the city, featuring elegant & regal rooms with a whole host of luxurious amenities including a fine-dining restaurant and a spa.