Planning a Western Canada road trip? Enjoying the best things to do in Edmonton might turn into one of the biggest surprises on your journey!
Most visitors to Alberta skip Edmonton, setting their sights elsewhere in the province. And with popular places to visit in Alberta like Banff and Jasper in the mix, it’s not shocking. (Don’t worry: We’ll forgive you.)
The Albertan capital of Edmonton is settled along the twisting North Saskatchewan River. It’s graced with natural beauty, steps away from the oh-so-fine nature that Canada is 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. This stunning ribbon of urban parkland snakes around the banks of its namesake river. And with over 18,000 acres of greenspace, it’s the largest part of its kind in North America. (Take that NYC!)
As you’d imagine with its immense size, opportunities to explore are endless. Over 150 kilometres of trails await 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 at North Saskatchewan River Valley.
Art Gallery of Alberta
Before you even step into the Art Gallery of Alberta, you’ll be enchanted. With its unique architectural design, the building stands out among Edmonton’s most recognizable. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the coolest things to see in Edmonton.
This popular Edmonton art gallery has stood on its current Churchill Square site since 1969. A recent ambitious redesign project demolished much of the original Brutalist-style building.
The new building shimmers with a zinc and glass exterior. The design was inspired by the North Saskatchewan 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. Featured within are works from prominent Albertan, Canadian, and international artists.
Besides the collection itself, the art gallery puts on a series of drop-in workshops. It’s also 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. The 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 is the largest in North America. It offers, not only an unforgettable retail experience, but a host of entertainment options. It’s long been seated among the top family-friendly activities in Edmonton.
The mall is carved into various themed streets. Each street has its own look & feel. Some of the most interesting include Europa Boulevard, Bourbon Street, and Chinatown.
Elsewhere in West Edmonton Mall, you’ll bump into several amusement areas. Options include Galaxyland and World Waterpark. Also be sure to scope out the Santa Maria, a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship.
Loonies & twoonies are burning a whole in your pocket? Be sure to 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. It’s one of the most interesting places to see in Edmonton and a must for any Edmonton itinerary.
This living history museum recreates scenes from the Canadian western frontier. The exhibits give a glimpse of life in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
There’s a handful of fun family-friendly attractions at Fort Edmonton Park. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through a reconstructed 1885 street or watch a film at the vintage theatre. You’ll also find a midway and a model of Edmonton’s original trading fort here.
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 exciting hands-on experiences.
Kids will love learning about the human body at The Body Fantastic. Future engineers can build cool tech at The Science Garage. Or if weather’s your jam, create your own lightning storm & tornado at the Syncrude Environment Gallery. Astronauts in the making can choose to explore Mars in a rover at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.
Even if you’re not visiting Edmonton with kids, TELUS World of Science is worth a stop. Pop into the Zeidler Dome theatre for an evening music laser show. 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 35 minutes east of the city, Elk Island National Park is one of the best day trips from Edmonton. It’s a fantastic chance to connect with nature and escape the bustle of Alberta’s capital.
Despite its name, Elk Island National Park is most famous for its bison conservation efforts. Approximately 450 bison live within the park. Alongside is a thriving wildlife population including elk, deer, moose, beavers, and coyotes. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse during your visit!
For amateur astronomers, the park is also a designated dark-sky reserve. Visit at night to marvel at one of the starriest skies you’ll ever witness. If you’re lucky with your timing, you may even get a chance to watch the Northern lights dance in the sky!
As famous for its architecture as its horticulture, Muttart Conservatory is one of the best places to visit in Edmonton.
This popular Edmonton attraction splits its biomes into four Louvre-like glass pyramids. Each pyramid represents a different world plant habitat. Among them are desert, temperate, and tropical habitats. There’s also a feature garden with rotating seasonal flora here.
The Muttart Conservatory is also home to the popular Culina Café. A great place for a break, the café serves up innovative bistro-like dishes and desserts.
Alberta Legislature Building
Watching the petty squabbles of politicians would be of zero interest to most. The stately architecture of the Alberta Legislature Building, however, should inspire a visit.
Known as “The Ledge” by locals, the Alberta Legislature Building is quite enchanting. Its exterior is beset with towering marble pillars and a grand central dome. It’s considered one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in Canada.
The grounds are equally beguiling. They’re centred around a large central square sprinkled with trees. In the middle, there’s 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.
Even if you’ve only got one day in Edmonton, don’t miss out on a visit to Old Strathcona. Centred around Whyte Avenue, this trendy downtown neighbourhood is one of the most interesting places to go in Edmonton.
Old Strathcona charms with an eclectic mix of heritage architecture. Exploring the area, you can weave into boutique stores and art galleries. Foodies will love grabbing at bite to eat or sipping a drink at the area’s hip restaurants & cafés.
There’s a handful of historic buildings to keep your eyes peeled for in Old Strathcona. Highlights include the Strathcona Hotel, Knox Church, and the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.
For most, however, the highlight of this historical Edmonton district is its shopping. The local shops along Whyte Avenue offer an eclectic selection of trendy items. Follow up your shopping trip with a cup of coffee, glass of wine or craft beer at one of area’s restaurants, pubs & bars.
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village
For Canadian history buffs, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is an Edmonton must-see. It’s not only one of the best museums in Edmonton, but one of the most interesting open-air museums in Canada.
This unique cultural village pays homage to some Western Canada’s earliest settlers. Between 1892 and 1930, Western Canada and The Prairies attracted an array of settlers from Eastern Europe. Many came from Ukraine, venturing to Canada to tend to its new 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 buildings. In the village, you’ll stumble upon churches, farmsteads, a blacksmith, and a schoolhouse.
Along the way, you’ll also become immersed in interesting cultural experiences. You be able to learn about traditional homesteading skills such as tending a garden or fitting a horseshoe.
Don’t forget to grab a traditional Ukrainian snack at the on-site food vendor to fuel your Edmonton sightseeing adventure.
The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is located along the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16 East). It’s about a 40-minute drive east of downtown.
Edmonton Valley Zoo
If you’re visiting Edmonton with kids, the Edmonton Valley Zoo is a must-see. It’s located in Sir Wilfred Laurier Park within the leafy River Valley and is one of the best family-friendly attractions in Edmonton.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo hosts more than 350 animals. Get charmed native Albertan species like bighorn sheep & prairie dogs. Or search out the zoo’s more exotic animals. (And, yep, that includes a zebra!)
Among the zoo’s other highlights are its bird exhibit and Polar Extremes. The bird area features a unique selection including a great-horned owl, snowy owl, and a bald eagle. In the Polar Extremes exhibit, you’ll witness some of Canada’s arctic mammals in action. The animals featured include arctic foxes and sea lions.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
The University of Alberta Botanic Garden stretches out across 190 acres. The area comprises 80 acres of beautiful gardens and over 100 acres of preserved land. It’s located 35 kilometres southwest of the city and is a fantastic escape from the bustle of central Edmonton.
Among the most popular areas at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is the Kurimoto Japanese Garden. It’s one of the most northernly Japanese-style gardens in the world. The garden meanders through over five acres of lush greenery, punctuated by a pond, bridge, and pavilions.
While visiting the botanic garden, check out its latest addition, the Aga Khan Garden. The garden spreads out over almost five hectares. It blends Moghul-style architecture with the garden’s natural greenery. It’s unlike any other place in Edmonton—even Canada for that matter!
Alberta Aviation Museum
For history buffs, one of the top points of interest in Edmonton is, undoubtedly, the Alberta Aviation Museum. This popular museum relives the aviation scene in the World War II era. It’s home to an eclectic collection of vintage planes dating back over 75 years.
Included among the highlights are the WWII-era de Havilland Mosquito combat plane and the Cirrus Moth. The Alberta Aviation Museum also hosts plenty of memorabilia. Its collections celebrate some of Canada’s most famous pilots.
Before you leave, see if you’ve got what takes to be a world-class aviator with the museum’s fun & interactive flight simulator.
Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Although 2020 nixed it, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is, in any other year, a must-attend event. It takes place every summer in August in Strathcona.
The festival is the biggest of its kind in North America and second-largest in the entire world. It’s trumped only by the massive fringe festivities in Edinburgh.
When the Edmonton International Fringe Festival returns, be sure to pencil it into your Edmonton summer travel plans.
Prepare for 11 days of live performances on the streets and in the parks & 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 local train enthusiasts and travellers alike, there’s no place like it in Alberta.
The open-air museum occupies an old rail yard about 30 minutes north of the city. It’s home to over 75 locomotives & train cars along with other rail-related equipment. You’ll also get a chance to walk among a variety of buildings including a replica train station.
Transportation buffs will love weaving in and out of the freight & passenger cars. They’re replete with old artefacts that 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 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.
This family-friendly Edmonton ski resort features over 20 acres of skiable terrain. Every skill level, from beginner to advanced, is catered to at this popular winter destination.
If you don’t own a snowboard or a pair of skis, Snow Valley Ski Club offers equipment rentals. For fledgling skiers and snowboarders, both private and group lessons are available.
Is carving the slopes not adventurous enough? Grind out the club’s terrain park. There’s a variety of fun jumps here 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. Staying here, you’ll be able to experience some of Edmonton’s tastiest restaurants and trendiest bars & bistros.
- Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West: This brand-new 3-star hotel is among the best in West Edmonton’s chain hotel cluster. It delivers everything you need for a comfortable stay in Edmonton. Amenities include 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. It charms guests with elegant & regal rooms. There’s host of luxurious amenities here, too, including a fine-dining restaurant and a spa.