Don’t Let Cold Weather Deter You From a Weekend in Edmonton, Canada’s Festival City

Go big, get back to nature, and save room for dessert in North America’s largest, northernmost capital city.

Edmonton Skyline

As Canada’s festival city, Edmonton knows how to lead with an energy like no other.

Photo by Todamo/Shutterstock

What if I told you that Canada’s festival city is found in the continent’s northernmost metropolis? It’s true: Edmonton hosts over 60 festivals every year, earning the nickname “festival city.” It’s a well-earned one, because even when winter temperatures can plunge to -22 degrees Fahrenheit, people embrace winter by holding cross-country ski events, ice carving competitions, and festivals that celebrate the northern climate.

Plus, drinking to warm up is a party in itself in E-town. Edmonton has a vibrant food, cocktail, and craft beer scene with several award-winning chefs and mixologists laying claim to national and international recognition—attesting to the quality of ingredients grown and raised by producers, farmers, and ranchers in this agriculturally rich area. But the city’s residents really make it shine, with a community of creative minds, artists, and craftspeople keeping this city’s culture thriving.

All of this to say: Edmonton loves doing things big and loves having visitors. Here’s how to spend a weekend in the city.

JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District

Stay at the luxurious JW Marriott and you won’t have to worry about making it to the hockey game on time.

Courtesy of JW Marriott Edmonton

Where to stay in Edmonton

Top-shelf downtown: JW Marriott

Book now: JW Marriott

This luxury hotel is in the ICE District—Canada’s largest mixed-use and designated entertainment area. It’s spread over 25 acres and home to 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space, a public plaza, restaurants, and Rogers Place (where NHL games and special events occur steps from the hotel’s door).

This Marriott features 346 guest rooms replete with custom furnishings and design elements of wood, stone and metal, all reflective of Alberta’s natural, rugged beauty. A full-service spa is on site as well as a health club, pool, steam rooms, and whirlpools. Its four restaurants and lounges include Braven, a posh steakhouse, and Alchemy, an intimate bar on the fifth floor where access is granted through a hidden portal.

Budget B&B: Corduroy Suites

Book Now: Corduroy Suites

In 2019, a multimillion-dollar renovation of the century-old heritage site Gibbard Block included Corduroy Suites. This charming B&B consists of eight units on the top floor. Each suite feels like a home-away-from home with smartly appointed kitchens stocked with locally made provisions like Evoolution olive oil and Transcend coffee.

Away from the bustle: The Mettera

Book Now: The Mettera

This luxury boutique hotel is on Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, a historic district in south central Edmonton where shops, restaurants, and pubs abound. The hotel’s decor features an organic-inspired color palette with granite accents, live-edge wood tables, and rich textiles designed to encourage guests to relax after a day on the Avenue. Asian-themed art and unique global artifacts add to the feeling of stepping into another world after experiencing the hustle and bustle of one of the most happening parts of the city.

Duchess Atelier pastry case

Enjoy croissants, brownies, and tarts at Duchess Atelier.

Courtesy of Duchess Atelier

Where to eat and drink in Edmonton

Get fired-up food at Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear is a smokin’ hot spot just off Whyte Avenue. Treat yourself to the tasting menu created by chef Riley Aitken and his talented crew because Smokey Bear is all about food cooked over fire, showcasing deliciousness, whether bone-in pork chop or grilled flatbread. The fruits and vegetables—roasted over maple-wood fire—are a particular delight; ingredients harvested at the height of the season and cooked over sweet maple create a delectable result.

There’s more than meets the eye at Fu’s Repair Shop

Don’t let the exterior of Fu’s Repair Shop fool you. Despite the papered-over windows covered with ads for stereo and video repair, they’re just to get peoples’ attention. And judging by the lines, it’s been working since Fu’s opened in the spring of 2022.

Fu’s offers stellar food and drink with chef Winnie Chen fixing a feast of dim sum, five-spice duck tacos, and her dad’s famous (to the family, anyway) beef noodle soup. The spicy mandarin sour is the early crowd favorite, but really, any of the intriguing craft cocktails is a solid choice.

Taste vibrant Mexican flavor at Tres Carnales Rostizado

Step into the historic Mercer Building downtown and get a seat at Tres Carnales Rostizado, a modern Mexican restaurant serving up vibrant, flavorful dishes like duck carnitas, cauliflower roasted in pork fat, and platters heaped high with juicy chicken that’s been brined, dry rubbed, and roasted on a spit in the kitchen. It’s known for its frozen tamarind margaritas, so put that on your “must drink” list for sure.

Eat, drink, and be merry at Baijiu

Baijiu, done in the style of a 1930s Shanghai speakeasy, serves Asian-inspired eats with ’90s beats. Share the pineapple and green papaya slaw and the fish sauce–infused sticky chicken wings but keep the peach bao all to yourself. The cocktails here are boozy but balanced; the citrus-forward Juice Wrld with a bit of fresh ginger is particularly refreshing.

Pro tip: Ask your server if there’s room inside Little Hong Kong, the tiny bar inside the bar behind a bookcase. On the night you go, you might get James Grant, Diageo World Class Global Bartender of 2021, mixing your drinks.

Scream for ice cream at Made by Marcus, Kind, and Fleisch Delikatessen

This northern city is mad for ice cream. Check out the artisanal creations at Made by Marcus, or the small batch wonders at Kind across from the Ritchie Market. Soft serve at Fleisch Delikatessen is often infused with cereal-milk, and prepare to line up for the Filipino-inspired flavors at Yelo’d in Old Strathcona.

Head to 124 Street eateries like Duchess Bake Shop, Northern Chicken, and Woodshed

Stop in at the award-winning Duchess Bake Shop on 124 Street. The lineup hasn’t abated since the bakery opened in 2009, and while you’re on the block, hit up Northern Chicken if bourbon, beer, and fried chicken are more your thing. If you’re jonesing for locally raised wagyu, head across the street to Woodshed for a burger, or to its sister restaurant, Hayloft, for spectacular dry-aged cuts and tasty cocktails.

Alberta-Metis-Crossing-Main-Building

Learn about Indigenous culture at Métis Crossing.

Courtesy of Travel Alberta

What to do in Edmonton

Explore Old Strathcona

Near the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market is the boarding station for one of the best ways to see the city: the High Level Bridge Streetcar. This refurbished trolley car from the early 1900s travels back and forth across the North Saskatchewan River; buy return-trip or one-way tickets from the conductor. Once on board, sit back and enjoy the ride. At 185 feet up, you will be granted an astounding view of the city, the River Valley and two photo-worthy bridges: the gleaming white Walterdale and the Tawatinâ, the latter featuring over 500 painted panels that pay homage to First Nations and Métis heritage.

You’ll also see the Beaux Arts–style Legislative Building; if you disembark on the north side of the river, you can walk a block over to tour the building and the expansive park-like grounds around it. Purchase an Alberta-made souvenir at the visitor center, or take in a short film at the Pehonan Theatre to learn about events that have transpired since Alberta officially became a province in 1905.

While every season has its own charm, one of the best times to come to Old Strathcona is during the Fringe Festival, where nearly 1,600 local, national, and international artists perform for 10 days every August. Between shows, order a fried green onion cake from one of the mobile kiosks; the savory, circular flatbreads are unique to the city.

Explore the River Valley

For a natural approach to Edmonton, bike the Valley’s 100 miles of trails or take a walking tour with Talking Rock Tours to learn about local Indigenous culture and the geological aspects of the Valley’s coal, bedrock, and bentonite clay. You’ll hold pink granite, sandstone, and other rocks and minerals that make up the banks and bed of the North Saskatchewan River. You might even find a dinosaur bone!

Learn about Indigenous culture

Learn about the importance of the Métis people by making a day trip to Métis Crossing northeast of the city or plan to stay overnight at the luxury boutique lodge that sits on part of this 512-acre educational site. The Crossing is the hub for Alberta Métis cultural interpretation, gatherings, and business development. Visitors can join in guided expeditions, explore historical exhibits, or try their hand at weaving and cooking while learning about the history of the Métis people.

Enjoy galleries, museums, and theaters

Musical, theatrical, visual, and culinary: Edmonton’s appreciation of the arts runs deep. Can a library be worthy of a tourist’s visit? If it’s the new Stanley Milner library downtown that reopened in 2020 after a massive 3.5-year renovation, then yes. The library is as much a place to learn and read as it is to explore and play. The floor-to-ceiling interactive LED screen on the main floor is a popular attraction, especially when Dino Zoo is playing. See how many prehistoric creatures you can identify as they roam and graze across the expanse, but watch out for that velociraptor; it likes to smash its beak into the screen sending people of all ages scurrying for cover. If that’s too “up close and personal,” a more serene setting of the Great Barrier Reef plays on selected days.

Kitty-corner to the library is the Citadel Theatre, the place for theater arts, and right next door is the magical Winspear auditorium, home to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; music performers take to the stage here year-round. A few steps further will have you at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Feast on seasonally inspired fare at May, a restaurant at the gallery, before or after taking in the art and exhibits featuring a span of notable works from upcoming local artists to Renaissance masters, plus Canadian icons like Emily Carr, Maud Lewis, and the Group of Seven.

If you’re a museum buff, then a visit to the Royal Alberta Museum is a must. The 419,000-square-foot space is one of Alberta’s greatest cultural attractions. It contains artifacts that illustrate the province’s people and its environment, including the tools and bones of yesteryear, military remnants and keepsakes, items from daily life that tell the story of communities, and approximately 18,000 Indigenous objects that date from the mid-1800s to the present. Nearby, the outdoor neon museum is a spectacular site at night; it’s also close to several award-winning restaurants and bars.

How to get to Edmonton

Arrive by plane to Edmonton International Airport, rent a car and drive, or take a taxi ride 15 minutes north to the city limits.

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