There are some fantastic things to do in Edmonton to keep visitors entertained during all seasons. While Edmonton isn’t usually the first destination that people think to go when they visit Alberta, it’s one that may surprise you.
As the farthest north of all the Canadian capitals, Edmonton has chosen to embrace its northerly climate with fun experiences and festivals hosted in the city all year – even in the dead of winter!
If you’re planning a trip, here are the best things to do in Edmonton in both the summer and winter.
The Best things to do in edmonton in the summer
Explore The River Valley
Edmonton has 160km of trails running throughout the city’s park that make up the River Valley. Combined, these areas are 22 times larger than Central Park in New York City. Take a stroll through the River Valley and you’ll find yourself surrounded by local wildlife and beautiful views of the city skyline.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, one of the best ways to explore the River Valley is by mountain bike. The trails are so much fun to ride through! Edmonton Canoe also offers kayaking tours along the North Saskatchewan River if you prefer to explore by water.
The most scenic time to explore the River Valley is during the fall season when the leaves change color.
Stroll Along Whyte Avenue
If you’re looking for a lively place to explore in Edmonton, then head to 82nd ave, also known as Whyte Avenue. This is one of the trendiest neighborhoods where you can find local boutiques, cafes, art galleries, nightlife, and some of the city’s best restaurants.
Since Alberta is world-renowned for its beef, you’ll definitely want to check out the restaurant MEAT, which offers delicious southern BBQ. Right next to MEAT is The Next Act, a cozy restaurant where you can sample some of the craft beers being brewed up in the city.
If you’re visiting Edmonton on a Saturday, be sure not to miss the farmers market in Old Strathcona just off Whyte Avenue. You can find everything from fresh produce to handmade jewelry and unique home goods. Even if you’re not shopping, it’s worth visiting just to stroll through the market and soak in the ambiance. There are often live musicians during the day.
Attend A Festival
Edmonton is one of Canada’s top festival spots. The city hosts over 50 festivals a year across all genres, with everything from music and street performing to food and drink.
It’s well worth checking out what festivals are going on in Edmonton and planning your trip to coincide with one of them. The summertime is the best season to experience Edmonton’s festival culture while enjoying the hot weather.
You can catch a show at Edmonton Fringe Festival, the oldest and largest Fringe in North America, or see your favorite artists play at the Edmonton Folk Festival. This fun 3-day festival is hosted in Gallagher Park, which overlooks the city skyline. K-days is the perfect family event, with amusement park rides, games, and fun to keep you entertained all week. If you’re more of a foodie, indulge your taste buds in Taste of Edmonton, sampling the best restaurants in the city.
Walk Around The Arts District
If you’re interested in exploring Edmonton’s cultural and historical side, head to the Arts District downtown. Churchill Square, the central hub for the Arts District, is the home of several outdoor festivals and events.
Surrounding Churchill Square are several other arts and culture centers worth exploring. Catch a performance at the Citadel Theatre or Winspear Centre, or head over to the Art Gallery of Alberta. It houses a collection of more than 6,000 pieces and offers free admission to minors and Alberta students! If you’re short on time, be sure to admire the unique architecture of the Art Gallery from the outside.
Just one block away is The Royal Alberta Museum, the largest museum in Western Canada, which has exhibits on Alberta’s geological and human history. And nearby you can also see the historic Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, one of the best places to stay in Edmonton.
Take A Day Trip To Elk Island National Park
Elk Island National Park is by far one of the best day trips from Edmonton. Spanning almost 200 square kilometers, it’s the largest fully enclosed park in Canada. The park is home to a diverse variety of ecosystems and habitats, making it an ideal place to spot wildlife.
One wildlife encounter you don’t want to miss here is spotting the free-roaming Bison. Hundreds of them live in the park and can be easily seen while driving around. Watching these remarkable giants graze on the grass is one of the best wildlife experiences in North America.
Elk Island is also home to several hiking trails where you can explore the various ecosystems found within the park. Afterward, head to the beach and relax. This becomes a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to hang out in the summertime. The sunsets from the beach over the lake are absolutely incredible. If you feel like more adventure, the calm waters of Astotin Lake are also a fantastic place to go kayaking.
Even better, bring a tent and spend the night here camping. Elk Island National Park is a dark sky preserve, so it’s an incredible place to go stargazing. You may even spot the northern lights here!
Things To Do In Edmonton In Winter
Enjoy Outdoor Sports
If you’re visiting Edmonton during the winter, one of the best things to do is rent a pair of skates and go skating at the city’s many skating rinks. One of the best venues is City Hall in downtown Edmonton. It’s a magical experience skating under the skyscrapers and iconic City Hall pyramid, especially during the Christmas season when it’s lit up by colorful lights.
Another great place to go skating is Victoria Park. There you can go skating along the IceWay – a beautiful trail that wraps through the magical forests of Victoria Park on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River.
For more adrenaline, hit the slopes at one of Edmonton’s ski and snowboard hills nearby. Snow Valley Edmonton is in the heart of the city, with 4 lifts, a terrain park, and a halfpipe. For a more epic adventure, you can plan a weekend road trip to the Canadian Rockies and enjoy some of Canada’s best ski resorts such as Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park or Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
Visit The Muttart Conservatory
Designed by British architect Peter Hemingway, The Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton’s most iconic landmarks – four pyramids around a central core. While it’s worth visiting just to see from the outside, take the time to explore inside too.
There you’ll find a gorgeous city-operated botanical garden with several greenhouses and public gardens. Each pyramid features a distinct environment representing different biomes of the world. There are three different zones – arid, temperate, and tropical which collectively house more than 700 species of plants from around the world. It’s a great place to learn about various plant species and warm up from the cold weather!
Look For The Northern Lights
Don’t think that you have to go all the way to Yellowknife to see the Northern Lights. Edmonton is far enough north that you can see the aurora borealis. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for as this is one of the most incredible natural phenomenons to witness. If you’re lucky, you may even see the northern lights over the Edmonton city skyline!
The best way to determine if you can see the northern lights is using Aurora Watch. It tells you the probability of seeing the lights, and you can even set an alert to notify you when it’s strong enough that they might be visible. While the northern lights can be seen year-round, the best chances of seeing them is during the winter season.
Marvel At Ice Sculptures and ice castles
One of the best things to do in Edmonton during the winter season is marvel at the ice sculptures on Ice on Whyte. Every February, award-winning artists compete to create ice sculptures around downtown and Old Strathcona. The tour is free to enjoy, and afterward, you can stop at one of the restaurant partners to warm up with a drink and local food.
When you are done make sure to walk through Hawrelak Park to see the famous Ice Castles!
Shop At The West Edmonton Mall
While going to a mall might not seem like the most exciting thing to do in Edmonton, the West Edmonton is not your average mall. This massive 490,000-square-metre mall is the largest in North America, boasting over 800 stores. But the best part about the West Ed is all the entertainment options inside!
Play a game of mini-golf, hit the theme park, go ice skating, see a marine show, or make waves in the waterpark. If you’re a fan of electronic music, SoundWave hosts regular events where big-name DJs play at the waterpark while everyone splashes around. This is a great way to spend an evening during the winter in Edmonton and forget about the cold weather.
When is the best time to visit Edmonton?
Summer is the best time to visit Edmonton as you can enjoy long days of daylight due to its northern position, allowing you to maximize your time exploring. The sun usually rises around 5:30am and sets around 10pm, giving visitors over 15 hours of daylight. Summer is also when some of the cities top festivals take place.
As the season changes to fall, the river valley and city parks become photographers’ dreams as the leaves start to change colors. Starting in November, the city becomes covered in a blanket of snow – but the fun doesn’t stop there. The city still hosts festivals and events inside where you can keep warm. No matter what time of year you visit, you’re sure to have a memorable trip.
About the Author
Lora Pope is a solo female adventure travel blogger living nomadically around the world. She has traveled to over 58 countries and is on a quest to visit them all, seeking out a deeper connection with the nature and wildlife on this planet. You can follow her adventures at Explore with Lora and on Instagram.