How Edmonton Became Cool Again


Bucket List Worthy  

(Photo credit: Edmonton Tourism)

Edmonton used to be cool, like in the 80s. The City of Champions had the Oilers and Eskimos earning its nickname. Whyte Avenue was one of Canada’s trendiest shopping streets and Barry T’s was where you’d find the beautiful people in their neon clothes and teased bangs on a Saturday night. After Edmonton lost their championships, the city began quietly reinventing itself. A brilliant strategy to make the most (and even boast about) their winters has led to new infrastructure and a blizzard of ideas that makes it easy for locals and tourist get outside and play. Here’s a look at what makes Edmonton cool once again.

Embracing all seasons

If there’s snow on the ground, changes are the city’s public ice skating rinks are still in play. There’s no shortage of options on where to take a twirl, but Hawrelak Park, City Hall and the Alberta Legislator are highly atmospheric spots to stumble and caught by someone whose blades are sharper than yours.

outdoor ice skating
Skate at City Hall to music and stop by the Farmer’s Market afterwards (Photo credit: Edmonton Tourism)

With the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America, Edmonton’s green belt is vast. Explore the river valley flanking the North Saskatchewan River on cross country skis and snowshoes in winter or roll out on a segway with River Valley Adventure Co. This is one of Canada’s top tours that runs all year long and lets you take in the scenery in a unique and fun way.

Once that snow melts Edmonton’s golf courses come alive. With up to 17 hours of daylight in summer, duffers can hit the links well into the evening hours, and no, we’re not just talking about the 19th hole.

Super shopping

We know you know about “the mall.” But did you know West Edmonton Mall has the only Simons between Ontario and Vancouver? For those not in the know, Simons is one of Canada’s coolest fashion retailers, whose clothes look high end, yet are super affordable. If high end retailers are what you’re after, you’ll find them within this mammoth mall, too. And just because you can, why not supplement your shopping by riding a rollercoaster, catching a flick or barrelling down a waterslide?

Simons interior
Simons is one of the best reasons to visit West Edmonton Mall

Whyte Avenue and the community of Old Strathcona are still on point, brimming with indy shops, galleries and cafes set in period buildings. Any shopaholic worth their salt will also want to suss out 124 Street. Start at Canteen for a stick to your ribs brunch before nipping into one this community’s many art galleries to take a gander at works by local artists. Afterwards, head towards Jasper Avenue where more trendy shops such as Shades of Grey and Miss Boss await.

Ice is Nice

The Ice District is set to open just in time for the NHL’s 2016/17. When it does, it’ll become Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district, spanning over 25 acres right in downtown Edmonton. This fall Rogers Place will be the most advanced sports and entertainment venue in North America. It’s the new home of the Edmonton Oilers and the first NHL facility in Canada designed to meet LEED Silver standards. You’ll also find an innovative winter garden and public plaza to explore. Instagram alert: while downtown be sure to check out the classic neon signs affixed to heritage buildings.

Rogers Place Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers new home is changing the downtown landscape.

Eclectic Eats

Edmonton’s food scene has been going off the rails in recent years, with so many new restaurant openings its hard to keep up. Start your evening at Rostizado, a funky new restaurant by the same trio who brought the city Tres Carnales. Hang out at the bar and swig a few cocktails or snag a table and tuck into succulent Mexican-style rotisserie cuisine. Just make sure you order Camarones al Mojo De Ajo AKA the most delicious prawns you’ll ever have in your life.

Rostizado edmonton
Kick back with a margarita in Rosti’s funky lounge. (Photo credit: credit Dong Kim)

Trying to impress a date? It doesn’t get any more romantic than at Sabor, an unpretentious fine dining restaurant focusing on ocean-wise cuisine with a Portuguese twist. Want to get a bit more rowdy? The atmosphere is jovial at MEAT, an authentic BBQ joint off Whyte Ave. Saddle up to a communal table and tuck into meats sold by the pound and smoked in house. Then slow things down by slipping inside Duchess Bake Shop. Modelled after a Parisian tea salon, you’ll want to get here early or risk standing in line for sinful patisseries or a scrumptious light lunch.

Duchess! Bakery
Calories don’t count at Duchess!

Something to Celebrate

There’s always something to celebrate in Canada’s festival city. Get a closer look at the burgeoning food scene at a Taste of Edmonton or kick back at the world class Edmonton Folk Music Festival, held in leafy Gallagher Park.

Ukrainian Cultural Village
Help with chores! (Photo credit: Ryan Jackson Photography)

If it’s culture you’re after, 2016 celebrates the 125 anniversary of the Ukrainian settlement in Canada. Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is where you’ll want to be, especially on August 7, as they pay tribute to these hardy pioneers. Or take in the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Celebrating 35 years this August, street performers wow the crowds in Old Strathcona, while 200 theatre productions take place in 50 venues during the 11-day extravaganza.

Jody Robbins is a Calgary-based freelance travel writer. Follow her adventures on her blog Travels with Baggage or on Twitter @Jody_Robbins.

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