As you could probably deduct from my 3-day itinerary with things to do in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, there's plenty to keep you busy in the city as is. But aside from its many permanent sights, Edmonton is also known as a festival town, both in winter and in summer. One of the Edmonton winter festivals to attend is the Silver Skate Festival.
Silver Skate Festival Edmonton
The Silver Skate Festival is an annual event at Hawrelak Park, one of Edmonton's many parks along the North Saskatchewan River. It's a place to come to with friends, family or your partner but I actually had an amazing time just visiting by myself as well. Here's why.
1. The Silver Skate Festival has a massive ice skating rink/stage
The first thing I noticed when I arrived, was the massive frozen pond on which people of all ages and skill levels were ice skating. Now it is called the Silver Skate Festival after all but the lake wasn't just a big natural skating rink, it also served as a stage.
I luckily discovered this by accident as I saw this group of girls all wearing the same outfits getting on the ice. At first, I thought they were just part of a group that decided to dress up for fun but after a while, people started marking off a part of the lake which I presumed would become the stage.
To be honest, I stood there for quite a bit. Not knowing when the show was about to start, I simply soaked up the sun while holding on to my front-row spot as it was such a lovely day to be out.
After what must have been half an hour – I really did enjoy that winter sun – a voice had found a microphone and told the crowd we'd been seeing some synchronized skating performances from three different Edmonton teams, all made up of girls who were also trained in figure skating.
I liked the second team, called Edge Team, the best. Have a look at their performance:
2. The Silver Skate Festival has a heritage village
The Silver Skate Festival is much more than just a winter skate festival, though. While the pond sure does take up a lot of the festival ground, an equally large part is dedicated to other activities, one of them being a heritage village. Inside tipis and outside in the open air, you could learn about crafts and listen to stories.
There were also several campfires around which you could warm up and they turned out to be a great place to start chatting with some of the other visitors.
3. The Silver Skate Festival has snow sculptures
Spread out over the festival grounds, several large snow sculptures demonstrate the craftsmanship of the artists who created them. These artists start out with nothing more than 8-feet high, 8-feet wide and 8-feet deep blocks of snow which they transform in true works of art. Visitors can enjoy them for the duration of the festival and vote for their favorite.
The Artist's Choice and People's Favorite were actually announced the day I visited (my birthday!) but I somehow missed that ceremony.
4. The Silver Skate Festival gets you active
Aside from ice skating, there are plenty of other winter activities you can do at the Silver Skate Festival. You can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis (or bring your own), play some ice hockey, go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride and try out a fat bike. There's also this cool snow castle in which you can climb the walls to have a 360° view of the festival grounds, and a snow slide for kids – though I totally wanted to go on it as well.
Aside from the permanent activities, there are also some events such as a Kortebaan skating contest, a frisbee game on the ice, regular skating races, a “Dead Cold Run” and the Edmonton Winter Triathlon.
There's just so much to do, honestly, I would've gone multiple times if I'd been in Edmonton longer!
5. The Silver Skate Festival has live music performers
I'd read online there would be some performances but as there wasn't anything happening at the main stage the afternoon I was there, I felt like I'd missed them until I suddenly heard music coming from some speaker boxes.
I walked toward the sound and found this little tent with people sitting on wooden benches, cozy close to each other, listening to a singer-songwriter who'd caught and held captive everyone's attention with songs that actually told a story. Not that I'm in any way criticizing some of the stuff you hear on the popular radio stations nowadays. I wouldn't dare.
I stuck around for a bit, listening to Scott Cook, and so can you:
6. The Silver Skate Festival has Ice Castles
The Edmonton Ice Palace or Ice Castles is probably a highlight for many. You do have to pay an entry fee to get in, but it's worth it.
Once inside, you can roam around for as long as you want. I witnessed a romantic photo shoot and tried my best to get some shots without people in them, which turned out to be almost impossible.
There was an area with some food trucks, an ice fountain, a snow slide and even an observation platform. I regret not going off of the slide but must admit I felt a bit awkward doing so when I was there by myself. It's funny, isn't it, how we dare to goof around much more when we're in a group?
Regardless, I had a great time and would love to come back to the Silver Fest next year so that I can also experience it at night. This year I had dinner plans (for my birthday!) so I left when it was about to get dark.
7. The Silver Skate Festival at night
I've only read about this and seen some photos of it, but I do want to tell you a bit about visiting the Silver Skate Festival at night because there are several things that only happen when the sun has set.
Every evening, performers act out a story while engaging with the audience along the lit up Folk Trail, there's a fire sculpture and the snow sculptures I mentioned before are lit up to make them even more magical. Spirits on the Ice is a new drink and food tasting event that happens for one night and there was a special romantic evening on February 14. Lastly, there are paid concerts by known bands in the evenings as well.
Dates, location and getting there
In 2017, the Silver Skate Festival took place from February 10-February 20. It was the 27th edition and it took place at Hawrelak Park. I took an Uber there, but there's also a free park ‘n ride service with the Silver Shuttle bringing you from different parking lots to the festival grounds. As this year's festival is over, I'll update this page when practical information for next year's edition has been released.
To get an idea of what the Silver Skate Festival grounds looked like this year, have a look at this Hawrelak park map.
What to wear
I got lucky when I came to Edmonton. A few days before my arrival it had been -29°C but when I was there it warmed up to a sweltering (*hum*) 4°C. Still, I was happy to be wearing two merino woolen base layers underneath two fleeces, merino woolen socks, a merino woolen legging underneath my jeans and snow boots.
Keep in mind that you'll be outside for several hours at an end, some of which you'll be standing still for quite a bit. If you do tend to get cold quickly like I do, there's no need to worry: there's a building you can go in to warm up and the performance tent was heated too.
Want the full list of things I packed for Edmonton? You can find it here.
Where to stay in Edmonton
Boutique: Metterra Hotel
While I was in Edmonton, I stayed at the Metterra Hotel on the popular Whyte Ave in the Old Strathcona district. Now, it's not often that I rave about city hotels but I loved my stay here.
My room consisted of a hallway, a lounge area, the bedroom and the bathroom. There was a lovely complimentary breakfast buffet every morning and complimentary cheese and wine tasting every evening. You read that right: free cheese. Wifi also worked perfectly, which isn't always the case at hotels, and personnel was super friendly and helpful.
But have a look for yourself:
Budget: HI Edmonton
HI Edmonton can be found just off the Whyte Avenue, in the historic district of Old Strathcona. The hostel has a choice of private and shared dorms, with free lockers and WiFi in each, and a communal kitchen, library, chill out area, and free parking. Members of Hosteling International are entitled to a discount.
Chain: Courtyard by Marriott Edmonton Downtown
The Courtyard Edmonton Downtown is located in the heart of the city, with easy access to many points of interest. The building features elegant large rooms offering great city views, each fitted with an en suite bathroom, mini refrigerator and coffee maker. Guests can use the super-fast free WiFi and work out in the fitness suite. There's also an on-site restaurant complete with patio area overlooking the river valley.
Luxury: Chateau Lacombe Hotel
Located on the riverside with magnificent cityscape views, the Chateau Lacombe Hotel has a chic and tasteful feel with top-quality facilities. This four-star hotel boasts three on-site eateries, one of which is their iconic revolving rooftop restaurant. It's also just a stone's throw from some of the most important landmarks and attractions.
Apartment: Modern Downtown Loft near Rogers Place
This loft apartment is located right in the middle of the action. It's small but well-structured, with a homely feel and large glass windows looking out at the city. It includes one bedroom, a modest kitchen (complete with dishwasher and microwave, oven, refrigerator, and all other accessories), a lounge area and a bathroom with a bath and shower. It’s a great choice if you want to immerse yourself in city life.
For more apartment options, I recommend searching on Airbnb. While I use Booking for hotels, I always browse Airbnb for apartments as you never know when you might stumble upon a gem.
If you'd like to try Airbnb but don't have an account yet, you can get a discount on your first booking if you book through my link. This won’t cost you anything.
If you found this post helpful and already have an account, please consider booking your next Airbnb through my link. I'll earn a small commission while the price for you stays exactly the same. Income like this helps me travel independently and create new content.
How to get to the Silver Skate Festival
I flew to Calgary first and then took a domestic flight from Calgary to Edmonton.
Check Skyscanner for your flight options.
Once in Edmonton, I used Uber to get around the city as public transportation there isn't so great and taking Ubers around was really easy. If you don't have an Uber account yet, I can give you a discount on your first ride if you sign up using my link.
Alternatively, you could also rent a car at the airport but then you'd have to take into account parking costs. If you do want to rent a car, have a look at RentalCars.com as they compare more than 900 rental companies to make sure you get the best deal.
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I was invited to the Silver Skate Festival by Edmonton Tourism. The choice to hang around for hours and have a good time was entirely mine. Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you'd like to support Wonderful Wanderings, using these links would be a kick-ass way to do so. Thanks!