After my first day in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada I already knew what my first post about the city would be. I’d write a guide on things to do in Edmonton in winter for a three-day trip – this one – because I immediately noticed that the main sites in the city are pretty spread-out and it’s important to plan your trip a bit so that you don’t go running from East to West and back unnecessarily.
I thought this would become a pretty straight-forward and maybe a bit dry guide on things to see and do in Edmonton. In fact, I’d already written more than 1,500 words of it after that first day.
But then something happened.
As is often the case when I travel solo, I’d really been “on a mission” that first day in the city. I had a list of things I wanted to see and do and while I did enjoy checking them off, something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger to it. Yes, the sky was grey and it was rather cold, but that wasn’t anything new. I live in Belgium, after all.
No, it was something different and I didn’t figure out what until that second day when I slowed down and took the time to watch the people around me, talk to the waiter at the coffee bar and meet up with people for dinner and my first live NHL game (more on that later).
I realized that Edmonton isn’t a city you should simply visit. It’s a city you need to experience, a city you need to connect with. It’s a community that you need to try and be part of if only every so briefly. And how do you do that?
By letting it soak in, by answering with more than just an “okay” when someone asks you how you’re doing, and by fully enjoying the things you can do in Edmonton in three days.
Day 1: from 124th street to the Art Gallery of Alberta
My first place to check out was 124th street, known for a combination of art galleries, independent boutiques and the delicious Duchess Bake Shop. Most stores don’t open until 10 or 11 in Edmonton, though, so I decided to go for a coffee and a second breakfast first.
I went to Café Linnea (10932 119 street), a very spacious brunch and lunch place with lots of light, a huge bar and friendly staff. Before I keep repeating myself, let me just say that everyone in Edmonton is so friendly, from the waiters at cafes to the staff at the hotel and the people on the street. At first, I thought they were “waiter-friendly”, but nope, people actually wanted to get an elaborate reply when they asked how I was doing.
But back to the cafe.
The cafe’s menu follows the seasons and dishes are put together with ingredients coming from local farmers. Maybe most special about Café Linnea, however, is that it’s the first restaurant in Edmonton to adopt a no tipping policy.
As someone who sucks at math and comes from a country where tipping is anything but obligatory, I loved that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for complimenting excellent service, but I do strongly feel that people should just earn a decent salary instead of having to depend on the mercy of others and that a tip should be something that’s earned.
That being said: food! I opted for only a cinnamon bun and a pot of tea as I’d just had breakfast, but people at other tables were enjoying large breakfast and brunch bowls that looked very good too.
From Café Linnea, it’s only a few minutes walking to the crossing of 124 Street and 111 street. There are special road signs indicating that you’ve arrived at the right street, but don’t be surprised if you don’t immediately spot shops and galleries.
The cool stuff at 124 Street lies a bit dispersed and to find it all, you need to walk the road south until you reach Jasper Avenue. Doing so, you’ll come across places like Salgado Fenwick (10842 124 St NW), a store selling clothes with hand-printed designs from local artists, The Prints and Paper Gallery, the Duchess Bake Shop (10718 124 St NW) and a range of art galleries.
When you’ve reached clothing boutique Shades of Grey (not fifty, don’t worry), it’s time to head to your next destination.
While someone had recommended Duchess Bake Shop to me, I was still pretty full from that cinnamon bun and so I returned there for a bite another day. That might not have been the best idea because I went on a Saturday and the place was packed! You have to order at the counter at Duchess Bake Shop and there was quite the line when I arrived, but I do have to say that it moved quickly and I already had my orange milk chocolate scone (*drool*) and cappuccino after just a few minutes of waiting. If you can go on a weekday, though, I’d highly recommend that. And perhaps avoid noon as well. I double failed there 😀
Jasper Avenue or Oliver Square
Not too far from 124 Street lies the fun 104 Street as well as sights such as the Winston Churchill Square and the Art Gallery of Alberta. To get there, you need to walk about 30 minutes. I chose to do so along Jasper Avenue as I wanted to stop at one of the cool coffee places there, but you can also opt to take 104 Avenue which will bring you past the Oliver Square shopping area.
While I enjoyed my walk along Jasper Avenue, I have to admit that the coolest part of the street lies pretty close to 104 Street so if you don’t feel like walking a lot, you could just take a Uber there. If you do want to walk, Lock Stock Coffee (10534 Jasper Ave) is a cool spot to stop and warm up for a bit, and I’ve read great things about Coffee Bureau (10505 Jasper Ave) as well.
104th Street, also known as 4th Street Promenade, lies between Jasper Ave and 104 Ave and feels a lot smaller and cozier than 124 Street. It mostly has fun eateries to check out. Be sure to walk up north to the crossing with 104 Avenue, from where you get a great view of Rogers Place, the brand new ice hockey stadium and home of the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton’s Neon Sign Museum is also located on the corner there. You can’t miss it as it as all the neon signs simply hang outside.
Across the street, you can find Transcend Coffee (10842 124 St NW). Apparently, it’s the place that started the craft coffee movement in Edmonton. I opted to get a cup at Credo Coffee (10134 104 St NW) instead. Hey, while I’d love to try out all the coffees and sweets in town, my stomach can only take so much 😀
Credo turned out to be a good choice. My latte came in a lovely large cup and was just perfect. Service was friendly and a large sign behind the counter pointed to the fair trade origin of all coffee served here.
One more place on 104 Street I need mention, is Jacek Chocolate Couture (10140 104 St), a small but fun shop selling locally made chocolates. The people from Edmonton Tourism gifted me one of their Valentine boxes and needless to say, I finished it in one go.
Edmonton City Centre and lunch at The Sequel Café
If you’re into shopping, the Edmonton City Centre mall is located just a few minutes walking from the Art Gallery of Alberta, on 102 Avenue. It boasts several floors with all kinds of shops, from clothing to jewelry, foods and electronics. It’s nice and warm inside and there are public toilets in case you’re in need of one.
I do recommend you skip it for later, though, and first head on to City Hall and the Art Gallery of Alberta like I did. On my way there I also stopped at The Sequel Cafe (10011 102 Ave NW) for lunch. I enjoyed a vegetarian burrito with a large salad and some potatoes there. If you want to check it out as well, keep your eyes open for the sign outside as there’s nothing about the facade of the building that tells you there’s a cafe there.
City Hall and the Art Gallery of Alberta
Edmonton’s City Hall is quite striking, with a large pyramid sticking out of it rooftop and an even larger tower on its side. In winter, the fountain in front of City Hall is covered by an ice skating rink where you can skate for free!
The Art Gallery of Alberta is located just across the street from City Hall and well-worth a visit. It’s s swirling structure of zinc, glass and steel and its entrance hall is just as peculiar. It exhibits both temporary exhibitions and parts of its 6,000 pieces large collection on three spacious floors and has a little cafe and gift shop as well.
I spent about an hour inside, looking around and having some fun at a small interactive exhibition that took place while I was there.
The Ice District
When you head back, you can take 102 Avenue to do some shopping and Edmonton City Centre, or you can walk a bit along 104 Avenue and check out the construction works going on for the Ice District, a new entertainment district which will combine retail, office spaces, condos, sports, a casino and a public plaza when it’s ready around 2019.
Dinner at Uccellino
One thing I noticed while I was in Edmonton, is that people tend to have dinner rather early. Perhaps it has something to do with the winter cold? Either way, I was recommended to have dinner at Uccellino (10349 Jasper Avenue), a modern trattoria serving Italian dishes created with both locally sources products and ingredients flown over from Italy.
The restaurant only takes reservations for half of its tables so it can keep the other half for walk-ins. As I didn’t have a reservation, I was told to go early as to be able to grab a seat and sure enough, when I got there only a few minutes after the opening hour (5 p.m.) some people were already enjoying their aperitivo.
Because I’d had a pretty big lunch, I chose to stick to some pasta only and had the Pici. It was delicious and the service was excellent, but I found it to be a bit expensive at 25 CAD for just the pasta. A place to go for a nice, relaxed dinner, but not if you just want to grab a quick bite.
Day 2: Old Strathcona, Alberta Legislature and ice hockey
Ideally, you’d plan your trip to Edmonton so that one of the days you’re there is a Saturday. Why? Well, on Saturdays Old Strathcona Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., allowing over 130 vendors to sell their goods and foods to the public.
Old Strathcona Farmers Market originated as a traditional outdoor market in 1983 but moved into the “Old Bus Barns” building three years later. It’s popular with visitors and locals alike, who go there to sniff up the lively ambiance, buy fresh produce or browse the stands of local craftsmen.
As my hotel was located nearby, I headed to the market after breakfast and enjoyed strolling by all the stands.
When you’re done checking out the stands, make sure to leave the farmers market by the back entrance. That will take you to a parking lot from where the High Level Bridge Street Car runs in summer and where you can spot some cool murals.
I took some shots of those and then walked up north a bit to Saskatchewan Drive. There’s nothing to see on the way, but from the footpath along the drive you can get some nice views of Downtown Edmonton. It’s not the best spot for views, though, as the trees can get in the way a bit.
After a short walk, I returned to Whyte Ave. Also known as 82 Avenue NW, it’s the center of Old Strathcona’s entertainment district with several eateries and boutique stores. The most interesting part lies between 101 Street NW and 109 Street NW. A good place to go for dinner later is Julio’s Barrio (10450 82 Ave NW), one of the many restaurants on Whyte Ave. Their tacos are to die for and the portions are huge. El Cortez (8230 Gateway Blvd) is another Mexican Restaurant in Old Strathcona. It has a nicer interior, but I liked the tacos at Julio’s better.
Lunch at Little Brick café
When walking up to Little Brick café, you’d never think it was a café if it weren’t for the little sign by the entry gate. It’s housed in the former home of J.B. Little, an Edmontonian pioneer and industrial who owned a brick company, in a residential area east from Downtown Edmonton. Inside the cafe, you can see old photos of the company and the interior of the house. There’s even one of J.B. looking over one of the seating areas from his chair.
Little Brick is a chill place where people can come for breakfast, lunch or a coffee with friends. It has different rooms and while there were people working on their laptops here and there, I could tell this is mostly a place where friends meet and catch up on life.
As for the food, you must try the grilled cheese sandwich with figs. It’s the best I ever had.
The Alberta Legislature building is a true stunner. In the evening, it’s lit up and around the back of the building lies a cute little park from where you can follow the River Valley Road overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. I decided to go there for a stroll in the afternoon before heading back to the hotel to freshen up for… the Edmonton Oilers ice hockey game!
Crash hotel and bar
But you can’t go to a game on an empty stomach, right? So I met up with some people from Edmonton Tourism , the guys from Oilers Nation, Finnish sports blogger Joonas Lärvinen (in Finnish) and Swedish hockey expert Uffe Bödin from Hockey Sverige (site in Swedish) at Crash hotel and bar (10266 103 Street) first.
The area around the stadium used to be pretty dodgy and the hotel that first had been located at Crash, used to be the kind of place where people would rent rooms for months, if not years. The guys that acquired it decided to keep the vintage vibe, restoring the place and giving every room a unique theme. There’s a Star Wars room (yes!), a graffiti room and even a room where one wall consists of suitcases.
I didn’t stay here, but I did eat here and man-o-man. Try the salmon. And the Brussels sprouts. Yes, seriously, try the sprouts. In the words of Oilers Nation’s Jay: “We put a hipster cook in the kitchen and he comes up with these original things and they just work”. And they do.
The Edmonton Oilers
Okay, I got really lucky here. I know it’s probably super hard to get tickets to an Oilers game, but if you can, go for it! I was invited by Edmonton Tourism to join them for a game in the suite (sweet!) and of course, I said yes. I did feel a tiny bit guilty as Boyfriend is a huuuuuge hockey fan and wasn’t there, but I figured I’d go see the game for the both of us 😀
The Edmonton Oilers are actually making a come-back after years of playing rather awfully (just quoting the locals here) and so the ambiance at the stadium was great. The game was sold out and even though the Oilers lost, there were nothing but happy faces at the Stadium’s bar afterward.
Day 3: Muttart Conservatory and West Edmonton Mall
The Muttart Conservatory
When searching for photos of Edmonton, you’ll definitely come across the Edmonton pyramids. These are part of the Muttart Conservatory, a natural institute boasting three permanent and one temporary indoor botanical gardens.
The gardens aren’t so big and I’ve honestly seen better, but the conservatory grounds are pretty impressive, with the one small and four big glass pyramids against the backdrop of the Downtown Edmonton skyline. It’s a beloved spot for photographers and I’d love to go back at night in summer when the pyramids are lit up.
They’re lit up in winter as well, by the way, but we all know I’m not going to go standing in the cold Canadian winter at night 😀
The Culina bistro is the Muttart Conservatory cafe and given the conservatory’s location, a bit away from other sights, I was surprised to see it was packed. Luckily, some people just left as I arrived so I could enjoy a lovely fresh soup there for lunch.
Culina has quite a fun menu and is decorated to look a bit like someone’s living room. It’s a great place to have a drink or a bite after your visit to the Muttart.
Down the street and then to your left from the Muttart lies Galagher Park. It’s just a little green spot on Google Maps and I wouldn’t have gone there had Pete from Hecktic Travels not recommended it to me.
It’s a rather small park wth hills on one side and when I got there, people were skiing and sledding off of them. So cool! From the center and atop the hill of the park, you get a lovely view of Downtown Edmonton and I bet this is a great place to come for a picnic in summer as well.
West Edmonton Mall
The West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping mall in North America and one of the biggest in the world. Now unfortunately, I was traveling carry-on only as usual and had no space whatsoever to stuff new clothes in, but I couldn’t not check out the largest mall in North America, right? Right.
What’s great is that you don’t actually need to go shopping to have a great time at the West Edmonton Mall. I watched skaters practice at the indoor ice rink, felt a bit sorry for myself that I didn’t have anyone to join me at the indoor amusement park and reminded myself to shave my legs next time (hey, every layer counts in winter :D) so I could go for a swim at the aquapark. Honestly, there’s so much to do at the WEM that you can easily spend a day here.
Dinner at MEAT
I actually went to MEAT (8216 104 St NW) on the night of my arrival and loved the ambiance there. MEAT is one big room with wooden tables, made by one of the family members behind the restaurant. It has a casual vibe which was something I needed after my long flight. Meat serves all kinds of… meats with sides and you can easily share dishes between different people. The portions are rather big though, so don’t get too enthusiastic when ordering.
Music at Blues on Whyte
Don’t end your last night in Edmonton with dinner! Blues on Whyte (10329 82 Ave NW) is one of the several bars on Whyte Ave. It’s known for the live blues performances it hosts and while it can get pretty crowded on Fridays and Saturdays, it was rather quiet when I went on a Sunday evening. I didn’t mind, though, as it meant the ambiance was rather intimate and I could easily see the artists on stage.
Extra: the Silver Skate Festival
If you happen to visit Edmonton in February, the Silver Skate Festival is a must. It’s a fun community festival with tons of winter activities, performances and even an ice castle.
Where to stay in Edmonton
As I mentioned, I stayed at one of the hotels on Whyte Ave while I was in Edmonton. At the Metterra Hotel, to be precise. 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:
(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube.)
What to wear in Edmonton in winter
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 practically every day.
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I as invited to #ExploreEdmonton by Edmonton Tourism but as always, the decision to have a blast was entirely my own. 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!