Last updated on August 9th, 2023
Alberta’s capital city has managed to sweep us off our feet, in the four late summer days we spent here! From bumping patios and fun festivals on Whyte Avenue, to skylines views with glass pyramids, to street cars and funiculars, Edmonton’s got something for everyone.
Much like Calgary, Edmonton is often overlooked by travellers passing through who come to Alberta to see the Canadian Rockies. But with just short of 1 million Edmontonians, you can be sure that the city knows how to have a good time. After all, it is widely known as Canada’s Festival City for a reason!
This post is written in partnership with Explore Edmonton to bring you a well-rounded itinerary with some of the best local activities, dining spots, and must-visit places in and surrounding Edmonton. Our experiences and dining were sponsored in this partnership, and as always, I only promote what I truly love and would go back to on my own dime!
Get ready to unpack some of Edmonton’s unique gems and culture with this four-day guide!
Day 1 – Downtown Edmonton’s Architectural Feats
Sunset over Walterdale Bridge
Nothing says “perfect start to a city trip” like a sunset over a city’s skyline and remarkable landmarks.
If you’re driving from the south like we did, you’ll likely be grabbing your phone out to film your grand entrance to downtown Edmonton across the Walterdale Bridge. This white arch replaced its former self in 2017 to provide three lanes of northbound car traffic and a wide promenade for pedestrians and cyclists.
After settling in at your hotel or home for the next 4 days and grabbing a late lunch or dinner (my recommendations are Tres Carnales Taqueria and Filistix), head over to Walterdale Bridge. There’s a parking lot on the southwest side of the bridge, along Queen Elizabeth Park Rd. Park there and snap some photos from the grassy field before walking across the Walterdale Hill road to Queen Elizabeth Hill.
Queen Elizabeth Hill is the perfect place for a picnic with skyline views for days. You could spend hours here as the sun sets over the city and with Walterdale in plain view.
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You might’ve seen pictures of glass pyramids in Edmonton that much resemble the Louvre in Paris. Well, these four pyramids enclose biomes that are part of Edmonton’s premier horticultural attraction. The Muttart Conservatory features different botanical gardens that are home to 700 species of plants in various climates.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Muttart Conservatory is open 4pm-10pm, with Wednesday evenings open to adults only. Ticket admission prices are found here where you can reserve your time slot. If your first day in Edmonton is a Wednesday or Thursday, take advantage of the evening opening and explore the indoor botanical gardens, or come back another day between 9/10am and 5pm for a daytime visit.
As the night comes to an end, walk up the hill of the property to reach the exterior of the four glass pyramids. This platform overlooks the city in such an incredible way, and the glass structures reflect the city lights to create a picturesque view of your first night in Edmonton.
Day 2 – Edmonton’s Green Spaces & Whyte Avenue Eats
Ride the 100 St Funicular
Open from 7am to 9pm daily, the 100 Street Funicular is one of Edmonton’s unique attractions that are completely free. Unlike Calgary, Edmonton has a deep river valley and its downtown core is highly elevated from North Saskatchewan River. The fancy glass cable rail car can bring you down effortlessly from 100 Street to the Funicular Promenade Bridge by the push of a button.
Though we enjoyed our unobstructed view of the river from the promenade bridge overlook, the stairs and offset concrete seating benches beside the funicular also offered a sweeping view of the Muttart Conservatory, the industrial-looking Low Level Bridge and the wide North Saskatchewan.
Note: When visiting the Edmonton Funicular, parking can be a little tricky to find. You won’t be able to simply park along the side of the adjacent road (i.e. McDougall Hill Road) and walk over. If you’re staying at the Fairmont Hotel McDonald, the funicular is just around the corner from the hotel entrance, but if you’re driving, there are a number of parking lots (aboveground and underground) in the downtown core you can leave your car in. We found a paid parking lot at the Academy of Learning Career College just across the street.
Head South on the High Level Bridge Streetcar
Take another uniquely Edmonton ride on their old school streetcar! Operating Fridays through Mondays from 11am-4:20pm (except on Saturdays from 9am-4:20pm), this light railway transit car runs north and south from 100th Avenue to Whyte Avenue (82 Avenue) at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, and crosses the North Saskatchewan River along the High Level Bridge. This is the ultimate way to get from downtown to Whyte Avenue and you have to ride it at least once when touring Edmonton. It’s a $4 fare for one-way and $7 for roundtrip (bring cash for this one!).
Now it’s time to see what Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue have to offer!
Grab Some Eats Along Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona
Strathcona was once a municipality separate from Edmonton and was amalgamated with the City of Edmonton in 1912. Now a historic district of Edmonton, Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue attribute much of their popularity to their historical character, with many of its buildings dating back to more than 100 years.
Whyte Avenue invites its visitors with tons of local restaurants, pubs, eateries and more that are among the best in the city and nestled within Edmonton’s oldest buildings.
Here are some of the top recommendations when looking for places to eat along Whyte Avenue:
- Pip, best known for its sophisticated award-winning dinners, brunch and top notch cocktails.
- MEAT, serving an authentic Southern barbecue experience with a casual space to have a refreshing beer or bourbon with your hearty meal.
- Boxer Albertan Kitchen & Bar provides an elevated experience with homemade and eloquent pasta dishes and craft cocktails, yet maintains its rustic pub atmosphere in the heart of Old Strathcona.
- Damso Izakaya for those late night Japanese eats and delicious sushi.
- Dorinku Tokyo, bringing the street food of Japan to Edmonton in a chic space resembling the old pubs of Tokyo.
When strolling through Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue, be sure to look out for the many graffiti spots. You can’t miss them! Especially if you make your way to the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, open on Saturday 8am-3pm!
UofA Botanic Garden
After a lovely day and a half of exploring downtown Edmonton, it’s time to see what’s right outside the city limits and visit the beautiful University of Alberta Botanic Garden! This beautiful oasis sits just southwest of the city along highway 60 (i.e. Devonian Way) near the town of Devon. It was once called “the Devonian” for over 40 years to give recognition to the many donations from the Devonian Foundation.
The UofA Botanic Garden is in fact the largest botanical garden in the province! It consists mainly of two large gardens:
Both are unique in their own way, bringing horticultural elements from their respective cultures, while adapting to Alberta’s dryer and more extreme climate.
The Kurimoto Japanese Garden was beautiful! So lush and zen with various trees and plants that are native to Japan. There was a calming water fountain that flowed into a river, separating the garden in half with a round, wooden bridge to cross over. A bonsh? was also placed atop the hill, hidden out of plain sight in a gong hut, and would be rung intermittently to create a peaceful ambiance. This garden is also where they have musicians play live music in the evening, and where we enjoyed our picnic box from the Patio Café – just around the ticket admission building is where you can grab food and drinks!
The Aga Khan Garden blew our minds with its palatial architecture! We were mesmerized by its grandeur and perfectly groomed garden enclaves, grand stone amphitheatre and cascading waterfall, and the large green lake that sat beyond the Aga Khan Garden. If you continue walking on the path that surrounds the lake, you’ll find yourself at the Botanic Garden Castle Tower which stands tall at three stories and definitely feels like a blast to the European Middle Ages! But make sure to enjoy a peaceful walk through the Mughal style garden before finishing your visit at the castle tower.
Sunset at River Valley Overlook
As you head back to the city for the night, make a stop at River Valley Overlook along Saskatchewan Drive to catch the sun setting over the city and Walterdale Bridge with a brand new perspective. We absolutely loved this high point of view showing off Edmonton’s skyscrapers in the coloured sky.
After visiting both Queen Elizabeth Hill and River Valley Overlook, which of the two vistas do you prefer for sunset and cityscape views?
Day 3 – Elk Island
Elk Island National Park
A day trip to Elk Island is a MUST when visiting Edmonton for a few days. This national park is a forest oasis amidst prairies and is a place of wildlife conservation. Once inhabited by generations of Cree and Metis who hunted among the many herds of bison, elk, moose and more, Elk Island National Park is now a sanctuary for people and wildlife alike.
The park is the only Canadian national park that is fenced all around. As a result of this, incredible biodiversity and ecological integrity have been able to be preserved, and Elk Island remains to be a refuge to one of the largest bison herds left.
Elk Island National Park is only 35km east of Edmonton. It is a relatively small and quiet park with only one single-lane road – the Yellowhead Highway – passing through. Two major spots to check out are:
- Bison Loop Road – a gravel road near the south gate park entrance that many visitors will drive on multiple times to spot bison grazing in the meadows.
- Astotin Lake – a recreational sandy beach area with a campground, golf course, hiking trails, canoe rentals and a boardwalk where you can capture the iconic view of Archer Island floating above the calm waters.
If you’re up for a one-of-a-kind glamping experience, check out the beautiful geo domes, yurts and cabins at Elk Island Retreat, just west of Astotin Lake!
We highly, highly recommend spending at least half a day out at Elk Island. If you’re very keen to see some bison, an early start would be optimal as they come out when it isn’t so hot during a summer day. Spend some time driving the Bison Loop (multiple times if need be) to spot these massive yet peaceful animals from your car.
Astotin Lake is perfect to spend the rest of your time. Between lakeshore treks and a nice picnic or barbecue, check out Haskin Canoe Rentals to take a kayak, canoe or SUP (stand up paddle board) onto the water. With 16 islands within the lake, there’s a lot of land – or water – to cover by paddle! Be sure to check out Haskin Canoe’s Facebook page the day of as the weather forecast isn’t always guaranteed to be ideal. As the lake is large, strong wind gusts are a possibility.
Lastly, sunsets are AMAZING at Astotin Lake – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!
Elk Island National Park is within one of Alberta’s top dark sky preserves, the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve Region. That means amazing stargazing opportunities are upon us! Stick around past nightfall on a clear day and you might just be lucky enough to clearly see the Milky Way and constellations and maybe even the aurora borealis (i.e. northern lights) depending on the season!
Day 4 – Scooter Adventures & a Classy Geodome Dinner
Ride in Style on E-Scooters From YEG Scoot
When in Edmonton, there’s no better way to discover the city like a local than to hop on an electric ride and steer your way through downtown’s many bike lanes and paths. You’ll soon know the city like the back of your hand with a few trips on an e-scooter! We grabbed our fancy electric scooters from YEG Scoot, where they provide the fastest, most long-lasting scooters in the city with no geographical limit. YEG Scoot’s scooters last about 2.5-3 hours even in “sport” mode, and you can go way beyond the boundaries that are set for the rideshare e-scooter apps.
You can use Google Maps’ cycling routes to direct yourself to any destination to get used to the streets with the bike lanes. YEG Scoot provides flexible trips where you can take your ride at your own pace and on your own time for 1 hour ($25) or 2 hours ($40). You also have exclusive YEG Scoot experiences to choose from for awesome tours with food included. Some popular choices are the Mural With Food, River Valley With Food and the Wanderlust Picnic.
If you’re planning on doing the Pick Up & Go flexible trip, here’s an itinerary you can follow!
Head north to check out the ICE District and Rogers Place, and east for City Hall Plaza, the Art Gallery of Alberta and Sir Winston Churchill Square. Go back southwest to visit the Alberta Legislature Building (a.k.a. the Ledge) wading pool and gardens, and ride up the High Level Bridge down to Garneau and Whyte Avenue, then circle back down to River Valley Walterdale and cross over the Walterdale Bridge for some stunning river views and an optimal time to hit “sport” mode on your e-scooter. Time – and yourself – will fly by on your ride!
Fancy Yourself a Geodome Dinner Under the Stars?
End your Edmonton trip with a glamorous bang with Geoscapes Events by booking their seasonal Geodome Dinner at Snow Valley Ski Club! This new event is offered for a few weeks in the year and features renown local chefs from various different restaurant companies.
We were graced with trying the culinary menu by Tony Le and Troy Griffith from Century Hospitality. From charred cauliflower with spiced yogurt, to Manilla clams in a rich lemongrass sauce, followed by homemade gnocchi and Italian sausage and ending with a smooth panna cotta with fresh BC cherries, we highly enjoyed our simple yet mouthwatering dinner.
The event was definitely a feat of engineering as Geoscapes specifically hired an engineering firm to design the geodomes. No existing geodome manufacturer was making them as large, durable, soundproof and as hardshell as Geoscapes intended them to be. The company even managed to bolt each pentagon and hexagon together themselves to create the one-of-a-kind geodomes, with air-conditioning ducted into each dome inconspicuously.
The Geodome Dinner also featured The Botanist garden and Tito’s BBQ Patio for some pre-dinner cocktails and appies before migrating to the domes. Each geodome was laid out with beautiful garden plants and included a Bluetooth speaker we could connect to to set the mood our own way.
We truly loved our semi-outdoor dining experience at Snow Valley, with the opportunity to taste a menu created by local Edmonton chefs!
Where to Stay in Edmonton
The first place you have to look into for your four days in Edmonton is the Matrix Hotel. This boutique hotel is unparalleled when it comes to an affordable modern hotel experience in downtown Edmonton.
We marvelled at our penthouse view of the city from our one-bedroom Platinum Suite on the top floor of the building. The Platinum Suite offered us a grand living room with a beautiful fire place and granite bar. The bedroom was definitely large enough as it was with tons of closet space and again with the city view through the large and wide windows. The bathroom was huge and featured an oversized jetted tub – it was massive!
But most importantly, we loved our executive buffet breakfast in the bright and spacious Loft106. The second-floor lounge offers a variety of breakfast items, hot and cold, and your coffee and juice are served right to you. In the evenings, the Loft transforms into a chic cocktail lounge for drinks, apples, dinner and dessert. Be sure to check with the front desk if complimentary Happy Hour wine tastings are available during your stay!
All this for under $200 a night? I’m sold!
I hope this four-day guide for visiting Edmonton will set yourself up for a memorable, well-rounded trip, discovering the city on a whole new level! If you liked this guide and are heading to Calgary during Stampede, be sure to read up on my two-day itinerary for visiting YYC!