What if I said I could show you a place that has all the pull of cool cities like Melbourne and Portland but not nearly as many as hipsters?
If you’re a fan of under-the-radar destinations, love places with a budding arts and foodie scene but none of the pretentiousness, then we need to have a chat about my trip to Edmonton, Alberta.
This surprising city in Western Canada has a hip mix of craft breweries, heritage signage and fusion cuisine surrounded by stunning urban parkland. It’s got pursuits for outdoor types (both within the city and on its doorstep), boutiques for the fashionistas and treats for the sweet tooth’s. It’s one of the coolest cities in Canada but you’ve probably never heard of it. Luckily, I’ve been to suss out all the cool things to do there that have popped up recently.
Cool Things To Do In Edmonton, Alberta
Take an E-Bike Tour Of The River Valley
Edmonton boasts the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America and without a doubt the coolest way to explore it is on an E-Bike tour with Revolution Cycle. As an E-Bike newbie with a poor track record when it comes to motorized vehicles, I nervously asked my guide Michael about their insurance policy as he beckoned me to board the $6k invention. Holding the bike steady while I got used to its 50 llb frame and wider-than-normal wheels, Michael made me feel confident enough to peddle off for a practice. With just 1 spin of the pedals the turbo engine propelled me as if I’d done 5 rotations – and just like that I’d become superwoman!
With the assistance of the E-Bike, Michael and I covered a lot more ground than I usually could on a push bike. We weaved through orange tunnels of autumnal leaves, following the river to a secret beach and chasing canoeists as they paddled downstream. Hills were a piece of cake with the electric power and, finally getting the groove towards the end of my ride, I pushed my limits to a max speed of 16 km/hr (these things can do up to 32!). Across bridges and through Downtown, we explored the whole city up close without breaking a sweat. I can’t wait to get superpowers on an E-Bike again!
EValley Tours with Revolution Cycle start from $79.
Visit Old Strachcona’s Newest Cake Shop
With its retro signs, cat-filled book shop and book-filled coffee shop, I knew within minutes of arriving in Old Strathcona that we were going to get on well. One of the newest additions to this hip ‘hood also happens to be one of my favourites – and not just because its décor is Instagram perfection!
Sugared & Spiced is a modern cake shop with good, old-fashioned baking at the heart of it. Their new store, just off Whyte Avenue, is all thanks to the local community who (after sampling baker Amy’s sweet treats at markets for years) backed the Kickstarter campaign Amy and her husband launched to fund a permanent storefront. While I would have liked to try everything on the shelves I eventually settled for a pumpkin tart (my first and I’m converted) as well as a Girl’s Night In cookie – the name says it all really.
Find Sugared & Spiced Baked Goods at the rear of 10334 82 Ave, Old Strathcona, Edmonton.
Admire The Art Gallery Of Alberta
There’s always something new to view at the Art Gallery of Alberta – that’s if you can tear yourself away from marvelling at the beauty of the building. The shimmering curves and folds of the gallery were designed by Randall Stout, who worked for over 7 years as a designer and senior associate with world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. The building’s beguiling mix of glass and steel references the forms of the North Saskatchewan River and Aurora Borealis, which make a regular appearance here in the winter.
Extending from the outside in, the lines of the building draw the eyes up the stairs and out to the city beyond the walls, but there’s a lot to look at within them too. Currently housed in the gallery are a number of paint and photography exhibitions including the thought-provoking Turbulent Landings, a companion exhibition to the National Gallery of Canada’s 2017 Canadian Biennial, featuring new work by Canadian and local artists on the themes of migration, the environment, the effects of globalization and the tragic legacies of colonialism.
Take In Streetcar & Sunset Views From Edmonton’s Newest Bridge
Another of the new cool additions to the Edmonton sights is Walterdale Bridge, which straddles the river between Downtown and Strathcona. Opened in September 2017 after 4 years of construction, the bridge is not just a convenient crossing for traffic, but (I happen to think) a striking addition to the city skyline too. I discovered what an amazing vantage point it makes purely by coincidence when hunting out sunset views on the last night of my trip and I think you can tell from the pictures that I wasn’t disappointed.
Aside from a great vantage point to watch the sunset one of the coolest things about Edmonton’s newest bridge is the view it offers of one of the oldest. Edmonton is home to the highest streetcar river crossing in the world and it’s this 100-year-old High Level Bridge that you can clearly see from Walterdale Bridge. Heritage street cars take tourists back and forth over the bridge (for a bargain $3 one way) and you can image how surprised I was to board one that had been shipped over from Melbourne – the destination still marked as St Kilda.
The short ride offers gorgeous views of the river valley but it was just as much fun to watch it make that journey from a distance.
Visit Canada’s Only Neon Museum
Hands down my favourite thing I did in Edmonton was visit the Neon Museum, a celebration of the city’s neon heritage. On 4th Street Promenade, neon signs from disused or abandoned buildings have been given a new lease of flashing light. The iconic signs are dazzling reminders of businesses from the past as well as the dying art of neon signage.
There are currently 19 restored signs on display, including those from Canadian National Railways, Mike’s News and the Art Store, and each sign’s story is told on a plague below it. It also doesn’t hurt that some of the best bao I’ve ever eaten are served at a nearby restaurant – more on that coming up shortly!
Visit the Neon Sign Museum (free of charge!) on 104 Street and 104 Avenue.
I flew from London Heathrow to Edmonton via Calgary with Air Canada. Check out Crash Hotel for individually decorated, art-filled rooms in Downtown Edmonton or stay at Metterra Hotel for stylish rooms on Old Strathcona’s hip Whyte Avenue.
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