Edmonton, best known as home to the world’s largest indoor entertainment complex, the West Edmonton Mall, was one of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Family Destinations in Canada for 2011. This friendly city in western Alberta Province also supports a civic calendar filled with cultural and heritage festivals that provide family-welcoming events all year round. Here are some of our favorite activities to try when you’re not sampling “fried cheesecake” at the Capital EX or roping cattle at the Canadian rodeo. If you want to explore, park the car, hop on The EDDIE, a municipal sightseeing bus that circles 21 of the most popular attractions daily each summer and get going! For more information on local events, visit Edmonton Tourism.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 8)
Elk Island National Park of Canada
Trans Canada Highway, Hwy 16
Fort Saskatchewan, AB
Canada, T8L 2N7
The closest national park to the city, in a country devoted to preserving its environment, Elk Island is perfect for slow and gentle hikes with young children. The park hosts weekly events like pond dipping, nature walks and theatre shows, as well as special event days (contact them for details). Your family may see some coyotes, ducks, Canadian geese or other examples of local wildlife as well as more than 250 species of birds. At our visit, a couple of bison standing in the middle of our hiking trail brought things to a standstill, because the park rangers would not allow anyone to pass near them. In winter, the park’s Shirley Lake Trail is a favorite for cross-country skiers.
TELUS World of Science-Edmonton
11211 142 Street
The Telus Science Center has four main galleries with interactive displays, an IMAX theater and a planetarium. Exhibits cover health (such as the Sesame Street show about how bodies work), space as seen in the domed star theatre, ecology and other areas that will interest every family member. It’s also a hands-on museum so “Don’t Touch” signs are few and far between. The most fascinating for our family was the Body Fantastic, where body parts and functions are defined by fun signage and glass jars of (really!) boogers, puss, and poop in formaldehyde — don’t miss the Gallery of The Gross. Little ones will enjoy the Greens’ House exhibit of environmental activities, and upstairs the Discoveryland with Lego pieces. Check their website for many seasonal events and school holiday daycamps.
Fun for Older Children
(Ages 10 to 16)
West Edmonton Mall
#2472, 8882-170 Street
Canada, T5T 4M2
The WEM’s World Water Park is fun, whether you’ve had to chip the ice out of your car’s lock to get there, or wilt in the heat from your RV drive across America’s Midwest. Encompassing 5 spotless acres of waterplay, it’s maintained at an internal temperature of 84ºF/30°C. Warm water courses through more than 20 activities and 20 slides, from the thrilling to the gentle. Caribbean Cove, a 6,000-square-foot waterplay area, has its own 1,200-liter dump bucket! The world’s longest indoor Bungee Jump dangles over one end of the wavepool and guests who sign up may elect to “hit” the water at the bottom of their fall, or just bounce crazily above it. Although locals and school groups come in regularly, the waterpark attends to visitors with rental towels and chaise lounges, lockers and several fast food outlets. Lifeguards abound.
Royal Alberta Museum
12845 102nd Avenue
Canada, T5N 0M6
The Royal Alberta Museum offers families an introduction to the wildlife Alberta province is famous for. There are recently restored dioramas featuring beavers, coyotes, bison, and other fauna found in six distinct natural areas, all part of the boreal forest that covers 50% of the province. Each is a beautiful habitat display and will encourage your family, on the next visit, to see the province’s Banff and Jasper national parks where many of the animals live. Upstairs, the museum’s Natural History Gallery has insect species on display and attendants who introduce children to giant cockroaches, tarantulas, snakes and other thrilling species.
Fun for the Whole Family
West Edmonton Mall
#2472, 8882-170 Street
Canada, T5T 4M2
WEM is an indoor entertainment and retail complex built on superlatives, there’s an 217,800-square-foot indoor water park considered “the largest in the world” (see above); the “world’s largest” indoor amusement park known as Galaxyland; and myriad other indoor delights, including a skating rink, bumper boat lake, shooting range, skateboard park, minigolf course, aquarium, bowling alley and billiards center. The three-level ropes course, with a variety of challenges, is set to open by 2012. More than 800 shops and 100 places to eat include every name brand chain you can imagine, plus some Canadian stores. Families can pick any one of these distractions as a day’s activity, or split up and let all ages gravitate to their own interest. Note that the waterpark, amusement park, bumper boats and a few other attractions require an admission fee, so you may want to just get the layout down (its 48 square blocks) on a first expeditionary day, then return with a plan. Families with preschoolers should check out Toddler Time, a time slot reserved at both Galaxyland and the Waterpark for children under 5 years of age. If you’re coming back to WEM a second day, by all means plan a tour of the Fantasyland Hotel. Guided visits to the many styles of themed-to-the-extreme rooms are given daily at 2pm. There’s no charge, but arrive early to ensure your place as only 10 visitors can be accommodated.
Fort Edmonton Park
Corner of Fox Drive and Whitemud Drive
Canada, T5J 2R7
Fort Edmonton is located in the River Valley, Canada’s largest urban park, which, at over 18,000 acrees is more than 20 times the size of New York’s Central Park. This is a living history museum, where you can join historical interpreters and experience life as it was at Edmonton’s 1846 fur trade fort among Cree aboriginals and heritage farm animals. Stroll down the recreated 1885, 1905 and 1920 streets lined with buildings moved there from various parts of old city and ask questions of the costumed guides. Kids will love the period trolley, steam train, 1920’s era minigolf and classic carousel now spinning in a fun midway. There’s dining and overnight accommodations at Hotel Selkirk, a cute tea room, some other shops and a general store.
Old Strathcona Neighborhood
82nd Avenue between 99-109 Streets
Canada, T6E 1Z8
Old Strathcona is the city’s most popular neighborhood for pedestrians, and one that visitors will enjoy strolling through. Most of the action can be found along Whyte Avenue (same as 82nd Avenue) from 109th to 99th Streets, and around the busy Farmers Market at 82nd Avenue and Gateway Blvd (equivalent to 103rd Street), where local produce and locally hand-crafted products are sold in renovated early 19th century buildings. During our summer visit, the sidewalks of the main drag, Whyte Avenue, were crowded with students from the University of Alberta skateboarding and iPoding while conventioneers trolled the cafes. Teens will enjoy the many snowboard and skateboard fashion shops, art galleries, bookstores and gift shops. Visitors over 18 will enjoy the live music clubs; all ages will like Fat Franks for the dozen different types of custom-made hot dogs.
Edmonton is the City of Festivals
During summer, when daylight from 6am to 10pm makes sleep seem irrelevant, the festivals abound. Here are our top picks for family fun; check out Edmonton Events Calendar for more information and a schedule of happenings at other times of year.
Capital EX is the city’s largest festival, with nearly 700,000 visitors each summer. Since its incarnation as Klondike Days, this 10-day festival has evolved from its agriculture and cowboy roots to include a wild midway, performing arts events and a variety of new snack foods, including cactus chips, Funky Pickle Pizza and deep-fried Coca-Cola. Toddlers will love FunTown; pitchers can win stuffed animals for their loved ones; favorite plush toys can race each other; or sharpshooters can vie for a set of moose antlers. All ages will enjoy the many traditional rides at the Midway, from a twinkling Ferris Wheel to swinging tea cups and a haunted house. Some are ear-marked for toddlers, in case they don’t get enough of the mini John Deere tractors in the Fun Town Farm Zone. Held outdoors and indoors for 10 days in July at the Northlands exhibition park, 116 Avenue and 73 Street.
Taste of Edmonton is the city’s annual outdoors food festival, in which coupons can be redeemed for sample entrees from the city’s top restaurants or top wines from each Canadian province. Everything is served outdoors from lunch time to late evening, along with daily music performances. Held annually in late July, Churchill Square.
FreeWill Shakespeare Festival is an outdoors celebration of the Bard and his work by a very talented, local theatre company. Nightly performances of alternating shows (typically one musical and one drama per season) are held in a small amphitheatre with a snack bar and toilet facilities, in full view of a lake. The park is part of the city’s greenways that stretch along Edmonton’s River Valley for more than 48 kms, described as the largest urban park in North America. Check their local schedule for performance dates and times, ticket prices are modest and support this artists group. Held for four weeks each summer, June-July in Hawrelak Park at approximately 9330 Groat Road.
Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is a large theatrical celebration featuring more than 1,200 offbeat performances, modern dance, and new drama. It’s held over an 11-day period each August, with most performances given in the city’s small cabarets around Old Strathcona.
The four-day Edmonton Folk Music Festival, also occurs in August.
The Canadian Finals Rodeo is a true rodeo, with seven pro-rodeo events, including bull riding, steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding. At this wild west rodeo, your family can cheer on professional athletes as they compete for the title of Canadian Champion. There’s something for everyone that associates horses and cattle with — what else — agriculture. It’s held each November in the Northlands exhibition park, 116 Avenue and 73 Street.
New Years Eve Downtown; is western Canada’s largest public celebration, and it’s a big alcohol-free festival similar to the “First Night” celebrated in many American cities. Stick around for January’s 10-day Ice on Whyte festival that freezes over Old Strathcona. In addition to enormous ice sculptures, families will enjoy ice slides and rides, plus outdoor movies screened on a big sheet of ice.
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