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Planning your itinerary around the best Edmonton things to do will depend on your interests. You can fill your day visiting one of the many museums and taking in the history of the city, or you can watch the Edmonton Oilers face off at Rexall Place or catch a Canadian Football League game played by the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. You can spend days on end exploring the sights and shopping available at West Edmonton Mall, or treat your senses to the live music and theatrical performances happening all year long.
Some might call it Edmonton’s Crown Jewel. To others it’s an eyesore. Either way, the newest addition to Edmonton’s art scene built by L.A.-based architect Randall Stout is turning heads. The austere concrete-and-glass structure downtown across from Churchill Square is home to a permanent collection of Canadian art—with a particular emphasis on work by Western Canadian artists. Opening exhibits included acclaimed works by Edgar Degas and portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. Special lunch-hour lectures and family drop-in sessions are available throughout the week, except on Mondays, when the facility is closed. Got postcards to write? Have a seat at the Terrace Café or stay for a bite at Zinc restaurant featuring ingredients from local producers. The Refinery series of late-night parties occurs four times a year and is themed around AGA exhibitions. Visit the website for specific dates.
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Climb aboard for a trip down memory lane at North America’s largest interactive historic park. Admission includes unlimited rides on the Yukon & Pacific Railway steam engine (complete with a real conductor) and restored streetcar—transporting guests through 150 years of history, starting with the fur trade and ending in the 1920s. Costumed interpreters chop wood and tend to livestock while you stroll through the 158 acres of beautiful prairie parkland. It’s the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic, but you can always stop for a bite at the old-fashioned Hotel Selkirk or maybe a homemade cinnamon bun at Reed's Tea Room. Think you’re too old for amusement parks? Think again. Check out the old school shooting gallery and midway. It will make you wish you were a kid again.
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The museum’s beloved Bug Room is the first of its kind in western Canada, and a popular attraction for youngsters of all ages who have a thing for the creepy crawlies. Permanent collections include exhibits on Western Canadian history, invertebrate zoology and quaternary paleontology. An on-site cafeteria and gift shop mean that you can make a day out of the visit. During the summer months, head outside and enjoy the museum’s landscaped flower gardens and breathtaking view of the River Valley.
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Some people spend an entire vacation without leaving the 5.3 million-square-foot mall affectionately called “West Ed” by locals. Built in the early 1980s, WEM is larger than Minnesota’s Mall of America—attracting more than 28 million visitors each year to the 800 shops and 100 dining establishments. Take a ride on the Mindbender roller coaster at Galaxyland amusement park or spend the night in a truck-themed room at the Fantasyland Hotel (conveniently located close to the Palace Casino). The mall is divided into two levels over multiple phases that are color-coded on large maps throughout the facility for easy navigation. Quite literally, the mall has a store for all fashion tastes (think Burberry to Victoria’s Secret to Disney). It can get really busy on weekends and holidays, so make sure to pick a group meeting spot in case someone gets lost. And remember where you parked your car because there are 58 entrances.
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Home of the North American porcupine and Lucy the Elephant, this city zoo is tucked away in the residential neighbourhood of Laurier Heights. Guests can sign up for zoo tours or wander the grounds to see the 5,000 species of animals on display. The best time to visit is between May and August when children can ride the miniature train and merry-go-round. Visit during the winter and the crowds are small, but so is the selection of animals accessible for viewing. Admission for a family is $34.50 CAD during peak season.
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If you didn’t think picnicking could be a professional sport, you have never been to Hawrelak Park in the summertime when the race for the perfect picnic spot starts well before lunch time. Watch for soccer balls and flying Frisbees as you walk along the 130 hectares of parkland, complete with a pond for skating and paddle boats, and cross-country ski trails in the winter. Check out the outdoor Heritage Amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the park and the stage for the Freewill Shakespeare Festival (June and July), Labatt Blues Festival (August) and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Under the Sky (September). Four-legged creatures take over the place each June during Pets in the Park, while thousands of people show up on the last weekend of July for the three-day Heritage Festival, showcasing culinary dishes and dances from 85 cultures.
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The Francis Winspear Centre for Music is a world-class concert hall, home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and a venue for international musical performances. It sits in the heart of the Arts District across from Sir Winston Churchill Square, and is accessible from the Churchill Station LRT terminal. Call ahead and arrange a tour to see the Davis Concert Organ, a musical masterpiece built by Orgues Létourneau Limitée of St. Hyacinthe, Québec. Seriously, that thing has a good set of pipes.
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King Tut would approve of the glass pyramids built to house Edmonton’s collection of horticulture rarities. Visitors can walk between the exhibits, which are divided into four sections (Tropical, Temperate, Arid and Feature) to represent different environmental conditions. The moist, fragrant air and sun-soaked sitting areas make this place a treat for the senses in the dead of winter. Even if “green thumb” is not your middle name, come early on weekends for brunch at Culina restaurant, which serves up a mean goat cheese frittata with tomato chutney and bacon.
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You can’t miss the giant fighter plane parked outside this obscure Edmonton museum operated by the Edmonton Aviation Heritage Society. The 70-year-old hangar that houses relics of aviation history is both a Provincial Historic Site and an Edmonton Municipal Heritage Site and home to more than three dozen restored aircraft dating back almost 100 years. Try out the multi-screen flight simulators or take a look at the collection of Nazi memorabilia on display. You can stand right next to the Vickers Viking IV, the first amphibian aircraft to be used in Canada, or view the late Katherine Stinson’s 92-year-old Curtiss Stinson Special used for airmail delivery in western Canada. As an added bonus, guests can watch planes take off and land at the City Centre Airport across the way.
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