Edmonton is a sprawling city and you are sure to notice the vast amounts of new suburban neighbourhoods as you drive in from the airport. These are not great examples of Edmonton’s charm. The majority of the best Edmonton neighbourhoods to explore are located close to the river valley on either side of the North Saskatchewan River. On the south side you’ll find bars and boutique shopping in Old Strathcona. Across the river, check out some great clothing and furniture shops on the 4th Street Promenade, or if you’re feeling even more adventurous, head to Alberta Avenue for some of the city’s best ethnic cuisine along the Avenue of the Nations.
A little bit hippy, a little bit rock and roll—and 100 percent eclectic. Welcome to Old Strathcona, the residential/commercial neighbourhood situated south of the High Level Bridge and close to the University of Alberta. When Edmonton went through a “revitalization” process during the 1970s (which meant tearing down landmark historic buildings in the core and replacing them with steel and concrete), Old Strathcona remained relatively unscathed. As a result, the 19th-century brick facades along Whyte Avenue (82nd Avenue) were preserved and the area quickly became a creative outlet for independent business owners, which continues to this day. During the summer months, the city’s young and fashionable pack the cafes and bars that line the avenue—the festivities often spill out onto the sidewalks well into the early hours. Saturday is market day all year long when the Strathcona Farmers Market opens from 8AM to 5PM on the east side of 103rd Street and 83rd Avenue. It is a local favourite, attracting an average of 10,000 customers each week. Two major festivals call Old Strathcona home. The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival takes place for 11 days in August and the Ice on Whyte winter festival happens each January.
Glenora became a fashionable Edmonton neighbourhood in 1909 when the City of Edmonton agreed to build a 20-foot-wide bridge carrying traffic across the McKinnon Ravine via 102nd Avenue. Not long after, wealthy settlers began building large estate homes on properties close to the ravine. It is bounded on the east by Groat Road, on the north by 107th Avenue, on the west by 142nd Street, and on the south by the river valley and the McKinnon Ravine. In 1913 Government House was built and became the official mansion to the first six lieutenant governors of Alberta. Today it is used for government conferences, receptions and dinners and shares property with the Royal Alberta Museum, located on the eastern end of the neighbourhood and overlooking Groat Road and the river valley. The High Street shopping complex is across the bridge and offers shoppers a selection of gift shops, cafes and restaurants. Many locals stroll through the neighbourhood to check out the homes and enjoy the scenery.
Modern office towers and the commercial bustle of downtown Edmonton is a quick 10-minute car ride away. But this quiet neighbourhood on the northeast end of the city feels more like a small town than a member of a prairie metropolis. This is due in part to the wealth of preserved heritage homes that were built in classic colonial and Tudor revival styles on huge treed lots overlooking the North Saskatchewan River valley before the First World War. Today, Ada Boulevard is a preferred address among the city’s elite and a work in progress for the artists and young families taking over the plethora of modest Queen Anne and Craftsman bungalows—infusing the ’hood with whimsical arts and crafts vigor. Evidence of this can be found in the cluster of shops along 112th Avenue between 63rd and 65th streets, places like Mandolin Books and Coffee Company, an independently owned book store and café with a cozy reading room. Down the street is Culina Highlands, a local’s local serving up comfort food like perogies and kielbasa. Here is where you will also find local designer Sabrina Butterfly’s flagship clothing boutique. Sadly, the neighbourhood is so under the radar many Edmontonians have never even visited.
This area west of downtown along the north bank of the River Valley has gone through a major revitalization process in the last decade. What used to be a rough-and-tumble street surrounded by Edwardian-era homes in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Westmount, Oliver and Glenora has been lovingly restored through the efforts of initiatives like the Gallery Walk Association of Edmonton and with the arrival of high-end furniture shops and a plethora of health and wellness services. The tree-lined boulevards and brightly-painted storefronts add to the charm.