edmonton travel
Photography via Instagram/exploreedmonton

3 Reasons Why Edmonton Should Top Your Travel List

Where to shop, eat and sight see in Alberta's capital city.

My love affair with Edmonton started with…well, a love affair. Shortly after meeting my (now) husband in Toronto, he was relocated to Calgary and then Edmonton, his hometown, for a six month work stint. We spent those months criss-crossing the country to visit each other for long, romantic weekends. A third date spent watching the snow fall in Banff’s steamy hot springs and holing up in swish downtown Edmonton restaurants sounds more like The Bachelor than real life, but it was hard not to fall for the prairies (and him too, obviously).

Since I’m now a regular on the YYZ-YEG flight path, I’ve come to love so much more about the city. Its vibrant arts scene, incredible food culture and list of buzzy brands make Edmonton a must-visit Canadian city. Here are the 3 reasons why it needs to top your travel list now.

There’s no provincial sales tax.

Which is code for shop til you drop. Yes, you can hit the West Edmonton Mall with it’s indoor water park and roller coaster ride, but my vote goes to checking out the local makers who will give you a true taste of Edmonton style. Visit Pura Botanicals, whose dreamy office is every green beauty girl’s dream come true (you can also shop online). All of their creams, spritzes, masks and elixirs are mixed on-site by owner Lane Edwards who also has a cozy nook where she’ll custom make fragrances for clients. Arturo Denim is another must-visit. Owned by husband and wife team James and Janna Stewart, they do one thing, and they do it well. Carrying only 4 styles of jeans – 2 for women and 2 for men – their curated selection of styles, which are made in Montreal, come in blue or black Japanese denim that’s soft enough not to need that 6 month break in period. Plus, they do all alterations in-house meaning you leave with a perfect-fitting pair. Popular shoe line Poppy Barley has expanded to glossy new digs in Southgate Mall where their entire line is on display. Aside from the gotta-have-em Chelsea boots, heeled mules and metallic flecked flats, they can take all of your measurements for custom made boots that are guaranteed to fit. Finally, Vacancy Hall (it’s on the lower level of the historic Mercer Warehouse) is worth a stop for a peek into the retail and studio space of Edmonton startups. Pick up locally made jewelry, graphic tees and home decor from the hands that made them.

It’s one of the sunniest cities in Canada.

With 325 days of sunshine a year, Edmonton gives good glow. That means there’s plenty of daylight hours to explore. Catch the 100-year-old High Level Street Car for spectacular views of the river valley and a fun way to zip across the city. Walk, ski, bike or snowshoe (depending on the weather) through the river valley trail system, which happens to be 22 times bigger than New York’s Central Park. Explore The Art Gallery of Alberta whose swooping stainless exterior is reminiscent of the glow of the Northern Lights, as well as the Royal Alberta Museum, which is set to open its doors in 2018. When the sun does finally set, look up and you might just catch those Northern Lights flash across the sky. Sign up for AuroraWatch.ca for the most up to date report.

The foodie scene is booming.

I happened to sit across from Christine Sandford, chef of Edmonton’s newest restaurant Biera, at the Prairie Grid Dinner and she happily reported that foodie culture has finally landed.  Her hotspot is nestled within a market that also counts a coffee shop, butcher, cycle store and new brewery Blind Enthusiasm. Other spots not to be missed include Baijiu, think old school hip hop and Asian-inspired sharing plates, Three Boars, whose devils on horseback (bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese) are to die for, Bar Clementine, for a bite and an innovative cocktail, and Duchess Bake Shop, where you’ll want to try every sweet confection in the case. More and more restaurants with a local bent are popping up on the regular too. Make time for breakfast at Cafe Linnea (where everything from the tables and handcrafted cider mugs to the ingredients they use are local) and while not exactly new, lunch at Little Brick where it feels like you’ve sat down in an old friend’s living room (which makes sense as it’s a charming converted home that dates back to 1903). And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that Edmontonians take their coffee very seriously. Transcend Coffee, Credo Coffee, Iconoclast Coffee and District Cafe are all worthy of your morning jolt.