A Great Place to Experience Alberta Edmonton is the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta with a metro population of just over 1.1 million people. It reminded me very much of Austin. With a slight rolling of hills and a nice, compact metro area, Edmonton is primed to be an active city, and active they are. It is home to around two dozen major festivals of all types over the course of the year, and I was able to experience one of the most popular, “A Taste of Edmonton” (eventsedmonton.ca) - an eating festival that allows you to sample the fares of an array of local restaurants and K-Days (capitalex.ca), a 10-day exhibition that includes a large number of bands, exhibitors, rides and so on. Think of it kind of like a large state fair that we would find in the states.
I was there also to cover the now defunct Edmonton Indy race, which was part of the IndyCar series and features drivers such as Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Dario Franchitti. The race held this year was a fantastic one that finished without a single caution, which is a testament to the determination of skill of the drivers. Even after racing for more than 90 minutes, the margin of victory was less than a second. The race ran on a temporary track at the older and smaller airport that is closer to the city center and provided a beautiful backdrop to look toward downtown.
Edmonton has wonderful public transit, and free bus service was provided from downtown out to the airport. I stayed at the beautiful Sutton Place Hotel Edmonton (edmonton.suttonplace.com), which has one of the best locations in the city and is connected by an elevated walkway to the Edmonton City Center Mall - equivalent to the size and quality of the Galleria here in Houston.
Tim Horton’s (timhortons.com) is very close to that elevated walkway and the national treasure is one of the best ways to get a feel for what being a Canadian is like. Also near the hotel is the Edmonton City Hall where the “A Taste of Edmonton” festival is held and the stunning Art Gallery of Alberta is located. If you have read any of my travel articles before, you may remember that taking a Segway tour is one of my favorite things to do in a city. I get to combine the my love of all things motorized transportation with getting to explore a new place. Segway Edmonton (segwayedmonton.com) is located downtown in Louise McKinney Park and provides a few tours through the beautiful Edmonton River Valley. The staff was wonderful at helping some of the less-experienced riders get comfortable on their Segways. After checking that everyone was fine, we were off on our adventure. Segways top out just above 10mph, which is a great speed that still gives you plenty of control. After a few minutes it becomes a natural ability and you will be enjoying the scenic views effortlessly. Although I wanted to steal my Segway and take it back to Texas, I unfortunately returned with the group back to home base so the next group could go for a ride. Segway Edmonton offers 30- , 60- and 90-minute excursions.
Another must-do experience in Edmonton is to visit the West Edmonton Mall, whose claim to fame is the biggest mall in North America. That’s right, even bigger than the Mall of America in Minnesota by about 15 percent. The West Edmonton Mall offers more than 6 million square feet of shopping, an indoor water park, movie theater, full-sized pirate ship, amusement park, sea lion show and, of course, an indoor ice skating rink. The mall even features a hotel and a casino. Even if you aren’t wanting to shop, the spectacle of up to 150,000 visitors per day is enough to keep you interested.
The West Edmonton Mall isn’t located downtown, but it’s easy to grab a bus out to it or take a taxi. Getting to Edmonton is about as easy as it can be with United offering twice daily nonstop flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Edmonton International Airport also now offers U.S. Customs pre-clearance so that when you arrive back in Houston, the flight is treated like a domestic flight and you just claim your baggage and head home. The popular Global Entry (globalentry.gov) program is also in effect now in Edmonton, meaning getting home and through Customs now can take less than a minute of time.
Edmonton is a great Canadian city that provides a perfect vacation to new travelers to Canada. Canada is a land of friendly people and incredible natural beauty, and Edmonton is no exception. The ‘Festival City’ has fun for the whole family or for a romantic weekend getaway and can offer you the best of what Canada has to offer.