Folk, Flavour and Fringe: A Local’s Guide to Summer Activities in Edmonton, Alberta

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

– Italo Calvino –

Edmonton, Alberta, isn’t your average capital.   It is a destination that beats to its own unique rhythm on a drum of cultural diversity.  Home to roughly 1 million residents, Edmonton is a proud Canadian hub that boasts spectacular skyline views, a dark sky preserve, a world renowned festival scene and the largest urban parkland in the country. A passionate blue collar, win or lose city, Edmonton is often underrated on the global travel scene. It is an urban centre exploding in the culinary world, pairing a growing distillery and brewery culture with locally owned food establishments.  It plays host to some of the largest musical acts on the planet with stages ranging from a massive, state of the art arena to an intimate outdoor amphitheatre.  It is a four season city, a home to hockey, an artistic haven, a gateway to the majestic rocky mountains, and a place where visitors can shop luxury brands, ride a roller coaster and lounge in a private poolside cabana all under one roof.

Churchill Square, Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Buried in snow half of the year, Edmonton is a legend in adaptability, eagerly embracing seasonal activities that range from life size ice castles and deep freezer races to epic outdoor food festivals and dancing barefoot on the hillside.  Whether you are a local looking for a deeper appreciation of the city you call home, or are making your first visit, a summer in Edmonton is one for the books.  Here is a list of our summer “must’s” for visiting this river valley destination:

EDMONTON FOLK FESTIVAL

“Held every year on the second weekend in August, the Edmonton Folk Festival is a hand picked concoction of talent from around the globe, blended beats of reggae, blues, modern, funk, rock, folk and storytelling, captivating the roughly 20,000 people gracing the grounds on any given day.  It’s the pouring of life into a well written melody, an hour long session of acoustic genius and one hand banging the piano top while the other hand plays the keys to the sweet notes of a falsetto-style voice.  It’s bagpipes and drums, electric guitars and spoken word philanthropy.  It’s a compilation of genius on display for a community of folks looking to be enchanted as they sway and dance and stomp.  You might say it’s an annual obsession in our city”…. READ MORE

THE AGA KHAN GARDENS

Aga Khan Gardens, Edmonton, Alberta

A gracious gift to our city.  It was this generous offering by His Highness the Aga Khan that led to a collaboration with the University of Alberta Botanic Garden and the development of the 4.8 hectare Aga Khan Gardens.  Designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, the gardens feature forest pathways, grand terraces, a large Calla pond, reflection pools, a waterfall and 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants.  The gardens are a place intended for gathering, a serene space designed to merge contemporary Islamic landscapes and architecture into our diverse northern climate.  It is a harmonious blend of granite and greenery with a purpose of welcoming people of all cultures, religions and backgrounds.

A PINT ON THE PATIO

Photo Courtesy of Craft Beer Market

If you want to experience the full, authentic energy of YEG, head to a patio on a warm summer day.  Pick one.  Pick several.  From hot spots such as the downtown rooftop of Craft Beer Market and street side seating along Whyte Ave, to a latte in the French Quarter and upscale cocktails overlooking the river valley from Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Edmontonians live for leisurely sunny days and lively conversation.

EDMONTON FRINGE FESTIVAL

Held each year for 10 days in August, the Edmonton Fringe Festival is so much more than your average theatre experience.  The Fringe is the largest, longest running festival of its kind in North America, a mix of food, beer tents, street vendors, and more than 1,600 performances spread over 38 venues and two outdoor stages.  It is a chance to indulge in a diverse range of performances ranging from family friendly to adult comedy and drama.  A major part of the Fringe experience is to discover something new, and with such a wide array of options to choose from, you’ll find the fun in choice.

WHYTE AVE & OLD STRATHCONA

Whyte Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

In Edmonton, an open patio on Whyte Avenue signifies the first official moments of summer.  This is a place where locals gather to people watch and enjoy a craft beer under the sun, the notes of ‘shirtless, roller blading, guitar guy‘ melding with that of passing cars and relaxed chatter.  A 6 storey mural by renowned Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel overlooks the entrance to the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, and an eclectic array of music, fashion and dessert shops lay sprinkled between trendy boutique hotels, award winning eateries and chic day spas.  Whether you are craving a morning stroll with a steaming cup of coffee, or are heading out for a night of pub hopping and dancing, the vibe of Old Strathcona will quickly fall into rhythm with your own unique pulse.

HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE STREETCAR

Photo Courtesy of EEDC

While you are in Old Strathcona, take a step back in time by hopping aboard the High Level Bridge Streetcar.  The refurbished roots of these trolleys date back over a century, and so does the bridge it crosses.  Take in panoramic views of the river valley as you connect yourself to the downtown core and Jasper Avenue.  Enjoy an afternoon of shopping, dining and sight seeing before stepping back on board for a scenic return.

SNOW VALLEY AERIAL PARK

“The Snow Valley Aerial Park offers adventure on the KristallTurm KT90 Tower, the first of its kind in Canada, and just the 3rd in North America, making it a unique way to immerse yourself into the adventurous side of Edmonton.  Perfect for families, friends or even date-night, this epic structure will challenge your fears, your physical abilities and your willingness to step out of your comfort zone.  From crossing wobbly snowboards and dangling circus hoops, to riding a bike across a guide wire or relaxing in a kayak 3 stories up before attempting the 50 foot free fall straight to the ground, there is fun to be found for every age and ability.”…. READ MORE

TASTE OF EDMONTON

Every July, foodies can indulge in all things sweet and savoury at the largest outdoor food festival in Canada.  Featuring highlight dishes from over 50 locally owned restaurants and food trucks, Taste of Edmonton is an experience meant to connect the more than 350,000 annual festival goers to eachother and to the community.  Visitors can sip on a cocktail in the lounge area, soak up the sun overlooking Alberta’s Parliament and find satisfaction in a dish while lazing on the grass, music flowing from the stage of one of Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series.

URBAN PEDAL TOUR

Photo Courtesy of Urban Pedal Tours

The ultimate summer pub hopping experience is an adventure with Urban Pedal Tours.  This 15 passenger U-shaped bike makes three stops over two hours at local taprooms and breweries.  With a multitude of booking options in Old Strathcona and downtown (18+, drinks $$), the pedal tour is a unique way to explore the city, meet new people and share in some laughter at a leisurely cruising speed of 10 km/hr. (There are 10 pedal seats, 2 non pedal…and a back bench that seats 3.  Always be responsible and never drink and drive)

EDMONTON RIVER VALLEY

At 18,000 acres (7400 ha), the vast green valley is comprised of 20 major parks and over 160 km in maintained pathways, making the Edmonton River Valley the largest urban parkland in Canada.  Stroll across the Walterdale Bridge promenade, get your adrenaline pumping on an off road bike trail, ride the glass walled funicular or get your ultimate fitness fix tackling one of 50 sets of steps.  The river valley is a slice of serenity in the very heart of the city, with plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy the day.

ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK

Elk Island National Park, Edmonton, Alberta

Located just 35 minutes east of Edmonton lies the designated dark sky preserve of Elk Island National Park.  The park is a refuge for a variety of wildlife including elk, mule deer, moose, 250 species of birds and the elusive Alberta lynx, and has been instrumental in the role of bison conservation.  Visitors can choose to embark upon one of the many scenic hiking trails, connect over a picnic blanket and a starry sky, glide through the waters of Astotin lake in a canoe or kayak (rentals available), or set up for an overnight experience in the campground.

THE EDMONTON RIVER BOAT

Photo Courtesy of Edmonton River BoatPhoto Courtesy of Edmonton River Boat

With new ownership in 2016 and a million dollar renovation, the iconic Edmonton Riverboat is once again a vision on the North Saskatchewan.  From a scenic Sunday Brunch or afternoon Tapas, to a sunset cruise with dinner and drinks from the full service bar, this is the ultimate way to capture stunning views of the downtown skyline and Edmonton river valley.  Pre-boarding begins one hour prior, and cruises last 60-90 minutes.

K-DAYS

Another iconic 10 day event in Edmonton that cannot be missed is the carnival extravaganza affectionately known as KDays.  Each July, visitors can spend the entire day hugging thrill ride curves, playing midway games and indulging in culinary treats such as traditional fresh mini donuts and tangy bbq ribs, or take a more daring approach with items like cheesy chicken hearts or espresso flake deep friend coffee.  After a full day of squeal inducing adventure, the evening calls for headline musical acts on the main stage and a nightly fireworks display.  Ride. Relax. Repeat.

ALBERTA FOOD TOURS

Woodwork, Alberta Food Tours, Edmonton

If you are looking for an education in cuisine paired with local culinary artisans who take pride in sourcing locally for their dishes, then look no further than an experience with Alberta Food Tours.  Founder Karen Anderson, is perhaps one of the most passionate food experts in the area, and it is her continually evolving knowledge about the relationship between healthful food sources and our direct health, combined with a desire for personal growth, discovery and development that makes her an industry leader.  Alberta Food Tours carefully selects the vendors making the list, and each stop on both the walking ‘Downtown Delights‘ and ‘Strathcona Brunch and Bakeries‘ are doors to a delicious opportunity.

HERITAGE FESTIVAL

Photo Credit to Edmonton Heritage Festival Association

Photo Courtesy of Edmonton Heritage Festival Association

In a city that embraces diversity and multiculturalism, the 3 day Heritage Festival is a beloved summer event for locals and the perfect way to discover Edmonton.  350,000 annual attendees enjoy an August long weekend of performances, food, arts and music showcasing nearly 100 cultures and countries over 70 outdoor pavilions and 25 stages.  This is an opportunity to fully immerse yourself into the melting pot of Canada, and each food ticket purchased directly supports Northern Alberta’s cultural not for profit groups.

JURASSIC FOREST

Canva Free Stock, via Pexels: https://www.canva.com/photos/MADGxx_IsTc-low-angle-photo-of-dinosaur-eating-baby-dinosaur/

If you have a dinosaur fan in your house, this 40 acre prehistoric preserve is the perfect place to visit.  Located in a mature boreal forest, just minutes from Edmonton, Jurrasic Forest brings millions of years of history roaring into the present.  Stroll the 2 km of discovery trails and watch as dozens of life size dinosaurs come to life.  With activities ranging from a paleontological dig site and interactive displays, to an adventure play area and scavenger hunt maps, this prehistoric park will be one to remember.

BARR ESTATE WINERY

Photo Credit: Stock Photos of Canva

Yes, we also have a winery!  Barr Estate is a working sheep and fruit farm, and proudly produces fruit wines of impeccable quality.  Using blends of handpicked raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb, guests can indulge in a family friendly tour and tasting (18+) of a locally produced bottle of wine.  Whether you prefer a medium bodied red to pair perfectly with roast pork and white chocolate or a pale coral colored wine served chilled with cold meats, you will discover a new appreciation for the effort and passion that goes into the product while supporting local.

CENTURY MILE

Barn Tour, Edmonton, Alberta Thoroughbred Racing

The horses have a new home, and it’s a beautiful, state of the art facility known as Century Mile.  This brand new track is Alberta’s only grade ‘A’ one mile track, and offers guaranteed fun!  Watch history unfold as you take in harness racing or experience the adrenaline as the thundering hooves of thoroughbreds burst from the gate in hopes of stepping into the Winner’s Circle.  There is no admission fee for spectators making it an accessible event, and those skeptical of horse racing can enjoy an education on the care, training and intense regulation of the sport by taking a free, guided barn tour.  We had the privilege of this behind the scenes experience courtesy of ATOBA, and walked away with a completely new appreciation for the sport.

MAC + CHEESE FESTIVAL

Brand new to Edmonton in July 2019, and celebrating it’s 5th year with a cross Canada tour, is the Mac + Cheese Festival!  For a city that is clearly obsessed with all things cuisine, this is the perfect addition to a palette pleasing summer.  This festival not only celebrates one of North America’s favorite staples, it takes it to whole new heights as celebrity chefs, cooks and entrepreneurs compete for top prizes and bragging rights, while raising funds for charity.

CANOE THE NORTH SASKATCHEWAN

What better way to experience the Edmonton river valley, than on the river itself?  With kayak and canoe adventures ranging from several hours in length to overnight, Edmonton Canoe has you covered.  This water adventure is perfect for all ages and abilities, making it the perfect opportunity to explore solo or connect as a family, with friends and to a local business.

INTERSTELLAR RODEO

Photo Courtesy of Interstellar Rodeo/Six Shooter Records © Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2018‘July Talk’ Photo Courtesy of Interstellar Rodeo/Six Shooter Records: © Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2018

Each July, a steady rhythm of notes and lyrics flows from William Hawrelak Park.  The local favorite Interstellar Rodeo is an intimate affair, as music lovers gather to watch a diverse array of acts gather to perform on the amphitheatre stage.  With fully licensed grounds, attendees can enjoy pairings of wine and beer with gourmet food trucks for a ‘curated top to bottom‘ experience.  An all ages event, each ticket holder will feel like a VIP in this unique and cozy setting.

STREET PERFORMERS FESTIVAL

© Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2018Photo Courtesy of Edmonton Street Festival: (Credit Epic Photography)

For over 3 decades, the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival has been delighting audiences of all ages with its wide range of raw and creative talent.  Over the course of 10 days in July, more than 250,000 attendees enjoy a vibrant busking scene, taking in shows for free with the encouragement to “pay what they feel the show is worth”, as artists from around the globe showcase skills such as fire breathing, balancing, acrobatics, singing, hockey stick juggling and just being their colorful, unique, quirky selves.

WATER LANTERN FESTIVAL

Edmonton Lantern Festival (Canva Free Stock)

Another new event set to take place at the end of August is bound to be a serene and beautiful night perfect for family bonding, date night or a solo spiritual moment of reflection.  The Edmonton Water Lantern Festival will be a gathering of thousands of faces at Rundle Park to enjoy food, music and the glow of tiki torches before setting the lanterns adrift in a celebration of life.  Even better is that the project has a commitment to the environment, with a dedication to leaving the community cleaner than when they arrive.

While the number of warm summer days may be fleeting, the wide array of experiences to soak up are endless.  From a refreshing patio cocktail and counting stars in the sky, to a river valley run and bluesy notes lingering in the air, the diversity of events in Edmonton is a true reflection of a city rooted in tradition, passion and creative expression.  Take the time to explore.  Discover a hidden gem, a delectable stop, a treasured band, a completely different view.  Change up your summer and enhance your perspective on this incredible capital city called Edmonton.

Cheers to summer,

Amy

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22 thoughts on “Folk, Flavour and Fringe: A Local’s Guide to Summer Activities in Edmonton, Alberta

  1. Oh my Gosh Amy! This is the best article on Edmonton I’ve ever read. You are so thorough and I don’t think you left any of the very best of Edmonton out. Thank you so much for including Alberta Food Tours. I’m deeply grateful and humbled! With gratitude, Karen

    1. Thank you Karen! You are such a gem, and our city is so fortunate to have someone such as yourself to elevate the culinary scene to a new level. Your tours are second to none, and your passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Cheers!

    1. Thank you! I hope you get a chance to visit someday! There is so much to do year round for families, but summer really is pretty awesome with such a variety of experiences. Even after years of living here we always find something new to add to our favorites.

  2. Edmonton really seems to be very interesting and varied. I’ve never been to the city before, but I think it’s worth a visit. Thank you for the great tips that make a visit much easier.
    Susanne

  3. I’ve heard of Edmonton before but never really knew anything about it really. It seems like a really fun city to explore with lots of different things to do and I am sure it won’t be too crowded either being more off the beaten track. I would love to go canoeing here and on the high ropes park.

  4. Edmonton is indeed a revelation. Thanks for unveiling the beautiful face of Edmonton. There are so many things to see and experience here. It seems such a vibrant place, the Aga Khan Gardens and the Spring festival had my attention riveted. Hope to visit this beautiful place some day.

  5. What a comprehensive guide to the highlights of Edmonton. I love the Folk Festival and the Fringe Festival and would love to participate in the new Water Lantern Festival. I also love Old Strathcona and on my next visit to Edmonton would happily arrange to go to Elk Island National Park

  6. What a fun, informative, and comprehensive post! This truly is enough to do for an entire summer, and it looks like it’s reliably bright and sunny for outdoor activities! I have never heard of the Aga Khan Gardens, but they look like they are definitely worth a visit. As someone who isn’t huge on festivals, I’m also intrigued by the Fringe Festival. The concept just makes me want to check it out! Do you have another post about what to do in Edmontond during the winter? 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! We are so fortunate to experience all four seasons, and we embrace each and every one. I will be doing an upcoming winter post, as there are just as many fun options! The Aga Khan Gardens are a new addition, and so spectacular, and yes, the Fringe is quirky and unique, and we are so proud of it!

    1. Thank you! My daughter always searches out the henna artists at festivals. Edmonton is a small city, so it holds onto alot of charm and personality often lacking in larger centres.

  7. Wow, Edmonton’s summer looks very vibrant and colorful. Elk Island National park looks very peaceful and a nice place to relax. I would also prefer river boat tours.

  8. We are excited to be back in Edmonton for the summer, especially now that we read this! We have obviously been to many of these things, as we both grew up here, but the mac and cheese festival and lantern festival are new to us! Thank you so much for the fun and tantalizing info!

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