Travelers who visit Edmonton have a number of pleasant surprises awaiting them. For one thing, unlike the downtowns of many prairie cities, Edmonton’s is compact, bustling and walkable, yet never overwhelming. For another, Alberta’s capital city has an unusually large and robust cultural scene for a city of its size. In addition to a dizzying array of arts and culture, it also calls itself “Festival City,” and millions of participants attend year-round festivals of many kinds.
Historic Old Strathcona's Whyte Street manages to be quaint and funky at the same time, with a variety of shops and dining options.
Both of these major assets can be traced to geography. The downtown landscape is attributable in part to the geographical contours provided by the scenic North Saskatchewan River, which winds right through the city center. And because Edmonton is the only urban center for hundreds of miles in all directions, it is the focal point for culture, commerce and shopping for a wide swath of northern Alberta and beyond.
Among the big-ticket festival attractions are the summer Folk Music Festival, which attracts some 80,000 people and provides an eclectic mix of music over its four days; the massive summer International Fringe Theatre Festival; and the summer International Street Performer Festival. There are also festivals dedicated to blues, Shakespeare, film and visual arts. Lovers of culture and the arts can take their pick: There’s The Citadel, a massive, five-stage theater complex, along with some 20 other theater companies; more than 60 art galleries, including the Art Gallery of Alberta; an opera; a ballet; and a contemporary dance company.
Edmonton is also notable for the amount and diversity of its shopping: You should certainly tell clients about Historic Old Strathcona, a funky and walkable historic area. Its charming two-story buildings provide a scenic backdrop for strolling, dining, socializing and shopping for books, housewares, novelties and gifts. There are also a number of small theaters and a year-round farmer’s market. However, if a mall is what’s preferred, the West Edmonton Mall (800-661-8890) is both a shopping destination and multifaceted attraction. The sheer numbers of the place are wonder enough: There are more than 800 stores and services, and more than 100 eating establishments. But there are also things to keep visitors and their families occupied for days, such as an indoor amusement park, a water park, an NHL-sized hockey rink, a casino, an IMAX theater, movie theaters and a dinner theater.
Clients could hardly do better than to stay downtown at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, a hotel bearing Fairmont’s signature castle-like structure. The property is arguably the most pedigreed hotel in the city, having been built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1915 and dedicated as a Municipal Historic Resource by the city in 1985. The 198-unit hotel is centrally located to the city’s downtown shopping and cultural offerings. When requesting rooms for clients, be sure to request a room that faces the North Saskatchewan River—the panoramic view of the valley below will add greatly to a stay at the Macdonald. For a truly special experience, book clients into one of the eighth-floor suites; among these, rooms 801 and 802—the Turret Suites—have sloping ceilings and window views out onto the river valley and the top of the castle. In addition, this spring the property is initiating 10 signature “Lord Strathcona Rooms” that honor a Canadian military hero; rooms will include breakfast, a number of in-room amenities and Lord Strathcona memorabilia. There is also a Churchill Suite that features cathedral ceilings, a spacious living area, a loft bedroom, jet tub and namesake memorabilia on loan from the Churchill Society of Edmonton. Room rates for the spring and summer run from $229 to $399.
The bi-level, two-bedroom Queen Elizabeth II Suite at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
Also on the premises are two fine-dining facilities, a business center and a health club with a pool, exercise equipment, squash courts and massage and spa services. For sales information, contact Lana Uytterhagen, director of sales and marketing, at 780-4290-6406 or [email protected]; for general information, visit www.fairmont.com.
Time to Relax
Other spa possibilities in Edmonton include the Ahava Day Spa at the downtown Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel (780-4390-7079); the small facility provides massages, waxes, manicures and pedicures. Male travelers can head to The Boardroom (866-939-SPAS), which offers a menu of specialty grooming services—such as haircuts, facial-hair trims and pedicures—designed specifically for men.
The annual Dragon Boat Festival attracts more than 1,300 participants and thousands more spectators.
With mild summer weather and a host of shopping, cultural and festival opportunities, Edmonton would be an excellent place to send travelers wishing to head north for the summer months. It might be especially advantageous to book clients on a city stay combined with a few days’ visit to nearby Jasper, which provides many opportunities for experiencing Alberta’s great outdoors. VIA Rail (888-VIA-RAIL), Canada’s national passenger rail service, conveniently links Edmonton directly to Jasper, as well as points east and west, on its “Canadian” service.
For more information, call Edmonton Tourism at 800-463-4667 or visit www.edmonton.com; a Travel Trade link from the home page features a newsletter signup and tour planning information.