Snow blanketing the river valley, streets transformed with twinkling lights and shoppers out in droves picking up last-minute gifts are all signs of the season during winter in Edmonton.
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When you live in the so-called Great White North you learn to embrace this time of year, whether it’s hitting the trails for a cross-country ski sesh or dining by candlelight under the stars in a heated bubble.
From taking in an action-packed hockey game to browsing the stalls at a cute Christmas market, here are just some of the ways to have a fun winter weekend in Edmonton.
See the lights at Luminaria
One of the best things to do in Edmonton in winter is head out to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, where Luminaria is held each year.
The nightly festival starts in the Village Square where live music and fire pits await, and dazzling lights mark the pathways leading to the various attractions like a winter train ride, royal gardens complete with a regal queen and Sprite’s Hollow.
The Kurimoto Japanese Garden is all lit up with candles, creating an absolutely enchanting scene.
A rightfully popular pastime is the Northern Lights Dining Experience, featuring a three-course fondue dinner in private heated domes. Reservations are required.
Cheer on the Edmonton Oilers
A night at the good ol’ hockey game is the quintessential Canadian experience, and the high energy inside Rogers Place makes this one of the best arenas in the NHL to catch the action.
The building itself opened in 2016, and is an architectural wonder featuring dramatic curvilinear designs both inside and out.
The fan experience is complete with Ford Hall which holds the Oilers Hall of Fame, multiple dining venues, the luxurious JW Marriott hotel and a stunning 45-foot circular mosaic created with nearly one million byzantine smalti glass tiles to symbolize the land and traditional territories that Edmonton calls home.
Play in the ICE District
Celebrate an Oilers win in the surrounding ICE District, which is home to shopping, a casino, excellent restaurants (don’t miss the life-changing tuna tataki and pork bao buns at Baijiu) and seasonal events.
A huge skating rink right in front of the arena is all lit up and free for the public to use, and those who time their visit right might even get to skate with Santa.
Across the street you’ll find the Neon Sign Museum, a collection of about 20 vintage signs that have been restored and installed outdoors on 104 Street and 104 Avenue.
Get into the Christmas spirit
Celebrate the festive season at the Edmonton Christmas Market, which transforms Fort Edmonton Park into a winter wonderland for a couple of weeks each year.
Grab a steaming cup of cocoa and wander past the giant ferris wheel and merry-go-round, admire the twinkling Christmas tree, and warm up around a roaring fire pit or one of the fireplaces carved out of ice.
Local vendors and artisans are set up inside a couple of the park’s historic buildings for those looking to pick up some gifts, there are horse-drawn sleigh rides, and couples can take a romantic walk down Lover’s Lane and kiss under the mistletoe.
The seasonal spectacle continues over on 148 Street between 99 Avenue and 92 Avenue, AKA ‘Candy Cane Lane.’
For half a century, homeowners here have lit up their streets with over-the-top Christmas decor and incredible light displays. It’s become such an extravaganza that it has turned into an actual event, complete with sleigh rides, fire pits and food trucks.
Walking through the neighbourhood is free (note that the streets are closed to traffic, so parking can be tricky), and residents simply request bringing a donation for the food bank.
Shop on Whyte Avenue and 124 Street
The shops along Whyte Avenue and 124th Street are great places to get some Christmas shopping done, like the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market (open Saturdays) and the 124th Grand Market.
Whyte Ave. is great for independent boutiques, eateries and checking out the fantastic murals, while 124th is best known for its art galleries and the stunning view from Victoria Promenade near 124th and Jasper Avenue.
For a memorable night out, book a table inside one of the geo-domes at Tiramisu Bistro. Nosh on a set, Italian-style menu while keeping cozy with blankets and space heaters–pets are welcome, too!
There are lots of fun winter activities in Edmonton to help you burn off all that yuletide cheer, with many of them in the river valley which is the largest urban parkland in North America with over 150 km of trails.
Go fat biking, cross-country ski in Victoria Park, or strap on snowshoes to explore spots like Louise McKinney Park.
There are also a handful of small ski hills within the city limits, which are perfect for young ones still learning how to ski and snowboard.
For a unique experience, book a segway tour with River Valley Adventure Co., which guides riders through the valley while sharing details about the city’s natural history during this hour-long adventure.
Elk Island National Park
A UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve is just a 40 minute drive east of downtown Edmonton, at Elk Island National Park.
Home to bison herds and more than 250 bird species, this is also a fun spot to make the most of winter with activities like stargazing, geocaching, snowshoeing and winter camping.
You can even spend the night in one of the geodesic domes at Elk Island Retreat, which are open from March to November to catch the beginning or tail end of the snowy season. Amenities inside the charming glamping bubbles include a gas fireplace, mini fridge and barbecue, and charcuterie platters can also be pre-ordered.
Silver Skate Festival
Edmonton’s longest-running winter festival happens every February in Hawrelak Park, which embraces the best cold weather activities like a winter triathlon, speed skating on the city’s largest skating pond, curling, hockey and even winter frisbee golf.
Live music, a heated food tent, maple taffy making and a snow sculpture garden are among the other attractions at the Silver Skate Festival, as well as listening to local Indigenous elders’ oral histories during the Night Sky ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ âcimowin storytelling sessions.
Globe Guide explored Edmonton as a guest of Explore Edmonton
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