If Calgary is Canada’s Dallas, then Edmonton is the Great White North’s Austin — a hip, artsy and active city with a strong pioneering spirit not quite sullied by its great oil wealth. With a strong arts scene, shopping that could keep you busy for days, and a thriving gay and lesbian scene, there’s plenty to keep visitors busy in Edmonton.
Start with a stroll down Whyte Avenue in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood. This part of town features lots of quirky independent shops, nice restaurants and a bar and pub scene frequented mostly by a college-aged crowd. It can get pretty rowdy on weekend nights.
On the north side of the river lies the downtown core, thick with office towers and government buildings. The sprawling grounds of the Alberta Legislature make for a pleasant stroll, and the massive, colonial-style building itself is quite beautiful. At night the grounds are a popular spot for gay cruising and for straight teenagers to sneak off and make out, but be warned — police patrol the area frequently.
The North Saskatchewan River valley is the largest urban parkland in North America — larger than 20 Central Parks. The valley cuts deeply through the city along a meandering path, and it’s lined with recreational trails, park spaces, golf courses and wildlife areas. Included in the river-valley system are the four glass pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory (a biosphere hosting plants in different environments), the Edmonton Valley Zoo and the costumed historical experience at Fort Edmonton Park. In the summer months, you can cross the valley in the High Level Bridge streetcar for some excellent views.
At night, you can take in a fine show at the Citadel Theatre or the new Winspear Centre for Music. The Varscona Theatre in Old Strathcona has been hosting the weekly drag soap opera Die-Nasty for more than 20 years — it’s an Edmonton institution frequented not only by the gays.
The gay scene, such as it exists in Edmonton, is centred on Jasper Avenue in downtown. The combo pub/dance club Woody's Pub & Cabaret / Buddy’s attracts a mixed, casual crowd. Weekly listings can be found in the local free gay magazine GayCalgary and Edmonton.
Finally, no trip to Edmonton can be considered complete without a stop at the massive West Edmonton Mall. The West Eddie (as the locals call it) was long the biggest mall in the world but now must settle for being the biggest mall in North America. You could easily spend days exploring it — it has a built-in hotel for when you get tuckered out. There’s also an indoor water park, a petting zoo, cinema, roller coasters, skating rink, mini golf, two night clubs, a comedy club, several large restaurants, indoor skate park, 24-hour gym, dinner theatre and a billiards and arcade complex. Among the more than 800 shops are several Edmonton-exclusive shops and the only Simons store outside of Quebec.