Located in Western Canada, Alberta is dominated by prairies, forest land and the north side of the Rocky Mountains. Throughout the province you can find outdoor sports, buffalo herds, historic landmarks and, occasionally, the Northern Lights. It’s also home two major cities: Edmonton and Calgary. Both have a booming food culture, something not to be missed if you want to sample the flavors of Canada.
Nicknamed Canada’s Festival City, Alberta’s capital has events all year round celebrating a variety of fun subjects, from ice to folk music to comedy.
Where to go: One of the most famous structures in city is the West Edmonton Mall (8882 170th St., wem.ca), the largest mall in North America, which houses a roller coaster, miniature golf course and a water park featuring the world’s largest indoor wave pool. In the winter, follow up cold-weather activities like snowshoeing and snow tubing with a visit to the heated glass pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory (12.50 Canadian dollars, or CAD, adults — about $9, 10.50 CAD/seniors and ages 13-17 — about $8, 6.50 CAD/ages 2-12 — about $5; 9626 96A St., muttartconservatory.ca). Also check out the oldest cultural institution in Alberta, the Art Gallery of Alberta (closed Mondays, 12.50 CAD/adults — about $9, 8.50 CAD/students and seniors — about $6, FREE ages 6 and under; 2 Sir Winston Churchill Square, youraga.ca).
Where to eat: Start by elbowing your way into Duchess Bake Shop (closed Mondays; 10718 124th St. NW, duchessbakeshop.com), an institution that offers French-style pastries so good, they sell out daily. Follow that with lunch at the charming Cafe Linnea (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10932 119th St. NW, cafelinnea.ca), an airy Scandinavian eatery serving items like zucchini cream soup, house-made sausages and a buckwheat galette stuffed with melted gruyere and ham. Dinner brings you to RGE RD, pronounced “Range Road” (closed Sundays; 10643 123rd St. NW, rgerd.ca) and chef Blair Lebsack’s innovative Canadian cuisine and whole-animal program. Don’t pass up the Grizzly Gouda, potato perogies and local bison with hazelnut spatzle.
Where to stay: Live like a queen at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald (10065 100th St., 800-257-7544, fairmont.com/macdonald-edmonton), which overlooks the North Saskatchewan River in a landmarked building. If this luxury stay is booked, try the modest boutique hotel Union Bank Inn (10053 Jasper Ave., 888-423-3601, unionbankinn.com).
Slightly larger than Edmonton, this growing city is only one hour away from Banff National Park and two hours from Dinosaur Provincial Park, both excellent options for day trips.
Where to go: Music fans won’t want to miss Studio Bell (closed Mondays and Tuesdays, 18 CAD/adults — about $13, 14 CAD/students and seniors — about $11, 11 CAD/ages 3-12 — about $8, FREE under 3; 850 Fourth St. SE, studiobell.ca), the home of the National Music Centre and the best place to learn all about Canadian musicians. Nearby you will also find the Glenbow Museum (closed Mondays, 16 CAD/adults — about $12, 11 CAD/students and seniors — about $8, 10 CAD/ages 7-17 — about $7.50, FREE ages 6 and under; 130 Ninth Ave. SE, glenbow.org), which showcases the art and history of Canada. Finally, see a 360-view of the whole city from the top of Calgary Tower (18 CAD/adults — about $13, 16 CAD seniors — about $12, 9 CAD/ages 4-12 — about $7, FREE 3 and under; 101 Ninth Ave. SW, calgarytower.com).
Where to eat: Get the day going at the Simmons Building (618 Confluence Way SE), where you can get pastries from Sidewalk Citizen (sidewalkcitizenbakery.com) and artisan coffee from roasters Phil & Sebastian (philsebastian.com). Come back for lunch at Charbar (charbar.ca) to sample chef Jessica Pelland’s Argentine menu of fire-pit-roasted meats, the most amazing clam pie and innovative salads. Dinner should be had at Roy Oh’s Anju (344 17th Ave. SW, anju.ca), where the chef whips up Korean tapas using a lot of local tidbits. Late-night revelers can indulge in ramen and sake at Shokunin (closed Mondays; 2016 Fourth St. SW, shokuninyyc.ca), available after 10 p.m.
Where to stay: The best option is Le Germain Hotel Calgary (899 Centre St. SW, 877-362-8990, legermainhotels.com), located right in the heart of downtown and just steps from many attractions.