Few Canadian’s who don’t live in Alberta think of Edmonton when they are imagining a winter escape. We generally think of Edmonton as cold enough for hibernation. While it is indeed cold in Edmonton for much of the winter (the temperatures average around -11), it is actually not as cold as many other northern cities. Edmontonians also take the edge off winter by hosting a wide range of events all winter long. The warm hospitality of Edmonton, combined with its unique winter offerings, make it a good choice for a road trip, despite the weather.

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While Edmonton offers festivals all through the winter months (check out the adjacent list!) we chose to visit Edmonton during the Holiday season, which allowed us to check out a whole myriad of offerings. We began our escape with a trip to the Legislature.  The Alberta Legislature offers free programming all year long (their Canada Day fireworks are a highlight!) but for the Holidays they really pull out the stops. The Legislature offers free ice-skating, beautifully illuminated grounds and even Santa greeting children in the Rotunda. On the day we visited, the lines were reasonable and Santa was taking his time with each child. To cap off the experience, a live choir was also performing – what a wonderful way to start a Holiday trip!

Next we explored the Zoominescence, Festival of Light at the Valley Zoo. As regular visitors to the Toronto Zoo, I was surprised to see how busy the Valley zoo was. The Toronto Zoo is normally empty save for staff and animals during the winter months (which makes it a great time to visit!), so it was interesting to see that more people were making the trek out to see the Valley zoo during December.  While I imagine Edmontonians are perhaps more prepared to handle the cold, with lots of gear at the ready, I think it was also the festival that drew them out. The beautiful lighting highlighted the artistic ice sculptures and unique landscaping of the zoo. This year, they are also offering a Date night in an Igloo – something you definitely don’t find in Toronto!




Our final festival this time around was Christmas Reflections at Fort Edmonton.  Much like the Christmas by Candlelight at Black Creek Village in Toronto, Fort Edmonton hosts a winter program that focuses on how the holidays were celebrated in years past. The program began with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the village, which allowed us an overview of the four historical quadrants.  We were also able to enjoy a bonfire and some delicious cider to take the chill off. While the experience wasn’t quite as immersive as a Christmas tea at Black Creek, it was a lovely way to learn more about the heritage of this part of Alberta.

Overall, our trip to Edmonton was packed with new experiences. Certainly, gearing up took longer, but the warmth of the hosts and community made it a wonderful weekend escape.