An Insider’s Guide to Alberta’s Creative Urban Hubs, Edmonton and Calgary

There’s more to Alberta than sprawling prairies and foothills, and the glorious, snow-capped Rocky Mountains. The province’s culinary creations, particularly in its two largest cities, are unique, unpretentious, and utterly delicious—and some of the same words can be used to describe the local community of makers. Spend several days split between Edmonton and Calgary, plus their surrounding areas, to indulge in first-class meals, shopping, and spa treatments (and a bit of nature, too), and you’ll be amazed by this unexpectedly rich Canadian hotspot.

Edmonton

Put a visit to Café Linnea at the top of your list for French-meets-Scandinavian fare. Best known for brunch, it offers fresh dishes like owner/chef Kelsey Johnson’s favourite, the Complète Galette (a buckwheat crêpe topped with ham, gruyère, and an egg), all made with ingredients found within 100 kilometres. If you’re in town on a Thursday, wander the nearby 124 Street district, because it’s the only day each week that Pura Botanicals and So Pretty Cara Cotter both open their artfully decorated studios to the public.

Snag Pura Botanicals’ popular hydrating Overnight Watermelon Mask to nourish your travel-weary skin.

Pura is an Edmonton-based skincare line that makes all of its natural, organic, and wildcrafted blends in a tiny lab on site, while So Pretty Cara Cotter creates a wide range of hyper-feminine jewellery designed locally, but made by fourth-generation Jaipur silversmiths using Cara’s favourite stones: labradorite, chrysoprase, and moonstone.

So Pretty Cara Cotter’s jewellery is perfect for stacking and layering.

Up the street is Arturo Denim, a shop that will tailor one of its three women’s or two men’s styles—or a piece of your own—to perfectly fit your figure; Duchess Bake Shop, an Edmonton institution known for its classic French pastries like macarons, éclairs, and galettes; and Bearclaw Gallery, one of Canada’s most respected dealers of Canadian First Nations art.

Take in Edmonton’s river valley views from the comfort of Hotel Macdonald’s patio.

Next, stop by the newest outpost of Edmonton shoe-and-accessory brand Poppy Barley at Southgate Centre, where handbags and leather shoes made in León, Mexico (think Chelsea boots, Oxfords, and riding boots), are available for purchase and order in extended sizing. Save room for dinner at Rostizado, a contemporary Mexican eatery located across the street from Canada’s first outdoor Neon Sign Museum, and dip into their sweet-and-savoury Shrimp & Chorizo Molcajetes with pineapple salsa, and crispy churros with dulce de leche. Spend the night at the downtown Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, which offers luxurious Fairmont Gold accommodations, private check-in, and an exclusive lounge on its seventh and eighth floors.

DRIVE ON

Located 40 minutes east of Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is an oasis teeming with wildlife—especially bison, elk, and moose in the winter months. Rent snowshoes from the visitor centre or lace up your ice skates for a loop around the skating track under the twinkling stars of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve. If you prefer to keep your fingers and toes toasty warm, head to the town of Beaumont, known for its French heritage and award-winning Chartier restaurant, which serves up French-Canadian dishes like smoked meat sandwiches, lobster poutine and tempura-fried green beans with maple mayo.

Calgary

Stay on top of your fitness regimen while on holiday by starting your day off with a class at Junction 9, a posh yoga and pilates studio on the edge of Inglewood—Calgary’s oldest and trendiest neighbourhood. The light-filled space has multiple classrooms, rooftop yoga in the summer, and a café stocked with local beverages like Phil & Sebastian coffee, True Buch Kombucha, and Juice Because cold-pressed juices.

After class, stroll through the nearby shopping district and pop into The Livery Shop and Purr for clothing and accessories, The Uncommons and 28 Blankets for quirky household goods, and The Silk Road for hard-to-find spices. Between purchases, dig into lunch at Deane House, a cozy resto in a historic home with all-Canadian dishes like Gin & Juniper Cured Chinook Salmon, Top Grass Oxtail Perogies, and Coffee-Glazed Alberta Lamb Ribs. When it’s time for a break, let XO Treatment Room’s owner Annie Graham work her magic during a customized facial that uses a mix of lasers, peels, and oxygen to brighten, tighten, and rejuvenate with no downtime.

Get pampered at XO Treatment Room.

For dinner, stop in at Foreign Concept and be prepared to want one of everything on the menu. The mouthwatering Vietnamese-fusion cuisine by owner and award-winning Calgary chef Duncan Ly includes dishes like Miso Bake Sweet Potato with cheese curds, Bulgogi Imperial Rolls with daikon kimchi, and Angus Beef Striploin Tataki—and beautiful presentation doesn’t come at the expense of taste.

Indulge in Foreign Concept’s mouthwatering Beef Tataki.

Follow up your meal with an artisanal cocktail or two from the extensive and ever-changing menu at Proof, then settle in for a good night’s rest at Le Germain Hotel Calgary, where there’s complimentary car service and no set checkout time.

Sip on a craft cocktail from Proof.

DRIVE ON

Calgary is less than an hour and a half by car from some of the prettiest and most accessible parts of the Rockies: Kananaskis, Canmore, and Banff. Take a trip into the mountains and recharge with fresh air and scenic views atop the Banff Gondola, then soothe sore muscles with a calming Alpine Aromatherapy massage and a dip in the hot-and-cold treatment pools at Willow Stream Spa. For animal lovers, Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane offers tours of its rescue facilities, introductions to its dog packs, and education about the importance of wolf preservation and responsible wolfdog ownership.

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