Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal.
Ask most people this side of the pond to name a few Canadian cities, and these three will almost certainly crop up first.
And whilst these are definitely cities that we would love to visit at some point in our travels, our very first Canadian experience was somewhere even we hadn't heard of until relatively recently.
Edmonton, Alberta's capital.
A stone's throw from Jasper National Park (a very good throw of course, but at only 4.5 hours drive away, in Canadian terms that's pretty damn close), it's not only a great place to spend a few days before a Rockies adventure, it's also a great place to spend a few days, period.
Our only regret? That we didn't have nearly enough time to explore the city that surprised us. Here are eight really cool things to do in Edmonton that we think you guys will enjoy too!
Hang out on Whyte
We arrived to Edmonton on a balmy early summers day.
Alternative. That's the word that our driver used to describe the neighbourhood that extends far beyond just Whyte Avenue. It took very little time to realise that one, he was absolutely correct, and two, it was very much our sort of neighbourhood.
Home to happening bars, a fantastic foodie scene, excellent vintage stores, and more than few excellent coffee shops, Whyte Avenue was a little like a home away from home.
It's also the spot that plays host to the ever popular 'Edmonton Pride Parade' - which we were lucky enough to be in town for. Alcohol free due to local licensing rules, it's a little different to the Pride events we're used to in Blighty but still an absolute must if your trip coincides.
Top tip | For those that have a huge old sweet tooth like Andrew, be sure to check out 'The Gummi Boutique'. Home to a huge array of the sort of sweets you begged your parents for when you were a kid, it's sure to have you recalling your childhood fondly (seriously, it was one of his favourite things to do in Edmonton!). Also worth a visit are 'Kent of Inglewood' and 'Knifewear', specialist handcrafted axe and Japanese knife stores respectively.
Enjoy the foodie scene
If there's one thing that Edmonton does exceptionally well, it's food. In fact, this relatively small city punches well above its weight in the foodie wars, with no fewer than three restaurants in Air Canada's 'Best New Restaurants 2017'
During our short time in the city, we had excellent Mexican, Venezuelan, Asian-fusion, and a couple of the best sandwiches of our lives, yet still found ourselves gazing longingly through the windows and at the menus of at least a dozen more restaurants in the Whyte Avenue area as well as near the Neon Sign museum.
Tip | Don't miss Baiju, for some of the best Asian fusion you'll ever try (which caters exceptionally well for vegetarians). We still dream about the melt-in-you-mouth bao rolls!
Seek out the street art
One of the many things we love about living in East London is the slightly girtty vibe - a vibe that in no small part owes its thanks to the gifted street artists which paint its walls. It is of little surprise then that one of the elements that we always seek out in a new city is the grafitti or street art scene.
On this count, Edmonton certainly did not disappoint.
The streets and blocks spreading out from Whyte Avenue are covered in large scale murals and intricate pieces of temporary art work. Often hidden around corners, within community carparks or obscured by life, they can sometimes be difficult to spot but, we think that that's half the fun. This little part of Edmonton, is a constantly evolving gallery, one which takes time to ucover and will keep a street art enthusiast happy for days.
Top tip | For a full guide of Edmonton's instagrammable walls and some of its best pieces, check out this post.
The Neon Sign Museum
Back in 2002, a Canadian Furniture sign was destined for the scrap heap. Instead, its restoration was the first step in creating something entirely unique for the City of Edmonton; The Neon Sign Museum.
Unassuming under the glare of the bright midday sun (the first time we saw the museum), this collection of nearly 20 vintage neon signs comes alive in the darkness. The only museum of its kind in all of Canada, and constantly growing, it's an absolute must-visit for first timers to Edmonton.
Further information | Open 24 hours a day, the museum can be found at 104th Street and 104th Avenue
Get your coffee on
The first stop in our Edmonton coffee scene education was Transcend, a small chain of coffee shops that sources and roasts their own beans from small international farmers all over the world.
It was here, during a coffee tasting class, that we realised how little we really knew about coffee, that we both much prefer Latin American coffee to the more floral notes of African beans, and that good coffee doesn't really need milk.
In a country where filter coffee often reigns supreme, it became clear that third-wave coffee shops are very much making their mark in Edmonton.
If a trip to the Ritchie Market branch of Transcend doesn't leave you all coffee'd out (tip - get their divine 'flat white'), we'd recommend hitting up Farrow next. Not only are the sandwiches served in this cute little blue house out-of-this-world good, they're also the only place in town dedicated to pour-over coffee - something we're informed they do exceptionally well.
Back near Whyte, another coffee shop the caffeine aficionados should be sure to check out is Ace Coffee, located on 10055 80th Ave. They may only offer almond milk as a non-dairy alternative (it just doesn't work in coffee!!) but even black, their strong americanos were a delight to drink. The minimalist setting is also ideal for a Sunday morning hang-out spot.
get on your bike and explore the river valley
A city with 160 km of maintained public pathways and a lot of green space is a city that is designed to be explored on two wheels. And for anybody visiting Edmonton for a short period of time, like us, it provides an excellent overview of this sprawling city of 1 million.
Especially if you do it on an electric bicycle.
We've often seen people whizzing about on these, but lumping them together with Segways in the 'wouldn't be seen dead doing it' pile. Three hours later, top speeds met, and a lot of cyclists overtaken and it's fair to say that we're now converts (with these bikes you still have to pedal, but simply expend less energy overall)!
Revolution Cycle, a local family business, run daily ebike tours in the city beginning in the beautiful River Valley before moving on to either Edmonton's touristic highlights or on an adventure through the trail network. They offer two hour and five hour bike tours (covering 60km - try doing that on a regular bike tour!), Mondays - Saturdays.
Enjoy all the free samples at Strathcona Market
Held every Sunday morning, Old Strathcona Farmer's Market is a bit of an Edmonton institution.
Rows and rows of local farmers, delis and small businesses offer up delectable treats, homemade goods and Canadian hospitality. We tried (and enjoyed) more hot sauces and salsa than even Andrew's stomach could really handle, almost got talked into buying the entire baked goods range for one delightfully hard of hearing grandmother, and learnt that early morning buffet breakfasts should really be avoided to make the most out a visit here!
Word of warning: stall owners here do not mess around with the free samples - you will be offered more than enough to negate the need for breakfast, often without the hard sell. They're a genuinely friendly bunch, and they genuinely want you to try their food!
Further info | Old Strathcona Market can be found at 10310 83 Ave NW, and is open from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. every Saturday
Visit Elk Island
We were so excited about heading out here.
We had our utterly fabulous RV, a box full of smores equipment and an appetite for the outdoors. Mother Nature however had other plans, and our two days of hiking and bison hunting (for photos only obviously) turned into a never ending cycle of heavy downpours and misty skies. We did manage to venture out for an hour to try and find a beaver or two in the rain (we spotted two - score!) but were mostly forced to spend our time curled up on the small but perfectly formed couch drinking cups of tea and praying for the sun to come out.
Which is why we have no photos to share with you, even of the large herd of bison (which the park is famous for) who were hanging out by the road as we left the park!
It was such a shame, and we know we would have loved it. If we ever go back to Edmonton, we know Elk Island will be at the top of our list!
Useful Things to Know To Plan Your Trip to Edmonton
A large number of foreign nationals, including British citizens, do not need a visa to enter Canada for tourism purposes. Instead, you need to apply for a eTA. This costs $7 CAD and is valid for up to five years. For more information, see this link.
Getting to Edmonton from the UK
There are multiple flights to Edmonton from London, with direct flights with WestJet taking as little as nine hours. We travelled via Amsterdam with KLM.
To reach the city the city from the airport you have three choices:
Taxi | Takes approximately 40 minutes, and costs around $50 CAD.
Car Hire | Car rental is available from the airport with a number of companies. Find prices and availability here.
Public Transport | There's a regular airport bus that drops off at the Century Park Transit Centre for $5 CAD one way (exact change required). From here it's cheap and easy to get public transport to your accommodation.
Where to Stay in Edmonton
As is probably obvious from this article, we really enjoyed the area around Whyte Avenue. It's where we stayed during our time in Edmonton and almost certainly where we'd go back to should we visit again.
The Fancy Choice | Mettera on Whyte. This stylish hotel is perfectly located, slap bang on Whyte Avenue. Large rooms, including excellent suites, a fantastic breakfast spread and on-site gym make this an excellent choice for a good value splurge. Find further information here.
The Budget Choice | HI Edmonton. Surprisingly, Edmonton doesn't have an abundance of hostels, but the HI, close to Whyte (but far enough away so as to still get a good night's sleep) is a great option. Find further information here.
Making Edmonton Part of Your Rockies Adventure
Edmonton's location, at just over 4.5 hours away from Jasper National Park make it an ideal city to fly into and begin your Rockies adventure. But whilst some may choose to simply pick up the RV and head straight for the highway, we'd strongly recommend having a few days to take in the sights of the city first. Our RV rental company - Fraserway RV - picked us up from our hotel in Edmonton and back to the airport, so you don't have to worry about extra transport complications or costs.
Tell us: what are your favourite things to do in Edmonton?