Winter is prime time for cozying up and hunkering down, but winter in Alberta is filled with sunny days that can be simply magical. It’s the time to get outside and enjoy all that fluffy snow, and Edmonton and Calgary become winter wonderlands. Here are five ways to enjoy the season in both cities. Remember – wearing layers is key to enjoying winter fun, especially in urban environments.
Get cozy on a patio
Yes, you read that correctly. Patios aren’t just for summer months, especially in Edmonton. Numerous restaurants throughout the city have made their patios warm and comfortable year-round. More are expected to join the winter patio club, but for now you can safely socialize under a winter dome at Boxer in Old Strathcona, sip a cocktail outside at the Cask & Barrel downtown, have a coffee date at Little Brick, or rest your legs next to a dazzling skating rink at Culina on the Lake in Hawrelak Park, just to name a few.
Play in the famous river valley
The North Saskatchewan River Valley is a must-see in Edmonton. It’s the longest expanse of urban greenspace in North America, even outdoing Central Park in New York City. It’s also a year-round activity hub for locals and visitors alike. Segways are a fun and easy way to navigate the winding pathways in the winter or rent a fat bike and pedal through the expansive park system. If you’re feeling like an extra dose of outdoor fun, rent a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes from River Valley Adventure Co. and have an adventure in the city.
Skate on the Iceway
The Edmonton river valley is also home to the Victoria Park Iceway. But this isn’t your average skating rink. The iceway winds through treelined paths and is lit up in rainbow patterns at night, making it extra magical – not to mention a quintessential Edmonton photo op. If you’re in the mood for checking out all the hot skating spots in the downtown area, try the neighbouring Alberta Legislature grounds or head to City Hall. You’ll be steps away from some of the city’s best spots for a post-skate bite or drink.
Shop like a local
Edmonton has a love for weekend farmers’ markets year-round. The Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market is the longest-running and a city staple. It’s located in Old Strathcona, one of the most eclectic neighbourhoods in the city. Across the river, stop in at Downtown Farmers’ Market near the Arts District. Both markets are filled to the brim with tasty seasonal treats and unique gift options handmade by local artisans.
Celebrate at a winter festival
Alberta’s capital city embraces winter wholeheartedly, and its festival season extends year-round. The Boardwalk Ice on Whyte Festival is an annual winter staple and takes place in late January. As the festival says, “the real fun starts when the temperature drops below zero.” They may be right, as Whyte Avenue plays host to some of the best ice carvers around, coupled with carving lessons, winter activities and delicious food.
January is also time for the Flying Canoë Volant festival, a reminder of how special winter can be. The festival is built upon a Canadian legend and celebrates the country’s bilingual heritage and Indigenous people.
The Silver Skate Festival is one of Edmonton's longest-running winter traditions, and it celebrated 31 years in 2021. The family-friendly festival is set in Edmonton’s scenic river valley and showcases the best of winter sport, arts and culture.
Hit the (city) slopes
It’s possible to have a great day on the ski slopes without leaving the city. WinSport Canada Olympic Park played host to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, and it’s now a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The Acura Tube Park is also on-site, if you’re not keen on taking on a snowy hill while standing up.
Get festive at Zoolights
The Calgary Zoo gets in the holiday spirit with Zoolights, a dazzling display of 1.5 million twinkling lights that’s become an annual tradition. Stroll through the exhibits and cozy up around one of the many outdoor fires located throughout the zoo as you wonder about the precision and patience it would take to set all those lights up.
Skate at Olympic Plaza
This is a must-do winter activity in Calgary. Also built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, as the name suggests, the plaza is a downtown hub of activity. Rent skates (or bring your own) and practice your skills on the outdoor ice surface. Olympic Plaza is also located at the end of Stephen Avenue, one of the most pedestrian-friendly streets in the city. After your skating session, take a stroll and grab a coffee or bite.
Rediscover winter at Chinook Blast
Chinook Blast, Calgary’s new winter festival, launched in January 2021. The six-week festival is the city's mid-winter roundup that runs from between January and February. Chinook Blast brings together together arts, entertainment and sports to celebrate winter in the city with the help various non-profit organizations. The festival kicks off with the High Performance Rodeo (a local tradition) and includes some of the city's best-known winter events, like the Calgary Folk Music Festival's Block Heater and Glow Festival. Visit the festival's website for the most up-to-date information on events and performances throughout Chinook Blast.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
The Calgary Hot Chocolate Fest has become an annual favourite, and the festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021. The festival takes place all over the city, with participating restaurants scattered throughout popular neighbourhoods. It’s the sweetest festival in Calgary, with restaurants competing for titles like YYC’s Best Hot Chocolate and Best Spirited Hot Chocolate – all in support of Meals on Wheels. Stop in for an Instagram-worthy hot chocolate and then explore the surrounding neighbourhoods for some window shopping.