As Alberta’s capital, you can imagine that there are plenty of nooks and crannies to be explored in Edmonton. So much so that it’s quite a daunting task for a short visit! However, the city is home to a number of neighbourhoods, each with its own unique vibe. If you’re looking for a spot that has plenty of great eats, treats, shops and more, then I highly recommend paying a visit to Old Strathcona next time you’re in town. Here are all the great things to do in Old Strathcona so you can plan your adventure!
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A Little Old Strathcona History
Named Alberta’s second-largest provincial historical area, this neighbourhood has quite a few stories to tell. It was once an independent city before being amalgamated into Edmonton in 1912 thanks in part to the C&E Railway bringing industry to the south shore of the North Saskatchewan River. While there was a rivalry between the two before Old Strathcona became a party of Edmonton, it has since had to fight to retain some of its historical character.
As you explore the neighbourhood, you’ll see that a number of the buildings date back to the early 1900s. However, rezoning in the 1960s led to a development boom over the next twenty years which had many fearing for the future of these meaningful structures. A freeway was even proposed to cut right through the neighbourhood in 1969! The battle for preserving Old Strathcona’s heritage paid off though as the Provincial Historic Area designation now means it’s protected for years to come.
However, it’s important to remember that these lands have been home to Indigenous Peoples long before Europeans set foot on these lands. The Tsu T’ina First Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and the Strongwood Cree First Nation have called Amiskwaciwâskahikan ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ or “beaver hills house” (as Edmonton is traditionally known) home since time immemorial, and later home to the Papaschase First Nation as well as the Michif Piyii (Métis). You might even see signs that beavers still call Edmonton home as you explore… but more on that later!
Things to Do in Old Strathcona
Now that you know a wee bit more about Old Strathcona, let’s chat about some of the great things to do in the neighbourhood, shall we?
Explore Whyte Avenue
The heart of Old Strathcona, Whyte Avenue (also known as 82nd Avenue Northwest) is where you’ll find a number of the destinations in this article. It’s the main artery for the area and while there is a lot of traffic, there’s plenty to see and do.
This is the best place to start to get acquainted with Old Strathcona. Take a stroll and admire the sights and sounds of Whyte Avenue. Grabbing a coffee from PACT or one of the other fantastic cafes along 82nd Avenue Northwest will make your meander even better. Or, explore this trendy neighbourhood at night as it has a lot to offer with plenty of bars and clubs around to entertain you!
Hunt for Street Art
As you’re exploring on foot, keep your eyes peeled for all of the incredible murals you’ll find around Old Strathcona. There are over 60 walls featuring artists from across the globe! Some iconic ones include the multicoloured Okuda mural featuring the half-wolf, half-woman figure, the Spread your wings mural near Old Scona Academic and the plethora of finds along Rado Alley. If you’re looking to “catch them all”, be sure to check out the map that the Old Strathcona BIA has put together here!
Old Strathcona Antique Mall
Say hello to Western Canada’s largest antique mall! Betty and Bobbi, the mother-daughter duo behind the Old Strathcona Antique Mall, have channeled their passion for all things vintage into the Old Strathcona Antique Mall since 2009. You’ll find over 100 vendors with 300+ booths filled to the brim with trinkets and treasures from all over. Whether you’re a collector, designer or up-cycler, chances are you’ll fall in love with something on the shelves of the Old Strathcona Antique Mall!
FUN FACT: If you’re a fan of the Amazing Race Canada, you may recognize this spot from the segment where participants had to find the John Montgomery bobblehead… yes, that was inside the Old Strathcona Antique Mall!
Unable to make it during your visit? Lucky for you, they have an online presence so go check out their Etsy store… you never know what you may find!
Enjoy Some Retail Therapy
If that wasn’t enough shopping for you, there are plenty of other places to explore in Old Strathcona. With over 70 unique boutique shops to choose from, it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone! Here are a few of my faves from my visit though there are certainly many more great little spots to check out.
The Plaid Giraffe totally caught my eye with their adorable window displays and overall positive vibe. A staple of Whyte Avenue for over 15 years, they focus on locally-crafted items including jewellery, handbags and more. Also, a lot of their items are environmentally conscious, too!
Just down the road, the Wee Book Inn is a fantastic used book store with a plethora of options from novels to comic books. What drew my eye to it though is their resident feline, Fleur. It’s not uncommon to see her lounging around and she just might help you find a new book to read! The Wee Book Inn also has a location downtown on Jasper Street if you don’t make it to Old Strathcona during your time in Edmonton.
Lastly, outdoorsy folks will be hard-pressed not to find some new gear at Elements Outfitters Edmonton. Specializing in Western Canada’s largest selection of rugged outdoor brands such as Filson and Patagonia, you’ll find top quality gear to ensure you’re prepared for anything Mama Nature decides to throw at you.
If you’re looking for some of your typical big box stores because you forgot something at home (hey, it happens), the Old Strathcona Shopping Centre can help.
Visit North America’s Smallest Distillery
While Google may try to tell you that Edgewood, Washington has this claim to fame, I’m here to tell you that Google is WRONG. Yes, you heard me! Strathcona Spirits is just 69 square metres as this former radiator shop in Old Strathcona has been transformed into Edmonton’s very first distillery!
You’ll find a truly local taste as owner Adam Smith flavours his gin with ingredients like wild juniper berries and seabuckthorn that he picks with his own two hands. Starting with gin and vodka, Strathcona Spirits has since expanded its repertoire to include absinthe, whiskey, and their velvet cream liqueur… with the latter being absolutely delicious. Book a tour on select Saturdays or pop in for an impromptu tasting while exploring Old Strathcona Edmonton… and don’t be surprised if you walk out with a bottle or three!
Visit the Old Strathcona Farmers Market
Edmonton’s original year-round, indoor market can be found in Old Strathcona. Operating every Saturday for almost three decades now, this is where you’ll find Edmonton’s greatest collection of vendors. Here you’ll find small, independent local businesses featuring a great blend of locally grown and produced items.
The Old Strathcona Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm. You can find it at the corner of 83rd Avenue and 103 Street, just off of Whyte Avenue. There’s free two-hour parking so you can enjoy all the great eats, treats and goodies to be found inside!
Hop On a Tour
While meandering as you please around Old Strathcona is certainly one way to get acquainted, there are a number of fantastic guided tours that will allow you to see a side of her that you might not otherwise!
One great way is to hop on a scooter so you can cover more ground in a guided tour. River Valley Adventure has a great tour that will have you gliding along the Edmonton river valley. If you’re a foodie, there are a number of delicious tours to eat your way around Old Strathcona. A fan of craft beer? Edmonton Brewery Tours has a Whyte Avenue walking tour that would be right up your alley! Or if you’re a fan of things that go bump in the night, an Edmonton Ghost Tour might be for you. I did the latter during my visit and had a great time hearing about the darker side of Old Strathcona!
If you’re unable to commit to a specific time, you can always do a self-guided tour and explore at your leisure. There’s a great pamphlet you can download online here from the city of Edmonton that talks about a number of the landmarks in the neighbourhood.
Old Strathcona Restaurants to Eat At
There is no shortage of fantastic eats to be found in Old Strathcona Edmonton. It would take me days to eat my way around the neighbourhood entirely but I can assure you that these Old Strathcona restaurants are absolutely delicious!
INSIDER TIP: A number of the restaurants in Old Strathcona offer happy hour specials or daily deals which can help you save a few bucks. Take a peek at their websites or social media channels in advance to see what’s cooking!
Blowers & Grafton
I’m not typically one to visit a chain restaurant but Blowers & Grafton is an Alberta chain bringing the east coast to the west… so I couldn’t resist checking it out. And I’m so glad I did!
What you’ll find is a relaxed atmosphere with fantastic service and some tasty eats. Halifax donair is a must-have when visiting Nova Scotia’s capital city so to be able to have it on the west coast is definitely a treat. And yes, the donair sauce is on point! While you can get a tried and true donair, I recommend trying it in nacho form. Or if you’re looking for something a little heartier, I’ve heard their Pictou County Combination pizza is incredible and made from a secret family recipe sourced directly from Nova Scotia. It’s definitely on my list for the next time I’m in town!
El Cortez Mexican Kitchen
The Mexican cuisine you’ll enjoy at El Cortez tastes just as good as it looks. Step foot through the century-old doors and settle into what feels like a gallery of street art. Neon lighting and graffiti works adorn the walls, creating a unique vibe that’s completed with classic hip hop jams and Latin rap.
If you’re a fan of tequila, a trip to El Cortez needs to be on your Edmonton itinerary. They have over 140 mezcal and tequila options, all beautifully displayed behind the bar. However, if tequila isn’t your jam, you’ll still want to visit as their menu is top-notch. Chef Andrew Cerrato brings street eats to the modern realm with tasty concoctions such as crunchy queso fries and Mexican street corn.
When you hear that Leopold’s Tavern has the best poutine in the city… you must test this theory. I may not have anything to compare it to but I can confirm that their poutine is damn good. Specifically their BBQ Rancher Poutine as it has buttermilk fried chicken, cheese curds (yes, they squeak), honey BBQ sauce, ranch and beef gravy all topped with fried onions. It may be kicking the arse off a heart attack on a plate, but it’s a delicious one and certainly worth the risk.
This may be yet another Canadian chain but again, the food and service are stellar so you’ll want to visit. Leopold’s Tavern also has a fantastic selection of beverages on tap from local craft breweries and cideries from across Alberta. When the place is bumpin’ on a Monday, Tuesday AND Wednesday night… you know it’s a great spot to get out for a fun night on the town.
This one is for all the carnivores out there! A locally-owned and operated smokehouse, MEAT brings an authentic barbecue experience to the city. Following the three “B”s, brisket, beer and bourbon, you’ll enjoy expertly crafted sandwiches, salads, and meat platters, of course. Brisket, pulled pork, ribs, pork belly, smoked chicken, fried chicken, andouille sausage… there are plenty of options to sink your teeth into.
As with any southern comfort food, there are plenty of tasty sides to accompany your protein. Their garlic fries are absolutely fantastic and the “small” is certainly a generous portion. There are also cornbread and baked beans within their side options to ensure you satisfy your cravings for the food of the south. Don’t forget to try their housemade barbecue sauces, too!
If you’re unable to visit MEAT during your visit to Edmonton, you can also try one of their other sister restaurants – the NEXT Act and Pip. I know I will be next time I’m in town!
The Monolith / Biera
The Monolith and Biera are both lovely establishments under Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company, who’s passion for food and beer shows with every product. They have one of the largest barrel-fermented beer programs in Canada and are not afraid to experiment and try something new. The Monolith is located within Old Strathcona and is more focused on unique brews and snacks while Biera is their restaurant that’s just outside the neighbourhood boundary at the corner of 96th Street Northwest and 76th Avenue Northwest.
Trust me when I say it’s worth the extra few blocks to visit Biera. Not only is the restaurant absolutely gorgeous but the fare is absolutely incredible. Focusing on shareable plates, each dish is expertly crafted and bursting with flavour. While I dabbled in a number of the offerings, my favourites were the Smashed Cucumber Salad, the Lakeside Dairy Fromage Blanc Dumplings and the Grass-Fed Beef Tartare. I’m salivating right now just thinking about these mouthwatering morsels. Based on everything I tasted, you honestly can’t go wrong with any of the eats on their menu.
The Old Strathcona Hotel to Stay At
While there are a number of hotels in Old Strathcona to stay at, I highly recommend the Metterra Hotel on Whyte as the place to call home during your visit to Edmonton.
This unique Edmonton hotel is the perfect spot for both business travellers and those looking for a little luxury. The hotel itself is absolutely beautiful with stunning decor and a number of fantastic amenities. Complimentary breakfast is included with your booking and they bring out all the stops from hot items like scrambled eggs and sausage to bagels and oatmeal. They even have freshly made smoothies to enjoy! Plus their fitness centre is open 24/7 so you can squeeze your workout in whenever your schedule allows.
As for the rooms, they are just as elegant as every other facet of the hotel. Organic tones and dark wood furnishings pair with stately textiles to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. You’ll sleep soundly in their cozy pillow top mattresses and fluffy pillows. Start your day with an espresso from the in-room Illy coffee bar as you admire the views of Old Strathcona from the floor to ceiling windows. After a long day of exploring, treat yourself to a bath in their deep tubs and then slip into one of their cozy bathrobes. With additional features such as a hair dryer, refrigerator, umbrella and yoga mat, Metterra provides you with everything you’ll need for your stay.
Looking For More Things to Do in Edmonton?
Alberta’s capital is a huge city with plenty to offer. If you’re looking to explore outside the confines of Old Strathcona, here are some of my recommendations.
Explore Edmonton From an Indigenous Perspective
If you’re going to do anything in Edmonton, it honestly has to be an adventure with Talking Rock Tours. Owner and operator, Keith Diakiw, is a proud member of the Métis Nation and a long-time student in both history and geology. He has crafted a number of fascinating tours that can take you all around Alberta, however his Edmonton River Valley Discovery Tour will show you a side of the city that will surprise both locals and visitors alike. With his mission being to bring awareness to the area’s earth sciences as well as local Indigenous knowledge, he has crafted these memorable tours that will teach you more about the world that surrounds us.
You’ll start the tour learning about amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ and pronounced a-mask-wha-chee-wha-sky-guh-en) meaning “beaver hills house” or what is now known as Edmonton and the times long before it became such a city. As you make your way through the city, Keith will take you to ancient Indigenous burial grounds that are hidden in plain site by the Walterdale Bridge, the Alberta Legislative Grounds which is one of the original locations of Fort Edmonton, as well as a hidden spot where you can touch the ash bed from when Mount Mazama erupted almost 8000 years ago.
I won’t go into too many details as there is honestly too much to say and I don’t want to give away too much so that you’ll take the tour! While I opted for the longer 5+ hour version, Keith also has a shorter version but he will still teach you so much that you’ll be speechless. Take a look at his website and see all of the tours he has to offer. Marsi Keith for sharing your knowledge and expertise with me!
Visit Elk Island National Park
If you’re enjoying an Alberta road trip extravaganza during your visit to Edmonton (or at least have access to a car), make sure to head east of the city to this provincial treasure.
Elk Island National Park is a sanctuary for wood and plains bison. Barely over two centuries ago, there were millions of Bison that called these lands home. Colonization brought the population of these bison to its knees. Now, Elk Island National Park keeps these creatures happy, healthy and maintains the local population. They have even helped re-populate other areas of the world thanks to their conservation efforts! You can learn all about this history and process with their Bison Backstage Tour.
Stop by the visitors centre to learn a bit more about the inner workings of Elk Island National Park before you take off to explore. I highly recommend checking out some of the beautiful hiking trails like the Shoreline Trail. However if you’re tight on time, you absolutely must drive the Bison Loop where you can drive right by some of the herd! Make sure to stay in your car but take your time as you admire these beautiful wild animals from the road. Chances are they’ll come right up to you so no need to exit the vehicle for your photos!
Additional Things to Do In Edmonton
While the above are my top picks of Edmonton attractions to check out, there honestly is so much to see. For a quick round-up, here are a few more things to do in Edmonton during your visit to Alberta:
- Art Gallery of Alberta – Get your art on with a focus on Canadian abstract painting and sculpture. Much of their collection focuses on local artists from across the region in relation to national and international movements of the time. Open Wednesday through Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
- Fort Edmonton Park – Visit this heritage park that offers recreations of Fort Edmonton from 1885, 1905 and 1920. Don’t miss their Indigenous Peoples Experience which runs until December 2022. Open weekends but hours can change in the summer months.
- Muttart Conservatory – Breathe in the fresh air as you wander through one of Canada’s largest indoor botanical collections. Featuring over 700 species of plants, there is always something new to discover. Open daily.
- Royal Alberta Museum – Spend some time exploring the largest museum in Western Canada! 7,600 square metres of exhibition space await you as you learn about human and natural history in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and beyond. Open Wednesday through Sunday, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
- Telus World of Science – Learn about the vast world of science as you explore the interactive exhibits which will ignite your curiosity. Open daily.
As you can see, Edmonton has plenty to offer. Whether you choose to focus on Old Strathcona or adventure across the city is entirely up to you. From foodies to history buffs to outdoor enthusiasts and everything in between, there is something for everyone in Edmonton.
Some of the activities on this list were complimentary thanks to Explore Edmonton. However, much of this trip was funded out of my own pocket and, as always, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience!