Top 10 things to do in Alberta
We discover the top 10 great things to do in this outdoor wonderland bordered by the mighty Canadian Rockies.
See Alberta in all its icy brilliance at Lake Louise
Where: In the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta.
What: Set at the base of glacier-clad peaks, this emerald green alpine lake was named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter and the wife of Canada’s fourth Governor General. Known as the Jewel of the Rockies, these glittering waters measure 90 metres deep and around 2.5 kilometres long.
Highlights: This pristine winter paradise offers plenty of exhilarating activities; from grizzly bear sightings, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and dog sledging to ice skating beneath the towering gaze of the Victoria Glacier. The skiing here is superb; there are 4,200 acres of skiable terrain with plenty of freshly-powder slopes and long cruising runs. For superb lake views, book the 14-mintue ride on Lake Louise Gondola (£18 for adults; £9 for children aged six to 15) - the cable car reaches an reach an elevation of 6,850 feet overlooking alpine wildflowers, dramatic glaciers and bubbling springs.
Take afternoon tea at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Where: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is located on the eastern shores of Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
What: Opened in 1890 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, this one-time log cabin was designed for ‘the outdoor adventurer and alpinist’. Now this heritage hotel overlooking Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier is a 550-room luxury resort with sumptuous guestrooms, spacious suites, a sublime spa and fitness centre, indoor heated pool and gourmet dining options.
Highlights: Book the Chateau’s signature Afternoon Tea package (£26 per person) in either the Fairview Dining Room or Lakeview Lounge - the setting is dependent on the season. Traditional English Tea is served with an opening glass of Nino Franco Prosecco (or you can upgrade to Moet et Chandon Ice for £7) followed by a three-tiered tray loaded with dainty finger sandwiches, homemade pastries and buttermilk scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves. There is just one sitting from 12pm until 3pm and reservations are strongly recommended.
Unleash your inner cowboy/cowgirl at the Calgary Stampede
Where: In the city of Calgary, located on the Bow River in the south of Alberta.
What: This legendary ten-day event tagged as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ is a rip-roaring extravaganza held every July. The entire city is swept up in Stampede celebrations that include a lavish parade, agricultural displays, stage shows, concerts, calf roping, steer wrestling, bucking broncos, chuckwagon racing and, of course, one of the largest rodeos on the planet.
Highlights: The granddaddy of all rodeos is the annual Calgary Stampede Rodeo, the most prestigious of its kind in North America where cowboys complete for a staggering $2 million dollar prize and the esteemed championship title. This is followed by the Grandstand Show, a spectacular production where plans for 2014 include singing, dancing, acrobatics, daredevil motocross stunts, comedy routines, drumming, magical special effects as well as the usual fireworks finale. Check out our Calgary Stampede Extravaganza & The Rockies 8 day tour
See how the West was once at Calgary’s Heritage Park
Where: Located on 127 acres of parkland on the banks of Glenmore Reservoir.
What: Alberta's illustrious past is celebrated at Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village, rated as Canada's largest living museum. With over 180 attractions and exhibits that nod to the nation’s history, this year-round attraction offers plenty to thrill kids and enlighten grownups; from a working steam engine train, petting zoo and antique midway to vintage amusement park rides, a paddle steamer and an old Calgary streetcar.
Highlights: Live performances with costumed interpreters bring Western Canada’s history to life in the Park’s four locations: the Fur Trading Fort and Aboriginal Encampment, the Pre-railway Settlement, the Prairie Railway Town and the Gasoline Alley Museum and Heritage Town Square. Most fascinating is the 1913 Little Synagogue on the Prairie which was originally built by the Montefiore colony of Jewish immigrants who had settled in Alberta – it was moved to the park in 2008. Park admission costs £6 for adults and £3 for children aged three to 17.
Get a festival fix in Edmonton
Where: On the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, 180 miles from Calgary.
What: Far more laid-back than its flashier southern counterpart Calgary, Alberta’s capital Edmonton has shot to fame as Canada's Festival City. Hosting over 30 festivals and cultural events throughout the year that celebrate music, visual arts, dance, theatre, sports and film, the city is best known for staging the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Held every August, it is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind in North America.
Highlights: Hosting over 1,500 outdoor performances by bizarre stilt walkers, hip-hop dancers, musicians, jugglers, acrobats, unicyclists and more, the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival runs for ten days in July. Another calendar highlight is the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, a four-day outdoor music event held on the second weekend of August at Gallagher Park on the southern slope of the North Saskatchewan River valley. Previous main stage performers have included K.D. Lang, Joni Mitchell, Stan Rogers, Great Big Sea, Oysterband, Norah Jones and Van Morrison.
Shop, stay and play in North America’s largest mall
Where: At 8882 170 St NW in Edmonton.
What: Formerly the biggest mall in the world but now certainly the biggest in North America, West Edmonton Mall boasts a whopping 5.2 million square feet of space. Aside from its jaw-dropping mix of high street and designer offerings in over 800 stores, this colossal complex has 100 restaurants, a mini-golf course, a Wild West-themed shooting centre, an ice rink that doubles as a practice space for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and two luxury hotels - Fantasy Hotel and West Edmonton Mall Inn.
Highlights: Shopping is almost secondary to the countless thrills on offer; from an IMAX 3D Theatre and bowling alley to Sea Life Caverns, an underground aquarium that is home to over 100 species of colourful fish, sharks, reptiles, penguins and more. The biggest draws are Galaxyland, home to the Galaxy Quest, 7D Experience and over 24 gravity-defying rides, and World Waterpark with its huge array of water slides, raging rapids and enormous wave pool.
Book tickets to see The Passion Play
Where: In Drumheller, deep in the heart of the Canadian Badlands.
What: Set in a 2500-seat natural bowl amphitheatre formed by the massive Badlands coulees, The Canadian Badlands Passion Play takes audiences 2,000 years back in time for a dramatic portrayal of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Originated in 1994, this captivating play is performed for seven days every July.
Highlights: Chosen for its likeness to the hills outside of Jerusalem, the location spans 30 acres with a stage the size of six football fields. Each performance is three hours long with a 20-minute interval and there are annual changes to the script, cast and set. Every year, a dedicated group of directors, designers, composers and stage managers lead over 200 local actors and a volunteer army of 300 to tell ‘the greatest story ever told’ where the show also goes on, regardless of the weather. Tickets cost from £25 for adults and from £11.50 for children aged six to 12.
Check out the bones of Canada’s Badlands
Where: At Midland Provincial Park near to Drumheller.
What: Opened in 1985 and named in honour of Joseph Tyrrell, a geologist who discovered the first dinosaur in the Red Deer River Valley in 1884, The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology. Paying tribute to the earth’s 4.5 billion year history with a series of chronological galleries, this first-rate attraction houses one of the world’s largest dinosaur displays and also offers a wide variety of educational programmes and hands-on experiences that bring the prehistoric past to life.
Highlights: Most of the action takes place in The Dinosaur Hall, a showcase of mounted dinosaur skeletons where dino-lovers can marvel at awesome reconstructions of the Stegosaurus, Albertasaurus, Camarasaurus and the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. Equally fascinating is the renovated dinosaur-era Cretaceous Garden which presents visitors with a lush natural environment similar to the one dinosaurs inhabited millions of years ago. Museum admission costs £6.50 for adults and £3.50 for children aged seven to 17.
Further reading: Dinosaur adventures in Alberta.
Gaze at the Northern Lights at Jasper National Park
Where: Along the eastern slopes of the Rockies in west-central Alberta.
What: The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jasper’s 4300-square-mile landscape encompasses mountainous terrain and protected ecosystems, including the 1,000-foot-thick Columbia Icefield. Jasper received its Dark Sky Preserve status from Canada’s Royal Astronomical Society in 2011 and is one of the best places to witness the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) - nature’s very own light show where swirling colours dance across the night sky from September through April.
Highlights: Eager stargazers should head here in October for the two-day Jasper Dark Sky Festival, an annual event that celebrates astronomical wonders. Planned activities include evening interpretive hikes, star-orientated films and presentations by leading astronomers and science journalists. Not only will the surreal natural phenomena of the Northern Lights blow your mind by illuminating outstandingly dark skies, but there is also the opportunity to gaze through telescopes to see the rings of Saturn and occasional comets.
Travel the frozen landscape with a team of dog sleds
Where: Tours depart from Valemount, 120 kilometres from Jasper.
What: Operating tours at Jasper National Park, Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding offers thrillseekers the chance to venture into the heart of the Canadian Rockies led by a team of eight enthusiastic Alaskan Huskies. For those who want to drive themselves, personal instruction is included so long as you are heavy enough to stop and hold the team. Alternatively, snuggle up enjoy the ride through the snowy wilderness as a passenger.
Highlights: The guided sleds can accommodate three (two guests and one guide) and the average sled carries 500lbs. Trips range in time and length, but most suited for first-timers and families with small children is the 60 Minute Musher. Costing £81.50 for adults and £48 for children aged six to 12, this package includes an introduction to the dogs, professional instruction, one hour of mushing and hot drinks and homemade treats on your return. Prior booking is recommended.
See the best of Alberta with these recommended tours & stays
Rocky Mountaineer Journey Through the Clouds Explorer & Polar Bear Experience (12 nights)
Rocky Mountain Discovery Escorted Tour (12 nights)
Self-Drive Ranchland & Prairies (13 nights)
Self-Drive Mountain Country (18 nights)
Backcountry Lodge & Riding Adventure (7 nights)
Fairmont Banff Springs
Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff
Fairmont Palliser, Calgary