Edmonton: A gateway, but many reasons to stay put

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While it might not have the star power of Toronto and Montreal to the east or the cultural diversity of exciting Vancouver, its neighbor to the west, Edmonton -- the capital of the province of Alberta -- should be on any Canada visitor’s list of must-see cities.

Considered the “gateway to the Canadian Rockies” -- a descriptive appellation, to be sure, but one that suggests a lack of tourism appeal within the city itself -- Edmonton actually offers a portfolio of attractions and lodgings rich enough to keep vacationers busy and happy for days on end.

A brief rundown on the city, based on a recent stay of several days, follows:

Fairmont Hotel Macdonald: The leading property in town is a wonderful example of chateau-style railroad hotels found in Canada. Home to visiting royalty, from King George VI in 1939 to Queen Elizabeth II just last year, “The Mac” has a regal presence, sitting majestically on an embankment overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Go to www.fairmont.com.

Royal Alberta Museum: Fulfilling its mission “to preserve and tell the story of Alberta,” this museum features a comprehensive collection of fur-trade artifacts. Also worth seeing is the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture, where 11,000 years of history play out in more than 3,000 artifacts, recordings, film and interactive displays. Visit www.royalalbertamuseum.ca.

Muttart Conservancy: Four large, glass pyramids -- encapsulating jungle, desert, forest and flowers -- constitute the heart of this horticultural refuge. Connected by a center-court atrium with gift shop and cafe, the pyramids, the largest of which measures 7,100 square feet and 79 feet high, are home to more than 700 species of plants. See www.edmonton.ca/muttart.

West Edmonton Mall: More entertainment metropolis than shopping center, this 5.3 million-square-foot extravaganza boasts more than 800 stores, 100 eateries, 21 cinema screens, a casino, two hotels, 20,000 parking spaces and 58 entrances.

And consider this: The WEM contains the world’s largest indoor amusement park, a triple-loop roller coaster, an indoor lake, a 2.7 million-gallon wave pool, a bungee-jump tower, three resident sea lions and an NHL-sized ice arena for kids’ teams. For more, visit www.westedmall.com.

Alberta Legislature: No roller coaster at this imposing structure, built from 1907 to 1912 with materials such as Italian marble. Free guided tours explain the parliamentary system, which can be a revelation to U.S. citizens unfamiliar with this type of government. See www.assembly.ab.ca.

Old Strathcona: Historical buildings dating to the 1890s house boutiques, book stores, craft shops, bars and cafes in this thriving community, which hums with live music from 103rd Street to 109th Street on and just off Whyte Avenue. Don’t miss the Old Strathcona Farmers Market every Saturday. Go to www.edmonton.com.

Arts District: This four-block area is home to the Edmonton Art Gallery, Citadel Theater and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the Francis Winspear Centre.

Contact Edmonton Tourism at (800) 463-4667 or www.edmonton.com/tourism.

To contact reporter Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].

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