Toddler Tourist Takes Edmonton By Storm

Little Miss B enjoying Telus World of Science Edmonton
Little Miss B enjoying Telus World of Science Edmonton

Travelling with my pint-sized ruler can be exhausting. To date, our holidays have focused on beach destinations. Why? Because, when an overtired eighteen-month old flings a bowl of scalding hot oatmeal onto my lap I at least want an ocean view.

However, I’ve found two to be a magical age. A real shift from baby toddler to mini-human has occurred. It also opens up a whole new realm of travel. City attractions like zoos, amusement parks and science centres now capture my daughter’s interest and hold her attention. Even better, most offer free admission for tots under three.

With direct flights and heaps of family friendly activities, Edmonton hit the mark for our foray into the world of city exploration. I’d also heard fantastic things about a burgeoning farm-to-fork culinary scene, and excessive dining always feels better if your not stuffing yourself into a swimsuit the next day.

Explore Edmonton Telus World of Science
Explore Edmonton Telus World of Science

When you’re up at the crack of dawn with kids, look for the silver lining and use it to your advantage. By arriving at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science before the doors actually opened, we enjoyed a crowd free viewing with no line-ups and ample freedom for a certain someone to run around and burn off energy. We toured a few galleries before arriving at the pinnacle of play – Discoveryland. Designed for children under the age of eight, with tot galaxy (playroom for three and under), water play area, tree house and mini jet plane, my daughter was captivated. So was my husband. We could have easily spent the entire morning here, perhaps even the day. Admission is free for kids under three, although I had to pay for my husband.

Little Miss B at Galaxyland in West Edmonton Mall
Little Miss B at Galaxyland in West Edmonton Mall

West Edmonton Mall was another huge success for us, and all of the attractions are free for three and under. We went straight to Galaxyland Amusement Park for the tot rides and space-themed play area. Arriving early is key as the mall gets extremely busy in the afternoon and it’s harder to navigate with little ones. The underground aquarium Marine Life and World Waterpark are also great for toddlers.

City Market Downtown Edmonton
City Market Downtown Edmonton

When visiting a new city I try to seek out a farmer’s market. It’s an activity that engages all of the senses and my daughter is quite happy to snack in the stroller, meet local producers and check out the brightly coloured stalls. For our first few nights we stayed in a modern one-bedroom suite at the Matrix Hotel, which is only a few blocks from Edmonton’s City Market Downtown. The buffet breakfast included with all room rates made for a much simpler start to the morning.

Goodies at Duchess Bake Shop
Goodies at Duchess Bake Shop

In my search for other unique foodie spots that welcome children I found Blue Plate Diner and Duchess Bake Shop. Weekend brunch at Blue Plate is legendary, but as reservations aren’t accepted until 2:00 pm we opted for a late lunch instead. Quirky kitsch décor and home-style comfort food are the best way to describe the diner. The shepherds pie came with a side of mac n’ cheese – my husband was in heaven.

Duchess Bake Shop is at the other end of the design spectrum. A quaint, yet lively little café with gleaming glass cases elegantly displaying a rainbow of macaroons, delicate cakes and flakey pastries. Had I realized how popular Duchess was, we would have come earlier for a leisurely mid-morning tea and treat. Unfortunately by late afternoon it was standing room only, and we had to take our treasures to go.

Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
Fairmont Hotel Macdonald

For us, vacation dates are a must and that requires reliable and trustworthy childcare. After an extensive search for a hotel that offers babysitting, we moved to the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald for our last two nights. The indoor pool was a bonus.

First up, we strolled along Whyte Ave in Old Strathcona, popping into a string of eclectic boutiques along the way. A couples massage at Wellness on Whyte followed. My therapist Suzy was so incredible that her hands alone would bring me back to Edmonton.

Dinner at Corso32
Dinner at Corso32

Dinner was at the critically acclaimed Corso32. Reservations are not easy to obtain, as the tiny restaurant is often fully booked upwards of three weeks in advance. The handmade pasta was so delicate that I believe fairies were responsible for its creation. Each course surpassed the previous: a bruschetta with house-made ricotta cheese, locally grown pea shoots and pine nuts; simple green beans, tossed in Italian parsley, cracked pepper and garlic; then black truffle and ricotta agnolotti – the pasta made by tiny fairies.

The following evening we scored an early reservation at RGE RD – a farm-to-fork restaurant in the most literal sense. Originally created as an on-farm dining experience, RGE RD’s popularity begged for a more traditional restaurant format. Our meal was an event that lasted over two hours, allowing plenty of time for handcrafted cocktails. While the dishes are hearty, the portion sizes lend well for sharing. For the adventurous there is Questionable Bits, a daily preparation using whole animal cooking. While intrigued by the name, I was drawn more to the local bison and Gouda perogies.

Edmonton also happens to be touted as Canada’s festival city and we fortuitously visited at the tail end of the jazz festival. Most of events held throughout the summer are family friendly and many include free outdoor concerts and performances. Next time we’ll plan our trip around the Folk Music Festival in August. An afternoon of dancing in the park promises an early night for our little one.