|Alberta Rockies |
World-renowned beauty and home to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. Plenty of things to do for the adventurer, city-dweller and everyone in between. More than just busy tourist hubs, the Rockies are so vast it's easy to find a place where you can feel like you're the only one on the planet.
|Calgary Region |
Housing Alberta's largest city of one million or so, Calgary, this region is growing fast with the associated headaches of sprawl and traffic. Here you can experience big-city life while still being less than an hour from complete isolation.
|Central Alberta |
Where wild horses run free, this mostly rural region features rolling hills, prairie, and occasional forest. The most densely populated region of the province apart from Edmonton and Calgary, there are many towns and smaller cities. The region's centre is the city of Red Deer.
|Eastern Alberta |
Mostly forest and farms, this less-populated region features wilderness good for fishing and hunting. There is a large oil industry presence centred around the oil sands at Fort McMurray.
|Edmonton Capital Region |
Alberta's capital city of Edmonton and its suburbs have a population just smaller than Calgary's, but it's still growing quickly. Being a big city, there's lots to do, and the wild Elk Island National Park is renowned for its abundance of hoofed animals.
|Peace River Country |
Breathtaking nature takes this region as its beauty. It has a ton of forestry and small towns. Grande Prairie is its largest settlement.
|Southern Alberta |
This region features visually striking landscapes. It features valleys and plains shaped by thousands of years of erosion, farms, and Waterton Lakes National Park, where the Rockies suddenly emerge from the prairie without much transition. The largest cities are Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
Below are 10 cities frequently considered to have the most interest for the visitor.
- 1 Edmonton - the capital city of Alberta and the second largest urban population (812,000 city; 1,159,000 metro region). It is home to a vibrant cultural community, the largest urban parkland system in North America, North America's largest mall, and is dubbed Canada's Festival City. Aside from that, there is a pretty good science centre and a conservatory.
- 2 Calgary - Alberta's largest city (1,096,000 city; 1,214,000 metro region). It is home to a beautiful river, nice museum, cool towers, bustling economy, world class zoo, shopping. Famous for the 1988 Winter Olympics and the annual Calgary Stampede.
- 3 Banff - vacation destination in the Rockies offering a variety of outdoor activities
- 4 Drumheller - the dinosaur-lover's mecca, site of the Royal Tyrell Museum, the largest paleontology museum in Canada
- 5 Fort McMurray - oil sands boom town deep in northern Alberta, population had swelled to 88,000 before a 2015 downturn in oil prices and a May 2016 wildfire which destroyed portions of the community
- 6 Grande Prairie - in northwestern Alberta with a population of 63,000 and a major stop for travellers heading towards the Alaska Highway
- 7 Jasper - Banff's northerly neighbour - less visited than Banff but no less stunning
- 8 Lethbridge - is a city in southern Alberta with a population of about 83,500 and most famous for its canyons
- 9 Medicine Hat - is in southern Alberta with a population nearing 60,000
- 10 Red Deer - a city between Edmonton and Calgary with about 90,000 people and a major service centre
- 1 Banff National Park - probably the most famous national park, and home to the town of Banff which holds unique shopping and entertainment. Outside that, there's Lake Louise and world class skiing, hiking, and camping
- 2 Elk Island National Park - free ranging bison ("buffalo") and wapiti near Edmonton
- 3 Jasper National Park - beautiful mountain and shopping attractions without the hustle of Banff
- 4 Kananaskis Country - major natural recreation area in southern Alberta at the foot of the Rockies south of Calgary
- 5 Lake Louise - major ski resort and village just to the north of Banff, noted for its very blue lake
- 6 Waterton Lakes National Park - a true natural gem in the Rockies in Alberta's extreme southwest
- 7 Wood Buffalo National Park - the largest national park in Canada
Alberta was formed as a province in 1905. Its capital is Edmonton, which is roughly in the middle of the province, while the main centre in terms of corporate headquarters is Calgary to the south. Most of the population of Alberta lives along the "Highway 2 Corridor" between Edmonton and Calgary, although Lethbridge to the south, Grande Prairie to the northwest, and Fort McMurray to the northeast are also major centres.
The original inhabitants were the various Indigenous peoples, but significant European immigration occurred when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built and the Government offered incentives for settlers to come to Alberta. Since then the province has enjoyed steady immigration and population growth. There is no predominate ethnicity in the province, but there are definitely stronger communities in some areas, such as Cree (indigenous), French, Métis, and Ukrainians in Eastern Alberta, Scandinavians in Central Alberta, American Mormons and Blackfoot (indigenous) in Southern Alberta.
Alberta is the richest province in Canada. Its wealth is derived mainly from oil and gas production, though historically farming and cattle raising were important. Ranching maintains a high place in the economy and culture, particularly in Southern Alberta. Seventy percent of the Canadian cattle herd is in Alberta. Alberta is subject to repeated booms and busts tied to the price of oil, since the mid-2010s the economy has struggled.
Alberta is widely considered to be the most conservative area of Canada, however this is a complicated issue. Regional politics affected Alberta significantly, including the much-hated National Energy Program in the 1980s, so the region long voted Conservative as an expression of regional preference as much as political preference. And in 2015, it elected a social democratic government for the first time in its history. This won't affect the average traveller, and many benefit as Alberta's taxes are lower than that of the rest of Canada (there is no provincial sales tax).
English is the main language spoken by most people in Alberta. Significant minority languages include Ukrainian, German, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Hindi.
French is uncommon but available at all federal government institutions. Services at provincial and municipal government offices are available in French in areas with significant Francophone communities. Several Francophone communities exist in various parts of the province, and there is a French-language university in Edmonton - the Faculté Saint-Jean, now a part of the University of Alberta, which offers undergraduate degrees in several disciplines with instruction completely in French.
First Nations languages such as Cree, Dené, Blackfoot, etc. are spoken to varying degrees among those communities as both mother tongue and as a second language.
Calgary and Edmonton have international airports. Calgary's is the third largest in Canada (by passenger volume). It serves as the base of low-priced airline Westjet, which provides service to North American (mainly Canadian), Mexican and Caribbean destinations. Edmonton's is the fastest growing in Canada, with multiple expansions in place. International service is provided by several carriers at both locations, including multiple direct flights to London and Frankfurt each day. Other destinations are usually connecting through Vancouver or Toronto. Both airports act as collection points, Calgary for the prairie provinces, and Edmonton for destinations in the Canadian North like Grande Prairie and Yellowknife.
Alberta is quite large, as are most Canadian provinces. A rough comparison is that the island of Great Britain can fit into Alberta more than six times over. Albertan cities, and especially Calgary have historically grown horizontally rather than vertically and are thus really big. Car travel is essential unless you plan on staying within Edmonton or Calgary (where you can walk, bus, transit).
Driving regulations are the same as in most of Canada. Turning right (far right lane into far right lane) on a red light is allowed. Drunk driving is taken very seriously, but is disproportionately seen in rural areas—take care when driving there at night. Wildlife is another major concern. When driving on the highways, maintain a reasonable speed and look for sudden movements on the side. The most common animal hit is the deer, which is usually not fatal for the car. But running into an elk or moose could possibly be so. Elk and moose are very dark coloured so keep a close eye out for them. If you see animals on the side of the road it is common to want to slow down. Do so in a safe manner and don't needlessly impede traffic. Don't get out of your car to see the animals.
The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) is a good source of specific information. Calgary and Edmonton offer traffic radio stations - government-funded radio that only reports accidents, construction and weather. Watch for signs featuring the frequency in these cities.
Do not heed any warning about Albertan drivers being the most aggressive drivers in Canada - a common myth. They are not more so than Toronto and certainly are nothing compared with Southern Europe. High speeds and lane changes without signalling are generally the worst it gets.
- Rider Express, toll-free: . Bus service along the Trans-Canada Highway from Winnipeg to Vancouver, twice daily, and between Edmonton and Saskatoon. Service between Calgary, Canmore, Lake Louise, Banff and Strathmore; and to Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Swift Current, and Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan); Whitewood, Moosomin, Brandon, and Winnipeg (Manitoba); and Revelstoke, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, Hope, Abbotsford, and Vancouver (British Columbia).
- Via Rail is the only passenger rail service into Alberta, and it goes into Edmonton from Vancouver, British Columbia and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
There is no passenger rail service into Calgary, except for expensive (and slow) tourist trains such as the Royal Canadian Pacific or Rocky Mountaineer; these run as nostalgia, not as practical transportation.
Driving west out of Calgary towards British Columbia, the Rockies rise dramatically and quickly. The drive through Banff, Jasper or Glacier National Park can be quite spectacular. The Icefields Parkway between the towns of Banff and Jasper is definitely not to be missed.
In Edmonton, West Edmonton Mall is one of the province's larger attractions. With over 800 retail shops and the world's largest indoor entertainment centre, it's entertaining even for the non-shoppers. Also Edmonton is dubbed, "Canada's Festival City" to the exceedingly high number of festivals of every kind. The city also boasts North America's largest urban parkland system, which is very beautiful and completes the skyline over the North Saskatchewan River Valley.
Calgary offers the Calgary Stampede, the wild west-themed festival held every July complete with rodeos and fairs. One should also check out the Calgary Zoo and get a view from the top of the Calgary Tower.
It is easy for people from more densely populated and well-travelled Old World countries visiting Alberta (or Canada) underestimate the vast distances involved, and the sparse availability of tourist-focused accommodations (as opposed to industry-focused), and other tourist services in the rural areas. Nevertheless, with proper research and planning, a pleasant trip is easily achievable.
Big stuff tourEdit
During the mid twentieth century there was a mania for building roadside attractions in Alberta, especially if it could be called the "world's largest". For example:
- 1 World's biggest Baseball Bat - Edmonton (North Edmonton)
- 2 World's largest Baseball glove - Heisler
- 3 World's biggest Beaver - Beaverlodge
- 4 World's biggest Bee - Falher
- 5 World's biggest Chuckwagon - Dewberry
- 6 World's biggest Dinosaur - Drumheller
- 7 World's biggest Dragonfly - Wabamun
- 8 World's biggest Golf Putter - Bow Island
- 9 World's largest Golf Tee - Trochu
- 10 World's biggest Mallard Duck - Whitford Lake Bird Sanctuary (Andrew)
- 11 World's biggest Mushrooms - Vilna
- 12 World's largest Oil Lamp - Donalda
- 13 World's biggest Perogy - Glendon
- 14 World's biggest Piggy Bank - Crowsnest Pass (Coleman)
- 15 World's biggest Pysanka Easter Egg - Vegreville
- 16 World's largest Railroad Spike - Hines Creek
- 17 World's biggest Sausage - Mundare
- 18 Susie the World's largest Softball - Chauvin
- 19 World's biggest Star Trek Enterprise Replica - Vulcan
- 20 World's biggest Sun dial - Lloydminster
- 21 World's biggest Tipi - Medicine Hat
- 22 World's first UFO landing pad - St. Paul
- 23 World's largest Weather Vane - Westlock
- 24 World's largest Western Boot - Edmonton (West End)
For more, visit: Large Canadian Roadside Attractions
The main attraction in Alberta outside of the two big cities are the open spaces and the proximity to nature. This is a good place to visit if you like the idea of outdoor life.
Horse riding is a major attraction here, especially in the south and west: cowboy country. Guest ranches and trail rides are plentiful.
The ski resorts of Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Norquay, all in Banff National Park dish up almost every kind of terrain for the hardcore skier, yet allow novice skiers to have fun through green runs and long cruising runs. If the crowds bother you, there are other ski areas in the province.
There are a few lakes that allow one to do boating, jetskiing or most other watersports despite Alberta's landlocked nature.
There are many excellent golf courses available to the public across the provinces. Areas of particular interest include the mountain parks where Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge, Kananaskis Country, Stewart Creek, and Silver Tip are recognized as some of Canada's best courses. Central Alberta also offers several excellent courses, including Wolf Creek and Alberta Springs. In the Edmonton area, popular courses include the Northern Bear, Cougar Creek, The Ranch, and Goose Hummock. In Drumheller, the back nine of the Dinosaur Point Golf Course features several very dramatic and spectacular holes.
Offroad driving using "quad" bikes, trucks, dirtbikes, and even snowmobiles is practically the official sport in Alberta. If it is loud, fast, and spews noxious emissions, it can be bought or rented in Alberta.
There is a surprising array of restaurants to choose from, especially in the major cities. Tastes range from simple burger joints to haute cuisine in the finest restaurants. Alberta is world renowned for its beef and the steak can be considered the regional dish for Alberta.
Favourite rural cafés
The drinking age is 18 - younger than most other provinces in Canada. Alcohol is available from the many private liquor stores and beer/wine stores throughout the province. Unlike other provinces, liquor retail is privatized. Unlike most American states, you cannot buy alcohol directly in grocery stores, although many grocery stores have liquor stores in unattached buildings nearby.
The following areas of Alberta are considered higher risk areas with respect to crime.
- Calgary - walking during night hours should be avoided in the East Village, Victoria Park, and the Bow River Pathway between Eau Claire Market and the Calgary Zoo. These areas are prone to drugs and prostitution. There are panhandlers on various downtown streets.
- Edmonton - an area northeast of downtown is a prostitution stroll. There is also a stretch of Whyte Avenue that can be a problem after 7PM, given its high bar concentration.
Otherwise, Alberta as a whole is a relatively safe area. However common sense should be applied. Do not leave valuables visible in vehicles and lock all vehicle doors.
Growth in urban centres in Alberta has led to increased traffic. Allow plenty of time to reach a destination, especially during rush hour or during adverse weather.
Alberta's weather is very changeable and volatile, especially in the mountains and the foothills and also during the spring season. Driving conditions can deteriorate quickly. Before going out, always check the local forecast. Road conditions are available through the Alberta Motor Association.
During winter strong Chinook winds in the foothills, especially south of Calgary, can blow a vehicle off the road. Highways 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22 and 23 south of Calgary are the most vulnerable to these conditions, with Highway 22 usually being the worst. Extra caution is advised, particularly for higher-height vehicles such as trucks and SUVs.
Alberta has had cases of the West Nile Virus. In the spring and summer, it is wise to be protected using Deet-based repellents.
The area within and around the mountain parks is bear country. Hikers, hunters and campers in these areas should follow all bear safety tips. Campsites should be kept clean, all dishes properly washed, and all tables wiped clean after a meal. Never leave any food or garbage loose or unattended. Hikers should travel as a group, make noise regularly and stay on established trails. Pets should be kept out of bear country.
Taxis can be in short supply in Calgary and Edmonton at times, especially during holidays, poor weather, and on weekends. It is advisable to phone ahead in the daytime for a reservation if you realize you may need a taxi. In most cases, taxis are easily available at the airports.
During summers tornadoes are not uncommon and happen most in central Alberta. Edmonton has been hit by many tornadoes, the biggest of which was an F4 in 1987. Hail is very common during these storms — usually very small but sometimes as big as softballs. Check Environment Canada about risks.
Though one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada, neighbouring provinces have much to offer, as well. British Columbia has much great scenery as well, and also world-class cities like Vancouver and Victoria.
To the east is Saskatchewan, which has a large amount of grassland but is also home to over 100,000 lakes and offers some of the most beautiful skyline.