Once a year at the end of September Edmonton offers "Free Admission Day", which is a great chance for Edmontonians to check out some local attractions. Make sure you don't miss it this year on Sunday, September 27! Here's the list of participating attractions. Last year I had an awesome time checking out Fort Edmonton Park and this year will be heading to the zoo.
If you miss Free Admission Day, I've discovered that you can still see a lot in Edmonton for free, if you plan right. Here are some other great things to check out at no cost:
1. Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton Valley Zoo, Muttart Conservatory -- Probably the best things to check out on Free Admission Day are Fort Edmonton Park, the Edmonton Valley Zoo, or the Muttart Conservatory, as they're quality attractions that charge admission every other day of the year!
2. Royal Alberta Museum -- The Royal Alberta Museum is free on Alberta Family Day (third Monday of February) and Alberta Culture Days (September 25 - 27, 2015). Admission is half price on Sundays between 9 - 11 am (so if you bring your student ID, it's only $3.50).
3. Art Gallery of Alberta -- Sponsored by Servus Credit Union, Art Gallery admission is free from 6 - 9 pm on the last Thursday of every month. At any other time, if you ride ETS to the Art Gallery, you can save $3 off admission by presenting your ETS ticket.
4. John Walter Museum -- Comprising three houses built between 1875 and 1901, the John Walter Museum depicts how John Walter, a York boat builder for the HBC, and his wife, Annie, lived in one of the first private residences outside the walls of Fort Edmonton. With hands-on activities for kids, this free museum is open on Sundays from 1 - 4 pm.
5. Alberta Legislature -- Built in 1913 at the former site of Fort Edmonton, the Alberta Legislature Building offers free 45-minute tours on the hour, seven days a week.
6. Government House -- The official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta between 1913 and 1938, Government House is now a Provincial and National Historic Site. Free tours are offered on Sundays and holiday Mondays, from 11 am - 4 pm.
7. downtown walking tours -- During the summer, the Downtown Business Association offers free guided walking tours of downtown Edmonton.
8. Whyte Ave -- Taking a walk down Whyte Ave in the historic Old Strathcona neighbourhood is a good way to spend a few hours. Discover some of the area's history on a self-guided walking tour, visit the Old Strathcona Farmers Market (open year-round on Saturdays from 8 am - 3 pm), browse in some of the unique shops, or catch a festival.
9. Garneau Theatre -- Built in 1940, the historic Garneau Theatre occasionally offers free films, including their Alberta Culture Days and Science in the Cinema series. Their Reel Family Cinema Saturday matinees are free for children twelve and under. Monday is also a great day to catch a movie -- all films are $5 at the Garneau Theatre and $6 at the historic Princess Theatre on Whyte Ave.
10. West Edmonton Mall -- While visiting the water and amusement parks will set you back quite a bit, just walking around to take in North America's largest mall doesn't cost a thing. Some interesting things to check out are the skating rink (there are sometimes junior hockey games), massive water park (look through the second-floor window), replica of Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria in the lagoon, sea lion show (see it for free from the second-floor balcony), and T&T Asian grocery store.
11. St. Albert -- Just 20 minutes northwest of Edmonton, the town of St. Albert was ranked by MoneySense Magazine in 2014 as Canada's Best Place To Live. Free attractions to check out include Grain Elevator Park and Train Station, St. Albert Botanic Park, and the St. Albert Farmers' Market (apparently the largest outdoor one in Western Canada; open 10 am - 3 pm on Saturdays from mid June through early October).
1. skating rinks -- Various rec centres in Edmonton offer free drop-in public skating year-round. In the winter, there are a number of free outdoor skating rinks (free skate rentals are even available at Swing 'n Skate Sundays at City Hall) and you can skate or try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing for free at the Silver Skate Festival in Hawrelak Park.
2. outdoor spray parks & pools -- In the summertime, the City operates free spray parks for kids and allows public swimming in the shallow pools/fountains outside of City Hall and the Legislature.
3. river valley parks -- One of my favourite things about Edmonton is how much green space there is right in the middle of the city, in the river valley park system. There are 160 km of foot and cycling trails to check out along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River! Did you know that at 7400 ha our river valley is apparently the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America?!
4. Elk Island National Park -- Located 45 minutes east of Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is home to the densest population of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in Canada, including bison, elk, deer, and moose. Beaver, coyotes, and over 250 bird species can also be found in the park. It is also a designated dark sky preserve. On Canada Day admission to the park is free (I didn't know this, but apparently entry to all of Canada's National Parks, National Historic Sites, and National Marine Conservation Areas is free on July 1!).
5. skiing -- Okay so I'm sneaking this onto the list even though it's not technically free, just because I think it's pretty cool that it's possible to go downhill skiing right in Edmonton (at Snow Valley, Sunridge, Edmonton Ski Club, or Rabbit Hill)! Look out for Groupons and two-hours-from-closing or Friday deals (for example, Snow Valley has $10 lift tickets on weekdays from 6:30 - 9:30 pm and weekends from 3 - 5 pm, or with a food bank donation on Fridays from 3 - 9 pm).
1. festivals -- Edmonton is known as "the festival city" for its many festivals. Many of these are free, including the Whyte Avenue Art Walk and Heritage Festival in the summer and the Silver Skate Festival and Flying Canoe Adventure Walk in the winter. Be sure to check Things To Do In Edmonton This Weekend to know which festivals are coming up!
2. farmers' markets -- Edmonton has several great farmers' markets that are fun to browse around in. The City Market Downtown (Saturdays 10 am - 3 pm, on 104 St in the summer and indoors in City Hall in the winter), Old Strathcona Farmers' Market (year-round on Saturdays 8 am - 3 pm), French Quarter Grand Market (year-round on Sundays 12 - 4 pm), and Callingwood Farmers' Market (May through mid October, Sundays 10 - 3 pm and Wednesdays 2 - 6 pm) are all worthwhile checking out.
3. Churchill Square -- Churchill Square in front of City Hall hosts a range of free activities and entertainment year-round, from Zumba in the summer to Swing 'n Skate Sundays in the winter. Every Tuesday evening in August, free outdoor movies are shown in the Square.
4. Symphony in the City -- Each year on Labour Day weekend the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra offers free performances in Churchill Square, last year featuring Disney classics and this year Disney's Fantasia.
5. U of A Observatory -- The Department of Physics and Astronomy Observatory at the University of Alberta offers free public solar observing (Thursdays 12 - 1 pm), evening observing (Thursday evenings -- times vary), and lectures.
6. horse racing -- From May through October you can watch thoroughbread racing for free at Northlands Park (but I haven't been, so can't tell you the details).
1. High Level Bridge lights -- Built in 1913, Edmonton's steel High Level Bridge is fun to drive or walk across in the daytime and, thanks to the Light the Bridge campaign, now has 60,000 programmable LED bulbs that light it up beautifully at night. Driving through a tunnel of lights, which may flash in different colours depending on the occasion, is pretty unique!
2. Neon Sign Museum -- The City of Edmonton has collected twelve iconic and historical signs, eight of which have been restored and installed with accompanying plaques on the side of the Telus building on 104 St and 104 Ave. This ongoing project, with a goal of collecting 30 signs, is worthwhile checking out if you're in the area after dark!
3. aurora borealis -- At 53.3° N, Edmonton's latitude makes it occasionally possible to see the aurora borealis! Your best bet is to head outside of the city's light pollution, on a clear night, when the geomagnetic activity is high.
4. Saskatoon berry picking -- In July look out for wild Saskatoon berries in the river valley! Alternatively, for around $15 a gallon, you can head to one of the u-pick farms outside of the city (Sherwood Park, St. Albert, etc.).
If you're looking for something to do in the city, Things To Do In Edmonton This Weekend is a fantastic webpage that is updated on a weekly basis. If you have anything to contribute to this list (I've got to be missing some!), please comment!