By No Vacation Required, on September 18, 2013

Edmonton – the festival city

Sensuality! Murder! Mystery! Comedy! Edmonton has it all. Well, at least during the city’s world famous International Fringe Festival.

The festival, occurring every year since 1982, is North America’s oldest and largest fringe theater event. Always wanting to attend such an event, we thought it would be the perfect long-weekend break from all the hiking we had on our agenda in Alberta.

Armed with a 100+ page festival guide (yep, they’re serious about this), we arrived on a Friday afternoon and quickly checked into our Edmonton hotel. Unlike our last visit, during which we planted ourselves downtown, we made our home right in the epicenter of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival madness. The Matterra Hotel, on Whyte (82nd Avenue), was an ideal base in the heart of Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighborhood. Last time around, foul weather prevented us from fully exploring this quirky area’s interesting boutiques and restaurants, so we were eager to check everything out and to make sense of the festival’s activities that were beginning to heat up outside.

Viewfinder Tip: Don’t skip Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighborhood.

Our first order of business was getting our hands on tickets to some of the hundreds of performances that the festival boasts. We also wanted to leave time to enjoy the outdoor performances taking place all around the area. Walking the grid of streets surrounding the hotel and learning more about the events on offer, we had a pretty solid idea of how we wanted the weekend to unfold. The plan: one drama, one comedy, one “something whacky,” lots of outdoor performances, and plenty of street food. Hey, after nearly 100 miles of hiking, we deserved it!

Fringe Festival outdoor performance

Equipped with a strategy, we officially kicked off the weekend over dinner with a couple of locals. We wanted to ensure that we were on the right path with our loose plan of action. Assured that we were, we put the guide down and dove into a delicious dinner at Murrieta’s – complete with some of the best spaghetti I’ve ever had. Yes, in Edmonton. Subsequent meals would confirm our initial assessment – Edmonton is now a place you go to for festivals and food.

Saturday and Sunday was a blur of activity. We jump-started both days with Second Cup caffeine infusions followed by long runs on both sides of the river along Edmonton’s many trails. Our afternoons and evenings were spent checking performances off of our list, roaming the streets on sunshine-filled days, and eating loads of food (sit on the patio for great people watching at Packrat Louie and try the Don Andreas pizza at Famosa!). While the performances were all good, especially Amusement, the real fun was in meshing with the locals’ passion for such an event. There was an electricity in the air that was contagious; we really started to understand Festival City and why residents dig it so much.

Don Andreas pizza at Famosa

Heading to Edmonton? Be sure to consider visiting during a festival. Fringe Festival occurs every August. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Ice on Whyte Festival – January/February
  • Edmonton Pride Festival – June
  • Edmonton International Jazz Festival – June
  • A Taste of Edmonton / K-Days – July
  • River City Round Up – October / November

What’s your favorite festival?