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Introducing Edmonton

Modern, spreadout and frigidly cold for much of the year, Alberta’s second-largest city and capital is a demure government town that you’re more likely to read about in the business pages than the travel supplements. Maybe that’s why the city’s surprises, when (or if) you find them, are so delightful. Edmonton’s annual fringe theater festival is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh, while the yawning fissure of a river valley that splits the city in half is less a park than its own self-contained ecosystem.

Despite all this, Edmonton acts more as a staging post than a destination in itself. Most non-Albertans pass through on their way to somewhere else – usually Jasper National Park, which lies four hours to the west, or, for a handful of visitors, the overhyped West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America. Edmonton is also a frontier town: north of here the landscape is vast and empty, with practically no civilization to speak of until Yellowknife. If you’re searching for the soul of the city, head south of the river to the university district and happy-go-lucky Whyte Avenue, home to small theaters, dive diners and a spirited Friday night mood.