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The “Gateway to the North," Edmonton is the northernmost big city on the continent. Alberta's capital is a newfangled business hub, a staging post for industries extracting oil from the remote, frigid landscape beyond. But Edmonton has plenty of character, too, on particular display when the International Fringe Festival lets loose in July.
The Fringe – the world’s second largest of its kind – takes place in Old Strathcona, the city's grooviest neighborhood. Whyte Avenue is its main vein and home to offbeat theaters, cheerful diners and vintage shops. Downtown centers on Churchill Square, where the glass-and-steel Art Gallery of Alberta shines, and on 104th Street, where underground wine bars and upscale burger joints fill revamped warehouses.
The funky West End holds galleries, sublime bakeries and the Royal Albert Museum's whopping insect collection. Waterslides, roller coasters and a shark-filled aquarium join 800 stores in behemoth West Edmonton Mall. For outdoor escapes, the North Saskatchewan River Valley unfurls a trail-studded greenbelt that's 22 times the size of New York's Central Park.