Alberta’s capital city is a fantastic place to experience the arts, culture and history of the prairies. Edmonton museums and art galleries provide memorable learning experiences that inspire imagination, introduce new ideas and allow a family to learn and grow together. On top of all that, modern museums are a lot of fun. After a weekend family escape in Edmonton, we asked our 3-year-old granddaughter what she liked best about the trip. We thought she might talk about the water park she visited, but she said she liked the museum visit best. We were surprised and pleased. Appreciating a museum is a first step to becoming a lifelong learner. Here are our picks for the best Edmonton museums.
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The Royal Alberta Museum
Formerly known as the Provincial Museum of Alberta, the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) is one of my family’s favourite Edmonton museums. It is also the largest museum in western Canada. You should plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring. This incredible museum has expansive natural and human history halls that chronicle the history of Alberta’s people, animals, and landscapes. There’s also a fascinating Bug Gallery and a hands-on Children’s Gallery. Indigenous stories are woven throughout the museum and there is one gallery specifically dedicated to contemporary First Nations and Métis peoples. My children have always loved the bug galleries, the rock collection, the taxidermy animals and the incredible fossil displays.
Telus World of Science
When you think about it, science is all around us. If you want to understand the world, outer space or how the human body functions, you need to learn about science. Telus World of Science is one of the best science-based Edmonton museums in Alberta. Operated by the Edmonton Space & Science Foundation, its mission is to ignite curiosity, inspire discovery, celebrate science and change lives. There’s an IMAX theatre, special exhibits and fascinating programming. Permanent galleries let you explore the natural world, understand the science behind the human body, learn about space, weather, sports and crime-solving. There are also fun live demonstrations on various topics. You can see stars, constellations and laser light shows in the planetarium. This attraction is fun for all ages.
Fort Edmonton Park
Fort Edmonton Park is a living history museum that showcases the history and growth of the City of Edmonton from 1846 through 1920. Costumed interpreters and historic buildings help to bring history alive. The Park includes the 1846 Hudson’s Bay Fort as well as the Streets of 1885, 1905, and 1920. You can experience a real fur trading fort, see an indigenous settlement, ride a steam train, shop in an old time candy store, ride a wagon and more. The park is situated on 64 hectares of land in the Edmonton River Valley. Visiting Fort Edmonton Park is a way to bring history alive.
Related: Read about our visit to Fort Steele near Cranbrook.
Alberta Aviation Museum
If aviation and airplanes are your passion, the Alberta Aviation Museum is one of the best Edmonton museums to experience. Located in a WWII-era hangar in northwest Edmonton, this unique museum has a great collection of historical aircraft and it’s a good place to learn about aviation in Alberta. Volunteers spend countless hours restoring the aircraft. The oldest airplanes date to about 1920. Highlights of the collection include the De Havilland DH98 Mosquito, the Cranwell CLA4, the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo, and the Waco UIC. The museum has an extensive collection of photographs, historical documents and books. There’s also an onsite gift shop.
Art Gallery of Alberta
In the heart of the Arts District in downtown Edmonton, the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) is one of the most beautifully designed Edmonton museums. Designed by Randall Stout, the building’s angular windows are juxtaposed against a winding 190-metre steel ribbon that represents the winding North Saskatchewan River and the Aurora Borealis. Inside it’s 85,000 sq feet (7,900 sq metres), the AGA maintains an impressive collection of more than 6,000 works created by local, national and international artists. The museum also invites traveling displays. Drawing, sculpture, photography, painting and performance art are on display. Tours and classes are available and there’s a fun children’s interactive gallery, a gift shop, a coffee bar and a sales gallery where you can purchase works of art from Alberta artists.
High Level Bridge Streetcar & Museum
A ride on the High Level Bridge Streetcar is a ride into history. You travel aboard a refurbished trolley car that dates back to the early 1900s. The ride takes you from Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona area, through the only CPR Tunnel built east of the Canadian Rockies, and across the High Level Bridge into Edmonton’s Downtown. It’s the highest streetcar river crossing in the world. A visit to the Strathcona Streetcar Barn & Museum is included when you ride the High Level Bridge Streetcar. Inside the museum are artifacts, pictures and information relating to streetcar history in Edmonton and around the world. You can also watch a film about Edmonton’s streetcars.
Alberta Railway Museum
If trains and railways fascinate you, the Alberta Railway Museum is one of the best Edmonton museums for you. This outdoor museum is very rustic, but it contains more than 75 train cars and locomotives as well as historical buildings. You can learn about railway history and enjoy a short ride on a vintage train.
Another Great Place to Experience an Antique Steam Train: Read our article, Cranbrook, BC – A Historic Holiday.
Alberta Legislature & Visitor Centre
You don’t think of the Alberta Legislature as a museum, but it is. You can learn a lot on a free tour of the Legislative Building and the visitor centre. I love the story about Alberta’s first mace and the impressive architecture inside the Legislative building. The visitor centre contains a lego recreation of Vimy Ridge, a gift shop, an art gallery and an impressive film that includes many special effects. It’s also fun to roam around the grounds. Prior to Covid, children were allowed to swim in the outdoor fountains.
John Walter Museum
Located near the Walterdale Bridge in the Edmonton river valley, the John Walter Museum interprets the life of John Walter and the Strathcona community of Walterdale from 1875 to 1920. There are three original family homes and artifacts related to the Walter family. You can take a self-guided tour or just wander around the outside of the historic homes and enjoy the gardens. There are special events and programs throughout the year and the museum is close to trails, picnic sites, a playground, and the Kinsmen Recreation Centre.
Museum of Zoology – University of Alberta
The University of Alberta Museums has 29 registered museum collections located across the university campus. There are more than 10 million objects and specimens in the collection. One of our favourite museums on campus is the amphibian and reptile collection at the museum of zoology. There are more than 4000 specimens in the collection. The museums and art exhibits on campus are free to explore. You can also see the University of Alberta Art Collection and Mactaggart Art Collection on your own or on a guided tour.
Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta
The Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta is a tribute to the Ukrainian settlers of Alberta. The museum has an extensive collection of artifacts including more than 400 pieces of art in a variety of different styles and media. There are 160 paintings of churches in Alberta. You’ll also see traditional clothing, handicrafts, elaborately-decorated Easter eggs and musical instruments from the Ukraine. There are also many religious items including an early Slavonic Bible from 1751. The archives contain a vast collection of manuscripts, letters and diaries.
Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site
Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site was the home of the first Premier of Alberta, Alexander Cameron Rutherford. He moved into the house in 1911 and entertained many influential Canadian there. This restored Edwardian-style home offers a glimpse into the past with costumed interpreters, guided tours, and special events. It used to offer afternoon tea, but the restaurant was closed due to Covid.
Other Museums Near Edmonton
There are several other amazing museums within a short drive of Edmonton. Our top three picks include the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, the Reynolds Alberta Museum and the Canadian Energy Museum. The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is an open-air museum with costumed interpreters who share the history of the settlement of east central Alberta by Ukrainian Canadian settlers from 1899 to 1930. The Reynolds Alberta Museum pays tribute to Alberta’s mechanical heritage. There is an outstanding collection of cars, airplanes, tractors, and industrial machines. The Canadian Energy Museum is located in Leduc County at the site where oil was first discovered in Alberta.
Where to Stay in Edmonton
There are many great accommodation options in Edmonton. On our most recent visit, we stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham Edmonton West. The hotel is very close to West Edmonton Mall. It has a pool with a fountain, a hot tub and a water slide. Breakfast is also included. It was reasonably priced and a good choice for families.
More Road Trip Fun: Read our post, 16 Amazing Alberta Road Trips to Experience Now.