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Edmonton, Canada: Your Essential Weekend Itinerary

For the longest time, Edmonton has been derided by the rest of Canada as a laughingstock metropolis where nothing happens. But in the last 10 years or so, that's all changed. An influx of ethnically-diverse and younger migrants have flooded the Alberta capital and a once-dreary downtown has been converted into a hub of activity. In fact, the whole city has shifted into glide with world-class restaurants, festivals in every cultural motif imaginable and a vibrant live theater and music scene taking place year-round. Want to explore some highlights? OK, let's go!

Chow down on unique RGE RD cuisine

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There's no shortage of cuisine types when it comes to the restaurant scene, but for those hankering to sink their teeth into something wild at a place that prides itself on offering a menu that's off the beaten path, all forks in the road point to RGE RD, just northwest of downtown. It's where you can have a taste on how chefs with global credentials prep locally caught pickerel or even regionally raised bison, pork and pheasant. For the adventurous, RGE RD offers diners a multi-course meal that includes surprises galore. Or they can try the Questionable Bits, which is a combination of ingredients for foods that don't quite fit elsewhere on the menu. Considering the staff's track record in the meal prep department, that selection will not disappoint.

Catch live theater at the New Varscona

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What used to be an old firehall has now been renovated into an innovative theater facility that houses up to eight cultural companies, offering everything from cutting-edge live drama to hilarious improvisational comedy. In fact, some major players and alumni cut their teeth in this facility and have become bigger names elsewhere, such as Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle, and his forthcoming ABC series The Rookie), Tyson Houseman (The Twilight Saga) and Mark Meer (Mass Effect). Aside from helping groom locals for the big time, the New Varscona offers some of the most acclaimed productions across the country, making it one of the continent's most vibrant sites for experimentation and imagination.

Explore the wilderness of the river valley

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Along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River lies a giant river of parkland boasting some 20 parks and more than 100 miles of paths for foot and bike traffic. Edmonton's River Valley is so vast, it's been declared the largest urban park in Canada, even dwarfing New York's Central Park in terms of size. Picnic areas, golf, hiking, skating and some impromptu beach areas are all publicly available while footbridges offer more of a bird's eye view of the terrain. At various times of the year, some festivals make the river valley home offering entertainment that includes nights with the local symphony, Shakespearean plays and folk music. But with 30 miles of unspoiled territory to cover, you'll find spots so natural, you won't even know you're in the city.

Naturally, there's a slew of other diversions for locals and visitors in a city that's on the verge of hitting a million people. Art lovers have a choice of hitting the world-popular Art Gallery of Alberta or for more wilder exhibitions, Latitude 53 or Harcourt House. Music fans can check out the Winspear Centre that's the home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the best in jazz at the Yardbird Suite, country music at Cook Country Saloon or alt-rockers at the Starlite Room, that's home of the infamous sloping floor. Theatre buffs are in for a treat with mega-productions at the Citadel, totally Canadian works at Theatre Network and Workshop West, or more cutting-edge drama at Northern Light and Shadow Theatre. If treating your tummy's more your thing, try the best in Alberta beef at Hardware Grill, award-winning Italian fare at Corso 23 or the most unique sandwiches in town at Three Boars Cafe. And the beauty of the city is that if what you seek isn't exactly high-profile, there's no shortage of hidden finds to discover.

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