Tourism is an Albertan strong suit. With entire ranges of the Rocky Mountains to explore, vast lakes and forests to travel and the haunting hoodoos of the badlands to experience, there are Albertans who never leave the province for a vacation. And millions of visitors come every year to experience those things, too.
The province’s hospitality industry has grown to match that natural beauty. From fine dining in the cities to cooking over a campfire and under the stars, Alberta lets people build experiences to suit their tastes and budgets.
It’s no wonder that National Geographic named Alberta as one of the 25 most breathtaking places and experiences for 2023. “Alberta is celebrated for such natural wonders as the Athabasca Glacier and Banff National Park, both high in the Rocky Mountains; its wide-open prairie vistas; and the glass-and-steel modernity of cities like Calgary and Edmonton,” National Geographic wrote. The publication highlighted the stunning growth of authentic Indigenous experiences in the province, the bison of Elk Island National Park, just east of Edmonton, and the ancient rock carvings and paintings at the UNESCO World Heritage site Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi in the far south of the province.
It all adds up to a thriving visitor economy. In 2019, the year prior to the inevitable downturn caused by the global COVID pandemic, Alberta saw a total of 34.6 million person-visits and $10.1 billion CAD in tourism expenditures.
Annual tourism expenditures by tourists in Alberta
Annual amount contributed to Alberta’s GDP by tourism
in-person visits to Alberta per year
Number of full-time tourism jobs in Alberta
Sources: Government of Alberta, Statistics Canada, Travel Alberta
Eat East of Edmonton
Originally built in 1911, the Bruce Hotel has been an icon in Central Alberta for more than 100 years. The small, regal hotel sits along Highway 14, an hour southeast of the capital city of Edmonton. For 100 years it welcomed travellers. Now, it draws visitors from near and far to the small hamlet for the famous Bruce Hotel steak dinners on Friday and Saturday nights. Be sure to call ahead for a reservation.
The Bruce Hotel is just one potential stop on a culinary tour of East Central Alberta, home to some of the province’s most unique and exciting culinary attractions. Drop by Stawnichy’s Ukrainian Sausage in the town of Mundare. Stawnichy’s is a family-owned, Ukrainian food company whose specialty is the world famous Mundare sausage (although its product list includes more than 80 uniquely prepared meat and Ukrainian food products). Or stop by the Footloose Caboose near Tofield and dine inside a decommissioned Canadian Pacific Railway railcar for a one-of-a-kind experience.
On the Piikani Nation Reserve, about two hours south of Calgary, the Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp offers authentic Indigenous experiences to adventurous visitors. Guests sleep in one of six large tipis (or out under the stars if it’s a nice night!). They dine on traditional Indigenous foods with modern twists and learn about Blackfoot ways and culture, old and new. Elders lead traditional ceremonies and story- tellers share tales of the rich history of the plains people.
The Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp is on the Old Man River in Southern Alberta, an area rich in plant medicines and food sources. Ancient tipi rings can be seen on a hike through the Cottonwood Valley. The Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp is just one of a large number of Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-lead businesses that are catering to national and international audiences. It is a subsector of the visitor economy that is seeing steady growth and strong demand from people in the United States and Europe.
In 2016, on a small acreage about 200 kilometres east of Edmonton and just south of the town of Vermilion, Patrick Dupuis opened the Old School Cheesery. With a cheese-maker’s certificate and a pasteurizing licence, Dupuis and his team began handcrafting artisanal cheeses, including brie, a wide variety of cheddars and fresh, squeaky cheese curds.
Dupuis hosts wine-and-cheese events and pairs with other local producers to build exotic, delicious charcuterie boards.
The Old School Cheesery is also the first Economusee in Alberta, opening its doors to visitors from around the world and telling the story of being a small-scale producer using traditional methods and tools. Dupuis shares his craft with the public through sales, educational materials and tours. So drop by the Old School Cheesery and spend some time in the company of passionate artisans and cheese lovers.