The perfect foil to the great outdoors that envelops them, Canada's West's cities are a heady cocktail of tradition, creativity and modernity They are siblings, cut from the same cloth. They sit under crisp blue skies in winter and bask in long, sunny days in summer. Among the mountains, lakes and coasts of Alberta and British Columbia, the cities of Western Canada couldn't be more diverse. From urbane Edmonton to blooming Victoria, from 'Cowtown' Calgary to vibrant Vancouver, here's what you shouldn't miss...
EDMONTON: FESTIVAL CITY
Alberta's capital is the second largest city in the province and one of the most northerly in North America. At Alberta's geographical heart, Edmonton is known as 'festival city', with more than 30 events annually. Some 500,000 visitors descend for The Edmonton Fringe Festival, while the annual Edmonton Folk Festival is widely regarded as among the best in the world. With more than 60 galleries and around 20 theatre companies, Edmonton's cultural landscape is thriving.
Perched on the North Saskatchewan River Valley, the city also offer the chance to experience Alberta's great outdoors, especially in the summer, when it can stay light for almost 17 hours a day. Away from Edmonton there are walking trails, wildlife galore and Fort Edmonton Park, the largest historical park in Canada, chronicling the city's development from fur trading post to frontier city.
Watch out for: West Edmonton Mall. This is the province's number-one visitor attraction and the biggest indoor shopping mall in North America, with more than 800 shops under one roof. More info: www.edmonton.com
Vancouver's physical make-up is as diverse as its inhabitants: 40 per cent are immigrants. A jewel in the crown of British Columbia's southwest coast, this gateway city - regularly voted the world's most liveable - straddles the low terrain of the Fraser River and the mountainous coast. It is a vision of glass buildings, shimmering water and an undulating horizon that peaks on the north shore with 1,200m-high Grouse Mountain.
It's a powerful concoction of futuristic metropolis and outdoor life: when the suits leave Downtown you'll find them rollerblading on English Bay, kayaking in False Creek or picking out fresh produce from the Granville Island farmers' market.
For visitors, exhilarating outdoor adventure experiences are on offer, from boarding a tour boat to spot orcas, humpbacks, minke and grey whales in their natural Pacific playground to cycling the Stanley Park seawall or navigating the iconic Capilano Suspension Bridge, 70m above the Capilano River.
The fresh air stirs appetites and eating well is essential for Vancouverites. You can dine alfresco all year, and, alongside delicious ethnic food, Pacific Northwest cuisine - think salmon served in every way possible - is all around.
Watch out for: film crews on the city's streets. Vancouver has been dubbed 'Hollywood North' for its movie-making credentials. More info: www.tourismvancouver.com
At the southern tip of Vancouver Island - 100km away from Vancouver across the Strait of Georgia and easily reached by ferry or float plane - Victoria may be smaller than its West Coast cousin but stately beginnings secured its position as British Columbia's provincial capital. Named after Queen Victoria, this historic city - one of the oldest in the Northwest - was once dubbed the most English in North America.
Victoria cherishes its antiquity - tourists will find souvenir shops offering everything from Scottish tartan to advice on how to brew the perfect cup of English tea. And the regal Fairmont Empress hotel, idyllically set over the Inner Harbour, remains a favourite for a high tea of Earl Grey and scones.
Boasting a sub-Mediterranean climate, Victoria also enjoys the moniker 'City of Flowers' for its beautiful blooms. …