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6 tips for tackling Edmonton's Heritage Festival

The Edmonton Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park is a chance to tour the world's cultures and cuisine. That's the upside. The downside? It's huge, daunting and, with 350,000 people expected, at times crowded.

Three days, 100 countries, 501 food items, 25 stages: A guide to making the most of the Heritage Festival

Dancers perform at the Nicaragua stage at last year's Edmonton Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park. (Bruce Edwards/Edmonton Heritage Festival)

The Edmonton Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park is a chance to tour the world's cultures and cuisine.

That's the upside. The downside? It's huge, daunting and, with 350,000 people expected, at times crowded.

So here's six pointers to not only surviving, but making the most of your long weekend at Heritage Fest.

Get your food tickets now

It's free to wander the site, but let's face it, many people are there for the food. Food tickets are a buck each and are sold in sheets of 20. 

You can take one lineup out of your day if you buy in advance online or at places like Servus Credit Union, Save-on-Foods and at Tix on the Square. 

Less time in line means more time enjoying the free entertainment, natural surroundings of Hawrelak Park and, new this year, Viking combat demonstrations a couple of times a day. 

Nick Goetz is a member of The Ravens, Viking era reenactors will be showcasing their skills and inviting kids to take part at this year's event. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Eat off peak

Also new this year, an earlier start time of 10 a.m. for all three days. If you're looking to avoid the lines, that's news you can use. 

"Most people start showing up about 1 p.m. and spend the afternoon," says Jim Gibbon executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Festival Association. 

"So if you get here earlier in the day you're going to have free run of the place." 

If you eat off peak hours, you can cut your time in line even for coveted food items like Mango Loco from Guatemala and Halo-Halo from the Philippines. 

Surviving and thriving the three days of the festival means arming yourself with a map and food tickets, which you can purchase in advance. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The festival closes at 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 8 p.m. Monday. 

Pace yourself

This is a three-day international marathon not a sprint. You could come bearing a blanket, pup tent or hammock you can tie off between two park trees and catch a quick nap between courses and countries. 

Like you would in any other race, stay hydrated, but don't bother lugging water down to the park. There are six public fountains located at the amphitheatre, the skating shack and four picnic shelters. 

Crowds flock to Hawrelak Park for the festival. (Rob Hislop/Edmonton Heritage Festival)

Have a plan of attack

Before proceeding from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, check out a site map and the menus, available online. 

The website lists and locates each country, its food offerings and the number of tickets required. There are 501 unique dishes at 193 tents so getting your bearings will prevent you from wandering aimlessly. 

Don't drive 

There is no public parking on site, so don't drive. Park and ride, bike, walk or drop off are your best ways to get down to Hawrelak Park. 

ETS park and ride costs $6 return for adults, while kids under 12 are free. There are two secure bike lockups. 

This year, the drop off and pickup areas on Groat Road have been expanded. 

Comfort Odoo shows off products from Ghana at the 2018 festival. (Bruce Edwards/Edmonton Heritage Festival)

Do talk to strangers

For more than 40 years the festival has been connecting people and creating community. Go ahead, don't be shy, strike up a conversation with someone new. 

The established staples of the festival-like India, Scandinavia and Japan have a lot of volunteers happy to dish but this year, five smaller countries are sharing a cultural "marketplace." 

Find community members of Albania, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Ghana in the Centre for Newcomers tent eager to chat.

Or try something new like strolling the Caribbean Marketplace located in the centre of the park with displays from Cuba, Barbados, Dominican Republic and Grenada. 

Over the three days an estimated 1,700 volunteers are working 185 shifts in 31 different jobs and that's even before you count those helping out in the 72 pavilions, a massive community festival ideal for mingling.

You can see more from Hawrelak Park on this week's Our Edmonton. That's Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.

Meet volunteers with the Scandinavian Heritage Society as they prepare food for their pavilion at the Edmonton Heritage Festival. 1:49

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.