Traditionally known as a booming oil town, most people end up in Calgary either on business or because they want to party. Famous for the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth—aka the Calgary Stampede—the city is transformed into something out of the Wild Wild West for 10 days every July, when everyone channels their inner cowboy and attempts to drink their body weight in beer.
This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in January 2019
However, the city of over one million people still has lots to offer those who find themselves visiting any other time of year, as it has experienced a cultural resurgence, boasts a fantastic culinary scene, and also serves as the gateway to beautiful Banff National Park.
Here are some of the best things to do in Calgary, Canada.
Calgary Attractions: Prince’s Island Park, Eau Claire Market and East Village
Stretching along the Bow River, peaceful Prince’s Island Park covers some 20 hectares and includes walking paths and bike lanes that hug the riverbanks, making it one of the best places to go in Calgary. In the summer, you’ll also see gardens bursting with bright flowers, children playing in the water park, sunbathers floating down the river on rafts, and even horse-drawn carriages.
The whole pathway system is part of ‘River Walk’, which runs all the way into the trendy East Village and eventually links up with other bike paths.
Prince’s Island Park hosts many of the city’s large celebrations like Canada Day, and also has Shakespeare in the Park productions. One can’t-miss spot is the famous Peace Bridge, a bright red pedestrian bridge which has regularly been placing on top architecture lists since being completed in 2012.
You’ll find it on the west end of the park, and if you visit on a Saturday chances are you’ll end up in some wedding photos as this is one of the top spots for photography in the city.
The area also boasts fantastic restaurants, including River Café which is nestled right on the river banks and is a great spot for brunch (or lunch, or dinner…). If it’s all booked up, cross back over the river and take your pick from the many restaurants in Eau Claire Market, which serves as the entrance into the park. There, you’ll find a food court, movie theatre, boutiques, restaurants and the beautiful Sheraton Hotel.
17 Avenue S.W.
If you’re a hipster, you’ll feel right at home on 17 Ave, also known as the ‘Red Mile.’ The vibrant area is about 10 blocks long, and is home to high-rise condos, tasty bistros, fancy coffee shops, boutiques, salons and the city’s best outdoor patios. If you fancy a cold beer in a prime people-watching spot, grab a seat at National Beer Hall on 5th Street.
The famous Ship & Anchor pub is right next door, which is a great spot if there happens to be a World Cup match on or you just feel like drinking on a patio for eight hours straight, and there are also great restaurants along the strip for those who want to class it up a bit.
Alternate ideas: If you’re OK heading a bit farther away from the core, both the Inglewood and Kensington districts are fabulous. Full of specialty shops, home decor stores and cute restaurants, both areas are very walkable and are great places to spend an afternoon.
Fun things to do in Calgary
A great choice no matter what season you’re visiting in, spending a day at Canada Olympic Park (or WinSport) is one of the best Calgary activities for thrill-seekers. Built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the facility currently serves as a training ground for Olympians year-round.
In the winter, visitors can hit the hill to downhill ski, snowboard or cross-country ski. Once the snow melts, the park transforms into a summer playground with activities like mini-golf, mountain biking, a bobsled track, a crazy zip-line off of a ski jump and the hilarious SkyLine Luge. There’s also a Sports Hall of Fame onsite, along with children’s activity areas.
Other Calgary tourist attractions that are popular with families are the Calgary Zoo, and the TELUS Spark science centre which has constantly changing interactive exhibits, galleries and theme nights.
A popular spot for the after-work crowd, Stephen Avenue caters to high-rollers trying to impress clients. Stretching along 8 Avenue, the district is a pedestrian-only area throughout much of the day, making it a popular spot for those enjoying a break from the office.
Surrounded by glittering high-rises, Stephen Avenue is lined with dozens of restaurants and bars, and is just a short walk away from City Hall and Olympic Plaza where many events are hosted.
Earls and The Metropolitan Grill are good choices for a classy night out without breaking the budget, while National on 8th is a fun party spot that features a rooftop patio with beanbags and pingpong tables. If you’re looking for high-end dining, try the famed Charcut Roast House or walk a few blocks off the strip and head into award-winning Teatro.
What to do in Calgary: Best shopping
The mammoth Chinook Centre is one of the most popular malls, thanks to its mix of high-end shops (Burberry, Nordstrom, Tiffany’s, Michael Kors), department stores like Hudson’s Bay as well as hundreds of other mid-range retailers.
The Core in downtown Calgary is great for fashionistas, as it includes Holt Renfrew which is by far one of the swankiest department stores in the entire country.
Meantime, those looking for a deal will want to head out to CrossIron Mills, which is home to hundreds of outlet stores. Keep in mind you’ll need a vehicle to get there as it’s about 20 minutes north of the city, or you can hop on the bus that runs there seasonally from downtown.
Where to stay in Calgary
- Hotel Arts: This boutique property is always a great choice, whether visiting from out of town or enjoying a staycation. Its sleek, modern rooms are luxurious, there are plenty of dining options, and its swanky outdoor pool is a summertime favourite. It also has a sister property called Hotel Arts Kensington in a hip area across the river. Click here to book
- Fairmont Palliser: This iconic, historic hotel has a great location on 9 Avenue, just steps away from Stephen Avenue and close to the East Village and Saddledome. Guests love the on-site spa, afternoon tea and fantastic downtown views. Click here to book
- Hotel Le Germain: The Germain group is known for its understated elegance, and their Calgary property lives up to the hype. The huge, well-appointed rooms are gorgeous, one of the city’s top restaurants is attached to the lobby, and the service is top-notch. Hotel Le Germain is also pet-friendly. Click here to book
Currency: The Canadian dollar
How to get there: The Calgary International Airport is a major hub, with extensive service both domestically and internationally. Air Canada and WestJet are the main airlines with flights in and out of YYC, and they codeshare with many airlines around the world.
How to get around: Calgary isn’t the best when it comes to public transportation, so unless you’re sticking to the downtown area you may have to shell out for an Uber or taxi. If you happen to be visiting during the warmer months, cycling or renting a scooter is also an option.
When to go: Not going to lie, Calgary is downright bone-chilling in the winter, which pretty much runs from October to March. The very best time to visit is May through September, which sees warm weather along with much happier people (we get awfully sick of those -30 temperatures!).
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