Looking for the best things to do in Calgary? The city was long known for its two industries cowboys and oil. Outside of the Calgary Stampede and steakhouses, there wasn’t much to the city, but that has changed a lot over the years. There’s a lot of innovation in the city with a plethora of activities, shops, breweries, museums, and restaurants.
The Canadian Rockies may be Alberta’s largest draw for tourists, but Calgary feels a like destination that should not be overlooked. Canada’s fourth-largest metropolitan area packs a whole lotta punch for visitors. Whether it’s winter or summer there’s always something going on in Alberta’s largest city.
Of course, it helps that city is just 80km east of the Rockies. The buzzing city provides access easy access to Banff and Canmore. Read on to find the best things to do in Calgary!
FAQs About Calgary
History of Calgary
Before we dig into the best things to do in Calgary, let’s discuss the history. Indigenous peoples have a long history in Western Canada. Calgary sits on the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 Region. Treaty 7 includes the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina, Siksika and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations.
Calgary began as Fort Brisebois a North-West Mounted Police fort before its name was changed to Calgary. Its location was determined due to the meeting of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. The town of Calgary was incorporated in 1884 and grew to a city one decade later in 1894. Much of the growth during this period is attributed to the Canadian Pacific Railway connecting Calgary with Eastern Canada.
Guy Weadick hosted the first Calgary Stampede only 18 years after the city was incorporated and it continues to this day. The next boom for Calgary came with the Southern Alberta oil strikes in 1914, 1920, and 1947. This made Calgary the fastest-growing city in Canada during the ’50s. Those two facets shaped Calgary and are still tied to its culture given its moniker of Cow-Town.
A noticeable shift happened after 1988 when Calgary hosted the Winter Olympic Games. It exposed the city to an international audience and spurred tourism in towns such as Canmore. Tourism has now become a central part of the Alberta economy and the city sees millions of visitors each year.
Facts About Calgary
- Calgary is credited as the birthplace of the Caeser. Canada’s cocktail got it start in the city and was invented by Walter Chell in 1969. If you’ve never had a caeser it’s a delicoius mix of Clamato juice and vodka.
- Caglary sees more sunshine than any other major Canadian City with 333 days a year of clear skies.
- The city is home to 1.4 million people and it is the third most diverse city in Canada with more than 120 languages spoken in the city. This is awesome for foodies as you find some amazing cuisines from aroudn the world.
- Calgary has been named multiple times as one of the most livable cities in the world. This is according to the Global Liveability Ranking which Calgary made the top 10 list from 2015 to 2019.
- The city lies 1,048 m (3,438 feet) above sea level the highest major Canadian city. This plays a large role in Caglary’s dry climate.
Best Time To Visit Calgary
You can enjoy the city year-round, but it’s best to visit in the summer months. Summer runs from June to August with perfect warm weather and plenty of sunny days. Summer is fantastic with long summer days that give plenty of time to enjoy the summer festivals such as the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede happens every year the second week of July.
Winter in Calgary can either be brutally cold or surprisingly mild thanks to the warm chinook winds that blow off the mountains. It’s still an amazing time to visit the city and it does have great access to some world-class skiing in Banff.
Where To Eat In Calgary?
- Calcutta Cricket Club — The fares are a modern take on classic Indian dishes from the region. Fusion at its finest, you’ll find plenty of Indo-Chinese and Hakka flavors mixed in beloved and elevated street foods here.
- Bridgette Bar — Though billed as a bar, this is a chef driven space with shareable plates that offer appetizing allure all on their own. Brigette Bar is right at home in the heart of Calgary’s Design District, with one of the coolest decors in the city. The ambiance is mid century modern and a veritable haven of hip furnishings.
- Flores And Pine — It is a grillroom and gathering space that cooks up elevated comfort foods and modern classics in Calgary. The menu is seasonal and always inspired by sustainably sourced and fresh ingredients.
- Native Tonques — If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Native Tongues is a top notch choice in Cowtown. The tortillas are made in-house daily for both tacos guisados and tacos al carbon.
- Ten Foot Henry — Ten Foot Henry is named after an iconic comic book character from the 1930s. The giant wooden figure of Henry himself has lived all around art venues in Calgary for decades before finally landing at his ultimate homage right outside this very restaurant.
Where To Stay In Calgary?
- Delta Hotels by Marriott Calgary Downtown — This is our go to hotel when we’re staying in Calgary. It’s a beautiful modern hotel that is located in downtown Calgary. It’s convenient to Chinatown, the Bow River, and the downtown core. We also love the ability to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and rewards nights.
- Fairmont Palliser Hotel — Fairmont has an impressive portfolio of Canada’s most iconic hotels such as the Banff Springs, The Empress, and Le Château Frontenac. The Palliser is no exception and is the best hotel for luxury in Calgary.
- aLoft Calgary — This is a great option for a trendy hotel that is more affordable. We’ve stayed at a number of aLofts and they always offer a reliable level of service and comfort. The hotel offers a spa, fitness centre, pool, and bar.
Best Things to do in Calgary
Head To The Top Of The Calgary Tower
Calgary Tower has a lot to offer, so it was a natural addition to the list of best things to do in Calgary. The tower itself provides the best views of any building in the city, and once inside the tower, the multimedia tour includes a virtual presentation that delves into Calgary’s location – from its skyscrapers to its Rocky Mountain range, and everything in between.
The virtual windows show the (actual) views of the city, but as a touchscreen where certain points can be opened for more information. See something cool on your viewfinder? You can tap it for details on the venue, its history, and any hot tips.
- Location: 101 9 Ave SW (GPS)
- Cost: Tours for $4
- Insider Tip: If you’re not afraid of heights, don’t miss the glass floor exhibit!
Travel Back In Time At The Heritage Park Historical Village
We have to admit; the Heritage Park Historical Village tagline was what got us: “How The West Was Once.” That pretty much sums it up: a comprehensive and in-depth look at the earliest days of when Calgary was a settlement before it developed into the bustling metropolis that it is today.
This is your opportunity to step back in time and see the raw beauty of western Canada in its earliest stages. The park covers nearly 130 acres and examines centuries of history across 200 attractions, including a recreated historical village with a functioning steam train, printing press, and blacksmith, and fun attractions like a bakery and ice cream shop.
Don’t miss the Fur Trading & First Nations Encampment, a recreated meeting place for explorers, original peoples, fur traders, and all those who passed through this part of Canada in the country’s earliest decades.
- Location: 1900 Heritage Dr SW (GPS)
- Cost: $26.50 admission fee
- Insider Tip: Only open on the weekends, so be prepared for crowds. Calgary gets extremely cold in the winter, so many amenities run only from May until October; be sure to check in advance.
Since the weather in Calgary can be unpleasantly cold (particularly in the dead of winter), there are a lot of indoor things to do in Calgary that will make you feel like you’ve made the most of your day without needing to suffer in subfreezing temperatures.
The Telus Spark is an indoor science museum with exhibits, interactive displays, and a dome theatre showing planetarium shows and educational movies. This is a great all-ages option and an ideal way to spend your day, whether you’re traveling with kids or in a group of adults. This is one of the best things to do in Calgary in the winter.
- Location: 220 St Georges Dr NE (GPS)
- Cost: $26 entrance
- Insider Tip: Don’t miss the upstairs exhibits on the human body.
Visit Fort Calgary
It seems there’s no shortage of history in Alberta because here’s another historical attraction that ranks pretty high on our list of things to do in Calgary. Fort Calgary was initially constructed to control the highly illegal U.S. whiskey trade and to clear the way for the incoming Canadian Pacific Railway.
Today, you can walk through recreated houses (including a Métis hunting cabin) and immerse yourself in the visions of the past, and a protective structure that set the foundation for communities to grow and thrive in Western Canada.
- Location: 750 9 Ave SE (GPS)
- Cost: $12
- Insider Tip: The Sunday brunch at 10 am is a huge hit—don’t miss it!
Visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
The Blackfoot people are most well known for their ties to the bison and are responsible for the famous “Buffalo Jump.” Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that aims to preserve the plains buffalo culture that has existed for 6,000 years.
It’s a provides a beautiful landscape as it lies in the foothills of the Rockies. Due to its unique geography the aborignial people would drive buffalo herds over the 11 meter cliff as a means of hunting.
The site is not in Calgary, but 2 hours south in Fort Macleod. The bison were an essential part of Blackfoot people’s culture and a wonderful way to get a better understanding of region. It’s a must visit for anyone living in Alberta and a wonderful stop for anyone.
- Location: Highway #785, Fort MacLeod (GPS)
- Cost: Adult $15, Senior: $13, Youth: $10, Family: $40
Wander Through Devonian Gardens
You’d never know you were inside a shopping mall; instead, you might think you’re in an enormous exotic greenhouse. It is completely encased in glass and features a koi pond, a living wall, and several fountains.
There are sprawling tropical plants and a distinct sense of being in an exotic greenhouse abroad, while actually in a Western metropolis. It’s even kid-friendly, with a children’s play area + climbing playground to keep rambunctious kids busy for a while.
This is a great spot to relax in the afternoon between other sightseeing activities; there’s even a full-service restaurant if you need a little fuel for the rest of your day.
- Location: CORE Shopping Centre, 333 7 Avenue SW, 4th floor (GPS)
- Cost: free
- Insider Tip: There are sometimes yoga classes happening here, so check in with the mall schedule to find out if there’s a class on soon.
Go For A Walk In Nose Hill Park
Just northwest of the city of Calgary is a beautiful expanse of grassland. Nose Hill Park covers 11 kilometers of ground, with several hiking trails for the outdoor adventurer in us all. While the park is relatively flat (Calgary is technically in the Canadian prairies even though it is a more westerly city), there is still a massive abundance of wildlife and flora to observe.
Look out for small rodents like voles, ground squirrels, gophers, porcupines, and hawks that prey on them from above. There is a lot of deer in the area as well, so you may make a few friends on your hike!
- Location: 5620 14 St NW (GPS)
- Insider Tip: Steer clear of coyotes; while they are generally not aggressive, they are also not timid and should not be encouraged, challenged, or engaged in any way.
Learn About Dinosaurs At The Royal Tyrrell Museum
If you’re a fan of dinosaurs and paleontology then the Royal Tyrell Museum is a must-visit. It’s arguably one the greatest places on earth to see fossils of dinosaurs. Any enthusiast of dinosaurs should consider this a site of pilgrimage.
It’s an hour and a half drive from Calgary and a way to spend a day or even two. It’s also well worth exploring the town of Drumheller and the surrounding badlands. The museum features 30 of the most complete dinosaur skeletons in the world and a wealth of exhibits.
It’s a wonderful museum for the whole family thanks to its interactive exhibits and experts happy to answer questions. It allows you to travel back in time millions of years and learn about a world before humans.
Timed tickets are in effect so it’s best to buy your tickets in advance for a smooth visit. Walk-up tickets are sold, but not guaranteed entry.
- Location: 1500 N Dinosaur Trail, Drumheller (GPS)
- Price: Adult $21, Senior: $14, Youth: $10, Family: $50
- Website: Link
Play In Bowness Park
Being in Canada, it’s no surprise that there are many national parks & outdoor activities on the list of things to do in Calgary. Bowness Park is one of these, located in the northwest corner of the city and sprawling across 30 hectares.
This is also a perfect year-round place to be for the different activities available no matter the weather. In the summer, it’s a popular place for swimming, boating, and picnicking on the banks. In the winter, the lagoon & canal freeze over and are open for ice skating.
There is also a miniature railway that runs seasonally through the park, in case you want to breeze through and see all the sights at once.
- Location: 8900 48 Ave NW (GPS)
- Insider Tip: Rent paddle boats in the summer, or go cross country skiing in the winter!
Inglewood Bird Sanctuary & Nature Centre
The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a great way to spend a day, particularly if you time it right. The sanctuary is a spot for migratory birds to rest their wings awhile before setting off on the next leg of their journey (so certain times of the year are better for sightings of specific species). Over 270 species have been reported here since the sanctuary’s inception in the 50 years the land has been open to the public.
Located along the Bow River, you’re likely to see much more than just feathery friends: deer, beavers, marmots, and other kinds of land mammals are often seen too. In particular, watch out for Canadian geese—they may be beautiful to look at, but they have a reputation as some seriously mean birds, and their tongues have teeth, so the bite is painful. Keep a safe distance from these critters!
- Location: 2425 9 Ave SE (GPS)
- Cost: free
- Insider Tip: The sanctuary and park are open, but the Nature Centre will be closed until September 2020 for renovations.
Shop At The Crossroads Market
Think of Crossroads Market as a farmers’ flea market. Housed inside a huge warehouse that seems to go on forever, the market focuses on produce, meats, and freshly baked goods from both Alberta and neighboring British Columbia.
There are a wide array of merchants to create an experience that is immersive, diverse, and inclusive—and many of the merchants have been selling their wares at Crossroads since 1987, the market’s first year in operation.
- Location: 1235 26 Ave SE (GPS)
- Insider Tip: Hit up The Perogy Guy for some of the tastiest pierogies you’ll ever have.
Have a Browse in Inglewood
If you’re in the mood for a little shopping, Inglewood has you covered. From edgy and contemporary women’s fashion to top-quality consignment, menswear, and even bridal attire, this is a fashion and style hotspot in the city in one of the city’s coolest neighborhoods. There’s even a gift shop located inside an old refurbished barn, where all goods sold are made locally by independent artisans.
- Location: Inglewood (GPS)
- Insider Tip: Mondays are a dead day when almost all stores are closed, so make other plans for this day.
Catch A Flames Game
If there’s one thing Canada takes seriously, it’s hockey. Between seven teams in the National Hockey League and a fierce sense of pride and competition, there’s no better Canadian experience than going to an NHL game.
Calgary is home to the Calgary Flames; if you’re fortunate, you’ll get to see a game against another Canadian team—where the lighthearted rivalry really comes out.
- Location: 555 Saddledome Rise SE (GPS)
- Cost: range from $30 to over $100
- Insider Tip: The Flames will soon be getting a new stadium, so these could be the final days of the Saddledome Flames games.
Explore The Glenbow Museum
The Glenbow Museum is the resident art & history museum in Calgary and is particularly noted for its extensive archival collection. Think comprehensive factual information on people, families, organizations, and businesses in Western Canada, and hundreds of hours of film archives and sound bytes.
The museum constantly has several exhibits taking place at any given time, with many of them running for a full calendar year. The Miners & Minerals exhibit is currently among the most popular, examining geology not just from Western Canada, but worldwide – including some interactive usage of a blacklight to view substance composition.
- Location: 130 9 Ave SE (GPS)
- Cost: $18
- Insider Tip: Go on a Thursday evening for free admission!
Eat Your Way & Shop Through Chinatown
Calgary’s a diverse city and you’ll find authentic food along with products from around Asia. The city’s Chinatown is located just outside of downtown so it’s easy to access if you’re staying in the city center.
The business district operates as a hub for a number of Asian communities in the city and you’ll find an interesting products and shops. We love it for the excellent food! The most notable restaurants are Pho Hoai Vietnamese Noodle House and the Moon Korean BBQ, it’s easy to figure what they serve by their names.
St Patrick’s Island
You can think of St Patrick’s Island as a massive public backyard, but more so than just your average public park. Spanning 31 acres, St Patrick’s Island is a perfect middle ground between urbanism and nature, where different elements come together to form something unifying, fun, and community-driven.
Things like public art, playgrounds, a wetland sector with a boardwalk, a fishing cove, and wooded sections with winding pathways all make up a part of this enormous urbanized parkland.
- Location: Bow River (GPS)
- Insider Tip: This is snow-friendly; don’t let the cold temperatures sway you away from visiting.
Glow Downtown Winter Lights Festival
Since the weather can get pretty intensely cold, there’s probably not much that would make it worthwhile being outside: except maybe this. The GLOW Downtown Winter Lights Festival is largely what it sounds like – a festival spanning several days dedicated entirely to lighting up the dark winter days with colorful lights & vibrant energy.
From art installations using light as part of the piece to an all-invited public dance party, this is definitely one of the more unique ways to see the city at night.
- Location: several key points in the core of downtown
- Insider Tip: Alcohol-free event, so don’t expect drinks.
Granary Road Active Learning Center
There’s a lot going on at this park, but all of it is pretty cool. The Granary Road Active Learning Center might not have the most inviting name, but it’s the kind of place that it’s not possible to drive past it without stopping. Giant playgrounds with interactive trivia and brain game features are the core of this center, with each “area” providing informative information.
The chicken coop area delves into the anatomy of an egg and how they come to be, while the human-sized beehive area looks at bees, pollination, and their importance to the ecosystem (what better way to understand bees than to live like one for an hour or two?)
The other sections include orchards, lily ponds, a bat cave, a life-sized anthill that kids can crawl inside, and so much more. Each section provides an in-depth look at the science, anatomy, and ecological importance of these tiny nature systems, giving kids a glimpse into the role played by these seemingly inconsequential ecosystems.
- Location: 226066 112 Street West, Foothills No. 31 (GPS)
- Cost: $15
- Insider Tip: There’s a kid-friendly zip line here, perfect for kids who want to try something a little more exhilarating in a safer, smaller-scale environment.
Attend the Calgary Stampede
One of the best things to do in Calgary is attending the world-famous Calgary Stampede. Every two weeks in July visitors from all over the world come to enjoy a party in Calgary. Think rodeo events, concerts, amusement rides, fair food, local brews, and so much more.
We loved our first stampede and partied for two whole days this past summer. It gets busier and wilder on the weekends so if you want to experience the whole atmosphere it’s best on Saturday and Sunday. But every day of the week packs a whole plethora of fun!
Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre is a non-profit museum and performance venue. It’s a must for any music lover as the museum has plenty of interactive exhibits and hosts the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
You can check their website to see what is going on, but it’s also fun to go to Studio Bell and check out the impressive architecture! It’s one of the best things to do in Calgary and it’s easy to understand why with an extraordinary attention to detail and design.
The building and museum are located in downtown Calgary so it’s an easy walk from a hotel if you’re staying in the city center.
Shop Along 17th Ave & The Entertainment District
Calgary has a its fair share of trendy spots and Calgary’s 17th Ave is home to some of the cities best restuarants, bars, shops, and cafes. You can find everything along the street from record shops and florists to popular shops like West Elm or Frank & Oak. The street has something that will fit any personality or desire.
Pedal Pub Tour
Ever wanted to ride a cycle around a major city with friends while drinking fresh cold beer? Us too! Well, the good news is you can do this on Calgary’s Pedal Pub. Pedal Pub is a fun, safe, and eco-friendly way to spend a day out on the town. It’s one of the best things to do in Calgary in the summer months!
Ski and Snowboard at WinSport
You don’t have to venture all the way to the Rockies in order to ski. WinSport is located in Calgary and hosted events for the 1988 Winter Olympics. It’s not as extensive of a ski resort as what you’ll find in Banff, but it does boast an impressive park and night skiing.
WinSport also has an affordable ski school for those who are looking to learn how to ski or snowboard. It’s a great option that doesn’t feel intimidating or expensive.
WinSport isn’t limited to skiing either as the facility features a hockey rink and tube park. In the summer months, they also have a zip line course, mini-golf, and mountain biking. Their indoor venue hosts a number of events throughout the year.
- Location: 88 Canada Olympic Rd SW (GPS)
Get Up Close With Animals At The Calgary Zoo
After a year of our lives on safari in Africa, it’s safe to say we aren’t zoo people anymore. However, Calgary’s Zoo is an outstanding zoo and a wonderful attraction for families. That means you can come here with the family to see lions, giraffes, gorillas, lemurs, penguins, and many birds of prey.
Not only will you get a chance to see animals from around the world, but many of Alberta’s native species as well. We’ve spent years on the trails and exploring more remote sections of the Rockies to only seen one wolf during that time. So for many it’s an important moment to learn about the importance of conservation of species such as the grey wolf, grizzly bear, and bison with a close encounter.
Although the animals at the zoo may not be in the wild, the Caglary Zoo is famous for reintroducing species back into their natural habitats. The Zoo through the Wilder Institute are able to help preserve species such as the Whooping Crane, Vancouver Island Marmot, and Burrowing Owl.
- Location: 210 St. George’s Drive NE (GPS)
- Admission: Adult: $29.95, Senior (60+): $27.95, Child/Youth (3-15): $19.95
Day Trip to Canmore
Maybe we’re partial to our home, but we sure do love Canmore. Only an hour away from Calgary and anyone can find themselves in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. Most visitors bypass Canmore and head straight to Banff, but Canmore is well worth a visit.
Day Trip to Banff
There are many things to do in Banff for outdoor lovers. Many people spend their entire vacation in Banff, but if you’re short on time at least try and allocate a day to Banff National Park.
There are great hikes for all levels, beautiful blue lakes, and Banff town feels incredibly special in the winter.
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