I love Calgary because it’s the doorway to the Rocky Mountains and it’s a happening city in its own right. Whatever your interests, whether its history, art, shopping, Olympic-style sports, fine dining or outdoorsy activities, Calgary has it all and more. Check out my top things to do in Calgary then come and discover more on your own.
From outdoorsy activities to shopping to having a wild time at the Calgary Stampede (that’s when Calgary turns into one of the best party cities in Canada!) here are my 10 best things to do in Calgary, Alberta.
- 10 Things To Do in Calgary
- 1- Climb Calgary Tower
- 2- Have fun at the Calgary Stampede
- 3- Get active on the rivers
- 4- Hike Nose Hill Park
- 5- Explore Fish Creek Provincial Park
- 6- Visit Heritage Park Historical Village
- 7- Visit Glenbow Museum
- 8- Ride a bobsled at Canada Olympic Park
- 9- Catch a show at the Calgary International Film Festival
- 10- Shop in Inglewood
- 8 Calgary Restaurants
10 Things To Do in Calgary
1- Climb Calgary Tower
Best way to orient yourself?
Ascend the Calgary Tower – and yes, it revolves.
It completes one full 360-degree rotation every 45 minutes (at lunch) and 60 minutes (at dinner).
Dine at the Sky360, the up-aloft restaurant, and watch the sunset as the lights of the city start to twinkle.
From aloft you’ll be able to spy some of Calgary’s topographical features such as the Bow and Elbow rivers.
2- Have fun at the Calgary Stampede
Explore your inner cowboy at the annual Calgary Stampede.
As a keen horsewoman, I particularly enjoy the sights and sounds of working western horses.
The Stampede’s rodeo is thrilling, where cowboys rope cattle, ride bucking broncos and do barrel racing.
Insider’s tip? The Stampede Ranch website informs us that since 1961, a herd of now-600 stock horses have been bred specifically to be “professional” bucking broncos.
The Stampede delivers lots more action.
There’s a nightly grandstand show, a display of animals and agricultural techniques showcasing life in Canada’s West, while the Bell adrenaline ranch presents such shows as the Evolution of Extreme.
Want to look like a “Stampeder”?
Visit Smithbilt Hats and buy a handmade cowboy hat (a Stetson).
Want cowboy boots?
Discover a variety of shapes, colours, and tooling patterns on genuine leather boots at The Alberta Boot Company.
3- Get active on the rivers
The Bow and Elbow rivers flow through Calgary. These two rivers are a playground for outdoorsy and health-conscious Calgarians.
Jogging and biking are popular along the riverine pathways, which offer lovely views and nice picnic spots.
Rent a raft and head downstream, rent a canoe or kayak and go paddling or rent a paddle board and go stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).
Bike the Bow River Pathway on rentals, or if you prefer terra firma, bring your own gear and jog along.
Insider’s tip? If you rent any type of river conveyance you’ll need to make arrangements to be picked up or, if you have two cars in your group, leave one car at the out-take.
What’s very cool?
Paddlers won’t want to miss at least knowing about the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre where outings, courses and workshops are offered.
Free bikes? Two boutique hotels – Hotel Arts and Kensington Riverside Inn – offer free bikes to guests.
4- Hike Nose Hill Park
Have a nose for the outdoors?
Visit Nose Hill Park, an extraordinary 11 square kilometre ecosystem in the northwest of the city.
The fescue grassland, exposed ecosystem boasts fabulous views of the city, while as you hike perhaps you’ll find wild roses (Alberta’s provincial flower), shooting stars, flax, lupin and other wildflowers.
Wildlife such as cedar waxwings, great blue herons, deer and coyotes may be found here.
Insider’s tip? Take binoculars, a sunhat, and windbreaker – Calgarians rightly say “wait five minutes and the weather will change,” so it’s always good to have something cozy, even on a summer’s day.
5- Explore Fish Creek Provincial Park
Fish Creek Provincial Park and North Glenmore Park are gems, offering many seasonal activities.
Go swimming, kayaking, tennis and hiking in summertime or go cross-country skiing, skating and snowshoeing in the season of ice and snow.
These and other parks often have fire pits and barbeque stands, children’s playgrounds, and stretches of paved trails.
They cater for youngsters in strollers through to people needing wheelchairs can participate.
Tip: Birders: enjoy free nature walks with naturalists from Nature Calgary. At Birds Calgary, investigate free Saturday field trips, for instance, or birding courses (fees apply).
6- Visit Heritage Park Historical Village
Learn about Calgary’s history at Canada’s largest living history museum.
Heritage Park Historical Village has all sorts of demonstrations, exhibit collections, rides, and more.
For instance, workshops such as beer-making workshop, wool-spinning, and cooking classes teach various artisanal crafts.
Exhibitions include a fur-trading post recalling the times of the 1860s, an 1880’s pre-railway settlement, and the 1930’s to 1950’s Gasoline Alley Museum and Heritage Town Square.
The latter’s great fun, where you can wander inside, protected from the elements, and visit Calgary as it used to be.
Insider’s tip? There are restaurants on-site so, budget a day for a stay!
7- Visit Glenbow Museum
Don’t miss the Glenbow Museum, one of my favourite museums in Canada because of its varied collection which so well describes the 30 different First Nations Great Plains People.
Don’t miss the Niitsitapi exhibit highlighting the Blackfoot peoples, where I think the pictograph robes (paintings depicting yearly events recorded on bison hides – a type of journal) are perhaps the most fascinating artefacts.
Also discover some of Alberta’s most quirky, tenacious characters.
The Mavericks: an incorrigible history of Alberta exhibition profiles many independently minded individuals who made this province hum.
Whether it’s learning about rancher George Lane, or Henrietta Muir Edwards who fought for Canadian women’s rights to vote, here you’ll meet politicians, settlers, oil and ranch characters who, through dogged determination and smarts fashioned the Alberta of today.
Want to do dive deeper? Visit the Glenbow Archives.
For example, I’m interested in horse regalia of the Niitsitapi First Nations, so I phoned ahead, asked if I could come in and so some research.
Very accommodating archivists welcomed me and I spent a several contented hours investigating my topic.
You can, too.
8- Ride a bobsled at Canada Olympic Park
Unleash you inner Olympian at Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.
Nowadays people like you and me who want to try out some Olympian sports can do so, while performance athletes also train here.
In winter roughly 300,000 skiers and ’boarders come here for lessons or to play on such venues as the only half-pipe in a North American city.
Want a total rush?
In winter, ride the bobsled track with a bobsled athlete as your driver.
Thrill to the mountain bike park or take the North America’s fastest zipline, descending 500 metres at a speed of 120-140 km/h.
Insider’s tip? Olympic Park is also home to the Sports Hall of Fame where you can “meet” Canada’s 540 sports heroes.
9- Catch a show at the Calgary International Film Festival
Culture vultures won’t want to miss taking in some of the Calgary International Film Festival’s movies where more than 25,000 keen Calgarians get their fix of films.
Various exhibitions go on annually such as “Hot Docs” (Canadian International Documentary Festival) and the CIFF itself, an eleven-day festival held in the autumn.
10- Shop in Inglewood
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a shopper, however, when my Calgarian girlfriend and I decided to explore her fave ’hood, she introduced me to historic Inglewood.
In 2014 it was voted Canada’s greatest neighbourhood (Great Places annual competition) so it’s worth exploring and besides, it’s one of the principal filming locations of Fargo, the TV miniseries.
Here, the Bow River wends past old homes which have been transformed into funky shops, cafés and galleries, so what’s not to like?
Check out eco-friendly items at Rivas “a clean living eco store” where you’ll find ideas for eco-living in your homes through to skincare, cosmetics and fashions.
Visit The Uncommons, an aptly named shop where you can find designer items that aren’t too easily found elsewhere.
The Festival Hall houses a performance space where live concerts are held, and the Esker Foundation Contemporary Art Gallery holds several shows yearly.
As a writer, I’m keen onWhere do Calgarians go to eat? which has been selling books to Calgarians since 1988.
There are tons more things to do such as strolling the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Nature Centre.
So grab a pair of comfy shoes and spend the day exploring and dining.
8 Calgary Restaurants
From a thriving Chinatown to stellar Alberta steak houses, foodies find Calgary irresistible. I asked some Calgarians I know for recommendations.Where do Calgarians go to eat?
- Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus – My Calgarian brother introduced me to the modestly priced Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus. It’s a personal fave where absolutely fresh savoury or sweet Dutch pancakes await.
- Model Milk – for their Sunday Supper, served family style.
- MARKET – the 2014 Gold Medal Plates winner (Canadian Culinary Championships) and home to the Urban Cultivator, where 16 heirloom varieties of plants are grown and incorporated into the menu.
- River Café – resonates with Canadiana because snowshoes and canoes adorn the walls and its Bow River setting on Prince’s Island Park further accentuates the outdoorsy atmosphere. Its food? Seasonal Canadian cuisine where farm-to-table freshness is de rigeur.
- Holy Grill – for panini and burgers.
- Shiki Menya – for ramen, rice bowls, noodles and soups.
- Without Papers – features yummy pizza in Inglewood, a trendy Calgary neighbourhood.
- Rouge Restaurant – Housed on a corner lot in a gracious 1891 mansion, Rouge offers locally grown foods paired with a select wine menu.