Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and has a unique blend of big-city energy and western hospitality. From wining and dining or going to the ballet to roughing it at a Rocky Mountains ranch, there’s a huge variety of things to do in Calgary.
While there’s plenty to do in the city itself, Calgary’s best asset is its location, with the spectacular Rocky Mountain range right on its doorstep (about a one-hour drive from the city centre).
As well as being at the intersection of two rivers, the Bow and Elbow, Calgary is also at the crossroads of two major road systems – the TransCanada Highway and the CANAMEX Corridor.
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!), spending time in Calgary is one of the fun things to do in Canada.
Here are some top things to do in Calgary, Alberta.
- Things To Do in Calgary For Your First Visit
- Things to do in Calgary For Active People
- Things to do in Calgary with kids
- Calgary Events
- Calgary Restaurants
Things To Do in Calgary For Your First Visit
By Katharine Fletcher
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.
1- Climb Calgary Tower
It revolves turning 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- Go To The Calgary Stampede
If you can time your visit to coincide with this famous event, you’ll be able to 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.
Since 1961, a herd of now-600 stock horses have been bred specifically to be “professional” bucking broncos. The Stampede delivers lots of 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- Visit the 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 several contented hours investigating my topic.
You can, too.
4- 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 a 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.
There are restaurants on-site so, budget a day for a stay!
5- 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 winds 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.
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 or join a walking tour of Inglewood here.
Things to do in Calgary For Active People
6- Get active on the rivers
Flowing through Calgary, the Bow and Elbow 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.
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.
Looking for free bikes? Two boutique hotels – Hotel Arts and Kensington Riverside Inn – offer free bikes to guests.
7- 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.
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 warm to wear, even on a summer’s day.
8- 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 the 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.
If you’re a keen birder, this is the place for you as there are free nature walks with naturalists from Nature Calgary.
At Birds Calgary, investigate free Saturday field trips, for instance, or birding courses (fees apply).
9- Ride a bobsled at Canada Olympic Park
Unleash your inner Olympian at WinSport’s 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 North America’s fastest zipline, descending 500 metres at a speed of 120 to 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.
There are over100,000 artifacts on display. and fun interactive exhibits such as shadow boxing, 3D hockey and wheelchair racing for all ages.
Book one of these experiences at Canada Olympic Park:
Things to do in Calgary with kids
Calgary is a family-friendly city with a number of things to do in Calgary with kids. From exploring cool museums to having a fun day out at an amusement park, there are enough family activities in Calgary to keep everyone happy. So, if you’re wondering what to do in Calgary with kids, here are a few suggestions.
11- Visit Studio Bell
A one-of-a-kind music museum, Studio Bell is a National Music Centre with five floors of exhibitions about music in Canada.
There are interactive displays where you can free your inner musician by singing along in a sound booth or bashing out a melody on an interactive instrument installation.
Music fans will be in heaven wandering among the displays of rare instruments, manuscripts and sound equipment.
If you’re keen on Canadian memorabilia, this is the place to visit.
One of the National Music Centre’s treasures is the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, which was built initially for the Rolling Stones and was the first professional mobile recording studio in the world.
It has been restored and is parked next to the historic live music venue, the King Eddy stage, and is still in use.
12- Sleepover at Calgary Zoo
See the lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants at Calgary Zoo. From Giant Pandas to Canadian grizzlies, the massive zoo has over 1000 animals from around the world.
The zoo has a focus on conservation and runs educational programmes to raise awareness of plights of critically endangered species, such as the gorillas.
Watching the king penguins waddle through the zoo on the daily Penguin Walk is a cool activity in winter.
There are kids camps for children of all ages and kids birthday parties. Click here to see more.
One of the fun Calgary kids activities is to visit the zoo at night for a sleepover at the zoo.
13- Have fun at Calaway Park
Soak up views of the Rocky Mountains while riding a roller coaster at Calaway Park.
With 32 rides, lots of games, a 3D theatre and live entertainment, Calaway Park is just the spot for family fun.
If you’re looking for things to do in Calgary with kids, Western Canada’s largest outdoor amusement park is not far away.
10 kilometres west of Calgary at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it’s a fun spot for a family day out.
Calaway Park’s new ride, the Bumble Blast is a spinning coaster on a figure-eight track.
The Calaway RV Park and Campground is the place to stay.
14- Get Energetic at Shakers Fun Centre
What to do when it’s raining, or the weather is too cold to be outdoors?
With a range of fun attractions, both indoors and outdoors, Shakers Fun Centre is a top spot if you’re looking for family activities in Calgary.
From go-karting to playing mini golf or laser tag, to scaling the climbing tower and bowling, there are plenty of attractions for families here.
15- Explore Telus Spark
TELUS Spark is an impressive Science Centre with exhibits, programs and demonstrations.
It has an HD Digital Dome Theatre, an outdoor park and galleries with amazing displays of science and technology.
The kids will love it but take a tip and check out the trendy adults-only nights when you can have a drink and get nerdy.
If you’re looking for a Calgary event to plan your trip around, the Calgary Stampede (#2 above) should be at the top of your list. But if you can’t make it to Calgary’s biggest event, here are some other events to check out.
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.
Beakerhead is a five-day festival that brings art, science and engineering together in displays right across the city.
With large-scale mechanical public art installations and more than 60 concerts, performances and workshops on the programme, Beakerhead is a fun time to visit Calgary.
Keep an eye out for cool science-themed culinary creations, bizarre vehicles and strange fire-breathing contraptions that will delight you.
Calgary International Beerfest (May)
Sample Alberta beers at the Calgary International Beerfest, which showcases over 500 different kinds of beer.
There are beer- brewing seminars and classes that teach you how to cook with beer.
Mashing Calgary (September)
A celebration of local beer, breweries, distilleries and restaurants, with plenty of food and entertainment thrown in, Mashing Calgary is a fun festival.
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.
Calgarians love this place for their Sunday Supper served family style.
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 Cafe 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.
The spot a quick bite of panini and burgers.
Looking for some delicious Japanese food? Shiki Menya is a great spot for ramen, rice bowls, noodles and soups.
This restaurant features yummy pizza in Inglewood, a trendy Calgary neighbourhood.
Housed on a corner lot in a gracious 1891 mansion, Rouge offers locally grown foods paired with a select wine menu.
Watch this video of the best Calgary has to offer. Video created by InVideo.