The Best Things to Do and See in Calgary, Canada

The Canadian city of Calgary isnt short of things to do or places to stay
The Canadian city of Calgary isn't short of things to do or places to stay | © Toni Reed / Unsplash
Harriet Myers

As the third-largest municipality in the country, sitting in the sunny eastern foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains and surrounded by an area of unspoiled beauty, it’s no wonder Calgary is full of so many great things to see and do. From historical villages and towering skyscrapers to markets and museums, we share our round-up of the attractions this city wouldn’t be complete without.

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Calgary Stampede

Held annually in July, the Calgary Stampede is a true Albertan institution and the source of the city’s Stampede City nickname. Each year, more than a million visitors attend the 10-day event, consisting of a parade, rodeo, derby, exhibition and market, which brands itself as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Even if you’re not in town at the right time of year to catch the show, you can still visit the park for a variety of other community-focused events aimed to promote the area’s traditional heritage.

Heritage Park Historical Village

A visit to Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living historical village, is a great way to gain an insight into Calgary’s vivid past. Spanning the course of local life from 1860 through to the 1950s, it documents the reality of different periods in history, through an immersive experience complete with costumed staff. Daily activities at the attraction include traditional Métis Bannock bread making, street theatre performances, and fibre arts demonstrations, as well as tours of the various areas of the park. Don’t leave without visiting Harvey’s Confectionery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlour, candy store and soda shop.

Calgary Pathway System

Making the most of the city’s scenic Alberta location, the Calgary Pathway system covers over 800km of regional and local pathways, making it the largest network in North America. The pathways are maintained by the city and represent popular routes for walking, jogging, biking and many other outdoor activities. Connecting downtown Calgary to its outer suburbs, much of the route runs along the south side of the Bow River and through well-maintained forest, which is especially beautiful during the autumn months.

Calgary Zoo

Located towards the east of the city in the neighbourhood of Bridgeland, Calgary Zoo is a not-for-profit organisation, which is also home to the Dorothy Harvie Botanical Gardens. Covering an area of 120 acres, the six zones of the park house close to 800 animals from 120 different species groups, as well as many types of fish and insects. The animals also have plenty of space to roam and the zoo’s focus on conservation research has gained it worldwide recognition.

Calgary Tower

The Calgary Tower, Calgary’s version of Toronto’s famous CN Tower, soars above the city at 191m tall. From its observation deck, the view of downtown includes many of Calgary’s most famous landmarks, which you can identify with the help of a multimedia tour available in four different languages. The tower also has a fine-dining restaurant, Sky 360, which features a rotating dining room. Alternatively, opt for a more casual dining option, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, on the ground level.

Fish Creek Provincial Park

The largest urban park in Canada, Fish Creek Provincial Park is situated in the southern area of the city, stretching from east to west over a distance of 19km. Fish Creek itself is an offshoot of the city’s Bow River and is a major feature of the park, alongside the man-made Sikome Lake, which is popular for swimming during the summer months. The eastern section of the park is also home to Artisan Gardens, as well as a visitor centre and the Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant, which is a great fine-dining option.

Wonderland Sculpture

Unveiled in January 2013, the city’s Wonderland Sculpture has already become a well-known landmark, situated downtown in front of The Bow skyscraper. Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the sculpture stands 12m tall and is constructed from bent wire. At first sight, it looks to most visitors like the head of a young girl, but look closer and you’ll see there are actually five faces viewable from different angles. Visitors can even enter the sculpture through the neck region and see how it looks from inside.

Contemporary Calgary

Another great introduction to the city’s growing art scene is Contemporary Calgary, a fusion of the Art Gallery of Calgary with its allies, the Museum of Modern Contemporary Art Calgary and the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art. Formerly a planetarium, the iconic 1967 landmark recently underwent modernisation, and now plays host to a range of rotating exhibitions – among them, a scale model of the moon and artwork by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Contemporary Calgary also hosts various distinguished speakers, as well as offering outreach and education programmes.

Glenbow Museum

Art and history-lovers flock to the Glenbow Museum to witness exhibitions covering everything from historical and contemporary art to international fashion and design. You’ll also learn more about the history of Calgary through a series of multimedia displays and indigenous artefacts, and there’s an impressive programme of events held regularly, from talks on particular artists to hands-on crafting sessions.

Calgary Farmer’s Market

Featuring the crème de la crème of local artisan suppliers, Calgary Farmer’s Market attracts new visitors every week. Browsing the different stalls and sampling regional produce is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon, and there are plenty of dining options if you want to grab a more substantial bite to eat. Popular choices include 2 Greek Gals, Oishi Desu Ramen Shack, and Ma Bonne Crêpes and Sandwiches. The Saturday market is often accompanied by the option of chef’s guided tours and book signings by local food writers.

Prince’s Island Park

Situated in downtown Calgary, Prince’s Island Park is best-known for hosting some of the city’s biggest celebrations, including Canada Day and the Calgary Folk Festival. Particularly popular during the summer months, you can catch a Shakespeare production in the park’s natural-grass amphitheatre, or explore its many hiking trails, which are also used for cross-country skiing during winter. Indulge at one of the many stalls of Eau Claire Market, or head to the River Café for a more refined dining spot.

Watch the Calgary Flames

Sports fan or not, a visit to Calgary wouldn’t be complete without the quintessentially Canadian experience of watching an action-packed ice hockey game. Watch Calgary Flames players glide across the ice between October and April at the Scotiabank Saddledome, a venue which played a vital role during the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. If you can, try to catch the Flames take on their Albertan rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.
Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins

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