While often overshadowed by Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, the cosmopolitan city of Calgary boasts numerous merits and frequently ranks among the world’s best places to live. Positioned at the convergence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, it is nestled amid the expansive foothills and prairies of the western province of Alberta.
As the fourth-largest city in Canada, Calgary offers stunning outdoor spaces to explore, featuring captivating tourist attractions, modern architecture, and artworks. Within its glittering skyline of skyscrapers, one can discover a plethora of restaurants and bars, contributing to the city’s reputation for a vibrant nightlife scene. Beyond these attractions, Alberta’s most populous city is celebrated for hosting one of the nation’s largest and liveliest festivals, the Calgary Stampede, held annually in July.
1. Calgary Stampede
Touted as ‘the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’ the lively and festive Calgary Stampede unquestionably lives up to its reputation, drawing over a million people to the ten-day event each year. Beyond hosting one of the world’s largest rodeos, it features a parade, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, and First Nation exhibitions.
Since its inception in 1923, the Calgary Stampede has become inseparable from the city’s identity, with Calgary even earning the nickname ‘Cowtown’ due to its renowned festival. Amidst the action-packed races, rodeos, and competitions, attendees can explore sprawling fairgrounds and attend Wild West shows. Given its electric atmosphere and thrilling events, the Calgary Stampede is an unmissable experience when in town.
2. Calgary Zoo
Calgary Zoo, situated just east of downtown, is a delightful and family-friendly destination. Established in 1929, the zoo has been a source of education and joy for countless generations, recognized for its expansive enclosures and commitment to conservation research.
As one of Canada’s largest and oldest zoos, it houses an impressive variety of animals, ranging from pandas and penguins to gorillas and grizzlies. Featuring over 270 different species of mammals, the zoo’s extensive collection also includes numerous bugs, birds, and fish, with life-size dinosaur replicas scattered throughout its Prehistoric Park.
Beyond showcasing local Canadian wildlife and nature exhibits, the zoo dedicates areas to animals from Africa, Eurasia, Antarctica, and more, providing a diverse and enriching experience for visitors.
3. Calgary Tower
Soaring high above both the museum and the rest of downtown is the Calgary Tower, a standalone observation tower providing unparalleled views of Calgary and its surroundings. Constructed in 1968 to commemorate Canada’s centennial, it has since become one of the city’s most prominent symbols and attractions.
Standing at an impressive height of nearly 625 feet, this iconic landmark boasts a minimalist design, featuring a revolving restaurant at its summit. In addition to savoring a delightful meal while taking in breathtaking views, visitors can explore the tower’s information center.
Within, informative displays, models, and a short film delve into the history, architecture, and construction of the building, which is magnificently illuminated in the evenings against the night sky.
4. Heritage Park Historical Village
For anyone keen on delving into Calgary and Canada’s history, Heritage Park Historical Village is an absolute must-visit, conveniently located just fifteen minutes south of the city center. As the second-largest living history museum in the country, it boasts a remarkable collection of artifacts and exhibits, featuring numerous historic buildings and structures to explore.
Established in 1964 to preserve Alberta’s rich heritage, the park now comprises four areas representing different periods. In addition to a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading fort, visitors can explore a small settlement, prairie town, and village center adorned with shops and saloons. Beyond immersing oneself in the region’s history through informative displays and costumed re-enactors, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy rides on the steam train and paddle steamer.
5. Glenbow Museum
A brief stroll from the Wonderland Sculpture leads to the Glenbow Museum, which houses an extraordinary collection of artifacts, artworks, and archaeological discoveries. Ranking as one of the largest and finest museums in the nation, its expansive exhibitions provide a fascinating glimpse into the people, places, and ideas that have shaped Calgary and Western Canada.
Established in 1966, the museum’s collection has significantly grown, now encompassing over a million objects. Alongside galleries featuring African, Asian, and European artworks, it includes dedicated sections focusing on the culture of First Nations tribes and military memorabilia. Furthermore, the museum serves as a vital research center, hosting talks, workshops, and cultural events throughout the year.
6. Peace Bridge
Displaying an enchanting design is the Peace Bridge, spanning the Bow River and linking Downtown Calgary to the Sunnyside community. Beyond serving as a practical means of crossing the river, it merits exploration for its appealing architecture, picturesque location, and scenic viewpoints.
Constructed in 2012 and designed by Santiago Calatrava, the bridge features helical steel arches spiraling around its pedestrian and cycle paths. Extending 425 feet, it stands prominently with its distinctive red and white colors, echoing the hues of Calgary and Canada’s flags. In addition to connecting the south side of the Bow River Pathway to the north, it provides excellent views of the downtown skyline.
7. Prince’s Island Park
A favorite among both nature enthusiasts and outdoor lovers, Prince’s Island Park is situated just a short distance from downtown. Enveloped by the swift currents of the Bow River, it is linked to the city center by three footbridges, providing visitors with delightful scenery and natural surroundings.
Under protection since the 1950s, this island park boasts numerous trails, green spaces, and amenities such as park benches, playgrounds, and picnic areas. Along its picturesque shoreline, one can revel in the stunning views of Calgary’s skyline while observing the river’s flowing waters. While typically tranquil, the park transforms into a vibrant venue during several large and lively festivals held in the sunny summer months.
8. Fort Calgary
Providing a captivating glimpse into the city’s history and heritage is the remarkable Fort Calgary, strategically positioned at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Erected in 1875, it served as a crucial outpost for the Canadian Mounties, and present-day Calgary developed outside its walls.
Although the original fort has vanished, the living museum features replicas of barracks and stables for exploration, along with several historic homes. Within its interpretive center, guests can discover an extensive collection of artifacts and exhibits chronicling the early days of Calgary and the role of the Mounted Police in the region.
Moreover, as a National Historic Site, Fort Calgary offers picturesque grounds for leisurely strolls and an intriguing art installation to explore.
9. Wonderland Sculpture
The Wonderland Sculpture stands out as one of the city’s most unique and unusual attractions, serving as a captivating art installation positioned right in the center of town. Highly favored by both locals and tourists, this public art piece portrays the portrait of a young girl’s head and has graced the area in front of The Bow building since 2013.
Crafted by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, the sculpture reaches a towering height of 40 feet, entirely fashioned from bent wire mesh. Beyond admiring its artistry and inventiveness, visitors have the opportunity to venture inside the artwork through its neck, witnessing the glass buildings and skyscrapers of downtown rising around them. The sculpture’s striking silhouette and transparent materials not only make it a visual marvel but also create an excellent backdrop for incredible photos.
10. Hangar Flight Museum
The Hangar Flight Museum concentrates on the history of Canadian aviation, with a specific focus on Western Canada. Initiated by Canadian pilots who served in WWII, the museum has experienced significant growth over the years and now houses an extensive collection of aircraft. The current count stands at 24 planes and helicopters on display, along with simulators, aviation art prints, radio equipment, and a wealth of information on aviation history.
Additionally, the museum features a captivating exhibit showcasing artifacts and information related to Canada’s space programs. Situated in a sizable building near the Calgary Airport, the museum offers diverse programming, including lectures, tours, events, and movie nights centered around aviation.
11. Military Museums of Calgary
The Military Museums of Calgary constitute an impressive ensemble of Canadian Forces museums delving into the history of Canada’s Navy, Army, and Air Force. The exhibits prioritize interactive experiences, whether it involves strolling through WWI trenches or taking the helm of a ship from a wheelhouse.
On-site, a diverse array of military vehicles, including several tanks, can be found, complemented by a public-use library. Throughout the year, the museum organizes events and lectures, and there is a gift shop conveniently situated on the premises.
12. Bowness Park
If there is still time in your Calgary travel itinerary for another park visit, consider adding Bowness Park to your plans. Situated in the city’s northwest corner, this expansive 74-acre urban green space is particularly favored by families and serves as an excellent location for picnics or barbecues, complete with provided fire pits.
During the summer, there is the added attraction of a delightful paddleboat ride. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll surely enjoy hopping aboard the charming little train designed for their enjoyment.
As winter arrives, the focus shifts to activities like skating and the novel experience of “ice biking” (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a bike on skates!). Other winter pursuits available include hockey, curling, and cross-country skiing. Bowness Park is particularly enchanting in the fall when the leaves undergo their vibrant color transformation.
Q: How do I get to Banff National Park from Calgary?
A: Banff National Park is approximately 80 miles west of Calgary, and the most convenient way to reach it is by car. You can also opt for guided tours or shuttle services.
Q: Are there family-friendly activities at the Calgary Stampede?
A: Yes, the Calgary Stampede offers a range of family-friendly activities, including a midway, parades, and interactive exhibits suitable for all ages.
Q: What is the best time to visit Nose Hill Park?
A: The best time to visit Nose Hill Park is during the spring and summer months when the weather is pleasant for outdoor activities.
Q: Are there vegetarian dining options in Kensington?
A: Yes, Kensington boasts a variety of restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan-friendly dining options to cater to diverse preferences.
Q: How can I purchase tickets for events at Scotiabank Saddledome?
A: You can purchase tickets for events at Scotiabank Saddledome through official ticketing websites, authorized agents, or at the venue’s box office.