Although often overlooked in favor of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the cosmopolitan city of Calgary has a lot going for it and is often ranked among the best places to live in the world. Situated at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, it lies amidst the endless foothills and prairies of the western province of Alberta.
The fourth-largest city in Canada, Calgary has gorgeous outdoor spaces to explore with interesting tourist attractions, modern architecture and artworks. Amidst its sparkling sea of skyscrapers are countless restaurants and bars, and the city also noted for its pounding nightlife scene. In addition to these things to do in Calgary, Alberta’s most-populous city is renowned for hosting one of the nation’s largest and liveliest festivals, the Calgary Stampede which takes place each July.
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12. Bow River Pathway
Winding its way through the center of Calgary is the beautiful Bow River which is lined by parks and green spaces on both banks. Connecting them is a network of pedestrian and bicycle paths, which are great to walk, jog or cycle along past stunning scenery and nature.
The network of paths stretches just under 30 miles in length and meander from Bearspaw Dam to Fish Creek Provincial Park. Interspersed along the route are bridges and benches, as well as bird sanctuaries, and golf courses. Since construction began in 1975 to celebrate the city’s centenary, the picturesque paths have proved popular with generations of locals and tourists alike.
11. Spruce Meadows
If you’re after an exciting, adrenaline-filled experience then it is well worth heading to Spruce Meadows; a world-class equestrian center that hosts high profile events and tournaments. Named after the surrounding spruce trees, it lies just to the south of Calgary on the outskirts of the city.
Since 1975, the large, multi-purpose sports facility has put on countless competitions and is well known for showjumping events, such as the prestigious ‘Summer Series’ and ‘Nakoda Series’.
Besides watching jockeys compete for national titles from the grandstand, visitors can also explore its grounds and stables, and even see the horses being trained. In addition, it also serves as the home pitch of Cavalry FC who play in the Canadian soccer league.
10. Fort Calgary
Offering a fascinating look into the history and heritage of the city is the fantastic Fort Calgary, set at the strategic spot where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet. Built in 1875, it acted as an important outpost for the Canadian Mounties with present-day Calgary having risen up outside its walls.
Although the original fort is long gone, the living museum has replicas of barracks and stables to explore and several historic homes. In its interpretive centre guests can find extensive artifacts and exhibits documenting the early days in Calgary and the role of the Mounted Police in the area.
In addition, this National Historic Site has some gorgeous grounds to wander around and an interesting art installation to check out.
9. Peace Bridge
Exhibiting a delightful design is the Peace Bridge that spans the Bow River and connects Downtown Calgary to the community of Sunnyside. Besides being a practical way to get from one side of the river to the other, it is worth checking out for its attractive architecture, scenic setting, and viewpoints.
Built in 2012, the bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava and has helical steel arches that spiral around its pedestrian and cycle paths. Stretching 425 feet in length, it stands out magnificently against its surroundings as it is painted red and white; the colors of Calgary and Canada’s flags. As well as connecting the south side of the Bow River Pathway to the north, it also offers great views of the downtown skyline.
8. Wonderland Sculpture
One of the city’s most unique and unusual attractions is the Wonderland Sculpture, an arresting art installation that lies right in the center of town. Very popular with both locals and tourists alike, the public art piece depicts the portrait of a young girl’s head. The sculpture has been on display in front of The Bow building since 2013.
Created by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, it towers 40 feet in height and is entirely made out of bent wire mesh. Besides marvelling at its artistry and inventiveness, visitors can venture inside the artwork through its neck and see the glass buildings and skyscrapers of downtown rising around them. Thanks to its striking silhouette and see-through materials, the sculpture makes for some incredible photos.
7. Glenbow Museum
Just a short stroll from the Wonderland Sculpture is the Glenbow Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of artifacts, artworks, and archaeological findings. One of the biggest and best museums in the nation, its extensive exhibitions offer an interesting insight into the people, places and ideas that have shaped Calgary and Western Canada.
Since it was established in 1966, the art and history museum’s collection has expanded considerably, and now encompasses over a million objects. As well as galleries full of African, Asian and European artworks, it has sections dedicated to the culture of First Nations tribes and military memorabilia. In addition, it acts as an important research centre and holds talks, workshops, and cultural events during the year.
6. Calgary Tower
Towering high above both the museum and the rest of downtown is Calgary Tower, a freestanding observation tower that offers unrivaled views over Calgary and its surroundings. Built in 1968 to celebrate Canada’s centennial, it has been one of the city’s standout symbols and sights.
Reaching nearly 625 feet in height, the iconic landmark sports a minimalist design with a revolving restaurant at the top. Other than enjoying a delicious meal and basking in its breathtaking views, visitors can also learn all about the tower at its information center.
Here you’ll find informative displays, models, and a short film on the history, architecture, and construction of the building, which is majestically illuminated in the evenings against the night sky.
5. Fish Creek Provincial Park
A very popular place to visit, Fish Creek Provincial Park is just twenty minutes’ drive to the south of the center. One of the largest urban parks in North America, it has splendid scenery and nature to explore with untold outdoor recreational activities on offer.
Due to its proximity to the city center and its pristine forests and wilderness, many people go hiking and cycling in the park. Fishing and swimming can also be enjoyed in Bow River, Fish Creek or at Sikome Lake. In total it has over 60 miles of paths to wander along taking you through dense woods and past craggy cliffs with beavers, deer, and coyotes to be spotted from time to time.
4. Calgary Zoo
A fun and family-friendly place to visit, Calgary Zoo lies just to the east of downtown. Founded in 1929, the zoo has educated and delighted countless generations and is renowned for its spacious enclosures and conservation research.
As one of the largest and oldest zoos in Canada, it is home to an astounding array of animals, with everything from pandas and penguins to gorillas and grizzlies on show. Besides boasting over 270 different species of mammal, the zoo’s massive menagerie also includes innumerable bugs, birds, and fish with life-size dinosaur replicas scattered about its Prehistoric Park.
As well as local Canadian wildlife and nature exhibits, there are also areas dedicated to animals from Africa, Eurasia, and Antarctica to explore, among many others.
3. Prince’s Island Park
Popular with both nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, Prince’s Island Park is located a stone’s throw from downtown. Surrounded by the rushing waters of the Bow River, it is connected to the city center by three footbridges and offers lovely scenery and nature for visitors to enjoy.
Protected since the 1950s, the island park is home to many trails and green spaces and also features park benches, playgrounds, and picnic areas. From its scenic shoreline, you can bask in the beautiful views of Calgary’s skyline and watch the waters of the river flowing by. While it is usually quiet and peaceful, the park hosts several large and lively festivals in the sunny summer months.
2. Heritage Park Historical Village
An absolute must for anyone interested in learning about Calgary and Canada’s past, Heritage Park Historical Village can be found just fifteen minutes to the south of the center. The second largest living history museum in the country, it has an astounding array of artifacts and exhibits with countless historic buildings and structures to explore.
Founded in 1964, to preserve Alberta’s rich heritage, the park now has four areas that represent different time periods. Alongside a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading fort, you can find a small settlement, prairie town, and village center lined by shops and saloons. Besides learning about the region’s history through informative displays and costumed re-enactors, visitors can also go for rides on the steam train and paddle steamer.
1. Calgary Stampede
Billed as ‘the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’, the fun and festive Calgary Stampede certainly lives up to its reputation with over a million people attending the ten-day event each year. Besides having one of the world’s largest rodeos, it also has a parade, stage shows and concerts to enjoy, alongside agricultural competitions and First Nation exhibitions.
Held every July since 1923, the Calgary Stampede is now inextricably linked to the city’s identity; Calgary is even being nicknamed ‘Cowtown’ thanks to its famous festival. In addition to action-packed races, rodeos, and competitions, there are sprawling fairgrounds to explore and wild west shows to attend. Due to its electric atmosphere and exhilarating events, the Calgary Stampede is not to be missed when in town.
Best Time to Visit Calgary
Calgary is most popular to visit between mid-May and late September when temperatures average 16 to 23°C (61 to 73°F). As well as being the warmest period, summer is when many of its main festivals take place.
Although the prices and crowds are at their highest and the city sees a bit of rain, this is by far the best time to enjoy its exciting outdoor activities. Aside from seeing the center, you can always hike about Banff National Park or kayak around Lake Louise.
Cowtown has a wonderful lively feel in summer with the world-renowned Calgary Stampede drawing massive crowds. Other than watching its rodeos and races, there are its blues, folk music and Fringe festivals to enjoy. Countless concerts and events are also held for Calgary Pride and the Lilac Festival.
While the shoulder seasons of April and October can be lovely, they are more unpredictable weatherwise. Prices are cheaper, however, and the city is less crowded with big events like the Calgary Expo and Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival still taking place.
As temperatures drop to -5 to 3°C (23 to 37°F), getting even colder at night, barely anyone visits during winter. Some do head here to ski or snowboard though at resorts in the Rocky Mountains.