Situated in the foothills of Canadian Rockies about 90 minutes away from Banff National Park, Calgary often serves as the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. But the city is becoming a destination in its own right. The city’s strong economy has drawn a young population and led to the establishment of a range of attractions.
If you live for history (or are interested in it remotely at all), Canada’s largest living history museum is a must-visit. Located on the banks of the Glenmore Reservoir, Heritage Park Historical Village has more than 100 exhibits spread across four areas that depict different eras of Canadian history from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s: Hudson's Bay Company Fur Trading Fort and First Nations Encampment, the Pre-Railway Settlement Village, the Railway Prairie Town, and the Heritage Town Square and Gasoline Alley Museum. The antique midway (complete with working vintage amusement park rides) is always a popular attraction as well.
Get a different perspective of the city from the top of Calgary Tower. An elevator takes you to the top of the 191-meter tall tower, where you get 360-degree views of the city as well as the Rocky Mountains, its foothills, and surrounding prairies. The tower’s coolest view is from the glass-bottomed observatory deck 525 feet above the street. You can also pick up a free audio guide to learn a little about the city as you take in the view. If heights don’t make your stomach turn, grab a meal at the Sky 360 Restaurant. You can enjoy the sights from the rotating restaurant while having a delicious meal.
Calgary may be home to over a million people, but its zoo houses more than 1,000 animals. The zoo is divided into six areas, including a penguin area with penguin walks in the winter, and a Prehistoric Park with life-sized dinosaur models (don’t worry—they aren’t real, so you won’t need Chris Pratt to save you). For those on Panda Watch, the zoo’s Eurasia area has Giant Pandas. Choose a time to see them when you get your ticket or be prepared to wait in line.
The 17th Ave. shopping and dining district got the nickname “Red Mile” during the Calgary Flames’ 2004 playoff run, and since then it has become an unofficial gathering place for fans. There’s plenty going on when the Flames aren’t playing though—17th Ave. has bars, restaurants, shopping and nightlife. It dead-ends at the Calgary Stampede fairgrounds, making it a great spot to lasso up some fun after the rodeo.
While pubs are the standard along the Avenue, Model Milk is a great example of what the Calgary culinary scene has to offer. Located in a converted dairy building, the menu keeps in line with the modern-rustic flair, with local ingredients artfully transformed into mouth-watering dishes. Don't sleep on their cheeseburger, topped with maitake mushroom ragu and cheese curds...and served alongside house-cut fries.
This may have been one of the venues for the 1988 Winter Olympics, but you don’t have to be an Olympian to take part in year-round activities here anymore. In the winter, visitors can go skating, skiing, snowboarding and tubing. Summer fun includes mini golf, a zipline and mountain biking. You can also try out hard-to-find Olympic sports like bobsled, luge and skeleton. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame is also located here—It has 12 galleries with interactive displays and memorabilia that celebrate the country’s greatest sports heroes.
This boutique hotel is a converted Holiday Inn that was updated with modern decor and luxury amenities like a pool and patio. Visitors can take advantage of its prime location by using its complimentary commuter bikes. The hotel also has two restaurants, Raw Bar (which features modern Vietnamese cuisine) and Yellow Door Bistro (which has some of the best brunches in the city).
Prince's Island Park (not Princess Island Park, as some mistakenly think) is an urban park on an island in the Bow River. Cross a footbridge to the park and enjoy the trails, flower gardens, playgrounds, and general urban green-ness. River Café is located in a restored concession building within Prince’s Island Park. The upscale menu focuses on modern interpretations of traditional dishes using local, seasonal, sustainable food. Between the food and the view, the restaurant showcases the best that Calgary has to offer.
Art, history, culture—What more could you want in a museum? The Glenbow Museum has been sharing the art, history and culture of Calgary for more than 50 years. It hosts a range of travelling exhibitions, as well as programs and events. Its permanent collections house historical artifacts and works of art from the region, as well as a library and archives that document its history.
The Grain Academy and Museum gives a granular take on Calgary’s history (literally and figuratively). Located at Stampede Park, home of Calgary’s famous annual Calgary Stampede rodeo, this museum traces the history of the region through its agriculture. Exhibits include a grain elevator, pioneer farm tools and a model train that shows how grains were transported to Canada’s western coast. You can also learn about different types of grain and their uses. Trust us, you'll leave obsessed with makin' it grain. Get it?
Originally built as a private residence for a local politician and businessman in 1891, this mansion has also served as a training centre for young women, a women's military barracks and a blood donor clinic before opening in 2005 as a Public Heritage Center. You can pay admission and take guided or self-guided audio tours of the beautifully restored house, or you can just visit the gardens, which are free. The site also has programs, exhibits and a restaurant.
Out of Canada’s 100 largest cities, Calgary has the sunniest days. Its winters are relatively mild for the region, due to the Chinook Winds and its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, but the weather still tends to be cold and snowy. The city’s elevation and aridity mean that summer days are warm and then cools off at night. The city has a hockey team (the Calgary Flames) as well as a CFL team (the Calgary Stampeders) and a newly established Canadian Premier League soccer team (Cavalry FC). The world-famous Calgary Stampede, known as the “the greatest outdoor show on Earth,” takes place over 10 days in July and features one of the world’s largest rodeos, a parade, shows, and other competitions and exhibitions. So honestly, there's no bad time to visit!
Banner Photo Credit: via Shutterstock