Calgary is unique thanks to its ideal location. Not only can you experience its vibrant city centre, you can also make it your basecamp for exploring the Canadian Rockies just an hour away. This city in Alberta boasts stunning landscapes everywhere you look, which complements its Wild West heritage. If you’re planning on booking flights to Calgary this year you will be able to explore its diverse neighbourhoods and eat at some of Canada’s top restaurants.
Don’t just take our word for it as Visit Calgary explains why the city is a must-visit, “Calgary exudes a youthful vitality. Bold, energetic Calgarians have created a dynamic city with an ever-changing list of “must-see” attractions. Today’s Calgary will surprise and inspire visitors. Every visit offers new experiences, adventures and memories. Calgary has emerged as a must-visit culinary destination with a buzzing arts, music, culture, and festival scene.
“Known for its community-spirited hospitality, chef-driven cuisine, winter sports scene, lively music events and outdoor festivals, Calgary is a city centred around four UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park – making it the perfect complement to any Alberta adventure.
“The always-evolving city continues to reinforce its status as a world-class destination with new developments, expansions and events – creating a city where breath-taking landscapes provide the perfect backdrop to a thriving, urban playground, just waiting to be explored.”
With this in mind, we’d recommend spending at least 48 hours in Calgary. Here we’ve created our itinerary of the top things you need to do in the winter and summer.
Our suggested itinerary
Morning – Tour the Heritage Park Historical Village (summer) or visit the Gasoline Alley Museum (winter)
Afternoon – Visit the birthplace of Calgary (summer) or tour the Studio Bell National Music Centre (winter)
Evening – Experience Calgary’s cuisine
Morning – Go tubing or rafting on Bow River (summer) or visit WinSport (winter)
Afternoon – Enjoy a cultural afternoon
Evening – Take in a lofty view of the city at the Calgary Tower
Morning: Tour the Heritage Park Historical Village or visit the Gasoline Alley Museum
During your first day in Calgary you’ll want to get introduced to the city and learn more about it. Therefore the Heritage Park Historical Village is a must-visit attraction. It is Canada’s largest living history museum, and the park offers a fun and immersive way to learn about and experience life in Western Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s.
Barb Munro, Communications Specialist at Heritage Park Historical Village, says the park is a great place to visit all-year round as there are plenty of summer and winter activities on offer:
“In the summer I would recommend spending an entire day at the park; that’s how long it takes to see and do everything! Start with a tour of the park aboard an antique steam train, then de-board in the Settlement area and march with the North West Mounted Police. Trade furs with the Voyageurs and help put up a tipi in the First Nations’ Encampment. Wander through the Ranch area and visit with the farm animals. Head into the 1910 town for a game of snooker at the Snooker Parlour, followed by lunch in the Wainwright Hotel, or on the 1920s dining car on Tuesdays. Dessert is either a freshly baked butter tart from the bakery, a bag of penny candy or an ice-cream cone before hitting the rides at the antique midway.
“In the winter, visitors can explore Gasoline Alley Museum, a two-level museum dedicated to the auto industry. The 75,000 square foot museum is packed to the rafters with gleaming restored antique cars and trucks, North America’s largest collection of restored gas pumps and hundreds of signs hanging from the rafters. Take a guided tour of the museum, then stop by the Selkirk Grille for lunch or dinner and enjoy casually elegant Canadian cuisine.”
During the summer months, activities in the park change daily. Throughout the year there are lots of special events, workshops and themed dinners so keep checking the Heritage Park’s website to keep updated.
Afternoon: Visit the birthplace of Calgary or tour the Studio Bell National Music Centre
Fort Calgary is the birthplace of Calgary and was established in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police force (the Mounties). The National Historic Site is a great place to walk around as you will literally be following in the footsteps of Canada’s indigenous and non-indigenous ancestors.
As well as exploring some iconic stories from Calgary’s past, you can stroll along the river walk to the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and even try on an authentic Royal Mounties’ uniform.
During your visit you should take a look at the Hunt House, which is the oldest building in Calgary. Built in 1876, the house was a trading post and it gives you an insight into the life of the original settlers.
“This new guided tour of Studio Bell’s artist spaces provides a behind-the-scenes look at three world-class recording facilities that house historic consoles—including the Olympic Studios console, Trident A-Range console, and the legendary Rolling Stones Mobile Studio—and a collection of musical instruments that spans 450 years of music innovation and technology.
“Explore the working spaces where artists make magic happen with instruments from the collection, and hear the stories behind notable artefacts as a trained musician offers a demonstration. Gain insight into some of NMC’s most treasured items—from the earliest instruments in the NMC Collection, such as a 16th century Trasuntino Harpsichord; to modern electronics, like TONTO, considered to be the ‘holy grail’ of synthesizers; to the extremely rare Hammond Novachord (only six functioning Novachords remain in the world!) on which celebrated Canadian folk singer-songwriter Basia Bulat recorded her last album, Good Advice; to the largest item in the NMC Collection, the King Eddy (a live music venue).”
Evening: Experience Calgary’s cuisine
Once known as Canada’s Cowtown, Calgary’s dining scene has a come a long way from its meat-and-potato roots. Although succulent local steak is still high on the menu, it has evolved into a popular destination for foodies with restaurants being more varied than they have ever been.
Talking about her favourite restaurant, Abi Paul, who runs the budget adventure travel blog Larky Canuck, says: “For restaurants the options are plenty but my personal favourite is Charcut in the Saint Germaine hotel. Great food and great vibes and the brainchild of Top Chef Canada contestant Connie Dsouza.”
Other popular restaurants in Calgary include Native Tongues, a modern restaurant rooted in the traditional street and market foods of Mexico, and Alloy Dining, a popular eatery that combines Mediterranean and Latin foods.
Judith Cloutier, the General Manager at Native Tongues, says, “We pride ourselves on trying to recreate an authentic Mexican experience for our guests.
Highlights include, “Street foods of Mexico served simply and traditionally; Antojitos (little cravings) and Tacos de guisados (braised and stewed meats) and Mercado style dishes grilled over coals made to share among friends and family.”
Morning: Go tubing or rafting on Bow River or visit WinSport
If you’re heading to Calgary in summer, then a great way to start your second day is to go tubing or rafting on the Bow River.
The Larky Canuck’s Abi Paul recommends going tubing or rafting or in the winter visiting the Canada Olympic Park, also known as WinSport:
“Within Calgary the tubing or rafting on the Bow River is an experience to try. In winter the Canada Olympic Park (COP) offers several activities on the ski hill.”
In summer going tubing or rafting down the Bow River is very popular for a leisurely lounge in an inflatable raft while coasting down the river, admiring the view of the downtown skyline. Lazy Day Raft Rentals can provide you with rafts and they are conveniently located on Memorial Drive and just a stone’s throw away from the river.
During the winter months a visit to the Canada Olympic Park is a must as there are a number of activities on offer. From skiing and snowboarding to ice skating and tubing on the snow, there’s plenty for you to try.
Afternoon: Enjoy a cultural afternoon
Calgary’s culture is as varied as its population and to experience this you should visit some of the city’s museums. Art lovers, history buffs and pop culture fanatics can all find something inspiring at Glenbow Museum. Their collection boasts over a million objects, artworks and photographs, making Glenbow one of the largest museums in western Canada.
Glenbow’s feature exhibitions change three times a year, offering Calgarians and visitors plenty of opportunities to experience exciting national and international art exhibitions as well as fascinating stories from the local area. Glenbow is conveniently located in downtown Calgary on Stephen Avenue Mall, just steps from the Calgary Tower.
Another great museum you can visit is the Military Museums, which is the second largest military museum in Canada. The multi-faceted attraction houses four regimental museums, branch-specific museums, an art gallery, and The Military Museums Library and Archives.
The Cold War Exhibit is the latest permanent display to be launched and you can see a CF-18 Hornet, a CF-104 Starfighter, and an F-86 Sabre Jet fighter. The exhibition pays tribute to the Canadians who stood ready to defend Canada throughout the Cold War.
Second Lieutenant Ashley Fournier-Montalvo, who is the communications and marketing coordinator at the Military Museums, explains some of the displays you should see:
“I sincerely recommend people come see the latest exhibition in our Founders’ Gallery, Witness: Canadian Art of the First World War, which holds moving artwork from artists and ordinary soldiers of their new-found, war-torn realities. The art pieces are emotionally heavy depicting Canada’s valiant military presence contrasted by the catastrophic loss of soldiers during the war. Today, these same works continue to help us understand and appreciate Canada’s role in this unprecedented global conflict. Overall, visiting The Military Museums and seeing its immersive displays make for a great educational and fun experience for everyone.”
The Military Museums is a short drive south of downtown.
Evening: Take in a lofty view of the city at the Calgary Tower
No visit to Calgary would be complete without seeing the city from above. For the best views, visit the Calgary Tower, which has defined the city’s skyline for decades.
The tower celebrates its 50th birthday in 2018 and you can join in the celebrations by taking in the 360-degree views from 191 metres above downtown Calgary. Test your courage by stepping onto the glass floor!
If it’s still light, from the observation deck you’ll not only be able to see the city, but also views of the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the foothills, according to Visit Calgary.
“The Calgary Tower is a steadfast monument in the downtown core. The tallest building in the downtown core until 1983, the tower has redefined itself in many ways, even becoming the model for the Olympic Torch in the Olympic Winter games hosted in Calgary back in 1988.
“A glass observation deck was added in 2005 allowing visitors to glimpse down towards the streets below. The view from the tower reaches from the downtown core to the rolling foothills and the majestic Rocky Mountains, allowing you to experience all the history that Calgary has to offer in one neat package.”
If you decide to go on one of the multimedia tours of the tower you will explore this magnificent landmark and learn a number of interesting facts about the tower and the city itself.
The tower is open from 9am – 9pm (September to May) or 9am – 10pm (June to August).
Image Credit: Heritage Park Historical Village, Glenbow Museum, Military Museums.