40 Incredible Things To Do in Calgary
Calgary’s got more to offer than cold winters and cowboys. In fact, the largest city in Alberta boasts some of Canada’s top draws for foodies, shopaholics and culture vultures alike.
The Best Things to Do in Calgary
There’s a reason the Calgary Stampede is known as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” In fact, the annual 10-day event is so inextricably linked with its host city that the mere mention of “Calgary” can’t fail to conjure up images of a spectacular rodeo, world-class grandstand shows and nostalgic fairground thrill rides. In a regular year, more than a million people join this party, and whether they’re there to admire the magical lasso work of the competitive calf wranglers, or simply to people-watch the crowds decked out in cowboy hats, boots and denim, the atmosphere they generate is nothing short of electric.
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Ten Foot Henry
Thought Calgary’s food scene revolved around the ribeye? Think again! Vegetarian options abound, but few can boast dishes as flavourful as Ten Foot Henry. Be sure to order the tomatoes with whipped feta and sourdough toast and the Caesar salad with kale, cashew and fried egg. Need to nosh on the run? Pop into the takeaway café, Little Henry, next door.
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Dept. is located in Calgary’s trendy Inglewood neighbourhood, known for its unique shops filled with artisanal goods. Browse the quirky mix of art prints, housewares, grooming and apparel—not to mention their house brand of custom candles—and surprise your loved ones with a one-of-a-kind trinket.
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Although it’s no longer the tallest building in Calgary, this concrete and steel needle still makes the city’s skyline instantly recognizable—even by silhouette. Opened to the public in 1968, it was originally named the Husky Tower, but was renamed after the city itself a mere three years later. Visitors still flock to Calgary Tower for its breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view of the city, and the prairies, foothills and Rocky Mountains stretching far beyond. Take the complimentary tour for invaluable insight into Calgary’s history and landmarks, and top it off with dinner at the rotating Sky 360 restaurant.
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Le Germain Hotel Calgary
For a little luxury in the heart of the city, book a suite at Le Germain—located just steps away from the iconic Calgary Tower. The hotel boasts a full-service spa, CHARCUT Roast House featuring house-butchered meats, and the largest (and most luxurious) rain showerheads we’ve ever come across in our travels. (And it’s dog-friendly, to boot!)
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Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre
Calgary’s National Music Centre, located in Studio Bell, is a place where musical artifacts, interactive exhibits and halls of fame collide. Five floors celebrate music in Canada and showcase everything from the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection and the stage costumes of famous Canadian artists to a vocal booth where you can mix your own track. There are also three recording studios for an artist residency program, plus a 300-seat performance hall.
The Paddle Station
For those wanting to get up close and personal with the Bow River, nothing beats renting a kayak or raft from The Paddle Station. You can reserve your craft online, pick it up at the launch point and paddle your way through the heart of Calgary. When you’re done, simply leave your craft at the final paddle station and, if desired, take the shuttle service back to your starting point.
Each August, Calgarians and visitors alike gather in Elliston Park to “ooh” and “ahh” at GlobalFest’s spectacular fireworks displays. (For the best views, stake out a spot near the lake—the water catches the reflection for a light show that’s twice as impressive.) The festival is known for its “pyromusicals” (fireworks set to music), cultural pavilions and food stands.
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Calgary Farmers’ Market
Open Thursday through Sunday year-round (don’t worry—it’s all indoors!), the Calgary Farmers’ Market draws more than 20,000 visitors each week. Here you’ll find 70-plus vendors selling everything from fresh local produce and preserves to baked goods. A second location is set to open in 2022 in the community of Greenwich, 15 minutes from downtown Calgary. Swing by on an empty stomach and munch your way through the aisles.
The Scotiabank Saddledome has played host to many events since it opened in 1983, including the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. (Here’s how the Olympics changed Canada.) Since day one, it’s also served as home the city’s NHL team, the Calgary Flames. To experience a home game is to tick a quintessentially Canadian item off of your bucket list—especially if you manage to catch the Flames take on their Albertan rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.
Betty Lou’s Library
Bored with your hotel bar? Betty Lou’s Library, one of Calgary’s most unique cocktail bars, transports guests back in time to a 1920s-style speakeasy. Make a reservation beforehand, but give yourself ample time to find the entrance. Like all good speakeasies, the location of the front door is a secret!
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Native Tongues Taqueria
Calgary might not be the first place you think of for mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, but Native Tongues serves up the real deal—and does it well. The menu includes authentic tacos (soft corn tortillas layered with braised meats), tostadas (crispy fried tortillas topped with beans, chipotle chicken or ahi tuna) and donas (glazed donuts made daily). If you can, pop in on a Tuesday for $2.99 tacos. (Tell them Reader’s Digest sent you.)
Hotel Arts Calgary
Tired of generic, cookie-cutter accommodations? The contemporary suites at Hotel Arts have character to spare. Amenities at this downtown Calgary hotspot include an outdoor pool and patio, two restaurants (Yellow Door Bistro, which is ideal for brunch, and Raw Bar, which features modern Vietnamese cuisine), in-room spa services and complimentary bike rentals.
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Even if your hotel doesn’t offer complimentary bike loans, you can still explore the delights of Calgary on two wheels. Rent a vintage bike from Rath Bicycle by the hour or the day and take a spin through the charming East Village neighbourhood. The shop also sells and repairs new and vintage bikes.
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A must for culture vultures, the Glenbow Museum is Calgary’s most impressive repository of artwork and artifacts. Founded by prominent Alberta oilman Eric Harvie in 1966, the museum’s permanent collections tell the story of western Canada, including spectacular exhibits devoted to Indigenous history and culture. While the permanent location undergoes renovations, a new temporary spot will open in February 2022.
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Sled Island Music & Arts Festival
For five days in June, Sled Island takes over 40-plus venues across Calgary to host bands, comedians and film-screenings in an all-out celebration of music and arts. The vibe is youthful, indie and creative—and different every time thanks to a special guest curator who sets the tone for that year’s festival. (In 2020, that curator was American R&B violinist and vocalist Sudan Archives.)
Calgary Folk Music Festival
If folk music is more your thing, schedule a visit to Prince’s Island Park in July for the Calgary Folk Music Festival. The annual event draws musicians from all around for live performances and expert workshops, with added attractions in the form of a beer garden, craft market and record tent—the perfect place to beef up your collection of vintage vinyl and the greatest Canadian albums of all time..
Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo
While taking a trip to the zoo may not be your first impulse on a cold winter’s day, in Calgary, it’s a tradition. Every year, from late November to early January, the Calgary Zoo hosts a huge event called Zoolights. Sip hot chocolate and wander through a winter wonderland of two-million beautiful lights, warm yourself at a crackling firepit, then get a picture with Santa himself. Once you’ve navigated installations like Dinos in the Dark and laced up skate rentals for a lap around the rink, check out more of the best places to spend Christmas in Canada. — Tim Johnson
Looking for an elegant spot for après-dinner drinks? You can’t go wrong with the one-of-a-kind cocktails from Proof’s ever-changing menu. Small plates are also great for snacking in the cozy 60-seat space.
The Silk Road Spice Merchant
A treasure trove for home cooks and bakers, The Silk Road Spice Merchant features a wide range of exotic, high-quality herbs and spices from around the world. If you’re having trouble finding an ingredient or simply want to experiment with a dash of something new, The Silk Road is a great place to start. (These brilliant cooking shortcuts could also come in handy.) You’ll find it located among other specialty boutiques in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood.
Need an outfit for a night out? New threads don’t get more stylish than at 27 Boutique—your one-stop shop for chic clothes, shoes and accessories on 12th Ave SW. The store’s flirty dresses, cute jewelry, fringed finds, ripped denim and chunky heels are just the thing for date night. (Or a road trip, or an afternoon on the boardwalk…)
Travelling with kiddies in tow? Be sure to add Granary Road to your itinerary—especially if you’ve had them cooped up in the car all day. This “active learning park” boasts three kilometres of trails with 11 play zones where kids can climb, swing and slide until they’re completely tuckered out. Grown-up guests will also appreciate the Granary Road market (with produce, smoked meats, sweets, gifts and hot food vendors), not to mention the option to do yoga—with the goats!
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Your exercise routine doesn’t have to come to a halt just because you’re on holiday. One of the hottest ways to break a sweat in Calgary is at a 50-minute spin class at YYC Cycle. With four locations across the city—all pumping the same upbeat music to keep you motivated—there’s really no excuse not to.
The Livery Shop
Got your credit card ready? You’ll need it when you step into The Livery Shop, because you’re going to want one of everything. Topping the “most covetable” list: Dainty earrings for your ear stack, a matching Wild One leash and harness for your pooch and a Camp Brand Goods sweatshirt.
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St. Patrick’s Island
Need a quick respite from Calgary’s hustle and bustle? Take the George C. King Bridge over to St. Patrick’s Island. The 31-acre outdoor space has public art installations, a play space for kids, a fishing area, an amphitheatre and plenty of pathways to stroll.
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Pure Kitchen & Bar
At Calgary’s Pure Kitchen & Bar, chef Lam Pham serves up exotic delicacies like the char siu sesame donut, filled with cucumber and pickled veggies, and the pineapple nuoc cham braised pork cheek.
Although Theatre Calgary has a regular play program throughout the year, things heat up in summer with its popular Shakespeare by the Bow series. The live outdoor performances at Prince’s Island Park make for a truly memorable experience. Bring a blanket, pack a picnic, and pay what you can.
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Hotel Arts Kensington
Offering all the amenities of a grand hotel on an intimate scale, the 19-room Hotel Arts Kensington is one of your best bets for lodging in Calgary’s Kensington Village. For a truly decadent stay, request a river-view room with a fireplace. While you’re at it, make use of the soaker tub and then treat yourself to dinner at the Oxbow restaurant on-site.
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With a menu created by Chef Rafael Castillo to pay tribute to his hometown in Yucatan, Fonda Fora is a contemporary Mexican resto with personality to spare. The seafood- and veggie-focused dishes include shrimp ceviche, grilled octopus tacos and tamales with poblano peppers and stringy Oaxaca queso—not to mention a specialty cocktail list worth a second look. Had a few too many honeyed margaritas? Spend the night in The Westley Hotel, where Fonda Fora is located.
A new addition to Calgary’s food scene, Major Tom serves up a blend of classic food and decor with some surprising twists—including spectacular views of the city from its 40th floor setting. On the menu, you’ll find standard fare like cheese toast, Caesar salad and the MT cheeseburger, but you’ll also notice unique offerings like tuna cru with burnt yogurt and slow-roasted duck with caramelized cauliflower, plums and pistachios. Pop by from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for light eats or book dinner and watch the sun set over the skyline.
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Photo: Neil Zeller
On the hunt for things to do in Calgary when cold weather hits? Look no further than Chinook Blast, a six-week festival that runs through January and February. Launched in 2021, the festival blends five big winter events including a rodeo and folk music fest. Head to the city centre to see art installations and shows at The Hub or visit local communities for unique experiences that exude Calgary pride.
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Photo: The Establishment Brewing Company
The Establishment Brewing Company
Only one brewery can take home the top title at the Canadian Brewing Awards. In 2021, the honour went to Calgary’s The Establishment Brewing Company, which was launched by two friends who met in a home brew club. Visit their tap room for live music and to sample their award-winning beers, from the Erlton Street 2.0 Barrel-Aged Golden Sour to the Funkmorphosis Barrel-Aged Belgian Ale (if they’re available in the day’s rotation, that is!).
If, like Kyle Chow, you value making lists, sending cards, practicing your penmanship or just general organization and productivity, his unique stationery and officewares store, Recess, is the place for you. You’ll find everything from fountain pens and notebooks to cute stickers and watercolour paints. The best part? Everything is sleek, colourful and oh-so-chic.
Photo: John Dean
If you’re looking for free things to do in Calgary, get yourself down to the Esker Foundation to admire some incredible art—entirely on the house. The non-profit gallery showcases a mix of local, national and international artists with unique viewpoints on hot topics, from gender nonconformity to contemporary pop culture. The exhibitions are updated three times each year, which means you’ll have every reason to schedule a return visit.
Inglewood Bird Sanctuary
Hope you remembered to pack your binoculars! The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary has been a haven for migratory birds since 1929, and is a must-see for any budding ornithologist. So far, 270 species of birds have been recorded on site. Maybe you can spot the 271st?
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Village Ice Cream
For a scoop or three of hand-made, small-batch, creamy goodness, stop by one of Village Ice Cream’s four Calgary locations. You’ll be sure to find something you love in their artisanal twists on classic ice cream flavours, from Guide’s Mint to Melted Chocolate. (Psst—here’s what your favourite ice cream flavour says about you!)
Shelf Life Books
Yes, independent bookstores still exist—and, if Shelf Life Books is any indication, they’re thriving. Even when it’s not hosting a book launch or book club meeting, this local literature hub is always humming with avid readers—and their pups (the store is pet-friendly).
Got a sweet tooth? There’s no better place in Calgary to satisfy your candy cravings than Freak Lunchbox. Here you’ll find everything weird and wonderful in the world of sweets, with decor that’s just as quirky—the colourful signage dotted throughout the shop was hand-painted by artists from the chain’s Halifax HQ.
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Heritage Park Historical Village
Ever wonder what it was like to live back in the late 1800s? As one of Canada’s largest living history museums, Heritage Park Historical Village is the closest you’ll get without your very own time machine. Here, you can lose yourself in recreations of life in Western Canada circa 1860 (a fur trading fort and First Nations settlement), 1880 (a pre-railway settlement) and 1910 (a Prairie railway town). Live performers help to blur the line between past and present, and make this attraction one that’s sure to delight not just kids, but kids-at-heart, as well.
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Annex Ale Project
Since 2015, Annex Ale Project has been a key member of Calgary’s craft beer scene with the aim of making unconventional, experimental beers that get people talking. Speaking of which, this microbrewery’s tap room is the perfect place to catch up with friends over a flight deck.
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