40 Unforgettable Things To Do in Calgary on Your Next Vacation
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. Here are 40 things to do in Calgary that will boost “Cowtown” to the top of your bucket list.
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 10-day annual 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. More than a million people each year 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 and surprise your loved ones with a one-of-a-kind trinket (and maybe a little something for yourself as well).
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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 offers complimentary car service around the city, complimentary continental breakfast, and some of 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. (Explore more great Canadian halls of fame.) Five floors celebrate music in Canada and showcase everything from 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.
Rooftop Bar @ Simmons
You’ll be hard-pressed to choose which of the outdoor Rooftop Bar's draws is more impressive: the panoramic view of the legendary Bow River, or the mouthwatering options on the menu. Although the Napa cabbage salad and fior di latte cheese pizza are highly recommended, our number one pick would have to be the charred corn slathered in aioli, cheese, cilantro and chilies. In a word? Droolworthy.
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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.
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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 80 vendors selling everything from fresh local produce and preserves to baked goods. Swing by on an empty stomach and munch your way through the aisles. These farmers' market tips should come in handy.
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, however, 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.
Not one to be left behind when it comes to food trends, Calgary offers plenty of healthy juice shops including Juice Because. The brand, which has dozens of locations around the city, makes cold-pressed juices, nut milks, cleanses and snacks. Tailor your juice order to your current condition—they’ll provide recommendations to treat everything from a hangover to exhaustion. (In case that doesn't work, check out the best hangover cures from every Canadian province.)
Liz & Lottie
Seeking a chic souvenir for a lady in your life? Stop by Liz & Lottie in Calgary’s East Village. The store’s impossibly cute collection includes jewellery, handbags, pet accessories, home décor and baby gear.
Betty Lou’s Library
Bored with your hotel bar? Betty Lou’s Library, one of Calgary’s newest and 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 when craving 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 $2.50 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 Aboriginal history and culture.
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Sled Island Music & Arts Festival
For five days in June, Sled Island takes over 35 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 2017, that curator was producer, rapper and electronic musician Flying Lotus.)
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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 the Enchanted Forest—complete with Snow White and evil queen—check out more of the best places to spend Christmas in Canada. — Tim Johnson
Among the highlights in Calgary's Kensington neighbourhood is The Beehive—a mecca for natural-beauty aficionados, and one of the best-smelling places in the city. Browse the shop’s extensive collection of bath and body products, candles and household cleaners made with organic honey and beeswax. In the meantime, you can learn how to save the bees in six easy steps.
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 17th 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, olive oils, chocolate and hot food vendors) alongside a restaurant and bakery.
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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 by taking a 50-minute spin class at YYC Cycle. With three 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 list of “most covetable”: Dainty stackable rings, a jaunty fedora and a Camp Brand Goods long-sleeved tee.
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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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Regal Cat Café
Missing your fur baby while you’re in Calgary? Head to Regal Cat Café, where you can make friends with the feline residents (as many as 12 kitties call the café home at any given time). If you get terribly attached, it’s worth knowing this: They’re all rescues, and available for adoption!
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Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen & Bar
No need to travel to Hanoi for an elevated take on Vietnamese street food. (Don't miss this mouthwatering roundup of the best street foods across Asia.) At Calgary’s Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen & Bar, chef Lam Pham serves up exotic delicacies the char siu sesame donut, filled with pork shoulder, cucumber and pickled veggies.
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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Glow Downtown Winter Light Festival
Got a case of the February blues? Try a shot of light therapy. The Glow Downtown Winter Light Festival provides ample reason to embrace the cold, transforming Calgary into an open-air gallery of illuminated art. The free, family-friendly event includes a mobile playground, a schedule of live performances and oodles of Instagrammable moments.
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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 three 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—this is 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).
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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 décor that’s just as quirky—the colourful signage dotted throughout the shop was hand-painted by artists from the chain’s Halifax HQ.
Heritage Park Historical Village
Every wonder what it was like to live back in the late 1800s? As Canada's largest living history museum, 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
The newest player in Calgary’s burgeoning craft beer scene, Annex Ale Project aims to make 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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