What is it like living in Calgary? Where is Calgary? How does the cost of living in Calgary compare with other cities?
We have compiled answers to some of the most pressing questions you might have about the city, so check this section out before you research the city further.
- Where is Calgary?
- About Calgary
- Calgary Weather
- Culture in Calgary
- Living Costs in Calgary
- Transit in Calgary
- Dining out in Calgary
- Calgary Nightlife
- Calgary Positives & Negatives
Where is Calgary?
Calgary is the largest city in the province of Alberta, Canada.
Alberta borders the United States, with the province of British Columbia to the west, Saskatchewan to the east and the Northwest Territories to the north. Calgary sits within the elevated prairies just east of the Rocky Mountains, where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet.
From here, in Alberta’s Grassland region, the prairies begin rolling east through central Canada. Calgary is frequently referred to as the gateway to the dramatic Rocky Mountains. World famous skiing, and the town of Banff, are only a 90-minute drive to the west.
Calgary has a population of just over 1.2 million people. It’s the third-largest municipality and fifth-largest metropolitan area in Canada.
Calgary is larger than Edmonton, the province’s capital situated approximately two and a half hours to the north. It is the major urban centre for the entire southern half of the province of Alberta. It’s surrounded by an area of profound beauty, with an unspoiled, resource-rich natural environment.
Economic activity in Calgary is mostly centered on the petroleum industry, agriculture and tourism. Alberta has the lion’s share of Canada’s oil industry. Its reserves, in the form of oil sands, are estimated to be second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Most petroleum companies in Canada have their headquarters based in Calgary, making it one of Canada’s wealthiest cities.
In 1988, Calgary became the first Canadian city to host the Winter Olympic Games. These games continue to be a benchmark for future host countries on how to run a successful Olympics. The Games pioneered the use of community volunteers — something Canadians pride themselves on. Calgary continues to be known for its ‘can-do’ attitude, and business-friendly environment.
The Calgary Stampede, which lasts ten days every July, is known as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”. It is a rodeo where cowboys from different places gather to showcase their talents.
And it’s not just for those living in Calgary – it’s a major tourist attraction too. Hotels and flights get very busy and expensive during this time, so book early. Most of downtown Calgary shuts down during the stampede to join in the festivities. Calgary is known as “Heart of the new West”.
For more, read our 10 things to do in Calgary guide.
Sitting on the prairies, Calgary gets the most sun of any of Canada’s major cities. Summers can be warm and dry with temperatures capable of reaching 30°C. More often than not it is mild, especially when compared with most of Canada. Even when it’s cold, it’s usually sunny. This can make living in Calgary in the summer a very attractive prospect.
Weather in Calgary is characterized by four distinct seasons. It almost always cools off comfortably at night, when frost can occur at any time of the year.
Winter is quite pleasant by cooler Canadian standards, with temperatures staying below -10°C for only a few weeks of the year.
The most distinctive characteristic of a Calgary winter is the Chinook. This is a warm wind from the Pacific Ocean which can raise the temperature by as much as 15 degrees in a few hours.
When the dark Chinook arch appears in the western sky, the warm wind is about to blow in. That means that one day you might be wearing your winter jacket, the next, a short-sleeved shirt and shorts.
Running enthusiasts have been known to boast that they have run in shorts on at least one day in every month of the year, even in the depths of winter.
May is typically a windy month, while June has above average rainfall. July and August are the warmest months. September and October often enjoy “Indian summer” conditions.
Calgary receives low amounts of annual rainfall, with most of its annual precipitation coming in the form of snow during the winter months.
Depending on the year and the frequency of the warm Chinook winds, winter snowfall events may only remain visible for a few days. If you were to visit Calgary, August is known to be the most pleasant month in terms of weather.
Culture in Calgary.
Over 25 per cent of those living in Calgary were born outside Canada, so the city is very diverse.
In recent years, Canadians from other provinces have migrated in large numbers because of the strong economic climate in the city.
Calgary is also the first choice of “second movers”. These are people who immigrated to Canada, settled and decided to relocate again.
Calgary is also becoming ethnically diverse with a population that is made up of many immigrants from outside Canada, predominantly Chinese, Southeast Asian, Filipino and Latin American. Around a quarter of the population is of a visible minority.
Given that many Calgarians are not from Calgary, the ones that are will always make a point to mention it — “born and raised here!”
Calgary has a world class selection of theatres and music venues, including:
• Jack Singer Concert Hall.
• Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
• Theatre Calgary.
• Alberta Theatre Projects.
• Glenbow museum, which showcases historical artifacts from Calgary’s and Alberta’s past, as well as First Nations arts, artifacts and other art exhibits.
Cost of Living in Calgary
This booming city has a lot of wealth, but living costs are lower than in its coastal neighbour Vancouver.
This is due in part to Alberta having no sales tax and a lower price of gasoline and natural gas. The cost of living in Calgary is high relative to smaller towns around Alberta, but quite reasonable compared with most Canadian cities.
Petrol (“gas”), for example, is cheaper in Calgary than anywhere else in Canada.
Calgary has continued to prosper throughout the recent global economic downturn. This in turn has attracted more interest in Calgary as a place to live and work. The competition for housing has eased since the boom of 2007, but the housing market remains relatively tight (see Deirdre Halferty, and the Calgary Real Estate Board). Renting a standard two-bedroom condo in the downtown area would cost $1,200 to $1,800 per month.
Transit in Calgary.
Calgary, like many Canadian cities, has a good public transport system. The system features light rail transit (the C-Train), regular and low-floor buses, and community shuttles. There is also a shared ride, door-to-door transportation service for those with disabilities living in Calgary. Calgary Transit bus routes cover most of Calgary’s main roads.
The C-Train is reliable and crosses the city from some of the suburbs into downtown Calgary. You can view the C-Train’s Stations and routes here. The C-Train is powered by electricity generated on windfarms.
Within downtown, Calgary you can travel free on the C-Train.
Outside downtown, there are free park-and-ride car parks featuring free plug-in block heaters for C-Train and bus users. These heaters are needed in cold weather to keep car engines warm so they can start.
The C-Train stations aren’t enclosed, which makes for some very chilly waits in winter. Trains come pretty frequently during peak times, however.
One thing to note – Calgary’s transport system is mediocre compared with Toronto or Vancouver. Having a car is very advantageous in Calgary. The C-Train is definitely a very good resource for newcomers, but with colder temperatures it’s not always convenient.
Dining out in Calgary.
A special thank you to Sharon Whelton for her help with this section.
Calgary has a huge variety of cafes, restaurants and pubs. All of them have an impressive offering in terms of dining out. Here is a list of 10 places that are each unique and have great cuisine, as well as providing a variety of atmospheres. They’re a treat for anyone living in Calgary.
17th Avenue is typically the best place to go in Calgary, as many of the best pubs and restaurants are situated here. Many of the options listed below can be found throughout Calgary, making it a great excuse to explore the city.
Oriental Phoenix is a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant. Conveniently, they have two locations – one in downtown Calgary (Suite 105-401 9 Ave SW), and another close to Chinook C-Train station (104 58 Ave SE).
Both are great restaurants, but from a personal perspective, I prefer the SE location purely for its atmosphere. There is a great vibe, and their staff are friendly and helpful.
Prices are very competitive, depending on what you order. I tend to go for the Papaya Salad or spring rolls to start with, and their noodle soups are fabulous. I would highly recommend the marinated chicken and grilled marinated pork noodle soup. It is served with rice noodles, and served with a chicken base broth.
Original Joe’s is an awesome location for good food and a drink. On a Friday evening, it’s one of the best places to be – great atmosphere, great food and great service.
OJ’s (as it’s more commonly referred to) has quite the choice on their menu, from burgers to flatbreads to noodle bowls to entrees. They have great specials each day on both food and drinks, making it a great option for many.
One of my personal favourites is The Original burger, which comes with two sides. Again, prices here are very competitive.
Cibo is a really nice Italian restaurant on 17th Avenue, with a comfortable atmosphere and good food.
It’s usually pretty difficult to get bookings for a Friday evening, so try and book earlier in the week if possible.
Their pizzas are fabulous, and the great thing about Cibo is that there are tiered seating levels, so if you are sitting upstairs and look towards the kitchen, you can see your food being prepared, which is impressive.
Notable is just a phenomenal restaurant. Situated in the NW near Bowness, this is a little far out for many, but I promise you it’s worth the drive there.
It is undoubtedly one of my favourite restaurants in Calgary, but I warn you – it is expensive.
Highly recommended dishes to order include the Thai marinated Notable chicken wings, or the crispy potato rolls to start with.
For mains, the grilled Alberta bison is amazing; I couldn’t possibly recommend it more. The free-range half chicken is also delicious, as well as their steaks.
For the desserts, the warm dark chocolate pudding is sublime, as is the dulce de leche crème brulee. What also impressed me is that the restaurant has separate lunch and dinner menus for gluten-free diners.
Situated on 17th Avenue, this pub is a lovely spot for a bite to eat and a relaxing evening with some friends. They do some great food, including the sweet potato fries, which are very tasty.
As with other pubs in Calgary, they also run some specials on both drinks and food. Also, if you mention to the server about any dietary requests, they check with the chef in regard to what can be prepared right then for you, which is great.
There can be live music playing too from time to time, but it does get quite loud later in the evening, so if you want to go for a chat with friends, then earlier in the day or late afternoon would be the best time. They also show a wide variety of sports.
Conveniently located all over Calgary, The Keg is a wonderful steak house, and is hard to beat with its large choice of steaks. Prices are fairly reasonable, and the food is very good.
The Keg also offers a roasted garlic mashed potato side, which is fabulous. The restaurant chain has such a large choice of steaks that it’s difficult to nail down a favourite, but I really enjoyed the Grilled Top Sirloin.
They also offer your steak to be cooked a number of ways, from blue rare to Chicago-style, so it should suit every steak lover.
Located on 17th Avenue SW, Una Pizza and Wine is one of the best pizzerias in Calgary. It’s extremely popular among those living in Calgary, so it’s important to note that Una operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you are unable to get a table right away, a server will take your contact details and call you closer to the time of when a table becomes available.
Their opening hours are 11.30am-1am seven days a week, with the late closing time undoubtedly proving to be a very practical option for late-night workers. Their pizzas are delicious, and their wine options hugely impressive.
Moxie’s Grill and Bar is another casual dining option for those wanting some nice food and a drink with decent servers. Moxie’s restaurants can be found in various locations throughout Calgary, although I’ve only frequented the restaurant downtown.
It’s conveniently close to a number of C-train stops downtown, which makes it quite practical.
During the summer months, their outdoor seating is very appealing on a sunny afternoon. The classic beef burger is always great, as are the chicken tenders and fries, and the penne toscana.
Prices in Moxie’s are very competitive, and they always have specials each day.
If you’re looking for a cosy cafe/restaurant with some live music and great service, then Cafe Koi is the place for you.
Cafe Koi is a delicious Thai/Vietnamese cafe, and is intimate yet comfortable. They offer both lunch and dinner all weekdays, and dinner on Saturdays. The prices seem to be a little high, but the food tastes great.
Joey’s does some great food at relatively decent prices. Again, they are located in a number of areas, servicing those living in Calgary’s various neighbourhoods. They have a very enjoyable atmosphere and all staff are very pleasant.
One thing to note, however – they can tend to be quite busy, particularly at weekends, and they do not accept bookings. Therefore, if you plan on eating there, at least get in there early and be guaranteed a seat. Otherwise, you may be waiting a while.
I have really enjoyed the meals I’ve had in Joey’s; there’s always an impressive selection of foods on the menu. I would have to recommend the lettuce wraps to start, as well as the calamari fritto – both are very tasty. For entrees, the roast chicken and BBQ ribs is also a very nice dish.
For the most part, it seems that the majority of those living in Calgary prefer pubs over nightclubs. The most popular pubs in town include Jameson’s on 17th Ave, the Rose and Crown, the Trap and Gill, Ceili’s and St James Corner. The best part about these pubs is that they also serve food until late.
In terms of other options, Ranchman’s, Cowboy’s and The Roadhouse are always popular choices.
Of the three, Cowboy’s is probably the most popular of the three. With its large dance floor, DJ, live bands and country dance lessons, the venue is always extremely busy, particularly on the weekends.
Ranchman’s isn’t far behind though, as it’s known as the “Official Hospitality Location of The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.” Ranchman’s is almost always packed on a Saturday night, and their policy is to ask for ID, no matter what age you are.
However, if it’s a slightly quieter night that you are looking for, it may be best to avoid the above suggestions and stick to a pub.
Calgary Positives & Negatives.
Positives of Living in Calgary.
- Low taxes. Taxes in Canada include both a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and a general Goods and Service Tax (GST). Alberta residents benefit from a rich Province and pay no PST. GST is charged at 5 per cent.
- Low unemployment.
- Salaries in Calgary are typically above the Canadian average.
- It’s clean and beautiful. with a modern, attractive downtown, a good-sized meandering river, and the Rocky Mountain backdrop.
- The Rockies are easily accessible by car from Calgary, with world class skiing in the winter and incredible vistas in the summer.
- Clean air.
- One of the sunniest climates in Canada and low rainfall.
- Chinook winds bringing mild days in winter.
- Fantastic winter sports and Canada Olympic Park.
- Friendly people.
- It’s easy to “get away from it all” into a huge province with a small population.
- Calgary has frequently been ranked as one of the top ten cities in the world to live.
- Recreational opportunities abound.
Negatives of living in Calgary.
- The long, cold winter, though Chinook winds can bring warm spells for a day or two and occasionally longer.
- The rapid thaw and slush when the warm Chinook wind blows in winter. Roads get messy.
- The short summer. Calgary’s summers can be considered short, with only two months (July and August) of hot weather, though September and October are often generally warm and pleasant.
- Canada in general, and Western Canada in particular, is relatively young and does not have the centuries of history and civilization of European countries. However, some may regard this as a positive.
- Expensive housing compared with most other Canadian cities.
Special thanks to the following people for making the Calgary section of Moving2Canada possible: Paddy Slater, Colin Smyth, Enda McNulty, Andy Irvine, Sharon Whelton and Ivan Hearty. Your patience and assistance is truly appreciated.
Want more help getting settled in Calgary?
Moving2Canada is here to help all those living in Calgary.