There is no shortage of things to do in Calgary.
It’s the city where the Prairies end, and the foothills begin. The Heart of The New West. Cow Town. Stampede City. No Canadian city has as many nicknames as C-Town (that’s one more, for good measure).
Why is that? It’s because things happen here. If it’s not rolling out the red carpet for the Olympics, it’s hosting annually the world’s largest rodeo.
But there is more to Calgary than that — something more nuanced. This multicultural, vibrant, fun-loving city offers so much for residents and visitors alike that it can be difficult to find a place to start.
That’s why this list of 10 things to do in Calgary has been created. Now get out there and start enjoying Calgary!
1. Why the Stampede is one of the great things to do in Calgary.
This 10-day extravaganza usually kicks off in early July, and is one of the best things to do in Calgary each year.
Over one million people descend to the city to don their cowboy attire and enjoy the festival atmosphere. If you want to experience more of a carnival buzz, head down to the Stampede grounds (which can be accessed via the C-Train) and take it all in.
Events you should go to include the Rodeo and the Grandstand shows. If you do choose to go down to the Stampede grounds, try to arrive early and sample some of the unique foods on offer. You’ll find crocodile burgers, bacon wrapped corn, scorpion pizza, deep fried donut bacon cheeseburgers, skittles candy apples, and much more.
The food itself is always a very valid reason to get down to the Stampede grounds. The weather during Stampede is typically sunny and warm too, so it’s the perfect way to spend a July weekend.
2. Ascend the Calgary Tower.
This is undoubtedly one of the activities you should have at the top of your list of things to do in Calgary.
Situated more than 1,200 metres above sea level, the Calgary Tower is home to the highest 360° observation deck in the entire world. The Calgary Tower is conveniently located downtown, and has an awesome glass floor that enables you to see into the streets below.
The Calgary Tower also has some dining options, including Sky 360, which completes a full rotation during both lunches and dinners. With panorama views and unique features, it’s the perfect place to introduce friends and family to the city. A definite must-see during a visit to Calgary.
3. Say hello to the penguins at Calgary Zoo.
Calgary Zoo is the perfect place to visit during the warmer months of the year, especially if you have younger children.
The Penguin Plunge is a particular favourite. You’ll be able to get up close to the various penguin types in the zoo, and take part in programs dedicated to the penguins.
This is one of the great things to do in Calgary for adults too. Make sure you check out the conservatory and gardens, which are always kept in pristine condition.
The zoo also has a beautiful Zoo Lights event, which usually takes place from late November to early January each year. Over 1.5 million lights transform the zoo grounds into a magical experience.
4. Get your flame on at the Saddledome.
Whether it’s for a hockey game or a gig, the Saddledome should definitely be on the list of things to do in Calgary.
Hockey is huge in Calgary, and the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League host their home games in the stadium. The atmosphere is always really enjoyable for games — just make sure to wear red and support the Flames! It’s also interesting to see the transformation from the hockey rink to when artists play here.
5. Explore the outdoors in Banff.
Yes, this list is about things to do in Calgary. But you can’t really come to Calgary and not to go Banff.
Banff is just a 90-minute drive from the city, and it’s absolutely stunning. There’s something about the town that just makes you feel relaxed. Plus, there’s so much choice in terms of pubs and restaurants to visit.
During the summer, you can kayak, hike, and go mountain biking. In winter, you are extremely close to some of the mountain resorts, so if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try skiing or snowboarding.
A great lake to check out close to Banff is Lake Minnewanka — you can rent out a boat!
6. Delve into the Rocky Mountains.
Calgary is so close to the Rocky Mountains, and it would be a shame to not experience them. To be in such close proximity to these mountains can be taken for granted, but The Rockies are just stunning.
You have so much choice of activities throughout the year. During summer, you can go mountain biking, hike, camp, explore the wildlife, rock climb, try out white-water rafting.
If that doesn’t entice you to venture to the mountains, then I don’t know what will!
During the winter months, skiing and snowboarding are always great options, as are dog-sledding and snowshoeing. You can also make the bold choice of taking a dip in the lakes . . . if you’re brave enough, of course!
7. Taste the international cuisine.
Calgary has a very impressive selection of cuisine to choose from. A particular favourite is Vietnamese, with Oriental Phoenix (one located downtown and another close to Chinook). It’s always beautiful and the prices are extremely reasonable.
Alberta is renowned for its beef, so why not venture to The Keg and treat yourself to a wonderfully cooked steak?
If you’re looking for a good burger, check out some of the Irish bars in the city. The Seanachie (located in the SW) does a $5 burger on a Wednesday and it’s always amazing!
Another popular food choice out here is Mexican, and there’s a great restaurant called Julios Barrio, located in Kensington. For Italian food, look no further than Mercato. It’s slightly more expensive, but worth it.
8. Go for gold at Calgary Olympic Park.
The park, which is located just 15 minutes away from the downtown core of the city, has so many activities throughout the year. It is the second largest ski school in Canada, seeing up to 300,000 skiiers and snowboarders each year.
But don’t let its winter reputation fool you – this is one of the great things to do in Calgary all year round.
During summer, you can try out their ziplining, mountain biking, summer bobsleighing, mini golf, and Skyline Luge. For winter, skiing and snowboarding are always hugely popular choices, along with cross-country skiing, winter bobsleigh rides, skating and hockey.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit COP, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.
9. Get out on the town.
There is quite an eclectic mix of nightlife and bars in Calgary. If you’re looking for a quiet evening to relax in a bar, look no further than Original Joe’s or James Joyce. Both are conveniently located downtown on Stephen Avenue.
For those of you who choose to venture to 17th Avenue, this is where the hub of bars are located. There is a huge choice around this location to cater for almost every mood. Popular choices include National, Jameson’s, The Rose and Crown (located just off 17th Avenue), and St James Corner (on 12th Ave).
If you would like to experience a more “western” feel, then Ranchman’s (on MacLeod Trail), Cowboys and the Roadhouse are the perfect destinations for you.
One of the best things about bars in the city is that most serve food until late. So if you’ve had a busy day exploring all the other things to do in Calgary, you won’t be stuck if you’re feeling peckish.
10. Work up a sweat with some sports and adventure.
There’s no shortage of activities in the city in terms of outdoors sports and adventure. Choose from kayaking, rafting, mountain climbing, GAA, soccer, rugby, Aussie Rules, American Football, skating, skydiving, golfing, fishing, and much more.
Gaelic Games is slowly progressing into a hugely popular sport here in the city. Based primarily on Irish emigrants, but with a good mix of Canadians, the Calgary Chieftains GAA club are growing from strength to strength. The club has now also introduced hurling, as well as having football teams for both men and women.
Golf is another popular activity in the city, and there are many courses to choose from. Of course, you always have skiing and snowboarding too during winter, as already mentioned, but so many of the activities mentioned above can be enjoyed for the summer months in particular.
Sharon is a Journalism and New Media graduate from the University of Limerick, and originally hails from Clonakilty in West Cork, Ireland.
Always keen to embark on a new adventure, she has been residing in Calgary, Alberta since November 2012. She has written for a variety of newspapers and publications, both in Canada and Ireland, and is delighted to be a part of the Moving2Canada team.
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