Calgary’s proximity to the Canadian Rockies has attracted an active and adventurous population of travelers. But before you head into the powder-dusted mountains for hiking and wildlife viewing, be sure to build in a few days for an urban adventure in Calgary as well.
Calgary is one of Canada’s most diverse cities, with people from 240 different ethnic origins calling this place home. The city is also known for hosting famous celebrations, including the 1988 Winter Olympics and the Calgary Stampede, a 110-year-old annual rodeo tradition that draws fans from all over the world.
A walk through Alberta’s largest city will impress you with the range of museums, art galleries, restaurants, craft breweries, activities, and festivals. The longer you stay, the more you’ll see how dynamic and exciting this city is, but a weekend is a good place to begin.
Where to stay in Calgary
Luxury: Le Germain Hotel Calgary
Book Now: Le Germain Hotel Calgary
Located across the street from the Calgary Tower, Le Germain Hotel Calgary’s 143 elegant guest rooms include such creature comforts as rainfall showers, goose-down comforters, minibars, flat-screen TVs, and Nespresso coffee makers. The onsite restaurant, Charcut Roast House, is known for slow-roasted and charbroiled meats and house-made charcuterie. Perhaps best of all, the hotel was designed and built with such sustainable features as energy-efficient lighting and local product sourcing.
Budget-Friendly: Alt Hotel Calgary East Village
Book Now: Alt Hotel Calgary East Village
In 2009, the East Village began its transformation into a vibrant mixed-use city neighborhood, and over the past decade it has become known for its heritage buildings, coffee shops, and attractions like the wooded Central Calgary library.
Alt Hotel Calgary East Village sits on prime real estate in this revitalized neighborhood, just steps from the scenic Bow River and the pathway that runs along the river’s edge. The 152-room hotel has an expansive lobby, three great onsite restaurants (including Nupo), and a 24-hour fitness center. The small, minimalist-style rooms have contemporary furnishings and large windows that bring in natural light.
Where to eat and drink in Calgary
Breakfast, brunch, or lunch
Make a stop at Sidewalk Citizen, a spot locally famous for exceptionally good sandwich bread made from “Freddie” (the sourdough starter the bakery/restaurant has been using since 2009). Swing by any of its three locations in the city, but for an evening treat go to its southwest location, which is open late and serves dinner with bar service.
Steak and sip
Agriculture has long been one of the most important industries in Alberta, and the province is renowned for high-quality beef cattle. All of this to say: Steakhouses are plentiful in Calgary. Modern Steak has three locations that feature grass-fed, grain-fed, wet-aged, dry-aged, and wagyu beef produced by Alberta ranchers. The restaurant also has a cocktail lounge where you can try a Caesar cocktail, invented in Calgary in 1969 and beloved throughout Canada. There are many versions of this drink, but the key ingredients are vodka, tomato juice, clam juice, spices, and Worcestershire sauce.
Vegan dining (with a side of sushi)
In a province famed for beef production, it may be surprising to learn that Calgary has a burgeoning vegan restaurant scene. Nupo, in the East Village, is one of the best. Guests can pair its vegan dishes with sushi that is made fresh or in a dry-aging chamber. Much of the menu consists of sustainable seafood and locally harvested vegetables—some from chef-owner Darren MacLean’s farm.
In addition to à la carte dishes like eggplant tostada and chopped fish tacos, the restaurant offers an omakase-style, 20-course vegan or sushi dining experience, which requires prepaid tickets.
A choice of outdoor or indoor dining
River Café in Prince’s Island Park has been regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city for more than three decades. Pick up a picnic of charcuterie, cheese, and sandwiches to eat in Prince’s Island Park or dine in for lunch or dinner entrées from a seasonal menu. Either way, you’ll enjoy delicious food made with ingredients from local bounty, with the garden adjacent to the restaurant being one such source.
There are more than 60 craft beverage producers in and around Calgary, including distilleries, wineries, and meaderies. But microbreweries especially shine here; with over 40 of them in the city, they are mainly concentrated in the neighborhoods of Inglewood, Ramsay, and Manchester. Get a taste of this thriving scene at places like Cold Garden Beverage Company and Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Company, which make exceptional beer from Alberta barley and serve it with burritos, tacos, and other snacks.
Things to do in Calgary
River surfing is one of many recreational activities you can experience without leaving the city. Take a quick lesson and then try your hand at the sport under the 10th Street Bridge, where you’ll find fast-flowing rapids and natural surfing waves. If you’re less of a thrill-seeker on the water, kayak or raft down the glacier-fed Bow River with equipment rented from the Paddle Station.
Calgary is also ideal for exploration by bike—its more than 600 miles of regional pathways and 60 miles of trails form the most extensive urban network of pathways and bikeways in North America. Take advantage of this by renting an e-bike from Bow Cycle and traveling on the Bow River Pathway to Peace Bridge, one of the most eye-catching bridges in the city, designed by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Wander down Stephen Avenue Walk, a National Historic District stretching three blocks of Eighth Avenue that is also a pedestrian-only shopping area with buskers, boutique shops, cafés, and restaurants.
One piece of spectacular architecture to note is the Calgary Central Library. The reflective exterior facade imitates the mountain-wave cloud formations referred to as a chinook arch, commonly seen in this region of Alberta. The wood-lined interior resembles a massive ship and is topped by a central skylight.
Head to the top of the Calgary Tower for impressive views of the Rocky Mountains, the city, and the downtown area through the windows and the glass viewing floor. First opened in 1968, the 626-foot freestanding observation tower was built to honor Canada’s centennial and promote Calgary’s downtown. For the 1988 Winter Olympics, a torch structure was placed atop the tower and lit; it has been relit on special occasions, including subsequent Olympic games.
Appreciate the arts
Explore five floors of interactive exhibits that tell the story of music in Canada at the Studio Bell building, home of the National Music Centre. Have a blast singing your heart out in vocal booths or playing guitars, drums, and other musical instruments. Afterward, take a walk along the nearby Music Mile, home to more than 20 live music venues that stretch from restaurant, bar, and music venue King Eddy to the Inglewood neighborhood.
Another arts landmark is Arts Commons, the largest performing arts center in western Canada. Located in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Arts Commons presents more than 1,800 public performances annually and is home to five theaters and the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Choose from events that include the genres of dance, theater, and comedy, and appreciate the live experience.