Calgary is a city that many people recognize as being somewhere in Canada, but they’d be stumped if asked to point to it on a map. If you’re Canadian, of course, you know it as the home of “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede. If you’re an outdoor adventurer, you know it as the fly-through city that’s a necessary stop on your way to Banff or Jasper National Park. And if you’re old enough, you remember Calgary as the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics.
In case your knowledge of Calgary is still a little vague, I’ll settle the mystery for you. Calgary is located in the province of Alberta in western Canada. It’s just a few hours north of Glacier National Park in Montana and an hour east of Banff National Park. A prairie city in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, Calgary has a strong cowboy culture. It’s most famous for the Calgary Stampede, a 100-year-old rodeo and outdoor show that draws more than 1 million denim-wearing cowboys and spectators to the city every year.
Top Things to do in Calgary, Canada
Calgary is more than a few big events that have earned it worldwide recognition. From its rich indigenous history to riverside bike trails to one of the best fine dining restaurants in Canada, there are plenty of things to do in Calgary.
Whether it’s your stopping off point or your destination, I’ve rounded up some of my top recommendations for making the most out of one day in Calgary.
Start your day in downtown Calgary with breakfast in the Simmons Building, where you’ll see painted remnants of its mattress factory days still chipping off the brick exterior. These days, the repurposed historic building is home to three unique culinary options: a full-service restaurant, a bakery, and a coffee roastery.
Grab your coffee to go from Phil & Sebastian’s, pick up a breakfast sandwich on artisan bread from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, and head out onto the back patio to enjoy views of the Bow River. If you’re an early riser or have some time to spare when you finish eating, take a stroll in either direction down the RiverWalk path.
Keep walking or hop back into your car to head to the nearby Glenbow Museum, Calgary’s premier museum with extensive art, historical, and cultural collections. Wander around the “Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life” exhibit to explore Blackfoot culture through interactive displays and more than 40,000 artifacts from indigenous peoples around the world.
The Glenbow Museum has been instrumental in preserving indigenous history in Alberta, and this gallery was developed by Blackfoot elders. According to elder Sheldon Firstrider, who gives tours at the museum, this partnership gave the museum “the blessing of the elders to talk about our way of life.”
After spending the morning inside, head to Heritage Park Historical Village to enjoy some time outdoors and explore living history. Satisfy your appetite before you jump back into the afternoon activity with a refreshing lunch at Selkirk Grille as you enter the park.
While Heritage Park used to be known for simple “beef on a bun” cuisine, you can expect something a bit more fresh and modern these days at Selkirk Grille, which opened in 2009. The seasonal menu features local, organic food, some of which comes from the seven gardens inside the park.
You could easily spend several days at Heritage Park, but if you only have a few hours, hop on a horse-drawn wagon to get an overview. Throughout the park, you’ll see a mixture of genuine historic buildings, replicas, and a few that have been custom-built. Historical reenactors will share their passion for the history of their city as you make your way through the park.
Go back in time as you head deeper into the settlement and imagine what it was like in Calgary before European settlers arrived. At the First Nations encampment, duck inside a traditionally painted tipi and make yourself comfortable on animal hides or woven chairs as you listen to Blackfoot stories from a First Nations interpreter. Back outside, try your hand at raising a tipi or starting a fire with flint and steel.
Next, enjoy a modern take on traditional indigenous crafts at Moonstone Creation, a family-owned native gallery. Peruse the shop, filled with authentic native art and jewelry, including handmade crafts from artists Yvonne and her daughter Amy. Gain a deeper appreciation for the work and artistry that goes into their products by learning to do traditional beadwork or fish scale art in a hands-on workshop.
Your adventure in Calgary wouldn’t be complete without a stroll across the Bow River to Prince’s Island Park. For a splurge on dinner, head to River Café, one of the highest-rated restaurants in Calgary. The menu focuses on sustainability and features only ingredients that can be cultivated in Alberta, many of which are grown in River Café’s own garden.
Chef Matthias Fong brings such creativity, art, and flavor to the plate that you’ll leave craving things like celeriac and bison tartare—even if you’re not sure how to pronounce all the ingredients. Savor your meal inside the elegant-meets-rustic dining room, or grab a seat on the patio overlooking the Bow River.
After dinner, enjoy a restful sunset overlooking the city. If you’re visiting during the summer months and aren’t used to such northern latitudes, you might be surprised that you still have plenty of time to catch the sunset after 9:00 PM. Scotsman’s Hill on Salisbury Street SE offers a great vantage point to watch the sunset over the skyline.
When the sun finally dips below the cityscape, head to the Grey Eagle Resort to rest your feet after a day filled with activity. You might have a hard time rousing yourself from the extraordinarily comfortable bed the next day, but there’s still plenty more to do and see in Calgary.
Fun Facts about Calgary
- Calgarians enjoy more days of sunshine than any other major Canadian city.
- Calgary was officially incorporated as a city in 1894 and at that time the population was 3,900.
- There are more volunteers per capita in Calgary than any other Canadian city.
- Calgary weather follows no rules.
- The Calgary Stampede, an annual 10-day event, bills itself as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
Resources to Plan Your Trip to Calgary
The Best Time to Visit Calgary
The best time of year to visit Calgary is from late May to the end of September. The shoulder months of October and April also are good months for a visit and many times have good weather, but you also could have snow. Calgary is renowned for having unpredictable weather in winter.
Weather in Calgary
Summer (May–Aug) is mostly mild and dry. Winter is cold and clear, with the Chinook winds sometimes raising temperatures.
The first snowfall of autumn for Calgary usually arrives in September or October. The season’s last snowfall typically happens in April or May. But in some years there is no start or stop to the snow season as it can snow any month of the year in Calgary.
June, July and August are the hottest months with an average high in the low 70’s.
Locations mentioned in the article:
Simmons Building (618 Confluence Way SE, Calgary, AB, Canada)
Glenbow Museum ( 130 9 Ave. SE, Calgary, AB, Canada | +1 403-268-4100) “Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life” is a permanent exhibition located on the third floor of the museum. Explore on your own, or book a tour of the Blackfoot gallery in advance.
Moonstone Creation (1219 10 Ave SE, Calgary, AB, Canada | +1 403-261-2650) Register for classes at least 1 week in advance.
River Café (25 Prince’s Island, Calgary, AB, Canada | +1 403-261-7670)
Grey Eagle Resort (3777 Grey Eagle Drive, Calgary, AB, Canada | +1 403-719-8777)
If you liked this article about the Top Things to do in Calgary, you’ll love 52 Things to Do and See in Nova Scotia
Traveling To Canada Soon?
Don’t forget travel insurance! World Nomads is a great choice for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.
Indispensable Items to Pack for Canada
- Pick up the Calgary Travel Guide.
- Get a good quality mirrorless camera for getting amazing photos of the many beautiful sites in Canada. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Weather is unpredictable, so bring a lightweight umbrella and rain jacket (even in summer you may find areas chilly and rainy).
- Waterproof hiking boots. Keen are great because they are lightweight and super comfortable.
- A great cross body travel bag. Crossbody bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
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Read More About Canada
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Naomi Liz is a writer and photographer based in the Philadelphia area. She has traveled extensively in Latin America but also enjoys local travel in the United States. Naomi is a lifelong learner, book nerd, and coffee connoisseur. She seeks out authentic, sustainable travel in order to learn and support local communities. Find her freelance work at NaomiLiz.com and her travel blog which focuses on responsible travel at roamingtheamericas.com