This comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Calgary, Alberta will show you the top attractions, festivals, and outdoor activities to enjoy throughout your time in Stampede City.
Full of pioneering history and flanked by the Canadian Rockies, the beautiful city of Calgary is the place for your next adventure. In Alberta, Calgary is more than just the location of an iconic stampede, it has an exceptional foodie scene, fun tourist attractions, and outdoor adventures galore. Cut by the Bow River, it is a city of parks and recreation. Calgary is also a great launch point for a trip to Banff and its world class skiing.
Things to do in Calgary
When visiting Calgary, the best way to see it is to rent a car. We usually pick up our car rental at the Calgary International Airport and use it to explore the surrounding areas such as Canmore, Banff, and Drumheller. But before you start doing day trips from Calgary, let’s check out the best things to do in Calgary for a couple of days in downtown Calgary.
1. Go Up the Calgary Tower
As one of the most recognizable structures in the city’s skyline, the Calgary Tower helps newcomers and travelers maintain their bearings as they roam the streets. Upon completion in 1968, the Calgary Tower was the tallest building in the city.
Although it was dethroned in 1984, the tower still offers visitors some of the best views in Calgary. From 626ft (191m) above the ground, you can see well into the surrounding mountains. One of the best things to do in Calgary at night is to head to the second observation deck in the Tower. Sip on a cocktail and enjoy the city light up from above.
2. Canada Olympic Park (WINSPORT)
Home to the 1988 Winter Olympics, the park is one of the top Calgary attractions. Now known as WinSport, Canada Olympic Park is the place for winter sports enthusiasts to go if you want to do some skiing close to the city centre, or to enjoy one of its many outdoor adventures in the summer.
Beyond skiing and snowboarding, visitors can enjoy tubing down the hills and even try bobsledding on the original Olympic bobsleigh track. Is there a better way to head down the mountain at 100km per hour? WinSport also offers rides on one of the fastest zip-lines in North America. You can go mountain biking, and put your hiking boots to work. Read more about it at Canada Olympic Park – Fun in Calgary Alberta
3. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
Conveniently placed in the Olympic Park, the museum is hallowed ground for the sports of hockey, baseball, football, and the Olympics.
Along with learning about the hundreds of Canadians that have been inducted, you can also see the torch that was used to begin the 1988 Winter Olympics. Later test your skills by shadowboxing against iconic boxer Lennox Lewis.
4. Bow River
With extensive pathways for walkers, bikers, and the occasional rollerblader, following the Bow River is a great way to explore Calgary. The river cuts through the city and the 6.1 km pathway provides welcoming access to various spots. Examples include Prince’s Island Park and the beloved Peace Bridge.
As the river flows out of downtown Calgary, it turns into an excellent place to fish. The province of Alberta has world-class trout fishing, motivating amateurs and pros from across the world to come to Calgary. Grab a reel and see if you can land the catch of the day.
Take a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to join a walking tour. This 2-hour walking tour lets you reserve now and pay later. (easy cancellation within 24 hours of tour if your plans change. It takes you through downtown Calgary to explore its elevated walkways and history. Places to see in Calgary include the Municipal Plaza, Calgary’s East Village, the most extensive pathway system in North America, and Chinatown. You will end at Stephen Avenue.
5. Stephen Avenue
Arguably the most beautiful street in Calgary, completing the Stephen Avenue Walk is a must-do. Placed in the city center, the avenue is easy to get to and offers historic buildings, trendy shops, and cozy restaurants.
The beauty goes up a notch in the summer when the street becomes a hub of activity. Once you have completed the stroll, you will also be close to many of the top attractions on this list. From the Calgary Tower to Glenbow Museum.
6. Studio Bell & the National Music Centre
Home to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Studio Bell & National Music Centre features an architectural design that is as memorable as the exhibits themselves. Inside, you will uncover an abundance of memorabilia and instruments, featuring iconic Canadian musicians such as Neil Young, Bryan Adams and Oscar Peterson.
By joining the backstage tour, you can explore centuries of historic instruments and learn about local music icons. The highlight of the tour, however, is the trip through the iconic Rolling Stones recording studio and a chance to play some instruments along the journey.
7. Prince’s Island Park
On an island along the Bow River, Prince’s Island Park comes with 50-acres of natural space to explore. On a sunny day in Calgary, grab a picnic and relax under the shady trees. Or you can eat at the River Cafe, a fine dining restaurant located within the park
Connected to downtown Calgary via three pedestrian bridges, you will discover ample walking and cycling tracks to stretch out your legs. If you didn’t bring a picnic, there is a wonderful restaurant to dine at, and you may also stumble upon live music as you walk the paths. Prince’s Island Park is near the Eau Claire Market. Combine your park day by exploring the market’s selection of one-of-a-kind finds and specialty treats.
8. Calgary Folk Music Festival
Over four days, Prince’s Island goes to another level with fantastic solo acts and bands lighting up the space. Boogie under the balmy Calgary sun and listen to your favorite tunes or discover new musicians to fall in love with. Alongside the live performances, you will find several workshops, arts and crafts, along with delicious food vendors. When the music stops, that doesn’t mean the fun ends. You are within walking distance of the downtown core, with plenty of options to keep the night rolling.
9. Expo Latino
One of the best festivals in Calgary is Expo Latino. Held annually in August, Expo Latino is the largest Latin festival in Canada. With ample live music, room to dance, and amazing Latin cuisine, you can’t miss Expo Latino.
10. Fort Calgary
At the union of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, Fort Calgary was the first outpost of the North West Mounted Police. To this day, you can still see the original foundations of the fort while the Fort Calgary Museum tells the tale of the city from its foundation to modern times. You’ll learn of the Métis’ history and influence in Calgary and how the Elbow River and Bow Rivers are significant to Indigenous culture and heritage.
11. Heritage Park Historical Village
If Fort Calgary gives a glimpse into Western Canada’s history at the Heritage Park Historical Village provides the full picture. The park is home to a series of historic buildings from the pioneer era with ample costumed interpreters to help you travel back in time. Fun Fact: This is Canada’s largest living history museum!
The buildings cover four key periods in Calgary’s history. You’ll discover an 1860s fur-trading fort, a town square from the early 20th century along with the popular old steam engine. Jump on for a ride around the village. Other activities include a paddlewheel tour on the scenic Glenmore Reservoir and a visit to Gasoline Alley Museum. A place full of vintage vehicles and interactive exhibits.
12. The Military Museums
Displaying the important efforts of Canada’s army during the First and Second World Wars, the Military Museums offer amazing insight into this period of human history.
The museums go into great detail, covering stories of the brave men and women who put their lives on the line. Here you can learn what it was like to be in the trenches on the Western Front, or flying a bomber during WWII. Your visit will also come with the chance to view various military vehicles, including tanks.
13. Glenbow Museum
If it’s a miserable day and you’re wondering what to do in Calgary when it’s raining, then the answer is the Glenbow Museum. Within downtown Calgary, the museum focuses on art and culture in Western Canada. With over a million artifacts, art pieces, and photographs on display, prepare to take a deep dive into contemporary life and culture in this corner of the world.
The Museum also presents an amazing look into the values, traditions, and heritage of indigenous peoples who have lived along the Northwestern Plains for thousands of years.
14. Calaway Park
Wondering what fun things to do in Calgary as a family? Well, you can’t go wrong with a day at Calaway Park. As the biggest outdoor amusement park in Western Canada, Calaway Park promises to be a fun day for everyone.
The park comes with over 30 rides, of which many will get the heart pumping. For some more relaxed fun, you can play almost two dozen carnival-style games. Better yet, enjoy a show at Calaway Park’s very own 3D theater.
15. Fish Creek Park
The second-largest urban park in Canada, Fish Creek Park, comes with delightful walking trails through forests and along the renowned creek. The designated natural area is home to some 200 species and is a great place to enjoy bird-watching.
Begin at the visitor’s center to plan your visit, with the chance to explore heritage buildings, or enjoy some fishing along the waterways. You could spend hours roaming the expansive park with several trails linking up to paths that cross the entire city.
16. Watch the Calgary Flames
Hockey is Canada’s most popular sport and by a big margin. One of the best ways to get into the local spirit is to go to the Saddledome and watch the Calgary Flames tear up the ice
The aptly named Saddledome indeed looks like a saddle from the outside. From October to April, the arena sells out multiple times a week. If you’re on a budget, tickets to see the Flames can be cheap, especially compared to a Maple Leaf’s game in Toronto. Tickets to games against the Edmonton Oilers can be competitive. But watching the two bitter rivals face-off is one of the best things to do in Calgary.
17. Calgary Zoo
Zoos are not normally listed on our to do list, but they do have a place in conservation and education. Plus, the Calgary Zoo is renowned for its conservation efforts helping rare and endangered species. The Calgary Zoo also has a botanical garden and butterfly conservatory.
18. Calgary Stampede
Over ten days in July the world-famous Calgary Stampede takes place at Stampede Park. Locals and up to a million travelers descend on the event.
Known as the ‘greatest outdoor show on earth, guests are enthralled by rodeo events and exhibitions to stage shows and pancakes breakfasts. The history of the Calgary Stampede can be traced back to the late 19th century and its reputation grows by the year. There has been a lot of controversy over the event in recent years, but one cannot deny that this is one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Day Trips from Calgary
Calgary is conveniently located on the Trans Canada Highway linking, Calgary, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. No visit to Alberta would be complete without seeing these beautiful destinations.
19. Banff National Park
One of the best day trips from Calgary is Banff National Park, home to towering mountains and the storybook Lake Louise. You can reach the park in 90 minutes but the scenery is likely to have you stopping at regular intervals.
After arriving in the park, continue on to the lake. Spectacular mountain vistas surround you at every turn, carved over millennia by the slow movement of glaciers. The result is the stunning turquoise waters of Lake Louise. Head out on the lake or stroll the lakeshore trail. With mountains soaring over 10,000 feet towards the heavens, Banff National Park is the definition of unforgettable. Read more: The Best Things to do in Banff, Alberta
Canmore is located between Calgary and Banff and is an excellent stop for an afternoon. In fact, we’ve spent several days in Canmore from exploring its many hiking trails in the summer to snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter. One of the best things to do is to take a helicopter tour over the Canadian Rockies to see the spectacular scenery of Banff and Lake Louise. Read more: The Best Things to do in Canmore, Alberta
The Rocky Mountaineer
One of the world’s best train journeys leaves from Calgary on its way to Vancouver. If you have a few days to fill on your Calgary itinerary, consider a once-in-a-lifetime trip on the Rocky Mountaineer.
The luxurious train travels along the historic Canada Pacific Line, venturing deep into the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Along the way, you will have the chance to stop at Canmore, Banff National Park, or Jasper for a variety of spectacular day trips.
How to get to Calgary
The main point of entry to Alberta’s largest city is from Calgary Airport. You will have a variety of transport options to choose from.
There is an express bus to downtown that leaves every half hour between 5 am and midnight and costs $6.35 USD. The trip takes 30 minutes. A shuttle leaves from Bus Bay 8 every half hour from 8 am to midnight. The shuttle costs $12 USD and connects to most city hotels. A taxi ride from the airport to downtown costs roughly $35 USD.
Best time to visit Calgary
With a balance of urban and mountain adventures to embark on, there is never a bad time to visit Calgary. The winter months offer great local skiing and lower room rates. In the fall, you will enjoy moderate temperatures and beautiful scenery as the leaves turn to auburn.
However, you can’t go past summer as the best time to visit Calgary. With all the festivals and live events plus the Calgary Stampede, it is a magical time of year. Book as far in advance as possible to save money on accommodation.
Where to stay in Calgary
Even as the city continues to grow, the best place to base yourself is within Calgary’s downtown. You will be close to the vast majority of attractions from the Bow River to Stephen Avenue.
Hotel Arts Kensington – Calgary
We have stayed at this boutique hotel in Calgary a few times and it is outstanding. The Hotel Artis is a luxury boutique hotel that goes the extra mile. Located in the heart of Kensington Village, it has a cool and funky vibe that is great for nightlife. They offer free bike loans at the hotel and it is located along the pedestrian path running along the river. Check out prices on TripAdvisor
More Calgary Hotels
- Luxury – Fairmont Palliser – You can’t go wrong with this historic hotel. Operating for more than 100 yeras, this luxury hotel in the central business district is near many of Calgary’s top attractions. It’s close to the CORE shopping Centre, cultural attractions and entertainment.
- Budget – Best Western Plus Downtown offers guests spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. Offering studios along with one and two-bedroom suites enjoy free breakfast and WiFi while being mere steps from the downtown fun.
- Mid-Range – In the heart of Calgary, you will find several mid-range hotels, including International Hotel & Spa. The hotel offers generous room sizes, complimentary continental breakfast, a gym, and a heated pool.