Top things to do in Calgary

Must-see Calgary sights

Southern Alberta’s likeable main city, Calgary is best known as the home of the Calgary Stampede, a veritable cowboy carnival which takes place over ten days every July. But there’s much more to this city...

  1. Enjoy fantastic views in Calgary
  2. Shop ’til you drop in Calgary!
  3. Explore the Eau Claire Market mall and more
  4. Discover Fort Calgary
  5. Head to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary
  6. Head to the Glenbow Museum
  7. Attend the annual Calgary Stampede event

Compact, high-rise downtown Calgary has lots to offer. Begin your tour of the city with the Glenbow Museum then head to the Calgary Tower for fantastic views and to get your bearings of the city.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Enjoy fantastic views in Calgary

The Calgary Tower, the city’s favourite folly, is shorter and less imposing than tourist material suggests and at 190m tall (762 steps or a one-minute elevator) stands somewhat overshadowed by downtown’s more recent buildings. Yet its unusual shape has made it a long-term landmark and it offers outstanding views, especially on clear days, when the snow capped Rockies fill the western horizon, with the ski-jump towers of Canada Olympic Park in the middle distance. On the observation platform you’ll also find a snack bar with reasonable food, a cocktail bar and an expensive revolving restaurant. This is one of the best things to do in Calgary for sure. On the hunt for Calgary holiday packages? We’ve got you sorted!

Best for: A unique shopping experience in Canada

While you’re there: Small concerts are often held here too.

2. Shop ’til you drop in Calgary!

Any number of shopping malls lurk within the soaring high-rises, but Core Shopping Centre is the city’s main indoor retail area and the unlikely site of the Devonian Gardens - it’s one of the most impressive things to do in Calgary. Like something out of an idyllic urban utopia, this is the largest indoor park in North America, with 10,000 shrubs and 500 trees growing in a space the size of two football fields. This lush sanctuary for local and tropical species is particularly impressive, since it’s on the fourth floor. Benches beside the garden’s paths are perfect for picnicking on food bought in the mall below.

Best for: A unique shopping experience in Canada

While you’re there: Small concerts are often held here too.

3. Explore the Eau Claire Market mall and more

North of downtown a refurbished warehouse houses the faintly alternative but dowdy Eau Claire Market mall. Beyond it is a footbridge which connects Prince’s Island Park, a popular but peaceful park on the Bow River with plenty of trees, flowers and a kids’ playground. A five-minute wander to the northern end of the island provides a look at the impressive Peace Bridge, a pedestrian and cyclists’ bridge based on the double helix design of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Best for: A market in a trendy neighbourhood

While you’re there: Just north of downtown lies the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre. It forms the focus for Calgary’s modest Chinatown.

4. Discover Fort Calgary

Fort Calgary, the city’s historical nexus, an easy five-block walk from the C-Train, was built in under six weeks by the North West Mounted Police in 1875. The fort was the germ of the present city, and remained operative as a police post until 1914, when it was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The whole area remained buried under railway tracks and derelict warehouses until 1974. An adjoining interpretive centre traces Calgary’s development with period photographs showing how wild Calgary still was in 1876. Kids will enjoy the chance to dress up as a Mountie (Royal Canadian Mounted police).

Best for: Fort

While you’re there: If you’re with the kids, head to the bold, airy and modern TELUS Spark, an impressively slick, hands-on science centre.

5. Head to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Natural-history enthusiasts might want to visit the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, on the Bow River’s forested flats. Some 230 species are present year-round and more during migratory cycles. You might see bald eagles, Swainson’s hawks, ring-necked pheasants, warblers, grey partridge and great horned owls. Numerous ducks, geese and other waterfowl are also present, as are muskrats, beavers, white-tailed and mule deer, foxes and long-tailed weasels.

Best for: Bird watchers

While you’re there: You might want to take your very own binoculars here!

6. Head to the Glenbow Museum

The richly endowed Glenbow Museum is a testament to the cultural benefits of booming oil revenues and its three floors of displays make a fine introduction to the heritage of the Canadian West and its Aboriginal peoples. The permanent collection starts with sacred art from around the world, which dovetails with western Canadian Indigenous art and European art that depicted Aboriginal peoples. Native crafts are also explored, with stunning carvings, costumes and jewellery. The emphasis is on local Plains tribes such as the Blackfoot - though the collection also examines the Inuit and the Métis.

Best for: Museum

While you’re there: If you’re looking for more history head to the Heritage Park Historical Village. It’s a sixty-acre theme park.

7. Attend the annual Calgary Stampede event

The annual Calgary Stampede brings around 1.25 million spectators and participants to the city for ten days in early July. This is far more than a carefully engineered gift to Calgary’s tourist industry, however, for the event is one of the world’s biggest rodeos and comes close to living up to its “greatest outdoor show on earth” billing.

Best for: Event

While you’re there: The competition end of things is taken very seriously and the combined prize money exceeds $2 million.

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