This Canadian city of more than one million people hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988. The Games are remembered for quirky competitors such as the Jamaican bobsleigh team that crashed, and underdog British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. Despite its winter playground reputation, the city is best known for its annual rodeo, the Calgary Stampede, billed as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”.
Calgary is in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta. It is a gateway for adventures and day trips, a perfect hub-and-spoke destination. There are four World Heritage-listed sites nearby: the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park and the curiously named Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. When you arrive at Calgary’s airport you’ll be greeted by White Hat volunteers who provide visitor information and make it one of the friendliest airports in the world.
Jam on your cowboy hat for the Calgary Stampede. The 10-day festival every July attracts more than a million visitors taking in rodeo events, chuck wagon races, parades, concerts and famous pancake breakfasts. The Stampede is an excuse to chow down, too, with snacks of all sorts. The 2015 event served up a $100 hotdog of bratwurst, infused cognac, lobster, truffle and Kobe beef.
To get a good look at the city, head for the Calgary Tower observation deck. The 360-degree view includes the Rocky Mountains, prairies and foothills.
The Heritage Park Historical Village is one of the city’s most-visited sites. It’s on 50 hectares and has historic buildings, street theatre with actors in period costume, a steam train, paddle steamer rides and other exhibits depicting western Canada from 1860 to 1950.
The Winter Sport Institute at Canada Olympic Park has more than 50 activities including bobsleigh rides. Don’t fret about crashing like the Jamaicans, the rides are piloted by a professional driver who takes you down the course at 120kmh. Round the Block Tours run hop-on hop-off bus tours, a good way to get to grips with the city.
Eat and Drink
Calgary is the birthplace of the Caesar cocktail – a spicy blend of mashed clam, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, vodka and a stick of celery. Mashed clam in a cocktail doesn’t immediately appeal, but the Canadians consume 350 million of them annually and say that you have to try one to appreciate it.
The neighbourhoods of Mission, Inglewood and Kensington are Calgarians’ favourite spots for afternoon cocktails on a sunny patio, and dining options later in the night. Be sure to try the famous Alberta beef.
The chic East Village precinct is also popular and has river and city views. The Charbar restaurant, opened in 2015 in the historic Simmons Building, is a local favourite. You can sit on the rooftop patio overlooking the Bow River and sample dishes from the Argentinean grill.
Where to Stay
East Village is where Calgary began and it is now booming with new developments, shops and restaurants. It has walkable access to the best of the city. Some new hotels have been announced for the area.
Charismatic Kensington Village is another appealing district, with good restaurants and shops alongside the Bow River where you can stay in boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts and apartments.
With the lowest sales tax in Canada, shopping in Alberta is good value. Destination shopping malls such as the Chinook Centre have luxury brands while other centres, such as the CrossIron Mills Shopping Outlet, are perfect for iconic Canadian brands.
Calgary Like a Local
St Patrick’s Island and Prince’s Island Park are in the centre of the city and provide an urban oasis for Calgarians. The islands are easily accessible via pedestrian bridges and often host festivals and cultural celebrations.