It is quite exciting to compile and publish a list of the best things to do in Calgary, almost like introducing your friend to an underrated web series or music band. This is because, despite being the biggest city in Western Canada, Calgary is often seen as a transitional destination by most travelers whose goal is to get to the Canadian Rockies or Banff. After all, Calgary is called “The Gateway to Rocky Mountains”.
However, Calgary is much more than just a transit city. It is a quintessential Canadian city with a mixture of Western-railroad-town history as well as a rich and strong indigenous culture. Additionally, Calgary also has a young demographic which loves going out, not just to hip restaurants, boutiques, bars but also cycling and hiking which creates a plethora of diverse things to do in Calgary.
So, after having visited Calgary a good few times ourselves and scoured every travel blog ever written on this magnificent city, we have brought you a delightful list of the top 20 things to do in Calgary.
Get the best view of the city from the Calgary Tower
There can be no way to start the list of top things to do in Calgary other than going to the literal top! The Calgary Tower rises 191 meters up from the ground and is easily accessible in the 9th Avenue SW by car, bus , C-train. You can also plan your visit to the Calgary Tower by incorporating it into a leisurely walk on the Plus 15 Walkway system that connects it to many other notable sites.
Although it is not the tallest building in Calgary anymore, the Tower provides the best, uninterrupted 360° views of the city and several landmarks. If the weather permits, you might also get the stunning view of the snow capped Rocky Mountains rising from the prairies at a distance. So, for people tight on time, getting up at the tower is one of the best things to do in Calgary.
There is an observation deck that hangs up at 160 meters in the Tower. I say “hangs up” because the floors of the deck are made up of glass and gives you a clear look at the traffic below. Completely safe and stable, looking down at the cars passing by on the 9th Avenue SW and Center Street is one of the most thrilling things to do in Calgary unless you have vertigo.
Get to know Calgary through biking
Calgary isn’t the first name that comes to mind when we think of cities with cycling culture. While it is no Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Calgary still is a massively underrated city when it comes to recreational cycling culture and infrastructure and cycling around the city is one of the best things to do in Calgary. In fact, with around 1,000 km of regional bike pathways and 96 km of trails, Calgary is the top most city in North America for cycling networks.
With a plethora of choices in pathways that touch neighborhoods, parks, and natural areas, cycling around is one of the best things to do in Calgary for travelers who have time, and are looking to get an extensive, local experience.
If you want to stay near the city skyline, riding around the Bow River on the 7.2 km Bow River Loop is one of the best things to do in Calgary. Here are a few other popular trails with varying distances.
- Glenmore Reservoir Trail at 15.3 km – one of the top things to do in Calgary for beginner bikers.
- The Road to Nepal- Priddis Area with 55 km of ride and 600 meters of climb – one of the best things to do in Calgary for biking enthusiasts looking for a difficult trail.
- Calgary to Chestermere from Calgary Zoo to Chestermere at 29 km – one of the best things to do in Calgary for people looking to explore the grasslands on cycle.
- The Calgary Greenway or Rotary/Matamy Greenway at 138 km – one of the best things to do in Calgary for hard cardio.
Visit the Heritage Park Historical Village
Located in the Southeast side of Calgary, Heritage Park Historical Village is a living museum that primarily displays how life was like in Western Canada from the mid 19th century to early 20th century and should be on any list of things to do in Calgary. For anyone not native to these parts, it is bound to be extremely fascinating, and undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Calgary.
Three key points in history have shaped Calgary into what it is today starting from the fur trading era in the 1860s. Two decades later in the 1880s it saw the entrance of the Canadian Pacific Railway turning Calgary into a town, and increase in hospitality based businesses and migration. In the 1910s it became a thriving Prairie Railroad Town.
The Heritage Park has 200 exhibits and attractions in 127 acres that explores these periods and what life was like for the Plains Indigenous People making it an important entry in the list of best things to do in Calgary.
The Heritage Park Historical Village is located on the banks of Glenmore Reservoir and opens from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Calgary specially for history buffs and families with children.
Forget Texas, forget Wyoming or Montana, Calgary is home to the hottest rodeo in North America and it is dubbed the “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth”. The Calgary Stampede is a perfect opportunity to participate in an elaborate celebration that has everything from cowboys, horse riding, trucks, and food and one of the best things to do in Calgary. From 7th of July to 16th of July, the stores are closed, the businesses shut down and the Stampede Park in Downtown Calgary near the Saddledorm is transformed into one giant party. If you plan your travel to Canada around late June/July, visiting the Stampede is one of the best things to do in Calgary.
The ceremonies start with parades of marching bands, floats, and a lot of horses! There are extreme adventure rides, livestock and agricultural events, square dancing, concerts and over 200 vendors and local food at the Stampede Midway.
Take part in the events like mechanical bull riding, barrel riding, steer wrestling, pony riding, and Chuck wagon riding and end it with the star of the Stampede: The Grand Stand Show with over 400 performers and the fireworks that follow. It will undoubtedly be one of the best things to do in Calgary and perhaps anywhere in Canada.
Take a mural tour with BUMP
Much like Shoreditch, one of the best things to do Calgary is visit the street art scenes. Every year in August the Beltline Urban Mural Project (BUMP) organizes a mural festival with local and international artists. You might have missed the 2022 festival that started from Central Memorial Park but you can still tour the 70 new murals that were put up. Not only is this one of the best things to do in Calgary for artists, but also for people looking for some sick Instagram photos. In fact, as a part of the 2022 BUMP festival, world’s tallest mural was completed in downtown Calgary near the Calgary Tower by popular German artist Mirko Reisser AKA DIAM.
If you are a budding artist, visiting these murals is one of the best things to do in Calgary
- 10 Ave and 12 St SW “Fish and Pigeons”
- 926 16 Ave SW “Infinity”
- 1410 11 Ave SW “Cougar in the mountains”
- 1126 17 Ave SW “Cowboy Boots”
- 1039 17 Ave SW “Colourful Man”
- 1232 17 Ave SW “Blackfoot”
Watch Canada’s most popular sports
If you are visiting Calgary anywhere between October to April, one of the best things to do in Calgary is catch a game of ice hockey at the Scotia Saddledome. In addition to hosting figure skating, the Saddledome is the home ground for the Calgary Flames who are one of the seven Canadian teams in the NHL. Even if you aren’t a massive ice hockey fan, this is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling things to do in Calgary because of the fast pace, volatile nature of ice hockey!
In a season, the Flames play 82 games, 41 of which are played in their home which is Calgary. They will be hosting the Colorado Avalanche on October 13th. You might want to book the ticket in advance as the Flames play the first 9 games out of 10 at home, eight of which are from October 18 to November 5 and attending a Flames home game will definitely be on top of many people’s list of top things to do in Calgary
Chill at the Prince’s Park Island
Calgary has a very urban, industrial vibe to it. Specially with the Downtown area, the urban landscape and the hustle and bustle can get tiring at times. For that exact reason, spending a lovely evening or having an afternoon picnic at the Prince’s Park Island is one of the most relaxing things to do in Calgary. Fortunately, you wouldn’t have to go far from Downtown area to get here.
The Park is built on an island on the Bow river, towards the north of downtown Calgary. It once was built for transporting lumber by the Eau Claire Lumber Mill. The southern side of the Park is landscaped while the Western side forms a wetland. A two-three hour visit to the Prince’s Park Island is one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Jazz up your Instagram feed with a photo at the Peace Bridge
Having studied architecture in Bachelor’s, any piece of interesting, weird, popping architecture would always pull my attention. So it’s not much of surprise that the Peace Bridge is on our list of top things to do in Calgary. But, it is not just my bias that outs the bridge here.
Located on the western end of the Prince’s Park Island, the Peace Bridge connects the Southern Bow River Pathway and Downtown Calgary to the Northern Bow River Pathway and Sunnyside Community. The helical steel covering with glass top and red colour looks like the insides of a Spirogyra. Taking a photo at the Peace Bridge will be one of the top things to do in Calgary for your Instagram feed.
Roam around the 17th Avenue
Also called as the “Red Mile”, visiting the 17th Avenue S.W is one of the best things to do in Calgary for the hipster souls. It is in the heart of Downtown Calgary so you won’t have to travel that far, and spanning across 10 blocks the area offers everything: from fancy bistros, restaurants, shops, bars, boutiques, high rise condos, salons, and outdoor patios.
In 2004 the Calgary Flames flooded the bars and streets with their Flames jersey earning the area its moniker: The Red Mile. But this is the Retailmand Entertainment District of Calgary and visiting here after dark is one of the best things to do in Calgary.
Here is a list of few places that we found extremely useful and lovely during our visit:
- Good Life Fitness Gym
- Analog Coffee
- Pigeonhole: wine bar and restaurant
- National Beer Hall on 5th Street
- Ship & Anchor Pub
- Oasis Spa
- The Coup for vegetarian food.
- Kate Hewko on 908 17 Ave SW : women’s designer boutique
Roam around Stephen Avenue
Sandwiched between the 4th Street SW in the west and 1st Street SW in the east, the Stephen Avenue forms a part of the 8th Avenue South. This is Downtown Calgary’s most iconic main street and should definitely be on any list of best things to do in Calgary. Although in the recent times a bit of charm has waned off, there are plans to reinvigorate the Stephen Avenue to its former glory.
For people coming from big cities that are more akin to concrete jungles with tired infrastructure for pedestrians, visiting the Stephen Avenue is one of the best things to do in Calgary. It is a pedestrian only way during the day so it is always bustling. Apart from outdoor patios, buskers, food trucks, music, pubs, cafes, pedestrian malls, the chief attractions are the Glenbow Museum, Arts Common and Olympic Plaza, CORE shopping center.
Visit the Calgary New Central Library
Have you seen those Pinterest photos of libraries from around the globe that look absolutely breath taking? Well, the Calgary New Central Library (NCL) is one of those libraries that will leave you stupefied. Even if you are not quite fond of the idea of going to a library on a vacation, the architecture and design of the NCL makes it one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Replacing the older Central Library built in 1960s, the New Central Library is more than just a collection of 450,000 books. Spanning across 240,000 sq feet of area with 30 community meeting areas (free of cost) , a performance hall, café, recording studio, a separate childrens’ library, visiting the NCL is one of the top things to do in Calgary to socialize among friends. What’s more is that the building is made right over a C-Train passage-way!
Have a fun day with your family at the Calaway Park
Surprisingly, Calaway Park is one of the very few theme parks in all of Alberta. In fact, it is more of a family park than theme park hence, making it one of the best things to do in Calgary for families specially with young kids. Located 10 km/6 miles west of Calgary it includes 32 thrill rides, mini golf course, a fishing pond, loads if street performers all of which is set up with an unbeatable view of the Rocky Mountains.
Visit Studio Bell
I had absolutely no idea that the silky voiced Michael Bublé was Canadian until I saw his suit and tie at Studio Bell! Visiting Studio Bell must be one of the top things to do for any music lover as it celebrates Canadian music history and heritage and there are a lot of music instruments and real outfits wore by some Canadian icons during iconic parts of their careers (think Avril Lavigne and her Converse, high socks, fish net leggings, shorts and catchy bright tops with a tie).
It is also an architectural beauty with some sick photographic angles and swerves. There are five floors of exhibitions and many Canadian music stars are honoured at the four Canadian Halls of Fame. One of the top things to do in Calgary for people interested in not just music but also the production behind it, Studio Bell is also home to Canadian National Music Center. Be sure to check out the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio and other interactive instrument instillations.
Have an adrenaline rush at Canada Olympic Park
Formerly known as Paskapoo Ski Hill, the Canada Olympic Park is now owned and operated by Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) or popularly known as WinSport. This is one of the venues for 1988 Winter Olympics and also where the Olympians are trained for various sports which alone should make a visit to WinSport one of the top things to do in Calgary. However, WinSport is not just about watching but also a recreational center where you can take part in your inner Cool Runnings fantasia.
In winter the thrill of downhill skiing, snow boarding, cross country skiing, bobsleigh and luge makes a visit to WinSport one of the top things to do in Calgary. While in summer when the snow melts, mountain biking, summer festivals, and zip lining through the ski jump is sure to get your adrenaline pumped.
Well, Calgary may not match blow to blow with Toronto, Edmonton or Ottawa, but whether you have got some cash to blow or on a tight budget, going for shopping can be one of the top things to do in Calgary. There are a number of high end shops, cool and hip boutiques as well as souvenir shops in different areas of Calgary.
- Core Shopping Center: Apart from luxury, and jewelry shopping, a trip to Devonian Gardens on the fourth floor is one of the best things to do in Calgary as it is full of young, hip crowd.
- The CF Chinook Center: One of the best things to do in Calgary for shopaholics is visiting the city’s largest shopping center. It has 250 shops for clothes, footwear and jewelry along with food court, and a movie hall.
- Crosslron Mills: a bit further away from the city and requires a vehicle to reach but visiting here is one of the best things to do in Calgary for people looking for budget shopping.
Visit TELUS Spark Science Center
While Summer and Spring give visitors plenty of chances to go out and enjoy themselves in Western Canada’s unique natural settings, monsoon and extremely chilly days limit those opportunities. TELUS Spark Science Center provides an space for kids of all ages from new born to teens and students and parents alike all year around and is one of the top things to do in Calgary in any weather.
For families with very young kids, new born to 8 year olds, there is the Creative Kids Museum designed specifically for developing their motor skills. There is RESCUE with 17 activities where children can do various interactive things from drive scooters, and escape the smoke from a building. Water Play Area, Climbing Structure, Experimental Stations, Reading Nook along with many other exhibitions movies and events make the TELUS Spark Science Center one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Visit Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
Had you not noticed by now, you will certainly notice here afterwards that Calgary loves sports just like the wider nation of Canada. So much so that Canada’s only Spirts Hall of Fame is in Calgary and is a visit here is one of the top things to do in Calgary. Unlike many similar museums, this is not simply a tourist attraction with bare minimum amenities but a fully fledged museum and exhibition hall with over 6 decades of history.
Spanning across 44,000 sq. ft. inside the Canada Olympic Park, this facility highlights 95,000 historical artifacts from over 60 sports. More importantly, it also highlights the inspirational lives of nearly 700 athletes and people who have helped build various sports in the nation. If you are a sports fan, this can be one of the best things to do in Calgary.
Take a break from the urban life at Nose Hill Park
As mentioned earlier, at times Calgary’s urban atmosphere can get quite heavy. To take a break from the city life or just to relax, hike, run a bit a visit to Nose Hill Park is one of the best things to do in Calgary. Located in the Northwest part of the city the Nose Hill Park covers an area of 11 sq. km and can feel quite wild despite being surrounded by several neighborhoods.
It is the biggest city park in Calgary and also offers 60 km of trails and pathways for hiking and running. Visitors specially not from the area must be careful as there are barely any services here apart from sparse washrooms. Although caution must be maintained because the slopes of the park are home to native grasslands known as fescue grass but still visiting the Nose Hill for a relaxing day is one of the best things to do in Calgary.
Barley is Canada’s fourth largest crop after wheat, canola, and corn. One of the best barley varieties can be found growing in Alberta and hence it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in the past decade there has been a massive boom in craft brewery scene. In fact, in just 5 years from 2015 to 2020, the number if craft breweries has shot up from 27 to 120 and visiting these is one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Here are a few breweries that should be on your list of top things to do in Calgary:
- Cold Garden Beverage Company in Inglewood.
- Common Crown Brewing Company
- Dandy Brewing Company
- Village Brewery
- Cabin Brewing Company
- Annex Ale Project in Manchester
- Eighty-Eight Brewing
Visiting Inglewood must be on any “Things to do in Calgary” list as this is the oldest neighborhood in Calgary and also its original main street. Start your day with a cup of coffee at Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar or the local Rosso Coffee Roasters on 9th Avenue. There are loads of places to explore in Inglewood for early morning people like Inglewood Wildlands Park, Bird Sanctuary and Nature Center, and Pearce Estate Park. If you manage to come back before 10 AM try the breakfast at Bea’s Grocer and Eatery or Spolumbo’s.
Inglewood yarn shopping should also be on the top of things to do in Calgary for people qho love knitting. Stash Needle Art Lounge is a must visit. Recordland has a great collection of Vinyl recirds and try Murphy’s Mid Century for home décor. There are also loads of restaurants and great wateries for dinner like Deane House, House and Hound Pub, and Without Papers.