Experience “Cowtown” properly with these amazing things to do in Calgary, Alberta. Discover the best of where the Mountains meet the Prairies.
Flanking the Bow River in southern Alberta, the city of Calgary has been celebrated for its stunning natural beauty, urban accessibility, and exciting attractions.
Calgary, boasting a broad mix of modern skyscrapers and charming heritage neighbourhoods, reflects the broad mix of cultures that have settled in the city. The city has been dubbed “The Gateway to the Rocky Mountains” thanks to its proximity to the epic wilderness of the country’s west coast. It’s also earned the moniker “Cowtown” as the city is the host of one of the world’s richest rodeos, the celebrated Calgary Stampede.
With a population of just over a million residents, Calgary is the most populous city in Alberta. It’s not surprising that there are many great things to do in Calgary. It boasts thriving art and music scene with plenty of incredible galleries, music venues, and theatres. And let’s not forget the city’s passion for sports. The National Hockey Leagues Calgary Flames and the Canadian Football Leagues Calgary Stampeders are just two of the many sports teams in the city.
Calgary is located in the province of Alberta, in western Canada. It is the largest city in Alberta and the third-largest municipality in Canada. The city has a population of over 1.4 million people and has gained a reputation for its strong economy, cultural diversity, and beautiful natural surroundings.
The history of Calgary dates back to pre-colonial times when the area was inhabited by the Blackfoot, Crow, and Peigan First Nations. The city was founded in 1875 as a fort and trading post by the North-West Mounted Police, a federal police force responsible for maintaining law and order in the Canadian West. The city was named after Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Calgary exploded in size. There was rapid growth and development as a result of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which made the city a major transportation hub. The city also became an important center for the ranching and agricultural industries, and it remains an important hub for the energy sector, with a number of major oil and gas companies headquartered in the city.
Calgary is known for its cultural diversity and vibrant arts scene. The city is home to a number of cultural festivals, including the world-famous Calgary Stampede. The city is also home to a number of cultural attractions, including the Glenbow Museum, which houses one of the largest art, culture, and history collections in Canada, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the country’s premier classical music organizations.
In addition to its cultural attractions, Calgary is also known for its beautiful natural surroundings. The city is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and it is surrounded by a number of parks and natural areas, including Fish Creek Provincial Park, one of the largest urban parks in Canada. The city is also home to a number of ski resorts and other outdoor recreational facilities, making it a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
The Best Things To Do In Calgary, Alberta
Calgary is an awesome city to explore. The vibrant lifestyle and infectious energy of the residents add a certain buzz to the air. And on a clear day, the views of the towering Rocky Mountains in the distance make it seem like an adventure is right around the corner.
These Calgary attractions are just the start of all of the amazing things to do in the city, so strap into your saddle and let’s ride out to Calgary.
The Calgary Tower
When it comes to the best things to do in any major city in Canada, whether it’s Halifax, Victoria, or somewhere in between, one of the best ways to get your bearings is to get a bird’s eye view. In Calgary, the best place to get that view is the 1,228-metre-tall Calgary Tower.
Offering 360-degree views of the city accessed by a high-speed elevator that rockets you to the top in just over a minute, the Calgary Tower is one of the top places to visit in the city. On a clear day, you can look out over the city with its epic backdrops all while enjoying delicious food and cocktails.
Take A Stroll Through Prince’s Island Park
The call of the outdoors rings loud in Calgary, and Prince’s Island Park offers the opportunity to get some fresh air while celebrating Calgary’s cultural activities.
This lovely urban space hosts events year-round such as Shakespeare in the Park, hosted by Theatre Calgary, the Calgary Folk Festival (held in late July), and even boasts a seasonal outdoor skating rink during the winter.
Prince’s Island Park isn’t just for events though. It’s a fabulous place to lay out a picnic blanket and enjoy some sunshine or simply take a stroll with some incredible city views.
Visit The Animals At The Calgary Zoo
The Calgary Zoo is among the most highly-ranked zoos in Canada. This important zoo and research facility has led the charge in a number of successful breeding programs, wildlife educational programs, and wildlife research.
Wander the massive facility and visit animals such as hippos, giraffes, gorillas, grizzly bears, and mountain goats. Families will love the tropical butterfly conservatory, where they can walk amongst thousands of colourful insects.
There are more than 1,000 animals within the Calgary Zoo along with botanical gardens, and a conservation centre. If you’re looking for great things to do in Calgary, this shouldn’t be missed.
Sip Your Way Through Some of the Best Breweries in Calgary
Alberta has some of the most relaxed laws in Canada when it comes to alcohol, and tapping into the accessibility, craft breweries are exploding across the province. Calgary leads the way with over 40 breweries sprinkled throughout the city and more popping up each year.
We don’t have the space to go through all of Calgary’s beer scene but there are a few noteworthy brewmasters operating in the city that shouldn’t be missed.
Calgary might be an urban city, but its blue-collar blood runs deep. The city is surrounded by agricultural land and cattle farms as far as the eye can see. That ambiance is on full display at Tool Shed Brewing Co. where co-founders Jeff and Graham Sherman turned their brewing hobby into a thriving business.
The down-to-earth charm of Tool Shed makes it incredibly approachable, and along with a great lineup of craft brews, Tool Shed has also been celebrated for its flavorful BBQ options.
If you’re looking for a Calgary brewery that’s all about community, don’t miss Village Brewery. With both a taproom and a seasonal patio, Village Brewery offers some delightful flights, and if you find one you love, you can take a growler home.
One thing really interesting about Village Brewery is that they have an entire line of non-alcoholic options. Where many breweries offer none or just a single option, Village has gone and created multiple options for those who want to enjoy the flavours of a pint without worrying about the after-effects.
If you love an artsy, eclectic atmosphere, Cold Garden Beverage Company shouldn’t be missed. With unmistakable decor, attitudes, and flavours, it’s evident that this Calgary brewery loves to draw outside of the lines.
For something delicious and original, give their CakeFace Ale a try. This refreshing brew is made with vanilla beans and is as close to a birthday party as you can fit into a beer.
It’s not just the craft beer seen in Calgary that’s epic though, you can check out our guide to the Calgary cocktail scene here.
Step Back In Time At Heritage Park Historical Village
Covering a vast 127 acres and featuring over 180 exhibits on the history and culture of Western Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s, Heritage Park Historical Village is one of the can’t-miss attractions in Calgary for history buffs.
The park invites guests to time travel through several authentic reproductions of historic buildings and artifacts from several different time periods. The displays range from a First Nations camp, a fur trading post, a pioneer village, and a main street from the early 20th century.
Don’t miss the steam-powered locomotive, dubbed “Countess of Dufferin,” which visitors can board for a ride through the park. There are also blacksmithing workshops, farming activities, and even historic cooking demonstrations.
You can find out more about Heritage Park Historical Village here.
Two-Step at the Calgary Stampede
Known as the “world’s biggest outdoor rodeo,” the Calgary Stampede is the hottest ticket in town. For over a century, Calgary has been host to one of the most entertaining displays of Wild West heritage on earth.
Each year in July, tens of thousands of people trot into the city to enjoy chuck wagon races, cattle auctions, midway rides, and every sort of wrangling you can imagine. The event combines food, history, action, and music in what has become one of the greatest entertainment events on earth.
See The Olympic Torch at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
Sports is at the soul of Calgary’s spirit. After all, the city was host to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. In appreciation of the incredible sport’s history in Calgary, and Canada in general, the 40,000 square feet of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame is a must-see attraction.
It’s not all displays and memorabilia here. You can shadow box against boxing legend Lennox Lewis, learn about Canada’s overlooked Indigenous sports heroes, and even chat with a revolving door of Canada’s Hall of Famers.
Eat Your Way Through the Calgary Food Scene
Calgary is no slouch when it comes to great food. In fact, Calgary is home to some of the most celebrated restaurants in the country. While it may seem surprising that Calgary competes with culinary destinations such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, if you think of the incredible range of farm-fresh ingredients right at its door, Calgary’s culinary scene starts to make a lot of sense.
Combine great ingredients with Calgary’s multicultural demographic, and you ignite the flames in one of the country’s best fusion restaurants. Among some of the top places to eat in the city is Eight, which boasts a limited tasting menu with 15 courses focused on Canadian regional cuisine.
Alloy is another fantastic Calgary restaurant. This high-end restaurant is bright and beautiful. And although it’s been around for 15 years, Alloy still feels modern and exciting. Aside from the food, which is exceptional, Alloy also boasts a fine list of wines and spirits.
Offering a true cross-Canada experience, River Cafe offers up shrimp from Fogo island, lamb from Lethbridge, grains from the vast Prairies of Saskatchewan, and wine straight from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and wine regions of Ontario.
Go Fishing on the Bow River
There’s no better place to be in Calgary than the outdoors. And if you love big skies and unending nature, fishing on the Bow River is one of the top things to do in Calgary.
Alberta is among the most epic trout fishing destinations in the world. The province draws anglers to its sparkling, clean waters. And the Bow River, which runs through Calgary is considered among the top three trout streams on the planet.
Trout season in Alberta runs from November till the end of March. But if you’re looking for catch and release, May till September is the best time for trout fishing in Calgary. There are several outfitters offering fishing guides and gear rental in Calgary including Bow River Fishing Outfitters.
Amazing Things To Do Near Calgary
The fun doesn’t stop at the borders of Calgary. There are plenty of incredible attractions near Calgary for those who have a little extra time to spend in the city.
Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
If you’ve got a little extra time in Calgary, head two hours south of the city to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. This destination might be a mouthful to say, but it’s an absolutely fascinating archaeological site where visitors can learn about the Plains People, an Indigenous culture in Canada that developed a practice of herding plains bison over tall cliffs.
This world-renowned historical site explores the complex social structures, hunting practices, and lifestyles of this unique group of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The site was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1981.
Visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum
Head an hour and a half east of Calgary to the town of Drumheller, Alberta and you’ll be launched back 65 million years to the age of the dinosaurs.
Drumheller is Canada’s dinosaur capital, and it’s known throughout the world for the massive deposits of dinosaur skeletons located in what has been dubbed “the Alberta Badlands.”
While the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina might have the world’s largest T-Rex skeleton, The Royal Tyrell Museum has 30 of the most complete dinosaur skeletons on Earth. Wander through the brilliantly-designed displays and then spend some time out in the badlands searching for fossils among some of the most fascinating landscapes in the country.
Take In The Epic Views of Banff National Park
Banff, Alberta is, arguably, the most famous destination in Canada. This gorgeous town, nestled amongst the most beautiful section of the Rocky Mountains, is just an hour and a half east of Calgary.
Banff has been dubbed “the Gateway to the Rockies.” The town is one of the skiing capitals of Canada and is an outdoor-lovers paradise. From jaw-dropping road trips along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper to hiking, skiing, fishing, cycling, and kayaking, Banff is among the most exciting places to visit in Canada. And if you love a little spook in your life, the Fairmont Banff Springs has been listed as one of the most haunted places in Canada.
Now It’s Time to Experience These Things To Do In Calgary, Alberta For Yourself
There are more things to do in Calgary, Alberta, than meets the eye. From scenic parks and fabulous breweries to the great outdoors, you can find something for everyone in this beautiful region of Alberta.
Many of these businesses and restaurants are anxious for visitors after a tough year. So let’s support local and make the most of your Calgary adventure.
Do you have a favourite attraction or restaurant in Canada? Head over to the We Explore Canada Facebook Community and join the conversation! You’ll find an amazing group of people passionate about travel in Canada who love to share their local secrets.
Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.