From outdoor excursions to urban adventures, this Canadian city’s got you covered
We already know that Canadians are the absolute nicest and that the current exchange rate greatly favors American travelers adventuring north. We now also know umpteen reasons to visit Calgary, a sun-soaked city in Alberta near the sensational Canadian Rockies.
Creative entrepreneurs are working hard to move beyond the city’s “country and western, oil and gas” stereotypes and, if you ask us, they’re doing a mighty fine job.
Proximity to the Canadian Rockies
Hiker-photographer A.V and her dog Metsä take in the views of Birdwood Lakes in Kananaskis Country — Photo courtesy of A.V Wakefield
No matter how many natural wonders you’ve checked off your bucket list, the Canadian Rockies stand in a league of their own. We’re talking magnificent towering peaks and lakes so turquoise they seem to defy comprehension. You can enjoy their mighty beauty at the remarkable Banff Naitonal Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, Bar U Ranch, and Cave and Basin.
In terms of getting there, public transport from Calgary to Banff (via train and bus) is a viable option. Or if you’d rather see stunning Canadian nature through the glass dome of your luxury train car, hop aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.
As an alternative to Banff, try hikes (like Grassi Lakes) near the charming mountain town of Canmore, where the peaks provide a surreal backdrop that distract from everything else.
Before commencing your Canmore adventure, fuel up with a healthy, rainbow-hued lunch at ComuniTea (try the Protein Bowl chock-full of quinoa, kale, purple cabbage, zucchini spirals, roasted yams, basil pesto and a free run egg), or load up on fresh goods from the Canmore Mountain Market which runs every Thursday through October 5.
Women seeking hiking buddies might reach out to local A.V Wakefield, a professional photographer and steward for the outdoors, who launched Hike 365 as a way to build community around girls wanting to get out on the trails together.
A cyclist’s dream
What began as a bike path pilot program is now one of the city’s best-loved features — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
Little-known fact: Calgary makes an excellent cycling town, thanks to its uber-flat landscape and impressive network of bike paths that weave throughout downtown’s streets and parks. In fact, the city boasts the longest urban pathway system in North America.
Pick up an extensive (and waterproof!) “Calgary by Bike” map designed by writer and blogger Mike Morrison, and let rental company Nomad deliver all the gear you need directly to your hotel. At no extra charge, the company drops off bikes (city or mountain), helmets, paddleboards, travel boxes and other outdoors accessories.
Cruise by downtown sights like Olympic Plaza (built for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games) and its summertime wading pool, Arts Commons (home to six different performance spaces), statues honoring the “Famous Five” suffragettes, and the city’s Fort Calgary birthplace – all before exploring dozens of alluring parks and islands.
Also cruise through adorable neighborhoods like Inglewood, a hub of cute boutiques, hipster hangouts, juice bars and shooting locations for the popular TV series Fargo.
Green spaces galore
Relish an abundance of green within Calgary’s downtown core — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
Calgarians have no problem finding downtown Zen, thanks to the city’s bounty of beautiful public parks and gardens. Take a stroll or cycle along the Bow River, which often bustles with paddlers and surfers, before traversing the Peace Bridge to stop for a bite at Prince’s Island Park’s beloved River Café.
An urban oasis of 49 acres, Prince’s Island Park has been compared to “Central Park, but with more Canada geese.” Here you might spot beavers, muskrats, rabbits, ducks and the odd coyote. Between the Calgary Zoo and East Village, find 31-acre St. Patrick’s Island, featuring a playground, fishing cove, wooded pathways, boardwalk over naturalized wetlands and an amphitheatre that plays alfresco movies in the summer.
Pioneers of Canada’s boutique hotel concept, Le Germain combines stylish surroundings with top-notch service — Photo courtesy of Hotel Le Germain Calgary
Looking to get pampered while away, eh? Le Germain Hotel, centrally located in downtown Calgary, offers a plush urban oasis with detail-oriented service that truly goes above and beyond. Enthusiastic concierge Ben Phillips, recently deemed an official member of Les Clefs d’Or Canada, happily lends a pass (for up to four guests) to ascend the neighboring Calgary Tower or arranges for day use of the hotel’s complimentary Lexus courtesy car.
The list of enticements continues, ranging from spacious rooms featuring modern art by local talents, dreamy rain showers and goose down duvets to deluxe continental breakfasts, a nightly turn-down service, a 24/7 gym with a view and no check-out time when booked online.
East Village & thriving arts
East Village Junction promises to “pep up summer” with its pop-up retail hub — Photo courtesy of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
Thanks to one of the largest revitalization projects in North America, the East Village has morphed from being practically abandoned to undoubtedly thriving. In addition to innovative condo and hotel projects, the coveted neighborhood is home to the ultra-modern New Central Library and the Simmons Building, a former mattress factory that’s become one of the city’s hottest hangouts. Inside this culinary destination and community gathering space, you’ll find Charbar (Argentinean-inspired fare and a to-die-for rooftop), Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery.
Even better, Calgary puts one percent of new construction funding toward public art. Visit pieces like Wonderland – the Bow Building’s giant mesh head sculpture – and dozens of colorful ground squirrel figures that have sprung up around town, each one painted in an official color of the Canada 150 logo.
A vibrant pop-up retail park – anchored by multi-hued shipping containers – has just opened here, too. Beneath Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, East Village Junction buzzes with activity Thursday through Sunday (and holiday Mondays) through October 1. The Junction has become a hub for vendors, shoppers, loungers, yogis (during free Lululemon classes) and runners (during Sunday morning group jogs).
Outstanding food & drink
No longer simply a “steak and potatoes” town, Calgary thrives when it comes to fresh, seasonal, vegetable-forward fare — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
Toss away any assumptions that Calgary’s solely a meat-and-potatoes town by visiting an expanding lineup of juice bars, vegan-friendly cafes and vegetable-forward eateries that keep things light, seasonal and fresh.
Inside the soothing and sleek environment of Foreign Concept, dishes “honour colonial Vietnamese cooking with surprising flavours from across the continent.” Menu items currently stealing the show include the butternut squash and green mango slaw, the Gochujang albacore tuna poké and a grand finale of the Vietnamese coffee parfait. Finish off the evening at nearby Bar Von Der Fels, a cozy, Euro-feeling venue with a wine list that won’t disappoint.
Be sure to enjoy a hyper-local meal on the tranquil patio of the historic Deane House (think oysters, halibut cakes and top grass oxtail perogies). And, at any time of day, enjoy the contagious buzz of Ten Foot Henry, a new “it” spot with a vegetable-anchored menu. Dive into the roasted carrots, pan-roasted gai lan, and tomatoes served alongside whipped feta and sourdough, and definitely save room for the chocolate-avocado torte.
The beverage scene is thriving, too. Cocktails dazzle at Proof, where bartender Jeff Savage promotes overall health and wellness with ingredients like cold-pressed carrot juice, Vitamin D, ginger, wormwood, turmeric and so on. Try gems like Fire in the Pharmacy or El Santo, a smokin’ mezcal and palo santo-based concoction that brings desired calm to the bar setting, “almost like a blessing in the space,” says Savage.
A can’t-miss stampede
Every night, chuckwagon races rumble the fairgrounds at the Calgary Stampede — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
Calgary is synonymous with “Stampede,” an annual 10-day extravaganza that attracts locals who’ve been attending for decades, as well as first-timers. Western wear makes a triumphant return in July, as festival attendees take advantage enjoy the annual tradition of free pancake breakfasts around town, then head to the main event.
Events range from country and rock concerts to agricultural showcases and exhilarating rodeos. Although, the main draw for many are the nightly chuckwagon races.
Along the Cowboy Trail, fuel up on beef jerky and browse for classic and contemporary Western art — Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bollwitt/Travel Alberta
Traces of Alberta’s “wild west” heritage still linger along the Cowboy Trail, a scenic, 457-mile ribbon of pavement that winds through the region’s high ranch country. Explore quaint prairie towns like Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Longview, where you may still spy horses hitched up outside the bar.
Stop at western attractions like Bar U Ranch National Historic Site and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, an UNESCO World Heritage Site that bears witness to a custom practiced by indigenous people of the North American plains for nearly 6,000 years. Also, get a taste of local culture by fueling up on beef jerky and browsing shops for antiques and contemporary Western art.
Aboriginal Awareness Week Calgary 2017 offers events and gatherings — Photo courtesy of Tourism Calgary
Explore Inuit carvings, Plains quillwork, Blackfoot artifacts and designs by the Northwest Coast Peoples at Glenbow Museum. Or visit Heritage Park, a First Nations encampment that often has interpreters on hand to demonstrate traditional activities and share stories.
Calgary celebrates Canada Day with a Prince’s Island Park traditional powwow that also showcases contemporary music and dance. Head to Fort Calgary for a free pancake breakfast, live music, food trucks and Indigenous games and stories before taking in a stunning nighttime fireworks show from Centre Street Bridge.
Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
The Sanctuary currently has 18 permanent wolfdogs, 11 ambassador wolfdogs and any number of wolfdogs available for adoption — Photo courtesy of Discover Banff Tours
Convene with nature in a tranquil setting – marked by elegant aspen trees – located less than an hour outside of Calgary (en route to the Rockies). Here, an admirable nonprofit promotes “responsible wolfdog ownership by providing educational programs on the importance of preserving wolves in the wild.” On their property, the team oversees the rescue and safe sanctuary of animals previously neglected or abandoned.
Inside spacious 1- to 2-acre enclosures, the wolfdogs live among water tanks, toys and even a tree house, allowing them to live happily, healthily and delightfully stress-free. Take an intro or interactive tour, which grants up-close-and-personal experience (and must be booked in advance).
Game of Thrones fans will be especially interested to learn about one particular resident: Nova, the cousin of fuzzy screen star Ghost. We challenge you to not want to take one of these lovable creatures home with you.