Calgary is the third largest city in Canada and a destination you must visit in Canada. There are many things to do in Calgary besides being the gateway city to the Rockies, especially Banff National Park or the Canadian Badlands. Calgary is a vibrant city, full of life and colors. It has one of the most photogenic downtown area that we have have explored with many creative murals. In Calgary you will find several breweries, urban nature and world class museums.
No matter if you are looking for things to do in Calgary with kids, romantic things to do, fun things to do in Calgary for adults, or simply the best Calgary tourist attractions, this post has everything you need to plan your next vacation to this wonderful city.
How long should I stay in Calgary?
It all depends on what you are planning on doing. You can use Calgary as a hub for several day trips or you just want to soak into the city and enjoy what it has to offer. We recommend to stay at in Calgary for 2 to 3 days and add 3 to 4 more days for day trips from Calgary. Spend one day to visit the Canadians badlands and two to three days to spend time at Banff National Park.
Where to stay in Calgary
We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott Calgary Downtown in the heart of the city. Staying in room 2601 there is a fantastic view of the city skyline. We made sure to wake up early every morning to witness the breathtaking sunset from the comfort of our room.
Rather than traditional hotel rooms, they offer modern suites with a fully equipped kitchenette along with a nice sitting area. The Residence Inn Calgary also includes full hot breakfast and is even pet friendly!
The friendly staffed welcomed us in and made us feel right at at home in Calgary. The unique and stylish designs found in the common areas and in the hotel rooms honestly made us forget it was a hotel rather than our new apartment!
How to get to Calgary?
You can get to Calgary by car, plane or by bus.
- By car: The closest cities to Calgary are Edmonton, Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver. The drive from Calgary to Edmonton is approximately three hour drive and the highway is basically straight the entire time. Calgary is very close to the United States border and only 3 hour drive from Montana or 11 hour drive from Seattle.
- By plane: Calgary International Airport (YYC) is one of the biggest airports in Canada with many different flights coming from all over the world. From the airport you can either take a taxi/Uber to your hotel, rent a car, take a shuttle or take the bus.
- By bus: You can take the Red Arrow, Rider Express or the Ebus to Calgary. You can compare bus options using Busbud.
The best things to do in Calgary Travel Video
Important Information about Calgary:
Currency: The Canadian dollar.
How to get there: You can arrive to Calgary International Airport, about a 20 minute drive north of downtown.
How to get around: The best way to explore Calgary is by foot if staying in the downtown area and for longer distance Uber is pretty effective.
How to get around Calgary?
Calgary counts with great public transportation including public buses and C- trains. The C- Train cost $3.40 CAD and it is valid for 1 hour and a half. Day passes are also available for purchased. The downtown line of the C-train is free, which is fantastic!
Other options to get around Calgary are walking, biking or taking a taxi or Uber.
When is the best time to visit Calgary?
Although Calgary is a year round destination, the best time to visit Calgary is during the shoulder season between mid-April to mid-October. During those months the weather is warmer and there are more outdoor activities going on as there is more sunlight.
We would avoid visiting Calgary during the winter, from November to March, as it colder. That is of course unless you are interested in going to Banff National Park during the snowy winter or go skiing. Either way Calgary has many things to offer its visitor regarding the season you choose to visit.
What to do in Calgary:
Calgary is a city with many things to do ranging from its delicious foodie scene to its active lifestyle. In fact, in 2019, the New York Times ranked Calgary #20 out of just 52 destinations you should visit worldwide. Calgary has also been ranked as one of the fastest growing destinations to visit in 2020 by expedia.
Day 1: Explore the best viewpoints in Calgary
Calgary surprised us on how beautiful the skyline is with its mix of modern skyscrapers, green parks and the Bow River running through the city. There are so many different spots you can go to in Calgary to get a unique and amazing view of downtown.
We recommend walking or biking the Bow River Pathway System as it is one of the best free things to do in Calgary. The Pathway is home to a variety of sculptures and art pieces, including the Peace Bridge.
If you want to visit the most photogenic spot in Calgary then you must visit the Peace Bridge. From across the iconic bright red pedestrian bridge you will get fantastic views of the shimmering city and the Bow River below.
Taking a tour of Calgary with local photography Neil Zeller he noted the best way to photograph the Peace Bridge is by going underneath the bridge on the north side of the river at night and face the camera towards downtown. You wind find the Peace Bridge along the Bow River pathway, right around 7 Street.
Prince’s Island Park
Prince’s Island Park is an urban park, just north of downtown Calgary, in the middle of the Bow River. Here you will find walking paths, plenty of green space and some beautiful views of the city.
The east side of the island features an educational pathway along a constructed wetland, designed to preserve the local environment. This is one of many unique things to do in Calgary.
Walk along the Bow River on the Memorial Drive Pathway, on the north side of the river. From here you will also get exceptional panoramic views of downtown Calgary and the Bow River.
Crescent Height – McHugh Bluff
McHugh Bluff in the Crescent Height neighborhood is the best place to get great skyline photos of Calgary.
It is a steep bluff overlooking the city with a viewing platform, and a staircase that descends down the bluff provides an excellent view of the city.
Rotary Park is located on a hill east of McHugh Bluff. Being almost a 30 minute walk north of downtown we recommend taking an Uber to Crescent Height and then walk your way down to Rotary Park if you want to avoid a long walk uphill.
From the Rotary park you will get a fantastic view of the city and a lion statue.
Chinatown is a small neighborhood in Calgary with a few pops of red. It is not worth going out of your way to explore, but is great to walk through from Rotary Park on the back downtown.
One of the most famous viewpoint to see the skyline of Calgary is from Scotsman’s hill. From this viewpoint you will be able to see the Saddledome arena and downtown Calgary.
The Bow and the Wonderland sculpture
The Bow is quite an impressive 236 meters tall skyscraper with a beautiful and interesting wire sculpture of a young girl’s head in front. When looking at the sculpture try to make out the three faces it has from different angles. The sculpture and building are more beautiful during the night when they are lit up.
The bow is the third tallest building outside of Toronto and one of Calgary’s most iconic buildings.
Day 2: Visiting the museums and the Zoo
Calgary is home to many world renowned museums and works of art. Visiting museums in Calgary is the perfect way to spend a cold or snowy day if you happen to have indoor weather during your visit.
The Calgary Zoo is home to nearly 1000 animals ranging from African Lions and Giant Pandas to penguins and hippos. There is plenty of indoor creatures to enjoy, but if the weather is cold, bundle up to see all the amazing animals at play.
The Calgary zoo is definitely one of the best things to do in Calgary with kids or for adults who loves animals and want to help the zoo with its conservation efforts.
The Glenbow is Calgary’s art & history museum at the heart of downtown. Its permanent exhibits include the history of Alberta, Aboriginal culture and 20th century art.
The Calgary Tower is a one of the best places to see a panoramic view of Calgary from up high. It is a 190 meters tall tower with a 360° viewing deck and a section with glass floor. In 1968 the Calgary Tower was the tallest freestanding structure in all of North America.
The entrance fee to the tower is $18 CAD for adults, $16 CAD for seniors, $9 CAD for children aged 4-12, and free for those under 4. The entrance fee includes an audio guide that allows you to select what kind of info you want to listen, it ranges from the history of Calgary to the Tower itself and the Rockies.
Stephen Avenue Walk
Stephen Avenue Walk is a popular spot for tourist and locals. This pedestrian walkway is full of shops, cafes and restaurants. It is the most historic street in the city, where you will find some of Calgary’s most beautiful and historic buildings.
Make sure to stop by the Convention center to take a nice photo of the Calgary sign and the window mural with the butterfly wings.
There is also The Galleria Trees sculpture with 10 metal stylized trees.
Day 3: Exploring the East Village neighborhood
Calgary’s East Village is a recently rejuvenated neighborhood with a hip vibe contrasted by the century old brick facades. Located between the Bow River and downtown, it is the perfect place to photograph the National Music Centre shining in the sunlight.
Calgary Central Public Library
Calgary Central Public Library is one of the best things to do in Calgary as it is the coolest buildings in the city. Worth visiting, both for the outside and the indoor architecture.
The library has a cafe, performing hall, children’s library, teen space, audio and video recording studios, public computers and Chromebook rentals, and public art. Its unique architecture inside and out are a photographer’s dream.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of Canadian Music then you must visit the Studio Bell. It has five floors of hands-on exhibitions, including the Canadian Halls of Fame.
One of our favorite things to do in Studio Bell was going into the famed Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Without a doubt, Studio Bell is one of Calgary’s top attractions to enjoy with kids or alone!
Fort Calgary is the birthplace of the modern city of Calgary, first established in 1875. Built to foster relations with the local Indigenous people and fight illegal trade of whisky, the fort transformed as the railroad arrived and the city grew. It is now a history museum sharing the complicated history of the region.
Helicopter ride with Mountain View Helicopters
There is no better way to see Calgary than from the sky. You can fly over the city in a helicopter with Mountain View Helicopters. The Calgary City Tour lasts 30 minutes with breathtaking views of the skyline from above. Make sure your camera is charged for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
The best day trips from Calgary:
Calgary is the perfect home base city with several day trip opportunities in the region. Since most of the destinations are within a two to three hour drive from downtown Calgary, you can sleep each night in Calgary if you do not mind the drive. With all the natural beauty get ready for some amazing hikes near Calgary.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park is hands down most beautiful national park in Canada and arguably the world. It offers breathtaking landscapes with a variety of activities ranging from hiking, cycling, helicopter rides, kayaking and horseback riding to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. We strongly recommend visiting Moraine Lake, Vermilion Lakes, Emerald Lake, Bow Lake and of course the iconic Lake Louise.
Some of the Canada’s most eye catching geologic sites are in Canada’s Badlands, just an hours drive away. Highlights include the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Dinosaur Provincial Park, the Atlas Coal Mine, Rosebud Theatre, Horsethief Canyon, and the Hoodoos.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park holds one of the world’s richest deposits of dinosaur fossils. At the Dinosaur Visitor Centre you can get up close and personal with a vast fossil collection before taking a tour or hike through the rugged badlands. Enjoy this look back in time before heading back to Calgary for dinner.