Top 10 Attractions in Calgary
Calgary happens to be the largest city in Alberta. Therefore, there is plenty of things to see and do. Whether it be outdoors at a park or indoors in a museum, the city has numerous attractions to please everyone. If you plan on visiting this western Canadian city, then this article is for you. We’ve compiled list of the 10 best attractions Calgary has to offer. Included are must see spots, outdoor parks, and hidden gems. We also cover some Calgary’s best restaurants, as well as the best hotels to stay in the city. But before we begin, let’s talk about how you should plan your next visit to Calgary.
Planning your trip
Before you visit some of Calgary’s attractions, it’s a good idea to plan out your visit. Here are some things to consider:
- Cost: Most attractions will have cost attached to them. Prices can range from cheap to expensive. Even if an attraction is free, you might have to pay for parking or for transit. Hotel and restaurant bills and the GST (Goods and Service Tax) can add the cost of your visit. Figure out what you want to see/do, develop a budget, and adapt your plan accordingly.
- Transportation: This can impact the things you are able to do and see. If you have a car, you have more options; you can drive to attractions within and outside of the city. If you do not have a car, your options are public transit or cabs/Ubers. These can limit the attractions you visit. For example, places just outside the city are harder to get to. You can always rent a car, but this might be too expensive. Thankfully, Calgary’s transit system is fairly good, and it can get you to attractions located in the downtown core. For more information on getting round Calgary, click here.
- Weather: Calgary weather can vary dramatically regardless of the season. There is typically a lot of snow during the winter, and extreme cold temperatures can happen (as low as -30°C with the wind chill). However, warm chinook winds blowing down from the mountains raise the temperature. Heat waves can roll around in the summer, especially in July and August. Severe thunderstorms occasionally occur as well. The weather tends to be more stable in the fall and spring. The temperatures are usually consistent without any major changes. Consider the season you’ll be visiting in and dress accordingly.
- Maps: If you’re visiting Calgary for the first time, finding your way through the city is important. The Visit Calgary website has several maps of the city with neighbourhoods, transit routes, and notable attractions highlighted.
Must see spots
The Calgary Tower is a landmark of the city. At one point, it was the tallest building in Canada outside of Toronto. While the Tower has been surpassed by other buildings, it is still worth seeing in person. From the observation deck, you get a 360-degree view of Calgary and the surrounding prairies and mountains. The observation deck has a solid glass floor extension which you can stand on. You may get a bit of vertigo looking down, but the view and experience is remarkable. On my first visit, I was a bit apprehensive about standing on the glass floor. But once I overcame my fear, I was blown away by the view. The Calgary Tower also has a theatre room, shop, and a multimedia or self-guided tour of the city’s skyline. Two restaurants are also located at the tower. One restaurant is on the second level, while the other is at the top observation deck (it revolves once per hour).
The Calgary Tower is an iconic building, and in my opinion, it should be at the top of anyone’s bucket list of places to visit in Calgary.
- Monday-Friday: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
- Saturday-Sunday 10:00 am- 9:00 pm
June to August
- 10:00 am- 10:00 pm daily
- Infant (3 and under): Free for online and walk-up
- Child (4-12): Online-$9.00. Walk-up-$10.00
- General (13-64): Online-$19.00. Walk-up-$21.00
- Senior (65+): Online-$17.00. Walk-up-$21.00
Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo
The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is a popular attraction for families. Around 1,000 creatures from 119 species are featured at the zoo, and they are separated into seven habitats and destinations. The Canadian Wilds feature animals like cougars, bison, grizzly bears, and the great grey owl. Destination Africa is home to gorillas, monkeys, hippos, and other animals, and they are featured in a tropical rainforest setting. At Exploration Asia, you’ll see animals like red pandas and amur tigers. The Gateway to Asia habitat recently opened and houses the new animals to the zoo, a Malayan tapir and white-handed gibbon siblings. The Land of Lemurs habitat showcases the daily life of the lemur. Lastly, Penguin Plunge recreates the frozen habitat of various penguin species.
Once you’ve visited the seven habitats, take a walk through the Prehistoric Park. This area has animatronic and regular dinosaur models to recreate what Alberta looked like millions of years ago. This part of the zoo is special to me as I was huge dinosaur fan as a kid. I often spend hours in the Prehistoric Park, gazing up at the huge dinosaur models, my imagination running wild.
If you’re stomach starts to growl, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo has numerous cafés and food kiosks. There are also many gift shops for you to pick up a souvenir.
There is plenty to see at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. You might find yourself spending several hours walking through the zoo, trying to see all of the animals. That’s why the Wilder Institute/ Calgary Zoo is a popular day trip for families.
Daily operations: 9:00 am- 6:00 pm
Senior (60+): $32.95
Child/youth (3-15): $24.95
Infant (3 and under): Free
Heritage Park Historical Village
At the Heritage Park Historical Village, the history of Western Canada from the 1860s to the 1950s is displayed in over 180 exhibits. The exhibits are grouped into four time periods:
- The fur trading era and First Nations encampment of the 1860s
- The pre-railway settlement of the 1880s
- The prairie railroad town setting of 1910
- The rise of the oil industry during the 1930s-1950s.
Some standout features of the park include a vintage automobile museum, authentic steam train, a rustic prairie town, and traditional First Nations encampment. There are also costumed interpreters to add authenticity and increase the historical immersion.
There are other features to the park that make a visit worthwhile. The 1900s Living Historical Village has several amusement rides like ferris wheels and dangler swings. As a kid, this was my favourite part of the park. There are several authentic shops located throughout the park. The Claresholm General Store is an old-fashioned candy store filled with confectionary treats. I remember visiting it many times to load up on candy. Switzer’s Grocery and Confectionary sells food products similar to those of the 1930s. And lastly, the Park Lane Antique Portrait Studio lets you recreate a vintage sepia, black-and-white, or aged colour portrait photograph. If you’re feeling hungry, numerous restaurants are scattered throughout the park. The Railway Café and Wainwright Hotel are two popular choices.
Historical Village: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily
Gasoline Alley Museum: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily
General Entrance Day Gate
- Child (3-6): $14.95
- Youth (7-15): $19.95
- General (16-64): $29.95
- Senior (65+): $22.95
Annual memberships can be purchased. They give various perks like free parking and free admission to special daytime events. Click here for more info.
Located in the downtown core, Studio Bell has five levels of exhibits highlighting Canadian music. The first level is the meeting place for guided tours. It also contains the gift shop and a drop in zone where you can get a sneak peek of the upcoming exhibits. Level Two is called Music Mosaic. The exhibits explore the artists, inventors, broadcasters, and other pioneers that have shaped Canadian music. On level three, the relation between the human body and music is featured. You can listen to notable Canadian voices or learn how music influences the brain and body. The fourth level has various instruments you can try out yourself. They range from guitar and keyboards to the theremin. There is also an exhibit called Bodyphonic in which your body is the instrument making music. Level five is called the Best of Canada. The exhibits contain instruments and memorabilia from some of Canada’s biggest artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young. You can also see the latest inductees to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
There are other reasons why the Studio Bell is a must visit. On display in the building’s west block is the legendary Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Studio. The equipment inside has been restored and it is also available to book for recording sessions.
Besides the exhibits, Studio Bell hosts concerts throughout the year. Music themed activities and events are also presented on weekends. Studio Bell has a summer program and an after school drop in jam club for youths aged 13-19. Recording studios can be booked, and meeting rooms and event spaces are available for rent.
Being a huge music lover, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Bell Studio. There were many interesting exhibits, plus I liked that you could try out different instruments. Even though it caters to musicians, anyone with a love for music will have a great time at Bell Studio.
Thursday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Tickets are bought in advance through the Studio Bell website. There are no fixed rates. Visitors pay what they can. The suggested rate is $15.00. If you are paying less than $10.00, you will need to buy the tickets in person at the front desk.
The Calgary Stampede is another staple of the city. For 10 days in July, Calgary celebrates Western Canadian culture with various shows and activities located across the city. Everyday at 1:30 pm at GMC stadium, six rodeo events take place. Some examples include bull riding and barrel racing. At 7:45 each night, the stadium hosts the Cowboys Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races. Once the race finishes, the Bell Grandstand Show begins featuring songs, dance routines, and acrobatics. The show concludes with an impressive fireworks display. Indigenous culture is also celebrated at the Calgary Stampede. The 2022 Stampede featured Indigenous performances like competitive dancing, singing, and drumming. Agricultural competitions and showcases are also held through the 10-day event. Competitions include the vintage tractor pull and the cutting horse competition. Showcases include sheep, swine, and miniature donkeys.
Concerts featuring prominent artists are held throughout the Stampede at different stages. You can also take in daily performances by the Stampede Showband. While the Calgary Stampede is mainly known for its Western themed shows, the food is another popular part of the event. The pancake breakfast is a time-honored tradition during the Calgary Stampede. The breakfast is provided by the Calgary Stampede Caravan, and the meal is completely free. There are several breakfast locations set up throughout Calgary, and they last the entire 10 days. At the Stampede grounds, Midway Foods offer unique and delicious treats from various vendors. Some standouts from the 2022 Stampede include the cookie dough mini donuts, deep fried mochi, and the Cajun fried cheese curd poutine.
The examples above are just some of the many things you can see and do at the Calgary Stampede. To help plan out your days, the Calgary Stampede website has schedule of the shows that take place.
The General Park is open from 11:00 am till midnight. Opening times can change depending on the day. Check the Calgary Stampede website for a list of the opening hours.
- General (13-64): $23.00
- Seniors (65+): $15.00
- Child (7-12): $14.00
- Child (under 7): Free
Winsport Olympic Park
The WinSport Olympic Park is a must visit for outdoor enthusiasts. The area is one of the legacy facilities from the 1988 Winter Olympics, which was held in Calgary. During the winter, the park is home to one of Canada’s largest ski and snowboarding schools. The hills are designed for all skill levels, and they include a halfpipe, terrain park, and FIS-sanctioned slopestyle course. There is also a tube park, which is the largest in Western Canada. In the summer, the zipline and bobsleigh track provide fast-paced excitement. There are also 25 km of mountain bike trails scattered throughout the park. And if you want a leisurely activity, you can play a round of 18-hole mini golf. The Park’s chairlift operates year round and provides a great view of all the activities plus the ski jump tower from the ’88 Winter Olympics.
I’ve been to the WinSport Olympic Park during the summer and winter. The only areas of the park I have experienced are the mini golf course and the winter hill. As someone who is pretty bad at golf, the course was fun and not to challenging. The winter hill was a decent size, but I found it to be a little small. I’m used to skiing in the mountains where there are plenty of runs for various abilities. The runs at the Park became a bit repetitive. They weren’t particularly challenging, so I eventually lost interest. But there are some positives to the winter hill. It is perfectly suited for beginner snowboarders and skiers. Plus, if you don’t want to drive out to the mountains, the location is very convenient.
With all that bein said, WinSport Olympic Park has plenty of activities for all ages and abilities.
Operating hours vary during the summer and winter. For updated times, visit the Hours of Operation page on the WinSport website.
Prince’s Island Park
Situated in downtown Calgary, Prince’s Island Park is great outdoor spot for families and large groups. Since its opening in the 1950s, the park has undergone several renovations. Today the park is full of pathways, picnic areas, gardens, and cross-country skiing trails. A wetland was recently constructed to treat storm water before it re-enters the Bow River. The wetland is also home various wildlife. I have not been to Prince’s Island Park, but it’s at the top of my list of parks to visit.
5:00 am – 11:00 pm
Nose Hill Park lies in the northwest area of Calgary and spans over 11 square kilometers. The park got its name form the unique shape of the hill, which resembles a nose. The park is one of the best examples of the grassland ecosystem common to the Canadian prairies. Tress, wildflowers, and shrubs are scattered throughout the park. You can also see animals like gophers, ground squirls, or porcupines. Larger animals like coyotes and deer are sometimes spotted as well.
Once you reach the plateau of the hill, you are greeted with amazing views of the Rocky Mountains, Bow River Valley, and the Calgary cityscape. If you want to bring your dog along, Nose Hill Park has designated off-leash areas.
5:00 am – 11:00 pm
Nestled in the southwest area of Calgary is North Glenmore Park. In my opinion, this park is one of the best in the city. I have been to the park numerous times over the years, and I have always enjoyed its stunning scenery. There are several paths in the park, and a favourite of mine is the one that overlooks the Glenmore reservoir. It offers amazing views of the Rocky Mountains, the surrounding grass lands, and of course the reservoir. The park also has a tennis court and numerous playgrounds. If you plan on having a get together with friends or family, BBQ and fire pits can be booked. Or you can use one of the many picnic tables/areas located throughout the park. In the wintertime, ice rinks and skate paths are set up. Christmas lights are also hung on the trees and gazebos/shelters to bring some festive cheer.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can walk over the Glenmore Pathway Pedestrian Bridge to explore the South Glenmore Park. I have not done this myself, but I plan on trying it in the near future.
In a city full of great outdoor areas, North Glenmore Park is one of the best. Whether it be hiking, biking, rowing, or having a cookout, it has something for everybody.
5:00 am- 11:00 pm.
Frequently asked questions about Calgary
How big is Calgary?
As I mentioned earlier, Calgary is Alberta’s largest city. The city itself is 848 square km in size, which comprises the inner area and the surrounding suburban communities. There is a total of 212 neighbourhoods in Calgary (this included residential residual, industrial, and park areas). In 2021, the city’s population was 1,306,784 people. If you factor in Calgary’s metropolitan area, the figure rises to 1,481,806 people.
Which hotels are the best in Calgary?
Higher end hotels in Calgary are mostly in the downtown area. These hotels have a good blend of quality rooms and service with a prime location (you are in walking distance of several attractions). Some examples include Le Germain Hotel Calgary, Hotel Arts, Calgary Marriot Downtown Hotel, and Alt Hotel Calgary East Village. Other hotels are located throughout the city. They include the standard Hilton, Sheraton and Best Western hotels.
Prices will depend on the quality of hotel and how many people are staying in a room. Higher end hotels will cost more, but you usually get better rooms and service in return. Cheaper options are sometimes not the best in terms of service and room quality. I recommend visiting websites like Tripadvisor to see a list of the best Calgary Hotels.
What are some good Calgary restaurants?
Calgary has many great restaurants, ranging from affordable eats to fine dining. As I mentioned previously, the Calgary Tower has two excellent restaurants, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Sky 360 Restaurant and Lounge. I’ve only been to Sky 360, and the food was tasty. Plus, the views were amazing. However, both restaurants are pricey. The Blue Star Diner is popular spot in Calgary. The restaurant serves up classic diner food like burgers, onion rings, and pancakes. The diner also caters to dietary requirements; vegan, gluten-free, and pork free options are available. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, the Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant is the place for you. It is perfect for wedding receptions, birthdays, grad dinners, and other large gatherings/celebrations.
One great restaurant I’ve been to in Calgary is Bolero. It is a Brazilian steakhouse that has a buffet style service. Once you are seated, your server will give you a three coloured cue. Green means the servers can start brining the grilled meat to the table. Flip to yellow if you need a break. Red signals that your ready to stop. There is also a fresco bar where you can grab sides like vegetables, rice, and chimichurri. Bolero is a true hidden gem restaurant. The food is delicious, and you’ll more than likely walk out feeling full and satisfied. I plan on visiting the restaurant the next time I’m in Calgary.
What is Calgary best known for?
There are many things that come to mind one you talk about Calgary. In terms of attractions and events, the city is mostly known for the Calgary Tower and the Calgary Stampede. The culture of Calgary does have a western flair to it. There are many stores selling cowboy boots, hats, and other related clothing/gear. Calgary is also known as the heart of Canada’s oil and gas industry. Many oil companies have headquarters set up in the downtown core. Besides oil and gas, other companies have their head offices in Calgary. In fact, the city has the second-highest concentration of head offices in Canada outside of Toronto. Calgary’s geography and climate are well known as well. The surrounding area is dominated by both the Rocky Mountains and prairie grasslands. Like other Canadian cities, Calgary typically has very cold winters. However, warm chinook winds are a stable of Calgary winters. They are a welcome relief from the cold temperatures.
How far is Calgary from Edmonton?
Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, is just north of Calgary. By car it takes about 3 hours to travel either direction. Taking the bus will take a little longer (up to one hour) depending on your departure and arrival points. There are also flights you can from Edmonton to Calgary and vice versa. They are by far the fastest method of travelling; flights are usually 50 minutes long.
How far is Calgary from Toronto?
If you are visiting Calgary from Toronto, flying is your best option. Flights from Toronto to Calgary are usually four hours long. But if you enjoy road trips, driving to Calgary will take about 33 hours. Some routs will have you cross the border into the U.S., while others remain in Canada the whole way through.
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