When booking a getaway north of the border, Calgary may not be the first place that springs to mind. Though it may not be as well-known of a travel destination as a Toronto or Montreal, make no mistake: Calgary is a place to be.
Alberta’s largest city, located in the eastern foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet is an active and growing metropolis, home to 1.2 million people. Every year, millions of tourists flock to see its gorgeous scenery, unique attractions, and rich culture. Its mix of natural, outdoor experiences and modern, urban culture make it an exciting vacation spot for any traveler.
When to Go
Deciding when to book your stay depends largely on what you would like to do. Despite the snow and the low temperatures during the winter months, Calgary is a beautiful and exciting destination this time of year.
Given its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Calgary has always been a popular spot for winter sporting events and activities, including skiing, ice skating, tobogganing, sledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing and hiking. In fact, in 1988, Calgary held the first-ever Winter Olympic Games in Canada.
Plus, there are plenty of indoor museums, zoos, tours and venues for guests that want to step out of the cold for a little while and enjoy Calgary at a different pace.
If cold weather is not ideal, there are a host of activities waiting for tourists in the summer. With mild average temperatures in the low 60s, exploring the city can be done comfortably, spared from the sometimes oppressive heat and humidity of a warmer area. In the summer the city offers attractions like outdoor festivals, concerts, sporting events, national parks, and more. In Calgary, there is an exciting vacation no matter the time of year.
Where to Stay
The boutique Kensington Riverside Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property, is located alongside the Bow River and just a short walk from the iconic pedestrian Peace Bridge. The top accommodations are the three Riverside Suites, totaling 566 square feet. They each include a fireplace, balcony, two-person deep soaking tub, and Chef's Table in-room dining, plus more. Chef de Cuisine Sean Cutler runs the Oxbow restaurant, where he takes an artful approach to comfort food.
If you're looking to get out of the city, the hotel can help you arrange horseback riding, fishing, biking/mountain biking, canoeing, skiing/cross-country skiing, hunting, golfing and more. Want to try your luck in the Olympic Oval speed skating? Kensington Riverside Inn can make it happen.
The Fairmont Palliser Hotel
Planted right in the heart of downtown Calgary, the Fairmont Palliser Hotel offers luxury service and amenities within walking distance of the city’s busiest and most attraction-packed area. The 407-room hotel recently renovated its guestrooms and suites with all of the modern comforts. At the hotel, guests will find both spa and fitness facilities, as well as elegant dining coordinated by executive chef Eraj Jayawickreme.
Not to mention you’ll be right near shops, entertainment venues, and popular landmarks. It’s even an historical landmark itself, as it has been in service for over 100 years.
Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire
Located just a minute away from Prince's Island Park and walking trails, the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire puts guests in a more scenic and natural part of the downtown area. Right next to the hotel is the famous Eau Claire Market, home to numerous one-of-a-kind dining, fashion, leisure, business and sporting experiences.
The Sheraton has over 300 rooms, luxury suites, two restaurants, a salon, in-room spa amenities, and other personalized services.
The Calgary Stampede
Perhaps the area's most unique attraction, the Calgary Stampede is a truly unforgettable experience that explains exactly why the city is so affectionately nicknamed "Cowtown."
Held every year in July, the Stampede is a 10-day extravaganza of rodeos, exhibitions and festivals. Nine rodeo events, including barrel rolling and bull riding, are the main attractions each day followed by the two evening shows: the GMC Rangeland Derby, and the Transalta Grandstand Show with musical performances, stunts, and pyrotechnics.
Every year, the city embraces the Western theme and takes on a party atmosphere; dressing buildings up in Wild West décor. In many ways, it has become part of Calgary’s identity.
Canada Olympic Park
Previously home to the 1988 Olympic Games, the park is now a thrill-seeker’s dream. Operated by WinSport Canada, the park offers many summer and winter sporting activities such as skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, zip lining, bobsledding, mini golf and a tube park.
Sports fans can make a stop at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, a fun and educational record of Canadian sports history that's right on the grounds of the park.
The Calgary Zoo
Founded in 1917 and located in the neighborhood of Bridgeland-Riverside, the Calgary Zoo is the most visited zoo in Canada and is home to over 700 animals representing 130 species.
Its themed attractions include: Destination Africa, which contains a 90,000-gallon warm-water hippo pool, as well as gorillas, lions, giraffes, and zebras; Penguin Plunge, the newest exhibit at the zoo, home to four species of penguins; and The Canadian Wilds, a 20-acre area of the zoo dedicated to showcasing Canadian wildlife.
The Glenbow Museum
Established in 1966, this art and history museum has been an important hub of Calgary culture for the past 50 years. Since its inception, the museum has developed an impressive collection of documents, photographs, and artworks, a collection that now contains over a million items.
The Glenbow holds a full calendar of art exhibitions, tours, and talks, making it not only a historical archive of Canada, but also showcase for contemporary culture. Last year, over 125,000 visitors came through the museum, including 65,000 students as part of Glenbow’s school programs that encourage creativity, critical thinking, and social engagement in their children.
Where to Eat
When a restaurant has an unforgettable glimpse of the city, an award winning wine list, and is within a popular landmark, it’s hard to pass up.
Perched atop the Calgary Tower, Sky 360 offers that and more. With a bird’s eye view of Calgary and observation deck access, guests can marvel at the beauty of the city as they dine on modern Canadian cuisine prepared through contemporary French techniques.
The River Cafe
Right in Prince’s Island Park along the Bow River, the River Café offers patrons a chance to connect with Calgary’s natural beauty as they enjoy fresh meat and seafood entrées served up by the award-winning restaurant. The café serves locally sourced, seasonal Canadian cuisine with an emphasis on respect and care for its ingredients. Its award-winning food and drink are topped off by artisan pastries and desserts produced in-house.
The River café is an environmentally conscious establishment that focuses on sustainability through the reduction of waste, the use of green energy, and sourcing from dozens of urban farmers in the area.
The Restaurant at Lougheed House
Have an elegant lunch—or brunch—at the historic mansion in downtown Calgary, a place that has attracted royal figures since its opening in 1891. The cozy and historic Restaurant at Lougheed House has a modest menu of familiar-yet-refined midday food options that anyone can enjoy
When guests are done eating, they can take an hour-long house tour to learn about its rich history or just explore the three-acre site themselves and take in the beautifully maintained flower and vegetable gardens on the property.