Situated in a dramatic setting between prairies and peaks, this cosmopolitan southern Alberta city is a more than chic metropolis that manages to buzz constantly with innovative energy—all while embracing an equally as rich Western heritage. It even earned itself the nickname “Cowtown,” thanks to its annual Calgary Stampede-- the massive July rodeo and festival that grew out of farming exhibitions once presented in the area.
Still, with the eastern face of the Rockies serving as a beautiful backdrop, the concrete-and steel skyline of the city seems to emerge from those barren plains by sheer force of will, taking along with it, various elements of the Canadian West— i.e. mountains, railroads, cowboys, cattle, oil— to create a modern and soulful urban city that’s culturally sizzling, ever-evolving, and purely magical.
Whether you’re looking for action, culture, family fun, or just a bit of romance and relaxation, Calgary has got a wide variety of attractions to keep you fully entertained. Immerse yourself in that Wild West spirit at the annual Calgary Stampede, a ten-day rodeo whoop-up that’s known as the city’s claim to fame. Sports lovers will also be interested in the number of professional football and hockey teams in town, especially at the Scotiabank Saddledome, which is home to the NHL's Calgary Flames. There’s also the fact that Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics—it is home to miles of downhill slopes and cross-country ski trails that are perfect for those wanting to do some extreme outdoor sports. Be sure to also check out Olympic Plaza, Calgary Tower, the Calgary Zoo, the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, and Glenbow Museum, the largest museum in Western Canada that features over 93,000 square feet of exhibition space spreading over three floors.
Other places to pop by would be Prince's Island Park, immediately north of Eau Claire in the Bow River—it’s Calgary's largest inner city park complete with its own island and a number of pleasant trails for walking and relaxing. There are also an array of festivals held on site such as, “Shakespeare in the Park,” the Calgary Folk Music Festival, and Carifest. Why not stroll through Fort Calgary Historic Park or the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary & Nature Centre, a 32-hectare wildlife reserve that offers more than two kilometers of walking trails throughout a riverine forest that is open from sunrise to sunset? Shopaholics need not go further than Barclay Mall, a pedestrian mall that’s home to numerous high end shops, as well as Stephen Avenue Walk, one of the area’s most famous streets. It was declared a National Historic District by the Canadian Government and serves as a major venue for boutique shopping, bars, pubs, and restaurants. Calgary Farmers' Market and Eau Claire Market are also stellar spots to gawk over and gather up some awesome local goods.
Just outside of Calgary, there are tons of places to explore as well. Super close by is Calaway Park, Western Canada's largest amusement park located on Highway 1. The kids will for sure fall in love, making it a perfect daytime adventure for the entire family. Maybe try heading out to Spruce Meadows, which is located just south of the city proper on Highway 22X, or Heritage Park, one of the largest living historical villages in North America where you can ride a paddlewheel boat, see over a hundred and fifty historical exhibits, eat your way through a candy store and a bakery, and then finish out the day by playing in an old fashioned amusement park.
If you’re looking for a more cultural experience, try heading out to the heart of the region’s Asian diaspora in Canada's third largest Chinatown located at the northeast portion of downtown Calgary. The area of about a half-dozen blocks packs in a dense network of Asian restaurants, shops, housing, and cultural facilities. In the north-east area is also the Baitun-Nur Mosque, which owned by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and houses the largest mosque in all of North America.
Nearby Banff and Lake Louise are also well-known retreats, popular for their ample array of winter ski areas and mountain summer escape options. Kananaskis Country and Canmore are other mountain destinations about an hour-long car ride away, as well as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, just a few hours south of Calgary. For those hoping to get even further away, head north on Highway 2 to check out the city of Edmonton, Alberta’s capital, and the nearest urban metropolitan center to the North. It’s got a vibrant cultural scene not to mention North America's largest mall! On the way, you’ll even pass by the city of Red Deer, which is located exactly halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, and has its own lengthy list of attractions to check out.
From hotels, motels, and hostels, to charming inns, B&B’s, lodges, and guest ranches, you’ll find a wide variety of accommodation options in Calgary. The area near the airport is a fine place to stay, and a good option if you’re setting yourself up to fly the next day or just arrived in the city. To be close to the action, consider finding a vacation rental near the downtown area. 4th Street NW, 11th Avenue SW and 7th Avenue SW are good streets to stay near if you’re interested in being within walking distance from great dining and shopping.
Luckily for travelers, Calgary is divided into four quadrants: Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE) and Southwest (SW), making it fairly easy to get to most destinations of interest with just the use of city public transit (which is famous for being a fast, efficient, and super extensive system!). The C-Train (LRT) always runs faithfully and frequently, or you can opt for higher end services such as Greyhound, Red Arrow, and Executive Express, which runs a daily schedule from Calgary to Edmonton.
By itself, Downtown Calgary is an incredibly compact area that’s easily accessible on foot. The pathway system, which includes the Eau Claire Market area and Stephen Avenue Mall (8th Avenue), are all primary walking destinations for locals and tourists alike, especially during the warmer months when the city is as beautiful as ever. Biking is also encouraged, as there are approximately 635 km of pathways and 260 km of on-street bikeways-- you’ll be glad to know that Calgary actually boasts the most extensive urban pathway and bikeway network in North America!
Jet-setters can whiz their way into the city via Calgary International Airport, which is served by a volunteer force of mostly retirees dressed in red and white Western wear who are all extremely friendly and always happy to point lost travelers in the right direction.
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