Modern MarvelsThe discovery of oil near Calgary in the 1900s fueled a growth spurt that even today shows no signs of slowing down. This former cow town has evolved into a cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers, shopping complexes and contemporary housing. The bustling downtown district—including the Stephen Avenue Walk, a popular pedestrian mall that extends from Bankers Hall to the city municipal buildings—has been designed to accommodate crowds of shoppers even during winter, when below-freezing temperatures would normally affect business. Enclosed walkways (called “plus-15s” in reference to their being 15 feet above street level) connect almost half the downtown buildings.
From Cow Town to Boom TownCalgary, once considered a cow town, now is one of Canada's fastest-growing cities, with skyscrapers, light-rail transit, shopping complexes, restaurants and contemporary houses. The city's economy began with—and still includes—ranching and the subsequent meatpacking industry, but the discovery of oil just south of the city in 1914 and just north in 1947 fueled a spurt of growth that turned an agricultural community into a metropolis.
Calgary today boasts a high concentration of corporate offices, the second largest in Canada. Energy, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and research and development comprise Calgary's industrial base.
The city's modern skyline, jagged with skyscrapers, makes a dramatic appearance on the vast expanse of Alberta prairie. To the west, almost mirroring Calgary's silhouette, are the Canadian Rockies, jutting into the sky just over an hour's drive away and a popular place for those in search of adventure travel. The Trans-Canada Highway, a major national east-west roadway, runs through the heart of the city; in Calgary the highway also is known as 16th Avenue.
The region's history of human habitation began almost 10,000 years before the first 19th-century fur and whiskey traders arrived. First Nations tribes chose the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers as a campsite; emerging as the dominant tribe was the Blackfoot. Their acquisition of horses allowed them to hunt buffalo and fight almost every other prairie tribe with great success. As European settlement increased, so did the friction between the natives and the newcomers.
An 1877 treaty calmed the rough waters, and relative peace among all factions has existed since. Several reservations, including the Tsuu T'ina Reserve south of the city, are near Calgary. Native North Americans have sought to assimilate themselves into Canadian culture while retaining their native heritage.
Chinese were recruited abroad in the late 1800s to build railroads; once the trains were running, however, immigration was restricted. Oil and money lured Americans who brought technology and investment funds needed to get Calgary's petroleum industry started. But many of those who came for the money enjoyed the area and stayed, becoming Canadian citizens.
Calgary's modern sophistication is offset by a romantic perception of the past—a past in which the city was established as a North West Mounted Police fort in 1875. The Calgary Stampede, a 10-day Western wingding, is attended by more than a million residents and visitors every July who relive the days of chuck wagons and lassos. Those days existed more than a century ago, after the North West Mounted Police—the forerunner of today's Royal Canadian Mounted Police—and the railroad brought law, order and homesteaders to a region previous settled by trappers, buffalo hunters and whiskey traders.
Although Calgary's growth has been rapid, it has been practical. The downtown district was designed to accommodate a large amount of activity, even during winter. Enclosed walkways called “plus-15s” (since they are 15 feet above street level) connect almost half the downtown buildings, making it possible to eat, work and shop without donning a mitten.
The Stephen Avenue Walk, a brick pedestrian mall in the city center lined with restored late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, trees, statues and benches, is an urban refuge from traffic as well as a nice place to people watch and find places to eat or a stroll in warm weather.
Nearby is Olympic Plaza, the site of the awards ceremonies during the 15th Olympic Winter Games, held in Calgary in 1988, and now a popular venue for events and festivals.
By CarTwo major highways pass through Calgary. Queen Elizabeth II Hwy. runs north and south through the city; Trans-Canada Hwy. provides access from the east and west. Hwy. 1A, which connects Calgary and Cochrane, also serves as an alternate travel route between Calgary and the towns of Canmore and Banff. Hwy. 8 connects Calgary with Bragg Creek.
Street SystemCalgary is divided into quadrants, with Centre Street separating the east and west sectors and the Bow River and Memorial Drive delineating north and south. Streets run north and south, avenues east and west. All are numbered from the intersection of Centre Street and Centre Avenue, just north of downtown. Roads in suburban areas are numbered where they form grids and named where they do not.
The speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour (30 mph) or as posted. A right turn on red after stopping is permitted unless otherwise posted; U-turns are not. Other restrictions apply during rush hours in certain areas; be aware of signs, especially in school and playground zones. Pedestrian crosswalks are designated by “X” signs, and motorists must yield to pedestrians.
ParkingParking is not permitted on major roads in the downtown core during rush hours, between 6:30 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6 p.m. Downtown metered street parking usually is limited to 2 hours at a maximum cost of $5 per hour. Pay parking for extended periods is available at numerous locations. Rates for downtown parking lots range from $2-$4 per half-hour during the day.
Elevation1,048 m/3,440 ft.
Sales TaxThe federal Goods and Service Tax is 5 percent and applies to most goods, food/beverages and services, including lodgings. Alberta does not have a provincial sales tax but does impose a 4 percent tourism levy on hotel rooms.
Police (non-emergency)(403) 266-1234
Road Conditions(877) 262-4997
HospitalsFoothills Medical Centre, (403) 944-1110; Peter Lougheed Centre, (403) 943-4555; Rockyview General Hospital, (403) 943-3000.
Visitor InformationTourism Calgary 238 11th Ave. S.E. Calgary, AB T2G 0X8. Phone:(403)263-8510 or (800)661-1678
Air TravelCalgary International Airport (YYC) is northeast of downtown off Hwy. 2 exit 266. Cheap plane tickets and international flights are available from many airline carriers and travel sites. Check with your local AAA office for cheap airline flights and vacation packages.
Public bus transportation to and from the airport is offered by Calgary Transit via Route 300, with service to and from downtown for $10.50. Taxi service between the airport and a downtown destination typically costs $40-$45. Sedan service to or from airport $46.75. Many hotels also offer free shuttle service for their guests.
Rental CarsHertz, downtown or at the airport, offers discounts to CAA and AAA members; phone (403) 221-1676, (800) 654-3131.
Rail ServiceThe nearest VIA Rail stations are in Jasper and Edmonton; phone (888) 842-7245.
BusesRed Arrow Express operates luxury motor coaches between Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge; phone (403) 531-0350 or (800) 232-1958.
TaxisTaxi companies include Associated Cab, (403) 299-1111; Checker Yellow Cab, (403) 299-9999; and Mayfair Taxi, (403) 255-6555. Allied Limousine provides town car and limo service; phone (403) 299-9555. Taxi rates begin at $3.80 for the first 120 metres (about .074 mi.) or portion thereof, plus 20c for each additional 120 metres (about .074 mi.) or portion thereof (unless departing from Calgary International Airport, where rates are $8.30 for the first 120 metres, then 20c for each additional 120 metres). Cabs can be hailed on the street, but phoning ahead is recommended.
Public TransportationCalgary has both bus and light-rail transit (LRT) service; the latter, known as the CTrain, is free in the downtown core. Calgary Transit's office, 125 7th Ave. S.E., has schedules and maps and sells transit passes. Fare is $3.30; $2.30 (ages 6-17). A 1-day pass is $10.50; $7.50 (ages 6-17). Phone (403) 262-1000.
What to Do in CalgaryZip to the top of Calgary Tower (101 9th Ave. S.W.) via high-speed elevator to take in a fantastic 360-degree view of the city, a great way to get your bearings. Built to commemorate Canada's centennial, the tower has been a distinctive city landmark since 1968.
Pull on a pair of cowboy boots and celebrate all things wild and western during the Calgary Stampede , a rodeo-centered event attended by more than a million people. For 10 days each July, the Stampede puts on a tremendous show that not only includes barrel racing, bull riding and chuck wagon races, but also fireworks, parades, a carnival midway and a huge outdoor music festival.
Walk in the footsteps of Olympic greats from the 1988 Winter Games at Canada Olympic Park (88 Canada Olympic Rd. S.W.), a year-round destination for sports offering a zipline and bobsleigh runs in summer and skiing, snowboarding and luge rides in winter.
Listen to birdsong as you wander through the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (2425 9th Ave. S.E.), a lovely bit of wooded parkland just minutes from downtown Calgary. And once your inner peace has been restored, explore nearby Inglewood, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. It's a place known for boutiques, art galleries, antique stores and local restaurants, especially along 9th Avenue S.E.
At TELUS Spark (220 St. George's Dr. N.E.), get answers to such weighty questions as: What does it mean to be human? What natural forces have shaped our world? How can we harness energy for our use? The state-of-the-art science center is filled with high-tech displays that engage both children and adults. The two-level building houses exhibit galleries, the HD Digital Dome Theatre, learning labs, an interactive kids museum and more. The outdoor Brainasium, a .4-hectare (1-acre) park, teaches young visitors about gravity and acoustics.
Discover the bravery of Canada's heroes at The Military Museums (4520 Crowchild Tr. S.W.), showcasing the nation's army, navy and air force as well as four army regiments. Tanks and a fighter jet seem poised for battle outside the museum, while inside dramatic dioramas and displays of weaponry, medals and photographs bring Canada's military history to life.
Flip, fly and fall courtesy of thrill rides at Calaway Park (245033 Range Rd. 33), where the amusements range from tame to terrifying. The Adrenaline Test Zone, Chaos and the Vortex roller coaster are in the latter group, but there are plenty of rides designed for smaller children as well. Plus, with various carnival games on-site, the whole family can compete for plush prizes—and glory. The park also offers a miniature golf course, live shows and a 3-D theater that are fun things to do with friends.
Take a trip back through time to the age of the dinosaurs at the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park (1300 Zoo Rd. N.E.), home to a collection of fierce-looking dinosaur replicas, to say nothing of the even more impressive collection of living, breathing animals from all over the world. Such creatures as gentoo penguins, grizzly bears, cougars, bison, mountain goats and wolves thrive within their particular re-created habitats.
Imagine rubbing elbows with one of 19th-century Calgary's wealthiest and most influential families when you enter Lougheed House (707 13th Ave. S.W.), their imposing sandstone mansion. Stroll through the formal gardens and you'll understand why the estate was named Beaulieu, French for “beautiful place.”
Calgary Travel with Kids
Things to Do With Kids Under 13Puppeteers, storytellers and theater troupes fill the city with imaginative fun during the Calgary International Children’s Festival (205 8th Ave. S.E.), a summer event that has been providing family fun in Calgary for over 30 years. Dozens of ticketed performances—some in English and some in French—delight children with stories from all over the world. Free dance workshops, concerts and other fun things to do with kids take place on the outdoor plaza.
Horse lovers can’t beat a day at Spruce Meadows (18011 Spruce Meadows Way S.W.), an equestrian center just south of the city. On days when there are no show jumping events, visitors may wander the well-kept grounds for free and pet the horses in their stables.
Things to Do With Teens
Those who speak the language of music will appreciate a visit to Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre (850 4 St. S.E.). The architecturally striking building—opened in 2016 with a $191 million price tag—features interactive exhibits and memorabilia covering Canada’s music history as well as vocal booths where you can test your singing abilities.
What to Do for All AgesTry traditional Dutch pancakes (“pannenkoek”) at Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus (2439 54th Ave. S.W.), a local favorite that has appeared on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here.” Not your typical fluffy pancake, the Dutch variety is rolled thin like a crepe. Diners choose from savory and sweet ingredients including pineapple, smoked sausage and even ice cream.
Lemurs and tigers and dinosaurs—oh my! One of the most popular Calgary attractions and fun places to go is the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park (1300 Zoo Rd. N.E.), which just so happens to be as fun for adults as it is for children. Don’t miss the Prehistoric Park where dozens of life-size dinosaur models occupy the grounds.
See what all the fuss is about at Village Ice Cream, the dessert spot that consistently tops the lists of the “Best Ice Cream in Calgary.” Hand-crafted and locally sourced flavors are anything but boring; maple pecan, huckleberry, Earl Grey and dairy-free varieties are among the selections. Find three locations around the city.
Shopping in CalgaryFind Deals Downtown
Stephen Avenue Walk, a downtown pedestrian mall and shopping destination, extends from Bankers Hall to the city municipal buildings. This popular spot for people watching features shops, galleries and nearby restaurants housed within historic buildings. Also downtown, a five-block shopping complex linked by an indoor walkway includes the more than 200 boutiques, department stores and retail chains of The CORE Shopping Centre (333 7th Ave. S.W.), Bankers Hall (315 8th Ave. S.W.) and Scotia Centre (225 7th Ave. S.W.).
Unique specialty shops, kiosks and local restaurants are the draw at Eau Claire Market , adjacent to the Bow River and Prince's Island Park at 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street S.W. If you’re looking for things to do this weekend in Calgary, the Eau Claire Market is it.
Malls and Familiar Brands
Major department stores and a wide variety of chain and specialty stores occupy the city's shopping centers. If your vacation isn’t complete without a trip to a mall, check out Chinook Centre (6455 Macleod Tr. S.W.), Market Mall (3625 Shaganappi Tr. N.W.), North Hill Centre (1384-1414 19th Ave. N.W.), Northland Village (5111 Northland Dr. N.W.), Southcentre Mall (100 Anderson Rd. S.E.), Sunridge Mall (2525 36th St. N.E.) and Willow Park Village (10816 Macleod Tr. S.E.).
Calgary NightlifeWhether you’re in town for a business trip, a family vacation or the 10-day Calgary Stampede held in July, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in Calgary after dark.
Bars & Cocktail LoungesJust south of the downtown core (between 11th and 17th avenues S.W.) is the Beltline district, home to a handful of trendy restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges and one of the best areas for nightlife in Calgary.
If it’s cold brews you’re after, head to CRAFT Beer Market (345 10th Ave. S.W.), a casual bar and restaurant that claims to have Canada’s largest selection of draft beer. You’re bound to find something you like among the more than 100 local and international beers on tap. After 9 p.m. admittance is 18 years and up; phone (403) 514-2337.
Handcrafted cocktails earn rave reviews at Milk Tiger Lounge (1410 4th St. S.W.), an unassuming spot with a full range of classic drinks. Skilled mixologists will whip you up something from the extensive menu—a Pimm’s Cup or a Manhattan, anyone?—with a side of friendly conversation. To find the lounge, just look for the small logo of a white tiger above the door; phone (403) 261-5009.
Another bar that draws a decidedly hipster clientele is Proof (1302 1st St. S.W.), where inventive cocktails and old-fashioned service reign supreme. Comfy leather seats and a menu of 40+ alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails plus beer, wine, espresso drinks and small plates means you can sit and stay here a while. Admittance is 18 years and up; phone (403) 246-2414
flickr / CC BY ND/Lambert Rellosa
Nightclubs & Dance Halls
If you’re visiting Calgary during Stampede week, show off your line-dancing skills (or learn how to two-step) at Ranchman’s Cookhouse & Dancehall (9615 Macleod Trail S.), where many pro rodeo contestants go after Stampede competitions. The country nightclub has been a Calgary destination since 1972 and offers live country music daily plus top 40, rock and other genres; phone (403) 253-1100.
Other ActivitiesIf you’re looking for something a little more relaxed to do after dinner, a stroll on the RiverWalk makes for a pleasant evening. The promenade follows the Bow River’s south shore from the Centre Street Bridge in Chinatown to 9th Avenue S.E. near Fort Calgary, with benches and observation decks along the way. In the East Village, pop into The Simmons Building (618 Confluence Way S.E.), a restored 1912 mattress factory that now houses Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and the adults-only Rooftop Bar @ Simmons; phone (587) 353-2268 for Phil & Sebastian and (403) 452-3115 for the rooftop bar.
Calgary Performing ArtsWhether you’re in Calgary on vacation or just looking for things to do this weekend, you’ll find plenty of options in Calgary. The city's most popular theater and music companies perform in the Arts Commons at 205 8th Ave. S.E. The center is shared by Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Calgary, One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre, Calgary International Children's Festival, Downstage and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to four theaters and a concert hall, it contains shops, a restaurant and a coffee bar. For information about performance schedules and ticket sales phone the Arts Commons box office at (403) 294-9494.
Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, 1415 14th Ave. N.W., stages a variety of performing arts, including touring companies of Broadway musicals and presentations by Calgary Opera; for details phone the opera company at (403) 262-7286 or the auditorium at (403) 297-8000.
A popular dinner theater that often showcases well-known performers in its productions is Stage West, 727 42nd Ave. S.E.; phone (403) 243-6642. Other theater, dance and music companies operate locally; check newspapers for performance schedules. Check with your local AAA travel office for information about vacation packages and additional things to do in Calgary to add to your trip.
Calgary Sports & RecreationCalgary was an appropriate choice as host of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games—opportunities for adventurous things to do indoors and outdoors abound. For information about recreational activities, programs and facilities visitors can phone the city's recreation department by dialing 311 in Calgary or (403) 268-2489.
In winter public skiing facilities at Canada Olympic Park and in numerous areas nearby are available. Canada Olympic Park also is where to go for other winter sports, such as bobsledding, luge, ski jumping and snowboarding.
At Repsol Sport Centre, 2225 Macleod Tr. S., swimming, track events and weight lifting are among the popular activities; phone (403) 233-8393. Similar facilities are offered at the following leisure centers: Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA, 101 3rd St. S.W.; phone (403) 269-6701; Southland Leisure Center, 2000 Southland Dr. S.W.; phone (403) 648-6555; and Village Square Leisure Center, 2623 56th St. N.E.; phone (403) 366-3900. The latter two offer wave pools.
Ice-skating is featured during the winter at Olympic Plaza as well as year-round at more than two dozen other locations. The Olympic Oval, at 2500 University Dr. N.W., is the site of the 1988 Olympic speed-skating events; skate rentals are available.
With spectacular natural areas nearby, many visitors to Calgary will be lured to the wilds to enjoy canoeing, camping, rafting, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Walking and bicycling trails meander through these regions, as do cross-country skiing routes. Tennis and swimming enthusiasts will find courts and pools throughout Calgary.
Golf lovers can play at more than 40 local courses, including 18 holes at Maple Ridge, 1240 Mapleglade Dr. S.E.; McCall Lake, 1600 32nd Ave. N.E.; McKenzie Meadows, 17215 McKenzie Meadows Dr.; and Shaganappi Point, 1200 26th St. S.W. Nine-hole courses are at Confederation Park, 3204 Collingwood Dr. N.W.; and Lakeview, 5840 19th St. S.W. Some private courses accept visiting golfers; check locally for greens fees and restrictions.
With names like Flames, Stampeders Roughnecks and Hitmen, Calgary's major sports teams cannot help but be exciting. The Flames play ice hockey at Scotiabank Saddledome, 555 Saddledome Rise S.E. in Stampede Park; phone (403) 777-4646.
The local Canadian Football League team, the Calgary Stampeders, pounds the turf at McMahon Stadium, off 16th Avenue at 1817 Crowchild Tr. N.W. Tickets can be obtained by phoning the box office at (403) 289-0258 or (800) 667-3267. Ticket prices are $36.50-$123.50.
Spruce Meadows, an outdoor equestrian center and show jumping venue 3 kilometres (2 mi.) west on Hwy. 22X (Spruce Meadows Trail) from Macleod Trail at 18011 Spruce Meadows Way S.W., has world-class programs, including international show jumping events. On days when no shows are scheduled the grounds are open free to the public, daily 9-6. Visitors are invited to wander the grounds, picnic and view horses as they are exercised by the trainers; phone (403) 974-4200 for a schedule of Spruce Meadows events.
Bus, Train and Van Travel ToursBrewster Travel Canada offers trips around Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and the Columbia Icefield; phone (403) 762-6700 or (866) 606-6700 for schedules and fares.
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations offers scenic vacation packages, including the Rocky Mountaineer, a 2-day, all-daylight, narrated rail tour between Canada's west and the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer tour departs mid-April to mid-October; phone (604) 606-7245 or (877) 460-3200. Contact your local AAA travel agency for information about vacation packages and group travel options.
1-day ItineraryAAA editors suggest these activities for a great short vacation experience.
MorningStart your day out and about in Calgary with breakfast at Diner Deluxe (804 Edmonton Tr. N.E.). This fun, 1950s retro-cool eatery serves classic eggs-and-toast breakfasts along with French toast stuffed with Gouda and Canadian bacon and a French-Canadian twist on hash browns involving cheese curds and hollandaise sauce.
You'll want to spend a few hours exploring the zoo's carefully designed animal enclosures and exhibits. Learn about grizzly bears and wolves in the zoo's Canadian Wilds section, or check out the life-size dinosaur models in Prehistoric Park. You also won't want to miss Penguin Plunge, where you'll witness four species of penguins waddling and shaking their tail feathers in an indoor-outdoor exhibit complete with a waterfall.
In addition, the zoo offers such educational programs as zookeeper talks, nature walks and daily meet and greets with zoo residents that range from talkative parrots to laid-back turtles. If you're traveling with kids in Calgary, they'll love the zoo's storytime presentations and its game-filled activity center.
AfternoonCross the river into downtown to arrive at the Glenbow Museum (130 9th Ave. S.E.), a complex that includes both a history museum housing more than a million artifacts and an art gallery with thousands of works of art. Although the culture and heritage of Western Canada is the focus here, you'll also find cultures outside of Canada represented, for example, in the Asian Gallery and within an exhibition of West African cultural artifacts. There's also an extensive mineral collection with a dazzling assortment of sparkling gemstones.
Courtesy of Sky 360
Park at the Eau Claire Market (200 Barclay Parade S.W.) and take the Jaipur footbridge across to the island. The River Café (25 Prince's Island Park) occupies a rustic wood-and-stone building that evokes a cabin deep in the woods, yet looking out over the river from its patio, you see downtown's office towers. Make reservations because the café's lovely setting and fabulous dishes specializing in wild game and fish make it a popular dinner spot highly sought-after by both locals and visitors.
Calgary EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Sing Goodbye to the Winter Blues
The Calgary Midwinter BluesFest takes place over 6 days in late February in venues throughout Calgary. The event features concerts by national blues performers; dance parties; and the Singing the Blues Vocal Camp, a workshop for aspiring singers.
Spring Brings Kid-Friendly Events
Calgary International Children's Festival draws performers from such locales as Peru, Germany, Russia and Zimbabwe. The 4-day festival offers many fun things to do including music, puppetry, dance and storytelling. In early June, the Lilac Festival at 4th Street features a parade and concerts—along with tons of vendors hawking artisan crafts.
Summer's Big Events
Despite a focus on the modern oil and gas industry, Calgary citizens recall their past with the Calgary Stampede , held in July. This 10-day Wild West exhibition features a rodeo, chuck wagon races, livestock shows, beach-themed attractions, educational displays, shopping, extreme sports events and a midway. Parades, fireworks, street dancing, pancake breakfasts and other activities create a carnival-like atmosphere. Contact a travel advisor at your local AAA travel agency to book vacation packages that include the Calgary Stampede. Families enjoy the cultural and musical events that take place during the Calgary Folk Music Festival , held over 4 days in late July.
GlobalFest takes place in August and features such events as an international fireworks competition and a multicultural celebration. Visitors can sample fine foods and beverages from local restaurants at the Eau Claire Market during Taste of Calgary in mid-August.
During Labour Day weekend BBQ on the Bow offers a barbecue competition, live performances by local bands, a children's craft tent, and vendors selling food samples and take-home goods. The Masters Tournament takes place in September at the Spruce Meadows outdoor equestrian center, off Hwy. 22X (Spruce Meadows Trail) and Macleod Trail. Other racing and dressage events are held at the center throughout the year.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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