Alberta’s prairie city is a terrific surprise. Before you venture into the iconic mountains of Banff National Park, spend a couple of days enjoying a lively food and art scene – and have a night on the Music Mile.
Hit the highlights
Downtown Calgary’s easily navigable grid connects architectural sights and public artworks with grassy patches of nature. Fuel up with a locally roasted morning coffee from Monogram at Fifth Avenue Place and start wandering…
It’s not far to the landmark The Bow building on 6th Avenue. This skyscraper is known for its triangular-patterned, curved façade. At its base you’ll also find one of the city’s most intriguing sculptures, Wonderland, which is a nearly 12-metre-high wire mesh head you can stand inside. As you stroll down the 8th Avenue SW pedestrian walkway (aka Stephen Avenue), shop at luxury boutiques before a lunch stop at one of the strip’s buzzing restaurants.
Cut through Olympic Plaza (pause to snap the perfect shot of Calgary Tower and, if it’s winter, twirl on the outdoor ice rink) en route to the Calgary Public Library. Adorned with “snowflakes”, this boat-shaped building is so striking that Time magazine included it on a list of The World’s Greatest Places. Inside, you’ll marvel at its lofty cedar atrium. Keep strolling to St. Patrick’s Island, a park floating at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. Here, you can join a Many Chief Tours walk to learn about the history and culture of the Blackfoot People with a member of the Blood Tribe.
Do the neighbourhoods
The entire city throws a party during the Calgary Stampede, the famed 10-day rodeo-meets-festival that celebrates Western heritage and culture each July. But the stretch of 9th Avenue SE known as the Music Mile offers a good time year-round. Jamming eateries and bars in between pulsing music houses, this avenue also connects two of Calgary’s coolest neighbourhoods. The riverside East Village precinct is where culinary entrepreneurs elevate casual eats in renovated industrial digs (try the gooey grilled cheese sandwich from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery). Inglewood has more of a quirky vibe with indie cafés and shops such as Indigenous arts and clothing boutique Moonstone Creation.
About a 90-minute drive west of the city, Banff National Park’s soaring, white-capped mountains and glacial lakes await. Every season in the Rockies is epic. In summer, hike deep forests and kayak waters so turquoise it’s surreal. In winter, ski resorts are blanketed with perfect powder and the towns of Banff and Lake Louise twinkle like snow globes. If you’ve come for a white Christmas, nothing will complete it like a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
To see a completely different landscape, drive about two hours east of Calgary to Dinosaur Provincial Park, where badlands are dotted with fossil fields and hoodoo rock formations that seem more Star Wars than The Sound of Music.
Eat and drink
Calgary’s restaurants make the most of Alberta’s abundant farmlands and rivers. Deane House, set in a historic home in Inglewood, pulls crowds with pan-seared rainbow trout and grass-fed tenderloin. Downtown, Ten Foot Henry’s spins charred cabbage and spicy cauliflower into surprising main courses. If you know about Alberta beef (and if you don’t, you should), head straight for Charbar for prime cuts of steak cooked on a wood-fire grill.
Modern, minimalist décor and oversized bathrooms drenched in natural light make the Hotel Le Germain feel like an escape in the heart of downtown. Elegantly luxurious suites at the historic Fairmont Palliser have hosted distinguished guests from King Edward VII to queen Oprah.