Calgary’s friendliness greets you as soon as you touch down at the airport. Literally. Volunteers in red vests and white hats wait with hearty hellos, handy local advice and maybe even handshakes or hugs, if you’re up for it.
It’s a genuine openness that will leave you wondering if you’ve just encountered a long-lost relative or are about to be taken home for dinner. And if by chance that invitation is extended, do accept it. While many treat it as a jumping-off point for a holiday (it’s within reach of a whopping six UNESCO sites, including Banff National Park) Calgary is a worthy destination in itself: a world-class hub that blends hip events and warm hospitality like no other. Kick off your shoes (maybe put on some boots) and stay a while.
Every July, the city has the kinetic energy of a firecracker as it hosts the Calgary Stampede: a showcase of rodeo, carnival, concerts, cuisine and Indigenous culture. But those riotous vibes aren’t confined to summer – visit Inglewood, the oldest and coolest neighbourhood, and you’ll find that what was once the city’s main thoroughfare, 9th Avenue, is now a charming, low-rise stretch of heritage sandstone and brick buildings. This strip houses boutiques, cafés, restaurants, microbreweries, galleries and enough live music venues to give it the nickname of Music Mile.
At its west end, Esker Foundation, a cutting-edge contemporary art gallery, sits atop a retail and commercial complex built on a reclaimed brownfield site. The base of the building nods to some of the neighbourhood’s industrial roots, while the fourth-floor gallery looks a bit like its namesake – an esker, which is a winding ridge of land formed by glacial activity. The rotation of exhibitions and events showcases works across all media, including performance .
Less than a five-minute walk from here lies one of the city’s best restaurants, Deane House, in an historic 1906 homestead. Rooms filled with bookshelves, preserves and crockery make it feel like home but the elevated menu is one you’ll happily dine out for. Think: bison striploin with Saskatoon berry and tamarind emulsion or maple toffee cake served with toasted cream and maple cotton candy.
Inglewood is carved out from central Calgary by the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, which marks a significant camping, hunting and ceremonial ground on the territory of the peoples of Treaty 7. When you cross the Elbow River to the west you’ll hit Fort Calgary – a National Historic Site with a museum dedicated to the region’s Indigenous cultures and the impact of colonisation. Follow a self-guided audio tour to listen to local stories as you walk picturesque riverfront walking trails with sweeping views of the downtown corridor.
The shores of Bow River will lead you to the East Village: an enclave next to the skyscrapers famed for its concentration of great eateries and the sweeping architectural masterpiece that is the Calgary Central Library. Food fans make a beeline for the Simmons Building (618 Confluence Way SE), a restored factory that now boasts a wood-fired steak grill, local coffee roaster, bakery and rooftop bar all in the one venue.
Top off your visit from the literal top of the city – that is, the observation deck of the Calgary Tower, 191 metres up. From here you can take in the whole metropolis, as well as the Rocky Mountains and the prairies that lie beyond. The diversity and scale will have you wondering why you didn’t book a stay for longer.
Go further beyond Calgary
Past the city limits you can experience everything from alpine adventures to archaeological wonders.
Banff and Lake Louise
Sitting inside Banff National Park, Banff and Lake Louise are famously postcard-perfect places to do winter. With soaring mountain peaks comes, of course, ample skiing, but there are many more ways to enjoy the snow – from fairytale-like sleigh rides to epic walks through icy canyons and even behind frozen waterfalls. Hot springs and spas offer the perfect place to unwind in any season. The mountain town of Banff is abuzz with restaurants, bars, shopping and galleries, while Lake Louise village is smaller and quieter, with most activity centred around the luxe, castle-like Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel.
Icefields Parkway Drive
Make sure your camera battery is charged. Icefields Parkway Drive, the 232-kilometre mountainous stretch of highway connecting Lake Louise to the town of Jasper, is one of the most magnificent drives you will ever take. The dramatic peaks and turquoise waters of Moraine Lake and the glaciers of the Columbia Icefields are among the many must-stop photo ops here.
Ready to go back in time? The Canadian Badlands, a prehistoric landscape carved with canyons and buttes, is where some of the world’s most significant and extensive fossils have been found. The town of Drumheller is your ideal base for a hike to see the odd-looking hoodoo rock formations – tall, thin rocks eroded into spires – while at Dinosaur Provincial Park you can try your hand at your own archeological discovery.
Image Credit: Tourism Calgary