Calgary travel guide
Calgary is situated 200 miles (322km) north of the US border, on the banks of the Bow River, below the Rocky Mountains. Although Alberta's second city, Edmonton, is the state capital, Calgary is the largest, offering all the trappings of urban life as the territory's commercial and cultural centre, along with the pleasure of enjoying the dramatic countryside that surrounds the city. Splendid national parks flourishing on Calgary's doorstep act as a magnet for hikers, fishermen and lovers of the great outdoors. The city, set on the Trans-Canada highway, is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain resorts, which in winter attract skiers from all over the continent.
The downtown area of Calgary not only serves as a shopping, entertainment, cultural and recreation centre for locals, but it is also a tourist centre for more than four million visitors a year who come for the tourist attractions and annual festivals, wonderful parks and open spaces, and a selection of excellent shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros. The city is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede, a world-class cowboy carnival and rodeo that draws more than a million people every year to watch the action and be entertained by its accompanying festivities.
For over 10,000 years the site on which Calgary sits today was home to the Blackfoot Indians; the first European settlers did not arrive until 1860. Colonel James Macleod established the small trading post, Fort Calgary, named after Calgary Bay on his native Isle of Mull in Scotland. The Pacific Railway reached the town in 1883, but it was not until the discovery of oil in Turner Valley, 22 miles (35km) southwest of the city, that the population started to explode. Wander the streets in your Stetson beneath the sparkling skyscrapers built on the back of the oil boom, dine on a juicy steak in a saloon with country music playing in the background, and it will be hard to decide whether you are in Calgary or Texas.
Located in the heart of Calgary, opposite the tower, the Glenbow
Museum is Canada's largest museum, with more than 93,000 square
feet (8,640 sq metres) of exhibition space, spread over three
floors. It houses more than a million objects that fill up its 20
galleries and showcase the colourful history of Canada's West.
Explore the exhibits to discover the people, stories and events that shaped the region from its First Nations to the arrival of the European settlers. There is a family-friendly Discovery Room, which is an open studio full of educational activities and crafts that bring the museum to life. A special feature is the Blackfoot Gallery, which tells the story of the Nitsitapi people through interactive displays, artefacts, a film and circular narrative path. There are also some 28,000 artworks dating from the 19th century to the present on display in the museum. Glenbow's library is a treasure trove of reference materials on western Canada and the Glenbow Archives are a major research centre for historians, writers, students and the media.
Address: 130 9th Avenue SE
Canada's second largest zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals from all over the world, as well as a variety of fish and insects in natural habitat enclosures. It also features a prehistoric park with 19 life-size animatronic dinosaurs on display. The botanic gardens include a 20,000 square foot (1,858 sq m) conservatory and butterfly garden and a special Rocky Mountain exhibit featuring many indigenous Alberta animals, including the endangered Whooping Crane. The zoo is situated close to the downtown area, on St George's Island, and is a wonderful treat for the whole family.
Address: 1300 Zoo Road NE
This historical site chronicles Calgary's history between 1875 and the 1940s and allows visitors to step back in time and explore the early days of the city through interactive exhibits, costumed interpreters, hands on activities, guided tours and an entertaining audio-visual presentation. Fort Calgary is situated on the site of an original North West Mounted Police Fort and is designed to preserve the history of the founding, development and growth of the city. The 40-acre riverside park includes the reconstructed 1875 fort, 1888 barracks, the interpretive centre and Deane House Historic Site and Restaurant.
Address: 750 - 9th Avenue SE
Heritage Park Historical Village
Heritage Park is a 'living history village', comprised of more
than 180 exhibitions that attempt to show what life was like in
Alberta in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Set on 127 beautiful acres of parkland, and located just 15 minutes from Calgary's central business district, Heritage Park makes for a worthwhile daytrip, especially if you have kids in tow. Highlights include steam train rides, and an impressive collection of vintage automobiles. Thousands of genuine historical artefacts have been used in the creation of the park, while other buildings and scenes have been faithfully recreated. Costumed interpreters educate and entertain visitors, bringing the history to life.
Address: 1900 Heritage Drive Southwest
Canada Olympic Park
Canada Olympic Park was a major venue during the 1988 Winter
Olympic Games, and now hosts skiing and snowboarding programmes
every winter; as well as housing the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
COP (as it's known to locals) remains a chief tourist attraction for casual visitors and winter sports enthusiasts alike. The park is operated by WinSport Canada, and is used year-round. In summer it is used for sports like mountain biking, and there are obstacle courses and zip lines to conquer. COP is also frequently used as a venue for festivals and events in Calgary.
Address: 88 Canada Olypmic Road Southwest
The city's most recognisable structure, Calgary Tower is a
must-visit landmark which looms 626 feet (191m) above the city.
The glass-floored observation deck offers spectacular, 360 degree views of the city below, and there's a revolving restaurant on offer, as well. Tours of the city are offered by guides on the Observation Deck, allowing visitors to take in many of the city's major attractions from their vantage point in the sky. Calgary's Tourist Information Centre is located at the base of the tower, a useful stop for all visitors, and there are also gift shops selling Calgary souvenirs and the like.
Address: 101 9th Avenue Southwest
Calgary's bustling metropolis and vibrant culture are worth exploring, but sightseeing in Calgary is dominated by the natural wonders that surround the city. Calgary is the gateway to Alberta's many impressive landscapes, which include mountain lakes, rolling prairies, and icy glaciers.
If you do find yourself exploring the city there are many museums and cultural sites in Calgary worth visiting, all located within easy distance of the city centre. The Glenbow Museum is Alberta's largest history museum, with nearly 30,000 artefacts from Canada's history, with a cafe, shop, library and archives also onsite. The Tsuu T'ina Museum looks more specifically at the history of the Sarcee tribe, complete with antique headdresses and a model teepee. The Heritage Park Historic Village takes a living look at Canada's history, with an antique midway, old-fashioned bakery and candy store, and authentic steam train among the attractions. Fort Calgary is another place to explore frontier life, with 40 acres of land set up to resemble life in 1875.
Prince's Island Park brings nature into the heart of the city, with fishing sites and a network of hiking and biking trails. The park also features the Eau Claire Market, with its array of funky boutiques, restaurants, theatres and art galleries. The Olympic Park is also a popular spot for lovers of sports. Whatever visitors' penchant, there is something for everyone in Calgary.
Located within Banff National Park, close to the popular resort towns of Lake Louise and Banff, Moraine is an utterly spectacular glacially-fed lake. Due to 'rock flour' - tiny particles of suspended sediment - the lake is a vivid turquoise colour, and on a clear day, reflects the surrounding mountains in its mirror-smooth surface. There is plenty to see and do in the snow-capped, pine-strewn 'Valley of the Ten Peaks', including an assortment of scenic hiking trails, and kayaks can be rented from The Lodge, an on-site cafe that also serves wonderful food and refreshments. If you are without a car, getting to Moraine can be difficult, though not impossible: take a Greyhound bus to Banff station, and from there you can either walk the nine miles (14km) to the lake; rent a bicycle; take a taxi; or make use of the Park-run Vista shuttle service, which departs every 30 minutes from the Lake Louise campsite.
Address: 9 miles (about 14km) from Lake Louise, located within Banff National Park
The kids won't let you get away with not visiting Calaway Park, western Canada's largest outdoor amusement park. Open seven days a week during the warmer months, this outdoor park does close during the frosty Alberta winters - check the calendar on the official website listed below for exact opening dates and times. Calaway Park is the ideal destination for a fun-filled family outing, with 32 thrilling rides and lots of other kinds of entertainment. The park has been in operation for more than three decades and is greatly enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Address: Rocky View No. 44, Calgary
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
A 'buffalo jump' is a ledge of rock traditionally used to lure stampeding buffalo to their deaths. This one not only has an wonderfully descriptive name, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, proudly displaying exhibitions detailing the life and history of the Blackfoot people, the original inhabitants of the Great Plains region of southern Alberta. It is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps in the world and was used by the native people for about 6,000 years. It is now a remarkable archaeological site and well worth a visit for any traveller interested in Canadian history.
Address: 92 Township Road, Willow Creek
For ten exciting days each July the Wild West wins the day in Calgary when the city comes alive with a celebration of true western hospitality and rousing fun. The Calgary Stampede is centred around a myriad of rodeo events that see top professional cowboys compete in bull riding, roping, bareback riding, and steer wrestling. Meanwhile, the gathered crowds join in the festivities with pancake breakfasts, square dancing, and cheering on a two-hour parade, ground-shaking Chuckwagon races, and a spectacular evening Grandstand Show extravaganza. The celebration is enhanced by other attractions like an authentic Indian village, recreated frontier town, gambling hall and dazzling fireworks display.
Date:8 - 17 July 2016; Website: calgarystampede.com
Morningside Music Bridge International Music Festival
The Morningside Music Bridge International Music Festival is a month-long summer classical music programme, established in 1997, to promote interaction between talented Chinese and Canadian music students. Polish students are also now featured prominently, and the festival attracts students from Japan, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Korea, New Zealand, France and the US. The students earn places in the scholarship programme through a competitive auditioning process. Concerts featuring both students and faculty take place throughout July and early August in venues all over Calgary. Lovers of classical music in Alberta during the festival will be delighted by the amount of quality recitals on offer.
Venue: Mount Royal University’s Lincoln Park Campus, and other Calgary venues; Date:4 - 29 July 2016; Website: www.mtroyal.ca/ProgramsCourses/FacultiesSchoolsCentres/TheConservatory/Programs/MorningsideMusicBridge/index.htm
Calgary Folk Music Festival
A well-respected music festival, the Calgary Folk Fest (as it's commonly known) attracts about 50,000 music fans to Prince's Island Park every year. Featuring more than 60 local and international acts each year - spread across seven stages - the Calgary Folk Music Festival is considered to be a bit of a 'purist's festival', known for listening and appreciative audiences. The calibre of the acts, which span the genres of folk, blues, roots and even hip hop, is significant, with the 2011 edition of the 30-year-old festival featuring both legendary and up-and-coming artists such as Nancy Griffiths, kd lang, The Felice Brothers, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Yo La Tengo and Dark Dark Dark.
Venue: Princes Island Park; Date:21 - 24 July 2016; Website: www.calgaryfolkfest.com
Calgary's affluence has meant a restaurant boom that encompasses nearly every worldwide cuisine, so eating out in Calgary can include a range of experiences. The city's specialty is Alberta beef, which is generally acknowledged to be some of the best in the world, but expect to see elk or bison on the menu as well. There are a range of great international options as well, from sushi and Asian to French and Italian cuisine.
The best Calgary restaurants are generally located within easy distance of the city centre, and are concentrated in three areas: the Eau Claire district on Prince's Island, the chic 4th Street and 17th Avenue Mission district, and the downtown area that includes Chinatown and the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.
All restaurants in Calgary are smoke-free, even outdoor dining areas. Nearly all restaurants will accept credit cards and Canadian cash, although some will take American dollars at their own discretion. The exchange rate is never in your favour, though. A service gratuity of 10 to 15 percent is expected for good service and is not included in the bill.
Joey's offers its uniquely Calgary take on Italian/Asian fusion, with a selection of pizzas, pastas, steaks and burgers. Its location is superb and makes for easy access. The atmosphere is always bustling, with both indoor seating and an outdoor patio. Joey's is open Sunday to Thursday from 11am to midnight,and Friday and Saturday from 11am to 1am.
Address: 50 Crowfoot Way NW, Calgary; Website: www.joeyrestaurants.com
1886 Buffalo Café
Calgary's 1886 Buffalo Cafe specialises in one thing: breakfast. Locals know it as the place to go for hearty meals to start the day, including the hashbrowns, vegetarian chilli omelette, and breakfast burrito. It's housed in the former site of the Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company's offices, built in 1911, overlooking the trendy Eau Claire downtown district. 1886 is open weekdays from 6am to 3pm, and weekends from 7am to 3pm.
Address: 187 Barclay Parade SW; Website: 1886buffalocafe.ca
The elegant and upmarket Vin Room is a restaurant where everything is designed to complement the wine, from the decor to the menu. The food is predominantly tapas, with fusion options ranging from meat and cheese platters to bison short ribs, fish tacos, and oysters. Lunch entrees include choices like salads, pasta and steak. They have a number of interesting wines available, with small tasting options before you commit to a glass or bottle. The tables are close together and it gets crowded, so it's always a good idea to call ahead. Vin Room is located in the chic Mission District. It is open Sunday through Wednesday from 3pm to 10pm, Thursday from 3pm to midnight and Friday and Saturday from 3pm to 1am.
Address: 2310 4th Street SW; Website: www.vinroom.com
Calgary's nightlife is always hopping, which is no surprise considering more than half of its population is under 30 years old. The most popular nightlife areas are in the city centre, including the lounges, pubs and restaurants in the Mission district, focusing at the intersection of 4th Street and 17th Avenue. Stephen Avenue is bustling in the early evening as young professionals empty their offices downtown, and you'll find quite a few clubs, pubs and live music venues there.
There are a number of live music venues, including the Ironwood Stage and Grill in 9th Avenue, which hosts country, blues, and folk bands; and the eclectic Liberty Lounge in Richard Road, which caters to the varied tastes of Mount Royal College's students.
Calgary's dance clubs are as varied as its live music, so you'll find offbeat places, which play everything from retro funk to breakbeat, alongside more mainstream entertainment venues. For those who enjoy live comedy, you can visit the Comedy Cave in MacLeod Trail, or the Laugh Shop Comedy Club at the Blackfoot Inn in Blackfoot Trail.
Shopping in Calgary reflects the moneyed population that has grown wealthy with oil booms and big business. You'll find all the major luxury brands represented alongside most western franchises and chain stores at the numerous shopping centres and outlet malls.
The most popular Calgary souvenirs are cowboys hats and other 'wild west' items, which are easily found at most shopping centres.
You'll find more one-of-a-kind items at the Eau Claire Festival Market on Barclay Parade, including fresh produce, independent boutiques, art galleries, and a variety of entertainment options like restaurants, movie theatres, and an arcade. The Mission District also has eclectic and interesting boutiques and vintage stores, and is the best place to go for Calgary fashion.
Nearly every shop in Calgary will accept major credit cards and Canadian money. Most stores will also accept US dollars, but at exorbitant exchange rates.
Calgary International Airport
Location: The airport is 11 miles (17km) northeast of downtown Calgary.
Time: GMT -7 (GMT -6 from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November).
Contacts: Tel: +1 (403) 735 1200.
Getting to the city: There are a number of bus services running between the airport, the city centre and other Alberta destinations. Calgary Transit provides a public bus service to and from the airport. There is also an Airport Shuttle Express, which services most hotels in the Calgary area, and several hotels offer a courtesy shuttle service. Airport taxis are available outside Arrivals.
Car rental: Alamo, Budget, Avis, Hertz, National and Thrifty are all represented at the airport and can be found in the Rental Car Centre opposite the main terminal building.
Airport Taxis: Airport taxis are available outside Arrivals.
Facilities: There are shops and duty-free shopping, restaurants and bars, ATMs, foreign exchange and an information booth within the terminal. There is a business and internet centre, and a shop that rents mobile phones. Disabled passengers are well catered for and there are plenty of children's entertainment facilities.
Parking: All parking lots are within walking distance of the terminal. Short-term parking starts at C$7.50 for the first hour with a daily limit of C$49.95. Long-term parking is available for around C$27 per day, with discounts for Economy Lots.
Departure tax: None.
Getting around in Calgary is easy as most of the city's attractions are concentrated within the city centre. The streets downtown are laid out in a numbered grid with avenues running east to west and streets running north to south, while in outlying areas neighbourhoods have more meandering streets which can be confusing to visitors.
Because of the grid system, walking around downtown Calgary is a simple way to get around. The Eau Claire market area and the Stephen Avenue Mall are pleasant pedestrian-only areas. Calgary's public transport system is efficient and reliable, with a light rail and bus system servicing the city centre. The light rail runs from 4am to midnight every day, and the buses operate from 5am to midnight, with some routes continuing until 1am. There is a fare-free zone in the middle of town, and in other areas a pass can be purchased at many convenience stores.
There are plenty of taxis available, either by hailing them in the street or calling the dispatch. Note that taxis cruise mainly the central areas of the city.
Driving in Calgary is relatively stress-free. Many streets are one-way, and streets marked 'transit only' are for public transport vehicles only. Parking downtown can be scarce and confusing, as the city uses an automated pay system that requires you to enter your zone and license plate number into a pay station. It is often easier to park in a private lot. There are numerous companies from which you can hire a car in Calgary.
Calgary experiences a humid continental climate, warm summers and cold winters, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. The mountains cause Calgary's climate to be rather dry, the little rainfall that does occur falls in summer (June to August). Winters (December to February) are long and cold and occasionally relieved by a warm wind called a Chinook. Average high temperatures in Calgary are 75°F (24°C) in summer and 27°F (-3°C) in winter. The weather in Calgary is highly changeable and daily predictions are often off the mark.
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