Top 10 Things to Do in Calgary

01 of 11

Catch the Calgary Spirit

Calgary skyline with dramatic cloudy sky
Rebecca Schortinghuis / Getty Images

Calgary has a distinct character that contrasts in some ways to its Canadian counterparts.

Like many cosmopolitan centers in Canada, Calgary is multicultural, safe, friendly and in close proximity to abundant natural beauty.

Unlike Canada as a whole, Calgary is perceived as"conservative." The gas and oil-rich region is often compared to the U.S., especially Dallas, for its energy-based economy and cowboy culture, which dates back to its early settlement and ongoing agricultural activity. 

This right-wing reputation can make Calgary a kind of cultural bogeyman in the eyes of fellow Canadians;  yet when you visit, it is almost impossible not to be dazzled by the open space, mountain backdrop, hospitable people and impeccably planned city and thriving cultural scene. 

From outdoor adventure to fine dining, cultural pursuits or beer swilling, Calgary offers an array of things for visitors to do. 

02 of 11

Take a Stroll on Stephen Avenue

Stephen Avenue, downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

The largely pedestrian Stephen Avenue is full of shops, pub, boutiques and sidewalk seating where you can sit and have a drink or bite to eat. Whether you're looking for fine dining or street meat, haute couture or consignment, you'll find it on Stephen Avenue. 

Diverse architecture and outdoor sculptures add texture and appeal to the walkway, which stretches along several blocks of Calgary's downtown core and is home to two hotels, a convention ​center, the Glenbow Museum and departments stores. 

Stephen Avenue was declared a National Historic Site in 2002 for its large concentration of heritage buildings that vividly represent the architectural style from the 1800s through early twentieth century. 

03 of 11

Step Back in Time at the Heritage Park Historical Village

Replica of 18th-19th century historical town with shop fronts in Heritage Park.
Stephen Saks / Getty Images

Experience first-hand what life would have been like for early Canadian settlers, fur traders, ​and voyageurs at Canada's largest living history museum. Through an array of exhibits, Heritage Park Historical Village takes visitors back more than 150 years to when Canada was not even a country. The sprawling grounds include houses, stores, machinery, and other treasures from the early 1860s fur trade through to the petroleum and automobile-dominated 1950s.

Stroll the property at leisure but be sure to test out transportation aboard the local steam train, wagon, and reservoir boat.  When the settler life starts to wear you down, stop by the candy store or bakery for a snack or settle down for a more fulfilling and authentic meal at one of the several restaurants. 

04 of 11

Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

All successful cities have adequate respites from the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan life. One such place of relaxation is the Devonian Gardens, which is an indoor botanical garden, located in Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.  This park comprises 2.5 acres of interior space and is completely encased in glass. 

Features include a wall of living plants, Japanese ponds, trees, and play space for children.

Lots of seating make Devonian Gardens an ideal spot for contemplation or to have a bite to eat. 

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05 of 11

Line Dance at Ranchman's

Group of people line dancing, low section
Gary Buss / Getty Images

Think line dancing had its heyday in the 80's? Think cowboy boots haven't really been in fashion since Billy Ray Cyrus?  Ranchman's Cookhouse and Dancehall in Calgary tells a different story. 

As an oil industry hub and host to the annual Calgary Stampede, Calgary has strong ties to cowboy culture, something that makes Calgary regularly compared to southern U.S. cities like Dallas or Austin, Texas. 

One super fun way to get in touch with your inner cowboy or cowgirl is to visit Ranchman's for line dancing lessons, which are available most nights. Don't underestimate the workout you'll get! Live bands and even a mechanical bull round out the bronco fun.

If you go for your first time but it feels familiar to you, that may because Ranchman's was featured in a scene from Brokeback Mountain, which was filmed in and around Calgary. 

06 of 11

Take in an Equestrian Show at Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows
Photo © made available through the Creative Commons

Spruce Meadows is a unique attraction that opens up the world of horses, stables and equestrian performances to the general public.

Since 1975, this family-owned operation promotes international horse sports with a focus on the organization and hosting of show jumping tournaments. Entrance is either free or minimal and depends on the type of tournament going on. But even if there is no tournament for a scheduled day, people are welcome to peruse the facility, visit the stables and watch the athletes and horses training. 

International stalls feature foods ​including beer and wine, and gifts for purchase. 

At Christmas, Spruce Meadows is decorated with thousands of lights and features themed pavilions and gift markets. This is a great, unique family event that is easy on the budget. 

07 of 11

Learn a Thing or Two at the Glenbow Museum

Glenbow Museum
John Elk III / Getty Images

You'll find an engaging mix of fine art and historical exhibits at the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary. 

The displays comprise artifacts, photographs, and works of art that give visitors access to a wide range of events that shaped Western Canada, like immigration, indigenous culture, the railway, everyday life, and more. In addition, rotating exhibits explore a host of other topics and cultures, including Eastern Art. 

Coherent and unpretentious, Glenbow Museum really has something for everyone, whether you're interested in war or textiles. 

08 of 11

Bike or Hike Calgary's Pathway System

Couple cycling across pedestrian bridge linking the Bow River Pathway with Prince's Island Park.
Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

Part of what makes Calgary one of the world's most livable cities is its convenient and easy access to green space and the network of well-maintained paths that allows people to get around the city safely by foot or bike. Whether you just want to get a moment of peace and quiet by the river or challenge yourself with a 10 km run, there are endless options in Calgary, which maintains approximately 580 km of regional pathways, 220 km of local pathways and 95 km of trails.

Stretches of the pathway will take you past some of Calgary's top attractions, such as the Calgary Zoo, Fort Calgary, and the Bow River. 

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09 of 11

Get Some Perspective at the Calgary Tower

The Calgary Tower, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Michael Wheatley / Getty Images

Like so many large cities, Calgary has built a tall tower and people flock to it to get a bird's eye view of the surroundings. 

A monument to Canada's centennial (one-hundredth birthday), the Calgary Tower was built in 1967. Much like the CN Tower in Toronto, Calgary's tower, which stands 190.8 m (626 ft),  serves primarily as a tourist attraction and features an exterior elevator, rotating restaurant and glass floor on which visitors can stand - or jump - and stare straight down to the sidewalk below. 

Although no longer the tallest building in Calgary, the observation pod offers excellent panoramic views of greater Calgary, including the Rocky Mountains.

10 of 11

Ponder Peace at the Military Museums

The Military Museums, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo © The Military Museums

The Military Museums presents a fascinating amalgamation of archival records, military objects, weapons and more. The museum is divided into wings each of which is dedicated to one of the three branches of the Canadian Forces: the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force, with a focus on Alberta's history. 

This comprehensive look at war and military history appeals to most everyone from families with young children to the most educated history buff, largely due to the excellent curation of objects and interactive activities that can have you sitting in a military tank or dividing up an army ration of food. 

11 of 11

Head Over to the Zoo

Pair of lions at Calgary Zoo
images by Nancy Chow / Getty Images

With zoos and animal exhibits losing popularity over the years because of concern for animal welfare, it's redeeming to learn of a facility like the Calgary Zoo, which has an excellent reputation worldwide for its conservation efforts. At least one-third of its species are cared for in accord with a global initiative to protect at-risk genetic diversity. More than just a place to see animals, the Calgary Zoo considers itself a force for animal care research and conservation. 

The zoo covers 120 acres, part of it riverside, with animals getting what seems like a significant amount of space to live. Animals from around the world are featured, including from Africa, Eurasia, and the Canadian Wildlands. 

Other highlights include the Penguin Walk and the Prehistoric Park. 

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