The Greatest Things to See and Do in Calgary

Jeff Whyte /

Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and the fifth largest metropolitan area in Canada with over 1.2 million people calling it home. Though it is most widely known for the annual Calgary Stampede, the city has much more to offer for travelers. Its location between the Canadian Rockies foothills and Canadian prairies, provides a dazzling view, a diverse eco-system and a unique place to visit. For a true Western experience, Calgary, Alberta is second to none in Canada. With places like the Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, The CORE, and Dinosaur Provincial Park to visit, not to mention Calgary Stampede Park where their largest annual event is hosted, your time here will be filled with adventure, entertainment, culture, education, great food and good times. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all ages whatever time of year you decide to travel.

1. Calgary Stampede

Arguably one of the most well-known annual events in Canada, the Calgary Stampede is a 10 day event with a rodeo, exhibition and festival that is held every summer in July. The event bills itself as “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” and attracts over a million visitors each year. It also features a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts and more.

The Calgary Stampede has grown into a huge tourist attraction for the city and one of the largest festivals in Canada. Many of the rodeo events are televised all across Canada to be enjoyed by those who can’t be there to enjoy the adventure in person. The city’s entire identity is tied to the Stampede from the nickname of the city known as “Stampede City” or “Cowtown” to the CFL football team called “The Stampeders”. Western wear and events, barbecues, and pancake breakfasts across the city are commonplace during the Stampede as well as storefront windows ordained with cowboy themes. It is difficult not to get caught up in the Western feel of the city when visiting during the Calgary Stampede.

steve estvanik /
steve estvanik /

2. Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo is home to over 1,000 animals from all over the world and is a great destination for young and old to enjoy anytime of the year. See everything from gorillas, grizzly bears and hippos, to rhinos and penguins to name a few. While there, visit the Dorothy Harvie Gardens, Prehistoric Park, Destination Africa, Eurasia, the Penguin Plunge and the Canadian Wilds (which re-opens in March 2015) and the ENMAX Conservatory.

In the Canadian Wilds Exhibit, you will meet some of Canada’s native animals like bears, wolves, cougars, bison, big-horned sheep and mountain goats. Destination Africa is a steamy tropical rainforest where you can see gorillas, colobus monkeys, mandrills, snakes and crocodiles. You can also wander over to the savannah to see the hippos taking a swim, giraffes and zebras grazing and lions napping. The Eurasia Exhibit provides the opportunity to see tigers, snow leopards, Japanese macaques and red pandas. Prehistoric Park features animatronic dinosaurs such as the T-Rex brought to life with a push of a button. The Penguin Plunge has several breeds of penguin plunging in and out of chilly Antarctic waters and features a food outlet, retail store and washrooms.

GTS Productions /
GTS Productions /

3. Aero Space Museum of Calgary

The Aero Space Museum of Calgary is located south of the Calgary International Airport and has more than 24 aircraft and 58 aeronautical engines on display. Some of the aircraft came from the first museum called “The Air Museum of Canada” which closed in 1971.There is also a section in the museum dedicated to the Canadian space programs. The museum was founded in 1975 by former World War II pilots and aviation enthusiasts. It also features a memorial erected to honor Alberta Airmen who were killed in World War II.

Some of the aircraft on exhibit are the 1936 Waco EQC-6 Custom Waco 10 Cabin Series, the AEA Silver Dart – Full Size Replica, the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck and many more airplanes. Also on display are the Sikorsky S-51 Dragonfly (H-5) and Sikorsky S-55 Horse (H-19, H04S) helicopters. The second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m., from October to May, the museum hosts a movie night. The museum hangar is also the perfect place to hold weddings, meetings and Stampede breakfasts. This is a very budget friendly attraction to see and its close proximity to the airport makes it a convenient first-stop for travelers.

Photo by: Aero Space Museum of Calgary
Photo by: Aero Space Museum of Calgary

4. Fort Calgary

Fort Calgary was originally built to drive away whiskey traders and befriend First Nations people to prepare for treaties. Established in 1875, it was established by the North-West Mounted Police as “The Elbow” or “Bow Fort” and re-named Fort Brisebois for a very unpopular, Captain Brisebois until 1876, when the name was changed to Fort Calgary. It was purchased by the city of Calgary in 1975 and re-opened as a museum and historic site in 1978. The 40-acre site is located just east of downtown Calgary and is open year round.

There are interactive exhibits, tours and school programs and facilities at the Fort can be rented for weddings, banquets and Christmas parties. While visiting Fort Calgary, you can try on an authentic RCMP uniform or experience the other side of the law and spend some time in their jail. You can also go for a relaxing stroll along the Riverwalk to the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Step back in time at this important piece of Calgary’s history and remember to stop by the Museum Shop before leaving to pick up an original hand-made vintage souvenir, treat or gift for you or your loved ones.

Fort Calgary

5. Calgary Tower

The Calgary Tower is the highest 360° observation deck in the world standing at 1,228 meters above sea level. The tower stands 191 meters above downtown Calgary and provides the best panoramic view of the city available. From the 360° observation deck, you can see the city, the Rocky Mountains, foothills and prairies and if you dare, you can peer through the glass floor to take in a birds-eye view of the bustling city below.

Located at the base of the tower is Tourism Calgary’s Visitor Information Center where you can gather all the information you’ll ever need to discover all the cuisine, entertainment and sites that Calgary has to offer. Also, while touring the tower, visitors can dine at one of its two restaurants. The Sky 360 is a rotating establishment making a full circle in 45 minutes during lunch and 60 minutes during dinner and stands at the 155 meter mark. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is the second eating establishment in the tower and is well-known for their spectacular service and amazing hospitality.

Jeff Whyte /
Jeff Whyte /

6. Heritage Park Historical Village

Heritage Park Historical Village is a historical park in Calgary open from May long weekend to October but Gasoline Alley Museum is open all year. The park consists of 127 acres of parkland on the southwest edge of the city. It is reputed to be Canada’s largest living history museum and is a very popular tourist attraction. Many of the historical buildings were moved from other places in western Canada to where they now stand for display while others are re-creations.

The exhibits on display at the park span Western Canada’s history from the 1860s to 1950s. With over 180 attractions, there is no shortage of fascinating things to see, touch and experience. You can see or ride in 2 operational steam locomotives that run on a small railway that circles the park. There is also a roundhouse, operational turntable and a car shop. A streetcar is available to shuttle visitors to and from the parking lot and you can ride on some working historical amusement rides at the antique midway. It also features the very well-known Hudson’s Bay Company trading fort, horse-drawn wagons, an aboriginal encampment, a working smithy, bakery, hotel and several shops and restaurants.

Jeff Whyte /
Jeff Whyte /

7. The CORE Shopping Centre

A shopper’s paradise, THE CORE Shopping Centre spans three city blocks and houses approximately 160 retailers on four levels. It consists of TD Square, the Holt Renfrew Building, and former Calgary Eaton Centre, has four towers, including TD Canada Trust Tower, Home Oil Tower, Dome Tower and the Lancaster Building. The suspended glass skylight that spans the complex, is an architectural wonder to behold.

Whatever your shopping preference, the complex is the place to visit. Some well-known retail outlets in the shopping center include Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Guess, Indigo Spirit, Lacoste, Nine West, and many more. After working up an appetite shopping, have a fast bite at A&W, Arby’s, Extreme Pita, Good Earth Cafe, Jugo Juice, KFC, New York Fries and more or dine at one of the many quick service food court restaurants which offer a variety of options. Double Zero Pizza, Hy’s Steakhouse, Metropolitan Grill and The Unicorn are a few of your choices for a sit-down dining experience. Before leaving The CORE, take time to visit the Devonian Gardens, an indoor tropical paradise with water fountains, fish-filled ponds and tropical plants…a great way to unwind after a hard day of shopping.

Photo by: CORE Shopping Calgary
Photo by: CORE Shopping Calgary

8. Glenbow Museum

The Glenbow Museum, located in downtown Calgary is a history and art museum. It boasts the largest art collection in Western Canada and features many traveling and permanent exhibitions. The Glenbow-Alberta Institute not only houses the museum collection, but also an extensive art collection, library and archives. Over 33,000 works of art are on display at the museum dating from the 19th century to present-day.

If arts and culture are on your list while traveling, the Glenbow Museum is the perfect place to go. Learn about Southern Alberta and the West with the museum’s permanent collection located on the third floor. Included are Aboriginal artifacts, and pieces that tell the story of frontier life and the development of the western way of life. It also includes a diversity of artifacts and art from all over the world.  The art collection includes a variety of media including prints and drawings dating from the 19th century to the present primarily focusing on Northwestern North America. The Glenbow Library documents the history of Western Canada through books, pamphlets, journals and maps and the Archive -the largest non-governmental archival repository in Canada, serving as a major research center.

Photo by: Glenbow Museum
Photo by: Glenbow Museum

9. Rundle Ruins Park

Rundle Ruins Park is a unique spot located close to the Elbow River in Calgary. Its main features are the sandstone hospital ruins and sun dial in the park. Though they may look like ancient ruins, they are merely the ruins of Calgary’s first hospital which was originally built in 1895. In 1973, portions of the hospital were demolished and in 1974 the demolished sections were incorporated into Victoria Park as part of the ruins attraction.

The park serves as a great backdrop for family or wedding photos, offers an adventurous place to climb freely and a great place to sit on a blanket and enjoy a picnic. It contains a beautiful walkway with trees scattered throughout the park and of course, the Ruins, which are a sight to behold. It is a great place to go and unwind, enjoy nature and escape the hustle of bustle of the city. Rundle Ruins Park is a free outing and hidden treasure that is yours for the taking while visiting Calgary.

Photo by: Ricky Leong
Photo by: Ricky Leong

10. Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park is about a 2½ hour drive southeast of Calgary but believe us, it’s well worth the drive. It is located in the Red Deer River valley and is reputed to be one of the richest dinosaur fossil locations in the whole world. There have been more than 500 specimens collected and forty new dinosaur species discovered here. The Visitor’s Center contains exhibits about dinosaurs, fossils and the geology of the area. It also houses a gift shop, fossil preparation lab and video theater.

The park is known for the badlands and the international importance of its fossils and has a very complex eco-system consisting of prairie grasslands, badlands, and riverside cottonwoods. It is home to many animals like coyotes, nighthawks, cottontail rabbits, mule deer, pronghorns, prairie rattlesnakes, bull snakes and red-sided garter snakes. 165 species of birds including Curlews and Canada Geese can be seen here. The fossils found at the park range from freshwater vertebrates (sharks, rays, and paddlefish) to amphibians, (frogs, salamanders, and albanerpetontids) reptiles (lizards, turtles and crocodilians) and mammals – which are rare and mostly consist of teeth and tooth fragments. Step back in time and into a whole other world at this unique park.

Badlands Dinosaur Provincial Park

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