Set between the foothills of the Rockies and the Canadian prairies, Calgary has developed from an oil-boom hub to a cosmopolitan city of around one million inhabitants. Its wide range of attractions appeals to visitors interested in history, sport, art, culture and the great outdoors, while the area’s cowboy culture is celebrated each year with the Calgary Stampede, drawing huge crowds for over a century.
While visiting Calgary, you can explore museums about First Nations culture and early settlers, try bobsleighing or ice skating at the Canada Olympic Park or hunt for dinosaur fossils in the Canadian Badlands.
Canada specialist Ashlea
What I like most about Calgary is its blend of old-world charm and sleek modernity. Stetsons and boots are a part of the uniform here and a reminder that, despite the towers, you’re in Cowboy Country.
Things to see and do in Calgary
Immerse yourself in the Calgary Stampede
The largest festival in Alberta, the Calgary Stampede is held annually over nine days from the first Friday in July. From its humble beginnings in 1912, the festival now attracts over a million visitors who come to revel in the lively Wild West atmosphere, dressing up in jeans, boots and cowboy hats.
Across the nine days, locals and visitors alike watch shows and events ranging from bull riding, chuckwagon racing and bucking broncos to steer wrestling, ladies’ barrel racing and tie-down roping as the world’s best cowboys compete for the 2 million Canadian Dollar prize. The Stampede Roundup music festival is held alongside, showcasing some of the world’s biggest country and western musicians.
Visitors can also explore a replica First Nations village, watch livestock competitions and a variety of stage shows, and browse shops and food outlets.
Look for dinosaur fossils in the Canadian Badlands
From Calgary, you can spend a day exploring the Canadian Badlands. The area is known for its barren, arid landscape scattered with otherworldly hoodoo rock spires – you’ll stop at an interpretive centre to learn more about the local geology, history, flora and fauna.
A high number of dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the Badlands, and the town of Drumheller within the Red Deer River Valley (dubbed ‘Dinosaur Valley’) is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Here you can speak to scientists who work with fossils and learn more about the process of fossil discovery and collection. You’ll also have the chance to join a guided 3 km (1.9 mile) walk to search for fossils and dinosaur bones.
Try bobsleighing at the Canada Olympic Park
Set up for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Canada Olympic Park is now operated by WinSport Canada as a venue for both practising athletes and members of the public who want to try out a range of winter and summer sports activities. Ice skating, luge and cross-country skiing are options for winter visitors (November to March), while summer (June to early September) activities include zip-lining, mini golf and, for children, rock climbing.
Bobsleighing, meanwhile, is available all year round. With an experienced bobsleigh pilot, you shoot down the 1,475 m (4,839 ft) ice-covered track, reaching speeds of over 100 km/hour (62 mph) and up to 4 G-forces.
Discover Calgary’s music history at Studio Bell
Housed in a striking modern building, Studio Bell’s National Music Centre in Calgary’s East Village features five floors of exhibitions and collections related to the country’s music heritage. The musical memorabilia and historical instruments on display span over 450 years.
The museum looks at how music has evolved through different cultures within Canada, exploring how music affects people’s emotions. You can test your musical prowess through interactive instrument installations and recording booths.
One floor of the museum holds the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, featuring facts and anecdotes about the country’s biggest music icons as well as original costumes worn by them during live performances.
Learn about First Nations culture at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Just under two hours away from Calgary, where the Great Plains meet the foothills of the Rockies, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jump hunting sites in North America. It was used by Siksika (Black Foot) First Nation tribes for over 5,500 years.
Each autumn, hundreds of tribe members congregated at the site to take part in a hunting ritual that involved driving huge herds of buffalo over the edge of the cliff or ‘jump’ before preparing the hides and meat of the animals ahead of winter.
You can take a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and visit the interpretive centre, learning about the traditions and lifestyles of the tribes. The last drive here took place in around 1840, but guides, interactive displays and the untouched open plains help to bring the site to life.
Enjoy the electric atmosphere of a live sports game
Whatever time of year you’re visiting Calgary, there’s likely to be a sporting event taking place. We can arrange tickets to a live sports game at the city’s Scotiabank Saddledome stadium, so you can experience the buzzing atmosphere and join the crowd in chanting and cheering on the teams.
If you’re visiting during the winter months, you can watch the Calgary Flames ice hockey team or the Calgary Roughnecks lacrosse team. These exciting, fast-paced games are Canada’s most popular sports, drawing in large crowds and die-hard supporters. However, during the summer you can still enjoy watching a game of Canadian football, cheering on the Calgary Stampeders. If you’ve seen American football before, you’ll notice the similarities between the two sports.
Step back in time at the Heritage Park Historical Village
Located in the west of Calgary, the Heritage Park Historical Village is Canada’s largest living history museum. Recreating the time of late 19th- and early 20th-century Alberta, the park is home to more than 200 exhibits and attractions, including an 1860s-style First Nations encampment and fur trading fort, a replica village of the kind built by the earliest settlers to western Canada, and a thriving railway-era town complete with shops, a blacksmith’s and a working steam train.
There’s also Gasoline Alley Museum, which has a large collection of trucks and cars dating back to the 1930s, and a nature park where you can enjoy a stroll and a picnic. As you explore, staff in period costumes tell tales from the past. A self-guided walking tour is also available, should you wish to learn more about this era of Alberta’s history.
Best time to visit
There are always things to see and do in Calgary, whether you visit in winter or summer. Although July is a popular time to travel to Canada generally, it’s a particularly good month to visit Calgary as many of the city’s festivals take place. The mild weather during Canada’s summer months of June to August also makes outdoor activities in the area more appealing. The temperature can often drop to below freezing in December and January especially, though warm Chinook winds can significantly raise the temperature.
Events, festivals and seasonal reasons to visit
- Canada Day takes place around the country on 1st July each year, marking the anniversary of the 1867 Constitution Act. Calgary celebrates the event with fireworks, street parades and music.
- An annual nine day event from the first Friday in July, the Calgary Stampede is the largest festival in Alberta and draws in large crowds to celebrate cowboy and Wild West culture (see above).
- The Calgary Fringe Festival, an annual July fixture, features comedy and musical acts, theatre performances and artists.
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