Whether this is your first time coming to Calgary or you’re here for a returning visit, we’ve compiled a list of 15 of our favourite attractions and city landmarks that make a memorable experience in our city.
We’ve set this up like a scavenger hunt—from a Jamaican bobsleigh to an authentic 1950s milkshake, you’ll learn insider tips on what to see and do during your stay.
THE CHINESE CULTURAL CENTRE
Highlight: The vaulted ceiling
The Chinese Cultural Centre is an imposing sight, thanks to its 70-foot-high ceiling modelled after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. 561 dragons, 40 phoenixes, and four columns adorn the space, created by 22 artisans flown in from China in 1991. The centre is a prime place to start a tour of Chinatown, which occupies the northeast corner of downtown and was the birthplace of ginger beef.
Highlight: The Mavericks’ train car
The stories of Alberta’s ‘maverick’ forefathers—the men and women whose ambition forged a province—are on display at the Glenbow Museum’s newest permanent exhibit, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Unlike traditional exhibits, Mavericks is interactive, with a re-created train car, Chinese diner, trading post and teepee, and inventive ways to see, smell, hear, and touch the history of Alberta.
STEPHEN AVENUE WALK
Highlight: The gargoyles
Calgary’s premiere pedestrian mall is a collection of high-end restaurants, chic boutiques and turn-of-the-century sandstone buildings. Built after the fire of 1886, Stephen Avenue is a National Historic Site and home to farcical gargoyles that once adorned the office of the Calgary Herald. Be sure to look at the top tier of each building, which has the name of its original inhabitants.
Highlight: Old fashioned candy
This historical village is a throwback to the days when Alberta was home to enterprising settlers who struggled to survive on windswept prairie. There are more than 150 buildings, all built before 1914 from locations across the province. Heritage Park’s highlights include the steam locomotive, antique midway rides, old-fashioned candy store and the S.S. Moyie Sternwheeler, a paddlewheel boat that takes guests out on the Glenmore Reservoir.
Highlight: The downtown skyline
To get a postcard-perfect view of the city skyline and Stampede Park, do as locals do and head to Scotsman’s Hill. This is also a prime spot to watch fireworks and chuckwagon races during the Calgary Stampede. 2 km east of city centre.
CANADA OLYMPIC PARK
Highlight: The Jamaican bobsleigh
Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney movie with John Candy, brought the story of Jamaica’s 1988 Winter Olympic bobsleigh team to audiences worldwide. The production crew left the movie’s bobsleigh in Calgary, which is now on display at the museum at Canada Olympic Park. The park was the site of the bobsleigh, luge and ski jumping competitions during the Olympics and is a venue for winter athletes, but in summer reinvents itself as a destination for mountain bikers and Zip-line thrill seekers.
Highlight: The horses
Set against the beauty of Alberta’s foothills, Spruce Meadows is a show-jumping complex. They host tournaments drawing riders from around the world. The grounds are free (except during tournaments), open year-round and home to stables full of horses.
Highlight: The Mountie uniforms
This is where it all began: in 1875 Colonel James F. Macleod, of the North West Mounted Police, built a fort on the Elbow River in an effort to discourage American expansion and police whiskey traders operating on the plains. The original fort has long since disappeared, but archaeological remains and an interpretive centre make Fort Calgary a must-see for history buffs. Visitors can try on a uniform worn by the North West Mounted Police.
Highlight: A milkshake
If you’re looking for old-fashioned burgers and milkshakes, head to one of Calgary’s oldest mom-and-pop operations. Peters’ Drive-In has been around since 1964, and the food has changed little since then: burgers, hot dogs, fries, milkshakes and ice cream. Peters’ is one of Calgary’s best unkept secrets, but the waiting time is worth it for one of their milkshakes, whichever flavour you choose.
THE CALGARY ZOO
Highlight: The baby gorilla
Last May Zuri the gorilla gave birth to a bouncing baby girl, Yewande, who has since grown into a healthy toddler and is a prime attraction at the Calgary Zoo’s Rainforest building. Visit Yewande on your tour through the grounds, which have been renovated in recent years to include an extensive Canadian Wilds section.
Highlight: A cup of coffee
Bohemian and eclectic, Kensington is one of Calgary’s best neighbourhoods for people watching while sitting back with a cup of joe. The Roasterie draws a younger, hipper crowd, while Higher Ground is the haunt of choice for those desiring wireless internet and organic, shade grown coffee.
THE RED MILE
Highlight: The flaming Cs
In 2004, NHL underdogs the Calgary Flames, went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. After each game, fans from the Saddledome and the bars, pubs and clubs strewn along 17 Ave would congregate en masse, stopping traffic and creating a sea of red—a sight that gave 17 Ave its nickname: the Red Mile. This is also the street for shopping, with many independent and upscale boutiques.
THE CALGARY TOWER
Highlight: The glass floor
Located 160 metres above the ground, the Calgary Tower’s glass floor is a hair-raising experience. But, there’s no need to worry: the glass panels can hold the weight of six elephants. Built in 1968 to celebrate Canada’s centennial, the tower is a top attraction in Calgary, affording unparalled views of the city and the distant Rocky Mountains.
PRINCE’S ISLAND PARK
Highlight: The feathered friends
An idyllic island in the Bow River, Prince’s Island’s rolling greens and still waters attract visitors from across the animal kingdom, including ducks and geese. Many locals use the park’s pathways for rollerblading, biking and jogging, and grassy areas for picnicking.
Highlight: The Vortex rollercoaster
The Vortex at Calaway Park, Western Canada’s largest outdoor family amusement park, is what rollercoaster buffs call a corkscrew: riders are on an angle as they follow the track up, down and upside down. The grounds also offer rides geared toward families and children.—Sally MacKinnon