K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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A sophisticated city that grew out of the Canadian West, partially thanks to the Calgary Stampede and its role as host of the 1988 Winter Olympics which put it on the map as one of the top destinations in Canada, Calgary offers many delights. The city balances the modern and traditional with lots of pioneer charms as it continues to host the annual Stampede, while cowboy hats and dancing are always in style. But it also offers a cosmopolitan air with a wide range of dining, shopping and entertainment available all year-round, as well as some amazing day trips that can be enjoyed within a relatively short drive.
One of the best ways to start your visit to this city is to get a bird’s-eye view of the layout from the Calgary Tower. Hop on the elevator and you’ll be whisked up to nearly 4,029 feet above sea level for a 360-degree view of the city and well-beyond. This is no ordinary tower, however, as you’ll be standing on a glass floor that makes it feel as if you’re hovering above the streets. After you’ve put your heart back into your chest, enjoy appetizers and drinks at its revolving SKY 360 restaurant.
Stampede Park hosts all sorts of concerts and events throughout the year, but it’s best known for hosting the annual 10-day Calgary Stampede in July. Pack your cowboy or cowgirl boots and hat, or buy some while you’re here, and join the audience for the “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth,” to find out what the Wild West is all about. The event showcases cowboy culture and all things Wild West, with rodeos, chuckwagon races, concerts, First Nation Culture, a parade and more.
History buffs who want to learn more about Calgary won’t want to miss Fort Calgary Historic Park. This is where you can learn about the city’s early beginnings, where in 1875 the North West Mounted Police built a fort at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. The site known as the Mohkinsstis (Blackfoot), Wîchîspa (Stoney), and Guts’ists’I (Tssut’ina), offers the chance to walk in the footsteps of of indigenous and non-indigenous native ancestors in a spirit of cross-cultural sharing. You can also explore the Interpretive Centre which includes the reconstructed 1888 Barracks, interactive museum exhibits about the history of Calgary, and the Burnswest Theatre.
Calgary is home to Canada’s largest living history museum, showcasing some 200 exhibits across natural parklands, allowing visitors to experience life in this area from the 1860s through 1950. It includes a First Nations Emcampment, an 1860s Fur Trading Fort, Pre-Railway settlement and an early 1900s living historic village. Explore a blacksmith shop, working printing press and an authentic steam train, and then enjoy a tasty desert at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and bakery. At the Games of Amusement, you can even check out the carnival games that were popular around the turn-of-the-century, based on the booths at Winnipeg’s River Park used around 1909.
Named for its saddle shape, the Scotiabank Saddledome is most well-known for hosting the 1989 Stanley Cup Champion National Hockey League Calgary Flames, but it also hosts the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen and the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks. One of the best ways to enjoy an authentic Canadian experience is to cheer on the home team with the local crowd. If you aren’t lucky enough to be here for a game, you may want to catch a concert or rodeo, or even take a public tour of the arena, available during non-event days throughout the summer.
Built for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Winsport Olympic Park is the place to go if you’re looking for heart-pounding thrills no matter what the season. While it’s amazing for winter sports, it’s a multi-sport facility offering warm weather activities too. In fact, it’s home to the only bike park in all of Alberta, with lift access to downhill trails providing something for every skill level, the wheeled Skyline luge, mini-golf, a zip line that whizzes down from the ski jump tower, skating, a climbing wall and spider-web climbing structure for small children, and even a Eurobungy, which provides the experience of bungy jumping without actually free falling.
The Calgary Zoo is renowned as one of the world’s top zoos, leading the pack when it comes to animal diversity, successful breeding and educational programs. It features animals that can be found in the Canadian wilderness like grizzlies and mountain goats, along with wildlife from across the globe. Take a journey through Africa, visiting giraffes, mountain gorillas and hippos, and enjoy a relaxing stroll through the botanical gardens and a butterfly conservatory.
If you want to take an epic day trip, Head-Smashed Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is ideal, about a two-hour drive from Calgary. The archaeological site is renowned across the globe for its exquisite preservation of Plains People culture, the skillful hunters who cleverly chased these massive creatures over the cliffs, using each and every part for their survival. A remarkable component of nation’s archaeological past, it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The shopping scene in Calgary has exploded in recent years. The streets are lined with all sorts of walkable shopping districts, from independent boutiques and chic fashion retailers to unique boutiques and everything in between. In the downtown area alone there are thousands of individual businesses in a 120-block area, though 17th Avenue is the city’s most famous shopping destination, where you can find everything from basic, everyday items to local goods and high-end brands. There are trendy record shops, glitzy jewelry stores and just about everything else you can think of. On International Avenue, shop for items, include food, from around the world.
Located in Prince’s Island Park, the River Cafe has been a staple on the Calgary dining scene for nearly two decades. Its dishes are focused around local ingredients, with the ever-changing menu ensuring only the freshest are used. The eatery is one of the first in the city to embrace, local, seasonal cuisine, featuring everything from oven-roasted fish and smoked cuts of quality meat to vegetarian fare.