Starter Kit for Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Yes, it’s the gateway to Banff and the Rockies, but there is also lots to explore right here in this youthful, vibrant and booming city of 1 million where students and young professionals rub shoulders with cowboys and oil tycoons.When to Visit
Due to its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Calgary has erratic weather all year round, meaning that layering is always a good idea. Summers (June through August) are very pleasant, with daytime temperatures averaging in the mid 20’s Celsius / 80’s Farenheit, but evenings cooling off to the extent that a sweater is often required. This is the best time for festivals and enjoying various outdoor attractions, including the world-famous Calgary Stampede in July.
Winters (November through February) are all over the map. Temperatures can get as low as the -20’s Celsius (that’s below 0 in Fahrenheit), but are often moderated by Chinooks – a phenomenon caused when warm surface air is trapped underneath colder air at higher altitudes. The change can be very rapid – it’s not unusual to see a 10 or 15 degree change in the space of 24 hours!
My favorite time in the city is the month of September. Temperatures are still warm, autumn colors are on display, the fall arts season starts up again, and the tourist crowds have dwindled.Getting Around
If you're staying downtown and plan to keep your sightseeing to the core, you can make do on foot, particularly in the summer.
system includes of the C-Train and a network of buses. While it will get you around to many of the sights around town, it’s not as efficient or comprehensive as it should be for a city of this size. Calgarians love their vehicles, and shifting people to transit is going to take a good long time.
Cabs are costly and often in short supply, so depending on what you want to do, it could very well be worth renting a car for at least part of your visit. While parking downtown is expensive, it’s affordable or free in all other parts of town, and a car is the best way to get to some of the places I mention below, such as Spruce Meadows and the parks. The city is easy to navigate, with a system of numbered streets and avenues radiating out into the 4 quadrants from the city centre. Rent-A-Wreck
has rates from $20 per day. What to DoCalgary Tower
– Start with a high speed elevator ride to the observation deck at the top for 360 degree views of the city skyline and mountains beyond. If you’re not freaked out by heights, you can also step out onto the glass-floored platform and look down at the traffic 525 feet directly below you! During the Winter Olympics in 1988, a flame was burned at the top of the tower for the duration of the games to symbolize the Olympic torch. Today, the flame is lit for special occasions such as Canada Day, or when The Calgary Flames hockey team makes it to the NHL playoffs.
+15 Walkway System – this unique network of walkways elevated 15 metres above ground (hence the name) connects the city’s downtown office towers. The indoor passageways come in very handy on the coldest of winter days. There’s a hidden “city within a city” up there – shops, restaurants, services, artwork. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re downtown during the week, but virtually deserted on weekends.
Stephen Avenue – An outdoor pedestrian mall located on 8th Ave between 1st St. SE and 4th St. SW. The best time to visit is around the noon hour when office workers pour outside for some fresh air, and you’ll often see live bands and buskers performing. Some of the oldest historic buildings in the city are here, as well as a number of restaurants, bars, theatres, stores, and shopping malls. You’ll also find Olympic Plaza on the east end, and Art Central (a complex of unique galleries, shops, and cafes) a block north on the corner of 7th Ave and Centre St.
Olympic Plaza - Built for medal presentations during the 1988 Winter Olympics, this site is still popular today for concerts, festivals and particularly for ice skating in the winter months. 8th Ave and Mcleod Trail SE.
Nose Hill Park – A huge natural grasslands park right in the middle of the city. Full of hills and valleys, it has tons of great hiking and mountain biking trails. Bus #5 will take you to the park.Fish Creek Provincial Park
– at the southern end of the city, this park is even bigger than Nose Hill. It too has a network of trails, and the ecosystem here is more varied, including forest, grassland, and aquatic areas. Buses: 28, 44, and 83 stop at the north-central edge of the park. Spruce Meadows
– Hang out with the horsy set at this premier show-jumping facility located in ranchlands on the southern edge of the city. Equestrian tournaments are held throughout the summer, and less frequently in spring and fall. For major tournaments, there is a free shuttle bus departing frequently from the Somerset/Bridlewood LRT station. Festivals and Events:
A sampling of festivals appears below; for more listings go to: http://calgary.foundlocally.com/Entertainm...stivalsList.htm
- Early February: Calgary Winter Festival – skating, ice sculptures, etc.
- Mid March: Rodeo Royal – indoor rodeo where the Stampede Queen and Princesses are crowned
- Late June: C-Jazz Festival
– live jazz at a number of venues around the city
- Early July: Calgary Exhibition and Stampede
– For 10 days every July, Calgarians don jeans and cowboy hats and generally embrace all things related to rodeo culture. It kicks of with a parade on the first Friday, and the festivities continue with a world-class rodeo, midway and exhibition at the Stampede grounds, pancake breakfasts on the streets (many of them free), and parties galore at bars and clubs all over town, many with live country music.
- Late July: Calgary Folk Music Festival
- First weekend in August: Heritage Day – multicultural event at Prince’s Island
- Late August / Early September – International Fireworks Competition
at Elliston Park Shopping
17th Ave SW: The area between 4th and 14th Streets has an edgy feel, with its mix of independent shops, art galleries, consignment stores, restaurants, and nightclubs. Gravity Pope is a super funky shoe store, Focus and A Store Called Worth sell fashion forward clothing, and iAppeal carries great gifts and accessories. For youthful styles, try Purr, Primitive Culture, and Frozen Ocean. Rubiyat sells unique home furnishings and accessories from around the world.
Kensington: Located just across the river from downtown, this area is a trendy hangout for students and young professionals. There are coffee houses, restaurants, and small shops, centered around the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St NW. Favorite shops include Kismet (global clothing, jewelry, and home accessories), Sole Comfort (footwear), and Urban Barn (furniture and housewares).
4th St. SW: South of 17th Ave and stretching for about 8 blocks, this strip has a few interesting shops scattered between the restaurants. Highlights include Lululemon Athletica (the original and much-copied yoga wear store), Sage Wellness (essential oils and aromatherapy products), and Krickets (gifts and accessories, including a selection of unique baby items).
Inglewood: This is Calgary's original neighbourhood, dating back to before the railway came to town. Once rundown, it is the latest focal point of trendy developers. The main thoroughfare is 9th Ave SE, which is known for its cluster of antique and furniture stores. Chinook Centre
: Recently renovated, this large mall anchored by The Bay and Sears includes many of the hottest retail stores. They’ve got Sephora, MAC Cosmetics, Pottery Barn Williams & Sonoma, Banana Republic, Mexx, French Connection, L’Occitaine, and many more. Market Mall
: This northwest shopping centre has many of the same retailers as Chinook Centre, with the addition of H&M, Lululemon, and 9 West.Where to Eat
- River Café
: Fine dining in a gorgeous setting in Prince’s Island Park, with a large patio for summer meals outdoors and cozy fireplace inside for winter. Accessed by footbridge only, so if you’re driving, park downtown or on Memorial Drive.
- Wildwood Grill
: Interesting menu focusing on game and seafood. On the higher end of the price spectrum, but worth it. Also good beer brewed right on the premises, and you can go downstairs to the bar for drinks after dinner. Local bands play from Thursday through Saturday. Corner of 4th St. and 24th Ave SW.
- Saltlik Steakhouse
: Excellent downtown spot for Alberta beef
: Mid-priced, hip, casual Western Canadian chain serving burgers, salads, pizza, pastas, salmon, chicken, and beef. Various locations.
- Diner Deluxe
– Comfort food (think mac & cheese and meatloaf) in a funky retro setting. Very reasonably priced. Also great for breakfast. 804 Edmonton Trail NE (just north of downtown)
- The Coup
– All-veggie menu with a focus on fresh, local, organic ingredients. 17th Ave & 9th St. SW.
- Tibet on 10th – This cozy and well-priced Tibetan cafe at 314 10th St. NW in Kensington has options for both vegetarians and meat-eaters.
- Buddha’s Veggie
- Outstanding vegan Chinese food at 5802 Mcleod Trail SW.
(Reasonably) Cheap & Delicious:
– Vietnamese noodle house on 17th Ave at 12th St. SW.
: Delicious hearty Hungarian fare at 937 6th Ave SW downtown.
- Lazy Loaf & Kettle – Local coffee shop/bakery with yummy bread (the kettle bread is wheat and gluten-free), sandwiches, soups, muffins, cookies, and gooey cinnamon buns. Located at 8 Parkdale Crescent just north of the river – the bike path across Memorial Drive is a great place for a stroll before or after your meal or snack.
– Another coffee shop with great paninis, delicious soups, and tantalizing baked goods. Their cappuccino and espresso draw in a following of devoted locals. Downtown on 8th St and 11th Ave SW, open for breakfast and lunch only.
Good for People Watching:
- Raw Bar
in Hotel Arts – loungey atmosphere, mouth-watering Asian-inspired menu, and most of the food is NOT raw!
- Jaro Blue – delicious tapas and small plates in a sleek, modern space. 17th Ave & 13th St. SW
- Globefish Sushi and Izakaya
– excellent Japanese food that is much more than sushi in a casual, funky setting. Two locations: 326 14th St. NW and 2009 33rd Ave SW.
- Brava Bistro
- Upscale Mediterranean menu and a beautiful wine bar at 17th Ave and 7th St SW
- Galaxie Diner
– Eggs, bacon, and breakfast burritos – yum! Get there early to avoid lineups. 11th St. and 14th Ave SW.
- Danube Creperie – All kinds of fillings, both sweet and savory. Downstairs at 1131 Kensington Road NW.
- Lazy Loaf & Kettle – See above
- Diner Deluxe – See aboveNightlife
Some hot spots by area, plus a couple of country bars in case you’re looking for the cowboy experience:
Downtown on Stephen Avenue (8th Ave SW):
- The Marquee Room (upstairs in the Uptown Cinema) – DJ’s and alternative bands
- Fuel, Opus - 2 sleek lounges
- James Joyce – an Irish pub, of course!
- Flames Central – a tribute to Calgary’s NHL team, they call themselves a “sports lounge of epic proportions”
Along 4th St SW:
- BLVD – upscale supper club / nightclub with DJ music and an excellent tapas menu
- Rose & Crown, James Joyce – Irish pubs
- Wildwood – brew pub and live music venue
“The Red Mile” (17th Ave SW):
- Republik – live alternative bands and DJ’s
- The Metropolitan Grill – dance club
- Mercury, Ming – a couple of martini bars
- Melrose, Yardhouse, 1410 Biermarket – upscale pubs
Country & Western Bars:
- Ranchman’s on Mcleod Trail SW – the most authentic C&W bar in the city
- Coyote’s – dance club playing a mix of country, top 40, and hip hop dance musicWhere to Sleep
Lodging is not cheap in Calgary. Since the only hostel is located in the dodgy eastern fringe of downtown, I would not recommend it. Better choices would be:
- One of the economy chain hotels (Comfort Inn, Super 8, etc.) in “motel village” at Crowchild Trail and 16th Ave NW, where you have easy access to the c-train.
- Ramada Downtown
at 708 8th Ave SW. Close to two arthouse movie theatres and lots of restaurants
- Days Inn Calgary South
at 3828 Macleod Trail S. Close to Chinook Centre mall.
$100 - $200
- Hotel Arts
at 119 12th Ave SW. Trendy boutique hotel. Not the nicest part of downtown, but the hotel itself is very chic and has two great restaurants.
- Westin Downtown
at 320 4th Ave SW. Close to Eau Claire Market
- Hyatt Regency
at 7th Ave & Centre St. Right on Stephen Avenue Mall.
- Fairmont Palliser
. Historic landmark hotel where the Queen stays when she visits. 9th Ave and Centre St. downtown.
- Sheraton Suites Eau Claire
– across from Eau Claire market and steps from the river & Prince’s Island Park
- Kensington Riverside Inn
– Memorial Drive and 10th St. NW, right in Kensington and across the bridge from downtown.