Largely built from scratch on prairie grasses in the last sixty years, Calgary’s gleaming glass-and-steel downtown stands as a testament to the might of oil wealth. These impressive results are thoroughly corporate, conventional and safe, but the million-strong city loves to balance it with a wild annual celebration of its Wild West roots. The event, called the Calgary Stampede, and self-confidently billed as “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” centers on a three-week rodeo in early July. Locals don Stetson hats, bolo ties, blue jeans and cowboy boots, talk in western slang and square dance in the streets. The festivities attract well over a million visitors and is definitely the time to be in town. At other times, the city is sedate and its modest attractions will only keep you here for long as you can fight the temptation to head to the jagged Rocky Mountains which lie tantalizingly close on the western horizon.
Admirably, a good chunk of its oil wealth fell to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, whose many colorful native exhibits and slick local history, provide the best introduction to the city. The tall top-heavy concrete finger beside it is the Calgary Tower, the main downtown landmark which adds curves to an otherwise boxy skyline. Its 191 meter platform offers outstanding views of the snowcapped Rockies and the ski-jump towers of WinSport, a venue for the 1988 Olympics on the edge of town, while its glass floors provide a giddying look at the streets below.
Other Downtown attractions include the Devonian Gardens, a lush three-acre indoor gardens with an unusual top floor location in a downtown shopping mall. Then, some seven city blocks north, the Eau Claire Market offers a cheerful converted warehouse with food and craft stalls, cinemas, buskers, restaurants and panoramic terraces. A clutch of excellent Asian restaurants reside beside it in Chinatown, while just north the Bow River transports cool, clear Rocky Mountain water through town and around Prince’s Island, a popular but peaceful island park with plenty of trees, flowers and a kids’ playground.
Among these streets is Stampede Park, the grounds occupied by the Saddle Dome – a stadium named for its curved roof and home to the Calgary Flames ice hockey team – and the city’s rodeo grounds. This is where most of the Stampede action is, which includes just about every imaginable Western event from blacksmith competitions, to horse shows, to bull riding, calf-wrestling and chuck-wagon races. There’s also boot-scooting and yee-hawing aplenty at a giant central marquee as big country music names play. Meanwhile, in quiet tepees on the fringe of the grounds local tribes such as the Blackfoot complete the picture with something of their heritage – and sales of delicious warm bannock, a native flat bread.
Once you’ve explored these, consider attractions just outside downtown, which include Fort Calgary, an 1875 stockade built by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or Mounties, to tame the lawless whiskey trade and where the city effectively began. Otherwise the TELUS World of Science, is a good interactive science museum and Calgary Zoo, one of North America’s best.
Both the Eau Claire Market and Chinatown are good places to browse for restaurants, but Calgary’s most happening nightlife strip is 17th Avenue Southwest. Alternatively, the Elbow River Casino beside Stampede Park, includes a comedy club which often showcases local talent, while the downtown Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts often has first-rate theatre, classical music and ballet.
For a day trip the attractive Rocky Mountain town of Banff, an easy 90-minute drive to the west, is the most obvious and best choice, offering the chance to see wildlife as well as go biking, hiking or skiing.
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Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We donât want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in C$.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double
$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person