What are the best things to see and do in Calgary?

Robin Schroffel

As the biggest city in Alberta, Calgary boasts a unique mix of local Wild West tradition and cosmopolitan urban culture. Whether you’re seeking the city’s history or to soak up its contemporary scene, Calgary has a long list of must-sees to offer visitors. To help you narrow it down, here’s Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ list of the five best things to see and do in Calgary.
 
1. Go to the Calgary Stampede. Each July, the city dons its signature white cowboy hat to celebrate the annual rodeo and exhibition, the Calgary Stampede. Events including chuckwagon races, a parade, a fair, pancake breakfasts, and, of course, bull riding draw over a million visitors over the course of 10 days. The Calgary Stampede has been a tradition since its debut in 1912, and remains the city’s calling card.  
 
2. Visit Calgary Zoo. Located on the Bow River, the Calgary Zoo is the second largest zoo in the country. Established in 1929, today the zoo is home to nearly 300 species of animals divided into regions including South America, Eurasia, Africa and Australia. In the Canadian Wilds section, visitors can see species native to the area including bison, grizzly bears and wolves. The Calgary Zoo also includes extensive botanical gardens and a prehistoric park featuring plants and life-size models of dinosaurs.
 
3. See The Art Gallery of Calgary. This public contemporary art gallery includes more than 6,000 square feet of exhibition space filled with pieces ranging from pop surrealism, controversial photography, interactive multimedia installations and traditional painting and sculpture. Local artists play a huge role in the gallery’s shows, as do local collectors: both groups regularly lend work for display here. Guided tours, artist talks and practical workshops allow visitors to gain a deeper understanding.
 
4. Check out The Glenbow Museum. Western Canadian history mingles with artifacts collected from the four corners of the globe at Calgary’s downtown museum. Inside, collections cover everything from community history to aboriginal cultures with one million artifacts. Along with the traditional museum galleries, the institution also houses an art gallery, a library and an archive.
 
5. Stroll Stephen Avenue Walk. Art, fashion, food and culture collide along Calgary’s historic pedestrian mall, which stretches along Eighth Avenue from First Street  to Fourth Street. Lined by the city’s major department stores, including the Hudson’s Bay Company and Holt Renfrew, and dotted with some of Calgary’s top restaurants including Divino Wine & Cheese Bistro, the avenue gains some extra ambiance from the street vendors and buskers set up along its six-block length.

  • On August 2, 2012
    Robin Schroffel answered the question: Robin Schroffel

    What is the best cultural experience in Calgary?

    Calgary is world famous for its cowboy culture, and the best way to get a taste of the city’s Wild West flavor is by attending the Calgary Stampede, a massive rodeo and carnival rolled into one. Every July, Calgarians embrace their Western heritage, donning tight jeans, pearl-buttoned shirts, boots and cowboy hats to celebrate the 10-day event. Along with parades, pancake breakfasts and agricultural shows, the Stampede features real-life rodeo stars competing in events like bronco riding, steer wrestling, calf roping and chuckwagon racing. Stampede concerts and entertainment, including an elaborate  grandstand show, regularly include some of the biggest names in country music. Over on the midway, win prizes at the classic carnival games, ride the Ferris wheel or chow down on funnel cakes and other deep-fried treats.
  • On August 2, 2012
    Robin Schroffel answered the question: Robin Schroffel

    What is the best thing to bring home from Calgary?

    If there’s one thing that’s become a Calgary icon — and is worth bringing home — it’s the white cowboy hat. Presented to visiting dignitaries, politicians, movie stars and royalty in an elaborate ceremony since the 1940s, these white cowboy hats are available from local manufacturer Smithbilt Hats and Tourism Calgary in an effort to maintain the quality and integrity of the city’s symbol. But if white’s not quite your color, don’t fret: Smithbilt produces a wide range of hats, including many other types of hats made from natural materials including straw, wool, rabbit felt and even luxurious beaver felt. Informative, interactive tours of Smithbilt’s facility, which include the opportunity to try out all sorts of hats, are available.
  • On August 2, 2012
    Robin Schroffel answered the question: Robin Schroffel

    What are the best Calgary food experiences?

    When people talk about food in Calgary, they’re often referring to the steak-and-potatoes variety. But while you can definitely get one of the best steaks in the world in Alberta, it isn’t the only thing the province has to offer. To help you choose, here’s our list of the five best Calgary food experiences.
     
    1. River Café. Located at Prince’s Island Park, traditional regional ingredients and dishes — like stinging nettle, rhubarb, kohlrabi and perogies — are honored on River Café’s menu and incorporated into creative dishes. Rustic breads utilize local organic grains and are baked in-house, including sourdough from the restaurant’s own 15-year-old culture. Butchering, pickling, preserving, curing and smoking are also practiced at River Café, providing guests with an all-encompassing culinary experience.
     
    2. Home Tasting Room. Situated in a Stephen Avenue heritage space, Home Tasting Room specializes in small-plates dining. The menu is a veritable hodgepodge of unique dishes — Bison tartare with truffle aioli and French baguette can be snacked on alongside horseradish hummus, house-seasoned potato chips and ricotta and herb gnocchi. Get into the spirit of things by bringing a friend and ordering a few dishes to sample together.
     
    3. Farm Restaurant. As its name implies, Farm maintains close relationships with local farmers and aims to highlight the bounty produced in Calgary’s backyard. The food here is cozy, unpretentious and comforting. Served at long tables that invite sharing and socializing, the offerings include charcuterie boards, hearty lunch sandwiches and artisan green salads. The restaurant’s multi-course harvest menus are perfect for groups and those seeking a carefully orchestrated down-home experience.
     
    4. Rouge Restaurant. Housed in a bright-red 1899 heritage home once owned by one of the Calgary Stampede rodeo’s founders, Rouge specializes in French cuisine with a focus on high-quality, fresh, local ingredients sourced from regional producers and the restaurant’s own garden, which covers six city lots. Under the guidance of part-owner and chef Paul Rogalski, Rouge earned a coveted spot on S. Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurants list in 2010.
     
    5. The Ranche Restaurant. You don’t get much more Calgarian than The Ranche, an upscale restaurant housed inside a 100-year-old ranch house restored to the glory days of the cattle aristocracy. Alberta beef, bison, and caribou from local producers provide much of the meat of the menu, updated with sophisticated touches that keep the cuisine on the cutting edge while staying true to cowboy tradition. The Ranche also whips up a wicked brunch, with selections including banana bread French toast with apple-vanilla compote and caribou, bison and bean chili with fried eggs.
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  • On August 2, 2012
    Robin Schroffel answered the question: Robin Schroffel

    Where is the best nightlife in Calgary?

    The best nightlife in Calgary can be found in the Uptown 17th Avenue neighborhood. The thriving strip along 17th Avenue between Second and 14th Streets is home to dozens of bars, clubs and pubs catering to clientele ranging from upscale to hipster. There’s really something for everyone, whether you’re seeking a quiet glass of wine and a bit of jazz or a pint of a local microbrew with a live rock ‘n’ roll band. For sophisticated clubbing, try the Mercury Lounge, or chill out at Calgary’s legendary laid-back pub, Ship & Anchor. Late-night noshing options along 17th are plentiful as well.