14 things to see and do in Calgary, Canada

The must-see sights, attractions and festivals in Canada's epic city of Calgary, right on the doorstep of Banff National Park.

By Kieran Meeke

Published 21 May 2024

Calgary was a city of cowboys and ranchers before it boomed on oil and gas, but it has never lost its spirit of western hospitality.

Now perhaps most famous for its annual Stampede, this modern city is also a centre for exploring the iconic landscapes that first attracted those pioneers of old, with stunning Banff and Jasper National Parks not too far away.

The hosting of the 1988 Winter Olympics – where Eddie the Eagle jumped to fame – gave a much-needed boost to Calgary's confidence during that decade’s economic slump.

As well as confirming its reputation for welcoming visitors and handling large-scale events, a number of major facilities also remain as a legacy: the SaddleDome, the speed skating Olympic Oval (where Cool Runnings was later filmed), and the Nakiska Mountain Resort.

A playground for both winter and summer activities, the Rocky Mountains to the west of Calgary bring beauty to a cityscape that can often seem more functional than pretty but whose true heart lies in its western hospitality.

Western Canada’s largest museum is built around an eclectic collection left by local oilman Eric Harvie. Its 30,000 works of art feature western, wildlife and First Nations themes, while its collection of nearly a million other artefacts and books includes many fascinating military and ethnographic items.

Must-see: Sir Francis Drake's walking stick and Captain James Cook’s sword and punch bowl.

The tallest building in the city when it opened in 1968, this tower stills bills itself as “the highest 360° observation deck in the world”.

The revolving Sky 360 restaurant one floor below that is a good option for a longer viewing.

Photo tip:

Look for the recreated Fort Calgary to literally see how far the city has come in 150 years.

'Canada’s largest living historical village' is open from mid-May to Labour Day (September 4), with limited opening for the rest of the year.

It recreates a pioneer village from around the turn of the 20th century, complete with costumed staff who play their roles with gusto.

There is also a train and the half-size S.S. Moyie paddle steamer which sails across Glenmore Reservoir.

Must-do: See the Gasoline Alley Museum (open all year) which showcases vintage cars and historic items such as fuel pumps.

A block north of the Calgary Tower, this pedestrianised street holds shops with the latest fashion shops many historic sandstone buildings, including City Hall and the Hudson’s Bay Company, a Canadian icon.

The Canadian forces tend not to receive the same acclaim as some of their neighbours, but they have fought alongside their British allies from the Boer War to Afghanistan.

One in three Albertans between 18 and 45 enlisted during the Great War of 1914-18 and 6,000 died. The Military Museums incorporate elements from former museums dedicated to the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force.

Must-do: See the worn “Ric-A-Dam-Doo” battle flag of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, embroidered by Princess Patricia herself.

One of the largest arts centres in Canada holds five theatres and the 1,800-seat Jack Singer Concert Hall that is home to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Must-do: Hear a concert featuring the 6,040-pipe Carthy Organ.

The tiny town of Fort McLeod is named for its fort, which is also its major attraction after its historic downtown area, filled with quaint buildings.

The recreated fort tells the story of the frontier life of the North West Mounted Police, later merged into the famous 'Mounties'.

Watch volunteers riders in NWMP uniforms perform a musical ride three times a day during July and August.

This UNESCO site about two hours south of Calgary was used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years to hunt buffalo.

As its name implies, the herds were driven off a 30-foot cliff on the prairies, with the tribes setting up camp to process their meat, hides, sinews and bones. An interpretative centre tells the fascinating story.

Must-do: See a demonstration of how to erect a tipi.

The drive down to Waterton from Calgary will throw up vistas that may seem familiar. Alberta’s scenery here and further west, where the Rockies seem to rise straight up from the prairie, has been the setting for many Westerns, from Unforgiven to Brokeback Mountain.

Besides its majestic landscapes, Waterton itself is notable for its lakes and the historic Prince of Wales Hotel. Although named for the future King Edward VIII, he never stayed here but that was his loss.

It borders Glacier National Park in Montana, and the pairing forms an International Peace Park.

Food tip:

Have Afternoon Tea in the hotel, which was built in the 1920s to attract Americans over the border in the age of Prohibition.

Some of Canada's most mesmerising views can be found in Banff and Jasper National Parks, two of Canada's most popular national parks.

Banff is as ‘vacation-centric’ as the Rockies get. Building on its history as a hotels and resort development by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century, it literally blows hot and cold, with hot springs in the perhaps offputtingly named Sulphur Mountain and fashionable ski resorts that thrive pretty much year-round.

Enjoy spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and hike around Lake Louise. Regular buses run from Calgary to Banff, and they're often featured together on itineraries of touring holidays to western Canada.

This massive rodeo plus agricultural show is held every July and attracts the world’s best riders, as well as Chuckwagons racing for million-dollar prize money.

It is also a massive musical show, performed by Calgary’s own Young Canadians, a powerhouse of young talent that often heads off to Broadway and beyond.

Then there’s The Midway, a fairground and a gastronomic experience defined by foods such as bacon-beer-battered corn dogs, deep-fried Oreo milkshakes or mac and cheese stuffed burgers.

More than two million visitors come over ten days. Join in by dressing like a cowboy/girl for the day, complete with cowboy hat.

The Stampede was started in 1912 by promoter Guy Weadick, but spluttered for a while before really taking off when merged with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition in 1923.

This new ten-day Calgary Exhibition and Stampede every July began to attract visitors from all over the country and then beyond to witness 'The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth'.

Did you know?

Calgary was founded in 1875 by the North West Mounted Police as a wooden fort where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet.

It was named after the Scottish home of Colonel James McLeod and its role was to stop American whisky traders preying on the First Nations population.

July in Calgary is overshadowed by the Stampede but this event has been slowly gaining a passionate following of its own.

Attracting musicians, and fans, from all over the world, headliners have included Martha Wainwright, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Father John Misty and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

It’s held on Prince’s Island and audience participation is encouraged, so this is your chance to try songwriting or guitar 101.

With a history going back more than a century, this gathering of the clans every September features all the traditional events, from the caber toss to pipe bands.

Calgary Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival

An annual event in October celebrating the best in food and drink from Canada and beyond. Dozens of local restaurants also showcase their talents under one roof, producing food pairings for sample wines.

A legacy of the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, the Chinook Blast winter festival brightens February with live music and winter-related sports such as dogsledding, skiing and luge.

Discover Calgary and the Rocky Mountains for yourself on one of our escorted and independent tours of Canada

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