Is Calgary Worth Visiting In 2023? Things To Do & Reasons To Visit
Wanting to know is Calgary worth visiting on your trip to the Canadian Rockies and Banff or by itself?
Calgary is absolutely worth visiting! There is so much to see and do in this western Canadian city. From exploring the nearby Canadian Rockies to enjoying amazing food and festivals, Calgary is sure to satisfy any traveler’s needs. We asked our friend, Deirdre from Build & Board Travel, to cover this topic in depth.
Most visitors coming to Banff National Park and the Rockies fly into Calgary International airport. Calgary is often considered just a stopover on the way to Banff, but Calgary is definitely worth staying a few days to experience all the amazing things this city has to offer.
10 Best things to do in Calgary
Calgary is known for a lot of things, but most notably for its vicinity to the Rocky Mountains and the annual world-renowned Calgary Stampede.
1. Calgary Stampede
Any visit to Calgary would not be complete without attending the world-famous Calgary Stampede. This 10-day event in July is the pride of joy of everything Calgary and has shaped the city’s identity over 100 years!
It showcases chuckwagon races, live music, rodeos, a midway, and hundreds of food vendors. Pancake breakfasts and lunches are offered throughout the entire city over the 10 days and are free to everyone. Yum!
Over a million visitors attend the annual event each year, making it the biggest and most popular event in Calgary.
2. The Canadian Rockies
Located 1 hour away from the foothills, Calgary is the gateway to the mountains. A trip to Banff National Park or Kananaskis is a must if visiting Calgary!
Canoe on the turquoise glacier water of Lake Louise, hike the stunning Tent Ridge Horseshoe Loop, or walk the quaint streets of Canmore and Banff.
The Icefields Parkway Drive to the mountains is one of the most beautiful road trips in the world between Lake Louise and Jasper National Park.
Banff can be enjoyed year-round, but summer is the most ideal time to visit for clear views of the snow-capped mountains. There are many amazing things to do in Banff in Summer like hiking the Johnston Canyon falls, taking the Banff Gondola, paddleboarding in Vermillion Lake, and biking.
3. Calgary Zoo
The Calgary Zoo is a must-visit destination for animal lovers, families, and anyone interested in learning more about wildlife and conservation efforts.
The Calgary Zoo has a variety of exhibits that showcase different habitats, from the Canadian Wilds to the African Savannah. The zoo’s Canadian Wilds exhibit is particularly amazing as it features many species of animals native to Canada such as grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolves, and lynxes.
Another popular exhibit here is the Destination Africa exhibit is also a major attraction at the Calgary Zoo. It showcases animals such as lions, zebras, giraffes, and cheetahs in a naturalistic environment.
The zoo has a variety of dining options and also has a playground, a carousel, and a train ride for children, making it an ideal destination for families.
4. Calgary Tower
The Calgary Tower, at a height of 627 feet (191 meters) is an iconic landmark and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city of Calgary.
Though not the tallest structure anymore with the other skyscrapers built later, Calgary Tower is still a nice place to visit for some amazing panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains from its observation decks.
The observation deck has a glass floor experience to see a bird’s eye view of the city below if you are brave enough.
The Tower also has a revolving restaurant to enjoy 360-degree views of the city while you eat.
5. Prince’s Island Park
Prince’s Island is a beautiful and vibrant island park located in the heart of downtown Calgary. It is situated on the Bow River and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, with its scenic views, several walking and biking trails, and recreational facilities.
You can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the river, take a jog around the island, or explore the various paths and bridges that crisscross the park. There are also several picnic areas and playgrounds.
Throughout the year, Prince’s Island is home to several cultural events and festivals, including the Calgary Folk Music Festival, the Calgary International Children’s Festival, and the Canada Day celebrations.
Hidden Gems Not to be Missed in Calgary
Calgary has many hidden gems and underrated experiences around the city to explore.
Globalfest might not be a secret, but I feel like it’s underrated. This annual multicultural festival is a celebration like no other. With five nights of explosive musical energy and fireworks, it’s something that should not be overlooked.
International cuisine, artistic performances, pavilions, and music from all over
the world can be enjoyed every evening.
7. Tubing down the Bow River
Floating down the Bow River is an ultimate rite of passage for every Calgarian. Most of the tubing will occur in the downtown core, as there are places you can rent your equipment.
However, there are other quiet areas to check out. The float from 17th Ave to Deer Run is often less congested. It does require a lot of coordination as far as transport goes, as you will need 2 vehicles, but the scenic views are worth the hassle.
8. Inner City Parks
I don’t think Calgary gets enough credit for its inner-city green spaces, especially Fish Creek Provincial Park. While most people flock to Prince’s Island or Glenmore Park during the summertime, the southwest side of Fish Creek seems to be ignored in comparison.
Fish Creek is Canada’s second-largest urban park and with over 100 kms of paved and unpaved paths, there is plenty to explore. Fish Creek is primarily a wooded area with jagged cliffs, creeks, and varied levels of elevation.
Perfect for mountain bikers and avid hikers/walkers. You will find peace and serenity if you stick to the woods and avoid the paved paths.
9. Foodies in the Park
Foodies in the Park began in 2019, as a small culinary experience at the Bow Valley Ranch Restaurant. Award-winning chef Daryl Kerr, created pop-up food events housed in translucent garden domes, set between the beautiful backdrop of Fish Creek Park.
The Homegrown Afternoon Tea is a definite must! It showcases food from local Canadian producers. Each dome can hold up to 6 people and can be heated or cooled, depending on the weather.
Past events included Frozen Jungle Dining, A Trip to France, and even an Alice in Wonderland Themed dome.
10. Rat’s Nest Cave
While this activity isn’t in Calgary, it’s close enough for a day trip. This cave is located under Grotto Mountain, just outside of Canmore. It is an undeveloped cave, so don’t expect anything flashy.
Canmore Caves Tours offers two great caving adventures in Rat’s Nest Cave. The Adventure Tour is 6 hours long (4 hours underground) and includes an 18m rappel. While the Explorer Tour is 4.5 hours (2 hours underground).
All equipment and training are provided. If you are claustrophobic (like me), I would
suggest the Explorer Tour, as there are fewer small spaces. If you are feeling bold, there are 2 optional squeezes to try.
Best Time to Visit Calgary
The best time to visit Calgary is entirely based on your preferences, but if I had to choose, I would say Summer or Winter.
Calgary in Spring and Autumn
While potentially beautiful, Calgary has some very unpredictable weather in the Spring and Autumn. Spring can often be messy, with the potential for snowfall even in late May. Some years, Calgary can skip autumn entirely, transitioning straight from summer to winter overnight.
Calgary in Summer (best time to visit!)
Summer in Calgary is one of the most popular times to visit, as it offers numerous outdoor activities and events such as hiking, biking, and musical events. Warm temperatures and endless sunshine make for a perfect time to explore the city.
In the summer, it typically doesn’t get dark until after 10 pm! June officially signifies the end of the winter blues in Calgary, and it kicks off with the annual Lilac Festival. This outdoor street festival is the first of many unique and lively festivals that happen around Calgary all summer long!
Some of the most notorious events happening in Calgary during the summer include the Folk Festival, Sled Island, and Carifest.
Calgary in Winter
Switching gears, Calgary in the winter takes on another form. While the temperatures can reach uncomfortable levels at -40C (with the wind chill), there are still plenty of things to do in and around the city.
Chinook Blast is a winter festival celebrating community, culture, and recreation. The Canada Olympic Park is open year-round but comes alive in the winter after a fresh dump of snow, offering skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and skating.
With several light festivals and Christmas markets around the holidays, winter in Calgary never has a dull moment. Calgary is a great festive city to visit during Winter.
How Many Days Do You Need in Calgary?
Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and is home to many amazing natural and manmade attractions. To capture the true beauty of Calgary and the surrounding mountains, you will need at least 5-7 days to enjoy everything.
Spend one day in Calgary exploring the small yet lively downtown area, zoo, and Telus Spark, before ending the night at the Calgary Tower.
At least three days (or definitely more!) should be spent exploring the surrounding Canadian Rockies mountains. Try whitewater rafting or relax at the hot springs. Walk along the quaint mountain towns of Canmore and Banff. Or hike to one of the tea houses at Lake Louise.
The remaining days leave you to take part in one of the many festivals in Calgary, walk through the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, or visit Glenbow Museum, or the classic Heritage Park.
Below are some great excursions from Calgary:
Lake Louise & Yoho N.P Day Trip from Calgary or Banff: See the picturesque Lake Louise and Yoho National Park on a day trip from Calgary. Includes Lake Moraine in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter.
Discover Banff National Park – Day Trip from Calgary: Highly rated small group day tour from downtown Calgary to Banff, Lake Louise, and several amazing vistas!
3-Hour Bike Ride Through Beautiful Calgary and the Bow River: Explore Calgary city on a bike tour with a guide and learn about the various landmarks as you go.
How to get to Calgary?
Flying to the Calgary International Airport is the best way to reach Calgary from international destinations like the United States, Europe, etc. You can also reach Calgary by doing a road trip from the nearby cities in Canada.
How to Get Around Calgary
Over the years Calgary has been improving its infrastructure and making the city more accessible via public transit. Calgary’s C-Train line has connected each quadrant of the city to the downtown core.
Most of the festivals and large events are held in the downtown city center, which is very walkable. Rideshare options, like Uber, are also popular in the city.
Calgary is making it even easier to visit Banff and surrounding areas. Buses and shuttles are becoming an increasingly popular choice to visit the mountains. There are private or shuttle transfer services from Calgary to Banff and are a good option if you want to ditch the car.
➡ Check rates and availability for this Private Shuttle from Calgary YYC Airport to Banff
➡ Alberta luxury Shuttle Transfer between Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, Calgary, and Kananaskis.
Alternatively, renting a car is the best option if you want flexibility. Places like Kananaskis do not have public transit, so having your own vehicle or carpooling is essential.
You might also need to rent a car if you want to do a Candian Rockies road trip from Calgary and drive on the scenic Icefields Parkway drive.
➡ I recommend using Discover Cars as they check top car rental brands and provide the best rates.
Where to Stay in Calgary?
If you’re planning a trip to Calgary, one of the most important considerations is where to stay.
Here are some of the best places to stay in Calgary:
The city’s downtown area is home to many hotels, restaurants, and shops, making
it an ideal location for tourists who want easy access to everything the city has to offer.
Some popular hotels in downtown Calgary include The Fairmont Palliser, Hotel Arts Kensington, and Hyatt Regency Calgary.
This historic neighborhood has a mixture of old and new, with plenty of unique shops and delicious restaurants.
Alternatively, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the downtown core, head south. This will allow you to visit some of the quieter neighborhoods, yet still have access to the major routes and popular areas, like Bragg Creek.
What To Eat in Calgary
What is there to eat in Calgary? Everything! Calgary is a multicultural hub that not only produces some local cuisine (Alberta Beef) but also international and fusion dishes.
During the summer and fall, Calgary hosts several international food festivals, including Taste of Calgary, Afro-Caribbean Food Festival, Ribfest, and plenty of others.
Not to mention the melting pot that is 17th Avenue. This strip is home to some of the most unique restaurants around, blending cultures and cuisine. Calcutta Cricket Club is a perfect example, as they offer a fantastic Indian fusion mix.
Calgary is also known for its pop-up bars, restaurants, and food trucks. YYC Food Trucks come out to play in the spring to fall, servicing all of Calgary and neighboring towns. Foods range from pizza, poutine, perogies, noodles, and curries. Delicious!
Final Takeaways: Is Calgary worth visiting?
Calgary is totally worth visiting! Whether you’re looking for exciting attractions, food festivals, outdoor adventures, or stunning scenery, Calgary has something everyone can enjoy, regardless of the season.
Top 10 things to do in Calgary:
- Attend Calgary Stampede – an open-air rodeo and midway in July
- Go see the Canadian Rockies – Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper
- Visit the Calgary Zoo
- Enjoy the panoramic views from the Calgary tower
- Stroll or bike in Prince’s Island Park
- Attend Globalfest – an annual multi-cultural festival
- Have fun tubing down the Bow River
- Visit the Inner City Parks like Fish Creek
- Indulge your taste buds at Foodies in the Park event
- Explore Rat’s Nest Cave under Grotto Mountain
Next time, when you are in Calgary plan to spend at least a few days or more to experience all that Calgary has to offer.
Check out other posts from my trip to the Canadian Rockies: