Calgary is one of the coolest cities in Canada and way more than just a pit stop on the way to Alberta’s stunning national parks. Home to the world famous Calgary Stampede and site of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, that’s just about all I knew about Cowtown before I arrived for my summer adventure. But oh, there’s so much more to Alberta’s largest city, and so many fun things to do in Calgary!
Fun Things to Do in Calgary
Now that I’ve spent some time in Calgary, I can tell you this is not a city you want to miss. Yes, you’ve got to hit up Jasper and Banff – those Instagrams in front of turquoise glacial lakes aren’t going to take themselves! – but Calgary is such a dish, you’d be crazy to skip it. I just spent a few days in town as a guest of Tourism Calgary and here’s the tea: I’m all in!
Where is Calgary?
Calgary sits on the border of the prairie and the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It’s a wholly modern and cosmopolitan city with an agricultural heritage, a living, breathing dichotomy with the Bow River snaking right through the skyscrapers and parks of downtown.
Getting to Calgary (YYC)
Getting to Calgary is easy, too. YYC Calgary International Airport is a hub for Air Canada and WestJet, with direct flights throughout Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. YYC is about 20 minutes from downtown, so it couldn’t be easier to navigate.
- Distance from Calgary to Banff: 90 minutes
- Distance from Calgary to Jasper: 5 hours
- Distance from Calgary to Edmonton: 3 hours
It’s cold in Canada, eh? Not in the summer! This is something like my 5th summer in a row spending a part of July north of the border and y’all, I’m telling you, this is where it’s at. The weather was stunning the whole time we were in Alberta. The sun doesn’t set until after 9 p.m., so you have the most gorgeous, long, sunny days. The weather was temperate while I was there, anywhere from 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the winter, of course Alberta weather is a whole different ballgame. The first snowfall usually arrives in September or October and the last could be as late as May. I imagine it’s a lot for a Floridian to handle – but you know what? I’m game. I loved Alberta so much in the summer that I almost can’t wait to see what Calgary and Edmonton are like in the colder months. (As long as I can borrow a parka or something!)
Visiting Canada in the summer? You might like these posts!
- 15 Surprisingly Fun Things to do in Edmonton
- 8 Things To Do While Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer
- 36 Hours in Jasper National Park
- Pampering in Vancouver: The Sea, the Tea and the Spa in BC
What to do in Calgary in the Summertime
1. Float Down the Bow River
Fancy an adventure that’s light on effort? Link up with a guide from the Paddle Station to see Calgary from the glacier-fed Bow River. It runs right through downtown, and turns a beautiful turquoise in the summer, so it’s a great way to get a new perspective on Alberta’s biggest city. It feels like the wilderness as you pass under what seems like a few dozen bridges, including the iconic Peace Bridge.
2. Have a Boozy Brunch at Burwood Distillery
Calgary is full of great dining options, so I’ll only mention a few in this post, otherwise we’ll be here all day! Burwood Distillery is a great spot to grab a drink or a linger for hours over a tasty brunch — or both! They use local ingredients, like honey from the owner’s bees, to craft unique brews you can only get here.
Fun Fact: Fans of the Netflix series Fargo, filmed in Calgary, might notice that much of Burwood’s furniture came directly from the show.
3. Take a Cocktail Class at Shelter
Did you ever wonder what “bitters” actually are when you read them on a cocktail menu? Or which cocktails should be shaken vs. stirred? I learned that and a ton more at Shelter, a tiny cocktail bar on 1 Street. Classes are $65 CAD and come with several drinks in addition to all that boozy knowledge.
Fun Calgary Fact: The Caesar, a cocktail made with made with vodka, clamato juice, hot sauce and worcestershire sauce, was invented in 1969 in Calgary.
Each class includes up to three cocktails, bar snacks, cocktail-making history, tips on muddling, shaking, stirring and smoking and more details on glassware than you even thought possible to know.
4. Have a Veggie-Forward Dinner at Ten Foot Henry
Just across the street from Shelter is Ten Foot Henry, a casual spot for small plates with a focus on fresh, locally sourced produce. Also check out the following spots for delicious dinner, treats and desserts.
- Lulu Bar
- Una Pizza and Wine, try the Beltline pizza
- River Cafe on Prince’s Island (cheese board pictured above!)
5. The Calgary Stampede
Calgary is often called Cowtown for its rich agricultural history, and not that you need an excuse to visit, but the best way to experience it in one wild wallop is at the world renowned Calgary Stampede. The event is more than 100 years old and has all the pageantry of SEC college football, the roots of traditional rodeo and farming culture, the heart of the First Nations and economic impact that’ll blow your big white cowboy hat right off. It’s the world’s richest tournament style rodeo. It’s no wonder they call it the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”
And it’s the best reason ever to dress up! I saw all manner of outfits at Calgary Stampede so there’s no pressure, but you know my motto. If you can dress up on a trip, you should.
The Stampede hosts more than 1 million visitors each year. There are a zillion things to do once you enter the gates of Stamped Park so plan accordingly. Take in an afternoon rodeo, sign up for a food tour and taste cotton candy donuts, flamin’ frog legs, popcorn chicken poutine or the eight-legged octopus-lolly and definitely take time to explore the Elbow River Camp to experience First Nations traditions and performances.
There are carnival rides and games and plenty of sideshows to keep you entertained. The event runs for 9 days every July, and you could go every day and still not see everything.
6. Bulls after Dark
As if the rodeo wasn’t adrenaline-charged enough! Bulls After Dark takes all the excitement you get at Stampede and adds pyrotechnics, live music, a DJ and cowboys who run and JUMP OVER CHARGING BULLS. I’m here to tell you it’s one of the craziest things I’ve seen. How do you even get into that as a hobby?! Worth a look if you’re in town in July.
Day Trips from Calgary
7. Luxuriate at Kananaskis Nordic Spa
You can’t have a girls’ weekend in Calgary without making the drive out to Kananaskis Nordic Spa. It’s heaven on earth for spa lovers! Surrounded by forest and snow-capped peaks, there are hot, medium and cold plunge pools, aromatherapy steam cabins, more types of saunas than I ever knew existed and a full-service spa. I had the most heavenly massage here followed by a catnap in a fleece lined outdoor hammock. I don’t know that I’ve had a better spa experience. A must!
You can stay at Kananaskis, too, and just make a whole glorious self-care weekend out of it. Check prices and availability here.
8. Support the Pups at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
Just 30 minutes outside Calgary, the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is a must for dog lovers. You can take an interpretive walk through the rescue to meet the various wolf packs or take the interactive tour where you enter the enclosure and get to meet these unique mixed pups.
Manage your expectations though – this isn’t a puppy snuggling experience. You’ll get to interact in a measured, calm, appropriate way with this very different kind of canine, and they might even take food out of your hand. But it doesn’t take long for you to realize just how different wolves are from domesticated dogs.
Where to Stay in Calgary
We stayed in the brand new Residence Inn Calgary Downtown/Beltline District and as they say in Calgary… YAHOO! The Residence Inn is slick and modern with a nod to its Alberta roots. The property sits on the site of the historic Alberta Boot Company, and the headboards feature boot-stitching in the leather as a knowing hat tip. The CTrain is just a block away and there’s a complimentary breakfast buffet, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour fitness center to go with spacious suites and full kitchens. It’s actually the largest Residence Inn hotel in the world, and well worth a visit!
Hotel Options in Calgary, Alberta
Need to research Calgary hotels? Start here!
If not for the fact that I’m a native Floridian and can’t handle when the weather dips below 60 degree Fahrenheit, I could see myself living in Calgary. For now, consider me an honorary Calgarian and new fan of cowboy hats, boots and the Canadian tuxedo. NEW UNIFORM.
Curious about what that means? Check out my travel content creator code.
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