9+ Best Things to Do in Calgary, Canada (On a Short Trip)

Welcome to Calgary, Canada’s hidden gem in the heart of Alberta.

This is a city where modern skyscrapers cast shadows over centuries of history, where the majestic Rockies are an urban playground, and where cultural diversity meets natural wonder.

Downtown Calgary skyline along the Bow River

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, a taste of rich heritage, or simply a breath of fresh mountain air, you’ll find there are plenty of things to do in Calgary that cover it all.

Due to its location at the edge of the Canadian Prairies and Canadian Rocky MountainsCalgary can be a stopover or a transit destination.

As Banff Is one of Canada’s top destinations, many people will pass through Calgary on their way there, so we thought it would be helpful to share what to do in Calgary on a short trip, so you can make the most of the short time you have.

If, like me, you’ll be staying in Calgary, here are some attractions worth visiting on a half-day to a day trip to this Canadian city.

Why was I going to Calgary?

Aerial view of Calgary's tall buildings and grounds in the background

I flew to Calgary for an InstaSuccess retreat in Banff National Park for my friend Christina McEvoy (@MacsExplore). I had half a day before it started so I headed to downtown Calgary without any plans.

I was pleasantly surprised and glad I took the time to visit Calgary to see some of its top attractions.

It was my first time in Canada, and I was so impressed by the diversity and beauty of Calgary that I started planning return trips to other Canadian cities.

I’ll add a few more tips at the end that I didn’t have time to do, but if you have more time in Calgary, you might want to.

Is Calgary worth visiting?

Dhanush River flowing under a bridge
Bo River

Calgary is located in the province of Alberta at the confluence of the Bow River and the Elbow River.

It is located in the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies, meaning it is relatively close to the transition point between the mountainous terrain of the Rockies and the flat expanse of the Prairies.

This means it’s the gateway to both the Rockies and the Prairies, and is only two hours from the iconic Banff National Park – so due to its location alone, it’s worth a visit.

In addition to its location, Calgary is famous for its relaxing climate, possibly due to the number of parks and the fact that everyone gets plenty of Vitamin D – that’s right, Calgary has 333 days of sunshine a year!

Best Things to Do in Downtown Calgary

restaurant on the road

While Edmonton is the capital of Alberta, Calgary is Canada’s largest city and third-largest city, with a population of approximately 1.2 million locals, so you can rest assured that there are plenty of things you can do there for fun.

Those with more time may want to explore further afield, but most of the things to do in Calgary are downtown.

1. The Simmons Building is a great place to start with a coffee

The brick exterior of the Simmons Building, surrounded by trees
Simmons Building

My friend Tamara from Globe Guides messaged me on Instagram and told me to go to the East Village and start with coffee at the Simmons Building on the Bow River. And I did just that.

The Simmons Building is a landmark in the East Village, a neighborhood known for its alternative, hippie vibe and art installations. The building dates back to 1912 when it began as a mattress factory.

It is now a culinary hub featuring Charbar Restaurant, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, and Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters.

The bakery was closed as it was a Sunday afternoon, but if open, it might be a good spot for lunch in Calgary if your itinerary allows. (Because I was waiting for my room to be ready for check-in to my airport hotel, I ate poutine in the hotel restaurant)

Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters is the coffee shop, and I can report, that while it wasn’t as perfect as the Australian Flat White, it was still very good and better than 95% of the coffee I’ve had in the United States.

This is third-wave, craft coffee style, not quick-fix cheesy Starbucks style.

Many of its original architectural elements remain intact, such as exposed brick walls, wooden beams, and large windows, which help create a warm and inviting atmosphere. There are tables outside with beautiful views of the river.

2. Enjoy art installations in the East Village

statue of people in a circle
Family Man Sculpture | Source: Yay Images

You don’t need to go to an art gallery in Calgary to enjoy art. A program called Art in the Public Realm has brought permanent art installations to our outdoor spaces as well as rotating installations that feature temporary artworks by local artists.

Murals, sculptures, and digital art created by international and local artists bring our streets and public spaces to life. Keep an eye out for them as you wander around, there are plenty of river banks and underpasses, walls, plazas, and islands.

3. Bike or walk the Bow River Pathway

Bike Riding Bow River Path Calgary

Now you’ve had your coffee fix, it’s time to stretch your legs along the banks of the Bow River. The Bow River Pathway in Calgary is a beautiful and extensive network of walking and bicycle paths that runs along the Bow River.

Passing through Calgary, it stretches for approximately 48 kilometers (30 mi) on both the north and south banks of the Bow River.

It is especially picturesque during spring and summer when the river banks are lush with greenery.

Several pedestrian bridges cross the Bo River, connecting both sides of the route. These bridges are not only functional but also provide unique vantage points from which to enjoy river and city views.

bird flying over the bo river

As you approach the Simmons Building, you can cross the bridge to explore St. Patrick’s Island before following the path to Prince’s Island – both in the middle of the Bow River (which is a nice feature of this downtown Calgary attraction ) .).

Take your time watching people fishing, swimming in the river, and the many birds flying back and forth.

You may want to cross for elevated views of the city. Crescent Heights Lookout Point is highly recommended as one of the best viewing points of Downtown Calgary’s skyline.

raft on the bo river
fun rafting

I loved walking the Bow River Pathway as it gave me a great insight into Canadian life. From what I can tell, this is a culture that loves outdoor life and adventure and soaking in natural places.

The atmosphere seemed peaceful and pleasant, and I was amazed at the diversity of cultures outside and around. It made me wonder how it took me so many years to move to Canada. I think it will be a country and culture that I will like.

I walked the path between St. Patrick’s Island and Prince’s Island. It took about 20 minutes to walk between the two. Allow extra time to explore the two islands or rest at one of the many chairs along the way.

here is one 3-Hour City Highlights and Bow River Bike Tour You can enjoy. Ride the bike-friendly streets of Calgary, learn the story of the Red Mile, explore the rustic boutique district of Inglewood, and make your way down the Bow River. Check rates and availability here.

4. Explore St. Patrick’s Island

Bike crossing bridge on St. Patrick's Island with yellow trees

St. Patrick’s Island has recently undergone a major revitalization, transforming it into a vibrant urban park to restore the natural environment, improve accessibility, and create a welcoming space for the community.

St. Patrick’s Island is a little more wild than Princes Island. It covers 31 acres of mostly natural landscape that includes forests, wetlands, and green spaces including plenty of hiking trails biking trails, and skiing in the winter.

It is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful escape from the urban hustle and bustle.

View of the Calgary skyline with the river in front
View from St. Patrick’s Island

You’ll find fishing creeks, natural wetlands, wooded areas with winding paths, a playground, and a hill that offers some of the best views of the city. There is also a massive public art installation, a fully accessible picnic area, and an amphitheater.

The island provides picturesque views of the Bow River, the city skyline, and the nearby East Village.

5. Enjoy Prince’s Island

sigh along the flowery path

The more scenic of the two islands is Prince’s Island, located in the middle of Downtown Calgary.

The park is named for Peter Anthony Prince, one of the founders of Eau Claire Lumber, a lumber company that dug a channel in the Bow River to transport floating logs downstream close to the sawmill.

This channel (or lagoon) eventually separated an entire piece of land from the mainland and became what we know today as Prince Island Park. The park was acquired by the City of Calgary in the 40s and developed as a public park.

Flowering plant on bridge with river in background
Flower gardens, green space and buildings in the background

The park features lush green spaces, mature trees, flower gardens, and winding pathways that provide a peaceful and natural escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

It is a paradise for both wildlife and humans, providing a tranquil environment in the heart of the city.

Bird watchers can often spot ducks, swans, and other waterfowl along the river, especially during the migratory season.

There are many sculptures and art installations on the island that you can visit along the trails. Swings were hanging between trees and open grassy areas for people to have picnics.

Intertwined steel sculpture in the park

Prince’s Park is a center for cultural events and festivals during the summer months.

There is a small restaurant on Prince’s Island, The River Café, you may want to stop by for lunch, especially those looking for romantic things to do in Calgary.

Restaurant with River Cafe written outside it

They use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible and have an award-winning wine list. During my trip, I drank some Canadian wines – both red and white – and enjoyed them all, especially the Chardonnay.

6. Paddle the Bow River

people sailing on the bo river

I wish I had done better research on things to do in Calgary because I would have loved to go boating along the Bow River. I enjoyed seeing many people riding stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and river rafts and tubes.

The river is fast-moving and doesn’t seem to require much boating. So turn on the cruise mode and enjoy those beautiful views. There is a company here that rents paddle crafts.

7. Climb the Calgary Tower for panoramic views

Cage standing on the glass floor of the Calgary Tower
A little scary!

I was debating whether or not to go to the top of Calgary Tower for panoramic views of Calgary. Since this is a relatively inexpensive Calgary attraction, I figured I wouldn’t lose too much if it was overpriced.

It wasn’t! I enjoyed the Calgary Tower experience. The Calgary Tower, formerly known as the Husky Tower, is an iconic landmark located in the center of downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Calgary Tower among other tall buildings

The 190.8 m (626 ft) tower was built in 1967 by Husky Oil and Marathon Realty as a project to celebrate the centennial of Canada’s Confederation.

As you descend the elevator to the closed observation deck, you are faced with a large glass floor that juts out from the side of the circular tower.

people looking out of glass window at buildings

It was a little disconcerting to walk on the floor and see the traffic below, but don’t worry, these glass floors can hold the weight of two hippos.

They haven’t tested it with real hippos, but real horse stands stand out as a way to introduce the Calgary Stampede. (I did the same in Chicago)

Man sitting on glass floor in Calgary Tower
No hippopotamus or horse, but it’s holding me to scorn!
Row of buildings seen from the tower in Calgary
Calgary buildings with Bow River in background

On a clear day, you can see the Rocky Mountains from above. I could make out their outlines from a distance.

Plus, you’ll see some of the uniquely shaped Calgary tall buildings and views of the Bow River and surrounding plains.

If you’re hungry or just want a drink with a view, there is a revolving restaurant in the Sky 360 tower. The Calgary Tower features an outdoor LED light show every morning before sunrise and from dusk until midnight.

8. Wander Stephen Avenue

Rainbow crossing on pedestrian Stephen Avenue with tall buildings in the background

Immediately adjacent to the Calgary Tower is Stephen Avenue, also known as Stephen Avenue Walk. It is a vibrant and historic pedestrian mall that spans several blocks in downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

It is one of the most iconic and vibrant streets of the city, known for its mix of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, and historic architecture that adds to its charm.

You’ll also find public art installations and sculptures along Stephen Avenue and the street often hosts various outdoor events, live performances, and street festivals, especially during the summer months.

wired art installation on the street

I missed a live music performance with Adirondack chairs lined up across the street!

It is also home to several theatres, making it a cultural center for arts and entertainment. If you’re looking for what to do at night in Calgary, Stephens Avenue is the place to be for vibrant nightlife!

Its blend of heritage and modernity, combined with its vibrant atmosphere, makes it a must-see area for anyone exploring downtown Calgary.

9. Drinks at the Rooftop Bar at the Simmons Building

Rooftop bar with drinks and river views

My research on the best rooftop bars in Calgary led me to the Simmons Building and its adults-only rooftop patio that overlooks the Bow River and downtown Calgary.

It was not as good as you would get in Italy, but it wasn’t bad either!

If you want to have a few drinks and some food, you can order Connie & John’s Pizza from downstairs, which will be delivered to your rooftop table.

Aperol spritz on table with view of river behind
Aperol spritz time
Table and chairs on the rooftop patio overlooking the Bow River

The atmosphere of the rooftop garden is relaxing and inviting, making it an excellent place to relax, socialize, and enjoy the surrounding urban and natural views.

When the sun goes down, you’ll get to see the lights of Downtown Calgary. It has built-in heaters, a glass-enclosed fireplace, and live music on feature nights.

Since I was up at 3:30 am (1:30 am Calgary time) I opted to head back to my hotel for cheap wings and Canadian Chardonnay followed by evening drinks (I was impressed). In my hotel restaurant.

Calgary has a lot more to offer (if you have more time)

If you have more time on your trip, you may also want to include some of Calgary’s top attractions and things to do.

10. Get inspired by the Glenbow Museum

Glenbow Museum's brown square building

If you’re interested in arts and culture, visit the Glenbow Museum.The modern insights of contemporary artists in the 21st century.

11. Visit the Heritage Park Historic Village

people walking on paddle wheelers on the dock

If you’re interested in history, consider visiting the Heritage Park Historical Village. It is the largest living history museum in North America showcasing life in Western Canada during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Heritage Park is situated on a 127-acre prime parkland peninsula surrounded by the Glenmore Reservoir on three sides. You can pre-book your entry ticket here.

12. Explore the National Music Centre, Bell Studios

a guidtar shaped building

Many visitors recommend the National Music Center as a must-see place in Calgary.

One of the standout features of NMC is its architecturally stunning building, known as Studio Bell. Designed by Brad Kloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, its unique design consists of interlocking towers wrapped in glazed terracotta that reference the design of musical instruments.

It is said to take approximately two hours to see all five floors of this top Calgary attraction.

13. Visit Nose Hill Park

Calgary’s largest natural environment park in northwest Calgary offers 60 km of designated trails and pathways and contains one of the most significant examples of this grassland ecosystem left on the Canadian grasslands.

From the top you get a spectacular view of downtown Calgary, as well as the Rocky Mountains, the Bow River Valley, and Calgary International Airport.

14. Watch an ice hockey game

Aerial view of the Scotiabank Saddledome behind the tall buildings
Scotiabank Saddledome behind the buildings

Would a trip to Canada be complete without seeing an ice hockey game? If you’re visiting during the season, and like sports, you might like to attend an NHL Calgary Flames match at the Scotiabank Saddledome, located at Stampede Park.

If I had more time and there was a game going on I would do this. Ice hockey is one of my favorite sports to watch live!

If not a game, but you like sports, Calgary is also home to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, which is worth a visit if you have time.

15. Participate in the Calgary Stampede

sculpture horse wearing

If you’re visiting Calgary in July, you’ll want to put Calgary Stampede on your list of things to do, it’s Calgary’s largest outdoor show!

This world-famous annual event lasts approximately ten days and features a wide range of activities and attractions, including rodeo events, parades, chuckwagon races, rides, and live entertainment.

16. Have fun at the Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo is a great place to spend a few hours, especially if you’re traveling as a family with children.

It is home to a variety of animals from around the world, from gorillas to penguins, and offers educational experiences.

It is located at the other end of St. Patrick’s Island.

17. Visit Buffalo Jump

Beautiful aerial view of the Canadian prairie at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site in southern Alberta on a sunny day with blue sky and clouds in summer
buffalo jump

Buffalo Jump is located just outside of Calgary but can be easily visited on a half-day trip.

For approximately 6,000 years, Native peoples of the North American plains hunted buffalo at this site.

The Blackfoot people in particular used this method to hunt buffalo for countless centuries. Buffalo jumping is a testimony to their ancient culture and hunting techniques.

A tour of Buffalo Jump offers a unique opportunity to learn about the rich history and traditions of the indigenous people.

18. Take the kids to Callaway Park

Callaway Park is Western Canada’s largest outdoor family amusement park and offers a thrilling experience with its 32 rides, live entertainment, 3D theater, and haunted hotel.

Established in 1982, Callaway Park has been entertaining visitors for more than four decades. From thrilling roller coasters to kid-friendly arcade games, there is something for everyone.

19. Visit Fort Calgary

Monument to a man on horseback in front of the old fort building

Fort Calgary, established in 1875 as a North-West Mounted Police post, played an important role in the development of the region.

If you like military history, be sure to visit the Military Museum, the second-largest military museum in Canada!

where to stay in Calgary

Looking at Calgary

I was living in the Applause Hotel by Click Near the airport.

Upon returning to Calgary to go out, I also stayed there at Praise Hotels by Click Since I had an early morning flight home.

Free airport shuttle to both hotels was welcome! Both hotels had spacious and comfortable rooms with nice hotel amenities like rooftop hot tubs and restaurants.

I didn’t try Acclaim’s restaurant, but the food at Applause was really good and included a hearty breakfast.

plate of poutine
delicious poutine

Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel This is perfect for people who want to check out of their hotel, take a four-minute walk, and check in to their flight!

Some restaurants we ate at near Calgary Airport are Cactus Club Cafe And Calgary Momo House wonderful Nepali restaurant.

For the best places to stay in Downtown Calgary, these places have great reviews, locations, and amenities.

  • Alt Hotel Calgary East Village Studio Bell is an eco-certified hotel with two restaurants. Check rates and availability.
  • The Sandman Signature Calgary Downtown Hotel is adjacent to the Calgary Tower and features an indoor pool and restaurant. Check rates and availability.
  • hotel art A fun 4-Start eco-certified hotel near the Calgary Tower and Stampede Crossing. It also has a poolside bar, on-site shopping a coffee shop/café, and free bicycle rental. Check rates and availability.

Final thoughts

people fishing in the river

Although my visit to Calgary was short, I think I experienced a lot of its cultural diversity and natural beauty.

I enjoyed seeing the diverse, active, and relaxed personality of the city connected to the beauty around it.

Calgary is a great stopping point on the way to some of Canada’s top attractions such as Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, and more. Icefields Parkway, It’s worth staying at least a day to experience this dynamic Canadian city.

Calgary’s warm hospitality, its blend of modern and historic, and its limitless opportunities for adventure are your taste.

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