It’s hard to predict when travel will open up, but it’s a safe bet Albertans are going to want to experience the best things to do in Calgary so we don’t go stir crazy. Luckily, there’s lots of options, and being locals, the team at Travels with Baggage has you covered.
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Things to do in Calgary
When kids are out of school, it can be difficult to figure out activities the whole family can enjoy. But don’t worry! Here’s a game plan for the best things to do in Calgary for every age group.
Hit the beach
Even though Calgary is a landlocked city, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have several beachy areas where you can take a dip, grab some rays or drop anchor. Most spots sport pebbly beaches, but some have sandbanks.
We’ve got an entire post on the best beaches in Calgary and the best beaches in Alberta, plus a lot of info on where you can go kayaking or canoeing in Calgary – including info on where to score rental equipment.
Western Canada’s largest amusement park lies on the western edge of the city and is a manageable size that’s easy to navigate. This popular attraction a wise choice during Stampede when you’re keen to escape the crowds or are plum tuckered out of cowboy culture. Best is they operate a campsite (with mountain views!) next to the park, allowing campers to fall out of trailer and be first on the rides.
Meet some cute critters
The Calgary Zoo is home to more than 119 different species from the animal kingdom. They have animals from all over the world, including Africa, Asia and South America.
Head inside the Penguin Plunge and watch penguins swim right by. Check out the lemur walk-through and watch the lemurs run above your head. There’s even a giant play structure in the middle of the zoo for kids to climb all over.
Play at The Brainasium
TELUS Spark is the city’s science centre, and while it’s rad indoors, it’s even better outside. Kids of all ages can discover the science of play at the Brainasium. This outdoor park set on the grounds of the science centre has a tower leading to a 63-ft slide.
There are a dozen different experiences within the one-acre space – all physically engaging and designed to combine brain and body adventures. This innovative park is mitt-friendly and open all year round. All climbing surfaces have been built inside structures, so in the event of a fall, it won’t be onto the frozen ground – it’ll be on the safety netting.
Visit a farm within the city limits at Butterfield Acres
Give your family a look at a real Albertan farm without leaving the city limits at Butterfield Acres. Located in North Calgary, the farm has been around since the 1980s and has always offered tons of fun for families.
Kids can enjoy pony or tractor rides and even milk a goat! You can feed some of the animals with special food, search for eggs, have a beautiful picnic in the fields and explore the Nursery Rhyme Park.
In the Summer, there’s a corn maze and baby animals to visit. Want to get the kids off of your hands for a few days? Check out their day camps.
Be sure to check the schedule for any specific farm activities you want to try, especially horse riding and animal milking.
Catch an exhibition at the Glenbow museum
With the largest public art collection in Western Canada, there’s a lot to take in at the Glenbow. They manage to snag quite a few international exhibitions – we’ve seen the works of Botero here and a fashion exhibit of Dior here.
Additionally, they have one of the most comprehensive collections of minerals such as crystals, gems and metals in North America. This museum is most famous for housing one of the largest indigenous collections in Canada.
Step back in time at Heritage Park
Heritage Park is a great way to combine a family outing with some education. This historic park is one of North America’s largest living museums. Though it houses authentic and restored buildings from the 1860s through to the 1950s, it’s not a snooze-fest.
Each year, the park adds new attractions, meaning that even if you’ve been before, you probably haven’t seen everything.
With 127-acres, there’s loads of green space for kids to burn off energy. Stroll through the historic buildings, grab one of their infamous cheese buns (or butter tart!), watch a blacksmith, take a horse and carriage ride or cruise around the park on the Steam Train.
There’s an antique midway with retro carnival games, and you can explore First Nations culture while taking part in hands-on activities based on centuries old traditions.
Keep an eye out for special events being held in the park throughout the summer. Some yearly special events include Dominion (Canada) Day celebrations and Heritage Day celebrations.
Snag some old timey vibes
While we heartily recommend paying admission and going into Heritage Park, they do have several shops and occasional musical performances in the plaza outside the main entrance.
While entering the park itself isn’t free, you can score significant discounts with these Calgary coupons for the city’s main attractions.
Get your cowgirl on at the Calgary Stampede
Summer in Calgary just isn’t the same unless you’ve had a go at the Calgary Stampede. It is the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, after all. The Calgary Stampede is a 10-day long celebration – part carnival, part rodeo, 100% western hospitality.
Stampede combines Calgary’s heritage and community spirit for a one-of-a-kind experience, which brings thousands of tourists to the city.
Throughout Stampede (which typically begins the first Friday in July), there’s event after event. Check out some crazy rides, eat some weird food, watch the fireworks, hit up the Saddledome or Coca Cola Stage for amazing concerts and take in the evening performance.
Stampede without the admission
Fluor Rope Square at Olympic Plaza is your one stop shop for marching bands, mini-parades and even an old fashioned gun fight. This downtown attraction dishes out free pancake breakfasts and a festival atmosphere in a much less crowded environment during the 10-days of Stampede.
From First Nations performances to square dancing to getting the opportunity to climb inside a Chuckwagon, intriguing aspects of western culture are neatly packaged into a few hours each weekday during Stampede. For the kids, there’s face painting, balloon artists and mascots milling about.
At official Stampede breakfasts, you can meet chuckwagon drivers, enjoy pancakes and watch marching bands without blowing your entertainment budget.
If you’re coming to Calgary for Stampede, be sure to book accommodation in advance. It fills up fast.
Hotels near the Calgary Stampede
Closest to Stampede Park is Hotel Arts, but it’s a fine choice in its own right. Sporting the only outdoor pool in Calgary, it rocks a Vegas-like vibe, though on a much smaller scale. Families are welcome, but during Stampede expect things to get rowdy. We’re a big fan of their complimentary Brooklyn Cruiser city bikes and asking for a picnic-to-go.
Fairmont Palliser goes all out for Stampede. It’s right on the Stampede Parade route, so try and snag a room overlooking 9th Avenue. This is one of Calgary’s most elegant hotels, with an indoor pool and spa, not to mention a swish, relatively new lobby bar.
The Marriott Downtown is also right on the Parade route, with an indoor pool, too. Like the Palliser, it has a private area for guests to watch the Parade.
Free things to do in Calgary
Between family vacations, kids camps and that new summer wardrobe, summer can be an expensive time. Fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do in Calgary.
From taking in a free performance to exploring the city’s vast urban park system, you can easily while away your days without spending any cash. Here’s how…
Hit up the trails
Calgary sports loads of gorgeous parks and green spaces. It’s also home to Fish Creek Provincial Park, which is the second largest urban park in the country. Located in the South of Calgary, Fish Creek Park has beautiful walking and biking trails and sweet day-use areas, perfect for a family picnic or barbecue. Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant (in Fish Creek) has takeaway picnics complete with a basket, blanket and delectable dishes.
In the North of the city, check out the trails along Nose Hill Park for biking, hiking and killer city views.
Along the Bow River, a few blocks north of downtown, you’ll find a well developed trail system that takes you all the way to Inglewood in the east and Edworthy Park to the west.
Probably the most interesting stretch of trails and lively street action is found in the newly revitalized East Village. There’s separate lanes for walking or wheels, an urban beach, tricked out playgrounds and often street performers.
While you’re in the East Village, be sure to snag a snack from Sidewalk Citizen inside the Simmons Building. Or tuck into some share plates on the patio at CharBar in the same building. (Their cocktails are killer!) A few blocks away, Chix Eggshop serves up fantastic sandwiches and fried chicken.
Summer brings several free festivals to the city -typically from June until mid September. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Lilac Fest along 4th Street SW at the end of May or early June
- Canada Day on July 1
- Pet-A-Palooza in July
- Inglewood Sunfest in early August
These festivals are free, and are a fun way to take in Calgary’s history, people, pets and sunshine.
Between Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Calgary, The Shakespeare Company, and Calgary Opera, the city has some top notch theatre options. Great performances are worth the price of admission, but there’s also free performances in Calgary.
Each year, Theatre Calgary presents a group of recently graduated, post-secondary students from all across Alberta in a modernized presentation of a Shakespeare classic. Head to Prince’s Island Park through July and August for an evening picnic and a brilliant show.
If you want to splurge, check out the picnic baskets you can pick up (for purchase) from River Cafe. Admission to Shakespeare by The Bow is by donation.
Hit up a hipster hood
If you’d rather chill in a more urban setting than a park, check out one of Calgary’s popular walking neighbourhoods. The most trendy ones are Inglewood, Kensington, Bridgeland, and the Beltline – Victoria Park and 17th Avenue SW.
Not only do these neighbourhoods offer indie and boutique shopping, the city’s best restaurants and coffee shops, they also have beautiful architecture and lots of public art by the way of murals and sculptures.
Just for Adults
If you’re hankering to get away from the kids for a bit, check out these just for adults suggestions.
Earn your beer with Pedal Pub
Pedal through Calgary and sip some local craft beer by booking a tour with Pedal Pub. Pedal Pub is moving bar that seats 8-15 people. Each person sits at a pair of pedals and together you move the bike bar along the streets of Calgary while drinking beer.
Book a tour for your group of friends or just book individual seats to join other people. Whether you want to pedal through Inglewood, 17th Ave or through the Beltline, you can choose your route when you register.
People watch from a downtown patio
Calgary has a pretty great patio scene. On any given sunny summer day, you’ll see packed patios all across the city.
Patios on Stephen Ave (8th Avenue SW downtown) and 17th Avenue SW provide the best people watching opportunities and great views. On 17th Ave check out:
- Ship & Anchor
- Lulu Bar
- Ricardo’s Hideaway (best daiquiri in the city)
- Trolley 5
Some popular patios on Stephen Avenue are found at:
- Cactus Club Cafe
- The Metropolitan
- Modern Steak
- Bank and Baron
And don’t overlook rooftop patios. Check out:
- Barley Mill (Eau Claire)
- CharBar (East Village)
- Sunterra Keynote (not a bar, great for families)
- Craft Beer Market
What are your favourite activities to do in Calgary?
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