Calgary city guide: How to spend a weekend in Canada's gateway to the Rockies


Why go now?

Calgary is a bright, young city with flourishing craft beer and culinary scenes. For people who enjoy savouring flavours in laid-back surroundings, it’s the perfect place to while away the hours sampling dishes made using local produce.   

  

During winter Calgary is well-placed for accessing ski resorts a couple of hours’ drive away in the Canadian Rockies. Banff National Park has three ski areas, covered by the tri-area lift pass: Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, which holds the distinction of having been named Canada’s best ski resort three years in a row at the World Ski Awards.

Get your bearings

Calgary has a walkable downtown core and is laid out on a grid plan divided into quadrants. The Bow River (1) splits the city’s northern and southern sectors, with downtown addresses lying south of the waterway. Centre Street (2), which runs northwards from Calgary Tower (3), separates the eastern and western sectors. Traffic runs one-way along city centre roads — avenues run east-west and streets north-south.

The Calgary Stampede grounds (4) are in the south-east sector and are home to the Scotia Saddledome (5), the stadium of the Calgary Flames ice hockey team. Inglewood contains a smattering of breweries, bars and restaurants. 

Tourism Calgary’s head office (6) (001 403 263 8510; visitcalgary.com) is open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.

Day one

Take a view

For views over city rooftops, the surrounding prairies and perspectives of the distant Canadian Rockies ascend the 191m Calgary Tower (3) (001 403 266 7171; calgarytower.com). In addition to being a good place to get your bearings, the circular Observation Deck has a section of reinforced glass flooring with views down onto traffic and pedestrians on 9th Avenue. Tickets cost CAD$18 (£11).  

Take a hike

From Calgary Tower walk east along 9th Avenue SW past the Glenbow Museum (7). Continue for another block to reach the Theatre Calgary (8) (001 403 294 7447; theatrecalgary.com), and turn left towards Olympic Plaza (9), commemorating Calgary’s role as the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Head past City Hall (10) on 7th Avenue SE to reach East Village (11).

Here you’ll find Studio Bell (12) (001 403 543 5115; studiobell.ca), Canada’s National Music Centre, which hosts interactive exhibits about music and instruments plus a programme of concerts; entry CAD$18 (£11), open 10am-5pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

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Calgary Tower has a glass-bottomed viewing platform (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Head north to the river and cross the George C. King Bridge (13) to reach St Patrick’s Island (14), which has walking and cycling trails with views of the city skyline. 

Take a ride

Calgary Transit (calgarytransit.com) operates buses and the CTrain light railway on two lines. The red line runs north-south while the blue line sweeps northwards from the city’s west side. CTrain journeys in the downtown core are free-of-charge; otherwise single journeys cost CAD$3.25 (£2) and day passes are priced CAD$10 (£6).  

From St Patrick’s Island, walk 10 minutes to WB Bridgeland – Memorial CTrain Station (15). From here catch the 202 and alight after two stops at WB 1 Street SW CTrain Station (16). A two-minute walk from here will bring you to your lunch stop. 

Lunch on the run

Saltlik (17) (001 403 537 1160; saltlik.com) is a laid-back steakhouse with booth seating and a marble fireplace. The black and blue burger is laced with blue cheese and priced at CAD$18 (£11), while the smoky grilled barbecue ribs are served with coleslaw and skinny fries and cost CAD$30 (£18).

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Stephen Avenue Walk has plenty of trendy shops (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Window shopping

Stephen Avenue Walk (18), an alternative name for 8th Avenue SW, is Calgary’s pedestrianised downtown shopping artery. It’s the location of the Hudson’s Bay department store (19) (001 403 262 0345; thebay.com), whose Yorkshire-made striped point blankets were formerly traded for beaver pelts. Lammle’s (20) (001 403 266 5226; lammles.com) stocks Western wear, including broad-brimmed hats and an impressive array of boots.

An aperitif

Head to Inglewood to sample craft beers at the high-ceilinged, dog-friendly Cold Garden Beverage Company (21) (001 403 305 6288; coldgarden.ca). This popular microbrewery serves around 14 different brews on draught. 12pm-12am, Friday and Saturday, 12-6pm on Sunday, 3-10pm, Wednesday and Thursday.

Alternatively, stay downtown and sip cocktails in the dimly lit Milk Tiger Lounge (22) (001 403 261 5009; milktigerlounge.ca). Open 5pm-2am, Tuesday to Saturday, 8pm-1am on Sunday, 5pm-1am on Monday.

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The Calgary Stampede grounds are home to the stadium of the Calgary Flames ice hockey team (Getty Images)

Dine with the locals

Book a stool by the bar in Shokunin (23) (001 403 229 3444; shokuninyyc.ca) for close-up views of chef Darren MacLean and his team preparing Japanese-inspired cuisine in the open kitchen. Choose the omakase tasting menu of small plates, priced at CAD$58 (£35), for dishes including chamame beans and chicken skin chips.

Day two

Out for brunch

Yellow Door Bistro (24) (001 403 206 9585; yellowdoorbistro.ca) is a popular weekend meeting place with modern décor, including the quirky touch of a near life-size plastic horse standing by the door. The hot buffet brunch, costing CAD$24 (£14), is served in colourful stoneware pots and includes coffee, tea and fruit juice. Open daily, 6.30am-10pm.

A walk in the park

The Bow River flows either side of Prince’s Island Park (25), from where you can view Calgary’s downtown skyline. Footpaths and trails criss-cross the park; the western tip of the island is a good spot to view the Santiago Calatrava-designed Peace Bridge (26), used by pedestrians and cyclists.

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Calgary’s peace bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Cultural afternoon

The Glenbow Museum (7) (001 403 268 4110; glenbow.org) tells the story of Calgary’s settlement and development. The region’s First Nations heritage is conveyed via artefacts, including traditional clothing, in the Nitsitapii gallery. The museum holds aboriginal craft and artworks, plus paintings depicting the exploration of Canada’s plains and North-West. Entry costs CAD$16 (£10); open 9am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 12-5pm on Sunday.

The icing on the cake

WinSport (27) (001 403 247 5452; winsport.ca), established to host events during the 1988 Winter Olympics, now has training facilities for elite athletes. During winter you can ski and snowboard in the park, skate on the ice rink and take a ride on a bobsleigh steered by a professional (CAD$71.42; £43) on the track that featured in the film Cool Runnings.

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Calgary provides a city gateway to Banff National Park (Getty Images)

Travel essentials

Getting there

Air Transat (0207 616 9187; airtransat.com) flies directly from London Gatwick to Calgary, and via Toronto from Manchester and Glasgow, from £434 return. WestJet (0800 279 7072; westjet.com) flies throughout the year direct from London Gatwick, from £450 return. Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) flies direct from London Heathrow, from £565 return.

Calgary International Airport (28) is 19km from the city centre; taxis are metered and cost around CAD$45 (£27) or the Calgary Allied Airport Shuttle (001 403 299 9555; airportshuttlecalgary.ca) departs every 30 minutes from 8am until midnight, costing CAD$15 (£9) one-way. 

Staying there

The Fairmont Palliser (29) (001 506 863 6310; fairmont.com/palliser-calgary) is a stately city centre hotel, with an indoor pool and spa. Doubles from CAD$153 (£93), room only.

The Hotel Arts (30) (001 403 266 4611; hotelarts.ca) offers modern rooms and suites in downtown Calgary. The hotel has a swimming pool, fitness centre and spa, and offers guests free use of bicycles. Doubles from CAD$119 (£71), room only.

The Hotel Alma (31) (001 403 220 3203; hotelalma.ca) has compact, modern guestrooms and a bistro restaurant on the University of Calgary campus. Guests can use the hotel’s fitness and business centres. Doubles from CAD$125 (£75), B&B. 




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