Calgary, Canada offers a selection of free and low-cost activities for the budget traveler. Have a picnic in one of its many parks, go rollerblading, dine in Kensington, or head up to the top of the surrounding peaks. If you are into mountain sports, this city is the place to be. There’s great hiking, kayaking, skiing, water rafting, and camping here. It’s one of the liveliest cities in Canada as it holds the week-long famous Calgary stampede in July, which attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world. Because of the oil money in the city, it has become a lot more expensive over the last few years, and food and accommodation costs have gone up substantially.
*Note: Calgary took a big hit during summer flooding in 2013, and much of the city’s downtown was destroyed. The government has invested a lot of money in the recovery effort, but some things are under construction. Check online for updates on attractions before you visit.
Hostel prices – There are only a few hostels in town, and a dorm will start at 30 CAD. During the Stampede, prices shoot up by about 50%, so book out months in advance.
Budget hotel prices – Hotels average about 80 CAD per night for a double room with breakfast included.
Average cost of food – If you cook for yourself, you can spend around 75 CAD on groceries per week. Pubs and cheap restaurants are very reasonable at around 20 CAD for a meal. Higher end restaurants will set you back around 40 CAD if you drink.
Transportation costs – Transit tickets are 3.15 CAD for adults. Day passes (9.50 CAD) and books of 10 transit tickets (31.50 CAS) are also available at most convenience stores. A monthly pass can also be purchased for unlimited usage within the ticket’s designated month (99 CAD). The C-Train operates on a honor system, although inspectors do occasionally check riders for valid tickets. Travel on the C-Train in the downtown free fare zone is free of charge.
Money Saving Tips
Make your own food – If you’re self-catering, and happen to be in town at the beginning of the month, head to Safeway or Sobeys stock up on groceries for the trip. On the first Tuesday of every month, both stores offer a 10% discount (minimum spend of 45 CAD and 65 CAD, respectively).
Check for discount coupons – Calgary Attractions offers coupons for discounts on some of the city’s top attractions.
Travel in groups – If you’re planning a mountain weekend escape, think in groups. Carpool if you’re renting a car, and split a kitchenette with friends to save on the expensive restaurants in Banff and Canmore. Buy groceries in Calgary before you head out to save money even more.
Top Things to See and Do in Calgary
Calgary Stampede – The annual Stampede brings in cowboys from all over the country and world. Calgary is considered cowboy-country, and it’s quite a sight if you can come in early July. However, the Stampede is simply an excuse to party, and most people come here just to go crazy. Tickets for park entry (not including rodeo attractions) are 18 CAD. Everything doubles in price during this festival, so bring quite a bit of cash.
Visit the many parks – Calgary had some wonderful parks scattered throughout the city. They offer many good hiking trails and are a good way to spend a low cost afternoon.
Visit the zoo – The zoo is a nice family trip in this city. It also includes a prehistoric park and botanical garden. If you’re going to be here at Christmas, attend the Zoolights, a spectacular light show composed of three million lights.
Prince’s Island Park – Right on the Bow River, this park has many free festivals throughout the year, theater performances in the evenings, and jogging trails.
Visit Stephen Avenue Walk – Stephen Avenue is a wonderful location to eat, drink and shop. Walk along its cobblestone streets, and shop at the antique stores and boutiques before sitting down at one the many restaurants’ outdoor patios for a drink.
Fish Creek Provincial Park – Fish Creek also sits along the Bow River and perfect for walking, hiking, and rollerblading along its paved trails.
Explore the nightlife of Kensington – In the northwest part of the city, Kensington is where everything happens at night. In late July, there is a Sun and Salsa festival. They also have a lot of restaurants that fill up on the weekends before everyone hits the nearby bars and clubs.
Big Rock Brewery – If you’re a beer lover, this is the place to be. For 25 CAD, you get a brewery tour and a few free samples. There is also a restaurant on site too.
Watch the Calgary Flames – Hockey is religion here in Canada, and the folks in this city take their hockey very seriously. Never try to get between a local and their game! Go grab a beer, find some new friends, and watch the game. Just don’t tell them hockey is boring.
Tap the Rockies – Calgary is really close to the Rocky Mountains, and there are a ton of guided tours available in the city. If that doesn’t suit you, rent a car and head out yourself. The mountains in this area have lots of hiking, skiing, views, wildlife, and places to camp.
Devonian Gardens – In the midst of the bustling city is a quiet indoor garden filled with plants, pools, fountains, koi fish, and turtles. It’s particularly refreshing during the winter. Admission is free.
Eau Claire Market – In the summer time, this place is super neat for kids to hang out—there are buskers everywhere making balloon animals and playing with puppets, in addition to a wading pool. For the adults, there are a variety of upscale shops, restaurants, and a food court.
The Family of Man Sculptures – This collection of ten aluminum cast sculptures, some weighing as much as 1,500 pounds and measuring 21 feet tall, are quite the site to see. Originally designed by Mario Armengol, it was presented and dedicated to the city by Maxwell Cummings and Sons.
Bernard Callebaut Chocolate Factory – Who doesn’t want to see chocolate being made, and then get to sample tons of it? You can take a self-guided, basic guided, or advance-guided tour, and learn all about the chocolate making process—plus, you get free samples along the way!