Calgary is one of Canada’s largest cities and home to the massive annual Calgary Stampede that brings in over 1 million tourists each year. It’s the economic hub of Alberta and just a stone’s throw from the stunning vistas of Banff National Park.
Sure, the city itself isn’t particularly pretty — it’s full of skyscrapers and doesn’t have a lot of historic buildings — but underneath all that glass is a cosmopolitan city with a rough and wild cowboy charm to it. There’s great hiking, kayaking, skiing, water rafting, and camping all around Calgary. The city itself is one of the liveliest in Canada, especially during the Stampede in July, and there is plenty of green space too.
Add in a rotating roster of food trucks, craft beer bars, and top-notch museums, and you’ve got a recipe for one of my favorite cities in Canada.
From here, you can head out to Banff National Park or Canmore to get up close and personal with nature (avoid doing so in the summer as crowds in Banff can be unbearable).
This travel guide to Calgary will help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most out of your time in Calgary.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Calgary
1. Celebrate the Calgary Stampede
2. Walk Stephen Avenue
3. Relax in the many parks
4. Visit the Calgary Zoo
5. Go to the Rockies
Other Things to See and Do in Calgary
1. Take a free walking tour
The first thing I do when I arrive in a new city is take a free walking tour. it’s the best way to see the highlights and meet a local expert guide who can answer all your questions. Walk the YYC runs a solid free tour that can introduce you to the city. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end! There’s also Calgary Greeters, a free local greeting program that connects you with a local who can show you around.
2. Hang out in Prince’s Island Park
Right on the Bow River, this park spans 50 acres and is the most popular park in the city. There are free festivals and events year-round, such as the Calgary Folk Music Festival and Shakespeare in the Park. It also has running and hiking paths, cross-country skiing trails, picnic areas, flower gardens, and lots of space to simply lounge and relax. In the winter, people go skating on the lagoon.
3. Check out Fish Creek Provincial Park
Fish Creek also sits along the Bow River and is perfect for walking, cycling, and rollerblading. In the summer, people come here to fish, swim in Sikome Lake, and have barbecues. Locals also hit the trails in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Just be aware the park closes between 6pm-10pm depending on the time of year.
4. Explore the nightlife of Kensington
Located in the northwest part of the city, Kensington is a tiny business district full of trendy shops, bars, and restaurants. Whether you’re seeking a quiet pub, an outdoor patio, or a fun-filled night of dancing, you’ll find it here. Kensington Pub, Winebar Kensington, and Container Bar are all great spots to hang out for their cozy atmosphere and unique decor.
5. Go brewery hopping
If you’re a craft beer lover, Calgary has a huge number of brewpubs, small breweries, and even a Craft Beer Market. Citizen Brewing Company, Cold Garden Beverage Company, and Big Rock are some of my favorites. You can also do a brewery hopping tour with Canadian Craft Tours to three or four different breweries for 89 CAD.
6. Watch the Calgary Flames
Hockey is a religion in Canada, and the folks in this city take their hockey very seriously. Calgary has one of 7 Canadian teams in the NHL so check and see if there’s a game on during your visit. Tickets start around 35 CAD but you can also just find a busy pub or bar to grab a beer and watch the game with locals.
7. Wander Eau Claire Market
This indoor market has something for everyone, including a variety of upscale shops, restaurants, and a food court. In the summer, there’s a playground and a wading pool for kids. Buskers are everywhere making balloon animals, performing music, or even putting on puppet shows. Eau Claire is also the festival district, so there is often some sort of community event taking place (usually concerts). It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s a fun spot if you’re traveling with family.
8. See 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) makes for quite the sight to see surrounded by skyscrapers and office buildings in downtown Calgary. Originally designed by Mario Armengol and displayed at the Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montreal, these sculptures were later presented and dedicated to the city in 1969.
9. Check out the Canada Olympic Park
Calgarians are an active bunch — on Friday afternoons in the winter, you’ll see SUVs and trucks loaded up with ski gear leaving town for the mountains. The Olympic Park is where many of them get their start with winter sports. This ski hill and training/competition complex serves as a tribute to the 1988 Olympic Games and is mostly used as a training ground for young athletes. If you’re here in the winter, sign up for a downhill or cross-country ski lesson, which costs about 75 CAD for 90 minutes. You can even try the bobsled or luge!
10. Head to the top of the Calgary Tower
Built in 1967, the Calgary Tower is 191 meters (626ft) high and commemorates Canada’s Centennial. It’s the centerpiece of the city and at the top, you’ll get uninterrupted views straight to the Rocky Mountains. Plus, the glass floor at the observation deck is thrilling (and terrifying). A ticket to the top is 18 CAD.
11. Visit the Heritage Park Historical Village
This heritage park is like a living museum. It showcases Western Canadian history from the 1860s to the 1950s. You can ride a steam train, learn how to make old-fashioned ice cream, chat with actors dressed up as prairie settlers, explore First Nations history, and take a horse-drawn wagon ride. It’s another one of those somewhat cheesy experiences, but you’ll learn a lot. Tickets are 30 CAD.
12. Take a food tour
If you want to sample the finest foods that Calgary has to offer, take a food tour with Alberta Food Tours. They have several different excursions, including a Calgary Farmers’ Market tour and a walk through the Inglewood neighborhood. The Craving Kensington tour is one of the best for its variety though. You’ll try poutine, cheeses, charcuterie, sweet treats, a few drinks, and more throughout the evening. Tours cost 95 CAD.
For more information on other cities in Canada, check out these guides:
Calgary Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are only a couple of hostels in Calgary. A bed in a room with 4-6 beds is about 45 CAD per night while a dorm with eight beds or more costs about 40 CAD.
Private hostel rooms start from 97 CAD per night for two people but can go as high as 135 CAD. During the Stampede, prices shoot up by about 50% and sell out months in advance, so make sure you book ahead!
For those traveling with a tent, camping is available outside the city for 30 CAD per night. This gets you a basic plot without electricity. RV plots cost around 55 CAD per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 85 CAD, but these aren’t near the city center. For something closer to downtown, expect to pay at least 110 CAD per night. Free Wi-Fi, AC, TV, and a coffee/tea maker are usually included.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Calgary, with a private room starting at 45-60 CAD per night. An entire home/apartment averages 85-125 CAD per night.
During the summer months, there is also the option of renting a dorm room from a university. Rooms are generally available from early May to late August and offer access to on-campus services (laundry, parking). Mount Royal University has single rooms starting from 59 CAD per night.
Food – Like the United States, food culture and cuisine varies widely from region to region in Canada. Overall, the food here is a collage of dishes from other cultures, owing to the country’s diverse history of immigration. In Calgary, beef is the go-to meat since half of the entire country’s beef supply comes from Alberta. Bison is also common, as are fresh berries in the summer More general Canadian staples include beaver tails (fried dough with fresh maple syrup), Canadian bacon, poutine, and the oddly tasty ketchup chips.
For the city’s best eats, hit the food trucks. Calgary has an epic food truck scene, and their locations change daily. Download the Street Food Calgary app to follow the trucks in real-time. You can find pizza by the slice for 4 CAD, or a giant empanada for 4.25 CAD. Larger meals like taco salad or curry cost around 11 CAD.
A combo meal at McDonald’s costs about 11 CAD. Pubs and chain restaurants are very reasonable at about 20 CAD for a meal with a drink.
Higher-end restaurants set you back around 60 CAD if you also order an appetizer and a drink to go along with your main.
A glass of wine is around 9 CAD while beer is 7 CAD. A latte/cappuccino costs around 4.25 CAD. Bottled water costs 1-2 CAD.
If you cook for yourself, you’ll spend around 50-60 CAD per week on groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, produce, and some meat.
Some of my favorite places to eat in Calgary include CRAFT Beer Market, Holy Grill, Bridgette Bar, Veg-In YYC, and Peters’ Drive In.
Backpacking Calgary Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Calgary, expect to spend about 75 CAD per day. This budget assumes you’re staying in a hostel, cooking all your meals, taking public transportation to get around, limiting your drinking, and doing mostly free activities like hanging out in the parks and wandering Stephen Avenue. Add 10-15 CAD extra per day if you plan on drinking.
On a mid-range budget of 125 CAD per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb room, eat out more (but still cook some meals), rent a bicycle to get around and take the occasional taxi, have a couple drinks, and visit more attractions like the zoo or the Stampede.
On a “luxury” budget of 280 CAD per day or more, you’ll stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, take taxis or rent a car to get around, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Keep in mind that many of these prices (especially accommodations) increase by 50% during Stampede time!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CAD.
Calgary Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Calgary is not a cheap city. If you stick to mostly free activities, you’ll save some money but otherwise, things here are pricey. It’s one of the more expensive cities in Canada and it’s tough to visit on a limited budget. Nevertheless, here are some tips to help you save money in Calgary:
- Stay with a local – If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host to give you a free place to stay. You’ll not only save money but you’ll get to connect with a local insider who can share their tips and advice.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Walk the YYC is the only free walking tour in town, but it’s a good one! You can also book a Calgary Greeter — a local volunteer who walks you around the city.
- Avoid the Calgary Stampede – If you’re not dying to see the Stampede, avoid the dates around this event. Prices are higher everywhere. On the other hand, if you are here during Stampede, take advantage of the city’s many free pancake breakfasts (stampedebreakfast.ca).
- Look for free events – Most of Calgary’s street festivals are free to attend, and there are free events year-round. Check out Visit Calgary’s website for their up-to-date event listings!
- Spend your time in nature – With its abundance of outdoor activities, walking/biking trails, and relaxing parks, if you spend most of your time soaking up Calgary’s big nature you’ll save a lot of cash.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Calgary
There are only a few hostels in Calgary. If everything is booked, check one of the universities to see if they have any dorm rooms available. Note that several of these hostels are temporarily closed or have limited availability due to COVID-19.
Here are my suggested places to stay in Calgary:
How to Get Around Calgary
Public transportation – Calgary has a well-connected bus system. Use cash to purchase a ticket on the bus (exact change required), or buy tickets at many drug stores, supermarkets, and corner shops. Fares are 3.50 CAD one way, or you can pay 11 CAD for a day pass (which is the best deal). One-way fares are valid for 90 minutes.
Calgary also has two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines known as the C-Train. You can buy tickets with cash or credit card at any C-Train station, and ticket prices cost the same as the bus. You can ride the C-Train for free in Calgary’s downtown core between the City Hall Station and Downtown West/Kerby Station, but make sure you have a ticket as soon as you leave the free zone.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap here. Their base rate is 3.80 CAD, and it’s an additional 1.66 CAD per kilometer afterward. Prices add up fast so skip the taxis here if you can!
Bicycle – Calgary has more cycling paths than anywhere in North America, with nearly 850 kilometers (528 miles) of pathways! Plus, most major streets have designated biking lanes. Lime Bike is a public bike-share program that lets you rent an e-bike to get around. Just download the app, search for a bike nearby, and unlock it for 1 CAD. After that, it’s 0.30 CAD per minute to ride, meaning a 30-minute journey costs about 10 CAD. If you’d like to take a bike out for longer, Sports Rent offers rentals for 35 CAD per day.
Ridesharing – In addition to taxis, you can also use Uber to get around Calgary. It’s cheaper, but it’s still going to break the bank if you use it often so stick to public transportation as much as possible.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for around 35 CAD per day for a multi-day rental. However, unless you’re leaving the city to explore I wouldn’t suggest renting one. Parking adds up and the bus can get you anywhere you need to go on a budget!
When to Go to Calgary
Late spring and summer in Calgary are the best times to visit, especially between May and early September. There’s so much going on in the city, and everyone is outdoors making the most of it. The average daily temperature is around 23°C (73.4°F), but it’s often higher than 30°C (86°F). Calgary is never really overcrowded with visitors compared to places like Toronto and Vancouver (except during Stampede in July).
Things start cooling off considerably in the fall; don’t be surprised if you see snow in September. Winters are bitterly cold, with average temperatures hovering around -11 to -14°C (12-6.8°F). This doesn’t discourage Calgarians in the slightest, however, and you’ll find most people hitting the slopes around Kananaskis and Banff on their time off. If you’re into winter sports, embrace the cold and take advantage of the near-constant perfect snow conditions.
How to Stay Safe in Calgary
Calgary is a very safe city and you’re unlikely to experience any crime during your visit. Your greatest risk is petty theft, such as pickpocketing, but even that is rare. The eastern part of downtown (east of City Hall) is a bit sketchy at night, so avoid walking through that area alone. But otherwise, as long as you keep your valuables secure and use common sense you should be fine.
If you’re not used to severe winter weather, make sure you bring lots of layers and appropriate clothing. Avoid staying outside for too long if you’re not adequately protected.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink. Never walk home alone at night if intoxicated either.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Remember, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Calgary!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Calgary Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Calgary. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat a home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Calgary Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Canada Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries, its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada and follows the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois — but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read that you won’t be able to put down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson is like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far-flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (and yes, there’s actually a place in Canada called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s, where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted of the murders of her employer and his mistress (who is a housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful and although it’s fiction, it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
Calgary Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Canada and continue planning your trip: