People visit Calgary for many reasons: they have the famous stampede, it’s near Banff, or they come to do business as it’s the hub of commerce for this region of Canada.
Sure, it’s full of skyscrapers 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 Calgary Stampede in July, which attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world.
Add in a rotating roster of food trucks, craft beer bars, and world-class museums, and you’ve got one of my favorite cities in Canada.
Plus from here, you can head out to Banff National Park or Canmore to get up close and personal with nature (just come off-season because the summer crowds here are the worst).
This travel guide to Calgary will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, and ways to save money.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Calgary
1. Celebrate the Calgary Stampede
2. Do the Stephen Avenue Walk
3. Visit the many parks
4. Visit the Calgary Zoo
5. Go to the Rockies
Other Things to See and Do in Calgary
1. Hang out in Prince’s Island Park
Right on the Bow River, this park is 20 hectares and is the most popular park in the city. There are free festivals and events year-round. Here you’ll also find 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.
2. Check out Fish Creek Provincial Park
Fish Creek also sits along the Bow River and is perfect for walking, cycling, and rollerblading on its paved trails. In the summer months, people come here to fish, swim in Sikome Lake, and have barbecues. People hit the trails in the winter months for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The park closes between 6-10pm, depending on the time of year.
3. Explore the nightlife of Kensington
Located in the northwest part of the city, Kensington is a tiny business district chocked full of trendy shops, bars, and restaurant. 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.
4. Go brewery hopping
If you’re a craft beer lover, Calgary has a huge number of brewpubs and small breweries! Citizen Brewing Company, Cold Garden Beverage Company, and Big Rock are some of my favorites. Big Rock offers brewery tours for25 CAD ($19 USD), which includes free samples. You can also do a brewery hopping tour with Canadian Craft Tours to three or four different breweries for $89 CAD ($67 USD).
5. Watch the Calgary Flames
Hockey is a religion in Canada, and the folks in this city take their hockey very seriously. Never try to get between a local and their game! The chances of you getting into an actual NHL game are pretty slim (at least not without paying an enormous amount of cash), but you can find a busy pub or bar, grab a beer, find some new friends, and watch the game.
6. Visit Eau Claire Market
This market has something for everyone, including a variety of upscale shops, restaurants, and a food court. In the summer months, there’s a playground and a wading pool for kids. Buskers are everywhere making balloon animals or performing music, or even putting off puppet shows. Eau Claire is also the festival district, so there is often some sort of community event taking place (like a concert). It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s a fun spot if you’re traveling with family.
7. 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, these sculptures were presented and dedicated to the city by Maxwell Cummings and Sons back in 1969.
8. Visit the Glenbow Museum
The Glenbow Museum is both a history and art museum and the largest of its kind in Western Canada with over 20 galleries and more than a million objects. The exhibits here mostly center around life in Western Canada, with interactive displays on the First Nations tribes, as well as entire floors dedicated to military history. There are also exhibitions featuring European art, Asian sculptures, and even West African artifacts like ceremonial masks and pottery. Admission is $18 CAD ($14 USD).
9. Check out the Canada Olympic Park
Calgarians are an active bunch — on Friday afternoons in the winter months, 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 will cost you about $75 CAD ($57 USD) for 90 minutes. You can even try the bobsleigh or luge!
10. Head to the top of the Calgary Tower
Built in 1967, the Calgary Tower is 626 feet 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 pretty thrilling (and terrifying). A ticket to the top is $18 CAD ($14 USD).
11. Visit the Heritage Park Historical Village
This heritage park is like a living museum, which showcases Western Canadian history between the 1860s-1950s. You can ride the steam train, learn how to make old-fashioned ice cream, chat with the prairie settlers, explore the First Nations site, and take a horse-drawn wagon ride. It’s another one of those somewhat cheesy experiences, but you really will learn a lot. Tickets are $27 CAD ($20 USD).
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, but the Craving Kensington tour is one of the best for its variety. You’ll try poutine, cheeses, charcuterie, sweet treats, a few drinks, and more throughout the evening for $95 CAD ($72 USD).
Calgary Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are only a couple of hostels in Calgary. A bed will cost about $46 CAD ($35 USD) per night for a room with four-six beds. A dorm with eight beds or more costs about $40 CAD ($30 USD) per night.
Private double hostel rooms start from about $87 CAD ($66 USD) per night for two people but can be as high as $135 CAD ($102 USD). During the Stampede, prices shoot up by about 50% and sell out months in advance, so make sure you book ahead!
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about $60 CAD ($45 USD), but this isn’t near the city center. For something closer to the city center, expect to pay at least $80 CAD ($60 USD) per night.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Calgary, with shared accommodation (like a couch in a living room) starting at $35 CAD ($26 USD) per night. For a private room expect to pay between $46-80 CAD ($35-60 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about $192 CAD ($145 USD) 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, cafeterias). Both the University of Alberta and Mount Royal University have single rooms starting from $56 CAD ($42 USD) per night. Check directly with their websites.
Food – Calgary has an epic food truck scene, and their locations switch up daily. If you download the Street Food Calgary app, you can follow the trucks in real-time. You can find pizza by the slice for $4 CAD ($3 USD), or a giant empanada for $4.25 CAD ($3.35 USD). Larger meals like a taco salad or a curry will cost around $11 CAD ($8 USD).
A meal at McDonald’s will cost about $10 CAD ($7.50 USD). Pubs and chain restaurants are very reasonable at about $20 CAD ($15 USD) for a meal, but a beer to go along with it is about $5 USD ($7 CAD). Higher-end restaurants will set you back around $45 USD ($60 CAD) if you also order an appetizer and a drink.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as $65 CAD ($50 USD) on groceries per week which would include some meat, bread, eggs, rice/pasta, some veggies, and fruit.
Some of my favorite places to eat in Calgary include CRAFT Beer Market, Holy Grill, Bridgette Bar, Mango Mania, Veg-In YYC, and Pete’s Drive In.
Backpacking Calgary Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Calgary, expect to spend about $100 CAD ($76 USD) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating cheap food and cooking some of your meals, using local transportation to get around, and limiting your paid activities as much as possible. You can cut this number by about $20 CAD ($15 USD) per day if you stick to only free activities. It’s expensive here, even on a backpacker’s budget!
On a mid-range budget of $180 CAD ($135 USD) per day, you can stay in two-star hotel or a private Airbnb room, eat out more (but still cook like breakfast), rent a bicycle to get around or use public transit, and visit more expensive attractions (like the Calgary Zoo).
On a luxury budget of $372 CAD ($280 USD) per day or more, you’ll stay in a four-star hotel in the city center, have a nice dinner each evening with a drink, eat fast food for the rest of your meals, take some taxis, and go on day tours (or do other paid activities, like skiing lessons). After that, the sky is the limit!
Keep in mind than many of these prices (especially accommodations) will 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 USD.
Calgary Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Calgary is definitely not a cheap city. If you stick to mostly free activities, you’ll save some money but otherwise things are pricey. It’s one of the more expensive cities in Canada and it’s tough to visit on a limited budget. Here are some of my ways to save money in Calgary during your visit:
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing host in Calgary. This way, you not only have a free place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- 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 will walk you around the city. (Be sure to tip!)
- Avoid the Calgary Stampede – If you’re not overly keen on the Calgary Stampede, avoid the dates around this event. Prices will be 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!
- Use coupon sites – Monitor sites like Living Social and Groupon for local deals and saving. There are always good listings on some top restaurants and attractions.
- 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.
Where To Stay in Calgary
There are only a few hostels in Calgary, which really limits your options! If you can’t find anything there, check one of the universities to see if they have any dorm rooms available. Otherwise, here are your hostels in Calgary:
How to Get Around Calgary
Bus – Calgary is well-connected with its bus system. You’ll have to use cash to purchase a ticket on the bus (exact change is required), or you can buy tickets at many drug stores, supermarkets, and corner shops. Fares are $2.56 USD ($3.40 CAD) one way, or you can pay $8 USD ($10.75 CAD) for a day pass. One-way fares are valid for 90 minutes.
Subway – Calgary 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. You can plan your route using Google Maps or the Calgary Transit website.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap here. Their base rate is $3.80 CAD ($2.86 USD), and it’s an additional $1.66 CAD ($1.25 USD) per kilometer afterward. Calgary United Cabs and Checker Cabs both have apps for booking a taxi.
Bicycle – Calgary has more cycling paths than anywhere in North America, with nearly 528 miles (850 kilometers) of pathways! Plus most major streets have designated biking lanes. Lime Bike is a public bike-share program that lets you rent a bicycle to get around. Just download the app, search for a bike nearby, and unlock it for $1 CAD ($0.75 USD). After that, it’s $0.30 CAD ($0.23 USD) per minute to ride, meaning a 30-minute journey will cost you about $10 CAD ($7.55 USD).
Ridesharing – Calgary has a unique car-sharing program named Car2Go, with hundreds of smart cars all over the city. Use the Car2Go app to find the nearest car, unlock the car, and you’re on your way! (You’ll have to prove your license ahead of time, of course.) Car rates begin at $0.32 CAD ($0.24 USD) per minute for two people. If you’re going to the airport, you’ll spend an additional $12.50 CAD ($9.40 USD) on parking your car at the Car2G0 parking lot there.
You can also use Uber to get around Calgary. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v. LYFT (my preferred company) is recently available in Calgary, so use my code MATTHEW999 to save $10.
When to Go to Calgary
Late spring and summer in Calgary is the best time 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 73.4°F (23°C), but it’s often higher than 86°F (30°C). Calgary is never really overcrowded with visitors, except during Stampede time in early July.
Things start cooling off considerably in the fall and don’t be surprised if you see snow by late September. Winters can be bitterly cold, with average temperatures between 12-6.8°F (-11 to -14°C) daily from December to March. 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, 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 be targeted during your visit. Your greatest risk is petty crime, like pick-pocketing, 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.
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.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move somewhere else.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Calgary! Follow that rule, and you’ll avoid being the victim of petty crime.
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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- 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 spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you 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 exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or 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 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
- 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:
Calgary 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, following 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 and you won’t be able to put it down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. He’s like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson. 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 (yes, there’s a place 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 some Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for the murders of her employer and his mistress (also the 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
This is a beautiful book (and a really great movie too). 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: