Alberta is perhaps not the first destination that comes to mind when Torontonians are looking to book a quick weekend away. On a recent lickety-split trip to Calgary I was keen to see what time crunched adventure junkies could see and do on a two night holiday in the cowboy capital of the country.
First timers to Calgary will be delighted to find that the city’s major attractions are located within walking distance of each other in the downtown core. The city also has some of North America’s most developed bike paths so on a sunny day zooming around on a two-wheeler is easy peasy.
Things to Do in Calgary
My home sweet home in the city was the Westin Calgary, a perfectly situated hotel located within walking distance of the city’s top sights. The Westin Calgary’s Executive Junior Suites, located in the corners of the building, provide a private, oversized retreat with luxurious amenities, spectacular river or city views and large balconies. The spacious space features Westin’s iconic Heavenly Bed, a separate seating area with a large 42 inch flat screen television, coffee table, arm chair and sofa.
Calgary By Bike
Calgary has the most extensive urban pathway system in all of North America. The city of just over a million also features a comprehensive bike lane network, which makes biking from one side of downtown to the other safe and much more fun. Those keen to explore the city by bike should pick up Mike Morrison’s waterproof Calgary by Bike map. Morrison is a local blogger who has created an insiders guide to the city including not to be missed museums, parks and postcard-perfect art installations such as Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s Wonderland.
If you’re keen to enjoy a spectacular view of the Calgary skyline head up to Scotsman Hill lookout which offers jaw-dropping unobstructed views of the downtown core from the historic community of Ramsay. It’s a perfect photo opportunity where the city’s architectural icons, Pengrowth Saddledome and Calgary Tower stand proudly in front of a dreamy Rocky Mountain backdrop.
The Chocolate Lab
Sweet fans head to Calgary’s quirky China Town to indulge in an edible rainbow at The Chocolate Lab. The city’s favourite cocoa shop offers a mouthwatering array of truffles featuring Maple Pecan, Minty Kiss, Orange Dreamsicle and Ginger Spice.
Calgary’s go-to history and arts centre is the Glenbow Museum, which features an extensive collection of art, artifacts and archival materials that document the history and culture of Western Canada. The most popular exhibits tell the fascinating story of Alberta’s Aboriginal people, frontier exploration and the development of western life.
Village Ice Cream
Local ice cream fans coddle their beloved cones at Village Ice Cream. The trendy ice cream shop crafts its own tubs, batch by batch, using locally sourced ingredients. Highlights include spicy Cardamom, Phil & Sebastian Coffee, Two Hills Early Grey and Maple Pecan.
Bar Von Der Fels
Calgary oenophiles rave for Bar Von Der Fels, a cute little nook downtown which offers an always evolving list of spectacular wines. The owners have an excellent nose and scribble the price per glass on each bottle. A petite open kitchen at the back offers spectacular tapas style sharing plates best enjoyed after a swirl or two of cool Pinot Grigio.
History buffs head to Fort Calgary, located on 40 acres of parkland on the eastern edge of downtown Calgary. Explore colourful stories of Calgary’s past in the Interpretive Centre. Try on an authentic RCMP uniform or attend an Indigenous program. On a sunny day discover this National Historic Site and take a stroll along the RiverWalk to the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers.
Cold Garden Beverage Company
Cold Garden Beverage Company is a Calgary-based microbrewery located in the trendy Inglewood neighbourhood. Step into the brewery and you’ll find plenty of friendly faces sipping suds. The space is filled with comfy vintage furniture which makes it feel as though you’re downing a fresh beer in a 90s basement. Enjoy a taste test by ordering a flight of fresh brews which hilariously arrive at the table on a severed ski. Brilliant hat tip to Calgary’s love for the nearby Rockies.
If you’re looking to splurge on a fine feast be sure to book yourself a reservation at Pigeonhole. The trendy restaurant by Chef Justin Leboe was recently ranked by Air Canada’s enRoute Magazine as one of Canada’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants. Highlights from the menu include Charred Cabbage with Mimolette and Japaneno Salad Cream, addictive Ricotta Dumplings and a perfectly put together cheese course featuring the country’s most celebrated fromage.
Craft cocktail fans swoon for Proof, a speakeasy style bar which serves up the city’s best libations. The place gets packed as soon as it opens at 4pm (thanks to a happening happy hour) and keeps busy late into the night as prohibition style sips featuring frothy foams and house made bitters tickle tastebuds.
Kent of Inglewood
Kent of Inglewood dubs itself as Canada’s shave shop. The men’s only store is a lumberjacks dream featuring a bison bust adorned barber shop, axe and knife boutique and gentlemen’s gift shop featuring shaving must-haves, leather fashion accessories, musky cologne and colourful socks.
The Uncommons is a perfect spot for shopaholics looking to buy something unique and quirky made in Calgary. The boutique space was crafted by a small team of passionate designers in 2012 who curate everything from bikes to bags, sweaters to sleeping bags. If you love to buy fashion, art and design items made by locals when on vacation you’ll find your happy place here.
Novice green thumbs looking to master their terrarium skills head to Plant to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Nature lovers can sign up for hands-on classes from bee house building to terrarium making. If you’re rushed for time Plant is also an awesome gift shop featuring petite plants, soaps, floral sprays and custom made ceramics that can easily slide into your suitcase.
Day Trip to Banff
No visit to Calgary is complete unless you’ve taken the time to enjoy the Rockies. Make life easy and book yourself a day tour of Banff National Park with Brewster Travel. The local operator’s most popular tour is Explore Banff which includes jaw dropping vistas via the Banff Gondola, short hike to The Hoodoos and an inspiring cruise on Lake Minnewanka.
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