Calgary is a young, vibrant city smack dab in the heart of the Canadian prairies. Known for its close proximity to Banff, Calgary offers more than its own fair share of nature and adventure. With a modern downtown situated right at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, you’ll be able to enjoy the great outdoors right alongside the city’s many creature comforts!
Spend the day bobsledding at an Olympic park, shopping for unique finds in Inglewood, or having a leisurely raft down the river. As night falls, you might find yourself walking down 17th Ave looking for dinner or sampling draft beers at one of the dozens of local breweries in town, then wandering up to Crescent Hill Lookout Point for a breathtaking view of the city skyline.
With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Calgary for you. Stick to these fun and unique Calgary bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this hidden gem in the Rockies!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Calgary
1. Make Music at Studio Bell
Canada’s National Music Centre is located in the heart of Calgary’s downtown. Operating on a pay-what-you-can model, Studio Bell strives to make music accessible to all. Inside, you’ll find exhibitions that chart the long evolution of Canadian music, many of which spotlight the contributions of Indigenous artists.
Studio Bell also hosts live performances every week, so plan ahead to make the most of your visit. The amazing architecture of the building alone makes this one of the top Calgary attractions. Plus, Studio Bell is located right in East Village, one of Calgary’s coolest neighborhoods, which boasts plenty of public art and cool cafes, all easily accessible via public transportation.
Nearby you’ll also find the New Central Library and the Olympic Plaza, making this an easy destination to fold into a downtown excursion.
2. Explore the TELUS Spark Science Centre
The TELUS Spark Science Centre is one of the best Calgary attractions. Here, you can immerse yourself in VR, check out special exhibitions that combine art and science, and catch a show at a 360-degree dome theater offering planetarium-scale experiences. Designed for the little ones, Spark also offers the Creative Kids Museum, a 10,000-square-foot, hands-on scientific play area and an outdoor play park.
Spark also offers one of the most unique things to do in Calgary – Spark After Dark. It’s an adults-only event series offering special catering and full bar service. The center and activities are still accessible, offering exploration and fun but in a decidedly different atmosphere.
Each event also offers a unique theme and an additional set of attractions, from cooking classes to gaming lounges to speakers who run the gamut, from magicians to professors of neuroscience.
3. Cycle Over the Peace Bridge and Through Prince’s Island Park
The Peace Bridge is among the best sights in Calgary. This iconic Spanish-designed walkway connects Calgary’s downtown with the calm, cool Sunnyside neighborhood.
It’s lit throughout the night, producing a completely different atmosphere depending on the time of your visit. It’s also the only pedestrian bridge along the river that offers dedicated cycling lanes. If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent scooters and bikes conveniently at the nearby Eau Claire Market.
The bridge’s unique architecture speaks for itself, and it is an excellent reason to linger at Prince’s Island Park. The park stretches out leisurely along both sides of the Bow River, offering live music, a bevy of food options (from carts to fine dining), plenty of picnicking areas, and skillfully placed public art installations.
Moreover, it’s located right by Calgary’s downtown, making for a great stroll after dinner.
4. Ice Skate at Olympic Plaza
Once used as the venue for the Olympic medal ceremony, Olympic Plaza is now a public park. Depending on the time of year, the plaza transforms to offer unique activities in Calgary’s downtown.
In the winter, you’ll find an outdoor ice skating area that’s free of charge and open to all. In the summer months, you might find it as a wading pool, concert stage, or festival venue!
There’s plenty of seating and shade, making it a peaceful place to sit down for a chat. Located just off the train line, Olympic Plaza is easy to get to, and it’s centrally located near many other Calgary attractions, making it a great place to stop if you’re spending time anywhere downtown.
You’ll also find local chain Village Ice Cream within walking distance, which is definitely worth a short detour in snow, hail, or shine!
5. Take a Day Trip to a Natural Hot Spring
We can’t forget to mention that Banff is only an hour’s drive outside of Calgary. Between gondolas, glaciers, and sprawling trails, you’re spoiled for choice, but soaking in the natural hot springs is definitely one of our must-do Alberta activities, combining relaxation with amazing mountain sightseeing.
Depending on your preferences and the time of year, there are a few different options to choose from. The mineral-rich outdoor pools at Banff Upper Hot Springs are geothermally heated year-round and sit at a higher elevation than any other natural spring in the area. The best times to go for the cool mountain air and the stunning views are sunset and sunrise.
If you want more of an exclusive experience, the Willow Stream Spa at Banff’s castle-like Fairmont hotel offers full spa services and facilities alongside geothermally heated indoor and outdoor whirlpools with natural rock features. For a luxe option, Fairmont also offers packages that include private access to their Nordic plunge pools.
6. Bobsled (and More!) in Calgary Olympic Park
You don’t need to leave town to get your heart pumping. All year-round, athlete or not, Calgary Olympic Park(COP) is full of fun activities. In the winter, COP’s world-class slopes offer classic winter sports, like skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, but the facility also features a regulation-size skating rink, mini-golf, downhill karting, mountain biking, and an extreme zipline depending on the time of year.
But, the real gem is the bobsledding, a unique experience at the top of our Calgary bucket list! COP is one of the only facilities in all of North America to offer bobsledding, and it’s available in both summer and winter variations.
For the uninitiated, a bobsled can go as fast as 80 km/h down a twisting, winding track reminiscent of an extreme roller coaster. It makes for an amazing adrenaline rush, perfect for a pair or group! Finally, to relax at the end of a day of thrill seeking, try catching the chairlift during sunset.
7. Enjoy the Calgary Stampede
One of the most unique things to do in Calgary, the Calgary Stampede takes place over nearly two weeks in early July. Equal parts rodeo, carnival, and music festival, the energy of the city completely changes during Stampede season!
You’ll catch people of all ages and walks of life getting into the cowboy spirit. If you can time your visit right, this is one of the most fun events you can attend in all of Canada.
The Stampede Midway offers every kind of carnival ride imaginable, from roller coasters to Ferris wheels to funhouses. Concerts are held all day long at one of the four indoor and outdoor venues within the Stampede grounds, with a special emphasis on country and folk performers.
Walking around, you might find an agrarian area complete with a petting zoo, a drag brunch, or a freestyle motorcycle exhibition. The sheer breadth of activities on offer makes the Calgary Stampede worth putting on your Calgary bucket list if you’d like to experience a true slice of the Canadian West!
8. Raft Down the Bow River
Calgary’s Bow River is a pristine waterway perfect for an afternoon of kayaking, canoeing, or rafting. An average trip covers about 12 kilometers and takes around 2.5 hours to complete.
This activity is perfect if you want to do some serious Calgary sightseeing since the Bow snakes through the city’s downtown core and past a number of landmarks, including the famous Peace Bridge, bringing together the best of nature and city life.
Numerous rental services operate up and down the river, so you’ll have plenty of options based on where you want to begin and what equipment you need. While there is some maneuvering required, the Bow is free of rapids and is well monitored, making it suitable for travelers of all ages.
You can even take your pets! For those seeking a bit more of a challenge, there are also numerous whitewater rafting points just outside the city.
9. Peruse the Central Library
It may be appropriate to judge a book by its cover in this case because the Calgary Central Library is just as interesting inside as it is outside. From the street, it looks more like an art gallery, with an expansive geometric facade towering over the road and an LRT line that the library overlooks.
Approaching the entrance, you’ll be enveloped by an expansive wooden archway echoing the interior of the building, a perfect refuge from its urban surroundings. The bottom floor consists of a performance space, art displays, a cafe, and smaller collections.
On the first floor, you’ll find a 12,200-square-foot children’s library, with interactive play areas and reading nooks. Floors 3 and 4 contain a digital commons and a reading room, respectively. You can also catch a lovely glimpse of the skyline in the meeting space at the very top of the building.
A trip to the Calgary Central Library is easily one of the best things to do in Calgary for the bookworms among us!
10. Sip a Local Craft Brew or Two
Calgary is home to over 30 local craft breweries, which combine to create the coolest beer scene in Alberta! You’ll find everything from seasonal sours to prairie lagers to farmhouse saisons.
Each brewery has a unique vibe, and you’ll find them dotted all over the city. Luckily, we have a shortlist of the best breweries in Calgary!
Cold Garden Beverage Company in Inglewood is a microbrewery with an artsy warehouse vibe and a variety of flavors you won’t find elsewhere. If you’re looking for a retro kick, complete with cassettes and tube TVs, Eighty-Eight Brewing Co. off Ramsay is a must-visit.
Also in Ramsay, The Dandy Tasting Room offers unique seasonal sours. For beer geeks, The Establishment offers barrel-aged wild beers in an upscale tap house. Honorable mentions include Big Rock Brewery, Banded Peak Brewing, Village Brewery, and Annex Ale Project.
But really, you can’t go wrong with any of them!
11. Catch a Hockey Game at the Saddledome
Check off something on your Calgary bucket list and watch a hockey game at the Saddledome. Even during the off-season, matches are scheduled every week. There’s nothing quite like watching the athletes breeze over the ice at light speed or hearing the roar of the crowd as the game goes into a tie-breaking overtime!
If hockey’s not your thing, look out for the ice skating shows happening every few months. Big music acts also go through the Saddledome, making this the one-stop destination for big events of all kinds in Calgary.
The Saddledome offers a full concession spread for mid-game snacking. For more substantial fare, you can check out one of the many restaurants, lounges, and clubs right inside. It’s also located within walking distance of many popular restaurants and breweries, meaning you’ll have plenty of places to go to celebrate (or commiserate) your team’s results.
12. See the Best City Views at Crescent Heights Lookout Point
One of the best sights in Calgary is completely free of charge. Between the Rocky Mountains in the distance, the city skyline, and the Bow River winding past, Crescent Heights Hill is a local favorite. Depending on the season and the time of day, you might see a pristine, frozen wonderland, a vast prairie landscape, or a quiet, twinkling city nightscape.
The lookout point is usually not very crowded, except on holidays and weekend evenings. You can drive up to the peak or walk up the 168 steps of the Memorial Stairs.
Our personal favorite route goes over the Peace Bridge, through Sunnyside, then up the short trail to the steps. This is a perfect place to go after date night, as it’s within walking distance from many downtown restaurants, but there’s also plenty of parking at the top of the hill or near Prince’s Island Park.
13. Visit the Esker Foundation Art Gallery
For a taste of Calgary’s art scene, visit the Esker Foundation Art Gallery in Inglewood. The Foundation strives to make art accessible to the public, so entrance is always free. While the space is relatively small, exhibitions are often immersive, room-scale experiences that are carefully curated for their creativity, innovation, and relevance to local issues.
Aside from the art itself, the gallery regularly offers artist talks, exhibition tours, and hands-on workshops. Attend a yoga lesson surrounded by art, bring home a clay vessel made with the input of an installation artist, or do some collaborative weaving. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Calgary, this is the place to be!
If you find yourself wanting more after your visit, Contemporary Calgary is another amazing space offering funky and interesting exhibitions. The New Gallery is a tiny, artist-run collective space in Calgary’s historic Chinatown.
The Glenbow Museum primarily offers cultural and historical installations, but you’ll also find classic and indigenous art and frequent special exhibitions featuring a wide range of traditions from around the world.
14. Grab Dinner, Drinks, and Dessert on 17th Ave
Yes, that’s an “and!” Calgary’s 17th Avenue is the city’s dining hotspot, serving gastronomical delights from around the world. Ramen bars, smokehouses, speakeasies, taquerias, bistros, Himalayan grills, Irish pubs, pizzerias, French bakeries, and more all await you.
Our top spots are Lulu Bar for small plates with a unique Canadian fusion twist, Betty Lou’s Library for the quintessential password-required speakeasy experience, Last Best Brewery (on 11th Ave) for top-notch craft beer and pub fare, Made By Marcus for seasonal, handmade ice cream offerings, and The Living Room for fondue and an intimate atmosphere.
On a weekend evening, 17th Ave is the busiest street in Calgary. Even in the dead of winter, you’ll find plenty of people dining on insulated patios and lines out the door of the city’s most popular restaurants.
Be warned, though. Curb parking might be near impossible to find on a busy night, but there are plenty of lots on 17th Ave itself, and neighboring streets are often more amenable. More walking just means more to discover, after all!
15. Shop Local in Inglewood and Kensington
Aside from offering fantastic dining options, Inglewood and Kensington are the most unique shopping districts in Calgary. Both are historic areas full of personality. No matter who or what you’re shopping for, you’ll find it (and more!) here.
In Inglewood, second-hand reigns. The joy of finding a unique vintage record or a ‘50s wedding dress is hard to beat!
Plus, the neighborhood is home to Fair’s Fair, Calgary’s largest second-hand bookstore, as well as Antiquaire Vintage Boutique, which stocks women’s clothing and home decor, and That Old Retro Store, a purveyor of audio paraphernalia throughout the ages. If you’re looking to bring home Canadian brews, Oak & Vine has the best selection in town.
In Kensington, you’ll find specialty retailers of comics, Japanese import goods, and band merchandise, among others. Kensington’s artisan market is a must-see for handmade wares.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Calgary. What’s your favorite thing to do in Calgary?
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