Once called ‘Cowtown’ due to the farming exhibitions, Calgary is now a cosmopolitan city with rodeo, roping, and horse history. As a city that’s half trendy and half traditional, you’ll find a trip out west is for more than just cowboys — there are plenty of things to do in Calgary for travellers of all types.
If you’re going to Calgary for the summer, why not try out some of our picks for top attractions, favourite festivals, and more?
Visit the Calgary Stampede
Where To Go:
The Calgary Stampede is the thing to do in Calgary. For 10 days every July, the city embraces its Cowtown past and throws one of the biggest rodeos in the world. Businesses and homes across the city decorate themselves with western themes, while locals and tourists alike break out the cowboy hats. Plus, there are pancake breakfasts everywhere you look.
On the Calgary Stampede grounds themselves, you’ll find fair food (try the deep fried butter!) and rides. You can enter the Stampede lottery for a chance to win a home, check out the agricultural exhibits and halls, or catch a concert on the Coca-Cola stage (your opportunity to catch a famous band for free!).
Integral to the history of Calgary and the Stampede are the local Treaty 7 First Nations. Every year, Treaty 7 representatives hold the Elbow River Camp. Visitors can get to know their historical and modern ways of life, grab a bite of bannock, see shows, play games, and more.
Beyond the fairgrounds, the Stampede is full of shows. There’s the rodeo, of course where competitors tame horses, ride bulls, rope calves, and compete for the top prize every day of the festival. If the rodeo isn’t your style, there’s also the Dog Bowl, which is a daily show of canine tricks and feats. The chuckwagon races are a unique sport you shouldn’t miss either, where you can watch the covered wagons race at top speed around the track.
Local Tip: Every night after the chuckwagon races, the race track transforms into the Grandstand Show. By purchasing tickets to the show, you get free admission to the Stampede Park, so take advantage of this two-for-one offer. The theme changes annually, so you don’t want to miss out on seeing different Canadian celebrities and some of the most talented young acrobats you’ll see outside of Cirque du Soleil! Additionally, you get a front row seat to the Calgary Stampede fireworks.
See the Calgary Zoo
Where To Go:
The Calgary Zoo
A day at the zoo is a fun thing to do in Calgary for families and adult groups alike. Over 1,000 animals from far away and close to home make this zoo their home. The Calgary Zoo is an exceptional zoo for both visits and animal welfare. It has been recognized as one of the top zoos in the world for conservation research.
Around the park, you’ll find free roaming peacocks — you can look, but don’t touch! You can visit the Canadian wilds, African animals, and Eurasian beasts. The penguin exhibit draws delighted crowds, while the butterfly garden is a peaceful break from the outside. Prehistoric Park features life-size dinosaur models. As far as Calgary kids’ activities go, spending an afternoon in a dino park is pretty darn cool for the little ones.
If you get hungry, there are a number of permanent and seasonal spots to eat before continuing on. We recommend Kitamba Cafe, especially if you have dietary restrictions. They offer healthy and gluten free meals.
Getting to the zoo is easy, especially since there’s a CTrain stop right at the entrance.
Local Tip: Driving to the zoo instead? Good news is that the parking lot is close enough that you can walk over to the TELUS Spark science centre as well, if you’re okay with trekking through a field.
Learn the History
Where To Go:
Heritage Park Historical Village, Fort Calgary, the Lougheed House
Calgary’s modern history is comparatively young with the first European settler only arrived in 1873. Still, in the last century, life for Calgarians has evolved rapidly. Historical parks and attractions around the city remind locals and visitors what life was like before our time.
The Heritage Park Historical Village is one of the most popular attractions in Calgary. Step back in time, where you can travel by rail, stagecoach, street car or horse-drawn wagon. Stop at the Wainwright Hotel to see what your accommodations would have been 100 years ago, and chat with a historical re-enactor in the park. You can even ride a historical fair ride. If you’re looking for family activities in Calgary, kids love the candy shops and train rides that are accurate for that time period.
Alternatively, you can head to Fort Calgary. This wooden fort is the original site of what eventually became the city itself. Historical re-enactors immerse you in the life of the North West Mounted Police and the Treaty 7 First Nations as they experienced it in the fort in 1875. Fort Calgary holds historical movie nights and a Sunday brunch on special days throughout the year.
For a historical attraction that’s a little more adult, visit the Lougheed House, which is an opulent Victorian mansion open to the public. You can take a guided or self-guided tour to see the preserved house, talk to historic interpreters, and learn about the family who helped shape contemporary Calgary.
Spend a Day Downtown
Where To Go:
The Calgary Tower, Kensington, Inglewood, Eau Claire
Start your day downtown with a trip up the Calgary Tower. You can see the whole city and beyond. Plus, you canstep on the glass floor for a look below. The theatre room will teach you about Calgary’s history, but if you want a more interactive tour, there is one available for $4.00 each.
Next on the list of things to do in Calgary for a downtown day is toscratch that shopping itch with a trip to Eau Claire Market Mall. While other malls in the city feature chain stores and big businesses, Eau Claire is full of small businesses, specialty shops, and imported and handmade goods. The food court is a good stop for a quick bite downtown, with local and healthy food. The Eau Claire smokestack is a landmark in Calgary you should grab a photo in front of.
Alternatively, you can stay close to the Calgary Tower to shop along Stephen Avenue.
This outdoor pedestrian mall features boutique shops, famous chains, street food, and street performers. The high-end Core shopping centre is the go-to place for brag-worthy designer finds.
Attached to downtown Calgary are two trendy, artsy neighbourhoods: Inglewood and Kensington. Inglewood was Calgary’s original downtown, and remains a quirky mainstay of the area. The historical Fort Calgary is here, but so are indie galleries, local fashion designers, vintage shops, and more.
Kensington has a slightly newer vibe, but with the Alberta University of the Arts overlooking it, it’s just as artistic. Stop in at the second hand stores, take home an obscure record, and get a bite to eat in the many fast-casual and fine dining establishments along Kensington’s streets.
Sample the Calgary Culture
Where To Go:
Studio Bell, Glenbow Museum, music festivals
Calgary may be known for oil and cowboys, but it has a vibrant art and music scene as well. One of our top things to do in Calgary is to take a day to enjoy what’s on display.
Head to Studio Bell, which is home of the National Music Centre, to see some of the best of it. You’ll find five (yes, five!) floors of exhibits and information on the history of music in Canada. The top floor features four Canadian Music Halls of Fame, while the others are filled with interactive activities for exploring sound. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own.
Local Tip: Make sure you plan to be at Studio Bell between Wednesday to Sunday around 3 pm to catch the Kimball Theatre Organ demonstration and experience what movies were like before the advent of motion picture sound.
For history and art, spend an afternoon at the Glenbow Museum. A whopping 33,000+ works of art from various time periods, places, and civilizations are on display here that range from the ancient to the modern. If you want to get to know the pieces on display intimately, take a guided tour or bring your sketchbook. It isn’t uncommon to see students from the local universities and high schools spread out throughout the museum sketching the works of art on display, so why not join them? You’ll get to know the Glenbow’s works in a whole new light.
If you’re in town at the right time, you can catch a music festival, a favourite summer activity in Calgary for locals and visitors alike. Our favourite two are the Calgary Folk Music Festival and Country Thunder. The Folk Fest is usually held at the end of July every year, featuring four days of music from famous and up-and-coming folk artists. 11 stages are spread out across Prince’s Island Park, which sees over 50,000 people attend this festival every year.
Country Thunder encapsulates the city with contemporary, classic, famous, and new country artists descending upon Calgary in August to throw a distinctly Albertan-flavoured music festival experience. If you’re in town, this is one of the best things to do in Calgary, even if you’re not a fan of country music.
Check Out the Calgary Olympic Plaza
Where To Go:
Winsport Canada Olympic Park, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
In 1988, Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics. The city has maintained Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, which is known as the Winsport Canada Olympic Park, and has been transformed into a sports complex that is open all year.
If you’re going to Calgary in July or August, the hill will be open for mountain biking. Rent a bike and speed down the hill, but make sure you wear your helmet!
Mountain biking isn’t all you can do there though. A skating rink is maintained all year, so go for a skate if the summer Calgary weather is hot enough. In the summer, Winsport transforms the bobsleigh track into a summer-friendly version with wheels instead of ice. Hop in with a professional pilot and fly down the track!
Once you’ve got a taste for speed, get up high on the Monster Zipline. The line starts at the iconic Canada Olympic Park ski jump and can speed up to an impressive 120 km an hour. With a drop of more than 328 feet, this is not for the faint of heart. Neither is the Free Fall, a bungee jump off the top of an 8-storey platform.
Looking for a more relaxed activity? For a fun group activity in Calgary, try out Winsport’s mini-golf course. In addition to being an entertaining thing to do, this course has uninterrupted views of the Rocky Mountains that are to die for.
Local Tip: Go later in the day in the summer, since the course is open until 7:30 pm in the peak July/August season. While the sun won’t be setting just yet, it’ll be low enough in the sky to add an extra golden glow to your game, like putting against a painting.
Finally, don’t leave without a stop at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in the Calgary Olympic Plaza. Get to know top Canadian athletes and their stories to get inspired!
Have a Picnic in the Park
Where To Go:
Prince’s Island Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park
Want a chill day on your vacation? Spend some time in Calgary’s beautiful parks.
Prince’s Island Park is one of the city’s top social hubs. Festivals and events happen here throughout the year, but even on days where all that’s happening is sunshine, you’ll find something to do. This is a stop Calgary tourist spot, but it’s full of locals as well.
Local Tip: The weather in Calgary can change quickly. If you get caught in the rain, don’t leave the park right away. Instead, head to the River Cafe, a charming and easily-missed place to eat in the park, to wait it out.
Prince’s Island Park features a playground, walking trails, and well-groomed flower gardens. There is an on-leash dog park here, so bring Fido (unless it’s Canada Day, when dogs will be turned away).
Alternatively, for other outdoor things to do in Calgary, spend a day at Fish Creek Provincial Park. As the second largest urban park in Canada, you have lots of space to spread out and enjoy some quiet when compared to the more congested Prince’s Island.
Bring your walking shoes (or bike) and go for a walk along one of the 80 km worth of park trails. Don’t forget to bring a camera, because plenty of local wildlife make Fish Creek Provincial Park their home.
While entry to the park is free, the Sikome Aquatic Facility on Sikome Lake does have a fee for use.
Enjoy the Nightlife on the Red Mile
Where To Go:
During the Calgary Flames’ 2004 Stanley Cup run, the southwest end of 17th Avenue near downtown Calgary was immortalized as the cool place to be on a Friday night. Called the Red Mile for the colour of the Flames’ jerseys, 17th Ave remains hip and trendy to this day. For romantic things to do in Calgary, dress up and head here together.
Farm-to-table, high end, and casual dining line the street, as well as tapas bars and local favourites. For a meal with the family, try out Tubby Dog, a comfort-food eatery open late. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated bite, try the Living Room or Model Milk, with fresh and local menus highlighting some of Calgary’s most talented chefs.
Local Tip: For bar hopping, you cannot miss Jameson’s Irish Pub, a Calgary institution. If you want to try some of Calgary’s best local craft brews, Jameson’s is the place. The food is better than your average pub fare, too.
As a bonus, come back during the day for some shopping. Downtown is still the shopping district, but 17th Ave does feature some can’t-miss shops. For something a little different, try out Rite of Ritual, a witchy-kitschy shop with mystical oddities and clothes.
Take a Day Trip
Where To Go:
Drumheller, Bragg Creek, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Numerous small communities and historical places surround Calgary, so it’s a good idea to rent a car to explore some of them.
Head to Drumheller for a day if you’re travelling with kids and want some family fun outside Calgary. As the dinosaur capital of the world, Drumheller will excite them all. Walk up the world’s tallest T-Rex, then go to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to learn more about the abundant fossils found in Alberta’s foothills.
Have teenagers on your trip? Try out Escape This! Drumheller, an escape room with local flair. Rooms include a dino dig and a prohibition-era adventure.
If you’re travelling with adults, Bragg Creek might be more your speed and it’s one of our favourite places to visit near Calgary. A day trip to this hamlet will feel like travelling a few years back in time, with its slower pace and untouched wilderness. Bring your hiking boots and explore the hiking trails around the area. There are tons of quiet, unspoiled trails to discover.
Local Tip: If you’re going in late July, try to catch the Tsuut’ina nation’s annual Pow-wow & Rodeo. No alcohol is allowed on the grounds, but the festivities are no less exciting for it. This is a great way to get to know some of Calgary’s oldest culture.
For something with a little history, take a day trip to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a world heritage site. For over 6,000 years, the buffalo jump has been an important part of the local Blackfoot nation’s culture and traditions. While it is no longer used to hunt buffalo, it remains a place of great importance.
Learn more about Alberta’s original peoples and visit the Joe Crow Shoe Sr. Lodge while you’re there. Remember to be respectful and take nothing home but photos.
Taste the Saskatoon Berry Farm
Where To Go:
The Saskatoon Berry Farm south of the city
If this is your first time in the Prairies (and even if it isn’t!) you need to seek out saskatoon berries. These berries grow only in northwestern North America and are sweet and dry, which is ideal for sticky-sweet pies and delicious buffalo burgers. Add sampling these berries to your list of things to do in Calgary.
Your best best for finding delicious saskatoon cuisine is a visit to the Saskatoon Berry Farm. As far as Calgary activities go, this is very much a local staple and a bit of a hidden gem. You’ll need to drive out of the city in order to find it.
Beyond just saskatoons, the Berry Farm grows and sells shrubs, trees, flowers, and more. The store on the farm stocks locally made goods, as well as prepared food to take home. Start by stopping in the cafe for tasty Western and Mexican dishes featuring the iconic berries, then stock up on your faves to enjoy in your vacation rental later.
There is even an annual U-pick event for saskatoons and sour cherries, which is a great way to entertain kids and comes with a payoff in the end!
Wherever you go while in Calgary, make your home base a vacation rental by CanadaStays. If you’re planning on a trip focused around downtown adventure, try a condo rental to stay near transit lines. However, if you’re planning on renting or bringing a car, consider renting a home in the south of the city.
No matter where you stay, Calgary is sure to charm you with its contemporary western vibe.