10 exciting reasons to visit Calgary this summer
Calgary manages to combine the energy and can-do attitude of a major cosmopolitan city (thanks to its rise as the centre of Canada’s oil industry) with old-time western culture that makes itself abundantly clear, particularly during the Calgary Stampede, a massive rodeo and festival that lasts over 10 days in July. The Stampede initially grew out of the farming and ranching culture that dominated this city. While Calgary is no longer a rancher town, the Calgary Stampede in July is still one of the best parties you’ll ever find in Canada. But that’s not all Canada’s fourth largest city can offer the visitor.
Calgary is one of those quintessentially Canadian cities with its own unique charms just waiting to be explored. With the average age of Calgarians at a youthful 36, the city bursts with exuberance and offers access to stunning natural beauty, fabulous dining, and nightlife that ranges from honky tonk to swanky.
The city is also a place that “springs” to life once the weather starts to warm up in May (though warm chinook winds during winter can provide some wonderful respite from the cold). Streets become busier with pedestrians, and there’s plenty to do when it comes to outdoor activities, including one of the largest bike trail networks in North America. There’s also plenty of things to do indoors, from a first-class Science Centre to Olympic calibre sports facilities (that date back to when the 1988 Winter Olympics were held in this city).
So take advantage of all that Calgary has to offer for a spring or summer getaway with the tips below.
1. Take a trip back in time to Calgary’s roots
The original buildings were eventually torn down, but the site was bought by the City of Calgary in 1974 and opened 1978 as a history site and museum. There’s an interpretive centre that explains the history of the Mounties in the area, and what life was like. You can also see the Hunt House, the oldest building in Calgary, dating back to 1876, and the reconstructed Deane House, now a fine dining restaurant. In June 2020, Fort Calgary will embark on a major redevelopment to further enhance the story of modern Calgary’s beginnings.
Heritage Park, a 20-minute drive from downtown at Heritage Drive and 14th Street SW, is another attraction where you can take a deep dive into Calgary’s history. It features more than 180 exhibits that reflect the lives of those who settled Western Canada. In many cases, the houses, stores and machinery at each exhibit are original. They span Western Canadian history from the 1860s through the 1950a and are situated in four locations: The 1860s fur trading fort and FIrst Nations Encampment; the 1880s pre-railway settlement; a 1910 Prairie railway town; and the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s Gasoline Alley Museum and Heritage Town Square.
2. Stampede like a Calgarian
If you’re in Calgary during the first part of July (this year it’s July 5 to 14) there’s no way you can skip the Calgary Stampede. This annual event offers rodeos, chuckwagon races, pancake breakfasts, concerts, dog shows, agricultural showcases, and so much more. Proud Calgarians like to call it the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” But the stampede is much more than a 10-day Cow Town party with bucking broncos. It’s Calgary’s way of showing the world what “old west” culture is all about, and to preserve and celebrate that heritage. So don’t forget to grab your Stetson and your cowboy boots – you may have good reason to use them.
3. Explore Calgary’s natural beauty
Calgary’s location at the meeting place of two rivers lends itself to an incredible collection of parks and wildlife reserves in, or near, the heart of the city. Make sure to spend some time to appreciate their charms.
Prince’s Island Park is a large urban Park developed on an island on the Bow River immediately north of downtown Calgary. Not only does it host many large festivals, it offers picnic grounds, hiking trails, flower gardens and a playground for the kids.
Towards the western edge of Calgary, Bowness Park is a remarkable gem waiting for visitors to explore, located along the Bow River between Stoney Tr. and 85 St. N.W. A shallow lagoon runs along the park’s southern edge, making it a favourite spot for paddle boating in the summer. You can even rent canoes and rowboats to travel a few little tributaries far removed from the fast-flowing Bow.
If you want to plunge yourself a little more into nature, there’s Fish Creek Provincial Park, a true wilderness oasis that’s practically in the city. For bird watchers, more than 200 species have been observed here, or you just might want to hike some of the 80 kilometres of trails – 30 of them paved and 50 of them shale. Fishing is also permitted in Fish Creek and the Bow River, the latter being a world-class trout fishery. As well, a boat launch is open from April to October, providing access to the Bow River.
4. Geek out at the Calgary Science Centre
5. Find out what Canadian football is all about at a Calgary Stampeders game
If you haven’t been to a Canadian Football League game in western Canada, you really don’t know what Canadian-style football is all about. So attend a Calgary Stampeders game, especially one against its fiercest rivals: On May 31, the Stampeders play the Saskatchewan Roughriders and August 2 or September 2, the Stampeders play the Edmonton Eskimos. Going to a game will put you in the epicentre of CFL action and show you what being a sports team fan is all about. The passions run deep and the stadium is packed.
The best part is that every time the Stampeders score a touchdown, a rider on a horse gallops down the sidelines waving a huge team flag. It’s been a Stampeders tradition for about 50 years. If you have seats down near field level on the east-side stands, you’ll get a pretty good look at what is a very impressive sight.
6. Dip your toe into the foothills of the Rockies nearby
Sure you could take a trip to Banff or Lake Louise to enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery. But if you’re short on time, and want to take advantage of what Calgary itself has to offer while getting a taste of the Rockies, there are closer alternatives.
If you want to dip more than a toe in the foothills and front ranges of the Rockies, then you can drive a little deeper into the Kananaskis Country park system. It can be accessed by three highways: Highway 40, a 66 km road known as Kananaskis Trail; Highway 66, a 28 km highway originating near Bragg Creek called the Elbow Falls Trail; and Highway 68, a 42 km gravel road originating from the Trans-Canada Highway known as Sibbald Creek Trail. There are so many parks and recreation trails in this area that it might be a good idea to find a spot to make camp so you can explore. One awesome option is the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, located at Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Autograph Collection. The Nordic Spa offers luxury and tranquility amidst the areas rugged beauty — making it the perfect way to start and end your day of exploration.
Here’s an insider tip: If you use Highway 1a (or Bow Valley Parkway) to get to any of these roads, make sure you stop at MacKay’s Ice Cream in Cochrane, an iconic ice cream store that is a Calgary tradition. It truly is worth the detour.
7. Ride a summer bobsleigh at an Olympic venue
Seeking thrills and chills? The place to go in Calgary is WinSport Canada Olympic Park, one of the key venues from the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. It is the perfect place for adrenaline-fueled activities, including a hair-raising ride on a summer bobsleigh outfitted with wheels. Accompanied by a professional pilot, you can soar down an Olympic-calibre track at up to 80 kilometres per hour, with 10 hairpin turns included. It only takes 60 seconds, but it’s a memory that will last forever.
If bobsled isn’t your thing, you can plunge eight stories at the Free Fall attraction, or ride North America’s fastest zip line. For those that don’t need the rush, enjoy the scenic chairlift, from which you’ll see the ski jump tower from the ‘88 Games and enjoy a stunning view of both Calgary and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
8. Cycle part of the world’s largest urban pathway network
For those who love to two-wheel, you’ll need to check out the recently completed Calgary Greenway, a bike path that connects 1,000-kilometre of bike trail that is considered the largest urban pathway in the world. Think of it as a “ring road” for bikes, that connects 55 Calgary communities.
The $50-million Greenway – funded by the three levels of government, real estate company Mattamy Homes and the Rotary Club – takes you through various urban parks, as well as a provincial park and other natural splendours such as the Copperfield Wetlands. It’s possible to ride the Greenway in just 12 hours, but most prefer to explore in smaller sections.
9. Be festive at a festival
With the warm weather comes the festivals – and there are plenty to choose from in Calgary. Things start off in May on a rib-tickling note with two comedy festivals. The first is the YYC Comedy Festival, held on May 20 to May 25. The festival initially debuted in 2012 and has since developed a strong following since it offers attendees affordable, world-class comedy.
The laughter continues at the 19th annual Funnyfest, held this year between May 30 to June 9. Although this 11-day festival showcases a wide range of standup comedians from around the world, it’s mission is to promote the outstanding comedic talents of Canadians.
For cocktail enthusiasts, you’ll be happy to note that in July, the Ceasar celebrates its 50th anniversary! The iconic drink was first invented by Walter Chell, a bartender at The Calgary Inn (now proudly the Westin Calgary) and in 2010 it was proclaimed by Federal Parliament as Canada’s national cocktail. There will be events and celebrations across Calgary to mark this anniversary, making it the go-to destination for those craving a bit of the salty Ceasar goodness.
Then you might want to stick around for the Calgary Folk Festival, dubbed by the Globe and Mail as one of the “seven musical wonders of the world.” It cleverly weaves in roots music and international upstarts into a tapestry called folk music. This is all presented in the wonderful downtown oasis of Prince’s Island Park. And while you may not recognize the names of those on the lineup, their performances are bound to leave a lasting impression.
The next big festival on the Calgary lineup is the Calgary Fringe Festival from August 2 to 10. As its name implies, the Fringe has been pushing the boundaries of theatre for years. This year, it will host a combination of local, national, and international productions – 22 altogether – for a total of about 150 performances over 9 days.
It was Calgary’s time to shine at the fifth edition of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants – a definitive guide to the best in fine dining in the country. Nine Calgary restaurants made it on to the list, voted on by 98 food critics, leading chefs, elite diners and food fans from coast to coast.
River Cafe was named twice. Not only did its cuisine, under the supervision of chef Matthias Fong, come in at No. 42 on the top 100 list, but it was also named Most Eco-Friendly Restaurant.
Number 47 is Ten Foot Henry, a restaurant which gives top billing to vegetables. Other Calgary restaurants on the list include Bar Von Der Fels (No. 58), Bridgette Bar (No. 70), Calcutta Cricket Club (No. 82) and Rouge (No. 89).
You may not get a chance to try all of these fine dining establishments, but you may want to include at least one on your Calgary getaway for a meal and a vacation to remember.
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