Calgary is the largest city in the Canadian province of Alberta. Positioned where the Great Plains rise up to meet the Canadian Rockies, Calgary is a gateway city to nearby adventures in the mountains.
However, this city of 1.2 million has a lot to offer on its own. A rich oil industry brings affluence to Calgary, which is evident in the cultural scene here.
Despite that, Calgary maintains a Western flair and is still best known as “Cowtown” for the annual Stampede and Rodeo each year.
Plan your trip?
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Best Time to Visit Calgary
Every season in Calgary offers something different, so the best time to visit Calgary will be based on your preference for activities and aversion to cold.
- Summer in Calgary: Summer brings the best weather to Calgary with warm days and cool nights. Summer is also the event season in Calgary, with festivals happening June through August. The Calgary Stampede takes place every July and draws visitors from around the world. This also drives hotel prices up, so budget travelers might consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of autumn or spring.
- Autumn in Calgary: The autumn months between summer and winter are a great time to visit Calgary. Weather is not yet too cold, but crowds (and prices) dip a bit before climbing back up for ski season.
- Winter in Calgary: Canadians don’t shy away from winter weather, so Calgary is a fun place to visit, even in the wintertime! With the appropriate clothing, you can have a great time. Of course, skiers flock to this region in the winter time, when snowfall typically runs from November to March.
- Spring in Calgary: Spring can be the most unpredictable season in Calgary, but much like Autumn, a dip in visitors between winter and summer means better prices and fewer crowds. Just be prepared for any kind of weather, from snow to sunburn!
How to Get to Calgary
Calgary has an International Airport (YYC) and is a hub for WestJet and Air Canada. Book a flight to Calgary from the USA, Mexico, Europe, Asia and Central America. The airport is just 20 minutes from downtown Calgary, with several shuttle options available.
If you are driving to Calgary, remember distances in the Canadian plains are vast, and fuel can be expensive. The drive from Vancouver is approximately 1000 kilometers, and in the other direction, Winnipeg is just over 1300 kilometers.
Calgary transit operates a bus and light rail system, and while not as extensive as other major cities, it can be useful for getting around in the downtown area.
Things to Do in Calgary
- Calgary Tower: It seems every Canadian city is marked by a large tower, and Calgary is no exception. The Calgary Tower looms nearly 200 meters over the skyline, with an observation deck offering stunning views of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.
- Calgary Zoo: Housing more than 1,400 animals, the Calgary Zoo sits on St George’s Island in the middle of the Bow River. Featuring wild animals in their natural habitat, plus a botanical garden and dinosaur exhibits.
- Prince’s Island Park: Not far from the zoo, Prince’s Island Park is the Central Park of Calgary. Open fields, walking and biking trails, plus festivals and an outdoor theater make this one of Calgary’s top attractions.
- Glenbow Museum: Frequently rated as Calgary’s top museum, and one of the best in Canada, the Glenbow Museum contains art and history exhibits. What it lacks in size it makes up in diversity. With a focus on Western Canadian culture, including First Nations history, there is also art and sculptures from Europe, Asia and Africa.
- Heritage Park: this living-history village pays homage to Calgary’s heritage, with exhibits such as a fur-trading post and a historic village staffed by workers in period clothing. You can also go for a ride on a paddle-wheeler boat, or a steam locomotive.
- Calgary Stampede: Calgary’s number one event is over 100 years old. For ten days every July, one million visitors flock to Calgary for the Stampede. In addition to rodeo events and competitions, Calgary becomes party central during the Stampede.
- Spruce Meadows: If you happen to miss the Calgary Stampede, or just really love horses, plan to spend a day at Spruce Meadows. In addition to several horse-racing events, visitors to Spruce Meadows can tour the stables or the gardens, and there’s a playground for the children, too.
Day Trips From Calgary
- Banff: The mountain resort town of Banff is just 90 minutes from Calgary, and you don’t even need a rental car to get there. Daily shuttles run from Calgary to Banff, so you can leave the driving to someone else and enjoy the Canadian landscape. There are so many things to do in Banff, you’ll likely want more than just a day trip, but plan to spend at least one day here.
- Badlands: Just 90 minutes from Calgary are the Canadian Badlands, near Drumheller. This stunning landscape is seemingly out of place in the plains of Alberta. A wonderful combination of unique rock formations and fossil beds, there are many trails available to explore the Canadian Badlands. Don’t miss the Royal Tyrell Museum and the Trail of the Fossil Hunters.
- Lake Louise: the jewel of the Canadian Rockies is Lake Louise. The turquoise glacial waters contrasted with the drastic peaks of the surrounding mountains are a photographer’s dream. About two hours from Calgary, Lake Louise has a lot to do on a day trip. Rent a canoe and paddle around the lake, or lace up your hiking boots and hike to the nearby tea house. Prefer a more upscale trip? Reserve high tea at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
- Waterton Lakes National Park: The Canadian side of America’s Glacier National Park is reachable in a day trip from Calgary. Dramatic landscapes include a chain of lakes, high mountain peaks, waterfalls and bison prairies. Scenic drives, boat tours and hiking trails are all options for a day in Waterton Lakes.