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While Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver draw much of the attention from travelers north of the border, don’t sleep on Calgary. It’s the third-largest city in Canada, and is filled with enough culture, food, art and scenery to keep you occupied for much longer than a layover. So we’ve put together 10 insider tips to help you make the most of your trip to Stampede City.
1. It’s Your Gateway to the Rockies
Once you fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC), beautiful Banff is only an hour and a half away by car, and charming Lake Louise just 40 minutes more. That means Banff National Park, the Rockies and the slopes in three nearby ski areas — Sunshine, Lake Louise and Norquay — are all at your fingertips. Finally, to wind down after a long day, you can soak in one of the region’s famous natural hot springs.
So if outdoor recreation (plus a little spring-induced relaxation) is at the top of your to-do list, point yourself in the direction of Calgary. Just be sure to stick around the city for a while, too.
2. It’s Got the Longest Urban Bike Path in the World
Winding through Calgary you’ll find over 600 miles of maintained bike trails that let you see the city on two wheels. Ride along Bow River to cycle between Prince’s Island Park and St. Patrick’s Island Park. Keep riding to take in street art, shops and unique architecture along the way. And when hunger strikes, pop into the restored Simmons Building to refuel with coffee at Phil & Sebastian, a snack at the Sidewalk Citizen bakery, or lunch at the aptly named Charbar, which cooks meats and seafood over a 900-degree wood-fired grill.
Need a bike? That’s easy enough. You can rent bikes throughout the city — Nomad Gear Rentals will bring them to your door — and several hotels offer them too, including the always-fun Hotel Arts and the Kensington River Inn.
3. You Can Walk 11 Miles Downtown Without Stepping Outside
Continuing the theme of meticulously planned pathways is Calgary’s Plus-15, a system of 60 suspended bridges that combine to create the longest elevated walkway in the world. It connects 100 buildings throughout 50 blocks of downtown real estate, including offices, museums, retail and the iconic Calgary Tower, complete with an observation deck and the rotating Sky 360 restaurant.
Use the numerous protected pathways to avoid the cold and snow as you explore on foot, or simply because you want to see the city from 15 feet above the ground. Just be sure to consult the many pedestrian maps along the way to keep from getting lost.
4. Victoria Park Is Your Eating HQ
Calgary’s dining scene has evolved significantly over the years, and the city now boasts some of the best restaurants in Canada. Young chefs are utilizing local ingredients, pushing boundaries and serving up exciting dishes, from dressed-up comfort foods and fine dining to modern takes on Korean (Anju), Indian (Calcutta Cricket Club), Chinese (Two Penny Chinese) and Mexican (Native Tongues).
Nowhere is this more evident than in the bustling Victoria Park neighborhood, which is home to the aforementioned quartet of restaurants. Take a stroll through the walkable streets; you can cover a lot of culinary ground in just a few short blocks.
5. Recent Legislation Means Better Drinking
The craft-cocktail movement hasn’t bypassed Calgary. Good drinks are being poured everywhere from dimly lit cocktail bars like Proof to gorgeous, chef-driven spots like Bridgette Bar. And it’s all enhanced by the recent embrace of locally made spirits. The province has been loosening archaic liquor laws since 2015, and Calgary (and Alberta in general) has witnessed a sharp uptick in the number of local breweries and distilleries.
Try Last Best Brewing & Distilling for a taste of both within city limits, or venture out to Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, Park Distillery in Banff or Raw Distillery in Canmore. Each is making good gin and vodka that you can sample straight from the source, and aged spirits like whiskey are in the works, so look forward to those in coming years.
6. It’s an Olympic Sports Paradise
You can still ski, snowboard, bobsled, luge and more at Calgary Olympic Park, the original site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Operated by local not-for-profit organization WinSport, the facilities can accommodate novices and pros alike, and offer lessons ranging from skiing and figure skating to ice hockey. For something a bit more relaxed, there’s also a park where you can race downhill in a rubber tube.
During the summer, the activities continue, as the site features scenic chairlift rides, extensive mountain-bike trails, North America’s fastest zip line and the Plunge, an 810-foot, three-lane water slide for channeling your inner 8-year-old.
7. It’s Cold, Until It Isn’t
Yes, Calgary’s winters are cold. That comes as no surprise. But what is surprising is that warm winds called Chinooks — a native word meaning “snow eater” — can blow in at a moment’s notice, quickly melting snow and raising temperatures by as much as 60 degrees in one day. These natural phenomena occur about 25 times per winter, so once every three to four days on average. The takeaway here: Pack in layers, because you might be shedding your parka and opting for a T-shirt in the dead of winter.
8. The City Is Really, Really Clean
It seems counterintuitive for a city whose industry centers around oil and gas, but Calgary has topped cleanest-city lists from both Forbes and Mercer Global Financial in recent years. The water quality and low pollution levels certainly help, as do local initiatives meant to decrease waste, reduce litter and promote greener lifestyles at home and in the workplace. The efforts are noticeable, and, hey, everyone likes a tidy city.
9. It’s Sunnier Than You’d Think
It’s not exactly sun-drenched Phoenix, but it’s not gloomy London, either. With nearly 2,400 hours of sunshine each year, Calgary is Canada’s sunniest city. And the sun will find you, whether it’s summer or winter. So, sure, you might get snowed on November through April, but the sun will come out tomorrow. And probably the next day, too.
10. It’s Diverse
More than 120 languages are spoken throughout Calgary, and as the population grows, diversity is on the rise, with new residents from the Philippines, India and China leading the way. By 2020, the city’s immigrant population is expected to reach nearly half a million people — people who continue contributing to Calgary’s rich fabric of culture, food and local business. To experience some of Calgary’s multiculturalism for yourself, Chinatown’s a good place to start. But don’t miss International Avenue, a long United Nations-like thoroughfare featuring restaurants, shops and grocery stores representing dozens of countries across Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Featured image by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.
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