Calgary - Gateway to the Canadian Rockies
No doubt, when a leisure traveler lands at Calgary International Airport, he or she usually wants to get to the Canadian Rockies as fast as possible (unless they are coming to attend the world-famous Calgary Stampede). No wonder since the Banff and Jasper National Parks are among the most spectacular sites in the world. However, why not consider a city break in Calgary before heading to nature? Let`s have a look what this metropolis has to offer. I have spent a few awesome days there and found many interesting places. By the way, during these pleasantly warm days in early May, I could see the Rockies – stunning with the city`s skyline in the foreground.
Not only Cowboys (and Cowgirls...)
First and foremost, the greater Calgary area has a population 1.4 million people but you hardly notice this. It is a quiet big city – walkable, clean and safe in my opinion. No comparison to hustling and bustling Toronto or Montreal. This does not mean though that the city is sleepy – on the contrary, a lot of things are going on in Calgary, a city with a very strong Western heritage but so much more.
Calgary – the Mekka of Music and Sports
Did you know that Calgary is among the Top 5 Sports Cities in the world? Sure, you may remember that it was the host of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. Today, Calgary is the „High Adrenaline Sports Capital“ (mountain biking, summer bobsleigh, ziplining ... just to name a few). Calgarians seem to love sports and the great outdoors (no wonder, this is truly Canadian). When I strolled through the beautiful Eau Claire area (next to Chinatown, by the way), I had the impression that half of the population was jogging there (on a Monday during lunch time) – I have never seen so many taut calves like here! The city also has the highest per capita post-graduates – no wonder, with all the outdoor exercise, brains are working extremely well ;-)!
So much Music - and excellent Coffee!
In 2012, Calgary was the „Cultural Capital of Canada“. And it pretty much looks like it will soon become a music capital. One of the finest stretches of live music venues (the „Music Mile“) in Calgary runs from the hip and trendy Inglewood through East Village along and near 9th Avenue SE. On that way, you will find cool coffeehouses, bars and restaurants such as the Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (highly recommendable – great baristas and very strong coffee).
The Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre and located in a very fancy building (a must for architecture fans!), is offering five floors of exhibitions, telling the story of music in Canada and celebrating music icons at the Canadian Hall of Fame. You can even rock with interactive instruments and sing along in vocal booths (who knows, this may be the beginning of a big career ;-)).
Major Sites in Calgary
Sure, don`t miss to climb the Calgary Tower (168 m, beautifully illuminated at night) to admire the skyline and the Rockies in the background. A definite must is the Glenbow Museum right downtown which gives you an excellent overview of Alberta`s history. Stroll over Stephen Avenue with its historic sandstone buildings and modern skyscrapers. Have a look at Banker`s Hall with all the great shops, cafés, and restaurants. Walk along the Bow River and admire all the new buildings, enjoying a great view of the skyline. You cannot oversee a very cool bridge designed by the famous Spanish architect Sergio Calatrava, called Peace Bridge. Sports fans should not miss the Canada Olympic Park which is used for both, high-performance athletic training and for recreational purposes by the general public. Enjoy mountain biking and ziplining – lots of fun. And – of course, have a look at the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, the greatest outdoor show on earth. This ten-day long celebration preserves and celebrates the city`s Western heritage better than anything else – and who does not want to be a cool cowboy (or cowgirl)? YAHOO!
Let Calgary entertain you
There are three trendy neighborhoods to enjoy your evenings (and days):
17th Avenue, Kensington, and Inglewood (the „music mile“). Here you will find the coolest places for shopping and entertainment. Lots of fun – and by the way, many young Calgarians love to dress in a fancy and creative way, so enjoy people watching! (See also "tips from locals" below)
Where to stay in Calgary
My favorite place to sleep is the cool Hotel Arts. As the name suggests, a boutique hotel full of modern arts reflecting the city`s Western heritage, not far from the 17th Avenue. This place was a club in the 80s and 90s (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana and others performed here during the high time of the grunge movement) before it became one of the city`s coolest hotels 11 years ago. Apart from its stylish interior, it has two of Calgary`s best eateries – the Yellow Door Bistro (go there for breakfast) and the stylish Raw Bar with its innovative and tasty fusion cuisine. I loved the cool design of my room with a monitor in the bathroom. Needless to say that WiFi is working well and free of charge. In summer, you can enjoy the pool in the nice patio.
Where to eat in Calgary
Needless to say that a city of this magnitude has a lot of great dining places, also reflecting the multi-ethnic population. My all-time favorite is TEATRO right down on Stephen Avenue, a very cool Italian place in an old bank building. Excellent food, a great selection of international wines (a bit expensive, to be honest) and good for people-watching. Don`t forget, Canadians dine rather early, also on weekends.
I also loved the outlets of Rosso Coffee Roasters, a cool chain of coffeehouses offering snacks and great plates for lunch (including vegan options). Friendly staff and reasonable prices. And yes – Rosso Coffe Roasters is truly Calgarian! Times when you could hardly differentiate coffee from tea in Canada are long over!
Alberta Food Tours
You may wish to take part in the Alberta Food Tours which will guide you through various eateries. You will learn about the province`s 7 signature foods and have lots of fun (I enjoyed preparing the first cupcake of my life!).
Calgary – Tips from Locals
Fraser Abbott, Director of Business Development at the Hotel Arts Group
Fraser is a life-long Calgarian who has traveled throughout Europe and Latin America but choose to make Calgary his home for over 40+ years. Following are his recommendations:
As chair of the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, I encourage visitors to check out our thriving craft brewery and distillery scene. We’ve launched the “Sippin’ Alberta: Craft Beverage Trail” which showcases Alberta’s craft beer, wine, and spirits. You can download an e-copy of the trail here: http://www.albertaculinary.com/culinarytrails/sippinalberta/
Calgary Brewery Tours also offer guided tours of some of the city’s top craft breweries and they keep expanding their offerings to include craft spirits and other beverage suppliers in areas surrounding Calgary.
Lastly, one of Calgary’s popular bloggers, Mike Morrison, has launched Calgary By Bike which provides guided maps and suggested areas of interest for locals and visitors alike to experience on Calgary’s growing network of cycle tracks and bike paths. With our fleet of Brooklyn Cruiser Bikes at Hotel Arts and Kensington Riverside Inn (which are available for our guests to rent for free with helmets and bike locks), we highly recommend to our visitors to pick up a guide and go explore. We also sell picnic packages too for our guests. http://www.calgarybybike.ca/
1st Street SW has several retailers and restaurants including our’s at Hotel Arts, Proof (great cocktail bar), Vine Arts (fantastic wine store), Native Tongues (Mexican), Beltliner Diner, Foreign Concept, among others.
Central Memorial Park and the Library are one block West of Hotel Arts
Calgary Food Tours host a fantastic tour called Palette to Palate on Saturdays where you visit different restaurants and galleries. It starts at Hotel Arts and tours you through the Beltline for about 3 hours. Top notch.
Alyssa runs her own company Alyssa Berry Communications and has been living in Calgary for 20 years. Here`s what she recommends:
Just across the Elbow River from Inglewood is Fort Calgary. The fort was established in 1875 by the NWMP. They came west to negotiate peaceful land treaties with the First Nations people and to curb the whiskey trade. Calgary was founded in 1884 and there were 4000 people living in Inglewood and Ramsay. This is the cradle of Calgary.
Inglewood has gone through rough times but is now known as Calgary’s bohemian village filled with artisan food, arts and fashion retailers and a lively music scene that makes up part of “The Music Mile”.
Most of Calgary’s oldest buildings are here including the oldest home from 1875 – Hunt House – which is the gardening shed behind Deanne House. The buildings in the neighborhood all date to the early 1900’s and the names were some of the most prominent businessmen in Calgary’s history including the founders of the Calgary Stampede. In fact, the agreement for the Stampede was signed at the home of AE Cross in 1912 (now Rouge) with George Lane, Pat Burns, and Archie MacLean and Guy Weadick.
So - what are you waiting for? Get ready to visit Calgary. You will find more great tips and images on visitcalgary.com - Have fun and ... YAHOO!