What to Do in Calgary

Tips for spending a day or two in Calgary before heading to the Canadian Rockies By: Deanna Ting
Canada Olympic Park offers year-round sports activities and attractions for visitors to Calgary. // (c) 2011 Tourism Calgary
Canada Olympic Park offers year-round sports activities and attractions for visitors to Calgary. // (c) 2011 Tourism Calgary

The Details

Tourism Calgary
Calgary is an ideal starting point for any visit to the Canadian province of Alberta thanks to its easy accessibility and wide range of offerings. There are many direct flights available from the U.S., especially the West Coast, on carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet. More than that, though, this is a city with plenty of variety, from extreme sports and emerging arts to colorful cuisine and authentic culture.

While Calgary is most known for hosting the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and for its annual Calgary Stampede, this city, located approximately 161 miles from the U.S. border and only an hour-and-a-half drive from Banff, is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, too. For any traveler, Calgary provides an easy introduction to the province, especially before they decide to head to the nearby mountains.

Book a Boutique Stay
A number of new or fairly new boutique hotel properties, such as Hotel Le Germain Calgary and Hotel Arts are emerging throughout Calgary, providing business and leisure travelers with contemporary hotel accommodations and the comforts of an intimate property.

Get Active
At the Calgary Olympic Park (COP), which is located approximately 15 minutes from downtown Calgary, you can ski, snowboard or even hop a ride on a bobsled, luge or skeleton. The former site, a legacy from Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics, is still very much in use and is evolving itself into Alberta’s premier sports facility for world-class athletes and recreational sports lovers alike. This year, COP added a 535,000-square-foot facility devoted entirely to hockey, serving as the home training base for Canada’s national team. In July, it will open a 90,000-square-foot Canada Sports Hall of Fame, which represents a $5 million investment.

Travel Back in Time
History buffs will love paying a visit to Heritage Park Historical Village, a fully recreated historical village that represents Western Canada from the period of 1860 to 1950. While the village itself is only open in the summertime, clients can still visit the park’s Gasoline Alley attraction and visit its shops, even in the winter. Gasoline Alley houses the largest collection of vintage vehicles in Canada, and acts like an interactive museum.

Smarten Up
In late October/early November, the Telus World of Science Center will open a brand-new facility, the first new science center to debut in Canada in 30 years. At 150,000 square feet in size, the new, highly interactive facility is 2.5 times larger than its existing facility, and will feature a total of six exhibit halls.

Rise to New Heights
For a bird’s-eye view of downtown Calgary, clients will want to head to Calgary Tower, which is located at the intersection of Centre Street and Ninth Avenue. From one part of the observation deck, you can actually see the streets below you from a height of 626 feet in the air, thanks to a fairly new clear observation deck floor. The Calgary Tower also houses a fine-dining restaurant, Sky360.

Engage in Some Retail Therapy
Shopping in Alberta is in favor of consumers: there’s no provincial sales tax, only a 5 percent combined federal and provincial tax so shoppers can shop to their heart’s content. Bargain shoppers interested in designer, name-brand wares should head to CrossIron Mills, an outlet mall located just outside of the city. For a more lively shopping environment in the heart of downtown, clients can head to Stephen Avenue Walk, where buskers often perform and there’s an eclectic mix of restaurants, pubs and stores.

Eat Out

Calgary is also proving itself to be a base for up-and-coming, talented chefs with a knack for innovative cuisine that encompasses much more than Calgary’s staple — AAA Alberta Beef (which is, by the way, very good). During a recent visit, I dined at Charcut Roast House, which occupies a space in the lobby of the Hotel Le Germain. Head chef and co-owner Connie De Sousa churns out inventive, rustic and, most importantly, satisfyingly delicious food — from poutine (French fries) fried in duck fat and topped with brown gravy and cheese curds to charcuterie plates that feature pighead mortadella.

I also had an opportunity to dine at Vero Bistro Moderne, an intimate French-Asian fusion restaurant that is located in Calgary’s Kensington neighborhood, a posh enclave filled with quirky restaurants, coffee shops and stores. Chef Jenny Chan delivers beautifully executed food that combines French and Asian sensibilities perfectly; I especially loved her 72 Hours Braised Diamond Willow Organic Beef Short Ribs and, for dessert, a taste of her decadent Valrhona Dark Chocolate Fondant Cake.
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