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Welcome to Calgary


Calgary is situated 200 miles (322km) north of the US border on the banks of the Bow River below the Rocky Mountains. Although Alberta's second city, Edmonton, is the state capital, Calgary is the largest, offering all the trappings of urban life as the territory's commercial and cultural centre, along with the pleasure of enjoying the dramatic countryside that surrounds the city. Splendid national parks flourishing on Calgary's doorstep act as a magnet for hikers, fishermen and lovers of the great outdoors. The city, set on the Trans-Canada highway, is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain resorts, which in winter attract skiers from all over the continent.

The downtown area of Calgary not only serves as a shopping, entertainment, cultural and recreation centre for locals, but it is also a tourist centre for more than four million visitors a year who come for the tourist attractions and annual festivals, wonderful parks and open spaces, and a selection of excellent shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros. The city is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede, a world-class cowboy carnival and rodeo that draws more than a million people every year to watch the action and be entertained by its accompanying festivities.

For over 10,000 years the site on which Calgary sits today was home to the Blackfoot Indians; the first European settlers did not arrive until 1860. Colonel James Macleod established the small trading post, Fort Calgary, named after Calgary Bay on his native Isle of Mull in Scotland. The Pacific Railway reached the town in 1883, but it was not until the discovery of oil in Turner Valley, 22 miles (35km) southwest of the city that the population started to explode. Wander the streets in your Stetson beneath the sparkling skyscrapers built on the back of the oil boom, dine on a juicy steak in a saloon with country music playing in the background, and it will be hard to decide whether you are in Calgary or Texas.

Information & Facts


Calgary experiences warm summers and bitterly cold winters, temperatures often dropping well below freezing. The mountains cause Calgary's climate to be rather dry, the little rainfall that does occur falls in summer (June to August). Winters are long and cold and occasionally relieved by a warm wind called a Chinook. The weather in Calgary is highly changeable and daily predictions are often off the mark.

Eating Out

Calgary's affluence has meant a restaurant boom that encompasses nearly every worldwide cuisine, so eating out in Calgary can include a range of experiences. The city's specialty is Alberta beef, which is generally acknowledged to be some of the best in the world, but expect to see elk or bison on the menu as well. There are a range of great international options as well, from sushi and Asian to French and Italian cuisine.

The best Calgary restaurants are generally located within easy distance of the city centre, and are concentrated in three areas: the Eau Claire district on Prince's Island, with trendy hotspots like Joey Tomato's, Prego Cucina Italiana and River Cafe; the chic 4th Street and 17th Avenue Mission district, offering cosmopolitan choices like Towa Sushi, Fleur de Sel and Mercato; and the downtown area that includes Chinatown and the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall with restaurants like Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Saint Germain and The Core.

All restaurants in Calgary are smoke-free, even outdoor dining areas. Nearly all restaurants will accept credit cards and Canadian cash, although some will take American dollars at their own discretion. The exchange rate is never in your favour, though. A service gratuity of 10-15% is expected and not included in the bill.

Getting Around

Getting around in Calgary is made easy as most of the city's attractions are concentrated within the city centre. The streets downtown are laid out in a numbered grid with avenues running east to west and streets running north to south, while in outlying areas themed neighbourhoods have more meandering streets which can be confusing to visitors.

Because of the grid system, walking around downtown Calgary is a simple way to get around. The Eau Claire market area and the Stephen Avenue Mall are pleasant pedestrian-only areas.

Calgary's public transport system is efficient and reliable, with a light rail and bus system servicing the city centre. The light rail runs from 4am to midnight every day, and the buses operated from 5am to midnight, with some routes continuing until 1am. There is a fare-free zone in the middle of town, and in other areas a pass can be purchased at any Co-op, Safeway, 7-Eleven Food Store or Mac's Convenience Store.

There are plenty of taxis available, either by hailing them in the street or calling the dispatch. Note that taxis cruise mainly the central areas of the city.

Driving in Calgary is relatively stress-free. Many streets are one-way, and streets marked 'transit only' are for public transport vehicles only. Parking downtown can be scarce and confusing, as the city uses an automated pay system that requires you to enter your zone and license plate number into a pay station. It is often easier to park in a private lot. There are numerous companies from which you can hire a car in Calgary.

The official languages are English and French (predominantly in Quebec).

The currency used is the Canadian Dollar (CAD), which is divided into 100 cents. One-dollar coins are also known as loonies (due to the picture of a loon, a type of bird, on the coin), and two-dollar coins as toonies. Banks and bureaux de change will change money and travellers cheques, as will some hotels, but the rate will not be as good. Major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are plentiful. US Dollars are largely accepted, though due to fraud, larger notes might not be and change is usually given in Canadian dollars.


Calgary's nightlife is always hopping, which is no surprise considering more than half of its population is under 30 years old. The most popular nightlife areas are in the city centre, including the lounges, pubs and restaurants in the Mission district, focusing at the intersection of 4th Street and 17th Avenue. Stephen Avenue is bustling in the early evening as young professionals empty their offices downtown, and you'll find quite a few clubs, pubs and live music venues there, including the Beat Niq Jazz and Social Club, Marquee Room, and the sports pub Flames Central.

There are a number of live music venues, including the Ironwood Stage and Grill in 9th Avenue, which hosts country, blues, and folk bands; the eclectic Liberty Lounge in Richard Road, which caters to the varied tastes of Mount Royal College's students; and The Distillery in 7th Avenue, which hosts rock and heavy metal bands.

Calgary's dance clubs are as varied as its live music, so you'll find offbeat places like the Hi-Fi Club and The Warehouse, which play everything from retro funk to breakbeat; The Roadhouse, which caters to a younger and more mainstream crowd; or house venue Tequila Nightclub.

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra performs regularly at the Epcor Centre near the Olympic Plaza, which has five separate venues for music, theatre and dance productions. The Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium hosts large-scale ballet, opera and music performances, and you'll find a range of student performances and productions at the University Theatre at the University of Calgary. For live comedy, you can visit the Comedy Cave in MacLeod Trail, or the Laugh Shop Comedy Club at the Blackfoot Inn in Blackfoot Trail.

To find out what's happening in Calgary, pick up a copy of FFWD, a weekly arts and entertainment guide.


Shopping in Calgary reflects the moneyed population that has grown wealthy with oil booms and big business. You'll find all the major luxury brands represented alongside most western franchises and chain stores at the numerous shopping centres and outlet malls.

The most popular Calgary souvenirs are cowboys hats and other 'wild west' items, which are easily found at most shopping centres.

Calgary has a number of large shopping malls in every section of the city, including the Chinook Centre, SouthCentre, and Signal Hill Centre in the south; Deerfoot Outlet Mall, Market Mall, and Sunridge Mall in the north; and the downtown shopping district surrounding the pedestrian mall on Stephen Avenue.

You'll find more one-of-a-kind items at the Eau Claire Festival Market on Barclay Parade, including fresh produce, independent boutiques, art galleries, and a variety of entertainment options like restaurants, movie theatres, and an arcade. The Mission District also has eclectic and interesting boutiques and vintage stores, and is the best place to go for Calgary fashion.

Nearly every shop in Calgary will accept major credit cards and Canadian money. Most stores will also accept US dollars, but at exorbitant exchange rates. There is a 5% federal tax on nearly all goods and services, and the government no longer offers a GST rebate on goods purchased in Canada.


Calgary's bustling metropolis and vibrant cultural are worth exploring, but sightseeing in Calgary is dominated by the natural wonders that surround the city. Calgary is the gateway to Alberta's many impressive landscapes, which include mountain lakes, rolling prairies, and icy glaciers.

If you do find yourself exploring the city however, there are many museums and cultural sites in Calgary worth visiting, all located within easy distance of the city centre. The Glenbow Museum is Alberta's largest history museum, with nearly 30,000 artefacts from Canada's history, with a cafe, shop, library and archives are also onsite. The Tsuu T'ina Museum looks more specifically at the history of the Sarcee tribe, complete with antique headdresses and a model teepee. Another museum worth noting is the Cantos Music Foundation, which traces the evolution of the piano, and has over 400 different keyboard instruments on display.

The Heritage Park Historic Village takes a living look at Canada's history, with an antique midway, old-fashioned bakery and candy store, and authentic steam train among the attractions. Fort Calgary is another place to explore frontier life, with 40 acres of land set up to resemble life in 1875. The Deane House Historic Site and Restaurant is located at Fort Calgary as well.

Calgary was the host for the 1988 Olympics, and you can tour facilities like the Olympic Oval skating arena; McMahon Stadium, which hosted the opening and closing ceremony; and Olympic Plaza, which was built at one of Canada's best skiing hills and offers mountain biking, rock climbing, bungee jumping and luge rides in the summer; and skiing (cross-country and downhill), snowboarding, and bobsled rides in the winter.

Prince's Island Park brings nature into the heart of the city, with fishing sites and a network of hiking and biking trails. The park also features the Eau Claire Market, with its array of funky boutiques, restaurants, theatres and art galleries.

Canada covers six time zones, from GMT 8 in the west to GMT -3.5 in the east.

Canada's second largest zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals from all over the world, as well as a variety of fish and insects in natural habitat enclosures. It also features a prehistoric park with 19 life-size animatronic dinosaurs on display. The botanic gardens include a 20,000 square foot (1,858 sq metre) conservatory and butterfly garden and a special Rocky Mountain exhibit featuring many indigenous Alberta animals, including the endangered Whooping Crane. The zoo is situated close to the downtown area, on St George's Island.

Canada Olympic Park was a major venue during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, and now hosts skiing and snowboarding programmes every winter; as well as housing the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum. COP (as it's known to locals) remains a chief tourist attraction for casual visitors and winter sports enthusiasts alike.

This historical site chronicles Calgary's history between 1875 and the 1940s and allows visitors to step back in time and explore the early days of the city through interactive exhibits, costumed interpreters, hands on activities, guided tours and an entertaining audio-visual presentation. Fort Calgary is situated on the site of an original North West Mounted Police Fort and is designed to preserve the history of the founding, development and growth of the city. The 40-acre riverside park includes the reconstructed 1875 fort, 1888 barracks, the interpretive centre and Deane House Historic Site and Restaurant.

Located in the heart of Calgary, opposite the tower, the Glenbow Museum is Canada's largest museum, with more than 93,000 square feet (8,640 sq metres) of exhibition space spread over three floors. It houses more than a million objects that fill up its 20 galleries and showcase the colourful history of Canada's West. Explore the exhibits to discover the people, stories and events that shaped the region from its First Nations to the arrival of the European settlers. There is a family-friendly Discovery Room, which is an open studio full of educational activities and crafts that bring the museum to life. A special feature is the Blackfoot Gallery, which tells the story of the Nitsitapi people through interactive displays, artefacts, a film and circular narrative path. There are also some 28,000 artworks dating from the 19th century to the present on display in the museum. Glenbow's library is a treasure trove of reference materials on western Canada and the Glenbow Archives are a major research centre for historians, writers, students and the media.

A 'buffalo jump' is a ledge of rock traditionally used to lure stampeding buffalo to their deaths. This one not only has an awesome name, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - proudly displaying exhibitions detailing the life and history of the Blackfoot people, the original inhabitants of the Great Plains region of southern Alberta.

Heritage Park is a 'living history village', comprised of over 150 exhibitions that attempt to show what life was like in Alberta in the 19th and 20th centuries. Set on 127 beautiful acres of parkland, and located just 15 minutes from Calgary's CBD, Heritage Park makes for a worthwhile day trip, especially if you have kids in tow. Highlights include steam train rides, and an impressive collection of vintage automobiles.

Located within Banff National Park, close to the popular resort towns of Lake Louise and Banff, Moraine is an utterly spectacular glacially-fed lake. Due to 'rock flour' - tiny particles of suspended sediment - the lake is a vivid turquoise colour, and on a clear day, reflects the surrounding mountains in its mirror-smooth surface. There is plenty to see and do in the snow-capped, pine-strewn 'Valley of the Ten Peaks' - including an assortment of scenic hiking trails, and kayaks can be rented from The Lodge, an on-site cafe that also serves wonderful food and refreshments. If you are without a car, getting to Moraine can be difficult, though not impossible: take a Greyhound bus to Banff station, and from there, you can either walk the nine miles (about 14km) to the Lake; rent a bicycle from Wilson's Bikes (C$40 for the day); take a taxi (about C$35); or, make use of the new Park-run Vista shuttle service, which departs every 30 minutes from the Lake Louise camp site.

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