Adorning the Alberta landscape with soaring skyscrapers and a welcoming atmosphere, Calgary is a hidden jewel of Western Canada, emerging from the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
As a city on the rise, Calgary is a gold mine for flourishing cultural experiences, hearty and delightful culinary opportunities, and enviable hospitality that draws more and more visitors every year.
When basking in Calgary’s unique atmosphere, you may notice the name Cowtown bounced around the city. Denoted by the region’s embrace of wild western culture, it celebrates its cowboy roots every summer at the Calgary Stampede. The action-packed, 10-day event showcases one of the world’s largest rodeos, as well as a parade, countless carnival games, and stage shows, including the out-of-this-world Bell Grandstand Show. Witness the ‘greatest show on earth’, offering dazzling lights and pyrotechnics, jaw-dropping stunts, and an electric atmosphere that attracts over a million visitors every year.
Just a stone’s throw away, hikers and wanderers can enjoy the beautiful, dramatic landscape of the Rocky Mountains. Even if mountain adventures aren’t for you, there are incredible sightseeing opportunities and you might even catch a glimpse of some iconic Canadian animals.
Travellers can also dig their winter warmers out of the cupboard in preparation for Chinook Blast, Calgary’s winter festival held in February every year. A wonderous and vibrant spectacle, the celebration showcases dynamic lighting, displays, music, and more, bringing together the arts, tourism, and sports.
Chinook Blast supports approximately 200 diverse local artists and creators and also features some unique cultural events and pop-up markets. The Indigenous showcasings at the festival are not to be missed and celebrate local talent and culture.
Many Indigenous tourism experiences can be found in and around Calgary. For example, you can visit Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park to immerse yourself in the strong culture of the Blackfoot people and gain a greater understanding through captivating art pieces and exhibitions at the historical signing site of Treaty 7.
As the city is currently experiencing an evolution into a world-class destination, make the most of what is widely regarded as the globe’s friendliest city.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: TOURISM CALGARY
Calgary’s tourism industry generates approximately CAD$2.91 billion in visitor spending from more than eight million tourists every year. To support the burgeoning travel sector, Tourism Calgary, the official destination management organisation for the city, has been promoting the area as the perfect location for both leisure and business for over 60 years.
The organisation strives to promote Calgary as the ultimate host city, highlighting the area as a comprehensive travel destination to markets locally across Canada and the rest of the world. Cindy Ady, CEO, tells us how Calgary is emerging as Canada’s top destination.
Q&A WITH CINDY ADY, CEO, TOURISM CALGARY
Can you talk us through the origins of Tourism Calgary and the company’s founding mission?
Cindy Ady, CEO (CA): Our mission at Tourism Calgary is to inspire more people to visit the city for memorable experiences that celebrate our community, culture, and people. We pride ourselves on being the ultimate hosts, in an ultimate host city. This means we aim to exemplify Calgary’s community spirit by fostering a destination that is welcoming, innovative, and offers unique experiences.
As the official destination management organisation for Calgary, we work closely with industry and community partners to support, build, and foster the best possible visitor experience in the region.
Our team connects directly with travellers, providing advice during trip planning and while they are in the city.
In doing so, we support leisure and business visitors from around the world. We attract and host major sport and cultural events, as well as bringing thousands of delegates to Calgary annually for meetings and conventions.
Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Calgary?
CA: Calgary was recently honoured to be named the friendliest city in the world in the Condé Nast Traveller 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards. Visitors feel the warmth the moment they get off the plane, as White Hat volunteers welcome travellers to the city. Throughout their time here, visitors are invited into the experiences and communities that make Calgary what it is.
The city’s offerings are highly diverse, featuring seven of Canada’s 100 best restaurants, world-class museums, award-winning architecture, and the Rocky Mountains less than an hour away. It’s a destination for all types of travellers and as a region, we continue to invest in our current and future offerings, meaning more events, festivals, and memorable experiences to share with current and future visitors.
What kind of travellers does the city appeal to the most?
CA: Calgary appeals to a wide range of travellers, from families and couples to solo adventurers and business professionals. Iconic attractions such as the Calgary Tower, Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, and TELUS Spark Science Centre are perfect for families. Couples and solo travellers will be delighted by our booming craft beverage scene with over 40 local craft breweries and distillers, creating award-winning beers and spirits.
International travellers find a lot to love in Calgary, especially those interested in Western heritage. They’ll get to experience the real thing at the Calgary Stampede or at cultural gems throughout the city like Heritage Park.
The city really does have something for everyone, in every season of the year. Winter adventure seekers will love the area, not only for sports but for events like Chinook Blast, Calgary’s premier winter festival. During our long summer days, the city is equally alive with excitement, coming together for almost every type of festival imaginable, including a number of well-known music events.
How has the organisation worked towards putting Calgary on the map for potential visitors?
CA: Calgary is great at showing its community spirit and inviting visitors to be a part of it. As a symbol of our hospitality, visitors are sometimes ‘white-hatted’. In a fun ceremony, they receive an iconic white cowboy hat, a well-known symbol of the city’s hospitality, and become honorary Calgarians.
Notable recipients have included Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, and even Mickey Mouse, but we’ve also surprised visitors walking downtown with a spontaneous ceremony. We hope they take that experience with them when they return home to wherever they’re from.
The community has come together to really invest in the tourism economy by creating beautiful meeting places and attractions. Two perfect examples of this include the new Central Library, as well as Studio Bell, home to the National Music Centre, comprising two stunning buildings that have helped revitalise Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood.
In 2024, the city will have the greatest amount of convention space in all of Western Canada with the opening of the new BMO Centre at Stampede Park, alongside the existing, unique spaces at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre and other meeting points in the city.
What trends are currently reshaping the tourism industry in Calgary and the surrounding area?
CA: We find that travellers are looking for local experiences when planning their trips. The Calgary area increasingly caters to this with Indigenous tourism experiences, offering the chance for guests to learn about Indigenous culture and history.
This includes a wide array of experiences such as wilderness education and hands-on learning with partners like Painted Warriors, or an opportunity to see and create Indigenous artwork at Moonstone Creations. Visitors also have the opportunity during the summer to witness powwows from the Treaty 7 nations. These events are a place of celebration, sharing, dance, and pride for Indigenous cultures.
We also recognise that those travelling for work are looking to save on vacations by adding leisure time to business trips. Calgary is the perfect place for this type of ‘bleisure’ travel, given its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and six other UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Amongst the many events and attractions, what should visitors plan to see this winter?
CA: Calgary is an amazing winter city. You’ll have a wide choice of winter sports here, whether visitors prefer to go fat biking along the Bow River, skating on a frozen lagoon at Bowness Park, or downhill skiing right in the city limits at WinSport.
For those looking for more cultural experiences, Chinook Blast showcases local artists, musicians, and entertainers as well as some unique cultural markets. The festival is a full-on winter celebration in the heart of our city.
Winter 2024 also brings some exciting events, all happening in the month of February. For example, Calgary will be hosting Nitrocross (car racing on ice), the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (annual curling competition), Snow Rodeo (an International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) Snowboard World Cup event), the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024, and the International Skating Union (ISU) World Speed Skating Championships.
We’re also very excited to welcome two orphaned polar bears to the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. Their arrival is part of a redeveloped Wild Canada experience, representing seven of the country’s ecological zones.
And of course, Calgarians are hockey crazy, so if the Calgary Flames are in town during your stay, you can catch a National Hockey League (NHL) game and cheer on the home team.
In what ways have you integrated the influence of the Indigenous experience in Calgary’s list of things to do, and why is this important?
CA: When travellers come to Calgary, they are welcomed to the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta. This is also homeland to the historic Northwest Métis as well as the Otipemisiwak Métis Government.
Mohkinstsis is the Blackfoot name for Calgary, and there is a rich culture and history in this area. The confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers has been a meaningful place for many. You can learn about this special place from Indigenous educators at Fort Calgary.
By fostering and promoting Indigenous tourism, we collectively help preserve and showcase the rich cultural heritage of these communities, while also facilitating important conversations. It’s a way to honour and celebrate the traditions, stories, and practices of local Indigenous communities. For visitors, these experiences are not just recreational but also educational; they provide a meaningful opportunity to learn and participate in local Indigenous culture.
Tourism Calgary works closely with partners such as Indigenous Tourism Alberta as well as the Treaty 7 nations to develop and promote Indigenous-owned and operated businesses and experiences throughout the city and surrounding areas.
Finally, in your opinion, what makes 2024 the year to visit Calgary?
CA: Visitors to the city in 2024 can expect a diverse selection of music, food, culture, and sports. The upcoming year is especially significant with the opening of the BMO Centre, Western Canada’s largest events and conference space, as well as the SAM Centre, a destination dedicated to making the Calgary Stampede a year-round experience.
With the level of investment happening in the city, and the collaboration we’re seeing on new events and festivals, Calgary has more experiences than ever on offer for potential visitors.
Guaranteed to remain unchanged is the warm and welcoming hospitality you’ll find in Calgary, no matter what time of year you decide to visit.
CALGARY’S CULINARY SCENE IN FOCUS
Calgary’s restaurant landscape features a dynamism and quirkiness that is difficult to find anywhere else. The city boasts seven of Canada’s top 100 restaurants, reflecting a world-class dining experience to satisfy the needs of anybody’s taste buds.
One featured restaurant that stands ‘40 floors above it all’ is the highly sophisticated Major Tom. Accompanying the backdrop of the breathtaking Calgary skyline, the menu is a symphony of exquisite food, drink, and world-class service.
Elsewhere, for a quintessential Calgary experience, Rouge is located in the historic Cross House in Inglewood, the city’s oldest neighbourhood. Visitors to the restaurant will feel like they are stepping into a scene of Victorian elegance, adorned with hearty European food, having been established by two friends who have a combined experience of 38 years in the international chef world.
With a distinctive name, the Lonely Mouth Bar is a Japanese-inspired lounge bar that offers an eclectic array of modern cuisine and beverages, transporting its guests to the islands of Japan with its playful sushi hand rolls and house-made Udon noodles.
After a delightful evening out, Lulu Bar provides the perfect after-dinner tipple or bite to eat, concocting other-worldly drinks and small plates influenced by Asian cuisine in an unbeatable downtown atmosphere.
Explore the ever-evolving potential of Calgary’s exquisite restaurant scene, satisfying a vast array of tastes and indulgences.
FOR A PERFECT, PEACEFUL FLIGHT TO CALGARY…
FOR THE CHANCE TO SEE THE SHIMMERING NORTHERN LIGHTS…
Be transported to another world with Anderson Vacations, North America’s premium destination planner. Alongside enchanting trips to the aurora borealis, Anderson Vacations can create many more customisable and private trips to continents across the globe, with season career guides that provide travellers with a deeper understanding of their destination, making holiday planning completely stress-free!
FOR WITNESSING MAJESTIC WILDLIFE…
Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo
FOR THE ULTIMATE RETAIL THERAPY…
As one of Calgary’s largest retail malls, Southcentre Mall heralds hundreds of top designer brands as well as family favourites. In the run-up to the holidays, Southcentre Mall is the ideal place for purchasing a vast array of gifts, giving shoppers the ability to tick off every item on the Christmas list with ease.
FOR SEEING THE BEST-KEPT SECRETS OF CALGARY…
To truly discover the cosmopolitan vibrancy of the stunning western city, traverse the streets with an expert local guide on a walking, biking, or scooter tour. Each guided Toonie Tours visit is an amalgamation of Calgary at its best, with plenty of local recommendations and tips to create the most unforgettable trip possible.
FOR KEEPING UP TO DATE WITH THE EVENTS OF CALGARY’S SURROUNDING AREA…
FOR A REGAL AND LUXURIOUS NIGHT’S SLEEP…
FOR A HOTEL WHERE CHIC MEETS MODERNITY…
Located in downtown Calgary, the hotel is inspired by the bygone era of Oscar Wilde, whilst reflecting the city’s transformation into a modern cultural hub. As such, The Dorian, Autograph Collection features the region’s fashion-forward sensibilities, demonstrated by its state-of-the-art amenities and the handpicked use of materials throughout the hotel.
To accompany each stunning suite, The Dorian, Autograph Collection possesses three distinct restaurants, each with a diverse cuisine experience. The Wilde on 27 (located on the 27th floor of the hotel) takes diners on a tantalising tastebud journey.
Meanwhile, if a delightful drink is in order, why not take a saunter to the Prologue Café Cocktails, which perfectly combines early 20th century decadence with sultry social surroundings.
Finally, embracing The Dorian, Autograph Collection’s wider European influence, Bistro Novelle boasts an upbeat atmosphere and is the number one place to sample some of the world’s best wine. The distinguished menu also offers guests sustainable and fresh ingredients that suit any meal of the day and typifies the modern, forward-thinking vibe of the city.
Studio Bell: Home of the National Music Centre (NMC)
The centre tells the stories of Canadian music over 450 years of musical history. NMC’s extensive collection comprises more than 2,000 musical instruments and memorabilia that represent Canada’s diverse culture and is a must-see for those who wish to experience a cacophony of sound and history.
As a mighty emblem looking over the city, Calgary Tower stands a soaring 191 metres tall, offering the most stunning views of every corner of the city. Visitors can view Calgary and the wider region from a whole new perspective, thanks to the Observation Deck which offers a tantalising 360° view, unavailable anywhere else.
The place to be for sporting enthusiasts! Located at Canada Olympic Park, it provides action-packed sporting activities for people of all ages and abilities. The facility has evolved since its opening 30 years ago, integrating cutting-edge sports and exhilarating competitions. The facility’s current activities include skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and skating.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Travelling around Calgary could not be any easier for visitors. For starters, the city’s airport, YYC Calgary International Airport, has flight access directly to 92 locations across the world, ensuring a smooth and relaxing journey to the city.
Once you’ve stepped foot on solid ground, visitors are welcomed by White Hat volunteers who are very easy to spot, dressed in an iconic white cowboy hat and red vest, ready to help any guest.
For visitors who wish to witness the city on bike or by foot, Calgary has one of the largest interconnected cycle path networks in the world and possesses many picturesque, walkable neighbourhoods, including Marda Loop, Kensington, Inglewood, and Bridgeland.
Furthermore, Calgary offers a unique system of bridges to access the downtown area of the city, known as the Plus 15 network. The comprehensive system comprises 86 bridges and over 16 kilometres of elevated (weather-protected and climate-controlled) skywalk paths that enable full access to downtown Calgary.
For a break from the bustling city and the perfect end to your trip, visitors can retreat to the Rocky Mountains, which are easily accessible via a one-hour drive with various bus and taxi options available.