Calgary, Alberta: A 48 Hour Or Weekend Destination Guide To Cowtown!

Wonderland by Jaume Plensa Calgary | www.rtwgirl.com

Heading to Calgary? 

Recently, I went to Calgary on a quick weekend trip. I had never paid attention it since I just equated it with cowboys and oil. It started piquing my interest more when restaurants like Charcut were being touted as the best restaurant in the country. Then coincidentally I was invited to an event at the James Beard House in NYC with an all-female Alberta chef luncheon.

Something was going on there and I had to explore! And if you’re planning to visit Banff, the nearest airport would be the Calgary Airport, so why not explore this up and coming Canadian city too?!

 

TRIP PLANNING STARTS HERE

HELPFUL GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS

  • Flights: Find a cheap flight using Skyscanner or Momondo. I like these two booking sites because they both search all websites and airlines around the globe including budget airlines.
  • Accommodations: I use Booking.com or Tripadvisor to find the best rates on hotels. Hotels.com offers a free night after booking 10 nights.
  • Get up to $40 off your first Air Bnb stay by using this code!
  • Travel Insurance: Having gotten sick on my travels in the past, I never travel without being insured. You never know when something may happen. For my round the world trip and extended long-term travel, I use World Nomads. For other trips, I have used Roam Right and they cover activities like extreme sports.

A few interesting facts about the city

  • It is Canada’s sunniest major city with an approximate average of 2,405 hours of sunshine per year
  • Recognized in 2013 as the cleanest city in the world (yay clean!)
  • The Caesar cocktail was invented here > hi way better than a Bloody Mary
  • Calgary has the longest urban bike pathway system in North America at 700 kilometres (435 miles) – bike friendly!
  • The 191 meters (627ft) Calgary Tower is western Canada’s highest observation deck
  • Shaw Millenium Park is the largest free outdoor skateboard park in North America
  • Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city
  • the greatest number of millionaires per capita of any Canadian city (hey ladies lol)
Getting In And Out 

Taxi

I took an Associated Taxi from the airport to my hotel near 17th Avenue. It cost roughly $40+ tip Canadian. The base rate is $3.50 CND plus $1.55 per km of travel + GST. Tipping recommended.

Shuttle

Allied Airport Shuttle goes from YYC to designated stops in downtown Calgary. It’s $15 into downtown from the airport.

Bus

It looks like there is a #300 bus that goes from the airport to downtown but information didn’t seem up to date. Check out CalgaryTransit.com for more information.

Where To Stay

Hotel Elan

Situated just off of Calgary’s renowned Uptown 17th Avenue SW, Hotel Elan is a new boutique hotel located in a vibrant part of the City that is home to over 200 boutique shops as well as numerous restaurants, lounges, and pubs.

Read reviews for Hotel Elan on Tripadvisor

I really enjoyed my stay at Hotel Elan. Most people I spoke to around Calgary including the taxi drivers had never heard of it. It included a continental breakfast, was modern and updated, had a happy hour on some days, and was close to coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, and bars.

Check Booking for the best Calgary hotel rates!



Booking.com

 

Hotel Elan

Hotel Elan

Hotel Elan

Getting Around

Walk

Calgary is a pretty walkable city. I stayed at a hotel off of 17th Avenue and walked quite a bit to get around.

Taxi

I took taxis a few times at night to get around. I wouldn’t have minded walking at night but since I was by myself and it was a bit colder, I popped into cabs to shelter myself from the cold.

Car2Go

I’m a huge fan of the car-sharing service Car2Go. Calgary has cars all over downtown so I popped into them a few times to get me from A to B.

Bus

I didn’t try out the transit system in Calgary but the city does have a transit system and I saw a light rail when I was walking around.

Coffee

Phil and Sebastian Roasters

Phil and Sebastian Coffee is a Calgary-based roaster that was started by two friends Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb, who met in engineering school at the University of Calgary. From a humble start at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, the company has expanded to several locations as well as selling direct-trade beans better coffee shops, restaurants, and consumers around the world. I’m a fan and even bought a bag of beans to take home.

Phil and Sebastian coffee

A latte at Phil and Sebastian’s Simmons Building Location

Phil and Sebastian Coffee

I got to tour Phil and Sebastian’s operations at the Simmons Building

Analog Coffee

Analog Coffee is a cafe owned by a family operated and run Fratello Coffee Roasters. They have three locations; one on 17th Ave SW, one in the Farmers Market, and one in Southcentre Mall.

Analog Coffee

Analog Coffee

Coffeeeeeeee!

Where To Eat

Una Pizza And Wine

I had a few hours to kill and an empty stomach before my flight out of Calgary. I texted my friend Chris who’s a local (but due to our schedules, could not meet) for a recommendation. Since I was near 17th Ave, he suggested Una Pizza and Wine. I popped in, sat at the bar and ordered an appetizer and a drink. I ordered the pan roasted ‘top grass farms,’ AAA grass fed Alberta sirloin steak, shallots, cilantro, lime, and pinakurat coconut vinegar. I’d love to try out their pizzas next time but I was in a bit of a hurry and wanted something small.

Una Pizza And Wine

Alberta beeeeeeeeef!

Charcut

Last year I was invited to a special luncheon at the James Beard House all female chefs from Calgary, including Chef Connie DeSousa from Charcut. I had wanted to try Charcut for some time since they are constantly receiving culinary accolades. I didn’t have much time while I was in Calgary but managed to squeeze in a quick lunch. Lucky for me they have lunch specials targeted to the downtown workers.

Charcut

I had to have a Caesar in the home of the Caesar!

Charcut Calgary

A quick and delicious lunch special at Charcut

Sidewalk Citizen

Known for their artisanal baked goods, I had a delicious breakfast at Sidewalk Citizen’s newer outpost at the Simmon’s Building. I still can’t stop thinking about their shakshuka. I also was able to sample several sweet and savory baked goods.

Sidewalk Citizen Calgary

Cucina

I went to Calgary for the Beakerhead Festival (see below) in September. Cucina was one of the culinary partners during the event and had a special Beakerhead menu item. Cucina is part Italian Bistro, part grab and go market that is part of the Teatro Restaurant Group. I tried a handful of things here and all were tasty. This would be a great place to go for a meal with friends while you’re in downtown Calgary.

Cucina Calgary

Recommended by Calgarian friends: Model Milk (recommended by a handful of people), Our Daily Brett, Charbar, and Cilantro.

What To Do

Calgary Food Tour

I’m a huge fan of going on food tours when I travel. I joined in on Calgary Food Tour’s Palette to Palate Art and Food Appreciation Tour while I was in town. This tour takes gives you a taste of Calgary’s architecture, history, art scene while sampling some delectable treats along the way.

Book now on Viator
Calgary Food Tour

First stop on my Calgary Food Tour was at Yellow Door Bistro in Hotel Arts

Calgary Food Tour

We stopped in for a green juice at Boxwood, where the veggies were grown on site!

Calgary Food Tour

This coconut cupcake at Decadent Desserts was everything

Peace Bridge

My love for architecture is growing and I’m slightly obsessed with Santiago Calatrava’s work, so I made a beeline to the Peace Bridge. Unlike many bridges in other cities, this one is safe at night and well lit. I went to take photos on my first night and there were barely any folks other than cyclists biking through and families. If you visit during the day, next to the bridge is Princes Island Park which is a high use urban park with a playground, trails, flower gardens, cross country trails (seasonal), outdoor skating (seasonal), and the River Cafe.

Peace Bridge Santiago Calatrava

Peace Bridge Calgary

A little GoPro selfie fun at the Peace Bridge

Calgary Tower

I’m a lover of views so I visited the Calgary Tower for 360-degree views of Calgary. The tower is 191 meters above the downtown core and gives you views of the city, the prairies and the stunning Rocky Mountains in the distance. If you aren’t afraid of heights stand on the glass floor for a view of the city below.

Calgary Tower

View From Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower glass floor

The Bow Building + Wonderland

The Bow is one of the most recognizable buildings in Calgary besides the Calgary Tower and the city’s tallest building. It’s a stunning work of architecture and I came here during the day and at night for photos.

The Bow Building Calgary

At the base of The Bow Building

Wonderland is a giant sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa located at the base of  The Bow. The wire mesh piece of a girl’s head stands 39 feet high. Plensa’s vision for Wonderland is to inspire everyone who experiences it. He believes that the architecture of our bodies is the palace for our dreams.

Wonderland by Jaume Plensa Calgary Selfie

Wonderland by Jaume Plensa

St Patricks Island 

Just a skipping stone away from Calgary’s East Village, across the George C. King Bridge (formerly St. Patrick’s Bridge), St. Patrick’s Island opened in 2015, offering all Calgarians a beautifully revitalized 31-acre backyard. Nature lovers, families and urban explorers alike can revel in the natural beauty that has been restored through mindful renewal and a biophilia master plan – a landscape design approach that nurtures the bond between people and nature.

St Patricks Island Calgary

Looking back at Calgary from St Patricks Island


17th Avenue 

A popular shopping district in the SW quadrant of Calgary. Come here to shop, dine, and drink. I stayed off of 17th Avenue so I came here to grab a coffee, eat, as well as peruse some shops.

Shopping

Knifewear

I didn’t go but it was a random recommendation from a chef friend. Knifewear is home to the largest collection of Japanese kitchen knives outside of Japan.

Located at 1316 9 Ave SE

Less 17

Less 17 is a well-curated men’s shop carrying brands like Filson, Levi’s Made & Crafted, Nike Sportswear, Reigning Champ, and more.

Located at 930 17 Ave SW

Less17 Calgary

 

Rubaiyat

A longtime favourite of locals, this shop specializing in unique handmade items is a perfect place to pick up a gift for someone or even yourself. Recommended to me by a Calgarian who I trust.

Festivals & Special Events

Beakerhead

Beakerhead is a festival held in September that mashes up arts, science, and engineering. The festival advances the understanding of science and engineering as part of everyday life – through art and culture. I was in Calgary during the festival and was able to attend several events.

One of my favourite events was called Gorgeous Molecule which was a culinary event featuring modernist cuisine in the historic Barron Building. I also went to an event called “A Taste of That Thing In The Desert” which made me think of Burning Man. There were DJs, things blowing fire, entertainers, and more.

Beakerhead CalgaryThere was a fun Beakerhead photo booth right by my hotel on 17th Ave

Beakerhead Calgary

I went down a rabbit hole at Victoria Park where there was an art installation called Intrude by artist Amanda Parer

Beakerhead Calgary

The Gorgeous Molecule at the Barron Building

Beakerhead

A cool little installation at The Gorgeous Molecule

A video of the shoe installation at The Gorgeous Molecule 
Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede is a rodeo, exhibition, and festival held every July. It’s a 10-day event which calls itself the greatest outdoor show on earth and brings in over 1 million visitors. I’m not much of a rodeo kind of person but the Stampede is a huge deal in Calgary and had I known that Stevie Wonder was performing last year, I’d have gone!

Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede. Photo credit: Visit Calgary

A 48 Hour Calgary Itinerary sample

  • Get into YYC airport
  • Check into Hotel Elan
  • Visit St Patricks Island
  • Grab food at Sidewalk Citizen and a coffee from Phil and Sebastian at the Simmons Building
  • Explore downtown – The Bow Building, Wonderland, Calgary Tower, shopping along Stephen Avenue
  • Eat at a downtown restaurant like Charcut or Cucina
  • Retire for the evening at the hotel
  • Morning coffee at Analog
  • Stroll and shop along 17th Ave
  • Take the Calgary Food Tour
  • Visit the Peace Bridge and Princes Island Park
  • Retire for the evening at the hotel
  • Depart

Am I missing anything? Please leave some suggestions in the comments

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48 Hour Guide To Calgary
**Disclaimer: Special Thanks to Calgary Tourism and their partners for their support in creating this travel guide. As always, the opinions stated are solely my own. Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on them, you do not incur any extra fees but I do make a nominal commission for my recommendations.**
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