Calgary, Alberta: A 48 Hour Or Weekend Destination Guide To Cowtown!
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?!
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
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.
Allied Airport Shuttle goes from YYC to designated stops in downtown Calgary. It’s $15 into downtown from the airport.
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
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.
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!
Calgary is a pretty walkable city. I stayed at a hotel off of 17th Avenue and walked quite a bit to get around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A latte at Phil and Sebastian’s Simmons Building Location
I got to tour Phil and Sebastian’s operations at the Simmons Building
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.
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.
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.
I had to have a Caesar in the home of the Caesar!
A quick and delicious lunch special at Charcut
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.
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.
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.
First stop on my Calgary Food Tour was at Yellow Door Bistro in Hotel Arts
We stopped in for a green juice at Boxwood, where the veggies were grown on site!
This coconut cupcake at Decadent Desserts was everything
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.
A little GoPro selfie fun at the Peace Bridge
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.
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.
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
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.
Looking back at Calgary from St Patricks Island
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.
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 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
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 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.
There was a fun Beakerhead photo booth right by my hotel on 17th Ave
I went down a rabbit hole at Victoria Park where there was an art installation called Intrude by artist Amanda Parer
The Gorgeous Molecule at the Barron Building
A cool little installation at The Gorgeous Molecule
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!
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
Am I missing anything? Please leave some suggestions in the comments