Canada: 48 hours in Calgary

Canada: 48 hours in Calgary

There’s more to this Alberta city than Stampede, finds Nikki Bayley

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It’s time to stop looking at Calgary as a stopover city that clients pass through on their way to the more traditionally exciting destinations of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.

It’s a city on the up, with vast tracts of its previously unloved downtown area being transformed into gorgeous parkland, gentrified spots with artisan bakers and small-batch coffee roasters, plus arapidly growing bar and restaurant scene.

From downtown music festivals and excellent museums, to fascinating history – and yes, the glamour and allure of the old Wild West – there’s more to Cow Town than Stampede and white hats.

Day One

09.00: Start the day with a rib-sticker breakfast at The Beltliner – try the Beltliner Benedict, with thick-cut bacon and a hefty wedge of layered potatoes (£7). After that you’ll be ready for anything.

The Beltliner

10.00: Get a sense of the city by zooming 1,228 metres above sea level to the highest 360° observation deck in the world at the Calgary Tower (adults £9, children £4.50). There’s a fun and informative audio tour included in the admission price.

See all the sights, from the Saddledome arena to glimpses of the Rockies, just a 90-minute drive away. You’ll find a well-stocked Visitors’ Centre here too.

11.00: Get your feet back on firm ground at the Glenbow Museum (adults £8, children £5, under-sevens free, family ticket £20). It’s a vast space that you could spend the day exploring, but the gems are to be found on the third floor with the First Nations and Canadiana exhibitions.

Discover the story of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and learn about the city’s fortunes from fur trade to oil business.

13.30: For a slap-up steak lunch, head to the Trib Steakhouse just a few steps from the museum. All of the restaurant’s butter-brushed reserved Angus beef comes from less than 16 miles away and it’s tender, juicy and incredibly delicious.

15.00: Head back one block to the Calgary Tower and catch the number 10 bus towards Southcentre, alighting after a 25-minute journey at the CF Chinook Centre to visit Calgary’s biggest shopping mall where you can take advantage of sterling’s excellent exchange rate with the Canadian dollar in the mall’s 250 shops.

Chinook Centre - Image credit: Tourism Calgary
Image credit: Tourism Calgary

There’s everything from big-name brands, such as Apple, to North American favourites and a sizeable outlet of Canada’s Bay department store. There’s also a bowling alley and cinema.

19.30: After freshening up back at the hotel, discover why Calgary’s dining scene is developing into one of the hottest in Canada at Model Milk. Reservations are essential for this innovative restaurant, which serves beautifully presented plates of seasonal, fresh and local cuisine in a historic ex-dairy building.

21.30: Stroll around the corner to one of the city’s best tequila and mezcal cocktail bars, Anejo, for a night cap in its stylish low-lit Day of the Dead-inspired space.

Day Two

After a day of indulgence, it’s time to work up an appetite on two wheels. Calgary is an incredibly cycle-friendly city and many of its hotels have free bikes for their guests to use, or you can hire a bike from Rapid Rent from £5 per hour or £15 per day.

Cycling - Image cred: Tourism Calgary
Image cred: Tourism Calgary

09.00: Fuel up with the city’s best brew at Phil and Sebastian Coffee in the new Simmonds Building, where you’ll also find Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, the home of the most phenomenal sourdough croissants made from organic grains from local farmers.

09.30: From the Simmons Building, pedal northeast towards the newly opened St Patrick’s Island Park, a beautifully renovated green space in the Bow River, which has excellent hiking and biking trails, children’s play areas and wonderful views across the city’s skyline.

10.30: Leave the island at 12 St NE and turn on to the Bow River Pathway towards St George’s Drive NE, which takes you safely across a busy road and then to Calgary Zoo car park where you can lock up your bike.

Calgary’s top tourist attraction, its zoo is the most visited in Canada and home to the Centre for Conservation Research. The zoo is spread across two sites, with a Canadian Wilds area, African and Eurasian zones and a Penguin Plunge area at the entrance. Kids will go wild for the Prehistoric Park with life-size dinosaur models. Adults £12, children £8.

Calgary Zoo - Image credit: Tourism Calgary
Image credit: Tourism Calgary

13.30: Pedal back the way you came – except this time cross leafy St George’s Island to take the bridge across 12 St SE to Inglewood, then loop around to 11 St SE to catch lunch at The Nash, newly opened darlings of the Calgary dining scene.

14.30: If you’re looking for quirky independent stores, the city’s Inglewood neighbourhood can’t be beat. Next door to The Nash you’ll find The Livery (1130 10th Ave SE), a hipster’s paradise with Mason Jar cocktail shakers, picnic blankets on leather shoulder straps and shirts from cool Calgarians Camp Brand Goods and jewellery from locals Coutu Kitsch.

Head around the corner to 9th Ave SE for other gems such as Recordland (1208 9th Ave SE), one of Canada’s largest privately owned record shops, Bamboo Ballroom (1218C, 9th Ave SE), which focuses on women’s fashions, mostly from Albertan designers, and Fresh Laundry (1216B 9th Ave SE), a treasure trove of plant-based, cruelty-free lotions and potions.

17.00: Stop for a quick pre-dinner snack and cocktail at Proof, a new small-plates and charcuterie bar and restaurant which hosts a daily Happy Hour between 4-7pm offering cocktails for £3.50, beers for £2.50 and tasty snacks such as steamed pork belly buns for £2.

20.00: After a rest at the hotel, head out to dinner at Calgary’s famous River Cafe Restaurant, a beautiful spot on a leafy island in the Bow River, which serves up exceptional locally sourced meat and seafood in a cosy room with a canoe in its rafters. Service is wonderful and the food inspired. Although the menu changes regularly, look out for the pork rib chop and tuna tataki.

Where to stay

Splurge: The Kensington Riverside Inn

The city’s only Relais & Chateaux property is located on the banks of the Bow River with an award-winning French chef at the helm of its Chef’s Table restaurant. Clients can sink into two-person soaker tubs and sleep between Frette linen sheets. Doubles from £100 a night.

Spend: Hotel Arts

A funky, boutique hotel with a great art collection and two award-winning restaurants. Dive into Yellow Door’s fun buffet breakfast with mini Le Creuset pots, then end the evening at RawBar with craft cocktails. Chill by the outdoor pool or curl up by the fire in the lobby. Doubles from £75 a night.

Save: Nuvo Hotel

Although there is no lift at this all-suite boutique hotel, the rooms are spotless and boast fully equipped kitchens and free Wi-Fi. A short walk from all the downtown attractions, Nuvo offers a great deal for travellers on a budget. Doubles from £50 a night.


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