So you’re in town for the Calgary Stampede, but you want to see more than just the rodeo. Great news! There are tons of things to do in Calgary.
Each July, more than a million people flock to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for one of the largest rodeos and outdoor festivals in the world. The Calgary Stampede is touted as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s a massive, 10-day party that includes bull riding, a midway, concerts, and more. Cowboy or not, the entire city gets into the spirit. Everyone breaks out their boots, squeezes into a pair of Wranglers, and sports a Stetson. Even local businesses get in on the fun, adorning their windows and doors with western décor.
But Calgary is so much more than “Cowtown,” as it’s also called. It’s the hub of the Canadian oil industry, making it one of the biggest, wealthiest cities in the nation. Next to Toronto, it’s home to more of Canada’s largest companies than any other city in the country.
Whether you’re in town to take part in the Stampede festivities or you simply want to see what one of “the world’s most livable cities” looks like, this jam-packed one-day itinerary will make sure you take in plenty of Calgary’s must-see attractions.
If you’re in Calgary for the Stampede, you’ll need to book your hotel well in advance. All accommodations sell out fast, and they jack up their rates as well. If you want to be in one of the hottest spots for the action, consider booking 8 to 10 months before you arrive. The Westin Calgary, Calgary Marriott Downtown, Sheraton Hotel Eau Claire, and Delta Calgary Downtown are luxury chain hotels within close proximity to the Stampede the grounds. Two local boutique hotels, Hotel Arts and Hotel Le Germain, are also nearby. For the ultimate in luxury, check out the Fairmont Palliser.
As with all my one-day itineraries, the earlier you start your day, the more you can take in. But if you’re stampeding, be prepared for this day not to end until the wee hours of the next morning. It’s important to pace yourself accordingly.
During Stampede, it’s common for businesses to host free pancake breakfasts. In fact, there are usually several happening each day in different parts of the city. For the true budget traveler, there’s nothing better than free…except maybe one of the local restaurants known for its breakfast fare. If you’re willing to cough up a few bucks, I suggest starting your day on Edmonton Trail at Diner Deluxe. I highly recommend the maple fried oatmeal. Alternately, venture a few doors down to OEB Breakfast Co. and try the soul in a bowl.
After breakfast, it’s time to take in some local culture. Head south on Edmonton Trail toward the downtown core. Your first stop of the morning is the Calgary Tower, which opens at 9 a.m. It may not be the tallest building in the prominent Calgary skyline, but it is easily the most recognizable. The tower, which stands more than 4,000 feet tall, was built for the sole purpose of giving people an unprecedented look at Calgary. You can ride to the top to see the impressive view from the world’s highest 360° observation deck.
Next, make your way to the Glenbow Museum, one of the city’s top attractions. It’s also located on 9th Avenue and opens at 9 a.m. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits before moving on to your next destination. And if you happen to be there on a Wednesday, you can take a free city tour.
Once you’ve wrapped things up at the museum, exit through the Stephen Avenue doors and start walking west. There are plenty of cute shops and restaurants along this pedestrian street. You may even see a few buskers and street vendors. Venture toward the Core, a massive shopping complex complete with designer brands, such as BCBG, and cheaper chain stores, like H&M. There are plenty of places to eat along Stephen Avenue, from Milestones to the mall food court. If you’re willing to walk a few blocks north, Boxwood Cafe in Central Memorial Park is a lovely option.
Next, grab yourself a Car2Go or hop in a taxi, and drive east along 9 Avenue into the Inglewood area. In this quirky community, you can find everything from vintage clothing to luxury home décor. My favorite shops include Adorn Boutique, Bamboo Ballroom, The Livery Shop, and The Uncommons. If skipped lunch downtown, grab a pizza from Without Papers or have the special at Kane’s Harley-Davidson Diner. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
After Inglewood, hop back in your car and head west toward the Kensington area. In this chic neighborhood, you’ll find one-of-kind clothing boutiques, such as Purr Clothing, Kismet Clothing, Splash of Fashion, and Silla Designs. You’ll also find several upscale restaurants, pubs, cafés, and bistros. I recommend trying a simple Canadian delicacy, poutine, from My Big Cheese. Traditionally made from French fries, gravy, and cheese curds, My Big Cheese serves up a variety of less conventional poutine options. For dessert, Crave is a must. The flagship venue of this cupcakery is located on Kensington Road, just around the corner from My Big Cheese. It’s known for its fun flavors and super sweet frosting.
If you give yourself only an hour in each of the three areas, plus an hour in any one of them for lunch, you could squeeze them all in. It’s a stretch, but not entirely unreasonable.
It’s already been a long day, but it’s far from over, especially if you’re in town for the Calgary Stampede. You should still be in the vicinity of your hotel, so now is the time to return for a quick change. Take a short break. Maybe even a dip in the pool. You’ll want to get back on the road by 7 p.m. at the absolute latest if you’re headed to the Stampede grounds, an hour earlier if you want to dine at one of Calgary’s premiere establishments. If you enjoy a good meal, I recommend MARKET Restaurant or Metropolitan Grill. And since Alberta is known for its beef, there are also several steakhouses in the downtown area, such as CHARCUT Roast House and Ruth’s Chris.
While the Calgary Stampede is notorious for its rodeo events, it’s also known for its superb midway. Games, rides, and food are a big part of the fun. If you want to skip dinner, you can fill up right on the Stampede grounds instead. There are always off-the-wall delicacies, such as mac-and-cheese stuffed burgers and toffee bug balls. And of course, you can find traditional carnival fare, including corn dogs, cotton candy, and everyone’s favorite, mini donuts.
While you’re at t Stampede grounds, be sure to check out the Coca-Cola Stage and Nashville North. Both offer free concerts from top entertainers and up-and-coming musicians.
Enjoy the rides and entertainment for a while before heading over to the rodeo grounds for the chuck wagon races. These are a fan favorite and sell out fast, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. Pay the extra few bucks so you can stick around for the grandstand show afterward. It’s filled with music, fireworks, and other entertainment.
By now, it’s late into the evening. If you’ve got your second wind, you can take in a few more activities. Cowboys is the place to be for dancing, drinking, and classic Stampede carousing. You may even catch a concert by one of the many top artists who jump at the chance to take part in the Calgary Stampede festivities, including Thomas Rhett, Flo Rida, and Ice Cube. Tickets for these shows, which take place in the infamous Cowboys tent, go for top dollar, so be prepared to pay through the nose.
If Cowboys doesn’t tickle your fancy—and believe me when I say you may actually be tickled or otherwise by a complete stranger—I recommend getting off the grounds. Take a westbound taxi along 17th Avenue, and make your way to one of the dozens of pubs and bars that line this incredibly active street. National, 1410, and The Ship & Anchor are three popular options, but there are no shortage of places to choose from.
If you’ve made it after midnight, congratulations! You’ve survived an entire day and night in Calgary during one of the most outrageous festivals in the world. Have a Calgary Stampede story to share? Head over to our Facebook group and tell us about it.