One Day in Calgary: From Cowboys to Cute Boutiques

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.

Early Morning

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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.

Morning

calgaryAfter 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.

Afternoon

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.

Evening

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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.

Late Evening

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.

One Day in Banff: Fun around Town

Right in the heart of Canada’s oldest national park, you’ll find a quaint little resort town called Banff. While the community mostly caters to outdoor enthusiasts, there’s also plenty to do downtown.

Set amidst the majestic mountains and lush forests of Banff National Park, the town of Banff is bustling year round. In winter, people flock to this cozy community to take advantage of the world-class skiing. In the summer months, skiers trade their skis for hiking boots and scale the mountain trails. But if you’re like me, you prefer to keep your feet on flat ground. Fret not. There’s plenty for you to do in beautiful Banff.

On my most recent visit to this far-from-sleepy town, I parked my RV in the nearby Tunnel Mountain Campground, which also has cabins and lodges close by. But there are plenty of places in the heart of downtown where you can lay your head for the night. The historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the epitome of luxury and has the price tag to prove it. There’s also the option of staying in one of the hotels on the fringes of the downtown area, like Brewster’s Mountain Lodge or Banff Caribou Lodge. You can even stay right in the heart of the action on Banff Avenue in the Mount Royal or King Edward Hotels, for example. Of course, there’s always the option of a hostel or bed and breakfast, too. Banff caters to every level of luxury and taste.

Banff
Morning

We started our morning with a homemade breakfast of eggs, toast, and turkey bacon. If you’re looking to have someone else do the cooking for you, check out Eveline’s Coffee Bar or Wild Flour Bakery for a lovely selection of baked goods and breakfast foods. Take your time and relax. Banff is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There’s plenty of free parking on the side streets or in specially designated locations around town. Just look for the big, green, circular signs with a large black “P.”

After breakfast, try a quick stroll along the Tunnel Mountain Trail. If you’re staying in the campground, you can reach it right from your site. For people with accommodations in town, it’s just a short drive away. Simply follow the signs. At the start of the trail, there are some red chairs where you can sit to take in the beautiful surroundings. And if you feel like you’re up for a bit more, you can take the groomed pathway for an easy walk. You can even climb the entire mountain in only an hour or two.

Taking it to the Streets

After a short hike, I like to hit the downtown area to take in the shops along Banff Avenue and the surrounding streets. The stores are small and can become quite congested later in the day when the crowds of tourists arrive. Banff is a major Canadian attraction, so you can guarantee that no matter the season, tour groups will be making a stop here.

But downtown Banff is a must-see stop. Here, you’ll find countless souvenir shops carrying traditional Canadian fare, such as smoked salmon, maple syrup and candies, moccasins, and plaid shirts. I usually pop into a few of these shops to check out the goods, but you’ll find a similar selection in most, so there’s no need to go into every one of them if you don’t have a lot of time. I always go into the one with the mechanical “fortune teller” in the doorway. He’s been in Banff since the dawn of time, and you simply must feed him a quarter to see what he has to say about your future.

Aside from souvenir shops, you’ll find some cute boutiques. Branches Marketplace is one of my personal favorites. It’s got a mix of handcrafted accessories and gifts with a rustic, cabin-style feel. Speaking of cabins, Cabin 108 is an adorable boutique that carries a variety of designer brands, both local and international. Cupcakes and Cashmere, Chaser, Toms, and Jackson Rowe are just a few of the names lining the racks in this shop. I find it nearly impossible to leave here empty handed.

Banff

History Lesson

Banff Avenue is also home to classic Canadian stores, such as Roots and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Roots is infamous for its logo sweatpants and shirts, as well as simple, classic-yet-contemporary t-shirts, handbags, and shoes. On the other hand, The Bay, as it’s known locally, is, quite literally, at the foundation of Canada’s development as a nation.

Early European settlers established trading posts where they would exchange goods for furs caught by indigenous trappers. Over time, more and more Europeans began coming to Canada in search of furs. Communities formed around the posts, and eventually, a nation grew out of the settlements.

Enough of the history lesson. Today, the Hudson’s Bay Company is a massive department store chain, anchoring many major Canadian malls. Selling everything from silverware to kitchen utensils and footwear, many Canadians head to The Bay for the basics. Banff is home to a modestly sized store that carries some fashions, beauty products, and jewelry. But perhaps the most outstanding items are branded with The Bay’s infamous ivory, yellow, green, red, and blue striped pattern. You can find mugs, blankets, dresses, and more. I bought a dog coat to go with my crewneck sweater. Don’t judge.

Alberta is known for its western heritage. It’s not uncommon to see cowboys donning wranglers and Stetsons walking down city streets. And Banff is no exception. If you’re looking to get into the spirit of the west, stop by Lammles Western Wear to pick up a pair of boots or a snap-front shirt. In addition to local boutiques and brands, you’ll find major chain stores, such as Lolë, Lululemon, The GAP, The North Face, and Fjallraven, to name a few.

Afternoon

Trying on clothes always builds my appetite. For your perfect day in Banff, be sure to break for lunch at one of the many ultra delicious eateries along Banff Avenue or in the vicinity. Some favorites include Squish Sandwich Cellar, The Bison, and Nourish. Squish offers a selection of gourmet sandwiches from savory Montreal smoked meat to tangy tuna. For vegetarians, Nourish has a garden variety of options, while The Bison caters to carnivores. We chose to stop in at JK Bakery for some made-to-order sandwiches and soup.

Sweet Tooth

For dessert, Banff has no shortage of options. At Skoki’s, you can make your own decadent dessert. Start with a Belgian waffle for the base. Then pile it high with as many toppings as you’d like, including flavored frozen yogurt, sprinkles, fruit, and candy.

Beavertails offers a special Canadian twist on the classic funnel cake. Starting with a cake the shape of a beaver tail, you can choose from several toppings to add extra flavor. I got two flavors on one cake: cheesecake Skor on one half and triple trip (Nutella and Reese’s Pieces) on the other half. I have no words to express the goodness of this experience.

Late Afternoon

After a day of shopping and eating downtown, it’s a great time to head back to your accommodations for a  rest. A quick nap or dip in the pool is a great way to unwind for an hour or two before dinner. When you’re ready to eat…again…Banff’s bountiful establishments will not disappoint. Whether you’re looking for a casual place like Boston Pizza where you can to grab a slice of pepperoni at a reasonable price or a formal option for a steak dinner, like Salt Lik, there’s something for everyone.

After dinner, head over to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Before taking a dip in the springs, consider a ride up Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola. located right next door to the springs. The eight-minute ride affords you unparalleled views of the majestic mountain landscape. After your feet are back on solid ground, relax in the healing minerals waters that come straight from the Rocky Mountains. Naturally heated to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re said to bring relief to achy muscles and bones. Admission is less than $10 per person. And don’t worry if you don’t have a swimsuit or towel, you can rent them there for a couple of bucks. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be “that person.” But don’t worry, lots of people do it. I spent about 40 minutes wading in the water, and when I left, I felt like I was walking on clouds.

Evening

On your way back from hot springs, why not make a quick stop on Banff Avenue for a tasty treat? Mary’s Popcorn Shop is a personal favorite. You can choose from four sweet or savory flavors. Pro Tip: when they ask if you want the bag open or closed, always leave it open. You get way more popcorn.

I’m a sucker for fudge. I have a hard time passing it up anyplace I travel, but especially in Banff. The Fudgery has at least a dozen flavors to choose from, along with a variety of other chocolate treats. And the best part? Each one is made fresh on site.

Can’t find anything at either of these places to appease your taste buds? There’s always Mountain Chocolates, Cows Ice Cream, or Banff Sweet Shoppe. They’re sure to have something to sate your sweet tooth.

Banff

Late Evening

By now, you’ve already had a long day. I like to cap off an evening of camping with a nice little bonfire. I thoroughly enjoy the act of toasting marshmallows…almost as much as I enjoy eating s’mores. But if you’ve still got the energy, I recommend taking in some of the nightlife around town. There are numerous local pubs that stay open late, such as Rose & Crown.

Banff has so much to offer, from outdoor adventures to shopping, food, museums, and more. This is just one way to spend a relaxing day off the slopes. Have more ideas for fun ways to spend a day in Banff? Head over to Facebook or Twitter to share them.

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