With a bit of help from my flatmates, I’ve compiled a list of absolute must-see and must-do things in and around the city I’ve called home for the last half a year. Although we’ve only got 7 months’ experience, we’ve absolutely jam packed every week so I’d say we’ve got a pretty good idea of how to make the most of this place. This post is specific to Calgary, but I hope it’ll give you a bit of inspiration to try out new experiences wherever you are in the world!
So, in no particular order, here are my top 10 things to do in and around Calgary:
This road between Lake Louise and Jasper has been described as one of the most beautiful in the world, so my ultimate tip for this is to make sure you drive it in daylight! If anyone mentions a night bus, steer clear (of the transport timing definitely, and maybe even the person because night buses are never a good idea). I’d also suggest having your own car to drive this, because I guarantee you’ll want to stop at least 12,000 times to take pictures from the side of the road. My favourite places to break up the 4 hour drive include:
- Lake Peyto – the viewpoint off route 93 looks out over the beautiful bright blue lake nestled between the mountains, and along the valley into the distance. I’d recommend walking up through the forest to the rocky outcrop with an even better view (it’s possible)…
- Columbia Icefields – you can walk right up to the glacier here which is pretty awesome, but make sure you have ALL of your warmest clothing on because it’s one of the coldest places I’ve ever been.
- Athabasca Falls – this waterfall is an impressive sight with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, but make sure you also take the steps down to the river at the bottom! The water is a gorgeous colour and the pebble beach makes for some good photo opportunities.
Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields
This is a no-brainer: a mountainous area with a tonne of snowfall for a large proportion of the year… whoever thought to set up a ski village here was onto a winner. I’ve been to Lake Louise (November) and Sunshine Village (February), and absolutely loved both trips. There are heaps of runs; I only have personal experience with the greens (the slopes are great even for massive wimps like me) but the reviews of the double black diamonds (???) all sound pretty impressive.
And once you’re done with the day’s activities, there are plenty of options back in Banff to let loose – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a boogie in both Dancing Sasquatch and Hoodoos. Or, if nightclubs aren’t your scene, make sure you check out one of the many restaurants to get a taste of the famous Alberta steak.
Skiing at Sunshine Village
The Trailhead Cafe by Lake Louise
Every time I go to Lake Louise, I will happily admit that I organise my entire day so we’re passing by around lunchtime and I can get a wrap from this cafe. They make them fresh when you order, and they’re absolutely jam-packed full of whichever delicious filling combo you choose. It’s almost impossible to choose, but the Greek and the Canadian Club are two of my own favourites. If my belly and bank balance allow, I’ve also been known to get one of the chocolate fudge brownies too – ideal for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up (best eaten with a view over a lake or mountain).
Enjoying two of the famous wraps
I only found out about Johnston Canyon after we were well and truly into snow season, so I haven’t seen it in its summer state, but the frozen version is absolutely stunning. The trail takes you first to the lower falls (0.5 miles), then onwards and upwards to two viewpoints of the higher falls (1.5 miles). It’s a pretty popular trek and the snowy path has pretty much formed a solid ice rink in a lot of places, so I’d highly recommend getting some cleats unless you want to slide the whole way down on your bum. The walk is definitely worth all the bruises though, most of the trail winds through a rocky canyon alongside the river, followed by a forested section – everywhere you look is beautiful.
View of the upper falls from below
There’s a lot of cowboy culture in Calgary, and it’s reflected in the nightlife… Knoxville’s Tavern and Cowboys are two of the main clubs in the city, and they have a quota of country music to play each night. One minute you’ll be bopping to Beyoncé, the next minute the entire club is two-stepping in unison around you to Dirt On My Boots by Jon Pardi. I’ve really, honestly, truly tried to learn by imitation, but all the foot-kicking and hand-clapping isn’t something that comes naturally to me. We complain about the country music pretty much every time we go on a night out, but secretly I’m a bit of a fan – plus, how many deep-house clubs also have a bucking bronco for you to practice your rodeo skills in them?
Ice skating at Lake Louise
If you’re around during the winter (aka pretty much always in Canada), make sure you rent some skates and go ice skating on a lake! We went to Lake Louise, and it was so special. It’s not often that you get to even walk on a lake, let alone skate. I’m not a particularly proficient skater, so I felt a bit lost among the Canadians who’ve been skating before they could walk… It’s also really cool to watch the hockey games on some of the cleared ice sections – possibly the most Canadian view in the world.
I made a trip out here recently with a couple of friends, and I had the best time, seeing a totally different side of Canada. There are two main attractions around this town deep in the badlands: the dinosaur museum (Royal Tyrrell Museum) and the Hoodoos. We spent a couple of hours in the museum – admittedly we were the oldest there minus the parents, but I loved it! They have one of the largest collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world to guide you through the timeline of their history. It’s pretty cool to be able to walk right up next to them and get an idea of how it would have felt if animals like them still roamed the planet (that doesn’t make me a nerd does it?). The Hoodoos are an absolute must-see – the landscape in this area is completely different to the Rockies, so different that I honestly felt like we were in a different country. It helped that the sun was shining and it was warm enough to just wear a t-shirt (in real life, not even just for the photos)! The Hoodoos are formed from the unique way the sandstone is eroded under protective rock, creating these weirdly photogenic towers…
The Hoodoos in the badlands
Lakes (all of them)
I can’t say I have a favourite lake, because I genuinely love them all. They’re definitely something that Canada does well, so make the most of them and visit as many as you can – your instagram followers will thank you. Here are a few that have been particularly popular on social media (and are pretty awesome in person):
- Lake Louise
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Minnewanka
- Bow Lake
- Lake Peyto
- Mirror Lake
- Maligne Lake
- Pyramid Lake
- Edith Lake
Although the streets of downtown Calgary are a bit sparse, there are a few hotspots that you need to know about. 17th Avenue is one of those spots, and it’s a firm favourite with us for restaurants, pubs and bars. We’ve had a super special birthday meal for my flatmate’s 22nd at Market, a few tasty coffee catch ups at Philosafy café, an incredible 21st party in the function room at Trolley 5 and an absolute bargain burger at the Ship and Anchor.
Market on 17th
To get your sporting fix, join the crowds and head down to the Saddledome on the train to catch a Flames ice hockey game. Make sure to wear red to be part of the Sea of Red and support the team! I managed to pick up a retro Flames sweatshirt from a thrift store for around $3, so I was all set when I went. Although we’re not at the top of the table, we put up a good fight (literally) and you might even be lucky enough to see a win.
And that’s my list of recommendations in case you happen to find yourself on this side of the world with nothing to do!
Written by Ellie Sanderson, University of Calgary, Canada