We have been to Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam BUT, Calgary downtown will be forever SPECIAL. I should admit we equally LOVE Toronto and Vancouver – other Canadian cities and their downtown, but each time we drive to Calgary, we fall in love with it again (and again). Too bad, we have not moved to Calgary (yet!), but who knows?
Our favorite hangout place is the downtown area. So we got all the best things to do in Downtown Calgary for your itinerary, including Calgary attractions, shopping, hotels, and restaurants. Use this guide to get some of the FREE things to do in Calgary.
Things to do in downtown Calgary – Calgary Downtown Attractions
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The image of the Calgary Tower actually warms up my heart. It is my very own Eiffel tower! As we arrive in downtown Calgary, the tower with a red ribbon (red tower deck, my imagination is at play here) welcomes you with a BIG smile and it follows you everywhere in the downtown area – in a parking lot, restaurant, park, hotel-like everywhere.
The Calgary Tower is a free-standing observation tower located in Downtown Calgary. It has an observation deck that offers a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the city, all the way to the Canadian Rockies. It is a real treat to see the city from the top – you can view the Calgary Saddle dome, Bow River, and downtown buildings.
We have visited the Calgary Tower and the observation deck at different times of the year. During winters, the city looks like it’s covered in vanilla frosting and during summers, it’s the bright blue hues that delight you.
The observation tower has a glass floor and you can walk over it, and take photos. And if you are like me, you will take 1000000 minutes to muster all the courage to sit this way and not look down!
You see, I love sky-rise buildings and city views, but for the love of God, I am TOO afraid to look down, sorry!
On the second floor of the Calgary tower, you can sit back and relax in their restaurant.
Summer also calls for food and fun times, so you will see plenty of summer activities at the foot of the Calgary Tower. This tower gives you great photo opportunities and is iconic to the city of Calgary – so don’t miss it!
- Price: Free from the outside. (Observation deck admission fee: $18 CAD/adult). Book here
- Location: 6 Ave SW
Stephen Avenue Walk
Our favorite – favouritest (sorry I ran out of superlatives here) spot in Calgary. Colorful, vibrant, and lively lane – this is the Stephen Avenue Walk. Also my favorite because it is sprinkled with historical facts in every nook and corner of this lane (so watch out for those).
This all-pedestrian lane is bustling with activities in the summertime – ice cream, beaver tails, music, food trucks, local art and displays, and more.
Stephen Avenue is also lined with some of the BEST restaurants and pubs in the downtown Calgary area. There is a shopping mall of the same name – Stephen Avenue Place located nearby.
- Price: Free
- Location: 8 Ave SW
Glenbow Museum is an art and history museum located in downtown Calgary. It is one of the largest museums in western Canada and boasts a variety of art displays and historical artifacts, all year round. The museum also conducts art exhibitions and events from artists around the globe.
They are closed on Mondays and are open on other days from 09:00 am to 5:00 pm, on Friday they are open till 08:00 pm.
The Glenbow Museum organizes some amazing art and fashion displays as well. Recently they had a Christina Dior exhibition (how cool, Calgary!)
- Price: $10- 16 CAD
- Location: 9 Ave SW
The Wonderland Sculpture is a HUGE wired head sculpture of a young girl located in front of the landmark building – The Bow. The sculpture is about 12 meters tall and was created by a Spanish sculptor – James Plensa.
The sculpture speaks of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of young Albertans (like me!)
You can actually walk inside the “neck” of the sculpture head. It is NOT allowed to climb on the sculpture. Definitely an awesome sight in Downtown Calgary – also one of the Instagrammable spots in the city.
- Price: Free
- Location: 110 6 Ave SE
The Bow Building
The Bow is a stunning (office) building, located in downtown Calgary. It is easily the most recognizable skyscraper in the Calgary skyline.
The office space is the headquarters of Encana Corporation and Cenovus Energy. The Bow building is ONE of the tallest buildings in Calgary, and it is characterized by a curled or “C” shape.
This skyscraper has 58 floors, including an observation deck – on the 54th floor- for visitors, with a beautiful garden. There are retail and dining floors as well. The + 15 skywalk public transportation system allows pedestrians to access other buildings in the vicinity.
- Price: Free
- Location: 110 6 Ave SE
Prince Island Park
Prince’s Island Park is located on the north end of downtown Calgary and along the Bow River. This is a stunning green space in the middle of the city and a perfect place to relax, take a stroll or hang out with friends and family.
For a long time, I was actually confused about why this park was called Prince’s Island Park and Eau Claire Park, which is located very close to this place.
So the island park is named after a businessman named Peter Anthony Prince. He founded the Bow River Lumber Company and the Eau Claire Lumber Company.
In the late 19th century, the Eau Claire mill was established along the Bow River and a channel was dug to transport logs to the mill. Over the years, this channel separated from the mainland and now became Prince’s Island Park.
Prince’s Island Park is a beautiful oasis and a great spot to admire the city’s skyline. This park also hosts music festivals (Calgary Heritage Festival, Calgary Folk Festival) and other events in the city. We were here during the 150th celebrations of Canada Day and just fell in love.
Prince’s Island Park is a dear favorite as the city loves its legacy – the founder, Peter Anthony Prince was credited to be one of the early pioneers of Calgary’s development. (He is also credited to have founded Calgary Water Power Company – used sawdust to power street lights)
The park also has a riverfront café and unique (name) bridges over the Bow River, including a Jaipur bridge.
- Price: Free
- Location: 698 Eau Claire Ave SW
Eau Claire Park
The mill area that was built by Prince’s Island Park, is now known as the Eau Claire area.
As you walk away from the Island Park and towards parking lots, restaurants, and the Sheraton hotel – that’s the Eau Claire area. It also has a market space of the same name – the Eau Claire market.
- Price: Free
- Location: 698 Eau Claire Ave SW
The Peace Bridge is a foot traffic bridge located over the Bow River in downtown Calgary. It was built by another Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. The bridge is stunning at all times of the year. Our favorite time is during fall, as the red color of the bridge, shines brightly and warmly against the fall foliage.
The bridge was built and opened recently in 2012.
- Price: Free
- Location: On Bow River, west side of Prince Island’s Park
Calgary Chinatown is located in the northeast part of downtown. The Chinese community arrived here in 1880 and this neighborhood is a testimony to their contribution and legacy.
The Chinese Cultural Centre located here has a lot of traditional art and decor, which makes it one of the unique centers in the whole of North America.
Visit Chinatown to admire the quaint Chinese neighborhood and for some DELICIOUS food!
In Chinatown, there is a New Art Gallery, which is worth visiting. It is a contemporary art display gallery, operated by a non-profit organization since 1975.
- Price: Free
- Location: 2 Ave SW
Famous 5 Statue
The Famous Five are the five (5) prominent Canadian pioneers who fought for women’s suffrage – the right to vote, be a part of the senate and participate in public matters (Person’s Case led by Emily Murphy).
There is a statue of the Famous 5 located in the Olympic Plaza area of Downtown Calgary. This sculpture was designed by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson depicting the five women, celebrating their victory (of women’s participation in public affairs) over a cup of coffee (which is very Canadian)
The Famous 5 statues have citations inscribed on them.
- Price: Free
- Location: Women are Persons, 8 Ave SW
The Olympic Plaza is a beautiful park and “hang out” space for locals (especially downtown workers) and tourists alike for a quick rest or a lunch break. The plaza was built in 1988 for medal ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
During summers, it is a great place to enjoy some cool breeze, and music and watch kids play. In the wintertime, bring your skates in to enjoy the ice rink here. “Skate Hut” at the Olympic Plaza is a beautiful outdoor rink, which is the perfect way to ring in the holiday season.
- Price: Free
- Location: MacLeod Trail & 7th Ave SW
CORE Shopping Centre & Devonian Gardens (Calgary Downtown Mall)
Calgary’s CORE Shopping centre is a popular shopping arena in Downtown Calgary. It spans over 3 city blocks and boasts of Holt Renfrew’s flagship store along with 160 other retail stores.
The CORE Shopping centre consists of 4 floors – of retail bliss and cuisines (restaurants and food court), but also a delightful indoor botanical garden, called the Devonian Gardens.
We accidentally happened to drop by the CORE shopping centre and explored the beautiful indoor oasis. This place has so much greenery – tons of plant variety (over 550 kinds) and a pool with colorful fishes (koi pond).
There are designated children’s play areas and dining/seating tables as well. Devonian Gardens also conducts exhibitions and art displays. Their living wall is a beautiful creation – a MUST visit! This will surprise you, pleasantly.
- Price: Free
- Location: 324 8 Ave SW
Mario Armengol Statue
Armengol Statues are tall (and naked) statues of men and families in a small park, located on 1st Street and 6th Avenue SE in downtown Calgary. These statues are about 6.5 meters tall and are 10 in number. The images are known to be depicting the “Brotherhoods of Man and the Family of Man”.
The statues look like a happy family – with adults and kids enjoying themselves together and in harmony. It was built by a Spanish artist of the same name – Mario Armengol (in 1968. It was built as part of the Montreal Expo in 1967).
The statues were then transported to Calgary and donated to the city in 1968 and it has been standing tall since then. (pun intended)
- Price: Free
- Location: 1st Street and 6th Avenue SE
Studio Bell National Music Centre
Studio Bell is home to the National Music Centre. It is located in the East Village part of Calgary. The centre has five floors of exhibitions showcasing the story of music in Canada.
Although quite a climb and effort to explore it all – if you are a music fan you must not miss it!
Studio Bell is also a beautiful architectural marvel, and great for photos! The centre opened in 2016.
- Price: Suggested rate of $15 per entry
- Location: 850 4 St SE, Calgary, AB T2G 0L8
Calgary Central Public Library
The gorgeous new Central Library is the largest in the city, and it is located near the City Hall Station. So very convenient to get there via the public transportation system.
The Central Library building features over 450,000 books and showcases a beautiful and modern architectural style that is juxtaposed with vintage historic buildings in the area.
Step into the library and marvel at the fun spaces of virtual learning and good ol’ bookshelves. Study and seating areas are airy, with a lot of light coming in and…wooden finishes that are seamlessly designed to add a luxury feel to it.
The exterior of the library reminds me of the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik Iceland, as you can see some Nordic/Scandidanian elements. The library was designed in collaboration with a Norweigan architectural firm, Snøhetta.
The new Central library opened its doors in 2018, and in 2019 it made it to the list of the 100 greatest places to visit in the world!
The Calgary Public Library was established in 1912.
- Location: 800 3 St SE, Calgary, AB T2G 2E7
Fairmont Palliser Hotel
Most Fairmont hotels in Canada are sort of a landmark in their city and the Fairmont Palliser hotel in Downtown Calgary is no different. This iconic hotel is a historical landmark – it was built in 1914 when railways were developing and engulfing western Canada.
What was then a “mere” resting place for travelers and workers is now a luxurious hotel with stunning interiors and architecture.
During winter, there is a giant gingerbread on-site (lobby) that visitors come to see and photograph. The Calgary Tower and other tourist sights can be seen from the balconies of the Fairmont.
You can photograph the Calgary Tower and the hotel next to each other, or take a peek at the Canadian Railway sign close by, which is a reminder of the past days of industrial growth.
It’s like living a piece of history.
- Price: Luxury hotel
- Location: 133, 9 Ave SE
Fort Calgary National Park – Historic site
The Fort Calgary Park historical site is located on the edge of downtown Calgary. Although not in the downtown core, we thought this place needs a mention in this post.
Fort Calgary is located a 10-minute walk from downtown, at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers (or a 4-minute drive from the Glenbow Museum).
Fort Calgary site was founded by the Northwest Mounted Police to curb the illegal whiskey trade. It was founded in 1875. The fort today is a national historic site and houses a museum with many remnants of the bygone days.
The fort has some of the structures in their original state and some are re-created. When you explore the museum living quarters and walk from one room to another, it is like living the history itself.
And if you are like me, who LIVES, BREATHES, and WEARS history, you will find a cheeky girl with red mounted police uniforms!
- Price: $12/adult (parking rates are additional)
- Location: 750 9 Ave SE
Downtown Calgary Tourist Map
Here is a handy map with Downtown Calgary Tourists spots and restaurants
Hotels Calgary Downtown AB
Downtown Calgary has some of the finest and most luxurious hotels. The location is on-point, with quick access to the city’s TOP highlights, restaurants and pubs, shopping, and the river valley.
We have an awesome guide to hotels in Calgary up on this blog and we will pick 3 favorites from the downtown area here for you.
We recommend using Booking.com to find accommodation. It is our favorite hotel website for quickly comparing the prices of multiple hotel booking sites at once.
- Fairmont Palliser Hotel – One of the most luxurious and iconic hotels in the whole of Calgary and located in the downtown area is the Fairmont Palliser Hotel. The location of the hotel is very convenient to access all the tourist highlights, including restaurants and bars. The hotel also has 2 restaurants and a spa on-site. This hotel is perfect for couples, individuals, and small families. FUN FACT: Salil and I were engaged here.
- Sheraton Eau Claire Hotel – Sheraton Eau Claire is located by the Eau Claire market and hence will be very close to Prince’s Island Park. Just outside the hotel, you will find breakfast and coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. We stayed here a couple of times (summer and winter) and their staff is very friendly and the accessibility to nearby restaurants is just amazing (you can just walk down)
- ALT Hotel East Village – This is a new hotel located in downtown Calgary (Confluence Way). This is budget to a mid-range hotel offering modern amenities and location convenience. The exterior design of the hotel is very eye-catching and you will probably notice it when you drive to the downtown area.
Recommended Top Downtown Calgary Restaurants
Calgary has multi-cuisine restaurants and DOWNTOWN Calgary is full of them. Other than the food, we feel ambiance is key and these restaurants do live up to the hype (without a hefty price tag).
All the listed restaurants are added to Google Maps in this post.
- SALTIK – Upscale restaurant, popular for steak, sandwiches, cocktails, and wine. Modern clean eating
- Vero Bistro Moderne – Bistro-style French cuisine
- Ten Foot Henry – Rustic style restaurant interiors and theme, serving brunch and full course meals
- Native Tongues Taqueria – Mexicana bliss in your mouth. Love the décor of the restaurant and the quality of Mexican food here.
- Sky 360, Calgary Tower – Food, with AWESOME views. Perfect for special occasions
Best Bars in downtown Calgary
- Barcelona Tavern (cocktails) 501 8 Ave SW
- Escoba Bistro & Wine Bar at 624 8 Ave SW
- CRAFT Beer Market on 10 AVE SW
- Milk Tiger Lounge (mixed drinks, late-night snacks) 1410 4 ST SW
Vegan Food Restaurants
- Tamarind Vietnamese Grill & Noodle House – 1111 6 Ave SW
- Veg-in YYC – 216 6 Ave SE
Beyond Downtown Calgary itinerary
If you are visiting Calgary and have additional time in the city, be sure to check off the following attractions,
- Heritage Park Historical Village: Located on 120+ acres of land, this heritage site is one of the most visited sightseeing spots in Calgary. Filled with historical buildings, and train rides including antique wagon excursions and more. You can easily spend one full day there. Heritage Park Historical Village is the second largest living museum in Calgary.
- WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park: Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988. Today you can visit the park and there are lots of activities that you can participate in and enjoy (even in the summer!)
- Calgary Stampede: This is an annual rodeo event that happens in Calgary with a parade, shows, and lots of events. Calgary Stampede which is called the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth runs for 10 days in July (after Canada Day week). We recommend booking flights and hotels ahead of time if you are planning to attend, as the city gets super busy and crowded!
- Calgary Zoo: The Calgary Zoo is located very close to downtown, and can be reached via public transportation and footpath via the Bow River pathway. The Zoo is recognized internally for its work in the field of species recovery and reintroduction. It will take about 2 hours to explore
- Telus Spark Science Centre: Located only a few minutes away from Downtown Calgary is the Telus Spark Centre. This is an innovative science center and museum. It is great not only for kids, but also for curious adults as you can explore and work with different interactive elements, check out amazing lights and sound shows, seasonal science events, and more!
- Calgary road trip: Calgary is the perfect spot to base yourself and then explore more of the province and travel Alberta. You can visit Drumheller, Sylvan Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park, and of course Banff National Park and Lake Louise
- Festivals to enjoy in Calgary: Calgary Stampede, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Calgary Heritage Festival
Getting to Calgary:
Calgary International Airport will get you to the city if you are flying to Alberta. This airport is also the closest to get to Banff and the Canadian Rockies!
Here is a detailed guide to getting from Calgary airport to Banff National Park!
So that is a wrap! These were some of the amazing things to do in Calgary downtown.
- Calgary Guide – Calgary Mini Guide
- Day trip from Calgary – Drumheller things to do in a day trip
- Banff Guide – Things to do in Banff Itinerary for all seasons
- Banff in winter – Banff Winter guide
- Banff Accommodation – Banff Hotels Guide
- Winter guide: Visit Toronto to Prince Edward Island in Canada in winter