If you want to truly experience a place, you have to ask a local for tips. And that’s what we set out to do when we asked Canadians in five cities across the country to tailor-make itineraries for visiting Americans that love to discover the unexpected and go off the beaten path. The result? A local’s guide to each city that isn’t so much an itinerary, but instead a collection of things to do, eat, try, and experience.
If you’re looking for where the city meets nature, look no further than Calgary. The city itself is bursting with creativity and cool places to eat, drink, and be seen. And just under an hour and a half away, you’ll find the Rocky Mountains where there’s adventure on the slopes, in the forests, and on the glassy turquoise waters.
Tamara of Globe Guide curated the top things to do in Calgary and the surrounding wilderness for Stephanie of Travel Break. Check out their experience in the video above, then read on to plan your own trip to these hot spots in Alberta.
Day 1: Downtown vibes and urban adventure
If you’re like most people, your day starts with coffee. And in Calgary, a local favorite is Phil & Sebastian. Head to their location in the historic Simmons Building and grab a coffee and a snack. Enjoy the industrial vibe alongside (arguably) the best cup of joe in the city. Then, hop on a bike and take a self-guided cycle tour of the most photogenic spots in Calgary. Must-sees include Prince’s Island Park, the Peace Bridge, the Wonderland Sculpture, and The East Village.
After a good ride, stop for lunch at CHARCUT Roast House for lunch. Here, you’ll find award-winning food dreamed up by founders John Jackson and Connie Desousa. Featuring salads, sandwiches, and house-made sausages, you’ll be in for a treat. They also have a special rush lunch menu if you need to head off quickly to your afternoon plans.
Post-lunch, head to the Skyline Luge at the Winsport Olympic Park. This is the perfect way to find a little bit of adrenaline in the city itself. What’s the Skyline Luge you ask? It’s kind of like Mario Kart where you get to drive and rip down a track. Describe as “a unique wheeled gravity ride that provides riders with full control over their descent on a purpose built track,” you’ll get to navigate twists and turns through this luge track that’s almost 6000 feet in length. It’s truly an adrenaline rush and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Happy hour’s up next at The Ship and Anchor, supposed birthplace of the caesar — a drink that’s much like a Bloody Mary, but with a Canadian twist. The vibe of this spot is upbeat and it’s a perfect place to bump shoulders with locals to find out your next move. If they’re particularly friendly, bring them to the top of the Calgary Tower with you for an amazing sunset view before heading to Bocce, a local fave for fantastic Italian food, for dinner. Finish the evening off with margaritas at Anejo.
Day 2: Into the great outdoors
Rise early and you’ll have the opportunity to explore the amazing wilderness and national parks that surround Calgary. Head to Banff and enjoy coffee and breakfast at Evelyn’s Coffee World before catching a free shuttle to the Banff Gondola at Sulphur Mountain. Here, you’ll be treated to an amazing gondola ride that takes you up the mountain to experience a stunning bird’s-eye view of the six incredible mountain ranges sprawled out before you. Roam around the area and the top and snap some swoon-worthy pics.
To continue the theme of exploration, rent a bike and explore the park. It’s much easier to get around this often busy park by foot or bike, so consider planning your day around these two forms of transportation. Cycle around the shores of Lake Minnewanka and finally see those stunning turquoise waters you’ve been waiting for. Keep cycling until you get to Bow Falls, made famous in several Hollywood films, and then finally the “Castle of the Rockies,” the Fairmont Banff Springs. Stop in to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site and experience the grandeur for yourself.
After all that cycling, it’s time for lunch at The Maple Leaf, a refined rustic joint that serves New Canadian cuisine, before heading to the Cave and Basin Historic site, as unique as it is beautiful. Cap everything off with a walk along the Fenland Trail along Vermillion Lakes, before heading back to the city for dinner at a low-key spot like Anju, a modern Korean spot, or Model Milk, a cozy room that features an ever-changing menu.
Day 3: Unwind in the city
After a day of adventure, chill out with a slow morning coffee at Monogram Coffee. More than just a coffee spot, locals swear by the hazelnut toast here — a slice of bread from a local bakery slathered with labneh and topped with hazelnuts and honey. You can even stay a while and have a second savory toast at this sleek cafe.
Coffee in hand, head to St. Patrick’s Island to find nature in the city. This 31-acre spot features parkland, beaches, playgrounds, and some gentle rolling hills. Bring a book and read by the water or simply enjoy the scenery while snapping some pics. Grab some food at Una Pizza + Wine, before checking out the infamous 17th Ave (aka The Red Mile), home to shops and all sorts of fun storefronts. Keep your afternoon peaceful with a paddle on the Glenmore Reservoir — both kayaking and canoeing are popular.
After you’ve tried out your arms and seen all the vibrancy of Calgary’s urban-meets-nature vibe, grab a bite at Cannibale, a speakeasy with a barbershop inside. Then track down a live show at a local venue like The Blues Can, The HiFi Club, or the National Music Centre.
There's plenty to do after your first three days in Alberta! Discover more attractions here and start planning your trip.