Calgary bleg

by on March 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm in Travel, Travels, Uncategorized | Permalink

I will have one free day there, so your advice is most welcome…I thank you in advance for the suggestions.  I already have noticed that Frommer’s is not exactly rich with suggestions about what is surely an interesting locale.

1 Finley March 2, 2013 at 3:35 pm


2 mg March 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm

If you haven’t been to very cold cities before, and particularly if you’ll be there when it’s cold outside, leave a little time to wander around the network of elevated walkways in the center of town – it’s surprisingly extensive and it’s interesting to see during the middle of the business day. Consider a hockey game if the Flames are playing. I hear banff is very beautiful but did not make it out there.

3 Garth Wood March 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm

The definitive movie about Calgary’s elevated walkways (known collectively as the “Plus 15” system, since they’re about 15 metres [50 feet] above ground level) is called “waydowntown,” a quirky indie film about a bunch of low-level corporate worker-bees who make a bet that they can go for a month without ever leaving the +15 system and all the towers/apartments they connect; hijinks ensue. Here’s the IMDB blurb about it:

4 cornelia March 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm

– plus 15 walkways are 15 feet (not meters) above ground
– you should consider having breakfast or lunch at the petroleum club (you’ll easily get a blogpost or two out of that)
– in the evening head to beat niq or vin room, both are nice if you have company

5 Garth Wood March 5, 2013 at 8:00 pm

My bad. (Although they actually vary somewhat in height, if they happen to span a roadway, mostly for purposes of allowing traffic — like trucks — to pass underneath unobstructed.)

6 Joe Smith March 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm

The downtown core of Calgary seems to be completely deserted at night (compare with Vancouver BC where the downtown teems with people at night).

Banff townsite is pretty. The scenery in the park around it is awesome. The town is a tourist trap (but I like it). DO NOT!!!! rent a car to drive to Banff before the end of April or after mid September unless you are very experienced and comfortable with driving in bad road conditions (snow, ice, cold weather). Get a local person to take you or take a bus.

7 Chris Blattman March 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm

+1 for Banff. It is a day trip. Even if it is a pain to go up and down in a day, nothing in Calgary can compare to one of the continent’s great parks. And it’s not much of a pain.

8 Ray Dorosz March 3, 2013 at 9:57 am

Hope you have a great time in Alberta. Welcome. Some suggestions for a visitor who never fails to alert his readers to the interesting are: (1) Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump – how pre-horse natives without a lot of technology but with inter tribal cooperation, astute knowledge of both their geography and their prey, and “amazing” coordination and courage of the individual natives themselves were able to stampede herds of buffalo over a precipice to the benefit of the many. (2) check out a Hutterite colony – communal Anabaptists who unlike the Amish have embraced modern large scale agriculture. (3) check out a Calgary Co-op grocery store – a local “cooperative” who successfully competes with the Safeway’s and the Walmart’s of the world. Good Luck.

9 Thursday March 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm

These sound like good ideas. But again they are mostly outside the city.

10 alena March 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I would recommend you visiting FATs pub, which is a pub at the corner of 5th ave NW and 10th street NW. They have awesome sweet potato fries there. You can get there by taking the train to “Sunnyside”.
If you wish to spend some time in the Kensington area (again Sunnyside train stop), that would be awesome, there is a very nice community full of young artists, with good places where you can get coffee (The Roasterie, Cafe Vendome).
Downtown area is also nice to see, however you do not need to see the Calgary Tower, since there are much higher buildings surrounding it and it is beginning to look quite obsolete these days.
Otherwise I am sorry to inform you that aside from the University of Calgary, there is really not much to see in Calgary per se.
If you are visiting the university, I bet they will take you for a lunch at the campus, or to Redwater Rustic Grille (at Uxbridge Drive NW, right across the Hospital), but don’t go to Redwater. There is a better place next door, called Saigon Star Sub’N’Grill, where you can get authentic vietnamese cuisine.

If you are there by car, you can go to see the mountains up north – Kananaskis is amazing place! Or go to Banff!
I used to live in Calgary couple years ago, so please keep in mind that I am quite opinionated.

11 Norman Pfyster March 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm

It’s cold.

12 Orange14 March 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Don’t know when you are going but this Barry Ritholtz piece on his visit to Winnipeg is a jewel:

13 Dph March 3, 2013 at 12:26 am

Ha. Tremendous.. Lived in Winnipeg and Calgary.. You’ll almost never get weather in Calgary as cold and windy as Winnipeg.

And from his postscript a good hat is necessary.

14 Ed March 3, 2013 at 1:50 am

That was a fun piece, but Ritholtz wasn’t dressed for it. Not wearing a hat, as he acknowledges at the end, is a big mistake -the body’s heat mostly escapes through the head. Also, blue jeans are not a good idea in that type of weather, while long underwear is great.

And the northern plains (the Dakotas and Prarie provinces) do tend to get colder than Alaska, at least colder than the part of Alaska where people live.

15 Andrew' March 3, 2013 at 5:48 am

Except in this instance where the body heat mostly escapes through the mouth.

16 @desmondbliek March 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm

It’s not really cold, especially if there’s a chinook on. With that in mind:

Stay: Hotel Arts, 11 Ave at 1 St SW
Drink: Drum & Monkey (same as above)
Cross: Bow river via the Peace Bridge (in line with 7 St SW) and the Elbow river on one of the old suspension bridges (33 Ave SW, 8 St SW)
Eat/coffee: La Boulangerie, 4 St SW at 25 Ave
Eat/food: agree with Vietnamese recommended above, see also Aida’s (Lebanese, 4 St SW at 22 Ave).
Walk/bike: the Bow and Elbow river pathway systems, and check the views from Princess Obolensky Park (4 St SW at 36 Ave) and Crescent Heights (the bluff across the river from downtown).


17 Scott March 2, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Model Milk. Crazyweed in Canmore, if you’re heading that way. If you’re coming up to Edmonton, many (better informed!) suggestions available.

18 Frank March 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm

— The Northeast part of town is where you’ll find lots of South Asian, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in strip malls, of varying quality. Eastern European should be big here, but isn’t. Tex-Mex is as close to Latin food as one can find here, though Las Tortillas isn’t bad. If downtown, keep an eye out for food trucks, which have mushroomed here of late. Charcut has decent burgers, everyone seems to have a different recommendation for bison burgers, and good steak is hard to find (Vintage, Caesars, and Capri as a cheaper choice are three OK places). Rea’s in the northeast is a nice, somewhat hidden Italian restaurant.

— Calgary’s two food “innovations” as noted by local lore are ginger beef and caesars (a clamato-based mixed drink). Not much to hang your white hat on there.

— Yesterday was 51F/10C, tomorrow will be around 23F/-6C, so prepare for both warmth and cold between now and June.

— Ft Calgary and Heritage are historic parks around town. It’s hard to find much history here and they give a sense of the westerny culture here. A small but nice music scene, but not much of a visual arts scene here. Architecture is (for now) undistinguished here, beyond a few buildings downtown and an overpriced but nice Calatrava pedestrian bridge.

— The Hipster scene would be in Kensington or Inglewood. 4th Avenue and Stephen Avenue have chic restaurants, 17th is a party district. The Bow River pathway is good for exercise and people watching in warm weather.

— Banff and Lake Louise are nice, but very, very touristy. Second the Kanakaskis recommendation — much quieter there and scenic when you get there, though it’s winter sports until May. The Peter Lougheed Park segment is the best. Almost all academic departments at the universities and offices downtown will have a skier or outdoorsy type willing to ditch a day and go to the mountains.

Enjoy your stay here!

19 Thursday March 2, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Calgary has a lot of pleasant things, which makes life there, well, very pleasant. What it lacks is anything particularly spectacular. There are nice parks to go walking in (though it’s winter right now). The zoo is nice. The Glenbow is a decent museum. Buan Giorno has very good Italian food. The Ship and Anchor pub is a good place to hang out. Downtown is shiny from all the oil money.

If you wan’t awesome though, head for the mountains.

20 Shaun M. March 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Eating: Calgary is still “new” and adjusting to its explosive growth (pop. 1980 – 300,000 | pop. 2012 1,300,000). It’s food scene is still developing and mostly you’d be disappointed. A few highlights: The number of Pho Soup restaurants you see.(Google it, you’ll see what I mean) is staggering. Almost one in every strip mall. Most are good and cheap. If your there on the weekend, River Cafe on Prince’s Island Park for brunch is wonderful ( ) The park is located in the middle of the Bow River and adjacent to downtown. You will get great views of the city, and can also walk across the new & very interesting Santiago Calvatra designed foot bridge. Save yourself the time at Banff, that’s a full day excursion, especially if you want to visit one of the lakes, glaciers, and other sites. If however, someone convinces you to go, most of the restaurants are chains, and the few independent ones are nothing to write home about. Eat at ( ) in Canmore instead, which on the way to Banff. Best cheap lunch is Kim Chi House. Price to quality is very high. ). While there are many, many more Chinese immigrants in Calgary than Edmonton, you would be disappointed with any of the restaurants. You have been warned.

Architecture: Not a lot, but some good pieces, two below just won azure magazine’s top 10 for 2012.

– The recently completed Bow skyscraper ( ) by Norman Foster. Can’t miss it as its the tallest building in the city. Designed to mimic the flow of the Bow River as it crescents around Calgary. Interestingly, the company that owns it (EnCana) isn’t doing so hot with the fall in gas prices and the extremely stupid decision to spin off its oil sands assets just 2 years before the price collapse.

– The Calvatra designed ‘Peace’ foot bridge as mentioned is quite interesting.

If you are prone to dry skin/chapped lips and you’re going to be in town for more than 72 hours, make sure you have lotion and lip balm. Calgary is 3,500 ft above sea level and is considered a semi-arid steppe, similar to Denver. It receive 18 inches of rain a year, and typically receives very little snow in winter.

It’s light rail system has the highest per capita usage in North AmericaHowever, it’s had the ironic/unintended consequence of encouraging sprawl because as the city builds out, it builds new’s a good way to get around, but to most of the more interesting places

21 Dave March 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm

The restaurant scene definitely isn’t great – though there are definitely a lot of pho places. Not sure what you’re doing in Calgary – giving a talk somewhere? – but if you’ve got a conference in the area odds are it’ll be in Banff anyways.

I’d second a stop in Canmore on the drive between Calgary and Banff, but suggest poutine as an alternate option – it’s the best poutine place I’ve found (and it’s the winter so the cold might help burn off the carbs anyways).

22 Dph March 3, 2013 at 12:36 am

I would point to our parks/path system as worth some consideration. Nosehill (depending on which side of the plane and your approach and time to the airport you might see it..), the river pathways, glen more park + weasel head and fish creek provincial park..

These are probably Not as relevant for a visitor of one day in march.. But still worth mentioning. June is really the optimal time to experience those aspects of the city..

23 bartman March 4, 2013 at 10:33 am

Not to nitpick, but you’re exaggerating on the population growth. When I moved to Calgary in 1980 the population was about 600,000. Today it’s about 1.2M.

Glad to see that the Vietnamese wave has made it there.

24 Thursday March 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm
25 tom vass March 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Hi Tyler
There is a great fighter pretty fish up there called a Cut Throat Trout
The fish is beautiful to look at and to taste, especially butterfled filleted on a grill

So if I were in your shoes. I would head 60 miles south of Calgary, right on the US border, where there is an absolutely spectacular river, full of cut throat, catch about or so, start a fire and cook’em

26 M. Nuerona March 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Your mile must be much longer than mine. With my miles, it takes over 120 to get to the US border, and that starting from the south city limit, abou 10 miles from downtown.

27 Adam March 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Peter’s Drive-In.

It’s even on the Trans-Canada Highway. You don’t get much more Canadian than that!

And they take pre-orders of up to 1,000 hamburgers.

28 Dph March 3, 2013 at 12:29 am

Other than the mass production and the historical drive thru ethic peters is only good for milkshakes. Many better burgers to be found, a couple within a 2 minute drive of peters

29 Shane O. March 3, 2013 at 10:41 am

Agreed on both counts for Peter’s Drive-In. The milkshakes are phenomenal (enjoyed the blackberry/marshmallow combination recently), but the burgers are nothing special. I’ve never been one for the street party scene, but 17th Ave isn’t too far from downtown. There are a few nice unique restaurants downtown – I don’t eat at pricey restaurants very often, though (enjoyed Il Giardino awhile back). The city is nice, but I usually head west to the mountain parks to experience something memorable – you could go cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Center for a day – they’ll train you if you haven’t done it, and you’re right in the mountains. Lots of nice hikes out there too.

30 Nick_L March 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm

You caught the bit about winter, right?

The Devonian gardens can be pleasant downtown break..

31 RPLong March 2, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Alberta has a huge and thriving Ukrainian culture. Go to a perogy house. You won’t regret it.

32 Tununak March 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Oooh, oooh, it’s cold. Hey, it’s frigging CANADA. What a bunch of wimps.

Over Easy (OEB) on Edmonton Trail for breakfast.

There’s a big Chinatown on Centre St. just south of the Bow River. Recommend doing an empirical test of your restaurant-finding hypotheses.

33 anonymous March 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Helicopter skiing is nice – CMH, but not for a day. It was -40 degrees in Calgary when I went, for both F and C.

34 Dph March 3, 2013 at 12:19 am

A Local here

Cultural food: NE – safari grill – Indian/east African

High end food with local orientation: notable

Local favourite diner: dairy lane

Vietnamese soup Pho: everyone has a favourite place most are very good and affordable..

Sports hall of fame and Canada Olympic park (bobsleigh, ski jump, half pipe/freestyle):

Kananaskis/banff (but this is a full day and mountain driving at this time of year CAN be challenging)

Downtown Calgary with +15s (covered walkways) and indoor malls and gardens are interesting because of the result of street level commerce (hence dead downtown).

Strong Italian history that still pokes up in parts of the city.. Some other Mediterranean influences (Greek and lebanese primarily)

Centre for the performing arts (opera and philharmonic) is near city hall and if it’s a nice weekday Stephen avenue mall is packed around lunch (it’s a street in downtown that has been converted to a walking mall during the day for 6 blocks or so…)

35 John Skookum March 3, 2013 at 1:21 am

Calgary would be a good place to get a caribou steak. It is as tender as filet mignon, with more flavor. Ranks with moose at the very pinnacle of wild venison.

36 Ed March 3, 2013 at 2:01 am

You don’t have to physically go to Calgary for this, but its worth checking out:

Even Alberta is facing budget cuts/ austerity. The Alberta finance minister put up a nice website that lets the public try to figure out how they would balance the budget, and the site seems to do a good job of walking you through the choices. Its nice to keep in mind due to one of the numerous austerity-related comment threads on this site.

37 Matthew March 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm

First off welcome to our city. I am not quite so negative about the food scene. From previous reading you seem to prefer the ethnic “authentic” type of meal. To that end I would highly recommend Atlas Specialty on 9 Ave SW. It does Persian cuisine and is open every day except for mondays. Others that mentioned Pho (vietnamese soup) are giving good advice as it is well done in Calgary, I recommend Pho pasteur. It is located downtown. Alberta Beef is obviously popular here, it is not Corn finished as Beef is in the USA, so it will taste different but is good. Be prepared for the weather which changes rapidly.

Depending on dates I would be happy to play tour guide.

Favorite Things Calgary

1. Writer- Nellie Mclung- Suffragette and member of the Famous Five

2. Musician- KD Lang

3. Politician- Naheed Nenshi

4. Movie Set in- Legends of the Fall, filmed just outside of the city, richly displays the beauty of the foothills

5. Stay- Le Germain – Hotels in Calgary are generally very expensive, this one is the newest and one of the best. Corporate travel has bid up rates here

6. Classical Musician- Jan Liseki concert pianist

7. Drink- Ceaser cocktail invented in Calgary differs from a Bloody Mary by subsituting Tomato Juice for Clamato (combo of clam juice and tomato)

8. Controversial Use of Government Funds- Peace Bridge, a beautiful addition to the city’s riverscape.

Enjoy the City.

38 Brad March 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Are you speaking at the university by chance?

39 Ryan March 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm

A Calgarian here who lives and works from home in one of those shiny new condos downtown a 5 min walk from Teatro’s (I think that is where you will be speaking?). – I’m staring at the Saddledome where the Flames play right now – I walk for pretty much everything I need – would be happy to give you a walking tour downtown 🙂

Food, I’m near-vegan, but none of the two places I recommend below unreservedly are vegetarian or vegan.

Falafel King on 7th Ave S- Lebanese. Best falafel I’ve ever had, been eating there for almost years since opening, almost weekly for most of that time. Hugely popular at lunch. Very fresh. Most are not eating the falafels but shawarma’s I think. Filling.

Happy Valley Restaurant in Chinatown. Cheap and good. Again, I only eat what’s vegetarian, but it’s very popular and I try to go with my family at least once a month. Was planning today but there is a bit of storm out there…

Beer: While I love the Ship & Anchor on 17th mentioned above (it’s long been hugely popular in Calgary), if you need something closer to downtown, I like the Libertine beside Falafel King, or Hop’n Brew. Drum and Monkey, mentioned earlier by another, is close to H&B. Local brewery faves you find almost everywhere: Wild Rose and Big Rock. If you are in Kensington the Kensington Pub is great.

Peace Bridge recommended above – it recently one awards for one of the top new public spaces and top new designs of 2012. Walk the Bow river a while if you can as others recommended. You won’t be able to miss our recently completed Bow building either – tallest one here, although there will be a taller one in a few years.

If it’s a stormy day like today and you are downtown, the Devonian Gardens are worth a walk, 4th floor of a shopping centre along Stephen Ave (which is a great stroll (super busy at lunch esp, not so much as I’d like at night), and 17th ave, Chinatown and Kensington/Sunnyside all walkable from it) . Good time to walk the +15 another mentioned. Wikipedia tells me it’s “the world’s second most extensive pedestrian skywalk system, with a total length of 16 kilometers (9.9 miles) and 59 bridges.” The +15 can get you to Chinatown too. The C-Train/LRT is free downtown and and runs on 7th Ave a parallel to Stephen Ave(8th) a block away. The Glenbow Museum on Stephen Ave ( you can see it from Teatro’s) has a great collection of Hindu and Buddhist statues and such in there permanent “Art of Asia” exhibit.

Enjoy Calgary!

So if you not going to Banff and are going to be walking – try Stephen Ave as a starting point/home base.

40 Mark Thorson March 3, 2013 at 8:01 pm

They charge for a foot bridge but the train is free?

41 dph March 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm

The expensive part is what the govt paid to have it designed and installed.. crossing it is free, unless you want to donate to one of the lesser-fortunates around there.

42 Jeff Burrow March 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Model Milk restaurant on 17th ave. is fantastic. Charcut as well is good, downtown, if he likes meat.

43 Joe Smith March 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm
44 Oldmtnbkr March 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I have no idea what it’s like (I’m in Seattle) but would be interested on your take if you get to see the northern terminus of the imminent Keystone pipeline.

45 Garth Wood March 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

Calgary’s a great city (I live here), but one day is Simply. Too. Short. Others have made specific suggestions (generally quite good), but you’ll notice that quite a few of them involve leaving the city proper to do/see something else. This appears to be the way Calgarians view the culture of their city — it’s close to amazing mountains, prairies, parks and other attractions, so everybody empties the place on a typical weekend to go elsewhere. We’re still figuring out what Calgary qua Calgary should be. About ten percent of the city population consists of ex-pat Americans (it’s the hydrocarbons, mang), we’re the first city in Canada to have a black Muslim mayor (quite a popular chap, BTW), and we call ourselves “The heart of the New West.”

As for the food scene, I’m a bit of a foodie myself, and I’m generally quite pleased with what’s here. You can always grab a copy of John Gilchrist’s books “My Favourite Restaurants: Calgary, Banff and Beyond (7th edition)” and “My Favourite Cheap Eats: Calgary, Banff and Beyond (2nd edition)” (they’re even available as an iPhone app). I’d be very interested in seeing whether your cheap-eats-discovery-method overlaps with Gilchrist’s to any significant degree. We’ve had waves of immigrants over the last century, and each new group brings great food. Hard to go wrong with any of the SE Asia places, there’s good ME food, and generally one or two samples of almost everything else. (I also give two thumbs up for the recommendation of Atlas restaurant mentioned above.) Ignore everything said about Calgary by people who grew up here forty years ago and have since moved away — the place is unrecognizable today from the standpoint of four decades ago. And be prepared for possible (and sometimes astonishing) swings in the weather/temperature.

Have fun!

46 Charlie March 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

Another local here. For good Chinese, try the Golden Inn (not open at lunch) in Chinatown. I second the Notable recommendation if going higher end, with a local emphasis. In general, beef is excellent in Calgary (blue rare is my thing). I’m also partial to the Holy Grill on 10th ave for casual but high quality.

47 Garth Wood March 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Just as an aside, the “northern terminus” of Keystone XL is going to be in Hardisty, Alberta, which is about a 4-hour drive away from Calgary. Seems a silly way to waste your day, actually.

48 Karl March 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

As many have suggested, Kananaskis is spectacular, easy to get to, and relatively untouched. When I first moved here, I did the Banff/Lake Louise thing with all the tourists, but soon found Kananaskis and haven’t looked back.

If you need to spend the day in the city itself, coffeeshops like Vendome, Artigiano, or Beano are all good options. You won’t go wrong with restaurants like Charcut, Divino, or Teatro. But it is drinking that Calgary does particularly well. There are dozens of great pubs, and places downtown like District, Buchanan’s and Craft are all solid.

Beyond all that, it sounds like you have lots of like-minded readers here. I’m sure a bunch of us would love to meet you for drinks and welcome you to Cowtown. Seems like we’d have some interesting conversations – interesting to us, anyway!

49 Garth Wood March 5, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Apropos of nothing much, I just thought I’d link to this good resource of foodie stuff in Calgary:

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