24 Hours in Calgary

Our hometown take on Canada's sunniest metropolis

photo by toque & canoe

Ask Calgarians what they love most about their city and the first thing they’ll say is “the mountains.”

Of course, the Rocky Mountains aren’t actually in Calgary.

But they provide an incredible backdrop to this prairie town on a clear, blue-sky day. And they do make for one of the most enviable playgrounds in the country.

We’re here to say that Canada’s sunniest metropolis is more than just a gateway to the Rockies.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that this city of winding rivers features a vibrant restaurant scene, great shopping, thriving music venues and world-class hotels.

So if you’re only here for a day – and you’re looking for some options – here’s our hometown take on Calgary in 24 hours.

Where to stay

You can’t go wrong with the old world grandeur of the Fairmont Palliser. This charming hotel oozes history and boasts a central, downtown location. We’re also, we admit, a little infatuated with Hotel Le Germain. Extremely popular with business travellers (and couples looking to cocoon for a night), this refreshing addition to the Calgary hotel scene is much like its sister properties in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. Super stylish but with a relaxed, elegant and sophisticated – even sexy – vibe.

Hungry?

With Le Germain in mind, we should mention that this swanky boutique hotel houses the notable Charcut. Think succulent, slow-roasted heritage chicken. House-butchered prime rib. And duck-fat fried poutine. Also turning heads is the always bustling Model Milk with its fresh shucked oysters, tasty tomato salad and Dwell magazine-worthy, historic venue. Finally, three words. Location. Location. Location. Situated on Prince’s Island where the Bow River runs through downtown, River Cafe offers up a cozy and unique fishing lodge feel and decidedly Canadian cuisine – from Potted rabbit to Haida Gwaii halibut.

Live Music

Inglewood’s popular Ironwood – warm and informal – dishes live acts nightly. Owner Patrick McIntyre’s passion for curating good music – much of it Canadian – has everything to do with the success of this place. There’s also the Ship & Anchor – which we’ve referenced before in our story about the Calgary Stampede. Everyone hangs at The Ship – from “suits to punks.” Cool and relaxed, this is where you’ll see the latest and greatest indie bands.

When the night’s too young…

The Kensington Pub draws people from all over the city when the night’s too young to call it quits. We suggest you try their “What the Huck” wheat ale from Fernie Brewing Company – if only because it’s fun to say. But we’ve also been hearing rumblings from several extremely reliable sources (including River Cafe’s Sal Howell) that if you’re going to “late night cocktail” – Ox and Angela‘s killer El Mojito is, ahem, to die for.

Sunnyside up?

If you’re looking for breakfast, the Galaxie Diner – famous for “feeding friends, family and hangovers” – is known for its legendary egg burritos and salty hashbrowns. (Yup, we’re regulars.) That said, if you’re up for something more refined, we recommend L’epicerie where, recently, we enjoyed an excellent cappuccino and a thoroughly scrumptious Croque Monsieur. A little Francais with your Cowtown. Pourquoi pas?

Walk and Shop

We’re not huge mall girls. So we want you to take in some of the trendier districts (cool shops, sidewalk cafes, art galleries) like Kensington or 17th Avenue or Inglewood. But if you’re facing arctic temperatures (and you could be), we surrender that when it comes to quality malls, Core‘s the one you want.

Take me to the river

No matter what the season, locals are drawn to our Bow and Elbow rivers. Extensive paths – one of the largest networks in Canada – are always teaming with dog walkers, joggers and cyclists. (We tend to be an active lot.) Rent a bike if you’re in town. And if it’s snowing? Be sure you’ve got winter tires on that baby.

So how about you? What would your ideal day in Cowtown look like? Comment below and best, funniest, most informative answer wins an amazing swag bag (as in, we’d like to win it ourselves) from Toque & Canoe and Tourism Calgary. Contest closes November 23.

Contest update: Congrats to Catherine on winning our “24 Hours in Calgary” contest. Thanks to everyone for making the effort to tell us about their ideal day in Cowtown. Together, we think we have this city covered!

Toque & Canoe talk Calgary with Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Last word?

No one loves his hometown more than Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Where would he take visitors with only 24 hours in Calgary? “For dinner, I would take them to Divino. Or River Cafe where, regardless of the time of year, it’s always beautiful. One place I always take my friends is Mirch Masala in Pineridge for Indian food,” Mayor Nenshi told us during a recent interview on the steps of City Hall. “And if it was summer, I would literally take them into the flow of the city – rafting on the Elbow River.” (Now that’s something we’d love to see.)

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  1. Erin commented:

    I commented on Facebook but I didn’t see the contest!

    We may have to have a diner-off because my quest for a great diner ended once I found OEB. However, I haven’t tried Galaxie yet, so I’m willing to say I’m only 99% sure OEB is my favourite 🙂

    Reply

  2. Barbara commented:

    We have a 4 year old so a full day to ourselves would be amazing and if such a luxury would be bestowed upon us, well, there are lots of great activities and dining spots in Calgary. We would start out with some freshly baked French pastries from Yann Haute Patisserie in Mission and walk to the next block for a cafe to go from Purple Perk, take it with us for a stroll down 17th Avenue. When lunch time rolls around, head on up to Diner Deluxe on Edmonton Trail. They make a gruyere grilled cheese that will change your life or not far away from there is Boogies Burgers for an eclectic burger experience and make sure to have their sweet potato fries, with the dip, yum! The afternoon we would visit the new Telus World of Science or hit the Bobsled run at Canada Olympic Park. For dinner, one of our favourite restaurants is Farm on 17th Avenue, anytime we’ve gone there the food and service has been fantastic. Then you can pop next door for a late night London Fog (my favourite) at Cafe Beano or chill to some jazz and a glass of wine at Piq Niq. I’m exhausted just reading this, I might need a nap or maybe I should grab a cafe from Beano!

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  3. Christian commented:

    Galaxie for breakfast, a wander down 17th to places like Dick & Jane’s for some shopping, some wandering through stephen ave and up into kensington for lunch at Gratitude and a cupcake at Crave.
    Wander across the bridge and through Prince’s Island and Eau Claire weather permitting, or to the Core if it wasn’t cooperating and then to end at Una(17th) or Famosa(21st-ish) for some pizza and wine.
    If the night wasn’t quite done we could wander over to Beano for a great cup of coffee and a cookie and over to Narah in Marda loop for sheesha.

    Reply

  4. Petey commented:

    If you’re showing great Calgary things in 24hrs..Why have beer from BC? There are great breweries in this city…Big Rock/Wild Rose and Brew bros!!

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    • Toque commented:

      Too true! Grasshopper has always been my go-to beer. And Velvet Fog from Wild Rose is another good one. What are your fave’s?
      How about brew-pubs? The Craft Beer Market looks interesting…

      Reply

  5. Robert commented:

    Let’s face it we’re in Calgary for the work; so an ideal day in Calgary includes a great commute, and the best commutes are on one of the cyclepaths along the Bow or Elbow Rivers. The rivers are also the best source for recreating at the end of the day… one of my fave activitis combines canoeing and fishing from Bowness Park to the city’s core; followed up by homemade Choclate Chip cookies.

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  6. Alex commented:

    Calgary offers many attractions. Stampede, the greatest outdoor show on earth in July; depending on weather, opt for bike riding along the beautiful pathways, for mountaineers they are just 90 minutes away, while families with kids may check out the Calgary Zoo and for those cooler days the new TELUS World of Science.

    Come dinner time, there’s Jaroblue on 17th, stylish with a cosmopolitan vibe where the flavours are rich and sultry, or dining and dancing at Ranchman’s, seeped up in Alberta Pioneer Western Heritage.

    Reply

  7. Leigh commented:

    Since I’m still new to Calgary there is lots of exploring still to do. But I already have a few favs that would be included in my day. I’d probably start the day over at Jelly Modern Doughnuts – great selection of those things – even if you don’t do doughnuts. Then I’d like a pedicure because these dry days are killing my feet – no idea where to go for that. But assuming I find some place then I’d walk downtown admiring the fantastic street art along the way. Probably dip into the Patagonia store since I love the outdoors & by then I’d be ready for lunch – continue to the Gratitude Cafe & eat something healthy after the doughnut or grab one of the killer lattes & sandwiches at Vendome. I’ve always wanted to try the Olympic Oval skating rink so that would fill the rest of the afternoon. Dinner – The River Cafe – for the ambiance and I love the smell of the place. That should do it for me.

    Reply

    • toque & canoe commented:

      YES! Just discovered Modern Jelly Doughnuts – the salty caramel and the lemon ones are my fave!
      For a great pedi, try Urban Venus on 11 Ave SW. Not only do they give a great pedi/mani but they show awesome movies.
      I’m looking forward to ‘discovering’ new things about Calgary through your eyes. Thanks Leigh!

      Reply

  8. Mary commented:

    Calgary for me is centred around friends, the river and the beautiful pathways. For me the must see/do places when I visit would be breakfast at Diner Deluxe, a walk down the river, maybe hit the Zoo or the new Science Center, a little stroll through Inglewood, coffee at Caffe Beano. A lunch must for me is the Tastes of Italy sandwich at Pepinos on Kensington Ave. Love the cupcakes at Crave. I wouldn’t miss the banana milkshake at Peter’s, just too many old memories. Pick up a few items at Sunnyside organic market, a couple bottles at Kensington Wine shop, dinner at the River Cafe, always beautiful and a special spot for many;) Then it would be drinks with two of my must see friends. Hopefully at one of their homes.

    Reply

  9. Catherine Ford commented:

    A perfect 24 hours in Calgary means a lot of picking and choosing among all the great activities in the city — one day isn’t enough. But, if I’m granted the impossible — that is, no sleep for 24 hours and the fantasy of having it all — I might be able to cram everything in.

    One of the first things I’d do is check into a hotel with my husband. One of the disadvantages of living in a city is that one rarely gets to experience the hospitality of strangers. So I’d want a Gold Floor suite at the Fairmont Palliser for the night before the adventure began and, as the clock ticked to midnight, my 24 hours would start with chilled Dom Perignon and oysters for me, delivered by room service, accompanied with a first-run movie.

    The Stillwater Spa in the Hyatt Regency would open especially for us and we’d spend the hours between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. immersed in the four-hour “royal nourish” treatment, which includes an aromatic body treatment, massage, facial and pedicure.

    Naturally, a team of hair stylists and make-up artists — or Benjie Alcantara, who has “done” my hair for the past 18 years and is an accomplished make-up artist — would get me ready for the day which would start with a limo (black town car, please) whisking us to the airport for a helicopter fly-over as the sun was rising over Calgary, illuminating the Rockies. If you have never seen the sun creep up the sides of the Bow Valley corridor, you’ve missed one of this city’s most magical moments, bested only by the shimmering curtains of the Northern Lights. There would be freshly brewed coffee from Phil & Sebastian on board, served with maple-glazed doughnuts from Tim Horton’s and fresh sliced pineapple and melon. On the way back downtown in the limo which is mine for the day, we’d catch up on the three newspapers we get every morning — The Calgary Herald, Globe and Mail and the National Post.

    A leisurely walk through the Calgary Zoo, watching Kamala the artistic elephant paint a picture just for me, and then a visit to the new Telus Science Centre. Lunch at River Cafe on the patio with the entire Calgary Philharmonic performing all of my favourite Mozart and Chopin.

    A post-lunch hour or two of retail therapy — Holt Renfrew, Arnold Churgin and Henry Singer (to buy a present for my husband) — and then martinis at the Raw Bar in the Hotel Arts while an ensemble from Decidedly Jazz Danceworks performs an intimate, but rousing number. Then a tasting dinner with wine pairing arranged by Fabio Centini at his eponymous restaurant with Calgary’s most elegant and charming maitre d’, Gustavo Yelamo, ensuring everything was perfect. The curtain at Alberta Theatre Projects would be held until dinner was finished and we’d end the night with a double-header, a performance by Mump and Smoot followed by Ronnie Burkett and his marionettes.

    Back to the hotel after a fabulous day . . . only to discover that I’d dreamed it all. In Calgary, you can have it all, just not, as I fantasize, in the same 24 hours.

    In truth, a perfect day in Calgary doesn’t need much, just a little imagination and some appreciation of living in this city. It doesn’t need to cost much money. It can be as simple as standing outside during one of those magical soft winter snowfalls, especially at this time of year when the Christmas lights turn the flakes into sparkling prisms. A perfect day is finding a $20 bill hidden in the bottom of a coat pocket, just as one passes a Salvation Army kettle. It’s the smile on everyone’s face when the Christmas carolers in their Victorian-era costumes stroll through Bankers’ Hall.

    Every day has the possibility of being perfect, if you start and end each one — in the words of the Muppet Christmas Carol:
    “With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart/
    With an open smile and with open doors.”

    Reply

  10. cherise commented:

    I would spend the some of the day walking around the beautiful city, checking out what the city has to offer, and have dinner at one of the many resturants.

    Reply

  11. Monica commented:

    The close proximity to the mountains makes Calgary prime real estate not to mention the coming hundredth anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. The history along with the contemporary and innovative style of our city both contribute to the success of our community. 

    Reply

  12. Doreen Mason commented:

    Calgary holds a special place in my heart, even though I’m from the rival city Edmonton. I have lots of close friends and family in your fair city, including my son who attends ACAD, my sister in law, my bro, my nephews and their spouses. I love to have a little time to visit with them when I am in Calgary, often taking in the galleries at ACAD with my son. Then I love to go off exploring on my own. I always include a visit to The Glenbow on my Calgary agenda. It’s my favourite museum in the world, to wander through, and I can be there for hours. I usually follow the Glenbow, with a stroll down Stephen Avenue, to The Core. After a bit of shopping and eats, I back track down the avenue and weather permitting I take a walk near the Bow, or a trip up the Calgary Tower to survey the whole city. I had a blast at Heritage Park this summer. It’s like a step back in time. I also had the unique experience of attending two of the Globalfest Human Rights forums, with wonderful guest speakers, at the main city library, this summer. I’d try very hard to fit something like that into my day. If one plans it right, it always amazes me with early rising, and using The C-train to avoid traffic snarls, how many things can be enjoyed in one Calgary day. In the evening I’d take a stress free ride on the C-train, avoiding traffic, either to McMahon, or the Saddledome, depending on the day, and the season and I’d watch either the Stampeders, or the Flames and if you don’t spread the word around “I’d even cheer for them!”

    Reply

  13. Brenda commented:

    My ideal day in Cowtown…where do I start… breakfast at Cora’s absolutely and strolling along 17th Ave shopping with Poutine from The Big Cheese, drinks at The Ship and for sure dinner out at Charcut. I would definitely need this to be Groundhogs day so I could wake up and repeat the day over and over again hitting my other favourite spots in Inglewood, Kensington…everywhere!!
    You need more than just one day !

    Reply

  14. Jen Unplugged commented:

    I would do everything that Catherine Ford does, but in my glam gown courtesy of Deva Dave (pic posted on T&C’s Facebook page)…salon and boutique @ 810 Edmonton Trail NE. And probably add more oysters and Dom P to close up the perfect evening. There’s never too much of a good thing, don’t ch’ya know.

    Reply

  15. Hammerson Peters commented:

    A very comprehensive list! I just went to the Kensington Pub for the first time on January 2 with a couple of cousins. It’s really rustic, and reminds me of the Howe Sound Brewery in Squamish, BC.

    Speaking of Howe Sound, another great Calgary pub is the Hop In Brew Pub on 12th Avenue SW. It’s really just a house converted into a pub, and it has a great atmosphere (and, the last time I was there, it had a ton of Howe Sound stuff on tap).

    I’ll have to keep the rest of your suggestions in mind the next time I visit Cowtown.

    Reply

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