There’s more to Calgary than oil, cowboys and beef. The southern Alberta city, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, has grown from pioneer settlement to cosmopolitan city in the space of 120 years. Visitors stepping off Calgary flights will find that the city has a thriving music scene – traditional and modern – and Canada's third-largest Chinatown. There are more shopping opportunities downtown than at the West Edmonton Mall and an added bonus is the absence of a provincial sales tax.
Calgary hasn’t grown too far from its roots however. The world-famous Calgary Stampede celebrates its heritage. Fort Calgary, the 1880s North West Mounted Police post in Inglewood, encompasses a historic park, and even the Pengrowth Saddledome, home of NHL's Calgary Flames, the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and the NLL's Calgary Roughnecks, which is shaped like a saddle.
Calgary’s real story is the great outdoors. Fish Creek Park, in south Calgary, is Canada's largest urban park, three times bigger than Stanley Park in Vancouver. Within a couple of hours’ drive is Banff National Park and Lake Louise, Canada's first national park, a mecca for winter sports and nature enthusiasts.
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Summer runs between May and September, days are warm and evenings are cool. Winters are cold with heavy snowfalls, particularly in the Rockies.
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Calgary is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. After stepping off Calgary flights, visitors can get to Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore, the ski resorts, in just a couple of hours by heading west along the Trans-Canada Highway. The climate is typical prairie: cool summers (up to about 23 degrees Celsius), cold winters (temperatures can dip to about -15 degrees Celsius, but are warmed by the Chinook winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean) and little rain.
Between June and August, a time of many festivals: the world-famous Calgary Stampede, the International Festival, Greek Festival, Folk Music Festival and Dragonboat Festival.
Autumn weather can be pleasant. September is particularly rewarding with warm days and autumn foliage appearing slowly.
If you're not there for the skiing, the winter months are low season.
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Calgary has a bus system and a light-rail system, the C-Train, running through the city. You can transfer between the two easily, and the C-Train is free anywhere downtown. If you want to rent a car, you can find any of the car rental companies at the airport or around town. Taxis are also convenient, and reasonably priced. Be careful if you decide to walk. East-west blocks are very long, and it can take you longer than you’d expect. To help pedestrians get around, the city has the “Plus-15” system, which is a series of enclosed walkways connecting downtown buildings above street level. You can access the walkways at streets marked with a “+15.”
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- The Calgary Stampede, which takes place July 6-15, attracts more than one million visitors each year. It’s a chance for buttoned-down Calgarians (and tourists) to don a cowboy hat (pick up a classic white hat in Riley & McCormick) and enjoy the rodeo or Rangeland Derby, watch some cattle penning or take part in the blacksmith competition.
- Old Calgary can be glimpsed along Stephen Avenue, one of Calgary’s oldest streets and a Canadian Historic site since 2002. It features several beautiful old sandstone buildings. Following a fire in 1886, it was decreed by city council that all new large buildings should be made of sandstone. City Hall, the Grain Exchange and the Palliser Hotel are fine examples of this type of building. Another piece of “old” Calgary can be found at Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living historical village, 20 minutes from downtown Calgary. There are more than 150 buildings and about 45,000 exhibits in this pre-1914 town.
- Enjoy some public art: the gangly Family of Man sculptures, ten 6.5-metre tall figures, can be found onthe grounds of the Calgary Board of Education. They were dedicated to the city in 1968. Other public art includes a family of life-sized bronze horses in Municipal Plaza, and the Aurora Borealis, a four-storey tall acrylic and aluminum sculpture in the Glenbow Museum (admission $12).
- Glenbow Museum has more than one million artifacts and about 28,000 works of from Western Canada and around the world.
- The Calgary Tower is the focal point of the city and stands at 191 metres high. Climbing the tower affords panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains.
- The great outdoors: Fish Creek Provincial Park is Calgary’s biggest open space with mixed forest and open prairie. Nose Hill, prairie grassland, covers 2,700 acres, making it one of Canada's largest municipal parks. In the downtown core, Prince’s Island Park offers a green getaway.
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