Calgary, Alberta, has everything a traveler could crave — mountains, winter and summer sports, nature, a solid local food scene, museums and nice, helpful people. From gorgeous national parks just a few hours from downtown to talented chefs making a name for themselves and museums galore, now is the time to head to the province’s largest city and see what’s going on.
Book a room at the modern Le Germain Hotel, or go for Fairmont Palliser if you want a bit of history during your stay. Both properties are located in the heart of the city, the perfect launch point for exploring your surroundings.
Start your day at the historic Simmons Building and grab a strong cup of coffee from Phil & Sebastian, Calgary’s top roaster. To eat, you will want to try every single pastry made by Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, which is also located in the refurbished mattress factory. The baked goods seem to fly of the shelves, but at the very least, there should be an everything-spice-covered cheese stick or a scone left.
From there, take a long walk or short cab ride to Glenbow, a museum that houses the largest art collection on the western side of the country. At this honorable institution, check out more than 28,000 artifacts from around the world, many of them with some connection to Canada.
You could spend the whole day here if you wanted, but as some point you will probably find yourself hungry again. That’s where Ten Foot Henry comes in. Located a mere 10-minute walk from the exhibits, this charming café offers a vegetable-heavy menu of innovatively fresh foods. Get its version of a Caesar salad, made with kale, cashew dressing, a fried egg and pecorino. Follow that up with a yam tortilla, which is embellished with crispy serrano ham and nigella sour cream.
After lunch, a good walk is in order. Multitask (stroll and shop) by heading over to one of the best shopping areas in the city, Kensington Village. In this quaint corner of Calgary, almost 300 shops can be found, ranging from boutique clothing stores to specialty food markets and salons. Find local spirits and Canadian wines at Vine Styles, accessories at Ingear, skin care products from Skoah and more. Stop into Winebar Kensington for a happy-hour glass and the chance to sit down for a while before going to dinner.
Get ready for the feast to end all Canadian feasts at the newly opened Deane House. The space has been lovingly converted from a wonderful historic building into a maze of quaint dining rooms and intimate nooks. In the kitchen, you’ll find chef Jamie Harling whipping up an ever-changing menu of local fare that has included buffalo heart tartare with micro greens and edible flowers; smoked Northern Divine sturgeon with caviar and everything bagel crumbs; and roasted Driview Farms rabbit saddle singing with pickled chanterelles and buttermilk-carrot purée. Try the tasting menu for a nice sampling of the chef’s talents.
If you choose to spend your second day in the city rather than taking a day trip to Banff National Park or Dinosaur Provincial Park, there is still plenty to see and do. To begin with, get sustenance at the 1940s-style Galaxie Diner, where a mean breakfast burrito and Montreal smoked meat hash, a Canadian classic, will fuel you for the day ahead.
After a hearty bite, trek to the top of Calgary Tower. Sure, it’s touristy, but it does offer the best view around. You can see across the city to the Rocky Mountains, the foothills and the prairies. It doesn’t take long to admire the vista, so you have plenty of time to learn all about Canadian music at the nearby Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. Discover all the famous Canadian musicians — including Feist, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell — and play around with the beautiful instruments as you wander along.
For lunch, check out Whitehall, a newer spot with chef Neil McCue at the helm. Here, McCue brings his British sensibilities to the kitchen and meshes them with Canadian cuisine and seasonal fare. For a classic dish, give the fish and chips with pease pudding a go, or try the organic salmon salad with pine-cured hot-smoked fillet, sour cream, dill and radish.
During the afternoon, walk off the meal by exploring Inglewood, Calgary’s oldest neighborhood. Aside from cute shops and cafés, a lot of events help make this a zone fun, and during the holidays it literally sparkles.
Dinner will bring you to Pigeonhole, an oddly named place that serves an eclectic mix of Eastern European, French and Canadian fare with a little Middle Eastern flair. Don’t pass up the charred cabbage; it’s one of the dishes that helped make this lauded joint famous in the city.
Finally, finish your evening with a nightcap at Proof, an old-timey cocktail den that offers superb service to go along with its spectacular spirits selection.