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The ultimate spring weekend in Calgary

The ultimate spring weekend in Calgary

Calgary, a metropolis of a million people that stretches along the banks of the Bow River, is the epitome of cosmopolitan cool. You may know this city for its ranching roots, forest of spiky skyscrapers, and enticing location as the gateway to the Rockies and Alberta’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites. But there’s much more to uncover, like its walkable urban villages, acclaimed architecture, and hyper-local cuisine that are all points of pride among its residents. Spring is an ideal time to discover Calgary’s spirited side. This guide is all you need to be charmed by this friendly city on a spring weekend getaway.


Icons to discover

Central Library: Calgary's dazzling new architectural icon that connects the East Village with downtown has quickly become a community gathering place. The six-story Central LibraryExternal Link Title was one reason why The New York Times included Calgary on its 52 Places to Go in 2019External Link Title list. You can take an architecture tourExternal Link Title of the library designed by Norwegian firm Sn?hetta and Canadian firm DIALOG, which features a sweeping archway made of Western redwood cedar and a curved timber shell that recalls the region's Chinook cloud formations. Public art abounds such as the electromagnetic sculpture TRIO by Christian Moeller and installations by Indigenous artists.

Bow River Pathway overlooking downtown Calgary. Photo credit: Travel Alberta/MikeSeehagel

Bow River Pathway: Calgary's storied past and modern-day life mingle alongside the historic Bow River where you can wander 33 kilometres of paved pathways. Drop by communities such as historic KensingtonExternal Link Title, which has masses of restaurants and funky boutiques, and discover landmarks like Fort CalgaryExternal Link Title, the city's 1875 birthplace and site of Markings, an interactive sculpture and tribute to Calgary's founders. Nearby is Prince's Island ParkExternal Link Title, an urban playground with natural wetlands, lush hiking (or cross-country skiing) trails, and tranquil places to plop down with a picnic basketExternal Link Title from the award-winning River Cafe.External Link Title

Studio Bell: Composed of nine interconnected buildings designed to evoke "acoustic vessels," Studio BellExternal Link Title is an alluring addition to trendy East VillageExternal Link Title. This massive structure clad in metallic-glazed terracotta tiles is home to the National Music Centre, four Canadian Music Halls of FameExternal Link Title, and a museum filled with some 2,000 artifacts and rare musical instruments. Check out Elton John's songwriting piano and memorabilia from Canadian artists Drake, Shania Twain, and Leonard Cohen. Go behind the scenes with a backstage pass tourExternal Link Title to see the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio (RSM) and watch musicians demo instruments from NMC's eclectic collection.


Craft spirits

Eau Claire Distillery. Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Colin Way

Eau Claire Distillery: Take a scenic drive to Eau Claire DistilleryExternal Link Title to discover (and taste) farm-to-glass spiritsExternal Link Title made from Rocky Mountain spring water, Alberta-grown barley and rye, and native plants. Located in the Turner Valley about 45 minutes from Calgary, this certified farm distillery (similar to an estate winery) uses horses in its operations. Sample its award-winning single-batch malt whiskyExternal Link Title (Alberta's first) and Prickly Pear EquineOxExternal Link Title, a barley-based spirit infused with a spiky cactus species native to Alberta.

Burwood Distillery: Curious to taste honey-based spirits? Head to Burwood DistilleryExternal Link Title in Calgary's Highland Park neighbourhood. During a tour, learn how the crew uses 100 per cent raw Alberta honey to distill its honey eau de vie and medica, a local take on the traditional Croatian spirit. Then sip a bit of each in the tasting room and cocktail lounge and dine on delicious farm-to-table foods.


Confluence Distilling: This Manchester neighbourhood distillery is all about making community connections. Confluence DistillingExternal Link Title is committed to solely using local ingredients, whether sourced from family farmers or handpicked in the wild. You can taste the terroir in its Manchester Dry GinExternal Link Title, a delicate balancing act of botanicals such as juniper, Saskatoon berries, and wild rose. Headwater VodkaExternal Link Title, distilled from Canada Prairie Spring Red Wheat, is the perfect base spirit for a classic Caesar -- Canada's national cocktail and its version of the Bloody Mary -- which was invented in Calgary in 1969.


Dining out

Modern Steak: Alberta is the heart of Canada's cattle country and Modern SteakExternal Link Title only uses humanely-raised beef from local ranchers, whether grilling its signature Modern Benchmark Black Angus T-bone steaks or bison filets. That local-first ethos extends throughout the menu, which has vegan dishes like root vegetable pave, and wild-caught steelhead salmon. Another modern touch? Warm decor, a deliberate departure from typically moody steakhouses, where the handpicked playlist is more Jay-Z than Sinatra.

WaalFlower Kitchen and Cocktails: There's nothing shy about the menu at this new restaurant that occupies the 100-year-old old De Waal building in the lively Bridgeland neighbourhood. At WaalflowerExternal Link Title seasonal ingredients are the stars of dishes like lamb tartare paired with pickled beets and Alberta strip loin accompanied with slow-cooked mushrooms. The cocktail menu offers the tried-and-true, plus creative concoctions like the Waalflower, a mix of Drambuie, rose liqueur, yuzu, and lemon juice.


Avenida Food Hall & Fresh Market: Upscale food hall meets farmers market at this new culinary destination in the Lake Bonavista community. Situated in a modern space, the Avenida Food Hall & Fresh MarketExternal Link Title brings together an exciting array of local restaurants, street-food vendors, and artisanal purveyors. Chow down on comfort food at Waffles and ChixExternal Link Title, indulge in couture confections at Adila ChocolaterieExternal Link Title (try the maple fudge), and get your greens slurping a cold-pressed juice at Juice BecauseExternal Link Title.


Explore outdoors

Cycle the city: With the largest network of bike paths in North America, Calgary is ideal for exploring on two wheels. Get a bike from Nomad Mobile Gear RentalExternal Link Title, map out your route (check out Calgary by BikeExternal Link Title), and hit the flat pathway. Soon you'll see local life playing out in chic cafes and verdant parks. For a mix of urban adventure and escape, pedal parts of the 138-kilometre Rotary/Mattamy GreenwayExternal Link Title, which winds through 55 communities and scenic areas such as Edworthy ParkExternal Link Title and 12 Mile CouleeExternal Link Title, formerly a mail drop on an old stagecoach run.


Nose Hill Natural Environment Park: Calgary is the gateway to the Rocky MountainsExternal Link Title (Kananaskis CountyExternal Link Title is just an hour's drive away), but you can find wilderness right in the city. Draped over 11 square kilometres, Nose Hill Natural Environment ParkExternal Link Title is an otherworldly place where you can hike grassland trails, spot pocket gophers and porcupines, and gawk at "glacial erratics," like the rock that was a remnant of Mount Edith Cavell 128 kilometres away in Jasper National ParkExternal Link Title. Take time to explore archeological sites like the stone tipi rings that were considered sacred places for burials and ceremonies. There's also a modern medicine wheel built in 2015 by the Siksikaitsitapi or Blackfoot Nation. 

River surfing at 10th Street Bridge. Photo Credit: Tourism Calgary

Surf the Bow River: Get gnarly on the Bow by taking a surfing lessonExternal Link Title and riding the beginner-friendly 10th Street waveExternal Link Title. The vibe is low key and the deep-water channel is safe for newbies. If you want to focus on Calgary's sparkling skyscrapers and inner-city views, slide into the seat of a kayakExternal Link Title, where you'll get an up-close perspective of landmarks like the tube-shaped Peace Bridge (an unsupported structure). For more leisurely exploration, take a raft tourExternal Link Title that departs from Pumphouse Theatre (a fun performing arts venue) and ends at Pearce Estates ParkExternal Link Title.


Shop local

Paul Hardy Design: Using fabrics typically reserved for special occasions (think cashmere "burlap" and raw-edge shearling) in everyday clothing is the hallmark of Paul Hardy DesignExternal Link Title's eponymous fashion collections. The Calgary-based fashion (and interior) designer has dressed celebs such as model Diane Krueger and U2 guitarist, The Edge.


House of Nonie: This Calgary-born fashion brandExternal Link Title launched in 2009 by designer Nina Kharey has gained a loyal following for its ready-to-wear blouses, dresses, and more. The spotlight got even brighter when Megan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, stepped out in House of Nonie's sleeveless trench coatExternal Link Title during a public appearance. Kharey's tailored designs draw inspiration from Europe and Asia but all items are ethically-produced in Canada.

East Village Junction Pop-up. Photo credit: Travel Alberta /Roth & Ramberg

East Village Junction Pop-up: In late spring, a vacant downtown lot is transformed into a vibrant community hub. Check out East Village Junction Pop-upExternal Link Title's container boutiques selling restored vintage bicycles from Rath BicycleExternal Link Title, chocolate-almond butters from MunchExternal Link Title, letterpress stationary from Calgary-based Wrinkle & CreaseExternal Link Title, among other unexpected treasures. Then stroll to the central square to watch live performances onstage while kicking back with a bite from the rotating selection of YYC Food TrucksExternal Link Title.

Lauren Bagliore: Luxurious clothing can be modern and edgy, as evidenced by Lauren BaglioreExternal Link Title, a women's fashion brand that's feted for its soft leather coats, hand-painted dresses, and ultra-cool leggings. Bagliore cut her teeth working with big-name fashion labels such as Vivienne Westwood and Zac Posen before opening her concept shop in Inglewood, Calgary's oldest neighbourhood.


Discover culture

Glenbow Museum: Get fully immersed in western Canada's cultural history and contemporary life at the Glenbow MuseumExternal Link Title. This Calgary institution has amassed more than a million artworks, photographs, documents, and objects in its permanent collection. Two upcoming exhibitions explore the idea of identity in dramatically different ways. Christian DiorExternal Link Title's couture gowns represent the transformative power of fashion, while Meryl McMaster ConfluenceExternal Link Title delves into the artist's Indigenous heritage and identity expressed through her mysterious self-portraits.


Esker Foundation: Art is incubating at this private contemporary gallery that invites emerging artists to develop new works in its Project Space. Esker FoundationExternal Link Title located this alternative exhibition venue at street level to engage the community in contemporary art. The main gallery supports three shows each year, like the political and poetic Among All These TundrasExternal Link Title. These works from contemporary Indigenous artists who live in the circumpolar north are an expression of shared history and the current issues facing the Arctic peoples, land, language, sovereignty, and resurgence.

Sled Island Festival at Local 510 Public Tavern. Photo credit: Tourism Calgary

Sled Island Festival: Soak up the indie spirit at Sled IslandExternal Link Title, a five-day community arts and music fest featuring more than 250 bandsExternal Link Title. Indie singer-songwriter Julien BakerExternal Link Title will be guest-curating this year's event, where you can expect to experience sensory overload - in a good way. Club-hop between 30-plus venuesExternal Link Title scattered around Calgary, whether being entertained by cutting-edge comediansExternal Link Title, seeing short independent filmsExternal Link Title, discovering contemporary artExternal Link Title, listening to music by performers like punk rockers Kid Congo Powers + the Pink Monkey BirdsExternal Link Title, whose founding member, Kid Congo, previously played with The Cramps and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.