Calgary is situated 200 miles (322km) north of the US border on the banks of the Bow River below the Rocky Mountains. Although Alberta's second city, Edmonton, is the state capital, Calgary is the largest, offering all the trappings of urban life as the territory's commercial and cultural centre, along with the pleasure of enjoying the dramatic countryside that surrounds the city. Splendid national parks flourishing on Calgary's doorstep act as a magnet for hikers, fishermen and lovers of the great outdoors. The city, set on the Trans-Canada highway, is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain resorts, which in winter attract skiers from all over the continent.
The downtown area of Calgary not only serves as a shopping, entertainment, cultural and recreation centre for locals, but it is also a tourist centre for more than four million visitors a year who come for the tourist attractions and annual festivals, wonderful parks and open spaces, and a selection of excellent shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros. The city is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede, a world-class cowboy carnival and rodeo that draws more than a million people every year to watch the action and be entertained by its accompanying festivities.
For over 10,000 years the site on which Calgary sits today was home to the Blackfoot Indians; the first European settlers did not arrive until 1860. Colonel James Macleod established the small trading post, Fort Calgary, named after Calgary Bay on his native Isle of Mull in Scotland. The Pacific Railway reached the town in 1883, but it was not until the discovery of oil in Turner Valley, 22 miles (35km) southwest of the city that the population started to explode. Wander the streets in your Stetson beneath the sparkling skyscrapers built on the back of the oil boom, dine on a juicy steak in a saloon with country music playing in the background, and it will be hard to decide whether you are in Calgary or Texas.
Getting around in Calgary is made easy as most of the city's attractions are concentrated within the city centre. The streets downtown are laid out in a numbered grid with avenues running east to west and streets running north to south, while in outlying areas themed neighbourhoods have more meandering streets which can be confusing to visitors. Because of the grid system, walking around downtown Calgary is a simple way to get around. The Eau Claire market area and the Stephen Avenue Mall are pleasant pedestrian-only areas. Calgary's public transport system is efficient and reliable, with a light rail and bus system servicing the city centre. The light rail runs from 4am to midnight every day, and the buses operated from 5am to midnight, with some routes continuing until 1am. There is a fare-free zone in the middle of town, and in other areas a pass can be purchased at any Co-op, Safeway, 7-Eleven Food Store or Mac's Convenience Store. There are plenty of taxis available, either by hailing them in the street or calling the dispatch. Note that taxis cruise mainly the central areas of the city. Driving in Calgary is relatively stress-free. Many streets are one-way, and streets marked 'transit only' are for public transport vehicles only. Parking downtown can be scarce and confusing, as the city uses an automated pay system that requires you to enter your zone and license plate number into a pay station. It is often easier to park in a private lot. There are numerous companies from which you can hire a car in Calgary.
For ten exciting days each July the Wild West wins the day in Calgary when the city comes alive with a celebration of true western hospitality and rousing fun. The Calgary Stampede is centred around a myriad of rodeo events that see top professional cowboys compete in bull riding, roping, bareback riding, and steer wrestling. Meanwhile the gathered crowds join in the festivities with pancake breakfasts, square dancing, and cheering on a two-hour parade, ground-shaking Chuckwagon races, and a spectacular evening Grandstand Show extravaganza. The celebration is enhanced by other attractions like an authentic Indian village, recreated frontier town, gambling hall and dazzling fireworks display.
Calgary Folk Music Festival
A well-respected music festival, the Calgary Folk Fest (as it's commonly known) attracts about 50,000 music fans to Prince's Island Park every year. Featuring over 60 local and international acts each year - spread across seven stages - the Calgary Folk Music Festival is considered to be a bit of a 'purist's festival', known for listening and appreciative audiences. The calibre of the acts - which span the genres of folk, blues, roots and even hip hop - is significant, with the 2011 edition of the 30-year-old festival featuring both legendary and up-and-coming artists such as Nancy Griffiths, kd lang, The Felice Brothers, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Yo La Tengo and Dark Dark Dark.
Located in the heart of Calgary, opposite the tower, the Glenbow Museum is Canada's largest museum, with more than 93,000 square feet (8,640 sq metres) of exhibition space spread over three floors. It houses more than a million objects that fill up its 20 galleries and showcase the colourful history of Canada's West. Explore the exhibits to discover the people, stories and events that shaped the region from its First Nations to the arrival of the European settlers. There is a family-friendly Discovery Room, which is an open studio full of educational activities and crafts that bring the museum to life. A special feature is the Blackfoot Gallery, which tells the story of the Nitsitapi people through interactive displays, artefacts, a film and circular narrative path. There are also some 28,000 artworks dating from the 19th century to the present on display in the museum. Glenbow's library is a treasure trove of reference materials on western Canada and the Glenbow Archives are a major research centre for historians, writers, students and the media.
Canada's second largest zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals from all over the world, as well as a variety of fish and insects in natural habitat enclosures. It also features a prehistoric park with 19 life-size animatronic dinosaurs on display. The botanic gardens include a 20,000 square foot (1,858 sq metre) conservatory and butterfly garden and a special Rocky Mountain exhibit featuring many indigenous Alberta animals, including the endangered Whooping Crane. The zoo is situated close to the downtown area, on St George's Island.
This historical site chronicles Calgary's history between 1875 and the 1940s and allows visitors to step back in time and explore the early days of the city through interactive exhibits, costumed interpreters, hands on activities, guided tours and an entertaining audio-visual presentation. Fort Calgary is situated on the site of an original North West Mounted Police Fort and is designed to preserve the history of the founding, development and growth of the city. The 40-acre riverside park includes the reconstructed 1875 fort, 1888 barracks, the interpretive centre and Deane House Historic Site and Restaurant.
Located within Banff National Park, close to the popular resort towns of Lake Louise and Banff, Moraine is an utterly spectacular glacially-fed lake. Due to 'rock flour' - tiny particles of suspended sediment - the lake is a vivid turquoise colour, and on a clear day, reflects the surrounding mountains in its mirror-smooth surface. There is plenty to see and do in the snow-capped, pine-strewn 'Valley of the Ten Peaks' - including an assortment of scenic hiking trails, and kayaks can be rented from The Lodge, an on-site cafe that also serves wonderful food and refreshments. If you are without a car, getting to Moraine can be difficult, though not impossible: take a Greyhound bus to Banff station, and from there, you can either walk the nine miles (about 14km) to the Lake; rent a bicycle from Wilson's Bikes (C$40 for the day); take a taxi (about C$35); or, make use of the new Park-run Vista shuttle service, which departs every 30 minutes from the Lake Louise camp site.
Heritage Park Historical Village
Heritage Park is a 'living history village', comprised of over 150 exhibitions that attempt to show what life was like in Alberta in the 19th and 20th centuries. Set on 127 beautiful acres of parkland, and located just 15 minutes from Calgary's CBD, Heritage Park makes for a worthwhile day trip, especially if you have kids in tow. Highlights include steam train rides, and an impressive collection of vintage automobiles.
Canada Olympic Park
Canada Olympic Park was a major venue during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, and now hosts skiing and snowboarding programmes every winter; as well as housing the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum. COP (as it's known to locals) remains a chief tourist attraction for casual visitors and winter sports enthusiasts alike.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
A 'buffalo jump' is a ledge of rock traditionally used to lure stampeding buffalo to their deaths. This one not only has an awesome name, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - proudly displaying exhibitions detailing the life and history of the Blackfoot people, the original inhabitants of the Great Plains region of southern Alberta.
Cuisine style: Italian
Joey Tomato's offers its uniquely Calgary take on Italian/Asian fusion, with a selection of pizzas, pastas, steaks and burgers. It's located in the trendy Eau Claire district on Prince's Island Park in downtown Calgary, near the river and convenient for pedestrians and bikers. The atmosphere is always bustling, with both indoor seating and an outdoor patio. Joey's is open Sunday to Thursday from 11am to midnight,and Friday and Saturday from 11am to 1am.
Address: 200 Eau Claire Market, 208 Barclay Parade SW
1886 Buffalo CafÃ©
Calgary's 1886 Buffalo Cafe specialises in one thing: breakfast. Locals know it as the place to go for hearty meals to start the day, including the hashbrowns, vegetarian chilli omelette, and breakfast burrito. It's housed in the former site of the Eau Claire and Bow River Lumber Company's offices, built in 1911, overlooking the trendy Eau Claire downtown district. 1886 is open weekdays from 6am to 3pm, and weekends from 7am to 3pm.
Address: 187 Barclay Parade SW
The elegant and upmarket Vin Room is a restaurant where everything is designed to complement the wine, from the decor to the menu. The food is predominantly tapas, with fusion options ranging from meat and cheese platters to bison short ribs, fish tacos, and oysters. Lunch entrees include choices like salads, pasta and steak. They have a number of interesting wines available, with small tasting options before you commit to a glass or bottle. The tables are close together and it gets crowded, so it's always a good idea to call ahead. Vin Room is located in the chic Mission District. It is open Sunday and Monday from 4pm to 11pm, Tuesday and Wednesday from 11:30am to midnight, and Thursday to Saturday from 11:30am to 1am.
Address: 2310 4th Street SW
Calgary International Airport
Location: The airport is 13 miles (20km) northeast of downtown Calgary.
Contacts: Tel: +1 (403) 735 1200.
Time Zone: GMT -7 (GMT -6 from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November).
Departure tax: None.
Facilities: There are shops and duty-free shopping, restaurants and bars, ATMs, foreign exchange and an information booth within the terminal. There is a business and Internet centre, and a shop that rents mobile phones. Disabled passengers are well catered for and there are plenty of children's entertainment facilities.
Parking: All parking lots are within walking distance of the terminal. Short-term parking starts at C$6 for the first hour with a daily limit of C$35. Long-term parking is available for C$24 per day or C$99 per week, however the economy lot is only C$10 per day and C$40 per week. Valet parking is also provided.
Transfer to the city: There are a number of bus services running between the airport, the city centre and other Alberta destinations. Calgary Transit provides a public bus service no.57 to and from the airport. There is also an Airport Shuttle Express, which services most hotels in the Calgary area, and several hotels offer a courtesy shuttle service. Airport taxis are available outside Arrivals.
Car rental: Alamo, Budget, Avis, Hertz, National and Thrifty are all represented at the airport and can be found in the Rental Car Centre opposite the main terminal building. Off-airport car rental companies, like Discount, provide courtesy shuttle service to their rental locations.
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