I’ve been to British Columbia dozens of times, but that was the only province in Canada I visited until a few years ago. Several winters ago, I got on a kick to make it a goal to see as many provinces in Canada as possible. When Alaska Airlines had a cheap ticket to Calgary, I instantly booked it to check out everything to do in Calgary in winter.
I didn’t know much about the city, so I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, Calgary is a fascinating city. It had fast growth due to being the center of Canada’s oil industry, and almost all of the buildings look new and modern.
While my goal for this trip was to go from Calgary to Banff, I stopped in Calgary to explore for a day first. While I had a Banff travel guide to follow, I didn’t know much about Calgary. It’s mainly a business city, so while it’s busy during the weekday, it dies down during the weekend. That means there’s more room for fun things to do in Calgary in the winter without the crowds.
I loved all the winter activities in Calgary despite the cold, so here is my guide on what to do in Calgary in the winter.
Tips for Visiting in Winter in Calgary
Weather During Winter in Calgary
There’s no getting around it – the weather in Calgary during the winter gets pretty cold. They often have snow, and the weather can be anywhere from 7°F to 27°F, so you’ll want to bundle up.
How to Get Around Calgary in Winter
Just a side note, save your cab money and take public transit when you’re here. I found it very easy to use, and the machines even accept cash and cards for your fare. I could get anywhere I needed to get to by just using the bus and rapid light system, making it easy to check off your list of things to do in Calgary in winter. The platforms and buses themselves were very clean and can easily help you get around during your winter activities in Calgary.
- C-Train – You can buy a pass for $3.40 for a 90-minute fare or it’s $10.75 for a day pass. The train is free between City Hall Station and Dowtown West/Kerby Station.
- Bus – There are numerous busses around town that you can take within the city.
- Car – If you’re just staying within the city, I don’t recommend getting a car. However, if you’ll be exploring outside of Calgary, it’s worthwhile to rent a car. Note that you’ll need snow tires during this time of year (which may automatically come on your rental car).
If you’re doing a weekend getaway from Vancouver, there are plenty of hotels that let you park your car.
Where to Stay in Calgary in Winter
If you’re looking for a hotel in Calgary in winter, here are a few to check out.
- Regency Suites Hotel – This hotel is centrally located and close to multiple shops and restaurants and has a gym on-site. (rates start at $85 per night)
- Hotel Le Germain Calgary – This Calgary hotel has a restaurant, lounge, and provides all guests with free Kindles. (rates start at $119 per night)
You can also stay at a vacation rental if you prefer those when you travel.
- This one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo is a luxurious place to stay that’s close to many restaurants and shops downtown. (rates start at $70 per night)
- You can bring the whole family to this four-bedroom home that has four bedrooms and a cozy fireplace. (rates start at $154 per night)
- This modern 2 bedroom apartment sleeps 4, comes with a full kitchen, and has a pool to enjoy. (rates start at $200 per night)
- This 1 bedroom apartment sleeps 2, has a fully equipped kitchen, dinner table, and a private laundry room with washer and dryer. (rates start at $108 per night)
9 Exciting Things to Do in Calgary in the Winter
Here are some of the best things to do in winter in Calgary.
1. Head to the Top of The Bow
The Bow building is the tallest in Calgary and the second tallest in Canada, next to one in Toronto. It has a view of the Bow River, which is where it gets its name from. I love the giant head outside of it, although I’m not sure the significance. Either way, it’s one of the best free things to do in Calgary in winter.
If you go at night, it lights up, and you can walk inside it for a great photo-op. This is one of the warmest things to do in Calgary in the winter since you can be indoors.
2. Explore Prince’s Island
There’s a small island across from the city called Prince’s Island. It was a pleasant surprise I found while walking around, and it has a decent-sized park and even a restaurant. You’ll love participating in one of the warmest winter activities in Calgary since you can sit inside. I also imagine it’d be nice to sit out there in the summer and enjoy the views of the city.
I loved walking along the Bow River and seeing it frozen. There were parts of it where you could even ice skate at your own risk, although I didn’t feel brave enough to try it during my trip to Calgary in winter.
3. Walk Across the Peace Bridge
West of Prince’s Island is the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian and cycling bridge. It’s only 20 feet long, but I loved walking along it and seeing the design. At night, it lights up, and you feel like you’re in a tunnel in space.
This is one of the best things to do in Calgary in the winter if you want to take photos. You can get pictures of the nearby Bow River and city from the angle of the bridge. Fun fact – this is nicknamed the “Finger Trap Bridge” due to its similarity (look at it from afar to see what I mean).
4. Eat Dinner at the Top of the Calgary Tower
The Calgary Tower is to Calgary what the Space Needle is to Seattle. It reminded me of a spaceship during Calgary during winter! It also lights up at night and changes colors, which I loved when walking around at night.
You can go to the top of the third tallest structure in Canada for a 360-degree view of the city. Once you’re up there, you can look at the signs around the building that show you precisely what you’re looking at. Some of the famous sights are Hudson’s Bay, The Edison, and Olympic Plaza.
You even eat at the rotating restaurant, Sky 360, for a unique experience. Every 45 minutes during lunch, the restaurant will rotate so you can get a new view. During dinner time, the restaurant turns on the hour so you can see all of the city dazzles. This is also one of the most romantic winter activities in Calgary.
5. Cheer On the Calgary Flames
This was by far the highlight of my trip and one of the most lively winter activities in Calgary. I love attending sporting events, and since Seattle doesn’t have a professional hockey team, I’ve never had a chance to see it played live. Watching hockey is one of the most popular things to do in Calgary in winter.
Let me tell you, Canadians LOVE their hockey! You’d think it was a playoff game with how excited everyone was going into the game and how completely decked out they were in Flames gear. If you’re in town during a game, try to get tickets if it fits within your budget.
It’s one of the most exciting live sporting events I’ve been to, and I hope to get to another Canadian hockey game in the future when I come back for more Calgary winter activities.
6. Have a Caesar
As I quickly found out from talking to the locals, Calgary is the home of the Caesar drink. It was supposedly invented there, and they are very proud of that! The rumor is the restaurant manager at The Calgary Inn created this drink in 1969, and it’s been a hit ever since.
I’ve only had Bloody Marys in the past but was pleasantly surprised by how much lighter this tasted. There are many bars to choose from along Stephen Avenue that will be happy to serve you one. When you’re looking for what to do in Calgary in winter, take a break from the cold to step into a bar, have a Caesar, and watch local sports.
7. Stop By the Calgary Zoo
The Calgary Zoo is rated one of the best in North America, and I can see why. They had huge exhibits from all over the world, and even though it was full of families on a Sunday, I always felt like I had enough room to walk around from exhibit to exhibit. This is one of the most family-friendly and fun things to do in Calgary in winter.
I especially liked the Canadian wildlife section, as they’re generally not animals I see in Seattle or other zoos. You’ll quickly get warm after a few hours of walking around the Calgary Zoo in winter.
The penguin walk was a huge reason I wanted to come here during Calgary during winter. Every day at 11 AM, weather permitting, the penguins are let out of their exhibit and walk around with their trainers to “stretch their legs.”
It was cute watching them waddle about during winter in Calgary. The trainers were also trying to guide the slower and distracted ones during this adorable winter activity in Calgary.
I easily took the train here even though it’s a bit outside of town, so it’s one of the easiest Calgary winter activities to do without a car.
8. Get a Photo of the City From McHugh Bluff
When looking for what to do in Calgary in winter, visit McHugh Bluff. This is the best place to come for a view of the city. You can see the skyscrapers and even the Rocky Mountains in the distance. There’s an observation deck to take pictures on, walking paths to get in a bit of exercise, and it’s generally a tranquil place during winter in Calgary.
My only regret is not coming here at night, but I didn’t have a car, and it wouldn’t have been as easy as hopping on a bus since it’s further away. I can only imagine the night views are stunning.
9. Take a Day Trip to Banff
If you have time during your trip to Calgary in the winter, I recommend taking a day to visit Banff. You can go skiing, do an ice hike to Johnston Canyon, or explore the shops and restaurants in Banff. This is only about two hours west of Calgary, so you can easily make a day of it.
There are plenty of hiking trails there, so make sure to wear appropriate winter hiking clothing when you head out to stay warm.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re packed appropriately with a road trip packing list.
No matter what time in the season you visit, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Calgary in winter to fill your time!