Culture + Style

Is Calgary Canada’s New Cosmopolitan Capital?

There’s good reason Calgary was recently ranked the fifth most livable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit — the town may finally earn the cosmopolitan cred it deserves.

Long regarded as the hometown of oil men and cattle farmers, the city has emerged as one of Canada’s top destinations for arts, culture and food.

Here are a few of the highlights that make this town one of the country’s hottest must-see destinations.

Things to Do

National Music Centre

The city’s newest museum is also one of the country’s best. Since opening in 2016, the National Music Centre has been receiving rave reviews for its enthusiastic efforts to inspire and educate visitors about Canada’s music scene.

The space is a compendium of Canada’s musical past and present and features exhibits on icons such as Sarah McLachlan, artifacts like the guitar used in The Guess Who’s classic song “American Woman,” and interactive displays for all ages.

Even if you’re not a music lover, it’s worth checking out the building’s eye-catching architecture, which resembles an otherworldly metallic fortress.

Heritage Park Historical Village

what to do in calgary
History buffs can learn about the past at Heritage Park. (Photo: Alamy)

If you’re a history buff or traveling with kids, you won’t want to miss the chance to explore the city’s Heritage Park Historical Village. Billing itself as “Canada’s largest living history museum,” the attraction plunges visitors back in time more than 100 years.

See how the city looked in 1860 as a fur-trading post or visit a traditional blacksmith’s shop. The 127-acre park features interpretive displays, costumed actors, rides and even an authentic steam train.

Calgary Stampede

Calgary hasn’t completely shed it’s “cowboys and cattle” reputation, nor does it want to. Every summer the city hosts one of the planet’s largest rodeos, known as the Calgary Stampede. More than a million people from around the world don their ten-gallon hats and chaps and head out to this 10-day Old West adventure to discover their inner cowboy. The extravaganza features bronco riding, chuck wagon races, steer wrangling, musical performances and amusement rides.

Where to Eat

CHARCUT Roast House

what to do in calgary
You’ve gotta eat a steak in Calgary, and CHARCUT has you covered. (Photo: Pierre Belanger)

There’s a reason Calgary used to be known as “Cow Town.” This city is famous for its steak, and if you count yourself a carnivore, than you won’t do much better than the thick and juicy slabs of tender, melt-in-your mouth meat you’ll get at CHARCUT.

The restaurant house-butchers its meat and features a seasonal menu that focuses on local, homegrown foods. CHARCUT even has a beer steward to ensure you get the right brew to go with your beef.

Market

There are restaurants that say they embrace the farm-to-table philosophy, and then there are those, like Market, that live it. Market bakes its breads daily, butchers and cures its meats, makes its own cheese and even grows its own herbs. In fact, the restaurant is one of the few in Canada that has an Urban Cultivator in which the restaurant grows more than 16 varieties of heirloom seeds.

The crab corn dogs and duck tacos are favorites, and Market even shows vegetarians some love with fresh pasta and vegetable dishes that are as delectable and robust as their meat-centric mains.

River Café

Just a few years ago Calgary was a meat-and-potatoes kinda town, but that’s changed, and today charming, contemporary bistros like River Café are the proof. The restaurant is located on Prince’s Island Park, and the menu is a balanced mix of fish, light salads and soups and more meat-heavy offerings like bison tartare. The patio at this bustling bistro is one of the city’s most coveted spots for Sunday brunch.

Where to Drink

Big Rock Brewery

what to do in calgary
Locals in Calgary love their beer, and Big Rock’s brewer, Paul Gautreau, is only helping that obsession grow. (Photo: Big Rock Brewery)

While some say red wine is the best complement to a big, juicy steak, Calgarians may argue that beer is, in fact, the beverage of choice for beef eaters. Locals love their beer, and one of the most popular brands is Big Rock.

Learn about the art of making beer by going on a tour at the brewery. Sample a selection of Big Rock’s beers and ciders and see for yourself if you agree that suds may indeed be a steak’s best friend.

Proof Cocktail Bar

what to do in calgary
Whimsical design and creative cocktails make Proof a must-stop for a drink, like the Lavender Hills pictured at right, in Calgary. (Photo: Proof Cocktail Bar)

The proof’s in the Pernod, you might well say, at this small but oh-so-savory craft cocktail bar. For a tight space, it’s got a jaw-dropping array of alcohol lining the wall, and you won’t be disappointed with the selection of carefully curated cocktails.

Just don’t get too attached to one drink in particular, as the menu is ever-changing, depending on the availability of fresh ingredients and the creative mood of the bartenders.