Calgary - Seven Tips For A Successful Visit
Having grown up and resided in Calgary for over 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to many things that my hometown has had to offer. When my parents decided to start a walking tour experience company in downtown Calgary last summer, and I willingly tagged along, I began to see things from a completely different perspective.
As Calgarians, we are accustomed to driving all over our sprawling city, so getting intimately oriented with the downtown streets and all of the secrets they hold has helped me view the city in a new light. Here is my list of 7 recommendations for visitors to Calgary (and it is certainly a different list than I would have written a year ago).
1. Stay Downtown
This may sound like a no-brainer to some, but with an abundance of hotels near the airport and along the Trans-Canada at “Motel Village”, among other areas, many visitors seem to overlook the more urban accommodation experience. Aside from the vast array of downtown hotels, from the new Hotel Le Germain to the historic Fairmont Palliser, there is an abundance of attractions to experience within the downtown core and surrounding area. By staying downtown you put yourself mere steps from amazing restaurants, diverse theatre experiences, shopping, parks, the Bow River pathway, and so much more. I have learned that there is no better way to experience Calgary than to be right in its heart; downtown.
1a. Stay in a B&B
If staying right in the thick of it is truly not your thing, consider staying in one of Calgary’s many Bed and Breakfasts. As you would expect, B&Bs offer a unique ‘getaway’ feel that can be a great alternative to staying in a hotel. With well over 30 B&Bs operating in and around Calgary, from just outside of downtown all the way to the city limits, there is no shortage of options.Take a peek at http://www.bbcalgary.com/ to see if any suit your fancy.
2. Take Advantage of the C-Train
Yes, I know that Calgary is far from renowned when it comes to public transit, however, the C-Train can certainly get the job done. The C-Train is Calgary’s above ground, light rail passenger train system. It is extremely straightforward to use, especially for those unfamiliar with the city, and get you to many points of interest, including Chinook Centre, Kensington, the Calgary Stampede Grounds, and the Calgary Zoo among others. One tidbit that many out-of-towners and new Calgarians alike don’t know, is that the C-Train is completely free within downtown! (If your journey originates or ends outside of the downtown core, it is about $2.75 CAD per trip). It is worth mentioning that unfortunately, the C-Train currently does not extend all the way to the Calgary International Airport.
3. Immerse Yourself in Calgary’s Public Art Scene
Calgary has an amazing, and highly under-publicized public art scene within downtown. Almost every street corner yields an interesting installation or sculpture, and some downtown streets are now even lined with numerous amazing pieces. There is a growing civic arts initiative in the city, as new C-Train stations are sprouting up complete with newly commissioned sculptures, and nearly every high-rise and skyscraper has multiple installations within their publicly-accessible ground floors. Contributors range from local artisans to world-renowned sculptors, and no visit to Calgary would be complete without a glimpse into its art-filled downtown core.
4. If You Don’t Like the Weather, Wait 15 Minutes
I’ve heard this saying in reference to many cities, and Calgary is no different. Calgary summer temperatures are perfect and often reside in the mid to high 20s (centigrade), but don’t be surprised if you experience a flash evening thunderstorm, which ends as promptly as it begins. Perhaps this tip would have been more aptly titled, “Be Prepared”. Light rain ponchos and small umbrellas are good to have on hand, and of course, do check the forecast when possible (although being a meteorologist must be difficult profession in Calgary).
5. Check Out the ‘Ribbon of Steel’
In a feat of ingenious planning, Calgary’s boom years in the 1980s saw the construction of an indoor sidewalk system linking nearly all of the buildings within downtown. Located 15 meters above ground, the Plus-15 system (also known as the Ribbon of Steel) is an integral part of the lives of the thousands who work and play within downtown Calgary during those cold winter months. Although they might seem like merely functional connectors between buildings to someone unfamiliar with them, they are themselves full of art installations and sculptures, and intersect with many food-courts and various vendors and retailers. Worth checking out, especially if you find yourself without an umbrella during one of those famous Southern Alberta summer storms.
6. Walk Downtown
We often get caught up in the fast pace of daily life in Calgary and forget to check out what is actually between the points A and B that we are traveling to and from. Although this is likely not quite the same for someone on a vacation, it can still be contagious, especially if you are staying with friends or family in the area. A great way to spend time in Calgary, and to get to truly know the city, is to walk its streets. Calgary is unfortunately a very car-centric city, leaving much of the stories of our historic downtown untold as people are often preoccupied with getting to the next destination and not even noticing the beautiful sandstone building out the window, or the 125 year-old cafe, or the massive, 100 year-old lion sculpture. Yes, the best way to experience Calgary is on foot. This is the only way to experience the history Canada’s 3rd largest Chinatown, or the grandeur of the Calgary Tower, or the intricacies of those very many sculptures and pieces of art that are hidden (and some not-so-hidden) around the downtown core.
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