What to See With 24 Hours in Calgary

What to See With 24 Hours in Calgary December 18, 2019 · 10 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links.

It's been a few years since I last visited Calgary, but all previous trips were either with the Canadian Junior Football League (go Thunder!) or for various concerts. Although this time it was for my "day job", I still made sure to give myself some extra time to see the city before I left.

I've heard a lot about Calgary since high school. One by one I saw my friends move there and start new lives. Since I had some extra time to explore the city, I was interested to see what Calgary had to offer, and what made the draw so impressive.

Calgary Skyline Calgary Skyline Calgary Skyline Calgary Tower

Although Calgary was a nice city, it wasn't the best day to explore. The windchill was around -20 Celsius, the sky was cloudy, a snow squall was forming, and the streets were empty. (And I only had my phone camera with me, ouch!) My friend Muna, who was acting as my guide, told me that the city was in a recession and that a lot of businesses were hurting financially – although you wouldn't know it by all the high-rise buildings they keep constructing. I didn't see a lot of foot traffic when we were there, but it was also an ugly day out. What I was surprised to see, however, was although it was cold and windy, there was still a lot going on. We spent a bit of time on Calgary's main pedestrian shopping street – 8th Avenue Southwest – and we saw a mini outdoor concert, an Elsa and Anna cosplay and a half dozen enclosed firepits. These little firepits were burning freshly cut wood so the whole street smelt like a campfire.

I saw a few of these firepits throughout Calgary and it made me wish we had them in Regina.

Downtown Calgary Downtown Calgary Downtown Calgary Firepits in Calgary Christmas tree

The main shopping mall in downtown Calgary is the CORE Shopping Mall, and although it had a myriad of stores I've never seen in Regina, the coolest thing about the mall is on the top floor. If you make your way up thee, you'll find a massive botanical garden. This garden sprawls half the length of the floor and includes trees, bushes, ponds, streams and benches for people to sit on. The whole area was complemented by a piano player in the far corner, softly playing notes that seemed to hang in the air. The outside walls of this garden are glass so one can enjoy this literal urban oasis while still being inside.

(In the winter, on a cloudy day, the illusion is a little lost, but the garden was still nice.)

CORE Shopping mall Gardens Gardens Gardens

Outside the CORE Shopping Mall, we saw the Galleria Trees. These massive trees tower over the pedestrians and are part of Calgary's urban art program. Every building that is constructed downtown, no matter the size, must donate one percent of its cost to the urban art in the neighbourhood. It's impossible to go more than a block without stumbling into a quirky art piece or statue.

Galleria Trees

We decided to make our way to the Bow River, so we started walking towards Eau Claire Park. On our way through downtown, we passed by the Hudson's Bay building. Normally I wouldn't mention something as common as Hudson's Bay, but the one in Calgary is unique because of its beautiful stone archways. These archways are any photographer's dream and are used for a variety of wedding photography throughout. For any Instagrammer, this is a location you'll want to visit. It reminded me very much of the outdoor plazas in Puebla or even Venice.

Hudson's Bay building

I wasn't sure what I was expecting of Eau Claire Park, but I was surprised by how nice the area is. The pathways were all checkered brick, with a long wooden bench running down the south side of the path, facing the Bow River. Here we saw a couple of fire pits as well, although they weren't roaring like the ones downtown. This walking path was nice, and surprisingly clean, considering there was so much snow on the ground. I imagine it would be beautiful to go for a stroll down this path in the summer or fall.

Eau Claire Park Eau Claire Park Eau Claire Park

Finally, we arrived at the Peace Bridge, one of Calgary's most photographed landmarks. I had considered walking to it the night before for some night photography, and I really kick myself for not doing it. Although the bridge was photogenic in the day, it would have been eye-popping at night when it lights up in red. 

Peace Bridge in Calgary Bow River

We crossed the bridge and began to head back. We passed by The Bow, which is the second tallest building in Calgary, and the third tallest in Canada outside of Toronto. In front of The Bow was the iconic Wonderland Sculpture, a transparent 3D model of a woman's head. As with many things I saw in Calgary, the sculpture was very impressive but would have been better on a summer day.

Wonderland Sculpture

Not too far from The Bow is the new Central Library. This massive building is unlike any library I've seen before. The first thing that surprised me was to see that Calgary's Red Line train system runs directly through the library. In all my travels I've never seen that before, and I was amazed by how close the train was to the general public!

Outside Calgary Central Libary

The outside of the library is covered in blue, white and transparent polygons, all connected to make a mosaic of glass. I wondered why they chose this style until I entered the library, and realized it was the theme of the entire building. Built like a multi-level ship, the Central Library was polygons stacked on top of polygons. While the outside was glass, the entrance and inside was polished, smooth, glimmering wood.

Outside Calgary Central Library

There was a small band playing on the main level of the library when we got there, and it filled the whole building with music. We took the elevator to the top floor and then walked down the wooden staircases to the bottom level. The entire way down I couldn't help but feel like the building was a cross between The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. The library was created to be as accessible and educational as possible, going far beyond the normal books and videos commonly used to engage their visitors. It was unlike any library I've ever been seen before. Simply standing inside it made me feel like I had travelled into the future.

Calgary Central Libary Calgary Central Libary Calgary Central Libary

Our last stop on our tour was a relic from Calgary's past. Not far from the Scotiabank Saddledome is the preserved, yet crumbling sandstone remains of the city's first "formal" hospital. These ruins are named the Rundle Ruins, with the shell of the building having been constructed in 1895. It was used until 1974, slowly falling out of use, and having the final patients move out in 1954 during "Operation Measles". It's named "Rundle" after the care home located behind it.

Rundle Ruins Rundle Ruins Rundle Ruins

We had to cut our day short as I was driving back that day, and it was a seven and a half-hour drive. As well, the snow squall from earlier was picking up. We wrapped up around three in the afternoon and said our goodbyes. If I had stayed later I would have taken in some of their local restaurants, like The Yellow Door we visited for breakfast, or the Broken Plate that we visited the night before, but now I just have more of a reason to come back.

And, of course, thank you to my friend Muna for showing me around his beautiful city!

Breakfast at Yellow Door

If you had a day in Calgary, what would you go see? Did I miss any "must-see" spots? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Don't forget to pin it!

What to See With 24 Hours in Calgary What to See With 24 Hours in Calgary

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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I've heard a lot about Calgary since high school. One by one I saw my friends move there and start new lives. Since I had some extra time to explore the city, I was interested to see what Calgary had to offer, and what made the draw so impressive.

Although Calgary was a nice city, it wasn't the best day to explore. The windchill was around -20 Celsius, the sky was cloudy, a snow squall was forming, and the streets were empty. (And I only had my phone camera with me, ouch!) My friend Muna, who was acting as my guide, told me that the city was in a recession and that a lot of businesses were hurting financially – although you wouldn't know it by all the high-rise buildings they keep constructing. I didn't see a lot of foot traffic when we were there, but it was also an ugly day out. What I was surprised to see, however, was although it was cold and windy, there was still a lot going on. We spent a bit of time on Calgary's main pedestrian shopping street – 8th Avenue Southwest – and we saw a mini outdoor concert, an Elsa and Anna cosplay and a half dozen enclosed firepits. These little firepits were burning freshly cut wood so the whole street smelt like a campfire.

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