Calgary is a dynamic city perfect for an outdoor urban winter adventure. While the Rocky Mountains are less than an hour from the city, Calgary holds its own for grand outdoor adventures and unique experiences. (For example, there are more than 1000 kilometres of trails in the city – that sounds like an epic challenge for any winter fat bikers or runners out there!)
I’ve spent more than a decade travelling the seven-hour road trip from my home city of Saskatoon to visit Calgary on numerous occasions – I even lived in Calgary for a while. And I love the city. Every time I come back, I experience something new and different. Which is why I was excited to be invited as a guest of Tourism Calgary to experience some of the best things to do in Calgary in winter (coincidentally, my favourite season!)
Disclosure: Although I was a guest of Tourism Calgary, this blog is a genuine reflection of my thoughts, opinions and personal experiences.
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Things to do in Calgary, Canada in Winter
While there are a lot more than seven things to do in Calgary in the winter, this list will give you a start to exploring some very “cool” activities during the colder months. (There are some you can read about here, too).
Based on my four days of exploring the city, here are some of the best things to do in Calgary.
1. Try Ice Biking
Have you ever heard of ice biking?! It was new to me until I saw photos of the modified bikes for rent in Bowness Park. Instead of a front wheel, the bikes have an ice skate. (How very Canadian!). To help with stability and safety, there’s a rectangular platform around the bike that has additional skates on the frame. But don’t worry – braking and stopping are easier and more effective than you might think. All you need to do is pedal backwards just like the coaster bikes many of us had as kids.
Rentals for an hour-long ride are only $20 or $12 for half an hour. Expect to get a good leg workout. Biking on the ice offers more resistance than I expected. It had me staying warm in the cold temperatures while I biked along the 1.6-kilometre lagoon and trail system next to the Bow River.
Make sure to stop in at the on-site teahouse and grab a coffee afterwards. They also have an outdoor patio with fire pits and bench seating where you can warm up after your ride.
Quick Tips: A trick when beginning to pedal the bike is to start with the pedal at about the “1-o-clock” position so it’s easier to push down and move the bike forward. Steering the handlebars slowly and gently in the direction you want to move gives better results than if you steer too sharp.
2. Go Tubing at WinSport
Tubing is one of those activities that makes me laugh so hard I can barely breathe! I feel like a kid again, especially when the tube spins down the track. One of the best places to experience this kind of jubilation is at WinSport’s Tube Park – one of the largest in Western Canada. They have 8 tracks of varying topography so each ride is different. Attendants at the top of each track give you a push or a spin or you can tube in tandem with your friends – you just have to make sure to hang on tight.
A 2-hour pass is $15-$25 depending on what time of day you go and is so worth it. Thankfully, there’s a magic carpet to give you a lift back to the top and great views overlooking the city from the hill. The area is lit up at night so you can even go for an evening ride.
3. Meet the Wolfdogs at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is truly a unique place close to Calgary. Located 45-minutes west of the city, just outside the community of Cochrane is a non-profit sanctuary for rescued wolfdogs. It’s an educational facility designed to help raise awareness about the conservation of these animals.
There are several tour options. They range from a self-guided walking tour to getting to go inside enclosures with a guide. If you’re really lucky, a wolfdog might approach you and nibble a treat from your hand. I also recommend sticking around to watch the daily enrichment activities as the dogs come close to the fence and are excited about the treats they receive from the caretakers.
The best part about visiting? All proceeds go directly to helping these and other wolfdogs across North America.
4. Warm-up with an Indoor Sauna Experience at Cedar and Steam
If I had my way in Canada, every community would have a sauna. Not only for relaxation and warmth in winter but mental health and wellness. In a country as cold as we are, saunas seem like the perfect answer.
This is why I think what boutique spa Cedar and Steam is doing is so awesome. A two-hour pass is only $28 and gives you access to three different saunas: infrared, Himalayan salt, cedar, and a steam room. Plus, there’s an overhead rain shower to cool down between rooms. There’s an on-site Kombucha bar where you can order a flight of three of their flavours or take a full-size drink with you to sip at your leisure in the saunas. They also offer massages for a complete destressing experience.
READ MORE: The Best Getaways in Saskatchewan in Winter
5. Skate on a Rooftop Skating Rink at the Marriott Hotel Downtown
While I thought ice biking was a pretty Canadian thing to do, when I heard about the rooftop skating rink in downtown Calgary I had to laugh and immediately ask “how can I do that?!” The Marriott Hotel Downtown takes winter experiences to a whole other level (literally). Even better, there are outdoor heaters on the side so you can stay warm between laps and enjoy the impressive views of Calgary’s skyline, including the interactive northern lights public art installation on the Telus Sky building. it’s 2.2 kilometres of custom bulbs with 89,000 pixels of light over 160,000 square feet!
The private skating rink is currently only accessible to hotel guests but keep an eye out for “skate and date” packages coming soon or check out these other rinks around Calgary to skate on.
6. Check out Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo
While Calgary is known to be one of the sunniest cities in Canada, darkness is no stranger in the midst of winter due to its northern latitude. To counter the longer nights, Canadians love to light up the dark. And the Calgary Zoo puts on one of the best light shows in the country.
For 25 years, the zoo’s tradition for six weeks in the heart of winter is to create a magical experience unlike any other. There are more than 200 light figurines and themed areas to wander around. The entire experience takes about 2-hours to walk through, with plenty of photo-op spots including a light tunnel. The light display in the conservatory in particular made me feel like I was stepping into the 90’s movie Fern Gully. Make sure to dress warmly as you’ll be outside for most of the experience.
7. Try Indoor Skydiving at iFly Calgary
If you’ve ever wanted to go skydiving but felt a bit intimidated by the fact that you’re jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, you might want to try indoor skydiving at iFly first. They’re the only wind tunnel in the city. In fact, they’re one of only 7 other wind tunnels in Canada. iFly offers affordable experiences to not only get a taste of what skydiving is like but to have the opportunity to practice technique. (Something you aren’t thinking about when strapped to another person as you hurtle through the air 15,000 feet above the ground).
Upon arrival, you’ll get geared up in a jumpsuit, go through a basic briefing and then you get to fly. Introductory packages give you two flights in the tunnel. The first flight gets you comfortable with the feeling of flying. During the second one, your instructor will take you up and down the tunnel so you truly get to experience how to move in winds of up to 200km per hour.
iFly offers video and photo packages to capture your experience. You can also add on a third flight for a small fee which is worth it in my opinion. If I lived in Calgary, there’s no doubt I’d be pursuing this and becoming an experienced flyer.
Where to Eat in Calgary
When out and about adventuring, you’re bound to get hungry. Thankfully, Calgary has no end of amazing places to dine at that fit a variety of budgets and types of experiences you might be looking for.
Here are a few places you’ll want to check out while in Calgary.
A day in Calgary isn’t complete without picking up a burger and a shake at Peter’s Drive-In. This place is an institution in town and has been around for nearly 60 years. They specialize in burgers and shakes at very affordable prices. The shakes are so thick and creamy, you’ll have to wait a bit to drink it through the straw.
While it may be winter in Calgary, Lulu Bar offers an island escape through its flavourful dishes that expertly blend Southeast Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Northwest cuisine with a modern twist. From BBQ braised duck with turmeric crepes to cumin rubbed slow-roasted lamb with Malaysian curry, the menu is inventive while honouring its traditional cuisine roots.
Housed in the Marriott Hotel Downtown, One18 Empire is the place to go if you’re a whiskey connoisseur. With 220 bottles including bourbon, scotch, and rye, they also have an extensive cocktail and craft beer selection. When they smoke a cocktail, they literally fire an old whiskey barrel with a blow torch to capture its smokey essence in your glass before mixing your cocktail in front of you. The experience is as impressive as their dining menu.
For those in search of vegetarian and vegan options for dining, The Coup has been serving up local and organic dishes focused on environmental ethics long before our current-day cultural shift to mindful eating. On a cold winter day of exploring, the orange blossom hot chocolate, as well as the slight spiciness of the tempeh shawarma, were the perfect warm-up.
Moonlight & Eli
The backstory to this boutique fondue and champagne wine bar is part of what makes this place extra special. Owner Mhairi O’Donnell was looking through old photos of her twenty-something grandmother. She came across several images of her grandmother with an unknown man in 1935. On the back of every photo was written “Moonlight & Eli.” Unfortunately, there’s no way to find out who this mystery man is as her grandmother passed in the 1960s. But it’s clear he was someone special. So O’Donnell decided to open a champagne bar in honour of and tribute to this mysterious romance.
Where to Stay in Calgary
The Alt Hotel is always a top personal choice of mine to stay at when travelling. Not only are they dog friendly, but they’re known across Canada as being an affordable boutique-style hotel. Located in the East Village in downtown Calgary, the Alt is a modern and creative accommodation with floor-to-ceiling windows for the perfect view of the city, especially at sunrise.
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