Must-See Calgary: A 7-Day Itinerary of What To Do In Calgary and Beyond During Winter
The world may think that, like polar bears, Calgarians (or even all Canadians!) go into hibernation during the winter. Quite the contrary. A week is not nearly sufficient to experience all that I have on my wish list for you to see and explore in and around our city. The lists I’ve created here will undoubtedly whet your appetite to come back again.
Quick reference guide to the icons used in this article
|⛷ Activity||📸 Attraction|
|🍽 Food & Dining||🌄 Great view|
|🏡 Lodging / Accommodation||🏛 History & Museums|
|🏞 Parks, Gardens & Nature||🎭 Performing Arts & Entertainment|
|🏖 Rest & Relaxation||🛍 Shopping|
|🔦 Sightseeing & Exploring||💰 Entry fee required|
|🗓 Reservation essential||🌶 Hot tip|
|🚙 Travel required||⚠️ Caution / Warning|
|ℹ️ Information||⏰ Estimated duration|
🌶 Vehicle rental and driving
- I would recommend that you arrange your own independent rental vehicle in order to complete this itinerary.
- ℹ️ Check road reports before leaving for your out-of-town destinations. Consult the 511 Alberta Highway Road Report website for up-to-date road conditions.
- ⚠️ Winter tires are required for safe driving in Alberta and are mandatory if you are driving into British Columbia between 1st October and 30th April. Failure to comply will result in a fine and possible vehicle impoundment if you are caught.
- ⚠️ NEVER use cruise control when driving in winter conditions.
- Please be reminded that winter driving hazards need to be considered and driving style needs to be adjusted accordingly. Adjust your driving to suit the winter driving conditions.
- All-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles are recommended for drivers who are not used to our hazardous winter driving conditions.
- Snow chains are not required for passenger vehicles.
🌶 Equipment rental
Depending on your vehicle space, outdoor activity and recreation plans, it might serve you well to rent sporting and outdoor equipment in Calgary before heading out on your road trip. If you’re considering this option, I recommend visiting Sports Rent for all your winter equipment needs, including downhill skis, cross country skis, snowboards, snow shoes, ski accessories, skates, snow suits and helmets.
When in Calgary …
Calgary’s attractions are as diverse as the city itself and as unique as those who would visit here.
🌶 I would highly recommend you review two of my previous most popular blogs: orientating yourself with the lay-of-the-land and navigating your way around Calgary. These short articles go a long way in providing first-time visitors with some great handles on how our address system works, public transit, and figuring out where you want to be.
🌶 I’d also strongly suggest reviewing my half-day guide recommendations, a blog pitched at visitors to Cow-Town who have limited time to explore and just want to touch on the highlights. I’ve proposed a 2-day itinerary for you to discover downtown based on the highlights from that blog.
🌶 For dining and shopping suggestions explore these blog posts for some very helpful tips, insights and recommendations, depending on where you find yourself when downtown:
🌶 My go-to downtown dining spots would be:
- 🍽 Breakfast: OEB | Alforno Bakery & Café | Sidewalk Citizen Bakery | Reds Diner | Galaxie Diner
- 🍽 Lunch: Calgary Tower’s Sky360 Restaurant (for the view) | Moose & Poncho | Olly Fresco’s | Alforno Bakery & Café | Ten Foot Henry | Sidewalk Citizen Park
- Ice cream: Made By Marcus | Village Ice Cream
- Coffee: Rosso Coffee Roasters | Analog Coffee | Philosafy Coffee
- 🍽 Dinner: The Keg | Bonterra Trattoria | National | Big Cheese Poutinerie | Anejo | Wurst | Café Koi | Dark Table | Ten Foot Henry
Ready? Steady? Let’s GO!
Day 0: Arrive in Calgary, settle in and orientate yourself
Bear in mind that winter weather conditions in and around Calgary can change rapidly. Have you heard about the unique weather phenomenon called the Chinook that has a massive influence on Calgary’s local micro climate? Read more about that here. This may affect your plans and help – or hinder – your progress in the coming few days.
It may not be wise spending your limited Calgary-time charging around trying to see all of the highlights. Take some time to review my itinerary suggestions below (Day 1 and Day 2) that I’ve plotted on a daily recommended route map. Decide what grabs your interest, switch things up to suit your preferences, then hit the streets and start to explore. Be prepared to move slower and see less as you brave the outdoor elements.
Day 1: Calgary Downtown
- 📸 Calgary Central Library
- 🏛 Glenbow Museum 💰
- ⛷ Olympic Plaza: outdoor skating with skate rentals nearby
- 📸 🌄 Calgary Tower: take in lunch at the Sky 360 Revolving restaurant 💰
- 🍽 🛍 🔦 Stephen Avenue
- 🍽 🏞 Devonian Gardens
- 🛍 🔦 Plus 15 Skywalk: explore this elevated maze of bridges connecting the downtown office towers
- 🔦 Chinatown
- 📸 🌄 🏞 Peace Bridge & Prince’s Island Park
- 🛍 🔦 Kensington (neighbourhood)
Day 2: Calgary Downtown and Neighbourhoods
- 📸 🚙 TELUS Spark Science Centre: interactive science museum 💰
- 📸 🚙 Calgary Zoo 💰
- ⛷ 🌄 🏞🚙 St Patrick’s Island Park: free outdoor curling in winter; cool downtown city skyline views
- 🛍 🔦🚙 Inglewood (neighbourhood)
- 🏛 🚙 Fort Calgary: discover the history of Calgary 💰
- 🔦 East Village and Bow River pathway
- 🏛 Studio Bell: Home of the National Music Centre 💰
- 🌄 🚙 Scotsmans Hill: city skyline vantage point
- 🛍 🔦🚙 4th Street SW to Mission (neighbourhood)
- 🍽 🛍 🔦🚙 17th Ave Shopping District
- 🎭 🚙 Arts Commons: consider taking in a live show at one of the theatres 💰 🗓
- ⛷🚙 Canada Olympic Park: snow tubing, ski, snowboard (NW) 💰
Day 3: Calgary to Drumheller to Rosebud [~200km]
🏛 🚙 The Hangar Flight Museum (Northeast Calgary): flight and war museum 💰
🚙 Drive from Calgary to Drumheller [128km]
🌄 Drop in at Horseshoe Canyon viewing site (Drumheller).
🚙 Drive from Drumheller to the iconic Hoodoo’s [15km]
📸 Check out Hoodoo‘s, the eerie natural sandstone shapes carved by centuries of erosion in the Drumheller valley.
🍽 Lunch at Vintage Taphouse Pub & Grill (Drumheller).
🏛 Royal Tyrell Museum (Drumheller): world-class dinosaur and fossil museum 💰 closed Mondays
🚙 Drive from Drumheller to the quaint theatre hamlet of Rosebud [35km]
🎭 🍽 Rosebud theatre and dinner 💰 🗓
🌶 🌄 Your visit to the Prairies in winter may very well be rewarded by the cosmic display of the Aurora Borealis, the surreal stratospheric spectacle of the Northern Lights. Best seen in a cloudless winter night sky, in areas where light pollution from nearby cities and towns is minimized, you’d do well to scan the late night sky while in Rosebud to see if you can catch a glimpse of this glowing miracle.
Day 4: Rosebud to Kananaskis to Baker Creek / Banff National Park [~340km]
🚙 Early departure from Rosebud to the Nordic Spa at Kananaskis [200km], bypassing Calgary.
🏖 Nordic Spa (Kananaskis): prepare to be pampered rejuvenated; 💰 🗓
🚙 Depart Kananaskis to Lake Minnewanka [82km], entering Banff National Park near Harvie Heights en route (ℹ️ entry fee to Banff NP is required and is based on number of vehicle occupants and duration of stay).
⛷ 📸 🌄 Enjoy the surreal experience of ice skating on a lake at Lake Minnewanka. ℹ️ Bring your own skates. ⚠️ Be prepared for sudden weather changes and very windy conditions. ⚠️ Dress appropriately. ⚠️ Ensure the lake is frozen and suitable for skating. ⚠️ Look out for posted warning signs.
🚙 Drive from Lake Minnewanka to Baker Creek Mountain Resort [56km].
🏡 🗓 Stay overnight in quintessential log cabins at Baker Creek Mountain Resort.
🍽 If you have not eaten already, or if you have not brought your own food to prepare in your self-catering unit, the Baker Creek Bistro serves meals throughout the day.
🌶 🌄 If you weren’t successful seeing those glorious Northern Lights during your stay in Rosebud, try to find an opportunity to spot them tonight in the Rockies. Light pollution at Baker Creek is low, so chances of seeing the Aurora are better.
Day 5: Baker Creek to Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon to Banff [~90km]
🚙 Drive from Baker Creek to Lake Louise Ski Resort [13km].
⛷ Ski, snowboard or snow tube at Lake Louise Ski Resort. 💰 ⏰ 3-6hrs
⛷ Alternatively, go dog sledding at Lake Louise with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours; 💰 🗓 ⏰ 3-5hrs
📸 🌄 Visit the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise on the edge of the world-famous lake.
🍽 Indulge yourself with high tea in the Lakeview Lounge, or else a more affordable snack from one of the numerous other eating spots. ⏰ 2hrs
🚙 Drive from Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon [37km].
⛷ 📸 🔦 Explore Johnston Canyon via the boardwalk, marvelling at the extraordinary ice formations while looking out for skilled ice climbers who are frequently seen scaling the treacherous canyon terrain. ⚠️ Dress appropriately and wear strap-on shoe spikes / crampons for walking safety. ⏰ 1-3hrs
🚙 Drive from Johnston Canyon to Banff [24km].
🏡 🗓 Stay overnight in Banff. Suggested accommodation includes the fairytale Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, the luxurious Rimrock Resort at the foot of Sulphur Mountain, or the numerous more modestly-priced options available in the alpine village’s main townsite along and off Banff Avenue.
Day 6: Explore Banff and surrounds
Skiing, shopping and exploring abound in this alpine heaven. All activities listed require an entry fee and may require equipment rental fees.
🛍 🔦 Lose track of time while visiting the plethora of boutique stores, galleries and eating spots along Banff Avenue
🔦 Discover the historic Cave and Basin 💰
🌶 🍽 🌄 Dinner recommendation: Wrap up your unforgettable Rocky Mountain experience at the Sky Bistro atop Sulphur Mountain. From your 7,510-ft vantage point you can gaze at the romantic alpine beauty and emerging twinkling night lights of the town of Banff below. The Banff Gondola ride is included in your dining cost. 🗓
🏡 🗓 Overnight at your Banff accommodation.
Day 7: Banff to Canmore to Calgary [~130km]
🚙 Drive from Banff to Canmore [24km].
🛍 🔦 Explore the quaint village of Canmore, gateway to the Rockies. Saunter along 10th Street and the town centre taking in some shopping and exceptional art galleries.
⛷ Visit the Canmore Nordic Centre, venue of the 1988 Olympic alpine sports events. Here you might find opportunity to cross country ski or slip on some snow shoes and test out the terrain. 💰
But wait, there’s always more … events
- Calgary seasonal lights (December)
- Winter markets (November / December)
- Lake Louise Ice Festival (January)
- Calgary YYC Hot Chocolate Festival (February)
- Calgary Glow Winter Festival (February)