Exploring Calgary by bicycle and on foot

Calgary is the most populous city in the province of Alberta, Canada. Yet both walking and cycling are viable means of exploring attractions in and around the urban core.

Though Calgary is the home to well over a million people, I didn’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the size of the city. Beyond the skyscrapers of its compact downtown, Calgary tends to be characterised by low-rise buildings. Perhaps ironically, one of the best places to see that is from the observation deck of the Calgary Tower. The 191-metre landmark opened to the public on 30 June 1968 and celebrates turning 50 during 2018.

Downtown, City, Urban, Buildings, Rooftops, Calgary
Buildings in downtown Calgary seen from the Calgary Tower.

Cycling and walking in Calgary

This isn’t one of those North American cities in which you have to rely on a car (or taxi) to get about. Buses and trams (known locally as CTrains) are options for urban journeys. Central Calgary is also criss-crossed by a network of multi-user pathways utilised by both cyclists and pedestrians. I noted locals were using the pathway to commute and for leisure while making my way to points of interest around the city.

Store, Shop, Inglewood, Calgary
The Inglewood Food Mart and Video store. One of many low-rise buildings in Calgary.

If you enjoy cycling but want to avoid the hassle of heading to a store to pick up a rental bicycle, hire a bike from Nomad Gear Rentals. The clue is in the company’s name: it delivers bicycles, locks and cycling helmets to hotels and AirBnB properties across the city then picks equipment up. After a leisurely breakfast I took charge of a cycle outside my hotel, in the East Village, then set off to cycle along the Bow River.

Pedestrian Detour
Walking can be a great way of seeing parts of Calgary.

A year-round tourism destination

Having a bicycle meant I could cover a significant amount of ground while simultaneously enjoying exercise. The Canadian Rockies are a 90-minute drive from Calgary. During winter many skiers and snow boarders use Calgary as a gateway to reach the slopes of resorts such as Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort. The city itself is relatively flat, making it ideal for summertime cycling.

Canadian Rockies, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberte, Canada
Reflections on the surface of Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies.

I followed the RiverWalk, a trail running alongside the Bow River, halting at Fort Calgary, the National Historic Site where the city was founded in 1875, before pedalling to Sien Lok Park, by the city’s Chinatown.

Fort Calgary, Memorial, National Historic Site, Canada
A memorial stone and plaque at the site of Fort Calgary.

Within the park stands a cone-shaped memorial with bas-relief sculpting records the role played by Chinese people in building Canada’s railways and the struggle to overcome hardships.

Sien Lok Park, Memorial, Calgary, Chinatown
Memorial at Sien Lok Park in Calgary, Canada. The cone-shaped monument stands in memory of the Chinese settlers of Alberta and Canada.

At the tip of Prince’s Park Island, whose River Café is an option for refreshment, I dismounted to view the nearby Peace Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava, the award-winning Spanish architect.

Peace Bridge, Santiago Calatrava, Calgary, Canada
Looking through the Peace Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in Calgary, Canada.

Crossing to the north bank of the waterway I followed the Bow River Pathway to the Calgary Soldiers’ Monument on Memorial Drive. The monument stands as a reminder of the Canadians who fell in service overseas, including during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in northern France.

Calgary Soldiers’ Monument on Memorial Drive
Calgary Soldiers’ Monument on Memorial Drive.

The annual Calgary Stampede

Continuing along the river provided views of the Calgary skyline and the Shaganappi Point Golf Course, whose name gave me food for contemplation during the journey through town towards the Stampede Park. Every summer, well over a million visitors stream to the park to view rodeos, chuckwagon racing and music shows during the Calgary Stampede (6 – 15 July 2018). This year sees the 50th anniversary of the Stampede’s Grandstand Show.

Street art, Calgary Stampede
A decorated building in Calgary Stampede grounds.

On my way back to my hotel I made a note of the location of Cowboys, the nightclub whose sign claims it’s the place for ‘the most fun you can have with your boots on’. While buying a pair of cowboy boots at Lammle’s store on Stephen Avenue Walk, Calgary’s principal downtown shopping street, a staff member recommended Cowboys as the place to head to experience line dancing in the city.

Smithbilt Hate, Factory, Inglewood, Calgary
Need a cowboy hat? Smithbilt Hats Inc in the Inglewood district of Calgary.

A walk to Inglewood

After freshening up, I set out on a stroll towards the city’s Inglewood district. I chose a route that took me through the East Village and past the Simmons Building, a former mattress factory that now hosts a Phil and Sebastian Coffee Roasters café and the Charbar grill restaurant.

Simmons Building, an industrial heritage, East Village, Canada, Alberta, Canada
Food is now served at the Simmons Building, an industrial heritage site in Calgary’s East Village.

Inglewood was once known for its concentration of breweries. The Cold Garden Beverage Company, High Line Brewing and Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Co. craft breweries are reviving that tradition. They count among the raft of places, including restaurants and The Blues Can music venue that make this part of town a good option on weekend evenings.

Cold Garden Beverage Company, Inglewood, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Dan Allard of the Cold Garden Beverage Company in the Inglewood district of Calgary.

My visit coincided with the monthly Inglewood Night Market, meaning an opportunity to dine on tacos from a food truck between sampling brews in taprooms. The Smithbilt hat factory, which was founded in 1919 and makes the iconic broadbrimmed hats worn by many of the Calgary Stampede’s participants, is also in this part of town. Prior to departing Inglewood I popped into Oak and Vine to pick up a selection of Albertan craft beers to share with folks back home.

The Blues Can, Inglewood, Calgary, Canada
The Blues Can, an entertainment venue in Calgary’s Inglewood district.

Dusk darkened into night as I strolled in the direction of my hotel having seen a significant swathe of the city while keeping my carbon emissions to a minimum.

Craft beer, Craft brewing, Calgary, Canada
Cans of Canadian craft beer.

Further information

See the Tourism Calgary website for information about the city’s attractions. View the Calgary Transit site for information on the bus and CTrain network and ticket prices.

Calgary is a great base for exploring Alberta and travelling to destinations elsewhere in Canada. Go to www.explore-canada.co.uk for ideas about places to visit and things to do in Canada.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was presented with the 2017 British Annual Canada Travel Award for Best Online Coverage.

Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography which specialises in food, portraiture and travel photography.

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Street art, Inglewood, Calgary
Street art in the Inglewood district of Calgary.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Destination Canada.

10 Comments

  • Zoë Dawes

    June 5, 2018 at 07:42 Reply

    You’ve captured the city in a nutshell Stuart. Calgary is a fascinating city – a combination of contemporary and traditional life and love your insights into its quirky character.

    • Stuart Forster

      June 11, 2018 at 08:28 Reply

      And Calgary is developing all the time too. It has a lot of energy.

  • Becky Moore

    June 5, 2018 at 08:51 Reply

    Must be wonderful to live in a city surrounded by such beautiful landscapes!

    • Stuart Forster

      June 11, 2018 at 08:27 Reply

      Exactly. The drive into the Canadian Rockies is so beautiful (I would like to cycle there too, one day).

  • Heather Cowper

    June 6, 2018 at 10:52 Reply

    Sounds like lots of fun things to do in Calgary – I’ve been surprised by how easy Canada’s cities are to get around and on foot or by bike you see so much more too

    • Stuart Forster

      June 11, 2018 at 08:26 Reply

      I covered a lot of ground by bike and felt good afterwards too!

  • Kathryn @TravelWithKat

    June 6, 2018 at 13:03 Reply

    I’ve never heard of a rental company that will deliver a bicycle to your door! What a great idea and such a good way to explore – you can see everything and bimble round much as you would on two feet but with the advantage of being able to cover more ground.

  • Karen Burns-Booth

    June 8, 2018 at 21:43 Reply

    A great way to explore a city Stuart and I knew there would be beer somewhere along the way!

    • Stuart Forster

      June 11, 2018 at 08:24 Reply

      There’s some fabulous beers being brewed in Alberta!

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