Stuart Forster travels to Alberta and experiences 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.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Destination Canada. Stuart Forster, the author of this article, retained full editorial control. Destination Canada did not review or approve the article.
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.
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 crisscrossed 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.
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 and then picks the 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.
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 snowboarders 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.
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.
Within the park stands a cone-shaped memorial with bas-relief sculpting that records the role played by Chinese people in building Canada’s railways and the struggle to overcome hardships.
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.
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.
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 July well over a million visitors stream to the park to view rodeos and chuckwagon racing plus the music and grandstand shows during the Calgary Stampede.
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.
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.
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 makes this part of town a good option on weekend evenings.
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.
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.
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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Zoë DawesJune 5, 2018 at 07:42
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 ForsterJune 11, 2018 at 08:28
And Calgary is developing all the time too. It has a lot of energy.
Becky MooreJune 5, 2018 at 08:51
Must be wonderful to live in a city surrounded by such beautiful landscapes!
Stuart ForsterJune 11, 2018 at 08:27
Exactly. The drive into the Canadian Rockies is so beautiful (I would like to cycle there too, one day).
Heather CowperJune 6, 2018 at 10:52
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 ForsterJune 11, 2018 at 08:26
I covered a lot of ground by bike and felt good afterwards too!
Kathryn @TravelWithKatJune 6, 2018 at 13:03
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.
Stuart ForsterJune 11, 2018 at 08:25
Very true. I think it’s a great idea.
Karen Burns-BoothJune 8, 2018 at 21:43
A great way to explore a city Stuart and I knew there would be beer somewhere along the way!
Stuart ForsterJune 11, 2018 at 08:24
There’s some fabulous beers being brewed in Alberta!