When we planned a week to visit Calgary and Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, I had no idea what to expect. We had heard that Banff was beautiful, but no one talks about Calgary much.
I think the mystery of this city helped me keep my eyes and opinions open to all it has to offer.
*This post contains affiliate links which are meant to help you enjoy your vacation to Calgary. If you choose to purchase through these links I will receive a small commission, which helps me continue to create great content for you!*
Read on for our recommended Downtown walking guide for things to do in Calgary!
The Calgary Tower
The first thing we always do in a new city is try to get an understanding of where we are. This means seeking out a viewing platform or city tour. There are lots of fun tours around Calgary, but I’m glad we chose the viewing route and took a trip to the Calgary Tower.
The Calgary Tower was a surprisingly fun place to visit. I was afraid it would be too touristy, but it wasn’t crowded at all! Not only that, but I feel like it has the rare quality of actually deserving it’s touristy trademark. The Calgary Tower is seriously cool! Yes, you get the standard 360-degree view of the city (which is legitimately beautiful thanks to the interesting feature of the Bow River along one side) but you also get quite the thrill. As soon as you head off of the elevator you’re met with a Plexiglas floor that makes you feel as if you’re about to plummet into downtown traffic. It’s terrifying and oh-so-fun!
The Calgary Tower is conveniently located in a great pocket downtown! Heading East from the Tower you’ll soon run into Olympic Plaza. Olympic Plaza was a venue at the 1988 Olympic games hosted by Calgary, and has been re-purposed to serve the city. How cool is that?
Olympic Plaza now features an incredible water installation, public art, and cafe tables.
The fountain is breathtaking, but our favorite part is a low brick wall with brightly-colored beavers sticking out from missing bricks. At least I think they’re beavers.
I mean, Why, Calgary? It’s just too weird not to love.
East Village Junction
Head northeast from Olympic Park a couple of blocks to 8 Ave SE and 4 St. SE.
At this corner you’ll find a great example of what Calgary is good at: Re-purposing something into a beautiful, expressive way to bring the community together and support local businesses.
Here is a small commerce park you’re bound to love! Shipping containers have been painted and turned pop-up shop for local entrepreneurs. The containers line the perimeter of an outdoor seating area. A stage at one end completes the scene, making it the perfect spot to hang out and people watch, shop, or just be entertained.
This is one of the most popular Instagram stops in Calgary, so be prepared to find fashion and travel influencers craning for the perfect selfie. Go ahead and take one, yourself- it’s a beautiful spot!
Note: Keep an eye on the city website for the stage schedule. Shops only open on the weekend, but the seating area is available week-long.
4th St. Bridge
Since you’re basically already there….
Walk down 4th st. for a block to a bridge. This overpass bridge has a walking path that leads you to Victoria Park. You should keep going to see the park, but this bridge is what we found really special.
Artist Michelle Hoogveld has painted the corridor with colorful blocks and patterns. Called “Corridor of Correction”, it’s definitely not to be missed!
This is another popular Instagram stop. Come and get your picture taken soon before the wall paint wears away!
Downtown Public Art
Make your way west back to Olympic Plaza.
There you’ll find tons of public art to enjoy! One thing I deeply appreciated about Calgary is it’s dedication to the arts. In fact, 1% of the city’s annual budget is committed to a yearly art project! One percent may not sound like much, but it definitely adds up.
Keep the 1% rule in mind when walking around the city and you’ll soon notice beautiful statues, wall murals, water features, etc. everywhere.
If you’re on the public art scavenger hunt (like me) look out for stunning pieces scattered down 7th avenue. There are a few pieces actually on 7th Ave, but many are just above or below it. Follow >this handy map < of permanent and temporary art installations along 7th Ave for precise locations, or just play Where’s Waldo: Calgary Public Art Edition on your own.
Note: The most dense area to look for public art is the east side of downtown, where you conveniently are when visiting Olympic Park. Stick to the streets in this neighborhood to see some incredible pieces if you aren’t interested in walking through downtown.
Our Favorite Downtown Calgary Art:
Just in case you feel like skipping around, here are our top places!
Women are Persons!
This piece is a square of 5 towering statues: all women in different everyday positions. It represents the Famous Five; a group of women who worked tirelessly to bring equality to women in Canada in the early 20th century.
I love Women are Persons! because it’s a stunning, overwhelming piece and also quite meaningful. I hadn’t heard of the Famous Five before coming to Calgary, but learning their story and seeing how Calgary has embraced their power makes me love it even more.
Located at 8th Ave and 1st St. SE
I love the simplicity of Conversation. I also find it quite entertaining. Something about seeing the (to me) heated debate between two businessmen immortalized is just ridiculous, in an awesome sort of way that I’m really glad people have access to.
Located at 8th Avenue and 1st St. SW
This one is my favorite. You don’t have to be an art historian to recognize the obvious contrasts between this piece and it’s surrounding. It’s the head of a young girl, shaped by a white metal frame. The piece is set in the middle of the business district downtown. It’s color, transparency, and innocence appears to be a statement on the contrasting values of society. She reminds us that people, youth, are watching. We must protect and care for them in all that we do which, in turn, keeps our own values strong.
At least that’s what I think.
Also, it’s just really pretty.
Located at Center St and 6th Ave
Get back to Center St (where the Calgary Tower is) and follow it to the Center St. Bridge to head into Calgary’s China Town.
The sidewalk of Center St. turns into a charming walking path down one of Calgary’s many decorative bridges, Center St. Bridge. Center St. Bridge’s walking path features a large stone archway with a decorative Lion on top, marking your entrance and exit to China Town. This is one of the most popular Instagram stops, in case you’re interested!
China Town isn’t a huge district, but it’s fun and cultural. Center St. and the roads that shoot off of it are full of Chinese restaurants, shops, and artwork. Meander through to find some unique places in Calgary!
Walk Down the Bow River
The northern end of Calgary is full of unique bridges and walking paths that line the Bow River. Take the Center St. Bridge back across the river and walk west along the nature path to get some incredible views of downtown against the water.
The walking path down the Bow River will take you past some unexpected parcels of nature in the middle of town. Prince’s Island Park (in the middle of the Bow River) is a popular destination for walking, picnics, and biking.
Keep your eyes open while walking (or biking or running or whatever) for wildlife on the river. We saw a brand new baby goslings, flocks of Canadian (or Local, I guess?) Geese taking off and landing, and … drum roll, please… BEAVERS!
Neither Ben or I had ever seen beavers in person. It felt fitting that our first time was in Canada! We’ve seen beavers grace local business logos, eaten the popular pastry, Beavertails, seen their handiwork, and heard of their fame and were excited to finally see them in person. They’re big!
We followed a set of beavers up and down a section of the Bow River as they collected sticks. It was so fun to watch them navigate quickly in the water and then waddle their fat little bodies once on land. Hehehe!
The Peace Bridge
At the other end of the walking path you’ll find our favorite bridge, the Peace Bridge. Known to locals as the Chinese Finger Trap Bridge (for obvious reasons) it feels like a piece of functional art. Come back at night to see the bridge lit up!
Cross the Peace Bridge through Eau Claire Park and walk 4 blocks to 4th Street.
4th St. is the perfect place to complete your walking tour. Wander down this road to find incredible restaurants and shops to end your day!
There’s more public art, wall murals, and a small decorative park on this street so it’s a great way to combine all of the wonderful things you’ve seen from individual places.
We hope you find Calgary as unexpectedly interesting and beautiful as we did!
More of a visual person? Watch our adventures in Calgary, instead!
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*This article was sponsored by Calgary Tourism and participating businesses. All opinions are my own.*