- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Calgary Guide (PDF)
The lifestyle in Calgary is focused more on outdoor recreation rather than urban entertainment. With over 8,000 hectares of green space, Calgary is perfect for nature-loving expats. The best part is that all the outdoor activities are a quick drive from the city, so it's easy to see why the city is becoming an increasingly popular choice among expats.
Outdoor and sports activities in Calgary
The main attraction – and the lifeblood of Calgary's outdoor leisure scene – is its proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Just 50 miles (80km) from downtown Calgary, the Rockies are celebrated the world over not only for their pristine beauty, but also for the diverse range of activities on offer on the mountain's snowy peaks. Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular pursuits, but for expats looking to relax and soak up the alpine atmosphere, there are plenty of resort towns to explore.
Expats should be sure not to miss Lake Moraine – a turquoise-blue body of water hemmed in by towering pine trees. In the warm summer months, expats can enjoy fishing on the gorgeous Bow River, go horse riding or mountain biking. For winter sports enthusiasts, Canada's Olympic Park offers plenty of space and expert coaching on the slopes for novices. Expats who prefer to remain spectators will enjoy supporting the Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders at their annual hockey and football games.
Entertainment and eating out in Calgary
Alberta is known as the 'most American' Canadian province. An important aspect of the lifestyle in Calgary is continuing pride in the city's frontier history, hence the plethora of rodeo shows, steakhouses and 'western wear' outlets.
Calgary is not well known for its culinary exploits, but there are a few restaurants worth noting and most are concentrated in three main areas: Prince's Island's Eau Claire district; 4th Street and 17th Avenue Mission district; and the downtown area, including Chinatown, International Avenue and the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.
Expats should note that all restaurants in Calgary are smoking-free – even outdoor dining areas.
Shopping in Calgary
As far as shopping is concerned, there is an assortment of malls in and around Calgary, and some quirky curio shops lining International Avenue. The highlight, though, must be the weekly Calgary Farmers' Market, where shoppers can buy the likes of bison sausage, elk steaks, artisanal bread and fresh dairy products.
While the lifestyle in Calgary does not necessarily cater to shopaholics, expats in need of retail therapy will be happy to know that the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America, is only a three-hour drive away.
Kids and family in Calgary
The only downside to having kids in Calgary is that childcare in the city is not only eye-wateringly expensive but also in extremely short supply. Since all parents in Calgary often find themselves in the same boat, they have built extensive support networks throughout the city. Parents typically set up lift clubs, playgroups and babysitting clubs to ease the hassle of shuttling kids around. The Calgary Public Library is also a wonderful resource, offering pre-school programmes such as story time and finger painting sessions.
See and do in Calgary
Despite being an isolated city, hemmed in by the Rocky Mountains and their surrounding plains, Calgary’s residents will find plenty to see and do. Below are some of the city's best attractions.
Heritage Park Historical Village & Fort Calgary Historic Park
Set on 127 acres of parkland and located 15 minutes from Calgary’s city centre, Heritage Park is a 'living history village', comprised of over 150 exhibitions showcasing life in Alberta in the 19th and 20th centuries. Fort Calgary Historic Park is a reconstructed 1875 fort displaying Calgary’s history through a unique interpretive centre and exhibitions.
Canada Olympic Park
Canada Olympic Park was a major venue during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and now hosts skiing and snowboarding programmes every winter and also houses the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.
Canada's second-largest zoo is home to more than a thousand animal species from all over the world, as well as a variety of fish and insects in natural habitat enclosures. It also features a prehistoric park with life-size animatronic dinosaurs on display, guaranteeing a full day of fun for the whole family.
Calgary Tower is a must-see landmark for expats. The attraction features a revolving restaurant and a glass-floored observation deck offering spectacular city views below.
Canada's largest outdoor amusement park, Calaway Park, is a favourite among children. Open seven days a week – and offering exciting rides and rollercoasters, live magic shows and musical performances – Calaway Park is a perfect family outing.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
A 'buffalo jump' is a ledge of rock traditionally used to steer stampeding buffaloes away. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, proudly displaying exhibitions detailing the life and history of the Blackfoot people, the original inhabitants of the Great Plains region of southern Alberta.
What's on in Calgary
The Lilac Festival (May)
Voted the 'best free festival in Calgary', the Lilac Festival features a massive market with more than 600 stalls and a full-day line-up featuring the best local artists.
The Calgary Stampede (July)
Undoubtedly the most attended event in the city, The Calgary Stampede draws millions of visitors to Calgary every year. The festival is a celebration of Alberta's frontier history, centred around rodeo events and featuring professional cowboys and authentic frontier cuisine.
Canada Day (July)
Calgary's Canada Day celebration attracts more than 100,000 people each year. Festivities at the Shaw Millennium Park begin mid-morning and include live performances on the main stage, food stalls, and much more.
Calgary Marathon (August)
The best road race in Alberta, the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon, is a challenging and fun event designed for the whole family. The race includes a 50k Ultra, 42.2km, 21.1km, 10km, kids' marathon and 5km family walk or run.
►Find out about public transport in the city by reading the Getting Around in Calgary page
"There is so much to enjoy as a family in Calgary and we have really enjoyed getting out and exploring. Each neighbourhood has outdoor parks and ice rinks that are free to use, and we enjoy walking to one of these on the weekend. The bike paths and forested areas in and around the city are also great for getting outdoors as a family and being in nature – if you’re lucky you’ll also spot some of the beautiful wildlife that roam freely, including deer, moose, squirrels, hares, beavers and even coyotes and bears."
Learn more about life in Calgary in our interview with South African expat Catherine.
Are you an expat living in Calgary?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Calgary. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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