As Calgary locals, we know all about the best ways to experience Calgary in the winter. From enjoying local outdoor skating rinks and massive Christmas light displays to heading out into the Canadian Rockies for some world-class skiing, Calgary in the winter is a great place to be.
But whether you live in Calgary, just moved to Calgary, or are simply visiting for a few days, many people don’t know what to do in Calgary in the winter. So, in this Calgary winter travel guide, we’ll fill you in on the best things to do in Calgary in the winter, ensuring that you have the best time possible.
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29 Things to Do in Calgary in the Winter
Although people like to complain about the winter in Calgary due to the cold temperatures, it’s actually a beautiful time of year. In fact, winter is one of our favourite seasons. Sure, it can be a little too cold at times, but overall, the snow makes everything look so beautiful and there are so many unique activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, fat tire biking, skating, winter events, and more. As long as you bundle up in the right winter clothing, you can easily have loads of fun in Calgary in the winter.
1. Explore Downtown Calgary in the Winter
Let’s start with downtown Calgary. For those visiting Calgary, it’s usually helpful to start with the downtown core, enjoying scenic walks and taking in some of the main sights. Whether you’re looking to explore some of the oldest streets in Calgary, do some shopping, eat at some award-winning Calgary restaurants, or partake in some skating and other winter activities, downtown Calgary is a great place to start.
There are also lots of Calgary attractions within or close to the downtown core, including the Calgary Tower, the Bow Building, Peace Bridge, Eau Claire, the Glenbow Museum, the Calgary Library, the National Music Centre, and more. Some of these attractions are featured in this article.
Outside of the attractions though, we definitely recommend walking down Stephen Avenue, which is a mostly car-free pedestrian area and the oldest part of Calgary with beautiful old buildings and lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s parallel to the downtown C-train station, which is free in the downtown core, and at the eastern end of Stephen Avenue is Olympic Park, a popular place to go skating.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider taking a guided walking tour of Calgary.
2. Walk Around Eau Claire and Peace Bridge
Although we touched on Eau Claire and Peace Bridge in our section about downtown Calgary, it really deserves its own mention. Located roughly eight city blocks from popular Stephen Avenue, Eau Claire is a popular place to walk around at all times of the year. Although it’s most popular in the summer months, it’s a great place to visit at any time of year, and can be especially scenic when covered in snow. If it’s not too cold, Prince’s Island Park is a lovely place to go for a walk as it’s surrounded by trees and by the Bow River, which runs through Calgary. If you’re looking for a bite to eat at one of the top restaurants in Canada, you can also find the River Cafe, which is the only restaurant within the park. Not far from the River Cafe is Peace Bridge, another iconic landmark in Calgary. This beautiful red pedestrian bridge crosses over the Bow River and makes for a great photo op. If you walk across it, you can also access Kensington, one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Calgary. Last but not least, if you do need a warm-up, there are plenty of restaurants within Eau Claire, including the Eau Claire shopping centre, which is home to a very quiet food court, some unique shops, and a Cineplex theatre.
Not sure where to start? Consider taking a guided bus tour around Calgary to learn more about the city!
3. Enjoy Winter Activities in Calgary at WinSport
Whether you’re looking to go tubing, skiing, skating, or snowboarding, WinSport (formerly Calgary Olympic Park) is a great place to go. Located on Calgary’s west side, it’s an amazing facility that was originally built in 1988 for the Winter Olympics. Due to everything they offer, WinSport is a very popular place for enjoying Calgary in the winter.
Let’s start with tubing. The park features 10 groomed lanes dedicated to tubing during the winter months. This is a very fun activity for all ages. In fact, we even brought our mother one year, and despite being in her 60s, she had a great time. Kids will definitely have the time of their lives.
Besides tubing though, WinSport is most known for skiing and snowboarding. Since this is a hill and not a mountain, it certainly doesn’t compare to what you’ll find in the Canadian Rockies, but for a ski hill inside a major city, it’s very good and is a great place for kids, those who like terrain parks, and those learning how to ski or snowboard. Both the lift tickets and lessons are much cheaper than at the bigger resorts, and it’s not nearly as scary for beginners.
WinSport also offers unique activities such as luge, and although it’s not currently open, they have offered a bobsleigh experience in the past, which sends visitors down an Olympic bobsleigh track at speeds up to 100km/h. Plus, you can also visit the Canada Sports Hall of Fame for something fun to do indoors.
4. Attend a Calgary Winter Event
Like many cities in Canada, Calgary has a few different winter festivals that are fun to experience. One of the newest festivals is the GLOW Winter Light Festival, which takes place in February and features family-friendly activations, performances, art installations, and more. Another popular and relatively new Calgary winter event is Chinook Blast, which celebrates the best of Calgary’s winter in the heart of the city with light installations, theatrical performances, outdoor sports, cultural celebrations, recreational activities, and much more. Then there’s Blockheater, which was created by the Calgary Folk Music to celebrate live music, hosting both local and international artists at venues across the city.
For those wanting a hot drink, there’s also the Calgary Hot Chocolate Festival, which is a great time to try many different variations of this sweet concoction with many different cafés, restaurants, and chocolatiers creating specialty hot chocolates to sample and rate, as they compete to be the hot chocolate champion.
5. Go Ice Skating Outdoors
Another very iconic winter activity is outdoor ice skating. There are a variety of outdoor skating rinks in Calgary that are free to experience, and some even offer skate rentals if you don’t have your own. One of the most popular is Olympic Plaza as it’s conveniently located in downtown Calgary and is open from 6 am to 11 am. It is also one of only two refrigerated outdoor skating rinks in Calgary, so even when the Chinook arrives and the weather warms up, the ice will be skate-ready. Skate rentals are around $8 and there’s a big Christmas tree on display as well.
Another popular spot for skating is in Bowness Park, which is on the far west side of Calgary, relatively close to WinSport. This park features a 1.6 km ice trail through the park, making it more interesting than a common circular rink. You can even change it up and rent an Ice bike for a very unique experience. This rink is open from 5 am to 11 pm daily.
Another option is North Glenmore Park, which is located 15 minutes from Calgary’s downtown area and offers a skating rink and a 0.7-km ice trail from 11 am to 10 pm daily.
Lastly, there’s a brand new outdoor skating rink that just opened up in 2022. It’s located in the Central University District, which is only 10 minutes north of downtown. This is probably the biggest outdoor skating area in the city and from what we’ve heard, it also has refrigeration to keep it cool at all times.
6. Enjoy the Calgary Zoo and ZOOLIGHTS
While some of the animals at the Calgary Zoo are hibernating during the winter months, some of them are out year-round, making this a great place for those wanting to see some furry creatures. One of the most popular things to see at the Calgary Zoo during the winter is the penguin walk, a 15-minute walk where you can follow the king penguins throughout the park as they get their daily exercise.
However, one of the main things to do in Calgary in the winter is to see ZOOLIGHTS, a popular nighttime winter attraction that features hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights and exciting themed areas and activities including a new story in Prehistoric Park, a new Polar Wonderland, a multi-sensory experience in the gorilla amphitheatre, the Nutcracker in the ENMAX Conservatory, brand new Snow Globes for rent and so much more!
7. Explore Calgary’s Heritage Park
Heritage Park is Canada’s largest living heritage museum, spanning over 127 acres and home to the Heritage Park Historical Village, Gasoline Alley Museum, and Heritage Town Square. While the main historical village, which is outdoors, is closed during the winter months, it does open up for a very special winter event called Once Upon a Christmas. During select dates in November and December, this is a great chance to experience the magic of Christmas at Heritage Park with twinkling lights, classic indoor and outdoor Christmas activities, horse-drawn wagon rides, visits with Santa, scavenger hunts, crafts, music, entertainment and so much more!
If you’re not here during those dates, there are other events as well and Gasoline Alley remains open all year, with beautiful displays of classic cars and oil and gas memorabilia. The Heritage Town Square is also open all year round and is home to four unique retail shops and an old-fashioned soda shop, a counter service restaurant, the Railway Cafe, and the Selkirk – a full-service restaurant open for lunch and dinner. For this area, no park admission is required.
Optional: Take a guided bus tour of Calgary that includes a visit to Gasoline Alley at Heritage Park!
8. Get Views from the Calgary Tower
Another iconic attraction in Calgary is the Calgary Tower, which stands 191 metres tall, offering beautiful views of Calgary and the foothills. It’s a great place to get some photos of the city or walk on the glass floor for an added thrill.
If you’re looking for a delicious meal, you can also sit down for some fine dining at Sky 360 restaurant, which is located on the tower observation floor level. You’ll still have to pay for admission but it’s a great place to enjoy a meal while admiring rotating views of the city.
9. Shop at the Many Christmas Markets
If you’re here prior to the Christmas holidays, there are many Christmas markets you might enjoy. These markets include many handcrafts, homemade food, unique gifts, and sometimes even music, entertainment, and photos with Santa. Some popular options include the Millarville Christmas Market, Inglewood Night Market, Calgary Christmas Market, the Bowness Holiday Craft Fair, Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market, Granary Road’s Christmas Market, Saskatoon Farm Christmas Market, and many more.
10. Go Cross-Country Skiing
If downhill skiing is too scary, you’re looking for a little exercise, or you just want to try another iconic Canadian winter activity, consider going cross-country skiing. Calgary offers both free designated cross-country skiing trails and the choice to go off-trail and create your own trails.
Groomed cross-country skiing trails maintained by the city are available at South Glenmore Park and Bowness Park. However, those looking for ungroomed trails will want to go to North Glenmore Park and Weaselhead Natural Environment Park. There’s also the Foothills Nordik Centre at the Confederation Park Golf Course, Maple Ridge Golf Course and Shaganappi Point Golf Course, all of which offer cross-country skiing.
There are many ski shops in Calgary that rent cross-country skis, many of which charge roughly $20 per day. If you are new to the sport, lessons are available at the Nordic Center, and if you want more adventure, you can always head to the Rocky Mountains as well.
11. Watch the Calgary Flames NHL Team
Another great thing about the winter is the NHL season. For those interested in hockey, Calgary is home to one of Canada’s seven NHL teams. The Calgary Flames play at the Saddledome arena, which is located in Stampede Park, just east of popular 17th Avenue SW. It can be accessed by the C-train and is one of the most exciting places to watch hockey. The season generally runs from September until May, and with 82 games in a season, you have a good chance of catching a home game when you’re in town. Tickets can be expensive but if you’re willing to sit in the nosebleeds (the highest seats), you can sometimes pay as little as $25, especially when utilizing aftermarket sales sites such as StubHub or GameTime.
12. Visit the Glenbow Museum
If you’d prefer to do something indoors during the winter in Calgary, the Glenbow Museum is a great option. Not only is it located along popular Stephens Avenue, making it easy to access, but it also features lots of incredible art, Indigenous galleries, and of course, galleries about the history of Alberta.
Right now, the museum is closed for extensive renovations, but from what we’ve heard, it will not only be bigger and better when it opens, but it will also be completely free.
13. Spark Your Brain at the Spark Science Centre
If you like to learn about all sorts of interesting things, you might want to add the Telus Spark Science Centre to your winter in Calgary bucket list. This place is great for kids, but also for adults, with a wide range of exhibits teaching you about various aspects of life and the natural world. They also have a planetarium with the largest globe theatre in Western Canada, offering great movies that feature many beautiful natural attractions.
One of the things people love about the Telus Spark Science Centre is that it’s very hands-on. Whether you’re stepping on a scale to see how much water is in your body or recording your voice on a loop as you try to harmonize with yourself, there’s lots of fun to be had at the museum, which also happens to be right next to the Calgary Zoo.
14. Visit Fort Calgary
Fort Calgary is another attraction to visit in winter, offering both indoor and outdoor activities. Depending on the day, there may be guided or self-guided tours, teaching you about things such as Calgary’s history or the days of fur trading and the Hudson Bay Company. Fort Calgary also features many replicas of old buildings such as stores, hospitals, and offices, giving you a glimpse into the city back in the day.
15. Go Shopping
Whether you’re looking to do some Christmas shopping, find some amazing sales, or just get out of the cold for a bit, Calgary has lots of places to go shopping. The biggest mall in Calgary is Chinook Mall, which is located on Macleod Trail, less than 10 minutes from downtown Calgary. This mall features hundreds of stores, a big food court, and a Cineplex movie theatre. There’s also the CORE Shopping Centre, which is right in the downtown core off Stephen’s Avenue and CrossIron Mills Retail Outlet, a massive mall just outside the city on the way to Edmonton.
16. Admire the Calgary Central Library
Located in downtown Calgary, right off the C-train line, is the beautiful Calgary Central Library, a four-story building designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. This building has won many awards for its architecture and was even featured in the New York Times. However, unless you’re looking to read or connect to the internet, the main thing to do here is to just take some photos and admire the beauty of it all from both the outside and from the inside. In addition to the Insta-worthy photos, you can also stop at Luke’s for some great coffee or some of the best soft-serve ice cream in the city.
17. Visit Studio Bell National Music Centre
Not far from the Calgary Central Library is another one of the most popular indoor attractions in Calgary. Studio Bell, which is home to the National Music Centre, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire city and is a great place for anyone interested in music.
Explore five floors of exhibitions that tell the story of music in Canada, celebrate music icons at the Canadian Music Halls of Fame, rock out at interactive instrument installations and check out North America’s most eclectic musical instrument collection.
This 160,000-square-foot attraction cost $168,000,000 to build and opened up in 2016, along with the adjacent King Edward Hotel, a historic hotel that is now home to a great bar with live music and great food.
18. Go Ice Fishing
Another popular winter activity in Alberta is ice fishing, but this can be a very hard activity to enjoy for those who don’t live here and have all the equipment. However, Calgary’s Alberta Fishing Charters offers unique ice fishing packages near the city, giving you a chance to try it out without buying all the gear. Starting at $399 CAD per couple ($75 per extra guest), you’ll get access to everything you need, including an ice-fishing tent and a personal guide.
19. Go Fat-Tire Biking
One of the newest winter activities in Canada is fat tire biking. This activity is the same as biking but with fat tires, which make it easier to traverse through the snow. There are many places that rent fat tire bikes in Calgary and in places like Banff, giving you the opportunity to go biking in the winter. For Calgary, we’d recommend grabbing a rental from Ridley’s Cycle, which is right downtown near the Bow River, making it easy to bike through some of Calgary’s most scenic areas such as East Village, Eau Claire, the Bow River Pathway, Prince’s Island Park, and more.
You can always ask the rental shop for ideas on where to go but make sure you dress in layers as you’ll be working up a sweat and might need to add or remove layers as you go.
20. Hang Out With Wolves
Wolves are beautiful to look at but it’s not too often you can get up close and personal with them. However, just outside Calgary, near Cochrane, is the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, a not-for-profit organization that takes care of rescued wolfdogs, giving you the chance to learn all about wolves and see them for yourself in a natural environment.
Keep in mind that children under six are not allowed in the sanctuary and the paths can’t accommodate strollers. There’s also no fur or faux fur clothing allowed and no dogs either. Learn more about what to expect by visiting their website, but if you can make it, it’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget.
21. Go Sledding
Perhaps one of the most iconic winter activities for people growing up in Canada is sledding. All you have to do is grab a sled, find a hill, climb to the top, and slide down. Since Calgary is full of hills, it’s a great city to go sledding. However, keep in mind that this activity is certainly not without its risks and some hills are much faster than others. One of the more “advanced” hills is Elgin Hill in Mckenzie Towne. Another one is Stanley Park along the Elbow River.
For those just starting out, you might be better off going to Glendale Park, which has fewer obstacles and is safer than the others. Confederation Park and Deerfoot Athletic Park have intermediate hills.
As far as we know, there are no sled rental shops, so you would have to buy one at places like Canadian Tire or Wal-Mart.
22. Get Warm in a Calgary Coffee Shop
These days, it’s hard to walk more than one block without coming across a café or two. Calgary, in particular, is known for its constantly evolving coffee culture, so if you’re looking to escape the cold and get a jolt of energy, there are lots of unique and high-quality Calgary coffee shops to choose from.
23. Drink Some Local Beer
As much as we all love a hot drink on a cold day, it’s hard to beat a pint of locally brewed beer. Thankfully, there’s a seemingly endless array of options in Calgary. In fact, there are more than 50 breweries in Calgary, many of which are highly ranked. The breweries are scattered throughout the city and offer everything from hoppy IPAs to delicious fruity sours. Some only offer beer while others have some of the best food in the city. Either way, if you love beer, Calgary is a great place to be.
24. Take a Day Trip to the Kananaskis
Not far from Calgary, on the way to Banff, is the beautiful Kananaskis region. While popular in the summer, especially for hiking in the Kananaskis, there’s actually lots to do in the winter months, especially in Kananaskis Village, which is where you’ll find Nakiska Ski Resort, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, the beautiful Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, and a variety of activities, such as dog-sledding and hiking opportunities.
The Kananaskis can easily be a day trip from Calgary or you can spend the night at the lodge or even in nearby Canmore. Nakiska Ski Resort is popular with families as it’s not only close to Calgary but also much cheaper than the Banff ski resorts. They offer a number of beautiful runs for all levels and also have a popular glade section for those who like to ski between the trees.
Not far from Nakiska is also a popular hike called Troll Falls. It’s only 90 minutes and is quite easy. The frozen waterfall is beautiful to see in the winter months but you should be prepared with ice cleats or spikes in case it’s icy.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a romantic getaway and the chance to maybe do some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, you might want to check out Mount Engadine Lodge, which offers both lodging and glamping options.
Please note that a Kananaskis Pass is now needed for vehicles entering the park. These passes cost $15 per day per vehicle or $90 for a full year.
26. Go Caving in Canmore
Many people who drive to Canmore and Banff are eager to get on top of the mountains, but with Canmore Cave Tours, you can actually go inside a mountain, traversing narrow passageways and learning about the history of the area. Open year-round, one of the benefits of going inside the mountain is that the temperature is roughly the same in all seasons. You’ll be surprised as to how much warmer it is inside the cave than outside the cave. There are two main tours to choose from, and it really just depends on whether you want to spend 2.5 hours or 4.5 hours underground. The longer tour also includes an 18m rappel (no experience necessary) and the extra time in the cave allows you to go further.
27. Visit Banff National Park
There’s no doubt that Banff is one of the most famous towns in Canada. Located within the beautiful Canadian Rockies, just over an hour west of Calgary, Banff is a winter paradise with world-class skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and so much more. The town itself is extremely picturesque with beautiful streets, cute buildings, and lots of shops and restaurants.
Due to it being a touristy town, there are loads of things to do in Banff, including Banff Hot Springs, the famous Fairmont Banff Springs, the Banff Gondola, frozen lakes to skate on, and so much more. While you’re there, don’t forget to indulge in one of the many Banff restaurants.
Don’t have a vehicle? No worries! Take a guided private tour to Banff National Park from Calgary.
28. Visit Lake Louise
Another spectacular winter destination is Lake Louise, which is only 45 minutes west of Banff. Many people just come here to admire the frozen lake and the beauty that surrounds it, but you can also do some hikes, go snowshoeing, go cross-country skiing, or even go skating on Lake Louise itself. There’s also the spectacular Ice Magic Festival, which features talented ice carvers from across the world. There are also many hotels and lodges if you’d like to spend the night, including the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
29. Drive the World-Famous Icefields Parkway
Last but not least, Calgary is a great base for exploring the Icefields Parkway, which is often known as one of the best road trips in the world. During the winter, it can be icy and winter tires are mandatory, but if you’re keen to make the trip, which basically takes you from Banff to Jasper, this truly is a spectacular road trip through the Rocky Mountains. Once you arrive in Jasper, you can enjoy all sorts of winter activities, and then you can either come back down the Icefields Parkway or head east to Edmonton.
Winter Travel Videos You Might Enjoy
Did you know that we have an award-winning Youtube channel dedicated to travel in Canada? Well, below are just some of the videos we’ve made about things to do in the winter in Calgary and in Alberta.
Looking For More?
As much as we love Calgary in the winter, there are lots of other great places nearby. For more ideas on what to do, check out these travel guides below.