Calgary in Winter: 10 Festive and Cozy Things to Do (+ Tips!)

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Are you planning a trip to Calgary in winter and are not sure how to keep yourself occupied? This Calgary winter guide will give you all the tips and the best things to do in Calgary in winter to ensure you have an epic trip!

If you have any tips for winter in Calgary, be sure to leave them in the comments!  

Best Things to Do in Calgary in Winter

Calgary is the largest city in the province of Alberta, Canada. Often overlooked by tourists traveling to the Canadian Rockies, and merely using the city as a stopover, we highly recommend adding Calgary to your Banff Itinerary for its culinary and city vibes.

In addition, Calgary is the nearest airport to Banff and other national parks in the Rockies. It is located only 1.5 hours away from the mountains.

If you are visiting Calgary in the winter, you will be welcomed to a white, winter wonderland!  And there are so many things to do in Calgary in winter that you will have no issue keeping occupied if you’re combining the Canadian city with a Banff trip or not.

Calgary in winter in Canada
Calgary in winter

When is it Winter in Calgary?

Winter in Calgary technically starts toward the end of December and finishes by the end of March.  However, it tends to last longer in this part of Canada and Calgary is no exception!

How Cold Does it Get in Calgary?

Is it cold in Calgary, you ask? Yes, it is cold.

Winter temperatures in Calgary range from -1C to a low of – 12C and with the wind chill, it could drop to below – 20C. The only way to enjoy the winters in Calgary is to layer and dress warmly!

The coldest month in Calgary tends to be January and (usually), Calgary is colder than Toronto.  Also, note that Calgary can be very windy!

Does it Snow in Calgary during Winter?

Yes, you will almost certainly see snow in Calgary in winter.

The first snowfall usually arrives in September or October and the last one will usually fall in April or May. There are an estimated 55 snowfall days in Calgary annually and around 1288mm (50.7in) of snow accumulates.

What to Know Before Visiting Calgary in Winter

There are many things to know before visiting Calgary in winter and this guide hits all of the activities and things to do, but here are a few useful pieces of information to know that will help you in planning your winter Calgary trip.

Banff in winter under snow

Do You Need a Visa to Visit Canada?

  • Travelers from the USA: US passport holders traveling to Canada can stay visa-free if staying for less than 180 days. 
  • Travelers from the EU: European Union nationals are visa-exempt (for up to six months stay). Need to complete an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) online, before boarding their flights to Canada. 

Indians or non-visa exempt visitors traveling to Canada, need to apply for a visitor visa from the country of residence, and prior to arriving in Canada.

Currency in Canada

Canada uses Canadian dollars. The acceptance of USD is very rare in Calgary and Banff. Credit cards are widely accepted, and debit machines are easily available across the city.

How to Get Around Calgary in Winter 

Calgary is best explored using a car in the winter. You can easily rent a car from Calgary Airport

Calgary also has a well connected and a reliable public transportation network, including buses and light rail train. As many of the landmarks are located in the downtown area, you can also take the airport shuttle to reach the city’s core from the airport. 

Buses are also available to take you to major hotels in Calgary downtown. If you are planning to use public transportation, note that fares for adults start at $3.50 CAD for one trip. Multi-day and monthly passes available for long term stay. 

Do dress warmly, as it could get very cold while you wait at the LRT platforms or bus stations. If you are driving in town, ensure you have winter tires on and drive safely! 

View of Saddledome from Calgary Tower

What to Pack for Winter in Calgary

If this is your first-ever trip to Canada or Calgary, here are some travel essentials for winter in Calgary. 

  • Outerwear: Wear warm parka/outerwear for your winter visit to Calgary. Ensure it has a deep hood, and sleeves with tight cuffs to keep the cold wind out.  This Helly Hansen parka is wonderful.
  • Thermal top and bottoms (or Long Johns): Layering is key to enjoy Canadian winters. Wear thermals for your base layer. Highly recommend using Merino Wool thermals.
  • Snow pants for outdoor adventures
  • Snow boots: Wear mid or tall winter boots to stay warm outside. Ensure the boots have strong outsole threads. Sorel is a Canadian brand and knows how to get the job done!
  • Accessories: Carry and wear gloves, beanie or warm cap, warm socks, scarf
  • Also carry – t-shirts, cardigans or vest (for mid-layer), loungewear, undergarments
  • Cosmetics: Sunscreen, moisturizer, hand cream, lip balm, perfume
  • Add sunglasses and don’t forget your camera gear, cash, and travel documents

If you’re keen to photograph, please do bring extra batteries for your camera (they will drain in cold temperatures) as well as a mobile power bank for your cell phone (it will also drain). 

If you’re seeking a more detailed packing list, feel free to look over our Norway winter packing list where you will use the essentials.

Calgary Things to Do in Winter – Map

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What to Do in Calgary in Winter

There are plenty of cool activities in Calgary in winter that you can join in on and enjoy this beautiful time of year.  Here are some of the recommended things to do in Calgary during winter.

Explore Downtown Calgary 

There are so many things to do in downtown Calgary from festive dinners and shopping to seasonal events.

Many of the city’s prime attractions are also located in the downtown area such as the Calgary Tower, Bow Building, Peace Bridge, and Glenbow Museum just to name a few. 

Calgary downtown
Downtown Calgary

Depending on your tolerance for the cold, you can either walk the Stephen Avenue Walk or take a spin and drive through the lanes of Calgary’s downtown by admiring the beautiful holiday season lights.  If you’re seeking what to do in Calgary in winter, strolling the downtown is a must!

Don’t forget to stop by a local cafe for coffee or a drink.  It will warm you up and prepare you for the rest of your day.

Enjoy Tubing at WinSport Tube Park

Enjoy winter tubing in Calgary at WinSport Tube Park. The park features 10 groomed lanes for ice tubing in the winter (starting from January to March). It is located on the east side of the main hill near Calgary Olympics complex. 

Head to the Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower is one of the iconic landmarks of Calgary. Standing tall at 191 meters, Calgary Tower welcomes you to amazing city views in the winter.

From up top, you can check out the Calgary Saddledome, and many other landmark buildings covered in dusty snow – and it looks amazing!

Calgary tower
Calgary Tower

The glass floor of the Calgary Tower is a great attraction inside. Don’t forget to snap a photo there as you will get a chance to see the Calgary winter landscapes from above!

If you are cold and hungry, stop at the Sky 360 restaurant located at the tower observation floor level. Please note that there is an $18 CAD fee per adult to visit the Calgary Tower. 

Ice Skating at Prince’s Island Park

Prince’s Island Park is located in downtown Calgary. This urban park is a local favorite and during the summers and winters, it is used as a venue for outdoor events.

The lagoon at Prince’s Island Park becomes super solid in the winter, and it is a perfect heaven for ice skating in Calgary. You don’t have to go too far from Calgary to enjoy ice skating in the outdoors!

Learn City History at Fort Calgary 

Fort Calgary is another attraction to visit in winter. You can learn about so many quirky details of the city’s formation since the days of Hudson Bay and fur trading.

There are many replicas (stores, hospitals, offices) that showcase how life was during those times.

During summer, this place is a delight to explore. And in the harsh Calgary winter, you get to learn about the city, buy souvenirs, and warm-up and get toasty inside!

Please note that there is an entry fee at Fort Calgary and it is $12 CAD per adult. 

Explore the River Walk and Peace Bridge

If the cold doesn’t bother you, take a walk along the river. The Eau Claire market area is our favorite, and the pretty red bridge, also known as the Peace Bridge, looks wonderful covered in snow. 

Peace Bridge
Peace Bridge in Calgary in winter

Go Shopping in Calgary

Shop at one or many of the retail outlets in Calgary and nearby areas (like Rocky View County). During this time, malls look extra pretty with beautiful festive decorations, and seasonal events, and retail sales. 

Our favorites include: CORE Shopping Center, Chinook Mall, CrossIron Mills Retail Outlet

Visit Fairmont Palliser Hotel for Winter Events

Fairmont Palliser Hotel is a 5-star heritage hotel in Calgary. During the winters, the hotel has specials for couples and spa packages (they are great for staycations), and festive comfort food and dining.

Last year, they had a giant gingerbread house on display for visitors to see!

Visit the Glenbow Museum in Calgary

If the weather is too cold for you, head indoors to a museum. Located in downtown Calgary is the popular art museum – Glenbow Museum. If you wish to learn about Canada’s Indigenous Cultures, this is a good place to start in the city.

Glenbow Museum
Glenbow Museum in Calgary

Glenbow’s library and archival material showcase art history from various corners of western Canada. The entry fee is $19 CAD per adult. 

Check Out the Calgary Central Library

The wonderfully designed Calgary Central Library is an amazing place to visit. Located in downtown Calgary, the four-story building was designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta (they also designed the Oslo Opera House, one of the best places to visit in Oslo!) and Canadian firm DIALOG. 

It’s oval-like form and an interior with a large central atrium makes for amazing Instagram photos. It is a serene place to read or just to hang out and there is a public plaza located near the complex.

Head to Calgary Olympics Stadium (WinSport)

Calgary was home to the 1988 Winter Olympics, and hence why the state of the art complex was established a little outside of Calgary city. This is an amazing spot to enjoy winter activities from skiing, skating, tubing, and more.

You can easily get ski lessons there from a seasoned instructor at a nominal fee. 

Attend a Calgary Flames Games

In Canada and thinking of sports? In case you didn’t know, ice hockey is huge in Canada. In Calgary, you must catch a game of the Calgary Flames. They are a professional ice hockey team in Calgary.

Where to Eat in Calgary

The winter menu at the Calgary restaurants brings in seasonal flavor and tons of comfort food. Don’t forget to pair your delicious dinner with a tasty drink.

Alberta Steak: Alberta steak is the most popular food to try out in the province. You can easily order Alberta beef at local restaurants, markets, and food halls.

Top places to try: Caesar’s Steak Restaurant & Lounge, Pampa’s, Hy’s Steakhouse

Drinks: Head to World Bier Haus Restaurant for a wonderful beer evening. This restaurant has many varieties of beer to try. 

For breakfast and snacks: Head to Janice Beaton Fine Cheese & Grill, 1886 Buffalo Cafe at Eau Claire. Enjoy hot chocolate if you plan to wander the downtown area (in the cold!)

Romantic dining options at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel Restaurant or Sky 360.

In addition, in the Downtown Calgary / Stephen Avenue area, you can easily find intercontinental bars and restaurants.  There are many fantastic places to eat in Calgary in winter (and year-round!)

Best Winter Day Trips from Calgary

There are many places you can visit on a day trip from Calgary (including Banff National Park for winter activities). We have listed some of the best winter day trips from Calgary below.

Abraham Lake

Abraham Lake is where you can view the famous ice bubbles from deep underwater. Abraham Lake is an artificial lake, located about 3.5 hours away from Calgary. This is definitely a longer day trip so perhaps plan it as a weekend excursion.

Banff National Park

Of course, when we talk about Banff, you can rest assured that you will enjoy more ice skating and cross country skiing there in the mountains. There are three ski resorts in Banff where you can go skiing and they are:

  • Mt. Norquay
  • Lake Louise Ski Resort 
  • Sunshine Village

From Banff town, you can also plan to explore Lake Louise. The frozen lake looks delightful in the winter. You can easily find options to stay in Banff and Lake Louise if you prefer. 

winter and snow in Banff

Drumheller

Drumheller to Calgary is about 1.5 in distance. It is home to Midland Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum which houses the “World’s Largest Dinosaur”.

Located in the town are the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site and the Hoodoos.  This is definitely one of the coolest day trips from Calgary in winter.

Edmonton

Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton, should not be missed if you wish to explore the province’s best in winter.

Yes, it gets super cold there, but that brings in amazing winter festivals like the Ice Castles, Luminaria, Zoominence, and more. I highly recommend visiting the Legislature Grounds to view the festive lights and decorations. 

Where to Stay in Calgary

There are two neighborhoods where we normally stay in Calgary and this is what we would recommend to you as well. They are, of course, the downtown area and near the Calgary Airport. 

Staying near the airport will allow quick access to Banff as well as the Rocky View Outlet Mall. Most hotels will have free parking on-site, plus free breakfast. Most hotels in this area are in the budget to mid-range.

Staying in the downtown area means tons of restaurants, cafes, and sightseeing sites are within walking distance. You can choose from mid to luxury hotels.

Winter in Calgary skyline
Winter in Calgary

Most properties will be highrise buildings with amazing views from suites. Parking and breakfast won’t be included in your nightly rates. 

Here are our top picks for Calgary hotels for your trip:

  • Palliser Fairmont (downtown, luxury): A top 5-star vintage hotel in the heart of downtown Calgary. Perfect for a romantic staycation or just if you are after a little luxury. 
  • Sheraton Hotel (downtown, 4 stars): Located near Eau Claire Market, Sheraton Hotel is another personal favorite. Super big rooms with great views, this property won’t disappoint you! 
  • Hampton Inn Airport (airport, 3 stars): Lovely 3 star property with free breakfast and parking, we love staying at the Hampton Inn. Opt for a suite with airport views like us. 

We hope you enjoyed this list of amazing things to do in Calgary for your winter trip! 

Should You Travel to Calgary in Winter?

You definitely should choose a trip to Calgary in winter if you don’t mind the cold and are still looking for a fun city with plenty to do!  If you’re visiting Banff in winter, definitely consider adding on a few days in Calgary.

Author Bio:

Mayuri is an avid traveler and founder of ToSomePlaceNew, a city and culture travel website. An Indian-Canadian, she is a History graduate and an MBA who loves to explore cultural nuances in Europe, Canada & beyond. She lives near the Canadian Rockies, and travels with her husband!  You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for more.

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