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With a glimmering downtown skyline that overlooks the Elbow and Bow rivers, business powerhouse Calgary, Alberta, is a cosmopolitan destination on the Canadian Prairie, with the Rocky Mountain foothills in the near distance. The city offers visitors plenty of outdoor activities year-round. The nightlife, shopping and cultural scenes prove that Calgary is as sophisticated as they come, even as the annual Calgary Stampede rodeo proves it hasn’t forsaken its cowboy past.
REASONS TO GO
Spectator Sports: Hockey ranks right alongside rodeo for fanatic devotion, with fans coming out to Scotiabank Saddledome to root for the NHL’s Calgary Flames. The Flames organization also owns the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, who play at McMahon Stadium, just south of the University of Calgary. Downtown, Flames Central draws a festive crowd as a glitzy, over-the-top, team-themed sports bar and live music venue.
Wildlife Watching: Get a look at local bison, wolves and cougars at the Canadian Wilds exhibit in the conservation-minded Calgary Zoo, located in the Bridgeland-Riverside neighborhood, northeast of downtown. Families come for the institution's intimate attractions such as free-roaming peacocks and the Penguin Plunge exhibit, as well as the startling animatronic dinosaurs of Prehistoric Park (open in warm-weather months).
Shop Around: Mission, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, is home to boutiques and restaurants up and down Fourth Street. Stephen Avenue, a downtown pedestrian mall, is lined with upmarket boutiques, restaurants and bars, but also major shopping areas like The Core Shopping Centre and Bankers Hall.
Cultural Character: Learn about the area's native people by visiting the Glenbow Museum's Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and First Nations exhibitions. In Chinatown, the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre proudly displays the city's diversity with an artifacts museum, auditorium, library and the vividly decorated, high-ceilinged Dr. Henry Fok Cultural Hall.
Outdoor Action: The largest urban park in Canada, Fish Creek Provincial Park has hiking and biking trails connecting to the city's trail system, forest areas teeming with wildlife, and Sikome Lake, a popular, man-made swimming area complete with a beachfront. Family-friendly Bowness Park is a go-to summer picnic spot, and its lagoon is a favorite for boating in the warmer months and ice skating in winter.
DON'T MISS: CALGARY STAMPEDE Every July, the city welcomes more than a million rodeo-loving revelers to the Calgary Stampede for ten days of parades, bull riding, carnival rides, big-name bands, cowboy costumes, Old West decorations, free pancake breakfasts and much more. The adrenaline buzz of "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" lives up to the hype.
WHEN TO GO: While the Stampede is by far Calgary's largest party, the convivial atmosphere continues throughout summer with festivals celebrating folk music, reggae, gay pride and fireworks. The city keeps spirits high in January with the High Performance Rodeo festival, and in February with the Midwinter Bluesfest and Block Heater music festivals. When winter temperatures drop, the Devonian Gardens, atop the Core Shopping Centre, provide a tropical oasis, with 550 palm trees, fountains, fish ponds and a three-block long skylight.
TRAVEL TIP: Take a 20-minute drive west from Calgary to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and Bragg Creek. You can pack a picnic lunch for the town's Provincial Park to enjoy mountain views, rock skipping on Elbow River and fresh air along well-maintained trails. Further afield, more than two hours east of Calgary, is the seminal Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of stark badlands. There, paleontologists have excavated more than 150 complete dinosaur skeletons over the last century.