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Join the stampede

City lures visitors with arts, shopping, and the Canadian Rockies

Calgary, Alberta
Check out steer wrestling at the Calgary Stampede, which takes place July 4-13. (Grant Black / Calgary Herald via AP)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / May 7, 2008

CALGARY, ALBERTA

DISTANCE FROM BOSTON: 2,580 miles

POPULATION: 1 million

WEBSITE: tourismcalgary.com

ODD FACT: Though it may be built on gas and oil, Calgary is a green city. Not only is it high among numbers of Green Party voters, but also city leaders have committed to a deep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Visitors who fly into Calgary and head straight for the Canadian Rockies, only an hour north, are missing out on a vibrant city filled with cultural events, wonderful shopping, and a surprisingly plentiful array of outstanding restaurants. Although Calgary can seem a bit of a concrete jungle, pounding that pavement is the best way to explore its rich offerings. If you come during its world-famous Stampede days, when thousands of cowboys and rodeo fans pour into the city, keep in mind that Calgarians don't hoot 'n' holler and hold citywide free pancake breakfasts year-round.

Do
Only during the 10 days of the Calgary Stampede (July 4-13, 800-661-1767, calgarystampede .com, park admission $6-$13; rodeo seats $23-$320; chuckwagon-race seats $34-$320), when the city goes full gallop, will you see residents in cowboy hats. The 96-year-old event draws more than 1.25 million people, many of them tourists. Folks come for the midway, entertainment, rodeos, and chuckwagon races, where drivers in horse-powered wagons blast around a track for major money. Explore the history of Canada's west and Calgary at the Glenbow Museum (130 Ninth Ave. SE, 403-268-4100, glenbow.org, daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays till 9; $9-$14, families $28). Don't miss the Blackfoot Gallery, "Nitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life," and the new "Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta." The fun is outdoors at Heritage Park Historical Village (1900 Heritage Drive SW, 403-268-8500, May 17-Sept. 1, daily 9 a.m. -5 p.m.; through Oct. 13 weekends only; $10-$15, families $49.) A steam locomotive and horse-drawn wagon set in a 1910 town are favorites with children.

Rest
If you want swanky, look no farther than the Fairmont Palliser (133 Ninth Ave. SW, 403-262-1234, 800-441-1414, fairmont.com/ palliser, doubles from $129). Opened in 1914 as the Palliser, it was built to capitalize on wealthy tourists going to Banff. The public areas still boast oak paneling, candelabras, and marble columns. Calgary's funkiest spot to stay is Hotel Arts (119 12th Ave. SW, 800-661-9378, 403-266-4611, hotelarts.ca, doubles from $129), the city's first boutique designer hotel, and a big one at that, with 185 rooms. A homey option away from downtown and a mile from the trendy Kensington neighborhood is Lions Park Bed & Breakfast Inn (1331 15th St. NW, 800-475-7262, 403-282-2728, lionsparkbb .com, doubles from $75).

Fuel
This city has become a foodie's paradise. For a taste of Calgary, sign up with Urban Safari Tours (403-283-3158, urbansafaritours.com, $85), a restaurant tour-guide service. If you venture out on your own, a lovely but pricey downtown spot is River Cafe (Prince's Island Park, 403-261-7670, river-cafe.com, lunch $16-$26, dinner $24-$45). The leafy park setting along the Bow River can't be beat and the seasonal Canadian cuisine is mighty fine. You'll find a hipper crowd at The Living Room (514 17th Ave. SW, 403-228-9830, livingroomrestaurant.ca, lunch $12-$20, dinner $23-$45). Some dishes are for two or more, hence the label "contemporary interactive cuisine." For breakfast and lunch, get in line at one of six funky and individually decorated Nellie's (738 17th Ave. SW is the original, 403-244-4616, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m., breakfast $3-10.50). Try the Belly Buster ($10.50) if you dare. It includes a brimming carbo-protein extravaganza of three eggs, French toast or pancakes, your choice of meat, toast, and hash browns.

Spend
The city has an abundance of cool shopping districts with independently owned stores galore. You won't be disappointed if you check out: historic Stephen Avenue, between First Street SE and Fifth Street SW; 17th Avenue SW between Second and Tenth streets (uptown17.ca); Kensington Village (visitkensington.com), the 1000 and 1100 blocks along Kensington Road SW; Fourth Street between 21st Avenue and the Elbow River; in Inglewood, the 1200 block of Ninth Ave. SE, where you'll find the mecca for music collectors in the rambling Recordland (1208 Ninth Ave. SW, 403-262-3839). To visit artisans' and designers' working studios, head to Art Central and Fashion Central (100 Seventh Ave. SW, artcentral.ca, fashioncentral.ca). If traditional Western wear is what you're after, gallop on over to the factory outlets of Alberta Boot Co. (614 10th Ave. SW, 403-263-4605, alber taboot.com; at a new location after mid-July), and Smithbilt Hats (1103 12th St. SE, 403-244-9131, smithbilthats.com) for the real McCoy.

Party
The busiest neighborhood bar in the city has to be the Ship & Anchor Pub (534 17th Ave. SW, 403-245-3333, shipandanchor.com), a traditional pub on a happening block. Live music pulls patrons indoors at night, but during the day the patio is at its liveliest, even when it's cold by some people's standards (like, say, 38 degrees). During Stampede days, just about every bar dresses up in Western wear. But there's only one genuine year-round cowboy bar in town, and that's Ranchman's (9615 Macleod Trail SW, 403-253-1100, ranchmans.com). Aptly called "Canada's greatest honky-tonk," the 1,050-seat bar in south Calgary holds 36 years of rodeo, country, and Hollywood memorabilia, and, yes, a mechanical bull. The two-step and line dances are famous here. If you can't get tickets to a National Hockey League game, you can watch the score at the team's new venture downtown, Flames Central & Wildfire Grill (219 Eighth Ave. SW, 403-237-9799). The uber-sports bar, which opened to much fanfare last summer, marks the first time an NHL team has been directly affiliated with a sports entertainment facility. Housed in a former theater and designed to mimic the Pengrowth Saddledome, where the Flames and two other teams play, it has 150 flat-screen TVs (one the size of a movie screen), theater seating, and pricey skyboxes. If hockey is Canada's favorite pastime, gambling is close behind. Calgary has a handful of casinos, with more on the way. Elbow River Casino (218 18th Ave. SE, 800-661-1463, 403-289-8880, elbowrivercasino.com) may be next to the Bow River, but people aren't going to this recently expanded 80,000-square-foot spot downtown for the scenery. Gamblers will have another choice later this summer, when the expanded Stampede Casino (403-261-0422, stampedecasino.com) opens in its new location on Calgary Stampede grounds.

Play
Games are still played at the city's enduring reminder of the 1988 Winter Olympics, Canada Olympic Park (88 Canada Olympic Road SW, 403-247-5452, canadaolympicpark.ca), only 15 minutes from downtown. The Olympic Odyssey Audio Tour package ($10-$15, family $45) will get you into the Olympic Hall of Fame and Museum, ice house, bobsleigh track, and ski jump tower, and in summer, a ride on the chairlift. For an additional fee, you can ski and snowboard in winter, mountain bike in summer, and, for those who dare, try the zipline, bobsleigh, and luge. If walking or bicycling is more your thing, visit the huge Fish Creek Provincial Park (403-297-5293, tprc.alberta.ca/parks/fishcreek/) on the south side of town, with trails and a visitors' center, or stay in the city and avail yourself of the 370 miles of recreation trails for walking and paths for cycling. In cold weather, take your walk inside, on the Plus 15, a series of 57 connected bridges about 15 feet above ground. Many of the 10 miles of walkways are lined with shops and restaurants. You can rent outdoor equipment year-round at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre (2500 University Drive NW, 403-220-5038, cal garyoutdoorcentre.ca).

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