Calgary Travel Guide

Calgary Travel Guide

East of the Canadian Rockies, nearby some of the most beautiful national parks in North America, Calgary is the ultimate basecamp for outdoor adventure – be that winter sports, mountain climbing or recreating various scenes from Brokeback Mountain. Whether you stay in the city centre, within reach of swanky restaurants and sleek boutiques, run off to the mountains where a warm, small-town welcome awaits, or branch out to explore the stunning nature of nearby Banff and Lake Louise, you’ll find that Calgary cherishes its diversity, harmoniously co-existing in typical warm-hearted Canadian fashion. Despite being Canada’s most conservative state by far, Calgary still flaunts a loud and proud gay scene, home to the world’s largest gay rodeo association as well as the largest gay nightclub west of Montreal, Twisted Element. Expect to find colourful pockets of gay culture all around town, particularly in the booming downtown area, where all the best gay parties get going. Looking for the best Calgary points of interest? Read on for Mr Hudson’s ultimate Calgary gay travel guide.

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The best hotels in Calgary

Let’s start this gay Calgary travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Calgary. With an emerging travel market that is now focusing more on leisure verse business travellers, the hotels in Calgary have stepped up their game and are reaching out more to a different type of visitor that the city didn’t typically have before. Of course, for those who still want the grand, classic property, with updated accommodations, the Fairmont Palliser is located in downtown near the city’s business and financial district and is walking distance to the city’s shopping and entertainment venues. The historical landmark hotel is distinctive and elegant and provides those who seek it, the expected 5-star service always found at any Fairmont property.

The Kensington Riverside Inn, a Relais & Châteaux designated property, is one of only fourteen properties in Canada, within the collection that was established over 60 years ago in France. Located on the Bow River overlooking downtown Calgary, the intimate boutique features stylish finishes and an interesting collection of unique artwork. Another boutique hotel located just off the stylish 17th Avenue Retails and Entertainment District is Hotel Elan, and with this new boutique, no detail was overlooked. Guests staying here can enjoy custom designed bathroom fixtures to stylish furniture imported directly from Italy.

Hotel Le Germain

Hotel Le Germain

Directly across the street from the Fairmont Palliser, in the business district is yet another 5-star property, Hotel Le Germain, a new landmark in the heart of the city. The hotel lobby isn’t grand or spacious, but the modern design is an attractive and welcomed look for a hotel property of that calibre. The rooms are designed to be extra-spacious, and the bathrooms are incredibly generous when it comes to space. The hotel also has an award-winning restaurant and even offers in-room yoga, which is broadcasted on the televisions – mats provided for in-room use. The hotel is walking distance to the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts, the Glenbow Museum, the Calgary Tower and Olympic Plaza.

Mr Hudson’s pick though is Hotel Arts, a hotel property that blends modern luxury and intuitive service. Calgary’s designer boutique hotel can be a bit of a visual overload as the provocative artwork featured throughout the public spaces and two award-winning restaurants battle for your attention from the creatively designed spaces filled with furniture that could also be considered to be art. The infamous parties held at their pool feature DJ’s and live music, and if celebrity sightings are your thing, this would be the place to question who is who.

Hotel Arts

Hotel Arts

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Things to do in Calgary

Depending on how you define “play,” the city has some really great options. Exploring Calgary by bike is a wonderful way to get to know the neighbourhoods and even just get lost while hunting for some fabulous spots. Many of the hotels offer bike loans throughout the city, or just pick one up at Nomad Gear Rentals. Calgary is home to the largest urban pathway in North America. It’s also possible to rent a raft through Lazy Day Rentals and experience floating down the river, something typically done during the summer. Calgary also offers options for foodies and beer lovers. Brewery Tour- Calgary Brewery Tour and Calgary Food Tours are the go-to options for those looking to be led to the best places to eat and try beer.

Calgary Food Tours

Calgary Food Tours

For those who appreciate music, Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, truly reflects the emergence of a new Calgary. The design of the building is ambitious and most definitely stands out in the best way possible. Designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, he was inspired by instrument design as well as the echoes of the Canadian landscape. This award-winning project is considered one of the most exciting architectural projects occurring in the world right now and taking a half day to interact and explore the museum within the walls is a great way to get cultured while visiting the city. To get a little bit more interactive, Winsport provides visitors with the opportunity to experience bobsledding on the Olympic track with the first openly gay Olympic bobsled athlete, Simon Dunn, affectionately known around these parts as Bobsled Simon. A day with this stud requires advanced notice and reservations. And of course, if visiting in early July, and looking for a different kind of stud, the Calgary Stampede is an absolute must as it’s the “greatest outdoor show on earth”…

Calgary Stampede | Photo :Bill Marsh

Calgary Stampede | Photo: Bill Marsh

Photo: Jack Carter

Photo: Jack Carter

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Experiential travel is all about finding the best districts in each city

Things to see in Calgary

Taking some time to get to know your surroundings is a great way to discover the best Calgary points of interest, and since experiential travel is all about finding the best districts in each city, we’ve found four areas worth exploring. Inglewood, also known as Music Mile is the city’s oldest neighbourhood, having been established adjacent to Fort Calgary in 1875. Today, Inglewood is an eclectic and vibrant arts and culture-filled district with over a hundred boutiques, shops, and places to grab some food – it was also named Canada’s Best Neighbourhood in 2015. Northwest of downtown and across the Bow River is Kensington. This inner-city residential area is home to a bohemian enclave of pubs, restaurants, and shops. But the hood wouldn’t be complete without its abundant array of, you guessed it, coffee houses.

Inglewood

Inglewood

The stretch of Fourth Street SW running from Central Memorial Park south to Elbow River is known as Mission. The neighbourhood is best known for its strip of restaurants featuring casual to upscale and ethnic eateries. It’s also home to a collection of hip bars, boutiques, art galleries and yes, more coffee houses. The 17th Avenue Retail and Entertainment District, mentioned above, is the city’s signature shopping strip, known for its clothing shops; this busy promenade features many boutiques as well as large brand-name stores. The east end is full of a major entertainment cluster that includes Elbow River Casino and Stampede Park, home of the Calgary Stampede as well as Cowboy’s nightclub. Between Second Street SW and 14th Street SW, the area features 400-plus shops, bars, restaurants and clubs. At night, the avenue takes on an entirely new crowd as club goers venue hop between bars and nightclubs.

Mission

Mission

Photo: Bryton Udy

Photo: Bryton Udy

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Añejo is the city’s tequila bar that boasts the best margaritas in town – you’ll have to judge for yourself

Where to eat in Calgary

When it comes to where to eat and drink, Calgary isn’t shy of options, which makes picking a place a bit difficult, so we’ve put together a solid list of options ranging from breweries to formal yet casual restaurants. The recently opened Deane House, located in a newly refurbished heritage home offers a menu that focuses on locally, seasonally sourced ingredients, which are worked into contemporary Canadian dishes. Pigeonhole, as the name suggests, has rolled several elements into one unique concept. The bite-size portions are great for sharing and no matter if you go for a quick bite before a night out or an extended stay, taking advantage of their craft cocktails and alternative wine list, make sure to leave room for dessert – the macaroons are everything. Foreign Concept will transport diners from the everyday mundane with their Pan-Asian timeless yet modern cuisine. The subtle flavours used honour colonial Vietnamese cooking with surprising elements from across the continent. The Nash takes focus on having an inventive menu, which has a dash of urban grit to it, while also providing excellent service and great food. Trolley 5 is a craft brewery experience that doesn’t just have amazing beers, but also really tasty food.

The 92-seat Whitehall is all about approachable food using high-end techniques. The menu has a focus on English flavours and serves traditional British pub snacks like pork pies and pickled eggs. Native Tongues will help those needing some super authentic Mexican street food indulge at this taqueria. The experience here will make it feel like you are in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in some small town of Mexico – meaning it’s incredible. And lastly, Charbar, a trendy place that takes inspiration from Argentina’s wood-fired grilling tradition, features small plates, pizza made with sourdough bread from Sidewalk Citizen Bakery and seafood dishes. On top of the building is the Rooftop Bar at the Simmons, which offers gorgeous views of downtown Calgary and the Bow River. Charbar shares the Simmons Building with Phil & Sebastian’s Coffee Roasters and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, making the building a destination for foodies. Once appetites have been satisfied, it’s time for some libations. The 1,600 square foot Proof cocktail bar is a great place to start. Their aim is to instil an appreciation of classic cocktail culture. Ricardo’s Hideaway is the rum bar inspired by Hemmingway, and if tropical drinks are your thing, it’s your best bet. And Añejo is the city’s tequila bar that boasts the best margaritas in town – you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Native Tongues | Photo: Janis Nicolay

Native Tongues | Photo: Janis Nicolay

Charbar

Charbar

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Home to its fair share of active leisure stores and cowboy hat vendors, Calgary also breathes class and sophisticated style

Shopping in Calgary

As well as being a capital city of adventure, home to its fair share of active leisure stores and cowboy hat vendors, Calgary also breathes class and sophisticated style. Its fashion stores, in particular, reflect the well-to-do business culture, with made-to-measure tailors and designer brands flourishing in the city. Family-owned Henry Singer is a menswear store and tailor all rolled into one 6,000-square-foot flagship store in downtown’s Eighth Avenue Place. As well as offering luxury menswear brands and a fitting service, you’ll also find an apothecary and a Johnny’s Barber + Shop on site. For a browse through hot, emerging fashion labels, Leo Boutique is your best bet, established since 1997 and featuring an exclusive collection of quality, sustainable designer brands.

Photo: Priscilla du Preez

Photo: Priscilla du Preez

Over in Inglewood’s unassuming 10th avenue, find local and independent handmade crafts at Outside the Shape, a store that doubles up as a workshop and event space, where you can get your hands dirty learning the craftsmanship behind some of the pieces sold there, such as press flowers, embroidery and fine jewellery. Another favourite of ours is The Livery Shop which sells handmade jewellery from CoutuKitsch and apparel from Camp Brand Goods out of a big red barn. Other gems on offer include chocolates, books, candles and lifestyle must-haves from local and international brands.

Those still on the hunt for gifts should make a stop at Paper Root Studios, a great place for pleasing your loved ones with greetings cards, cute stationery and sassy coffee mugs. Or, for a gift unique to Calgary, head to Smithbilt Hats, where you can try on Calgary’s famed white cowboy hat, plus a few others. Recently having moved to the Fletcher Elevator Building, the new space houses clothing as well as the brand’s production facility and event space.

Photo: Samson Creative

Photo: Samson Creative

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There is plenty of Calgary nightlife all year round to keep your thirst quenched. Need evidence?

Calgary nightlife

Outside of Calgary’s Pride Week in September, Alberta’s Gay and Lesbian film festival in June and the Gay Rodeo Association’s ARGRA Dance held between January and May, there is plenty of Calgary nightlife all year round to keep your thirst quenched. Need evidence? Cocktail bar Proof can provide that and more, specifically, a skilled staff of bartenders who work lovingly on creative craft beverages – their daiquiri in particular – in a well-sized space fit for all. Keep it cultural with a visit to The Bank and Baron Pub, an ex-bank turned new-age pub within one of Alberta’s most historical buildings on downtown’s Steven Avenue. Try one of the 26 rotating draft beers while marvelling at the interior or the enticing variety menu.

Veer off down a residential alleyway for this next one in our Calgary gay nightlife guide, the perfect spot for pre-game before hitting the crowded dance clubs. One of Calgary’s oldest gay-owned and operated bars, Backlot has been handed down among friends for years, maintaining an inclusive atmosphere for all in a unique space. Exuding the sultry charm of 50s sex symbol and namesake patron Brigitte Bardot, part bar, part restaurant Bridgette Bar is a happy place to be. Located over two levels in a 1920s brick building on 10th Avenue, this Concorde Group-owned bar boasts fine wines, Japanese sake and expertly crafted cocktails.

Asserting itself as Calgary’s “foremost home for music and art” since 2004, Broken City is your go-to for weekly dance parties as well as more understated comedy and pup trivia nights. Worthy of a visit any day just for its secret rooftop patio, come on Thursdays for live music, while on Saturday you can bump and grind to hip-hop-centric DJ sets. Saving the best and most unique until last, our Calgary gay scene guide introduces you to BassBus, more than a bus and more than an event organiser. In fact, BassBus is fast becoming a Calgary institution with a mission to create exceptional, inclusive experiences while embracing community culture. Their diverse team of organizers, production artists and a top talent network ensure BassBus’ events and parties are as unique and creative as possible. Don’t miss out!

Proof

Proof

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