Twenty reasons to visit Calgary
If you're ever in Canada, here's twenty great reasons to visit Calgary:
1. GIDDY UP, COW TOWN Unleash your inner cowboy or girl at the Calgary Stampede. Each July, Alberta's largest city swells with rodeo stars (the most talented are millionaires), the women who chase them (known as "buckle bunnies") and those who love seeing cranky bulls fling the riders to the ground.
Away from the arena, swagger around the Stampede grounds in Wranglers, boots and a white Smithbilt hat while chowing down on fairground delights such as deep-fried bubble gum, choc-dipped jalapenos, dessert fries and bison ribs. calgarystampede.com
2. BUY A COWBOY HAT Visit iconic hat manufacturer Smithbilt. Head to nearby Inglewood to check out the low-key showroom selling cowboy, fedora and straw hats (the most expensive is a $C950 ($1097) pure beaver number, the most memorable a cowgirl hat with in-built tiara).
The white hats - the city's official symbol - are seen everywhere during Stampede time and are regularly given to famous visitors. Framed photographs show the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wearing white Smithbilts during their 2011 Calgary visit. smithbilthats.com.
3. CHANNEL A PIONEER VIBE Step back in time at Heritage Park, the nation's largest living history museum. Pop into pioneer homes and businesses and chat to costumed interpreters peeling apples, playing piano or crafting horseshoes as they illustrate daily life in the 1860s to the 1950s.
Hop aboard the steam train encircling the park, ride the carousel, ferris wheel or paddlewheeler, catch the roving theatre troupe or pig out on old-fashioned rock candy. heritagepark.ca
4. ADRENALIN RUSHES Canada Olympic Park on the city outskirts is a legacy venue of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Make like the Jamaicans, who inspired the movie Cool Runnings, and ride the bobsleigh. In summer it reaches up to 100km/h; on winter ice it's faster, topping out at 120km/h.
A pro driver pilots the sled - all you do is hang on and try to keep your (helmeted) head from banging the rails too many times. The park is also home to North America's fastest zipline where riders reach 140km/h after launching from the ski-jump tower. winsport.ca.
5. AVANT-GARDE DOUGHNUTS Love doughnuts? Love pink? Then Jelly Modern Doughnuts will be your idea of sugar-coated heaven. Pop into the pink-themed store just beyond downtown to ogle the selections: maple bacon, peanut butter and jelly, through to marshmallow, salted caramel, bourbon vanilla or seasonal favourites such as peach melba.
Those watching waistlines can opt for the "three-bite doughnut" - a svelte version of the regular size. jellymoderndoughnuts.com.
6. SHOP TIL YOU DROP There's good reason to shop in Alberta - the oil-rich province is among those with the country's lowest purchase taxes.
CrossIron Mills - a shopping centre about 15 minutes' drive from the airport - boasts more than 200 stores but don't miss the Bass Pro Shops for fishing, hunting, camping and boating. It's equal parts retail experience and theme park, with a trout-filled aquarium and more than 400 stuffed animals.
7. HIP STRIP Calgary's buzzing nightlife zone sits on the stretch of 17th Avenue SW between 4th and 8th streets SW.
The monochromatic Market is the cutting-edge eatery which cures its own meats, makes cheese and bread, and nurtures micro-herbs and greens.
Pair a micro-brewed wheat ale or pilsner (the beer list is strongly Canadian-skewed, even including uber-hip Montreal brewer Dieu du Ciel) with bison carpaccio and wild juniper, or a nourishing pot of mussels and sausage. marketcalgary.ca.
8. GO SKY HIGH For a bird's-eye view of this booming oil city (the population has doubled over the past 30 years to almost 1.2 million), head to the Calgary Tower in the heart of downtown.
The 191-metre tower has an all-round observation deck with views to the far Rockies. Step on to the glass floor for a peek at city streets below.
9. POSH LODGINGS Calgary's high-end boutique accommodation includes downtown Hotel Arts. Chic rooms offer a view over the courtyard pool and patio.
Those planning to try Raw Bar's Dungeness crab and mango roll, steelhead salmon tataki or Alberta beef striploin can tuck into the Asian fusion fare around the pool except in winter (January's average low is minus 13 degrees).
Bargain hunters can pick up a weekend room from as little as $C104 ($120) a night. hotelarts.ca.
10. DINOSAURS GALORE Drumheller, 90 minutes north-east of Calgary, calls itself the dinosaur capital of the world. At the Royal Tyrrell Museum see the jaw-dropping dinosaur fossils that have emerged from the Albertan badlands.
See the tyrannosaurus rex known as Black Beauty (manganese darkened its bones during fossilisation) and the fossilised nest and eggs of a duck-billed dinosaur.
11. PEER INTO THE PAST With more than a million artefacts and 28,000 artworks, the city's Glenbow Museum is one of Canada's largest. The core collection comes from a lawyer whose life changed when, at age 55, he received a phone call to say oil had been discovered on his land.
Eric Lafferty Harvie dedicated his next 28 years to collecting items defining western Canadian life, shedding light on aboriginal culture, frontier exploration and pioneer settlement. glenbow.org.
12. BREWS, BONES AND BACON Where do real cowboys go to drink? Try Ranchman's - a honky tonk in the city's south with live country music, dance lessons, cowboy fare like a bucket of bones slathered in barbecue sauce, rodeo memorabilia and mechanical bull (ranchmans.com).
In the city, Palomino Smokehouse is renowned for live music, draft craft beers and barbecue - its "fat-ass platter" of meats and fixins feeds four (thepalomino.ca). Gastro pub Design District Urban Tavern serves up a bucket o' bacon with maple syrup on the side calgarytavern.com.
13. INDOOR OASIS With its climatic extremes, the only way Calgary can boast a tropical oasis is to put it indoors. The Devonian Gardens is an indoor park sprawling over a hectare of the Core shopping centre's top floor.
After a $C37 million ($42.7 million) four-year overhaul, the park reopened in 2012 with more than 500 palm trees, 10,000 shrubs and koi ponds.
The Core is located on Stephen Avenue, downtown's major pedestrian mall. coreshopping.ca.
14. HOTEL WITH WHOOSH Got the kids in tow? Instead of staying downtown, try the Sheraton Cavalier Calgary. A 10-minute drive from the airport, the newly renovated hotel comes with two awesome indoor waterslides.
The largest is three storeys high and dumps you into the pool after a thrilling ride of almost 80 metres. Kids can also rock up to the hotel's weekend pancake bar in their PJs.
The club lounge offers a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains. Book at least three weeks ahead to stay from $C134 ($155) a night. sheratoncavaliercalgary.com.
15. RETRO DINERS Savour the 1950s' ambience of Diner Deluxe, which serves up old-fashioned classics such as meatloaf and mac'n'cheese as well as hearty griddle breakfasts such as sourdough French toast stuffed with bacon and smoked cheddar (cuisineconcepts.ca/diner).
If the queue's too long, head to Galaxie Diner, notable for its one-price, any-number-of-fillings omelette and the endless hash browns and toast. galaxiediner.com.
16. ICE, ICE BABY Canadians are mad about their ice sports. Try your hand at curling with a private lesson at the Calgary Curling Club or catch ice hockey fever at a Flames home game at the Saddledome (the National Hockey League's regular season runs October to April).
17. RAFT A RIVER Visitors can rent a raft or tube to bob along the Bow River running through the heart of Calgary but the logistics can prove tricky (a car is needed at both ends, see lazydayraftrentals.com).
Banff, 128 kilometres away, is renowned as the region's adventure capital but fun is closer. Inside Out Experience runs early summer white-water rafting trips on the Elbow River 58 kilometres out of Calgary among the awe-inspiring scenery that featured in Brokeback Mountain. insideoutexperience.com.
18. GROW A DELI BELLY Experience a traditional Montreal-style Jewish deli without travelling east - Grumans Deli in Calgary's Beltline district is the brainchild of Montreal-born restaurateur Peter Fraiberg.
Take your pick from the hand-cut smoked meat rye sandwich, chopped chicken liver, potato latkes (pancakes) or the breakfast poutine crowned with smoked meat and poached eggs. grumans.ca.
19. FORT CALGARY When the North West Mounted Police built a fort at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers in 1875, they hoped to bring law and order to the wild west.
Today, visitors can channel both sides of the law by donning a Mounties uniform and spending time behind bars at the reconstructed barracks and interpretive centre. fortcalgary.com.
20. PRINCE'S ISLAND PARK Nothing to do with royalty, this park is named after the 19th-century lumberman who dug a channel to float logs closer to his mill, effectively creating the island.
Raging floodwaters this year dumped silt and debris on to this treasure and its walking trails but the community rallied to clean up and plant saplings and wild rose bushes.
Nibble on the River Cafe's fish and game board featuring bison chorizo and wild boar prosciutto. river-cafe.com.
The writer travelled courtesy of Travel Alberta and the Canadian Tourism Commission.