Family Vacations to Calgary, Canada

Calgary Zoo's Prehistoric Park, Calgary, Canada
Calgary Zoo's Prehistoric Park (courtesy, Travel Alberta)

Calgary Highlights

Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, is safe, clean, and friendly, with few cities as overtly welcoming to families. Child & Youth Friendly Calgary is an organization established more than 14 years ago that accredits businesses that have passed a rigorous inspection conducted by kids and youth. Those that pass earn the right to display the organization's sunburst logo—look for it throughout the city.

Consider starting your day at the Calgary Tower, which rises 525 feet in the air and offers 360-degree panoramas of the city. On a clear day you can see for almost 100 miles. Recently the Tower added a "glass-floor experience" that's something like being suspended in mid-air. If you're not scared of heights, step out onto the four-by-36-foot glass floor, with a glass wall, and look straight down.

Where can you "lift the world," learn all about vomiting and gas, become a human sundial, or build a functioning robot using Lego pieces? At TELUS World of Science, that's where. Different areas of the center are geared for different ages.

Get more bang for your buck at the Calgary Zoo, which boasts three attractions in one. First, it's home to more than 1,000 animals and 275 species. One of the best exhibits is Canadian Wilds, a recreation of Rocky Mountain environs with cougar, wolf, bison, and bighorn sheep. You'll also find the Botanical Gardens and Prehistoric Park, an area portraying Western Canada in the time of the dinosaurs, in this region of the zoo. Also check out Dino Island, the simulator ride that puts you smack in the middle of dinosaur action.

For a historical perspective on Canada's western frontier, Fort Calgary depicts the city from 1875 to the 1940s, using the Northwest Mounted Police as the lens through which it's viewed. The fort has been meticulously rebuilt using period tools and techniques. Try on a Northwest Mounted Police uniform, ride in a virtual streetcar through historic Calgary, and see a jail cell from the inside. Then continue your exploration of Calgary's past by visiting Heritage Park Historical Village, which reflects a settlement between 1864 and 1914, and features costumed interpreters and hands-on activities, from riding a steam locomotive to experiencing a prairie wedding.

Need more action? Head to Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Winter Games, a working training facility for athletes and a tourist attraction all rolled into one. Check out the Ice House, a perpetually icy training area for a variety of winter athletes, and stand at the top of the 90-meter ski-jump tower for a heart-in-your-mouth moment. The summer mountain-bike trails and jumps challenge all abilities, while in winter there are ski and snowboarding trails and lessons.

Calgary celebrates its cowboy heritage each July with the Calgary Stampede, ten days of professional rodeo roping, bull riding, bronco busting, and steer wrestling, kicked off by a grand parade with floats, marching bands, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police looking spiffy atop their horses. There are also chuck-wagon races, concerts, and a range of Midway rides that let kids bounce, bump, and spin (just don't feed them too much cotton candy first).

Recommended Side Trips: Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, Drumheller/Royal Tyrell Museum

Tip: Calgary International Airport has its own first-rate family attraction: SpacePort, on the third floor by the food court. The free facility offers exhibits that bring space and aviation to life, plus simulator rides (small charge) that have you dodging aliens, among other things.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 16 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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