5 Reasons to go to Calgary

Calgary has long been one of my favorite cities in North America. I used to go to Calgary once a month or so for work back in the early 2000’s but I hadn’t been since 2002. So I was very excited to visit again recently with my friend, Morroni, even after the recent floods. There are a million reasons to go to Calgary but here are 5 reasons to go to Calgary NOW!

1. The People

As I mentioned, the recent flooding in Calgary and Southern Alberta was devastating to the city and local economy. Many people lost homes, businesses and certainly billions of dollars were lost and the recovery is ongoing. However, the people of Calgary certainly showed me their resolve.
Calgary floods
The city looked amazing. Even the areas that were completely devastated by the flooding had been cleaned up and the rebuilding and recovery was certainly happening.
Calgary Stampede, flood
I was so impressed by the attitudes of the people and the way they simply did what had to be done. Calgarians reminded me a lot of New Yorkers in that they are tough people. People that deal with things as they come and nobody was complaining, they just did what had to be done and helped each other out. It was heart warming to see it in person and to talk to the people who went through the terrible ordeal.

2. Stampede

For those that do not know, the Calgary Stampede is one of the most famous events in Canada and from my experiences back in 2001 and 2002, one of the most fun! However, after the floods, there was doubt that the impending Stampede would even take place. However, Stampede brings in billions of dollars to the local economy each year and not having it would have been even more detrimental than having it.
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
So Stampede went on as scheduled. The only things that were cancelled were some big concerts planned for the Saddledome (where the Calgary Flames NHL team plays) because of damage. However, the show pretty much went on as scheduled and it was fantastic.
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
Stampede is essentially a 10 day State Fair and rodeo. It has rides and games and deep fried everything like you’d find at a State Fair but what makes Stampede in Calgary so special is the world-class rodeos and rodeo related events that go on during the Stampede.
Calgary Stampede, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
Additionally, the nightlife at Stampede is pretty legendary. Between the tents set up on the fairgrounds for the infamous Cowboys and Nashville North bars to the ultimate cowboy bar called Ranchmans out of the main city-where my other buddy Jeff was able to come with us and enjoy the massive adult beverages. All are a great time and true must-see experiences in Calgary during Stampede and anytime really! Also, learning to two-step is helpful…I really suck at it!
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Alberta, Canada, Ranchmans Bar
I was very fortunate to get some VIP passes to check out the rodeos and chuck wagon races up close. I was actually behind the chutes at the bareback rodeos and right on the track for the chuck wagon races.
Calgary Stampede, chutes, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
I won’t pretend that I know all the rules about the rodeos but I do know on the bareback bucking broncos you want to stay up for 8 seconds and you also don’t want to get your ass kicked by the crazy horse or bull!
Calgary Stampede, chutes, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
Additionally, the cowboys and riders can make some serious money. There is a lot of prize money handed out at Stampede so you get the best riders, racer and rodeo dudes from all over Canada and even the US. The only previous rodeo experience I had ever had was in Fort Worth, Texas last fall.
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
I must say I really enjoy it even though I don’t really understand it! It’s always fun to watch the people who are really passionate about something, no matter what it is, get into a sport and try to express what it means to them.
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada, Rick Fraser
I was fortunate to meet one of the top chuck wagon racers, Rick Fraser and he really impressed me with his knowledge and more importantly his passion and love for the animals. I will admit that before meeting him, I had thought rodeo and associated events were pretty cruel to the animals but now I have a different opinion. They are treated very well and even better than humans in many cases!

3. Bobsled

Yes bobsled, or as they say in Canada, bobsleigh. You may or may not remember that the 1988 Winter Olympics were actually held in Calgary and the surrounding areas. Those were the first Olympics I ever watched and I remember them vividly. Likely the most famous thing that came out of those Olympics was the Jamaican Bobsled Team.
Calgary, bobsled, 1988 Winter Olympics, Canadian Olympic Park
So Morroni and I were able to actually race down the same track that the infamous Jamaican Bobsled Team went down at some 80mph or 130kph. It was so much fun I cannot even properly explain how cool it was.
Calgary, bobsled, 1988 Winter Olympics, Canadian Olympic Park
I am an Olympic geek, admittedly. I have been to every single Olympics city and can tell you pretty much everything about each one, Winter or Summer. That said, being on a bobsled track is a real treat. There are only a handful of tracks in the whole world.
Calgary, bobsled, 1988 Winter Olympics, Canadian Olympic Park
If you think about it, it makes sense. Only former Winter Olympic sites have them. They are too expensive to maintain so there are actually 4 in North America: Calgary, Whistler, Lake Placid and Park City. The rest are in Europe and Asia. So I felt very lucky to have done it and would highly recommend it if you end up in Calgary or any of those towns!

4. Restaurants

Calgary is not just Cowtown Canada as it was described to me 12 years ago when I first went there. They have it all. Calgary is a city of over a million people and it has some great restaurants to help make Calgary a true world-class city.
Short rib poutine, Calgary, restaurants
Of course they do have their share of BBQ and western style restaurants, which I happen to love. My favorite of these was without a doubt Buzzard’s that served bulls balls. Yes testicles of a bull. We actually ate there as part of the 20th Annual Testicle Festival. I can’t make that up. I will also say that with some hot sauce added to them, they tasted pretty damn good!
Bulls Balls, Testicle Festival, Buzzards, Calgary, restaurants
Another great restaurant was Charcut, right in the center of town. Charcut was a pretty epic place that is famous for amazing charcuterie plates. They didn’t disappoint at all. The plates were massive and filling. However, we didn’t stop there and were beyond full the whole night. However, it was well worth it.
Charcut, restaurants, meat plate, Calgary
Another really cool thing about Charcut is that their chef set some type of record for slicing a sheep’s head in the shortest amount of time, like 47 seconds or so. I’m not exactly sure what that means or why I think it’s so cool but it kind of is!

5. Hotels

We stayed at the Hotel Arts on 12th and it was a short walk to the Stampede grounds. Aside from being a great boutique luxury hotel with nice rooms, it also had a killer pool in the middle of the hotel.
Hotel Arts, pool, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The pool is quite popular with Calgarians and is a cool place to hang out, especially in the summer heat. The pool is small but definitely serves its purpose and there is always some nice scenery!
Hotel Arts, Calgary, horse lamp
Hotel Arts also has a cool restaurant and bar called Yellow Door Bistro. The drinks and appetizers here are fabulous as well as the flat breads. But I think the décor was my favorite part, especially the massive horse lamp! I really have to get one of those for my apartment!
Lee Abbamonte, cowboy, stampede, Calgary
I was really happy with where we stayed for Stampede. I have also stayed at the Fairmont and the Sheraton Suites in Calgary but those were back in 2001-2002 so I am a bit outdated on those-although I am sure they are still quite nice.
Calgary Stampede, rodeo, Chuck Wagon Racing, Alberta, Canada
So as you can see by the way I went on and on about Calgary, I really love the city and the people. I hope I have given you at least 5 reasons to go to Calgary and I cannot wait to go back again. I can guarantee you it won’t be another 12 years until I return!

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  1. Glad you tried calf fries, or as you call them, bull balls. They’re pretty good with a mug of beer and ketchup.

  2. Incredible photos, Lee. Being that close for the rodeo must have been exciting.

  3. All props in the world to the people of Calgary. They’re tough, resilient and proud. They’ve made all Canadians proud.

    • Truth! Even though I’m not Canadian…you know what I mean!

    • Calgary is the most boring city I have ever lived in. Calgary has the least of anything. They are terrified of competition when it comes to food, restaurants, oil and gas, amusement parks, electronic stores, selling cars, cinema’s, cable provider, and their pizza’s are shit. Every time an American type restaurant opens in Canada, Canadians change the recipe or style of food and ruins it. Oh, yes. Their bacon is terrible and the sausage they claim as breakfast sausage is crap and tasteless. Jimmy Dean is the way to go and not the Canadian tasteless crap. Calgary summed up is this…one week out of the year they open a thing called the Stampede which is way too expensive and practically f*%$! boring after about 30 minutes being there. Food sucks and there is only one place in the stampede that is worth eating at and it’s the BBQ place. The rest of the stampede is boring and expensive and brainless activities. Calgary is boring, don’t waste your vacation in this city or spend your hard earned money paying for the rich to get richer.

  4. I want more of the poutine covered in pulled pork, I can taste it from here! I couldn’t agree more with the top 5 and the number one aspect of Calgary and stampede is definitely the people. Only reason I would add if you could have a 6th is the easy access to some of the most scenic spots in Canada.

  5. That meat plate looks mouth watering!

  6. Thanks for writing such a nice article about my city. Calgary is such a great place to live and I am glad someone as well traveled as you likes it so much. I hope you come back soon. Thanks, Lee.

  7. Great article. I love how the Stampede changed your mind about how the animals are treated. As an Albertan I’ve been getting tired of the hatred towards rodeo events from uneducated people. The animals are treated like gold. Also here in Alberta we call bull testicles Prairie Oysters!

    • Thanks Dylan! Ya I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised when Rick explained to us how they are treated and also when I was in the chutes the host explain that the broncos/bulls are simply tickled under their belly to make them buck. I always thought it was something cruel-obviously I never knew or thought about it much but just an ignorant assumption. So yes it was a great all around experience. Also, I like prairie oysters much better than bulls balls!

  8. As a native Calgarian, it’s lovely reading positive feedback about my city. I’m sure you’ve noticed a massive difference between 2002 and now – and all for the better – like an awkward teenager growing up.

  9. Biked through Calgary years ago, just before the Stampede. One day I will get there! Looks like you really got around and had some good times!

  10. Stevo Grubor says

    We really enjoyed our visit to the last day of the Calgary Stampede, allegedly the “greatest outdoor show on earth”. This slogan isn’t technically true however as some of it is held inside. The Stampede has a carnival atmosphere, with fun fair, rodeo, horse shows, Stetsons and a celebration of all things Canadian. The entertainment is not high-brow at all (unlike horse shows in the UK) but has a charm that’s infectious. On entry to the ground you are bombarded with the sights, sounds and smells of what is in essence a massive cowboy-themed circus. High fat food? Check. Fairground rides? Check. Rednecks?

    Entry this year was $16 for adults. For that you essentially got access to the whole ground minus the rodeo stadium and trials stadium. You could get up close to loads of horses and cattle too and learn about farming in Canada. You could also go into the indoor stadium and watch lots of horse-themed acts go on. This was entertaining (for a while). Entry the rodeo cost an extra $20 each minimum, which we thought was worth it, as we’d never seen it before and it was a once in a lifetime thing. Plus you got to see a few hours of various other outdoor events too.

    All in all, good honest fun.

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