Free Things To Do in Calgary

Esker Foundation gallery
Esker Foundation gallery
Great family activities

Free Things To Do in Calgary

Explore some of the city’s best activities, events, and day trips without spending a penny

Calgary is world-class when it comes to things to see and do with your family. There are so many world-class facilities in one city that are perfect for a special visit whether you are visiting Calgary or call it home.

But where do you go when you want to visit a cool Calgary place that won’t leave your pocket feeling lighter? Many people don’t realize that our city has lots of great places to visit that don’t cost you a dime. Our family has spent years exploring the best of Calgary so we can share it with you. Pack up the kids and head to one of these fun and free activities in Calgary!

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Calgary Greeters

The best way to experience Calgary is to walk the city with a local. Calgary Greeters are volunteers who are passionate about Calgary and sharing it with others. Book a greeter and see Calgary through the eyes of a local for free. 

 

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Walk the YYC

Sign up for the daily downtown walking tour Monday to Saturday, or get spooked on the Saturday night Haunted Calgary tour. Either way, you’ll see parts of Calgary you would likely have missed on your own. Walk the YYC also run a paid beer and BBQ tour in case you are feeling adventurous.

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Broin's Bloom sculpture

Michael de Broin’s Bloom sculpture in St. Patrick’s Island

Picture of St. Patrick's Island

Exploring St. Patrick’s Island

St. Patricks’ Island

St. Patrick’s Island opened as a Calgary park in 2015 after a vast revitalization project. It is an island park in the Bow River nestled between the neighbourhoods of East Village and Bridgeland. Walking trails and a natural play area are fun to visit year around. During the summer, families love to visit St. Patrick’s Island to wade in the channel of the river. In winter, The Rise, a nine-metre tall grassy hill, is perfect for tobogganing. Design buffs will love The Bloom, a 23-metre tall sculpture made out of street lights.

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Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Looking to become one with nature? Visit the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and see how many of the 270 species of birds, 21 species of mammals, and 347 species of plants recorded there you can spot. Hiking trails, the Nature Centre, and all the wildlife will keep you busy no matter the season. Visitors often see eagles, deer, porcupines and more, even though the sanctuary is in the middle of Calgary.

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Picture of Ralph Klein Park

Ralph Klein Park is an oasis at the edge of the city

Ralph Klein Park

Ralph Klein Park located in East Calgary, brings together a man-made wetland, a community orchard and a natural play area (opening summer 2018) for a full day of family fun. There are even free family drop-in programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the summer (registration required). Since the park is in a less busy area, I’d suggest you pack a picnic to enjoy while you explore.

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Shaw Millennium Park

Does your family feel more alive on 4 wheels than on two feet? Shaw Millennium Park may be right up your alley. It is North America’s largest outdoor skateboarding and inline skating park. Families can skate together as long as they want at this free venue with 75,000 square feet of skateable surface.

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Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens is an urban oasis in the middle of downtown Calgary

Devonian Gardens

When the weather is frightful but you still want the park experience, head downtown to Devonian Gardens. Completely indoors, Devonian Gardens encompasses one hectare of botanical gardens and includes over 500 trees, 50 varieties of plants, a 900 square foot living wall, fountains, fish ponds, a playground, and much more. Plus it is on Calgary’s Plus 15 Network so you can explore the CORE Shopping Centre for fashion and food as well.

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Prince’s Island Park

Prince’s Island Park is one of Calgary’s most popular parks

Prince’s Island Park

One of Calgary’s most popular parks, Prince’s Island Park is a great place to visit and explore no matter the season. Experience ice skating or cross country skiing in the winter. In the summer, explore its flower gardens, pathways, and playgrounds, or experience one of its many events. Pokémon Go players also love this park’s many Pokéstops.

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Reader Rock Garden

Reader Rock Garden is a designated provincial historic site. The Reader Rock Garden is a tribute to William Roland Reader, the Superintendent for Calgary Parks from 1913 to 1942, who transformed a bare hillside into an internationally-acclaimed garden. Explore the Garden while in bloom from March to November and stop by the café for lunch.


You can also check out the other great Calgary parks situated throughout the Calgary area. 

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Calgary Spray Parks and Wading Pools

Nothing says summer like playing in the water while the sun shines. Calgary has great spray parks and wading Pools across the city. Head to one for great fun in the sun. I highly recommend going for ice cream after!

You can also check out the other great Calgary parks situated throughout the Calgary area.

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Lion’s Festival of Lights

Held every December through early January (daily from 6:00 p.m. to midnight), families love the Lion’s Festival of Lights. Pack a thermos of cocoa, bundle up, and witness Calgary’s largest drive-by Christmas light display. Located in Confederation Park, you can easily drive by on 14th Street NW, or stop and experience the lights up close. Over 54,000 Calgarians visit the display every night!

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Inglewood Night Market

Held on the second Friday of the month from June to September from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Inglewood Night Market sees one of Calgary’s coolest inner city neighbourhoods takes to the streets during the summer. While there are lots of food, drinks, and vendors with a variety of offerings, there is plenty to do without spending a dime. Check out the singer songwriter stage as well as roving musicians, dancers and more. Plus, the people watching is always a great time.

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Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows is a world class show jumping facility in Calgary

Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows is the one of the world’s premier venues for horse jumping. Enjoy any of their indoor tournaments with complimentary admission. You can also visit their grounds year around and explore. The February Classic events, Winter Farewell, Spring Welcome, May Classic events, Continental, Pan American, and Oktoberfest events are all free to attend. Outdoor events, like the North American and Masters, are ticketed but at a very reasonable price.

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Rocky Mountain Show Jumping

Just South of Calgary, visit Rocky Mountain Show Jumping during one of their tournaments throughout the year to see riders compete. They host a variety of equine events at the local to international levels that include riders of all ages and skill levels. It’s great for people watching and horse watching alike!

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Calgary Stampede Value Days Free Admission

Every year, the Calgary Stampede hosts a variety of Value Days where you can enter the grounds for free or a reduced rate. There are four days where you can get into the Stampede for free. Anyone can enter the grounds for free on Parade Day (the first Friday of the event) until 1:30 p.m. and on Cenovus Family Day (the first Sunday of the event) until 11:00 a.m., while Seniors can get in for free on McDonald’s Community Day (Tuesday of the event) all day and kids enter for free on BMO Kids’ Day (Wednesday of the event) until 9:00 a.m. Make sure you pack your own water bottle, wear a hat, and bring your patience for crowds because you will need all three. 

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Calgary Stampede Pancake Breakfasts

The Calgary Stampede is a Calgary institution. Ten days of cowboy fun takes over Calgary! To celebrate the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, there are many free Stampede Pancake Breakfasts that are open to the public around the city. Don your plaid, grab your cowboy hat, and decide where to line up for a free breakfast of pancakes.

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Calgary Pride Parade

The Calgary Pride Parade is one of many free festivals in Calgary

Calgary Street Festivals

Calgary loves a good street festival! Once you book your travel dates, see if your visit coincides with a festival. Calgarians come out en masse to celebrate events big and small. It’s a great way to experience a bit of local flavour and interact with the locals. A few fun street festivals you might enjoy are the Chinatown Street Festival, Inglewood Sunfest, Lilac Fest, Marda Gras, Pet-a-Palooza and the Calgary Pride Parade.

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Shakespeare by the Bow Prince's Island Park

Admission to Shakespeare by the Bow is by donation

Shakespeare by the Bow

Each summer Theatre Calgary brings Shakespeare by the Bow to the banks of the river at Prince’s Island Park. Tickets are not required, admission is by donation. All actors in the play are Alberta residents who are recent graduates from post-secondary theatre training programs. Bring a picnic blanket and snacks and experience a bit of Shakespeare alfresco.

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New Calgary Central Library

Tour the new Calgary Central Library (Photo credit: Neil Zeller)

New Central Library

Calgary’s new Calgary Central Library is not to be missed. The glorious architecture inside and out, public art, children’s areas and more will inspire you to explore the library’s 4 levels for much longer than you may have planned. If free exploring isn’t your thing, you can book a general tour or an architectural tour as well.

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Story telling at the Glenbow Museum

Check out Glenbow for free the first Thursday night of the month

Glenbow Free First Thursday Nights

Glenbow offers free admission from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month. The museum represents Western Canadian art and culture. With ever-changing exhibits from the Glenbow archives and visiting installations, there is always something new to see. A highlight of any visits is the area of the museum exploring the indigenous cultures of Western Canada.

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Esker

The Esker Foundation is a privately funded contemporary art gallery located in Inglewood. It strives to connect the public to contemporary art through educational and approachable installations. While the Esker Foundation is great to visit just for browsing, it also hosts educational workshops and talks (also free) for various ages. Current programs and age requirements are listed on their website.

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Baitun Nur Mosque

Baitun Nur Mosque is Western Canada’s largest Ahmadiyya Mosque. Completed in 2015, the Mosque has become a focal point for the Ahmadiyya community in Calgary. The public can book a tour of the 48,000 square foot mosque.

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Tour the Scotiabank Saddledome

You can see behind the scenes at the Scotiabank Saddledome arena. You’ll get to see the club seats, press box, dressing rooms, and more (note that the Calgary Flames dressing room is not part of the tour). Free public tours of the Scotiabank Saddledome run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. on non-event days during the months of June, July, and August.

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YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Admission to the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre is free

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Visit Calgary’s Police Museum to learn what it takes to keep our city safe through hands-on exhibits. You’ll find fun forensic science experiences, interpreters telling stories of police work, and photo opportunities with uniforms and police cars. A fun day of learning for visitors of any age.

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Calgary Peace Bridge Summer

Get an iconic Calgary photo at the Peace Bridge (Photo credit: Travel Alberta/Sabrina Hill)

Capture an Iconic Calgary Photo

Part of any good trip is taking photos to remember it by. A trip to Calgary is no exception. A few places to visit that offer breathtaking vistas of Calgary are Mount Pleasant, Scotsman's Hill, Stephen Avenue Mall, Crescent Heights, Peace Bridge, and more. Fun art opportunities include Wonderland, the amoeba wall in Ramsay, and many art installations downtown. Explore, snap and capture your memories of Calgary (and be sure to post using #capturecalgary).

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Picture of Okotoks Erratic

Visit the Big Rock in Okotoks

Okotoks Erratic

Head South of Calgary to Okotoks to take in the majesty of a 16,500-tonne boulder that was left behind on the Alberta prairies by a long melted glacier. Referred to by locals as the Big Rock, the Okotoks Erratic is great day trip and photo op. Make your visit even more fun by reading the Blackfoot story about Napi and the rock which tells the legend of how the rock came to be in Okotoks.

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Big Hill Springs Provincial Park

Northeast of Cochrane, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon. There is a creek to wade in, rocks to climb on and lovely trails to explore. Just a short drive from Calgary, it feels like you are much further from the city than you actually are.

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By
Merry Kuchle

Merry made Calgary her home in 2004 and has loved it ever since. She enjoys exploring the city in search of new experiences, great food and street art. You can follow her adventures on MerryAboutTown.com.