Free Things To Do in Calgary

Esker Foundation gallery
Esker Foundation gallery
14 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

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.

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 13 fun and free activities in Calgary!

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 neighborhoods 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 off the river. In winter, The Rise, a nine meter tall grassy hill, is perfect for tobogganing. Design buffs will love The Bloom, a 23 metre tall sculpture made out of street lights.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Picture from Beakerhead

Held every September, Beakerhead takes over Calgary with installations you can visit for free with your family

Beakerhead

What happens when you bring together art, science and engineering for five days in the Fall? Amazing, fun and funky events, that’s what. Held yearly in September, check out Beakerhead and be prepared to be amazed by buildings taken over by giant tentacles, parks full of giant, glowing, blow up bunnies, and metal sculptures that shoot fire and lasers. It may sound overwhelming, but this annual event inspires young and old alike. Make sure to check out their website as events are spread out all around downtown.

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!

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 neighborhoods 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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.