Art of the City Calgary | From Cowtown to Art and Music Mecca

A city once known as 'cowtown' that has since blossomed into a cosmopolitan metropolis, Calgary is perfect for a weekend getaway of exploring, eating and sleeping in decadent hotels. Local writer Kate Robertson, treats us to her take on Calgary.

Cowboy hats. And lots of them—33, in fact. I counted them as my gaze floated up the 19-foot bronzed sculpture. The local artist, Walter May, used an original Stetson cowboy hat design, still Calgary’s iconic symbol, as the basis for his composition.

Even though the Hatstack was commissioned recently, to me it is the epitome of what to expect from Calgary. After all, the city was founded by the Northwest Mounted Police in 1875 when they built a fort here. With the railroad arriving a few years after that, the area quickly built up with wild-west pioneer ranchers.

The Calgary Stampede, founded in 1912, was a natural progression. At the same time, it was being discovered that there was oil in the region and by the 1950s, Calgary had become the fastest growing city in Canada and has experienced boom and bust ever since.

Often referred to as “Cowtown”, Calgary is probably still best known as home to the World’s Greatest Outdoor Show. But over the last few years, Canada’s largest prairie city has been re-inventing its image, recently being dubbed Nashville of the North for its red hot music industry and Houston of the North for its thriving visual arts scene. This cosmopolitan city, with such a dynamic arts and culture scene, I did not expect.

Get Artsy at this Chis Boutique Hotel in Calgary


To celebrate the renaissance of the arts, stay at the Hotel Arts.  Like the name says, this modern boutique hotel celebrates modern art with its sleek designs, splashes of bold color and abstract art installations. Weather permitting, hop aboard one of their complimentary cruiser bikes, an efficient way to cover the sites in the downtown core.

Hotel Arts

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2109 reviews)

Haute Design at this Luxurious Hotel in Calgary


Nestled in high rises directly across from the iconic Calgary Tower, you will realize Le Germain Hotel Calgary is all about design as soon as you walk through the entrance and past the 25-foot glass wall installation. Even the staff uniforms are designed by a local designer. Rooms are elegant with natural wood, brightly-coloured diva couches, geometric shapes and commissioned art work on the walls.

Hotel Le Germain Calgary

Top rated
9.4 Excellent (2180 reviews)

A View for Miles in This Calgary City Hotel


Just across the street is the luxurious Calgary Marriott Downtown, attached to the Telus Convention Centre. The room windows are huge, so ask for a reservation on a top floor, for a stellar view of the Calgary Tower and extensive vistas to the south. You can even get glimpses of the Rocky Mountains on a clear day.

Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel

Top rated
9.0 Excellent (2128 reviews)

Art of the Meal

Asian Flare

Back at Hotel Arts, dine at Raw Bar, where they serve Vietmodern cuisine in an artsy, heavenly-blue décor.  The menu includes an impressive selection of unique small plates like cinnamon gochujang chicken wings and broccoli and cheddar fried rice.

Upscale Dining in Calgary

Tucked away on a side street in the trendy Inglewood District is Rouge the perfect place to combine history with exceptional dining.  This 1891 Victorian building was home to the Cross family, a prominent cattle rancher and contributing founder to the first Calgary Stampede. (Co-owner Paul Rogalski swears the idea for the Calgary Stampede was conceived in the front dining room of Rouge).

The menu is French-influenced regional and utilizes herbs and veggies grown in their own on-site gardens and greenhouse, mixed with local prairie proteins like bison, lamb, rabbit and, of course, Alberta beef.

True Canadian Cuisine

Prepare for a unique and memorable dining experience at the Deane House.  Their “true Canadian cuisine”, celebrates peak ingredients of the season and pulls strongly from indigenous roots (think smoked meats, dried berries, potatoes cooked on coal, concocted into a reinterpretation of an indigenous bison stew).  Be sure to browse the local artworks displayed in the beautifully curated rooms.  There’s also a strong possibility you will enjoy some live local music as you dine.

Food Lovers’ Paradise

Closer to downtown, in the heart of the East Village is the 1912 Simmons Building, an old mattress and bedding factory, recently converted into a community gathering place and food lovers’ paradise.  Grab a coffee at Phil & Sebastian, where the coffee beans are so fresh, you can watch them being roasted.  Then pair your latte with a croissant from just across the aisle at the Sidewalk Citizen Bakery.  Also a great choice for breakfast or lunch, the bakery menu has a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean flare, with offerings like shakshuka and bureka plates.

Upstairs is Charbar, opened by some local Top Chef Canada calibre chefs.  Here they serve up an  Argentinian-style menu cooked on a traditional wood-fired grill in an industrial open-beam décor.

Art of the, well, Art

Stunning Visuals

Calgary’s contemporary art scene is on fire, and the city is filled with cool places where art is made, exhibited and sold.  Like cSpace, a century-old sandstone school recently converted into the city’s most innovative arts hub comprised of art studios, galleries, theatre guilds and public art installations.

Downtown, you can take a self-guided tour through the streets and +15 walkways (Calgary has 16 kilometres of +15 walkways–a network built 15 feet above ground which links office towers, retail stores and parkades, designed to allow you to stay indoors on sub-zero winter days) to see 60 sculptures and murals.  The art projects range in size from small sculptures to the gigantic “trees” programmed with artist-designed color themes and music on Stephen Avenue.

Calgary is also home to several art galleries, like the Esker Foundation, a privately funded contemporary art gallery (the place to be seen these days, people line up around the block for openings here).

Even Calgary’s new public library recently earned a spot on Architectural Digest’s “most anticipated buildings in 2018”.

Art of the Outdoors

Wildlife Conservation

Help support wildlife conservation with a visit to the Calgary Zoo, Canada’s most visited zoo. Plan to spend the day here as you wander while viewing over 900 animals, including pandas, penguins, and lemurs, and amazing botanical and butterfly gardens. Leave feeling philanthropic—your visit helps the zoo with their efforts to protect endangered animals both at the zoo and in the world.

Explore the Trails

Go for a walk or a bike ride (this is where the cruiser bikes at Hotel Arts come in handy), and explore the Bow River Pathway. Part of the city’s almost 500 miles of trails, this pathway on the edge of downtown meanders along both sides of the river and offers lovely views of the city’s skyline.

Rainy Day Happenings

Perfect for a rainy/snowy day, visit the Devonian Gardens, a botanical oasis located in the centre of downtown, on the top floor of the Core shopping centre. As you stroll past fountains and fishponds beneath the massive skylight, you will be amazed by over 500 trees and plants.

Natural Grassland Park

If you don’t mind a bit of a drive (perhaps in the Lexus from Le Germain?), head to this monumental natural environment park in the northwest quadrant of the city. Here in the 7 square miles of natural grasslands, coulees and aspen groves, it’s not unusual to see coyotes or deer roaming the range.