You drive across Alberta, seeing nothing but cattle and sky, and suddenly Calgary rises from the plains, a cluster of glass skyscrapers bordered by the Bow and Elbow Rivers. A friendly, white-collar city symbolized by a white cowboy hat, Calgary has evolved from an 1875 fort into a thriving business and cultural center.
It is a city with a dual personality. There is Calgary during July's stampede ― the Wild West Show started by American trick-roper Guy Weadick ― when motel prices triple, pancake breakfasts abound, everyone from desk clerks to bank tellers sport cowboy hats, and rodeo cowboys from around the world compete. The rest of the year, Calgary is businesslike, elegant and international with its banks and oil companies, grand Fairmont Palliser hotel, and its neighborhoods that bear the stamp of their Asian and European residents.
A favorable exchange rate and good air connections ― the city is served by Air Canada, United, Delta, and Alaska Airlines ― make Calgary an appealing place to visit for a summer weekend, or longer. And it's an easy place to navigate; the city is laid out in a grid. Major expressways are known as "Trails," avenues run east to west, and streets run north to south. The Calgary Transit C Train along Seventh Avenue is free downtown. Prices listed are in U.S. dollars; check www.bankofcanada.ca/en/exchform.htm for current exchange rates.
DAY 1 Friday
Start your visit with eggs Benedict in the 626-foot Calgary Tower ($8.73; 101 Ninth Ave. S.W.; www.calgarytower.com or 403/266-7171). Its Panorama Dining Room ($; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, reservations recommended; 403/266-7171) revolves 360° an hour for views of Calgary and the Rocky Mountains.
Visit Calgary's birthplace. Named by a homesick Scotsman, the 40-acre Fort Calgary ($8.19; 750 Ninth Ave. S.E.; 403/290-1875) was built to stop Americans from trading whiskey with the Blackfoot. Fortunately, the reconstructed fort is more comfortable than the original, described as "uninhabitable ... with water just pouring into the rooms." If you're looking for a period lunch, dine at the 1906 Deane House ($; lunch Mon-Fri, lunch and brunch Sat-Sun; 806 Ninth Ave. S.E.; 403/269-7747).
Cow-town commerce. Or if pioneer food doesn't appeal, head to Stephen Avenue, a four-block walking mall lined with sandstone buildings that date from the 1890s. Try lunch at the Belvedere ($$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat; 107 Eighth Ave. S.W.; 403/265-9595). Then cool off by the flower-lined ponds of Devonian Gardens (Toronto Dominion Square, 317 Seventh Ave. S.W.; 403/268-3830).
Dining with a sultan. Calgary neighborhoods feature intimate, inexpensive, and international restaurants. In Kensington (10th St. N.W. at Kensington Rd. N. W.), amid shops selling books and vintage clothes, try chicken tikka masala at Tandoori Hut ($$; lunch and dinner daily; 217 10th St. N.W.; 403/270-4012). On 17th Avenue Southwest, or Uptown 17, try Moroccan lamb tagine at the Sultan's Tent ($$; dinner Mon-Sat; 909 17th Ave. S.W.; 403/244-2333) and chocolates at Bernard Callebaut (847 17th Ave S.W.; 403/244-1665).
DAY 2 Saturday
Starting with the July 8 parade of everything from stock dogs to bagpipers and running through July 17, the Calgary Stampede ($9.06; Stampede Park, on Olympic Way; www.calgarystampede.com, 800/661-1260, or 403/261-0101) is a rowdy combustion of the commercial and the cowboy ― from midway rides to cutting-horse competitions ― stemming from the stampede's roots as the 1912 Wild West Show. On mornings during the stampede, watch square dancers do-si-do at the free breakfast in Olympic Plaza's Rope Square (Seventh Ave. S.E. at MacLeod Trail S.E.). Spend afternoons in the grandstand of the 137-acre Stampede Park, where rodeo cowboys ride, rope, and wrangle for cash prizes. Evening chuck-wagon races are a must, when drivers hurtle around a 5/8-mile track.
Visit wild animals. Take a break at the Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park ($12; 1300 Zoo Rd. N.E.; www.calgaryzoo.com or 403/232-9300) and see 1,400 animals from Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The excellent Canadian Wilds exhibit features mountain and plains animals, including cougars and grizzly bears.
Meet the First Nations. The Glenbow Museum ($9.84; 130 Ninth Ave. S.E.; www.glenbow.org or 403/268-4100) is one of the best in North America. Its 20 galleries contain more than 180,000 artifacts and works of art, ranging from a Blackfoot Indian tepee to a contemporary, four-story, aluminum-and-acrylic Aurora Borealis by James Houston.
Shake it up. Calgarians have been lining up since 1962 for cheeseburgers and fresh berry milkshakes at Peters' Drive-In ($; 9 a.m.-midnight; 219 16th Ave. N.E.; 403/277-2747). Or you could dig into New York steak with "The Only" barbecue sauce at 49-year-old Hy's Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar ($$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily, reservations recommended; 316 Fourth Ave. S.W.; 403/263-2222).
DAY 3 Sunday
In 41-year-old Heritage Park (open daily until Sep 5; $18, including rides; 1900 Heritage Dr.; www.heritagepark.ca or 403/268-8500), have a free breakfast at Gunn's 1929 Dairy Barn and ride a steam train or paddle-wheeler. Nearly 300 actors in period costumes re-create Canadians from an 1860s fur-trading fort, 1880s ranching community, and 1910s town.
World-class show jumping. Opened in 1975, Spruce Meadows (18011 Spruce Meadows Way; www.sprucemeadows.com or 403/974-4200) houses six outdoor rings and two indoor arenas that host five international show-jumping events, including the $1.5 million Masters Tournament. Its seven stables board up to 700 horses. Watch riders practice (daily; free), or catch a competition (Jun 8-12, 15-19, 29-Jul 3; $4.12).
Reach new heights. At the 600-acre Canada Olympic Park (self-guided tour $8.19, guided tour $12; 88 Canada Olympic Rd.; www.canadaolympicpark.ca or 403/247-5452), site of the 1988 Winter Olympics, take a chairlift ride ($4.09; free with tour) to the 90-meter ski jump ― Calgary's highest manmade point ― or luge ($4.09) down the 140-meter indoor Ice House track.
A fine farewell. Shop Eau Claire Market (200 Barclay Parade, at the end of Third St. S.W.), or stroll the nearby Bow River Promenade, a 1-mile path fringed by cottonwoods. Cross Jaipur Bridge to Prince's Island Park and the River Café ($$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, brunch Sat-Sun, dinner daily; 403/261-7670), decorated with a stone fireplace and antique fishing rods. Treat yourself to smoked Canadian fish, tea-smoked duck, and game, followed by Saskatoon berry cheesecake.
Here are three good choices. Visit www.tourismcalgary.com for more options and other information.
Calgary Westways Guest House. The renovated 1912 Victorian features five rooms and an airport pickup in a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. From $90 U.S. 216 25th Ave. S.W.; www.calgarywestways.com or 866/846-7038.
The Fairmont Palliser. The 1914, 405-room hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway features liveried doormen, a vast marble-columned lobby, and a basement pool. The Rimrock dining room ($$$$) features Canadian cuisine. From $229 U.S. 133 Ninth Ave. S.W.; www.fairmont.com or 800/441-1414.
The Westin Calgary. Large, plush, modern hotel; convenient downtown location. From $119 U.S. 320 Fourth Ave. S.W.; www.westin.com/calgary or 800/937-8461.