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).