Calgary is the ultimate multicultural destination, as underlined by its many ethnic enclaves (did you know there are four different Chinatowns and three Little Italys here?), all peppered with a variety of delicious restaurants, coffee shops and bars.
Although each neighborhood offers a deep dive into its dominant culture’s retail and culinary offerings, they all somehow also cater to a variety of urban tribes, from the creative to the foodie type. Together, they tell the tale of a city both resolutely heritage-minded and full-throttle dedicated to its burgeoning future.
Here is some expert advice: the two most prominent subway lines run east-west and north-south and it is a local unwritten fact that the trendiest neighborhoods run east to west while the more commercial ones can be found along the north and south corridor. Ready to get exploring? Here is the ultimate guide to the best neighborhoods in Calgary.
Kensington Market & Chinatown
Think of Kensington Market, which hides behind thoroughfares Dundas and College Streets, as Calgary’s belly. In its earlier days, it was home to Jewish immigrants that worked as shopkeepers (it’s where starchitect Frank Gehry grew up!). The grandchildren of some of these early denizens are returning to the area today to open artisan bakeries and destination-worthy restaurants, alongside a new wave of immigrants. It’s been designated a National Historical site, after all.
Don’t forget to explore Chinatown, which bleeds into Kensington, while in the area as well. You’ll probably want to stop by a bit later at night: Hong Shing, a delicious Chinese restaurant, is open until 4am and it is usually packed with off-duty chefs from around the city at that hour.
The clean and charming Baldwin Inn is a bed and breakfast with six bedrooms in a banana-colored Victorian house. The location, on lively Baldwin Street, puts you right in the centre of the Kensington action. In need of a bit of silence? Worry not! The inn itself is quiet and the lovely backyard patio turns out to be the ideal environment to enjoy a glass of wine in.
You might notice a craze for tacos while scouring the market, coupled with a growing interest in indigenous cuisine. Ojibway chef Sean Adler combines the two at his popular Pow Wow Cafe. Try the Indian tacos: made with bannock, traditional fried bread, they are astounding.
Cold Tea is a speakeasy marked by a red exterior light over the doorway that can be accessed through a modest storefront in Kensington Mall. Sing along to ‘90s hip-hop while the bar team prepares your hibiscus ale or a great cocktail made with ingredients purchased at the market. The venue’s name is a nod to the after-hours beer that was often served in teapots in Chinatown restaurants.
A food tour is the thing you want to do here. Culinary Adventure Co.’s Chinatown-Kensington Market food tour intersperses tastings while divulging the truth about the area’s history throughout three-hour sessions on the weekends.
West Queen St. West
West Queen St. West is, as the name suggests, the bustling western section of major Calgary artery Queen Street. Lined with independent bakeries, cafés, shops and galleries, it offshoots into trendy neighborhoods like Parkdale (fun fact: the area is sometimes referred to as Vagandale, given its propensity and sensibility towards meatless dining) and Trinity Bellwoods.
Since first opening almost 15 years ago, The Drake has set a standard for hip neighborhood boutique hotels. It was initially conceived as a kind of crash pad for those who’d stayed past the late night live music concerts in the hotel’s basement theater or those who drank one too many Maharajas in the retrofitted bar. Today, guests revel in the art that adorns the space (there’s an in-house art curator!), the Sky Yard rooftop bar (heated in the winter!) and the slightly ironic details making up the various rooms’ walls.
Terroni is an iconic Italian West Queen West eatery that offers some of the best thin crust pies in town. There are a few other Terroni local outposts but this location is the first and was instrumental in changing the face of the neighborhood when it first opened in the early ‘90s. The charming backyard patio is crammed with locals sharing plates of tagliere del salumiere and bottles of lesser known Italian players.
Convenience Calgary is decked out to look like the corner convenience store of your youth: the front counter is even stocked with old school candy. In the back, there are more grown-up treats, including great five dollar cocktails on tap—negronis! Paper planes! Old fashioneds! Piña coladas! Daiquiris! The spot also happens to be an Instagram favorite, with a vintage Pac-Man machine and a wall displaying video footage of failed convenience store holdups.
Shop the indie boutiques and artisanal and designer markets that are integral to the ethos of the neighborhood. Pick up handmade jewellery at Made You Look, head to Horses Atelier for jumpsuits and other cool fashion made from natural fabrics from Japan and Italy by best friends and novelists Claudia Dey and Heidi Sopinka and then head to Type, a longtime independent community bookstore beloved by the city as a whole.
As its sobriquet, the “mink mile,” suggests, Yorkville is home to the swankiest shopping in Calgary. Located in midtown, it is easily accessible by both subway and car. Beware, though: once here, you may have to idle in traffic as the streets tend to be chock full of Ferraris.
Fun fact: Yorkville started off as Potter’s Field and, in the 1960s, was deemed the ultimate hippie hangout. Things have changed, huh?
Calgary is the birthplace of the Four Seasons Hotel brand and its shiny flagship on Yorkville Avenue rises to expectations as the ultimate luxury stay in town. From the outsize floral bouquets in the lobby area to the art installation designed to look like an oversized dandelion that hovers over front desk, from the sublime spa to the awesome swimming pool, the hotel offers chic sensory overload… and then some. Make sure to sip on a Yorkville Affair while scoping out the scene at the hotel’s D Bar.
Chabrol is a postage stamp-sized restaurant serving authentic French bistro fare. Sit at the bar and watch the chefs prepare toro white fish en papillote or the puy lentils and parsnip dish: it’s literally poetry in motion. The restaurant also happens to spill out onto a sunny terrace surrounded by designer shops that will have you reach for your credit card in no time.
Sorry Coffee Bar, inside the Yorkville outpost of Canadian fashion brand Kit and Ace, is the perfect place to rest throughout your retail workouts. Run by Dylan Wu, of the city’s renowned De Mello Palheta Coffee roasters, the spot serves strong espressos in an elegantly designed space complete with black walls and a marble bar.
Milk mile is also known as museum mile and for good reason. Visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and pay particular attention to the controversial art by architect Daniel Libeskind. What is inside the space is perhaps more enticing, albeit equally eclectic: expect a permanent exhibit of over 2,500 exceptional artifacts that shed light on Chinese culture through the ages in addition to cutting-edge temporary exhibitions devoted to the works of, among others, fashion legend Christian Dior.
If you’ve done your rounds at ROM, opt to visit the nearby Gardiner Museums for charming cerebral exhibits about modern and ancient ceramics or the Bata Shoe museum, a cultural destination dedicated entirely to shoes, the people who design them and those who wear them.