Films, food, music, and much more are all on tap at Calgary's festivals. The family-friendly events celebrate the history and culture of this fantastic city and draw visitors from dozens of countries; more than 7 million tourists come to Calgary every year for a visit, and many may even decide to move. Here is a closer look at some of the locals' favourite festivals in Calgary each year.
High Performance Rodeo
No "bronco busting" happens at the High Performance Rodeo (HPR). HPR is the official name for Calgary's International Festival of the Arts and is one of the city's best winter festivals. This incredible event takes over much of Downtown Calgary for the last two weeks in January and the first week in February each year. It features music, dance, theatre, free concerts at lunch, and more. Most of the shows take place on various stages at the One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre (225 8 Avenue SE) in Downtown Calgary. However, events happen all over Downtown, including at City Hall.
There's plenty of parking in and around the One Yellow Rabbit, including a small on-site garage and a parking lot directly across 9 Avenue SE. There are an additional seven parking garages or lots within a two-block radius. A Flex Pass can be purchased early for $125, allowing the purchaser to enter four different shows or concerts. Flex Passes are $160 at full price. Acts and exhibits at the High Performance Rodeo feature up-and-coming artists and internationally established ones.
The Calgary Stampede is billed as the world's biggest outdoor rodeo and draws more than 1 million tourists to Calgary every year. The 10-day rodeo begins on the first Friday of every July or the second Friday if that day falls on Canada Day. The rodeo's event space is bordered on the north by 12 Avenue SE, on the west by Macleod Trail, and on the south and east by the Elbow River.
The event kicks off with the Stampede Parade, which features more than 150 floats, dozens of marching bands, and other groups. The rodeo action takes place daily, starting at 1:30 p.m. Dozens of musical acts perform on five stages at the Stampede grounds, and all concerts are free to watch with regular admission. The evening show features chuck wagon races, song and dance numbers, and massive fireworks shows to end each night.
There are three parking lots north of the Stampede grounds. Reserved parking is $50 per day; non-reserved is $25 per day. There are no RV accommodations. CTrain and city bus services are another option for getting to the Stampede without worrying about parking.
Calgary Stampede Ticket Prices
- Afternoon Rodeo Standard Tickets: $66–$321
- Two-Day Thrill Package: $325 per person
- Evening Show Standard Tickets: $86–$144
Beakerhead, one of Calgary's best fall festivals, has to be one of the most unique festivals of the year. It combines the art and cultural sectors of the city with the science and technology sectors, mashing them all together for several days of jaw-dropping shows and exhibits in September. Want to watch a 4,000-kilogram human-powered machine walk around and smash things? They have that. Want to watch "science rap battles" in a 14-meter-high geodesic dome? They have those too!
Visitors to Beakerhead might see a presentation from a former astronaut or a Wu-Tang Clan member. Western Canada's Le Cirque de la Nuit does circus performances featuring fire, aerial performances and amazing stunts. Beakerhead takes place in the St. George's Heights neighbourhood, just north of the Calgary Zoo and adjacent to the walkable restaurants in Bridgeland-Riverside. There's a large parking lot off St. George's Drive NE directly in front of the facility, and the city bus service also provides public transportation to the venue.
Most of the events at Beakerhead are free to attend, but the Dark Arts After Party from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on the festival's last night charges $15 per ticket and usually sells out. Food trucks and multiple food vendors are on hand to provide refreshments. Beakerhead is almost entirely funded through donations and corporate sponsorships.
The Lilac Festival is a free all-day event that takes place on the first Sunday in June each year. It's considered the kickoff to Calgary's summer festival season. Usually, it draws nearly 100,000 visitors to 4th Street SW, between 13 Avenue S and Elbow Drive. Fourth Street is the business district of the Cliff Bungalow neighbourhood, which is primarily condos and townhomes.
The lilacs are usually in bloom by the first Sunday in June, which is where the festival draws its name. Pedestrians can park and walk the length of 4th Street to check out hundreds of vendor displays. The big draw for the festival is the incredible number of free outdoor concerts—there are six performance stages set up along the route. Five stages feature a half-dozen live concerts by local acts during the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. festival. A sixth stage features local youth dance troupes and musical acts, putting on 15-minute performances all day long.
There are several public parking lots near the festival's north end and off-street parking in the nearby residential neighbourhoods. Be advised that all of 4th Street SW is blocked off for the Lilac Festival. Bus lines 3, 17, and 90 all provide access to the festival at 12 Avenue SW for those who want to take public transportation to the event.
Calgary International Film Festival
Film buffs will love the Calgary International Film Festival. CIFF runs for 11 days each year, starting in late September and lasting until early October. More than 35,000 attendees turn out each year to watch hundreds of feature films, documentaries, and shorts directed by budding artists. Most of the feature films are screened at the Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market, the Globe Cinema, and Theatre Junction GRAND. Studio Bell and Telus SPARK have also hosted CIFF screenings. Films from every genre and many countries worldwide are presented yearly at CIFF.
All films featured at the CIFF can be streamed for a fee on Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast for those who can't attend in person. However, the number of people who can stream showings is capped between 150 and 600 viewers per film. Tickets for screenings at the Cineplex and the Globe sell for around $14. To guarantee entry, ticket holders must show up at least 15 minutes before each show starts.
ClubCIFF offers memberships at various levels. Each level of membership, based on price, offers an annual discount on year-round CIFF screenings, complimentary tickets to some of the shows at the main festival, merchandise discounts and other perks.
GlobalFest is an annual celebration of the many different cultures present in Calgary. It happens on the eastern outskirts of Calgary at Elliston Park (1827 68 Street SW), just east of the Forest Heights neighbourhood. The GlobalFest comprises two portions: the OneWorld Festival, which happens during the daylight hours, and the International Fireworks Festival, which happens each night after the sun goes down. One of Calgary's best summer festivals, it takes place each year in August on five separate nights, staggered over a 10-day period.
The OneWorld Festival features food, music and dance from various cultures. Two performance stages are set up in the park for those events, and there's also a children's area for kid-friendly activities and displays. The International Fireworks Festival is a competition between Canada and four other nations; one country puts on a fireworks display each night over Elliston Lake, set to music and lights.
There are a few other things to know when attending GlobalFest, most notably that there is no parking available at Elliston Park. People must either take public transportation to the neighbourhood or catch one of the shuttle buses from the Merriweather Mall. Shuttle bus tickets are $7 and bring visitors to and from the park. Tickets for GlobalFest cost $13.50 for general admission to one day/night of the festival and up to $184 for VIP access.
Banff is a mountain community about two hours drive west of Calgary, but the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival comes to town each year. Feature films are shown in Calgary, and guest speakers include many outdoor adventurers from the sports of mountain climbing, kayaking, skiing, and biking give talks. Outdoor authors and photographers are there for book signings as well. The Banff Festivals do a World Tour each year and come to Calgary in January.
This festival takes place over two weekends, the first of which takes place at the University of Calgary, just north of the University Heights neighbourhood. The second weekend has events and movies at the Bella Concert Hall in West Calgary, and public parking is available at both venues. Adult tickets are $29.50 for each day of the festival. Child and senior tickets cost $26.50.
Stay Active Year-Round with Calgary's Amazing Festivals
Calgary has a nice mixture of free and paid festivals for people to attend all year long. This list barely scratches the surface of the many festivals taking place each year, which is why these events are part of why locals love living in Calgary. Every type of Calgary resident can find multiple festivals that will delight and dazzle them at various times of the year.
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