While Calgary may be a quintessential Cowtown, best known for its Stampede and Rodeo held every July, it also comes alive during the winter—snowflakes, ice sculptures, and lights galore adorn city buildings and add festive notes all the way from Halloween through February and beyond. Winter is cold in Alberta, but Canadians and visitors alike take it in stride. Enjoy the magic of outdoor activities and winter festivals in Calgary and in nearby Banff and Lake Louise!
Some of the best festivals in Calgary that will be happening this winter include:
ZOOLIGHTS: A Calgary Tradition
This is one you can visit right now! Back for its 25th year, ZOOLIGHTS at Calgary Zoo is running all the way from November 17th to January 7th. Over a million lights will brighten the skies and the spirits of zoo visitors. This beloved festival features some new attractions this year:
- The Polar Nights exhibit follows the journey of a polar bear mother and cub
- The Dorothy Harvie Gardens are lit up in all sorts of colours
- Seven rentable larger-than-life snow globes promise a dining experience you won't soon forget
- The ENMAX Conservatory has been transformed into a winter wonderland
- The Boreal Forest Trek showcases the magic of Canada's boreal forest species in the snow
In addition, many favourites are making a return. Enjoy axe throwing, free outdoor skating, Santa visits (until he has to leave on December 23rd to get ready for Christmas, of course), free carousel rides, and fire pits throughout the area to keep you cozy throughout your experience. Sensory-friendly supplies like headphones are available for free.
Even better, starting December 1st, you can combo your ZOOLIGHTS ticket with a zoo ticket! Explore the zoo before the animals turn in for the night and then explore the holiday lights and activities. The animal habitat buildings close at 3:45 p.m., the last entry to Wild Canada is at 4 p.m., and ZOOLIGHTS runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Be aware that combo tickets are only available online!
ZOOLIGHTS is closed on November 28th, November 30th, and December 25th. On December 31st, however, a special event happens in the form of Zoo Year's Eve, which adds several special activities to the ZOOLIGHTS experience.
The Lions Festival of Lights
If you haven't seen these lights before, make sure that you take a trip over to Confederation Park one evening to do so. There's somewhere around half a million lights in this spectacular display on the southeast side of Confederation Park. You can visit the Lions Festival of Lights anytime between 5:30 p.m. to midnight from November 25th through January 8th. Feel free to come a bit early—the entertainment starts at five. and includes hot chocolate, ice sculptures, and fireworks.
This is the largest drive-by showcase of Christmas lights in Calgary, and it's completely free. Donations are graciously accepted for the Calgary Food Bank on opening night to help out others in need during this festive season.
If you've been to this event before, one newer addition you'll appreciate is the addition of toilet booths near the entrance. Longtime visitors recommend getting there earlier in the day for a fun day at the park and then enjoying the lights before heading home. (As there's no dedicated parking, the streets can fill up fast closer to the event.) Be sure to take advantage of the cross-country ski trails and sledding hills being lit up in a festive glow!
The BIG Winter Classic
Who would dream of missing this beloved winter event? The BIG Winter Classic of 2024 will take place from January 24th through 28th. If you're unfamiliar with the event, it's a multi-venue music festival. This year, performers are stationed all over the Beltline neighbourhood: Last Best Brewing and Distilling, Inner City Brewing, and The BIG Winter Classic Underground Stage at The Goat Shop.
The lineup includes over 100 bands, plus comedy acts, arts, workshops, and more. Is there any better way to celebrate Calgary's live music scene?
The BIG Winter Classic is one of many events included in the larger Chinook Blast, an effort organized starting in 2020 to support new and existing winter festivals in Calgary. Check their blog for updates on these and other events not listed here!
High Performance Rodeo Festival
A rodeo in winter? You bet, but this is not the normal Wild West event. Instead, it's a celebration of the Arts, and it's quite a spectacle, with live performances highlighting the best of contemporary music, theater, dance, music, and multidisciplinary art from around the world.
This year, the dates for the High Performance Rodeo run from January 15th through February 4th, 2024, at the Art Commons, 8th Avenue Southeast. The jam-packed three-week event calendar is filled with unique events; pick what is personally interesting and be as busy as you wish during the performance schedule. Some of the shows are offbeat, others wild, and still others mesmerizing or thought-provoking. But they're never bland or boring.
Different events happen on different days, so be sure to check the calendar on the website. This year's lineup includes events like the 10-Minute Play Festival, Translations (an immersive sensory experience), and the ProARTS @ Noon concert series, among many others.
International Winter Bike to Work Day
Bike Calgary is ready to make sure that International Winter Bike to Work Day doesn't get lost amidst the crowd of other little-known "holidays" you might find on your calendar. (When was the last time you celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day, for example?)
The next International Winter Bike to Work Day will be on Friday, February 9th. If it's anything like last year's International Winter Bike Day, you can expect to see plenty of local business involvement and plenty of suggested biking routes to collect goodies!
Chinese New Year
Calgary's New Year's celebration is always fun, and the Lunar New Year adds to the seasonal spirit. The Chinese New Year Festival at the Chinese Cultural Centre, 197 First Street SW is a great place to join the festivities! This year's festival celebrates the transition from the Year of the Rabbit to the Year of the Dragon and falls on Saturday, February 10th. Details aren't out just yet, but if it's similar to last year's festival, you can expect a multi-day (potentially multi-weekend) street party featuring impressive lion and dragon dances, firecrackers, a Chinese marketplace, an art exhibition, games, food stalls, and beautiful lantern displays.
Chinese New Year is celebrated all around the world, but there's one fun feature that you won't see anywhere else but Calgary—children dressed up as baby dragons! Be sure to cheer on these young performers as you enjoy the dragon dances.
Longing for more live music? Calgary's Block Heater has you covered. The 9th Annual Block Heater will be running from February 14th–17th in the Inglewood neighbourhood and feature 30 artists. It's still in the planning stages as of this writing, but it's presented by the same group as the Calgary Folk Music Festival, so you know it's going to be good.
Visitors to Calgary will never want for fun and interesting things to do. Whenever you visit, check locally to see what's scheduled.
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