March 15, 2016
Outside of the shimmering high-rises, swanky restaurants and big-ticket draws such as the Stampede, Calgary parents know a thing or two about having family fun on a shoestring. As it turns out, the city abounds with free year-round activities for visiting parents and tots to see Calgary at its finest and most affordable.
Train- and Plane-Spotting
Calgary's light-rail C-Train is the best bang for your touring buck with free fare for kids under five years old. It glides to the far reaches of the city in all directions. A trip from one end of the line to the other will take you through colourful local enclaves like Sunnyside, the University of Calgary campus and the aromatic International Avenue in the city's northeast. All trains pass through downtown, which boasts a free hop-on, hop-off zone to access Princess Island and the Eau Claire Spray Park.
If model trains are more your speed, there's a mesmerizing large model train that you can take the C-Train to see at the Stampede Grounds Grain Academy & Museum , and which offers tours. Calgary parents are also known to take their kids to parks at the south-end runway of the Calgary International Airport to watch screaming jets touchdown.
Bunnies, Ducks and Muskox, Oh My!
Animals abound in Calgary both inside and outside of the Calgary Zoo . A stroll around the outskirts of the zoo lends well to spotting animals without the price of admission.
Muskox can be seen milling around on the grass and pelicans often hang about at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers.
Not far from there, you can feed ducks and chickadees at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary or pop over to Princes Island Park to watch ducks and geese bob for duckweed. Families may also take a tour of the Bow Habitat fish hatchery where they can feed, touch and learn all about trout.
The World is Your Playground
When the weather warms up, spray parks are a great place to spend an afternoon with kids. Make a day out of visiting Eau Claire Market Spray Park, the nearby Prince's Island, South Glenmore Park further south of downtown.
Calgary boasts a robust culture of river enthusiasts lazily floating down the Bow River or its smaller, less brisk counterpart, the Elbow. Parents and kids can pump their dingies, don their lifejackets and grab their paddles to put in up river, then catch the C-Train or bus back to their vehicle.
St. Patrick's Island Park is a favorite park to stay dry with picnicking and is within walkable distance to Fort Calgary and the C-Train.
Free Fun Indoors and Out
Other free suggestions from Calgary parents in the know are biking down the path to Edworthy Park, taking a nature hike in Fish Creek Park or tossing a Frisbee and catching a cricket game at Riley Park. North of downtown is Nose Hill with its giant medicine wheel and rocks that kids love exploring.
If you prefer the Great Indoors, consider a food and art tour of the city's Plus-15 walkway. From there you can drop in at the public library. Calgary's Southcenter Kids Club also has meetings every month with a different theme, craft, a snack and activity. Best of all, it is free, free, free.
Kids Enjoying the Sunny Outdoors
Penguins at the Calgary Zoo