Calgary vs Vancouver: Two Different Sides of Canada

A Canadian blue lake against icy mountains and green alpine forests.
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If you have confirmed Canada as your next travel destination – congratulations. Expect outdoor activities to fill an endless itinerary, with a unique abundance of scenic hiking and skiing opportunities. Of course, culturally, you can expect an equally exciting trip. Canada is a multicultural and diverse country to visit, with plenty of variation between provinces. For example, the province of Quebec’s official language is French, creating a unique blend of languages across the nation.

So, we know that Canada is an exciting destination. However, how do you narrow down which Canadian cities to visit? More specifically, which city do you choose from, Calgary vs Vancouver?

Undoubtedly, Calgary and Vancouver are two of Canada’s most popular cities. To help you come to the right decision for you, we have compiled a helpful comparison of Calgary and Vancouver. From living costs to National Park access and nightlife, here’s our comparison guide to Calgary or Vancouver.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Vancouver for nightlife

When debating Calgary vs Vancouver, consider nightlife like the Granville Street strip. This image shows Granville Street at night with neon signs illuminating the wet tarmac.
Granville Street via Pixabay.

When it comes to nightlife, Vancouver takes the win. As a larger city than Calgary, Vancouver has a larger nightlife infrastructure and population. These two factors combine to create incredible partying.

If you are looking for the main strip – Granville Street is your place. Think neon lighting, major clubs, and a hard-core partying crowd with the capacity to impress Ibiza regulars. However, for a more sophisticated night out, skip Granville Street in favor of Yaletown. While significantly less budget-friendly, Yaletown is definitely celebrity-friendly and ideal for an upscale night out.

Finally, if you still want to skip clubbing but want affordable bars, Gastown is our recommendation. The Portside Pub, Six Acres, and Clough Club are all excellent venues for those in Gastown. You can expect more laid-back dress codes compared to venues in Yaletown and Granville Street as well, making it perfect for last-minute drinks.

In comparison to Vancouver, Calgary’s size limits its venue diversity. The city still has good nightlife and, especially during the Calgary Stampede, you can expect lots of partying. However, Vancouver wins this round for its sheer size and range of nightlife options and districts.

Winner: Vancouver wins this round.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Calgary for National Parks

When considering Calgary vs Vancouver, proximity to Banff National Park may be important. This image shows a striking blue lake surrounded by pointed mountain range and green alpine forest.
A Canadian lake via Pixabay.

Both Calgary and Vancouver are situated close to National Parks. However, for this round, Calgary wins for its proximity to the most famous Canadian National Parks.

Calgary sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains National Park. The mountain range cuts an impressive snow-capped horizon behind the city in the winter months. The Rocky Mountains are famous for their wildlife, and visitors can spot animals such as grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars living on the peaks.

Calgary is also only a 90-minute drive from the Banff National Park. While holding Canada’s oldest National Park title, Banff has rocketed to immortal fame through social media and travel influencers’ photography. Lake Louise, the piercing aquamarine lake surrounded by mountains and alpine forest, has become a particular symbol of Banff. And, if you like scenic lakes, visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are top-rated natural attractions to consider when in Banff National Park.

Winner: While Vancouver has plenty of beautiful National Parks, Calgary takes the title here. Its proximity to the Banff and Rocky Mountain National Parks makes it an excellent destination for those wishing to explore Canada’s most famous natural attractions.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Vancouver for the sea

When debating between Calgary vs Vancouver, consider whether you want to see orcas. This image shows a wild orca cutting through the water.
An orca via Pixabay.

For proximity to the sea, the winner is clear between Calgary and Vancouver. Calgary is centrally located in Canada, so if you prioritize a coastal destination, choose Vancouver.

Aside from the coastal city aesthetic, Canada’s marine life is the biggest draw of basing yourself by the sea. Offshore of Vancouver, you can find orcas, sea lions, and humpback whales. So, if you love marine life, don’t miss out on incredible sightings by choosing Calgary over Vancouver.

In Vancouver, the best months to spot orcas and whales are between April and October. Outside of these months, sightings are fewer but still possible, so check tour operators’ no sighting policy before booking. When looking for tours, Viator shows experience prices from $127.31. Prices can rise to over $500, with seaplane options to discover further offshore. Where possible, book in advance to secure lower costing tours.

Winner: For this round, Vancouver is our clear winner.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Calgary for prices

A pile of one dollar notes sit on a pile.
US dollars via Pixabay.

When it comes to living costs, Calgary is much cheaper to visit than Vancouver. If you plan a long-term visit, you should also consider the major difference in rent costs. Numbeo states that for a one-bedroom city-center apartment, you pay an average of $1,006 in Calgary but $1,641 in Vancouver.

Aside from renting, data shows how Calgary can be slightly more budget-friendly than Vancouver. Here is a table we have compiled to show common item costs in USD for your reference.

 MilkA meal at an inexpensive restaurantBottle of wineOne gallon of gasolineOne way ticketTaxi one mile tariff
Calgary5.8614.7212.043.722.812.58
Vancouver6.3716.0516.054.762.412.45

As you can see from the data, Calgary is slightly cheaper than Vancouver for groceries and gasoline. In contrast, Vancouver is somewhat cheaper for public transportation and taxis. Overall, Numbeo states living costs in Vancouver as 3.87% higher than in Vancouver when not including rent.

However, this cost difference rises to 21.72% when rent is a factor. So, if you are very budget-conscious or looking for a long-term base, we recommend Calgary for lower prices.

Winner: For prices, this round is a close call. But Calgary wins for overall cheaper living costs and rent.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Vancouver for a metropolitan atmosphere

An autumnal water view over Vancouver's cityscape.
Vancouver via Pixabay.

While Calgary and Vancouver are both thriving metropolitan cities, Vancouver’s size and bigger population mean it takes the title for its metropolitan atmosphere. If you are chasing a multicultural, stimulating city escape – Vancouver is the choice for you.

With over 2.6 million residents, Vancouver has plenty of new faces to meet and stories to tell. According to Population Stat, ‘40% of its residents are foreign born’. Furthermore, ‘52% of the population identify their first language as something other than English’. The multicultural influence creates diverse neighborhoods and communities alongside a delicious food scene. ‘Little Italy, Greektown, and the Punjabi Market’ are good neighborhoods to explore when in Vancouver.

On the other hand, Calgary has a population of just under 1.6 million residents. There is much less ethnic diversity in Calgary, and it is much geographically smaller than Vancouver. Although, the city is praised as highly liveable and has a young population – making it likely to grow in the future.

Winner: Although a tough decision, Vancouver takes this round.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Calgary for weather

A close-up shot of a hand against a rainy window pane.
A hand against a rain-covered window via Pixabay.

When considering weather as a Calgary vs Vancouver decider, remember that Canada generally tends to experience cold winters and mild summers. However, there are a few differences in climate between Calgary and Vancouver to consider.

According to Weather2Travel, from October to May, Vancouver experiences more days with rainfall than Calgary. While there is only a day’s difference in May, in December, you can expect an average of 21 days of rain in Vancouver and 7 in Calgary. The amount of monthly rainfall is also staggeringly different between the two cities in winter. In December, Vancouver experiences an average of 228mm of rain, compared to 16mm in Calgary – a considerable difference if you prioritize dry weather on a trip.

So, if you are traveling outside of the summer months, you may wish to consider Calgary over Vancouver.

Winner: Calgary wins this round for its drier weather.

Calgary vs Vancouver: Calgary for culture

If you are debating between Calgary vs Vancouver, consider whether you want to attend the Calgary Stampede. This image shows a smiling cowgirl on a chestnut horse mid-barrel race.
Barrel racing via Pixabay.

When it comes to culture, choosing between Calgary vs Vancouver is extremely difficult. In Vancouver, you can expect multicultural neighborhoods, galleries such as the Vancouver Art Gallery, and many museums to explore and deepen your knowledge of Canadian culture.

Similarly, Calgary also has many art galleries and museums. The city is additionally home to the Heritage Park Historical Village, which welcomes visitors into immersive 1860-1950s Calgary life.

However, our deciding factor is Calgary’s annual stampede show. The Calgary Stampede is a jam-packed 10-day event that takes place in the summer months of July – great for those wishing to catch some warmer weather on a visit. Famously embracing Western culture and heritage, the show hosts rodeo and agricultural competitions.

Winner: While Calgary and Vancouver are nearly on par, the Calgary Stampede gains Calgary the title for this round.

Calgary vs Vancouver: The Conclusion 

Vancouver is great if you want a larger city experience and prioritize diverse neighborhoods and fast-paced nightlife. You should also choose Vancouver over Calgary if you’d like to spot marine life. When it comes to wildlife bucket lists, spotting orcas in their natural habitat is a dream-worthy experience for most.

However, if you want to visit the Banff National Park, Rocky Mountains, or Calgary Stampede – Calgary is the city for you. Smaller but with drier weather outside of summer months, Calgary can make a better base for a long-term visit, especially with its cheaper rent.      

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Eibhlis Gale – Coleman is a freelance writer from the UK who is driven by a fierce love of adventure, unique cultural experiences, native animals, and good coffee. She is a passionate traveller and has explored Europe, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Australia.