How to choose between Toronto or Calgary? One, an Ontario city so popular that it’s often mistaken for the capital of Canada, and the other, a prosperous Alberta city, home of the world-famous Stampede. Both have much to recommend, and it is not an easy choice to make.
But we’re here to help make it a little easier. Because while both of these Canadian cities offer endless entertainment, cultural sights, sporting events, nightlife, and delicious food. There are some differences that should have you leaning more towards one or the other.
For instance, are you a film fanatic or a rodeo rider? Do you prefer lakes to mountains? Would you rather dance till dawn or have a few beers with the locals? Whatever you’re looking for from your Canadian city break, we’ll help you see which destination is right for you!
For a large city, Calgary has a surprisingly small-town vibe. It’s a sprawling city that makes good use of its green spaces and feels rather rural with the friendly people helping to add to this country-vibe. But it’s actually a very prosperous city. Calgary has plenty of money and status due to being the hub of Canada’s oil and gas industries, and this has helped build a more cosmopolitan city than you’d expect to find in the middle of cow country.
Arrival is simple, thanks to an international airport offering direct flights to 80+ destinations. And exploring the city is as easy as riding a bike around Calgary’s extensive bike network.
Toronto is much more crowded than Calgary with a much more multicultural population. Around 50% of its residents were born elsewhere and over 140 languages are spoken there. Wandering through the distinct neighborhoods, shaped by the unique people who live there, is one of our favorite things to do in Toronto.
The city center is eminently walkable and has a skyline to rival Manhattans, (hence why Toronto regularly fills in for New York on the big screen). And exploring the city on foot is the favorite method for tourists and locals alike.
Conclusion: although Calgary has its country charm, Toronto wins for a real urban experience.
Toronto’s arts scene is so abundant that it spills out of the hundreds of city galleries to take over the streets through pop-up shows and street art installations too. Check out the many museums dedicated to niche interests like textiles or footwear, and the wonderful Aga Khan Museum devoted to the history of Islamic civilizations. The indigenous art exhibitions at the Art Gallery Of Ontario are also a must-see. And for a theatre fix, Toronto is home to The Canadian Opera Company, The National Ballet of Canada, and 187 other professional theatres, dance, and opera companies.
Calgary is home to more cultural institutions than you would expect from a rodeo town. It’s got the Alberta Ballet, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Calgary Opera, and the Alberta University of the Arts. Visitors can explore the many galleries, independent theatres, and dance companies scattered through the city, or visit museums with exhibits of paleontology and archeology. And they should be sure to visit the interpretive centers offering a glimpse into the history of the region’s indigenous people.
Conclusion: We’re calling this one a draw. Both cities are bursting with cultural sights.
Festivals And Events
The biggest event on Calgary’s calendar is the Calgary Stampede. The spectacular annual rodeo lasts for ten days and draws visitors in their millions every year. It is one of the main reasons people visit Calgary, but it’s not the only event on the calendar. There’s something there for everyone, from Calgary Pride to beer festivals to comedy weeks, world music shows, and the wonderfully weird science, technology, and engineering festival Beakerhead.
In Toronto, it’s primarily about the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the largest such festivals in the world. And they keep the movie vibe going with events such as the documentary and LGBTQ+ film fests throughout the year. But it’s not all about the big screen; whatever you’re passionate about, you’ll find a festival for it in Toronto: sports, Canadian music, world dance, theatre, art or food, as well as the many festivals celebrating its diverse population. Check out the Toronto Caribbean Carnival for a lively three-week-long party!
Conclusion: If it’s a choice between rodeos and film fests, your choice is clear, but if you’re unsure what you’re into, we’d advise Toronto for variety.
Food, Drink And Nightlife
Toronto is undeniably a foodie’s dream destination; the abundance of influences in this city makes for some wonderfully diverse yet authentic food. Any global cuisine can be found in Toronto, either traditional or with a modern twist. And, although Calgary folk win for general friendliness, Toronto wait staff have a reputation for providing excellent service.
After dinner, party till dawn at Toronto’s many late-night establishments. Whatever your night-out style, you’ll find a district to suit it. Whether it’s hanging with students in The Annex, The LGBTQ+ crew in The Village, or getting wild in the clubs of Ossington Avenue. Whether you want craft breweries, prohibition-era speakeasies, live bands, world music venues, or banging nightclubs, you’ll find it in Toronto.
If you’re expecting Calgary to be all steak and poutine, disillusion yourself now. The city enjoys a thriving multicultural culinary scene that strives to cater to all tastes. Vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, and sustainably sourced eaters will all find something they approve of in Calgary.
And, the friendly, fun-loving people of Calgary know how to enjoy themselves after dinner too. You’ll find traditional pubs, chilled lounges, raucous sports bars, live music venues, and hopping clubs to entertain you any night of the week.
Conclusion: Calgary knows how to have a good time, but again, for sheer excess, we’ve got to give it to Toronto.
Sports And Activities
You’ll find 8 major league teams in Toronto so you stand a good chance of catching one of them in action or enjoying the atmosphere in a sports bar on game day. Visit the legendary Rogers Center to see the Toronto Blue Jays or head to a Maple Leafs game, then to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
If you want to get active, make the most of Lake Ontario by paddling, sailing, or swimming its waters. But, if heights are more your thing, take the Edge Walk more than 1,100 feet up on the iconic CN Tower. In winter, you’ll find several ski hills within a couple of hours of the city, including Dagmar, only 45minutes from downtown.
In Calgary, the first love is hockey (go Flames!), but the city has great soccer, football, and lacrosse teams too and you should jump at the chance to watch a live game by any of them. If you’re more of a doer than a watcher, then hit the city’s huge network of cycle paths and hiking trails, run a Calgary marathon, or row, swim, or sail your way around Calgary’s waterways. In winter, head to one of the many ski resorts in the surrounding mountains or to Canada Olympic Park conveniently located within the city. Built when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, the COP has lessons, slopes, and activities for the whole family.
Conclusion: A draw, major leagues, ski hills, and watersports abound in each city.
One of the main draws of Calgary is its proximity to the Rockies. The incredible mountain range sits just an hour away and offers endless outdoor adventures like hiking, mountain biking, camping, and winter sports.
But you don’t have to leave the city to get back to nature. Calgary has over 100 km² of parkland, including picnic areas, dog walking acres, baseball diamonds, a bird sanctuary, and the urban oasis Prince’s Island Park. Located on the Bow River, this leafy sanctuary is often called Calgary’s Central Park and is an excellent place for wildlife spotting within the city.
Toronto is on the shore of Lake Ontario, one of the 5 great lakes, and within an easy drive of two more. These lakes are just crying out for hiking, camping, and sailing trips. And while you’re on the road, visit Niagara Falls! Only a 1.5 hour drive away.
Back in Toronto, you’ll find over 1400 parks and will never be short of a place to stroll, cycle, picnic, or relax. Take a ferry over to the beautiful Toronto Islands, a highlight of the city, where you’ll find parks, beaches, hiking trails, amusements parks, and activities.
Conclusion: You can’t beat the Rockies, so it’s got to be Calgary.
Canada is a land of extreme winters and surprisingly hot summers. Calgary enjoys more hours of sun than any other Canadian city, but it also has one of the most changeable climates, and you can experience any weather at any time of year. Summers are pleasant with temperatures climbing to 86°F (30°C), but they tend to be short, lasting only around 5 weeks. Winters are long, snowy, and can get as cold as 10°F (-12°C). But the chill is often alleviated by the winter sun and by the Chinook winds, which bring rising temperatures, rapid weather changes, and rash behavior!
Toronto’s weather tends to be milder than Calgary’s and more stable. Summers are a little warmer and last longer but are known for their humidity. Winters are cold and snowy but don’t often drop below 18°F (-8°C). The seasons also behave themselves in Toronto, unlike Calgary, where it can snow in august. In Toronto, you’ll have sunny summers, snowy winters, color-changing leaves in the fall, and blossoms in the spring, magical!
Conclusion: Toronto wins for being a little milder and more reliable.
Calgary benefits from the unusual situation of having higher wages but a lower cost of living than Toronto. This means there’s plenty of disposable income in Calgary, leading to thriving hospitality, entertainment, and retail industries. As a result, it’s not unusual for people to move from Toronto to Calgary in search of a more relaxed and affordable way of life that still has some city flair.
In Toronto, wages are more moderate, and the cost of city living is quite high. All goods come with Provincial Sales Tax which they don’t in Calgary, while bars, restaurants, and entertainments come with a bit of ‘big city inflation’ to their price tag. As a result, you’ll find the average daily costs of a vacation are around CAD 169 for Calgary compared to Toronto’s CAD 224. However, Calgary prices do shoot up during July when the stampede is on.
Conclusion: money just goes further in Calgary!
Toronto or Calgary? A Conclusion
So it’s 4:2 to Toronto but we’re not sure that score tells the whole story. Toronto wins on most things for the same reason – it’s a bigger, more diverse city. Therefore it offers a wider variety of things: food, events, clubs, bars, and museums. But there are a few things Calgary has that Toronto can’t compete on, like the Calgary Stampede, and the Rockies. Toronto’s great lakes and nearby Niagara falls are incredible sights, but they cannot compare to the majesty of those mountains.
So we think the choice is clear: for cowboys, friendly country vibes, and the rocky mountain life, head to Calgary. For an urban experience packed with multicultural wonders, skyscrapers, street art, nightlife, and film festivals it’s got to be Toronto!