12 free things to do in Calgary this holiday season

Nov 30 2021, 8:17 pm

Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As recommended by health officials, if you choose to participate in events outside of your home, please adhere to COVID-19 health and safety measures, including proper physical distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent handwashing. Additionally, be aware that many businesses and events may be participating in the Restrictions Exemption Program and will require proof of vaccine or a negative, privately paid COVID-19 test. If you are sick, please stay home.

Looking to save a little money over the holidays? There are plenty of free things to do in Calgary this season so that you have more cash to spend on gifts or put away for the new year.

Whether you want to explore a winter wonderland outdoors or stay cozy inside, there’s something for everyone in Calgary over the holidays.

Drive through a Christmas lights display, lace up your skates and take a spin around an outdoor rink, celebrate the season at a winter festival, make music at Studio Bell, and much more.

Here are 12 free things to do in and around Calgary this holiday season.

Go skating at Olympic Plaza

free things to do

Skating at Olympic Plaza (Shutterstock/Jeff Whyte)

What: Olympic Plaza has officially opened for the season, welcoming skaters to take a spin around the outdoor rink in the heart of downtown Calgary. Round up your friends or family, pack a thermos of hot chocolate, bundle up, and head to Olympic Plaza for some classic Canadian fun.

When: Now open
Time: 10 am to 9 pm daily
Where: Olympic Plaza (228 8th Avenue SE, Calgary)
Free; skate rentals available onsite during specific hours for a fee


Leigh-Anne Hazard/Northwestival

What:¬†Warm up to winter with University District‚Äôs annual outdoor festival this December. Northwestival promises to be packed full of family-friendly holiday activities and all the things that make Calgary’s northwest community worth celebrating.

Free and token-based activities will include live music and entertainment featuring The Royal Foundry, winter workshops provided by Pinnovate DIY Studios, toasty fire pits and s’mores, a hot drink and toppings station, Frosty Memories photo booth, and more.

When: December 5
1 to 6 pm
Northwest Commons Park ‚Äď free parking behind the Discovery Centre (4410 University Avenue NW, Calgary)
Admission by donation to local charity I Can for Kids

In Search of Christmas Spirit in Banff

Banff Christmas

Elle McLean/Daily Hive

What: Take a staycation in Banff this season for a magical new tradition. In Search of Christmas Spirit is a live Christmas story told through a sensory extravaganza of light and sound, bringing all the festive vibes to locals and visitors in Banff. The event invites guests to discover the true meaning of connection and love with a free, outdoor illuminated journey and a tale told through the wildlife of Banff National Park.

When: November 24, 2021, to January 1, 2022
Time: Departures every 10 minutes between 5 and 10:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday from November 24 to December 18, and 5 and 10:30 pm daily from December 22, 2021, to January 1, 2022
Where: Check in at the Banff Park Museum (91 Banff Avenue, Banff), then head to the Cascade of Time Garden to start the experience (Cave Avenue, Banff)
Tickets: Free; reservations required

Hygge Hut pop-up in East Village

hygge hut

Courtesy of East Village

What: East Village is bringing snuggly vibes to Calgary with the return of its popular Hygge Hut this winter. The Scandinavian-style seasonal pop-up opened this November in a new location, and it’s bigger and better than ever. Visitors will find the Hygge Hut in C-Square, at 4th Street and 7th Avenue SE, with fire pits to warm up by, food trucks, live music, ice sculptures, and games, along with a jam-packed schedule of other community programming.

When: November 12, 2021, to March 2022
Time: Fires lit on Fridays from 2 to 7 pm and Saturdays, Sundays, and stat holidays from noon to 6 pm (weather permitting)
Where: C-Square (4th Street and 7th Avenue SE, Calgary)
Cost: FREE community programming

Find Christmas Downtown celebrations at the CORE Shopping Centre


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A post shared by CORE Shopping (@coreshopping)

What: Downtown Calgary’s CORE Shopping Centre features a variety of festive events and activations this season. Highlights include live musical performances, a 45-foot Christmas tree, photo ops with Santa, and a 24-day countdown calendar of giveaways on Instagram. The CORE is also bringing back its stunning 1959 GMC vintage truck, creating a sought-after Instagrammable backdrop for Calgary shoppers.

When: November 26 to December 31
Time: The shopping centre is open 11 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 pm on Sundays
Where:¬†The CORE Shopping Centre ‚Äď second level glass bridge (324 8th Avenue SW, Calgary)
Cost: The CORE’s holiday celebrations are free to partake in; however, the shopping centre is collecting monetary donations and items on behalf of The Mustard Seed

Drive through the Christmas lights at Spruce Meadows


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A post shared by Spruce Meadows (@spruce_meadows)

What: Stay cozy and warm in your car while getting in the festive spirit. Drive through stunning displays of Christmas lights at Spruce Meadows without having to set foot outside during Calgary’s chilly winter evenings. More details are coming soon, but in past years, Spruce Meadows has paired with an FM radio channel so you can listen to curated holiday tunes as you cruise through the venue.

When: Weekends from December 10, 2021, to January 2, 2022
Time: Evenings; more details coming soon
Where: Spruce Meadows (18011 Spruce Meadows Way SW, Calgary)

Ski or snowshoe at the East Village Nordic Loop

free things to do

Courtesy of East Village

What:¬†East Village’s¬†Nordic Loop is a one-kilometre cross-country ski and snowshoe loop on the Fort Calgary lands. The trail will open as soon as there is enough snow (‚ÄúOnce the ground is frozen and we have at least 15 cm of snow on the ground we will be ready to rise and glide,‚ÄĚ advises the EV website), and operates daily from 7 am to 10 pm, weather permitting. The bring-your-own-gear¬†Nordic Loop’s track is groomed every Friday and makes for a picturesque spot to get a few laps in beside the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

When: Open through the season, given there is enough snow
Time: 7 am to 10 pm daily, weather permitting
Where: Fort Calgary lands; accessible from the Fort Calgary parking lot, at 8th Avenue and 6th Street SE, and from the Elbow River Traverse Bridge
Free; bring your own gear

A Christmas to Remember at Granary Road


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A post shared by Granary Road (@granaryroad)

What:¬†Visit Granary Road’s Christmas market for an enchanting holiday celebration. Find Christmas carols playing throughout the market, beautifully decorated trees, strings upon strings of Christmas lights, and other festive d√©cor, making Granary Road a destination for Christmas shoppers, foodies, and families alike.

For added fees, visitors can take photos with Santa and with the attraction’s alpacas, a wagon ride, s’more making, breakfast with Santa, and a class in Santa’s workshop.

When: Saturdays and Sundays from November 27 to December 19
Time: 9 am to 5 pm
Where: Granary Road (226066 112th Street West, Calgary)
Cost: Free admission to the market

Get into Studio Bell for free


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A post shared by National Music Centre (@nmc_canada)

What: Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, celebrates its five-year anniversary with free admission through the rest of the year. Take advantage of the final month of this offer, and check out new and updated exhibits, catch instrument show-and-tells, and delve into the history of iconic Canadian musicians.

When: December 4, 5, 11, 12, and 18 to 31
Time: December 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, and 19 from 10 am to 5 pm, December 20 to 24 from 11 am to 3 pm, and December 26 to 31 from 11 am to 3 pm. The museum will be closed on December 25 and January 1
Where: Studio Bell (850 4th Street SE, Calgary)
Cost: Free; reserve your tickets online now

Christmas in Kensington


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A post shared by Kensington (@kensingtonyyc)

What: Head to Kensington Village to celebrate the holidays. Visitors are invited down to the neighbourhood to enjoy complimentary hot chocolate from Higher Ground Cafe, complimentary coffee from Deville, visits with Santa Claus, free sleigh rides, and community fire pits. There will also be live music performances by local artists in front of Trapped Escape Rooms (1139 Kensington Road NW) from 12:30 to 2:30 pm each day of the event.

When: Saturdays from November 27 to December 18
Time: Noon to 3 pm
Where: Kensington Village, Calgary
Cost: Free

Gingerbread Olympics


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A post shared by The Olympic Oval (@theolympicoval)

What:¬†This holiday season, head to the Olympic Oval for a day of fun, family-friendly Olympic games, gingerbread, and, of course, Santa. Get in the festive spirit on the “fastest ice in the world,” and take part in five Olympic games, with a nod to the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games. Santa will be onsite for photos, and there will also be a Reindeer Games Craft Station, Olympic Village Ice Cream, and more.

When: December 4
Time: 1 to 4 pm
Where: Olympic Oval (288 Collegiate Boulevard NW, Calgary)

Grinchmas at the Calgary Farmers’ Market

What: If you just¬†hate Christmas, or are finding that your shoes are a little too tight, or your heart is two sizes too small, visit the Calgary Farmers’ Market on December 18 and 19 to commiserate with the Grinch. The green man himself will be slithering and slunking all over the market, playing Grinchy tricks with a smile most unpleasant.

When: December 18 and 19
Time: 10 am to 4 pm
Where: Calgary Farmers’ Market (510 77th Avenue SE, Calgary)
Cost: Free admission; varies by purchase

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