Magical holiday photos call for beautiful locales with a little sparkle. (Bonus if you can find lights and snow!) My roundup of top holiday photo destinations around Calgary includes wonderful indoor and outdoor venues - from ice falls to historic sites. Note: ($) indicates that admission fees are in effect.
1. Ice falls. Escape to a winter wonderland of natural ice sculptures at Troll Falls (1.7 kilometres one way), Marmot Falls & Upper Falls (1 kilometre past Troll Falls), or Grotto Canyon (1.9 kilometres one way). A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to hike these trails, and traction devices are required for Marmot/Upper Falls and Grotto Canyon. Santa hats optional!
2. Olympic Plaza. With lights, wreathes, and Christmas trees, Olympic Plaza is as pretty as a postcard! Bring your skates so you can ice skate on Calgary’s only outdoor refrigerated ice (10am to 9pm), get cocoa, or molten cakes at Chocoland Café, then check out the decorations at City Hall across the street: 228, 8 Avenue SE.
3. Stephen Avenue. For a gorgeous winter stroll, start at 8 Avenue SW and 3 Street to see The Galleria Trees, then head east under strings of snowflake lights to The Hudson’s Bay’s stone arches, a spot popular with wedding photographers. Continue east to Olympic Plaza or go north on 1 Street SW to Brookfield Place (225, 6 Avenue SW) where the courtyard is filled with lit-up Christmas trees. It’s 850 metres from the Galleria Trees to Olympic Plaza: 8 Avenue SW and 3 Street SW.
4. The CORE. If it’s too cold out, take festive photos at The CORE! Not only are there lots of Christmas trees and decorations to pose with, but you can also get your holiday shopping done, too! While you’re there, visit the 2.5-acre Devonian Gardens on the fourth floor of TD Square. This is a great place to go with babies and toddlers because there’s underground parking: 324, 8 Avenue SW.
5. Historic buildings. For a classy Christmas shoot, head to McDougall Centre (455, 6 Street SW) or Lougheed House (701, 13 Avenue SW). Both buildings’ gardens are decorated for the holidays from late November until early January.
McDougall Centre’s grand columns and arches make it a popular location for wedding photos. Built as a teacher training facility in 1907, the three-storey sandstone building is now a provincial government building.
Lougheed House, a provincial and national historic site, was built in 1891 for James and Isabella Lougheed. The sandstone mansion is a beautiful example of the Victorian eclectic style. Visit the grounds for free or sign up for a holiday event ($) to view the Christmas decorations inside.
6. Zoolights at The Calgary Zoo ($). Calgary’s best and biggest Christmas lights display, Zoolights, is fun for everyone with over 2 million twinkling lights and 200 light installations. Find your favorite animals in lights, warm up at Kitamba Café or an outdoor fire pit, and get your Christmas card photo at the ENMAX Conservatory, which is decked out in gorgeous decorations for the holidays. My family loves seeing what the theme is each year! This year, Zoolights runs until January 2, 2022. 210 St. George’s Drive NE.
7. Heritage Park’s Once Upon a Christmas ($). Escape to the magic of Christmas past at Heritage Park! Enjoy crackling fires, baking, and hot chocolate, carolling and Christmas crafts, holiday performances, historical exhibits open and decorated for the season, and visit the kids' only store and do some holiday shopping! Wagon rides are not available this year. Once Upon a Christmas takes place Saturdays and Sundays, December 4 to 19. 1900 Heritage Drive SW.
8. Granary Road Christmas Market. Get a festive alpaca photo, one-of-a-kind gifts made by local artisans, award-winning wines and spirits, chocolate, honey, and more at Granary Road. Kids can visit Santa, too! Granary Road Christmas Market takes place Saturdays and Sundays, November 27 to December 20. Admission is free; alpaca photos are $10: 226066, 112 Street W.
9. Airdrie Festival of Lights is Western Canada’s largest free walk-through Christmas Lights display (donations appreciated). Ride the Mini Train, get some mini donuts, skate on the pond, and visit Santa and his reindeer. The festival runs December 1 to 31, 6 to 9pm: 1701 Main Street S in Airdrie.
10. Banff Gondola ($). For breathtaking, panoramic views, ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Head up to the viewing deck to visit the Aurora the Bear sculpture, then warm up by an outdoor fire pit, or inside the igloo. Afterward, grab a hot cocoa or apple cider, then brave the elements and take the boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak. About halfway there, you can go down the stairs to a railing-free viewpoint (just stay back from the edge) for spectacular snowy shots. Kids five and under ride for free: 100 Mountain Avenue.
For the best experience, please check hours of operation before you go.
I wish you and your family a happy and healthy Christmas!
Karen is a mother and a lover of maps, mountains, and mochas. With her geography degree and experience leading hikes and backpacking trips in the Rockies, she is full of ideas on where to go and what to do. The mission of her blog, Play Outside Guide, playoutsideguide.com, is to provide everything families need to know to get outside and have fun.
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