Last updated on August 23rd, 2023
When we think “Calgary”, we think Stampede, Banff, the Flames, more Stampede… We don’t always have in mind that it’s quite the photogenic city. But in recent years, architects and artists from around the world have placed Calgary on the map and turned it into one of the most photo worthy cities in all of Canada. Whether you’re looking for iconic architectural landmarks to snap photos of, sunsets over skylines, or rustic locations for a fashion shoot, Calgary has the perfect backdrop for whatever your photography vision is.
I’ve called Calgary home for nearly two decades now. And ever since my husband Jason and I picked up our first cameras in 2016, we’ve been out there shooting, with our home city being our muse from the very beginning. We’ve found some of the best scenic spots in and around downtown Calgary and narrowed our favourites down to a top 10. These are the best 10 Instagrammable photo spots in Calgary that have graced our lenses time and time again!
Where to Stay in Calgary
If you’re visiting Calgary or even taking a staycation while exploring your home city, we have a couple of favourites when it comes to hotel stays. The Hyatt Regency Calgary has it all when it comes down to location, amenities, price, views and is itself a historical icon. And for a luxurious and quiet stay on the riverfront, Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire is the place to be!
But if you’re hoping for a more homey getaway that is still in walking or quick transit distance from these photo spots, here are a few vacation rentals and hotels you can check out!
The Peace Bridge was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and opened for public use in spring of 2012. It was built for the high volumes of commuters who go to work downtown daily by foot and bike, and connects the south pathway of Eau Claire to the north pathway of the Sunnyside community across the Bow River. Resembling a finger trap puzzle, the Peace Bridge is nicknamed the “Finger Trap Bridge”. One of the best photos you could take to feature the Peace Bridge, is a sunrise shot taken from the northwest side of the structure. Long exposures are also marvellous to take in early autumn/late spring at sunrise/sunset!
Prince’s Island Park
Prince’s Island is a park that divides the Bow River and finds itself between the Peace Bridge on the west and Centre St Bridge on the east. The island is so immense that it is home to many seasonal events and festivals (such as Folk Fest), the River Cafe, the Enmax stage, playgrounds, picnic areas and bike/walk trails. Facing south, you can perfectly capture the office and residence towers in Eau Claire and perhaps catch the geese and ducks in view by the river. Prince’s Island is also a widely popular spot for engagement/couple photo shoots.
Centre St Bridge
The Centre Street Bridge is a historical landmark and was constructed back in 1915 after a previous bridge, the MacArthur Bridge, was destroyed by a flood. It’s a bi-level bridge that allows for vehicular transit on both the upper and lower levels, but the upper level is where it’s at for pedestrians to set up for photos. Coming down south from the Crescent Heights community into Chinatown, the view of the Calgary Tower is as good as it gets while on the road as the Calgary Tower sits right on Centre Street and 9th Avenue South. You can set up your tripod on the east walkway of the upper level of the bridge for a closeup of the city skyline, or get right into Chinatown for your middle-of-the-road shot of the tower.
The Bow’s Wonderland Sculpture
Calgary’s most famous sculpture is the mesh head that stands freely in front of The Bow (not the river, but the tower). The Wonderland Sculpture was created by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, and depicts a young girls to symbolize the youthfulness and desire for growth that Calgary has. It makes more beautiful photos in front of the tall blue curve of the tower, but you can also get fancy with portraits through the bent wires as there are doorways on each side of the neck.
7th Ave +15’s
7th Avenue has plenty of +15’s (indoor bridges that connect adjacent buildings to each other via their 2nd floors) that get great views of the office towers and train lines passing through the downtown core. 7th Avenue is where the train lines run and can honestly be a great place to take high-compression professional portraits because of the natural lighting you get through the clean +15 windows. Access to the +15’s is open to the public throughout work days (Monday to Friday) during work hours (7am to 6pm).
Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s most historical avenue and maintains a lot of the feel and construction that dates back to the Sandstone Era (late 19th century to 1915). The section of road of 8th Avenue South that is coined Stephen Ave is open to only pedestrians from 6am to 6pm daily. The street is lined with historical buildings that have now been converted to retails, banks, gyms – the GoodLife gym now inhabits an old and beautiful bank -, restaurants and bars, and Stephen Ave often hosts annual events and festivals (such as the GLOW Fest in the winter and Stampede themed events in the summer) that line the street with a vibrant atmosphere year-round. This pedestrian mall is busy daily but encapsulates some of the best parts of Calgary, and makes for a moody backdrop for a high fashion photo shoot.
The New Central Library (NCL) is Calgary’s very own architectural masterpiece and one of the most sought-after landmarks for Calgary visitors and locals. It’s received international praise for its design, thanks to Snøhetta and DIALOG, and has a very unique appearance both on the inside and outside. Thankfully, entrance to the library is completely free of charge and you can roam about quietly during operation hours. The lighting is perfect for an assortment of photoshoots and the intricate open staircases are optimal for portrait photography.
St. Patrick’s Park
A lesser known island that divides the Bow River is St. Patrick’s Park, and is located on the east of East Village. You can reach here by walking/biking/scootering along the Riverfront pathway and is neighbouring George’s Island which is part of the Calgary Zoo. It’s a great and quiet place to catch the sunset over East Village and the George C. King Bridge. Grab a tripod for here if you want to catch some long exposures over the pond or at Trout Beach.
The McHugh Bluff is an area of green space that is spaced out across a hill on the north side of the Bow River facing all of downtown. Within the McHugh Bluff are situated two notable and popular viewpoints: the Crescent Heights Lookout Point and the Mt Pleasant View Point. The park is highly frequented by active people, so prepare for crowds if you’re here for photos towards the end of the day. But despite this, the long stretch of the bluff allows for multiple areas to set up in peace. Both sunrise and sunset are great times to shoot here and this area is Calgary’s greatest vantage point for a full skyline view.
Another great location for sunset shots over the city skyline is at Scotsman’s Hill. Here, you can capture the Stampede grounds and Saddledome and the towers in Victoria Park, while the sunset sky reflects against the docile Elbow River. This is probably one of my favourite places to set up and wait for the Canada Day fireworks to go off and enjoy a summer night breeze as you seize the moment the sun goes down. It’s often a much less busy location compared to Crescent Heights but just as beautiful.
I hope your time out in Calgary will be well rewarded with gorgeous shots of the cityscape and inner-city nature! If you’re looking for a well-rounded guide to enjoying Calgary to its fullest during Stampede, be sure to check out my itinerary for the perfect Stampede weekend in Calgary!