An Insider’s Guide to Free Fun

10 budget-friendly things to do around Calgary and Airdrie

With the cost of living continuing to rise, finding budget-friendly things to do is more important than ever. Thankfully, Calgary and Airdrie are home to a variety of venues, events and activities that are low-cost or completely free, so you don’t have to sacrifice fun in the name of saving. Here are 10 ideas for quality, close-to-home activities you can do on the cheap.

Celebrate all things Airdrie

Celebrating the people, products and organizations that make Airdrie such a fun place to live, AirdrieFEST is a free, annual event that gets better and better with each passing year. Originally launched in 2010, this one-day, downtown street festival features an artisan market, live entertainment, local food and more than 150 vendor booths to visit and enjoy. On Sept 9, join the crowd of AirdrieFEST attendees to take in and enjoy some of the coolest things the city has to offer.

Solve a crime at the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

If you’ve got older kids or tweens and want to spend an hour or two on a Saturday doing something that’s both fun and educational, head to the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre. This museum was created as a way to help empower youth to make responsible decisions when facing some of life’s toughest issues. Featuring a number of fascinating exhibits (including an interactive forensic lab where visitors can examine and “solve” some of Calgary’s biggest crimes), YouthLink is a great place to learn more about the role police have played, and continue to play, in keeping the community safe. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Experience the awesomeness of Beakerhead

Marking its 10th anniversary this year, Calgary-based Beakerhead is a mind-bending celebration of art, science and engineering. This free, annual festival features a variety of super-fun, immersive experiences and performances that help to foster a deeper understanding of the world around us. From pyrotechnics and robotic displays to concerts and spontaneous science experiments, Beakerhead has something for everyone. It runs from Sept 14 to 17 at three locations: Contemporary Calgary, Millennium Park and TELUS Spark. Find out more about scheduled events here.

Ride the rails at Iron Horse Park

Little kids and train aficionados of all ages will enjoy a visit to Airdrie’s Iron Horse Park. Open every Sunday until Thanksgiving weekend, Iron Horse Park features a miniature, ridable railroad that pays homage to a western stretch of the iconic Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Hop on the replica steam and diesel locomotives (which are one-eighth the scale of a real locomotive) and ride along the park’s 1.6-kilometre interpretive route to get an idea of what it was like to ride the rails in Western Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Admission to the park is free, and the cost of the train ride is just three dollars per person. After the ride, check out the full-size replica of an early CPR station.

Give disc golf a try

While a round of traditional golf in Calgary or Airdrie can be costly, a round of disc golf is virtually free—it’s just the cost of the discs that will set you back a bit. Disc golf is played and scored much like traditional golf, except instead of using a ball and clubs, players throw a disc from a tee area to a target, or “hole.” It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours outside, and there are lots of disc golf courses to choose from: the City of Airdrie operates one permanent course, the City of Calgary operates three, and the Calgary Disc Golf Club runs several more around the city.

Explore the art and architecture of Calgary’s Central Library

Officially opened in 2018, Calgary’s Central Library has been recognized and celebrated around the world as an architectural gem. The sprawling building, located in the city’s East Village, is stunning both inside and out, thanks to its crystalline geometric facade, its spiraled cedar archways, and its abundance of natural light and welcoming spaces. You can learn more about these features by taking the free, one-hour tour that the library offers on various days of the week. Each tour can take up to 10 people, and, while drop-in patrons are welcome, registration is recommended.

Get historical at the Nose Creek Valley Museum

Packed with a fascinating variety of historical items from around Airdrie and the Nose Creek Valley, Airdrie’s small but mighty Nose Creek Valley Museum is a terrific place to spend an afternoon, with or without kids in tow. Home to more than 20,000 artifacts that represent over 2,000 years of local history, the museum celebrates multiple aspects of the area’s past, from prehistoric geology and First Nations heritage to early settlement, military memorabilia and much more. Admission is just two dollars for adults, and kids under 12 get in for free.

Check out the Glenbow Museum’s satellite location

While Calgary’s beloved Glenbow Museum undergoes a massive renovation (it reopens in 2024), art lovers can head to the second floor of The Edison building downtown to enjoy the museum’s temporary satellite location. Offering free admission, Glenbow at the Edison features just one exhibition at a time. This fall, until October 15, you can check out Revelations, which highlights the colourful, whimsical works of celebrated Canadian artist Gathrie Falk.

Go wildlife-viewing at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

For those who enjoy watching birds and other wildlife, a visit to Calgary’s Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a must. Open all year round (except on statutory holidays), this 36-hectare wildlife reserve has served as a migrating resting place for birds since 1929. So far, more than 270 species of birds, 27 species of butterflies, 21 species of mammals, and 300-plus species of plants have been spotted by visitors and staff. Admission to the reserve itself is free, and there’s also an on-site nature centre with an exhibit hall that’s well worth a visit.

Step back in time on a guided walk

If you’re looking for an active way to explore Calgary while learning some fun stories from its past, consider taking a guided stroll. Since 2018, Walk the YYC has been holding “pay-what-you-want” walking tours around various parts of the city. This means the tours are free to take, but at the end you can choose to tip your guide what you think is fair. There are a number of themed tours to choose from, including a Haunted Cowtown option where you get to see some of Calgary’s eeriest places, and a Wild West tour that explores the city’s wild, Prohibition-era history.