Calgary is a sprawling city of just over 825 square kilometres . The downtown is filled with skyscrapers but just a short walk or bike ride across The Peace Bridge lies a compact liveable, walkable area known as Kensington. The fact that Calgary has a string of neighbourhoods like this circling it like pearls on a necklace surprises many. This is where locals hang out and this is why we like to share areas like this with visitors to the city. As our friend Kenny Dunn at Eating Europe says, It’s nice to take a break from being a tourist.
Calgary Food Tours has offered food tours in Kensington for a few years now. We love our long-standing partners and in an effort to help more people attend the previously only daytime offering, we recently moved the hours of operation to Thursday evenings, 6 – 9 p.m. almost year round.
Our partners in this neighbourhood include the following businesses:
- Pulcinella Ristorante
- The Naked Leaf Tea
- Peasant Cheese
- Kensington Wine Market
- The Brasserie Kensington
When we are not enjoying the crazy good chow of our partners – Neapolitan pizza, classy canapés, delicious baking, fine teas, cheeses, desserts, fine wines and local beers – we love to explore this four by five block enclave for all the other fun things to do here. From the Bow River on its South to Riley Park on the North side there are plenty of shops and eateries and some of the cities oldest buildings.
Kensington was originally a large farm owned by Ezra Riley. Ezra was an MLA in the Alberta Legislature and he subdivided his farm into one of Calgary’s first suburb developments. Riley Park is named for him and it’s a welcome oasis of manicured green grass and tall shade trees nestled into the heart of the city. It has a wading pool for toddlers and their parents to enjoy on hot summer days and an Aussie Rules football team and several cricket teams play there on weekends. There are botanical gardens adorning the hill between the park and SAIT’s campus above.
Just west of Riley Park is the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community centre. This is home to a farmers’ market – one of Calgary’s most successful – which is held weekly on Wednesdays. There is usually entertainment and food to eat on site along with locally grown produce from some of Southern Alberta’s best growers.
Along Tenth Street back towards downtown, we love to pop into Sunnyside Natural Market and their Sidewalk Citizen Bakery sandwich counter for freshly baked chocolate croissant and toothsome loaves of sourdough. Lunch at the high top window tables is our idea of great fast food.
A hidden gem about a block east in the Sunnyside neighbourhood is Cafe Vendome – a place you’d never find on your own but with unforgettable for the coffee, goodies and sunlit room full of long time happy customers. Their motto is a touch of Europe in the heart of Sunnyside and that’s truly how it feels.
Another hidden gem in the area is Chateau and Cuisine – a cooking school run by two classically trained chefs – Thierry Meret and Marney Fudge. They offer cooking classes and private events several nights a week in the intimate setting of their school.
On Kensington Road it is fun to take in a B-run movie or live improv event at The Plaza Theatre. Built in 1929 in Art Deco style (originally a mechanic’s garage) the theatre looks a little worse for wear but is one of the area’s most iconic and beloved buildings.
Right next door is Pages on Kensington – a bookstore where it is easy to spend an hour just flipping through books and chatting the staff up for recommendations. Across the street is the new Hexagon Board Game Cafe. This is a great spot to hang for a cheap date night as it is only $2.50 per hour to sit and play games. If you have small children, take them to Livingstone and Cavell Extraordinary Toys to poke around and make their dream list.
One of Calgary’s best deals on food is at The Kensington Pub where you can get a roast beef dinner complete with popovers for under $15 bucks. Hayden Block restaurant is popular for whisky and smoked meats and judging by the line-ups it must be good.
If you’re looking for a little respite in the city, check out Swizzlesticks Salon and Spa. The spa has recently been renovated and is one of the best there is – anywhere!
If you want to join all the locals for fun in Kensington, watch for their Sun and Salsa Festival each July, a Harry Potter Diagonal Alley Day annually and Christmas in the Village each holiday season.
We’ll write more about our other favourite Calgary neighbourhoods soon but for now, I think you can see why we named our food tour – Craving Kensington. It’s the kind of place that leaves you wanting more.