Living In Calgary Vs Edmonton: Which One Should You Choose?

Calgary vs Edmonton: which city is the ideal place for you? Read our guide to find out...

You have decided to move to Alberta for the low cost of living, the breathtaking scenery and those sunny days with Albertans soaking up more sunshine than any other province.

If you have done your research, two cities may stand out in your mind: Edmonton and Calgary. What is it that distinguishes these two cities and which one is the ideal place for you?

Calgary vs Edmonton: the area and nature

Although Edmonton is the province’s capital city, Calgary is the larger of the two in area. 

For outdoor enthusiasts, Calgarians have a shorter drive to three national parks: Banff, Jasper and Waterton are each about a two-hour drive.

Edmontonians enjoy their urban parkland system, which incorporates over 460 parks and more than 160 km of trails.

Which is better for convenience and amenities, Calgary or Edmonton?

Although Edmonton was recently ranked as the 60th best city in the world to live in, Calgary has been named 5th most livable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Calgary has also earned awards for being the cleanest city.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton
Calgary in autumn

For unique shopping experiences, Calgary wins top points with Stephen Avenue Walk and Eau Claire Market that feature an eclectic mix of specialty shops, boutiques and restaurants.  Edmontonians do the majority of their shopping at indoor shopping malls.

While Edmonton is interwoven with pubs and bars, Calgary has a far more diverse array of nightclubs and nightlife vibes to give it a more cosmopolitan feel.

Good job opportunities exist in both cities; Edmonton has more blue-collar jobs while Calgary has more white-collar jobs. 

Good public transit exists in both cities, although if you are into green energy, you may enjoy living in Calgary, which has the first wind-powered transit system.

Both cities are on equal grounds for entertainment, sports facilities and the Art and Culture scene. Foodies will find something for every taste, from global fusion to simple bar food in both cities.

Is it cheaper to live in Calgary or Edmonton?

Calgarians earn on average more per household than Edmontonians. The cost of living is about the same in both cities, although housing costs are more expensive in Calgary.

According to Numbeo, you will pay just under CA$5,385 in Edmonton for the lifestyle that in Calgary will cost you about CA$5,500, and the difference will be mostly because of the rent.

Is Calgary colder than Edmonton?

While both cities experience cold winter weather, the Chinook winds that blow through Calgary tend to make the winter shorter in Calgary. 

Edmonton has colder winters and it snows more in Edmonton than in Calgary. On average you will experience over 88 days of snow if you live in Edmonton. In Calgary, this number is around 65 days.

If you are still undecided about which city may be better for you, a closer look at the pros and cons of both cities may help you.

Calgary: the pros

1. It is clean

In 2014, Calgary topped the Mercier Global list as one of the cleanest cities. Clean sewage systems, good drinking water, low air pollution and great recycling programs will help maintain that status.

2. Contemporary, gleaming architecture

Among the beautiful landmarks in Calgary, the new Calgary Central Public Library stands out as being one of the top attractions. Its incredible architecture has been featured in publications around the world.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton
Stephen Avenue Walk – a pedestrianised shopping area in Calgary

Calgary architects and builders are bringing the city into the limelight with the creation of significant spaces and buildings.

3. Shorter winters

Let us face it: most people generally dislike winter, so the shorter it is, the better.

The warm Chinook winds that blow in from the west moderate temperatures somewhat so that Calgarians have fewer cold days in winter. Temperatures can rise as much as 15 degrees celsius when the wind blows in.

Dedicated runners in Calgary brag about being able to run in shorts at least one day every month!  An extensive covered skywalk throughout most of the downtown core means less time walking in winter weather. 

4. Boon for outdoor enthusiasts

The Canada Olympic Park, 8,000 km of multi-use trails, 8,000 hectares of parkland and proximity to three National Parks add up to fun times for outdoor enthusiasts all year round. Skiing and skating are never far away in winter.

If you are a fair-weather person, there is always bike riding, jogging, luging or ziplining to enjoy at Canada Olympic Park.

5. Great wages

Calgarians, on average, earn one of the highest wages in Alberta. This is due, in part, to the fact that the oil and gas industry is the driving force behind Calgary’s economy. This sector tends to pay higher wages.

6. Good public transit

Calgary’s C-train covers all four quadrants of the city with more than 118 km of track. Supplemental bus routes run through most neighbourhoods. Several Park and Ride locations are spattered throughout the city.

TIP: The downtown line of the C-train is free, so between City Hall and the downtown Kerby Station riders can hop on and off for free.

7. Wahoo, time to put on your cowboy duds

You cannot move to Calgary without hearing about the longest-running, biggest outdoor rodeo, the Calgary Stampede.

The famous Conklin Midway, the chuckwagon races, the top-rated country music performers, daily business-hosted pancake breakfasts add up to ten days of cowboy fun.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton
Calgary, the annual Stampede event at the Saddledome grounds.

Calgary: the cons

1. High unemployment

The high unemployment rate is linked to the falling oil prices, which has led to an increase in layoffs. Calgary has survived many boom and bust cycles because of its economic reliance on the oil and gas sector.

2. Rising crime rates

Also linked to the sputtering economy, crime rates are rising in Calgary, with the majority in breaking and entering or theft of $5,000 or less. Violent crimes are also on the rise. 

3. Fighting those traffic jams

Calgary’s traffic gets very congested during rush hours. While traffic is not as bad as Vancouver or Montreal, the city still has a reputation of being a bad city to drive in.

Deerfoot trail always has its share of accidents, especially in winter.  With so many newcomers moving into the city, Calgary’s road system has not been able to keep up. You may find yourself relying on public transit.

4. Overcrowded schools

With the exploding population in Calgary’s suburbs, school construction has fallen behind.

This means if you have school-age children, they may not be able to attend school in your neighbourhood. Class sizes are above provincial guidelines, and some schools are even holding lotteries for a place in their school. 

Edmonton: the pros

1. Friendly locals

Edmonton is gaining a reputation of being very welcoming to newcomers. There are frequent remarks by people moving into the city about the friendliness of Edmontonians. If you ask for help, most people will be happy to help you.

2. Festival city of Canada

You will not find another city in Canada with more festivals. Edmonton has earned this title celebrating arts, culture, world cuisine, drama in a whirlwind of family-friendly festivals throughout the year.

Edmonton’s K Days rival the Calgary Stampede with ten days of midway fun and a country fair atmosphere.

3. Urban greenery

You do not have to travel outside the city to escape the hustle and bustle. Within the boundaries of Edmonton, you will find the largest urban park in Canada with multi-use trails and several parks.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton
Hawrelak Park is one of the jewels of Edmonton's beautiful river valley.

4. Great education

Three different school systems to choose from, and one of the top universities in Canada, the University of Alberta, make the city of Edmonton an attractive prospect for families with children.

5. West Edmonton Mall

There is almost an automatic association that occurs when Edmonton comes up in a conversation. The city is famous for being home to this extensive shopping complex.

Covering more than 5.3 million square feet, it is more than shopping housing on-site a waterpark, a skating rink, an underground aquarium, multiple cinemas, indoor midway rides and two hotels. 

Edmonton: the cons

1. Winter, cold, snow, frost

Living in the most northerly major city in Canada, Edmontonians must brace themselves for the long long, long winter months made seemingly longer by the very short days, cold temperatures, and frosty weather.

TIP: The Northern Lights are easily visible from here on clear winter nights.

2. Lousy roads

Those cold winters take their toll on the roads. Winter is followed by pothole season. “Under Construction” signs seem to be a permanent fixture around the roads in summer. Detours and longer commutes to work are the results of this construction.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton
Edmonton downtown residential area facing the nearby park.

3. Let’s talk about the crime

If you research the crime rate, you know that Edmonton has a crime severity index that is the second-highest in Canada and higher than Calgary. Put into context, though, most of the crime is gang and drug-related, so it does not affect the general public.

If you are curious about Edmonton, do not miss our Living In Edmonton guide: it's full of useful information and local knowledge.

Living in Calgary vs Edmonton: which city wins

There has been a long history of friendly rivalry between these two cities, and there is no clear winner. Both have a lively arts and culture scene, breathtaking green spaces to enjoy, great shopping, and good job opportunities.

Calgary has a fun nightlife vibe for young professionals to enjoy, but the education system suffers from a lack of resources. Young professionals might enjoy life in this vibrant city with its contemporary architecture and hopping nightlife.

Edmonton tends to be more attractive to families with its family-friendly festival atmosphere, excellent education system and urban park system. Edmontonians have to be prepared to suffer through the cold winters and the effects of the winter weather. 

Wherever you decide to settle, you will find happiness in either city. You must choose according to your personal preference and your needs. Talk to people who have settled in these cities and find out what they enjoy living in Calgary or Edmonton. Further research is encouraged before you make that life-changing move.

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Debbie Strub

Debbie knows expat life very well. Her father was in the air force, so as a child she moved around a lot. Her most colourful memories come from the four years spent in Germany.

After moving back to Canada, her family lived in Edmonton, Alberta, where Debbie graduated from N.A.I.T. with a Medical Laboratory Technologist diploma.

As an adult, Debbie worked in the United Arab Emirates and volunteered in Ghana in her career in healthcare.

Debbie is married and currently resides in a small town in southern Alberta with her husband, two dogs, and two cats, actively planning their retirement in Ecuador.