Everybody knows that bigger is better. Or is it what you do with it that counts? Here is your essential guide to find out which is the best tower to visit in Canada: Calgary Tower vs CN Tower.

How tall is Calgary Tower?

Calgary – the Alberta city known for its annual stampede rodeo – has an eponymous tower, nestled between the office buildings, which stands at 191 metres tall.

How tall is the CN Tower?

Meanwhile, Toronto is home to the third highest tower in the world. Standing proud at a dizzying 553 metres, the CN Tower can be seen from miles away across the Ontario metropolis and beyond.

Calgary Tower facts

Completed in 1968, at a cost of CA$3.5 million, the opening of the Calgary Tower was a proud moment for city officials. At the time, it was twice the size of any other building in the city. The pioneering construction involved a continual pour of cement over 24 days and the column grew at an average rate of 7.6 metres a day. It was topped off with a 200-seat revolving restaurant and a 360 degree observation deck.

But high rise buildings grew in popularity and today, the Calgary Tower already has two neighbouring skyscrapers, Brookfield Place and The Bow, which are both larger in stature. Talk about deflating.

CN Tower facts

The CN Tower was constructed a few years later, in 1975. At CA$63 million, it cost 18 times the price of the Calgary Tower. It was so tall that it remained for over three decades – until 2007 – the tallest tower in the world. No mean feat. It is still the tallest man-made structure in the Western hemisphere. One of Canada’s most famous landmarks, the CN Tower attracts visitors from across the globe. With great size comes great expectations.

Entering the CN Tower

After passing through the high tech security screening entrance, you enter an auditorium filled with information about the construction of the tower, a smaller scale model so you can pretend to be King Kong (maybe that’s just me), and a giant moose wearing a red Mounties uniform. For some reason.

Then it’s time to take a ride. The elevator has a glass-bottomed floor so you can see the ground disappearing away from you, as you speed up the shaft at around 15 miles an hour. Its destination, the LookOut Level, is an astonishing 346 metres above ground. The ticket salesperson had recommended that we visit the SkyPod level first, located an extra 101 metres up the building and accessed via its own private elevator. This level requires an additional ticket price to visit.

The view from here certainly did not disappoint. It is said that on a clear day you can see as far as Niagara Falls and New York State.

We already felt so high up in the clouds, we could see across the vast city and over Lake Ontario for miles around, and even – according to our photographs – the curvature of the earth. It was quite the experience, leaving us giddy with excitement and with a big smile of satisfaction.

As we looked down we could see adventurous (read: slightly insane) people hanging by a cable doing the tower’s hands-free EdgeWalk around the rim of the LookOut Level below. Just a few minutes previously we’d had to squint our eyes to spot them as we peered up from the ground far below.

We returned to the LookOut level and headed down to the Outdoor SkyTerrace, located 342 metres above the earth. While it was great to be outside in the fresh air, rather than indoors behind glass, the view was obscured by a metal safety mesh which limited photo opportunities and it felt like a come-down after the highs of the SkyPod (even if that was actually lower down). However a nearby Glass Floor is popular with the tower’s many visitors, excited to face their vertigo and look down to the roofs of the buildings way below.

The reflection and light meant that it wasn’t actually a great area for taking photos, despite the number of people snapping selfies. But never fear: back at the tower’s base, you have the opportunity to purchase the branded superimposed photograph you’d posed for earlier in the auditorium, as a souvenir of your lofty experience.

Calgary Tower vs CN Tower

So how does the relatively short and stumpy Calgary Tower compare with the highs of the CN Tower? What it lacks in length, it makes up for with nifty gadgets.

On entering the Calgary Tower, you are handed an audio guide handset produced by Antenna, makers of the audio guides at world class attractions such as San Francisco’s Alcatraz prison. Only this one is a cut above any I’d encountered before. As well as the usual buttons where you press numbers to hear the presenter and interviewees speaking, this one had a full visual interactive touchscreen to play with.

When you are looking through the windows out at the city, you can select your view from the handset’s graphical 3D map and press on highlighted buildings and areas to hear their specific stories. Such as the saloon owned by the Sundance Kid before he famously joined forces with Butch Cassidy; the well-to-do hotel owners ostracised after surviving the sinking Titanic (the husband was accused of disguising himself as a woman in order to board a lifeboat); as well as the thousands of volunteers and the City Mayor praised for their courage and inspiration during last summer’s catastrophic floods. Not to mention the history of the world famous Calgary stampede and a flurry of ‘fun facts’ about the tower.

The glass floor here, while smaller, wasn’t crowded and offers a clear and impressive view of the streets below. Definitely a good place to pose.

On this dull-weathered day, we might have otherwise just spent just a few minutes looking out of the windows of the Calgary Tower. But the audio guide’s captivating stories and interactivity brought the city to life and left me wanting more. Despite this high tech investment, the tower’s entrance price was around half that of its famous Toronto counterpart. Good value!

The soaring CN Tower made us feel on top of the world and it is hard to compete with its extraordinary stature. Meanwhile, the owners of the charming Calgary Tower demonstrate that they understand the value of experience, making sure its visitors have a good time by offering something unexpectedly stimulating.

Thank you to the CN Tower and Calgary Tower who hosted my trips.