Banff is one of those special places that is fabulous year-round, making it a must-see destination for visitors from around the world. Spring is great for animal-spotting, summer means hot weather perfect for hiking in the mountains, fall brings breathtaking scenery as the seasons change, and winter is prime time for carving up the ski hills. With that in mind, here’s a guide for how to enjoy the spectacular town no matter when you come to visit.
What to do
Stroll Banff Avenue
Banff is one of those places built with tourists in mind, and the main strip is a great example of that. Quaint Banff Avenue is lined with souvenir and clothing stores, restaurants, ski/tour/bike rental booths and cafes, which are simply teeming with people—especially on long weekends. Fortunately, it’s easy to find respite from the crowds simply by wandering a block off the main strip, or heading in the direction of looming Sulphur Mountain.
After walking across the picturesque bridge that crosses over the stunningly blue Bow River, visitors find themselves at beautiful Cascade Gardens. A historic building is surrounded by meticulously kept gardens, full of brightly-coloured flowers which contrast the serene pond in the middle. It’s no wonder this spot is a popular destination for wedding photos!
Head to the hills
Banff National Park is overrun by Aussies and Kiwis, who come all the way from the land Down Under to enjoy Canada’s winter wonderland. Most finance their stays by working at the many ski hills you can find both in and around Banff, which are also a huge draw for day-trippers and tourists looking to enjoy the ski resorts.
READ MORE: Alberta’s best ski resorts
The good news is you don’t even have to ski or snowboard to enjoy the mountains, as many also offer activities like a via ferrata, tubing (so fun!), or simply a great place to enjoy a hot chocolate with Baileys while soaking in the views.
Hit the hot springs or spa
A vacation should be about recharging and relaxing, so what better way to do that than to head to the spa? There are some fantastic options in the Banff area, including the gorgeous Willow Stream spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which has waterfalls and a mineral pool. The Red Earth Spa in the Banff Caribou Lodge is another great pick, thanks to its large pool and private group rooms.
Alternatively, the Banff Upper Hot Springs could make a case for being among the world’s most scenic springs. Located halfway up a mountain and overlooking the valley below, they’re the perfect spot to soak those aching muscles after a long day of skiing.
Enjoy the great outdoors
There is no better place for outdoor enthusiasts than Banff National Park. From hiking, cycling and horseback riding to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, there is always a fun way to get active in the backcountry no matter what time of year it is.
There are numerous trails in the area catering to different skill levels. Some easy, scenic walks include:
- Johnston Canyon
- Moraine Lake
- Vermilion Lakes
- Barrier Lake in nearby Kananaskis
- Grassi Lakes near Canmore, which ends up at two turquoise pools.
Travel Alberta information centres as well as the Parks Canada information centre in Banff have lots of great information about trails for all levels, and can also help with booking tours for things like helicopter rides and kayaking.
Where to eat
Without question the most unique restaurant in town is the Grizzly House. This fondue spot has been in business for over half a century, thanks to a menu that includes memorable choices such as rattlesnake, shark and lobster. Diners are presented with a sizzling hot pot of oil to dip their meat or cheese into, and the multi-course meals end with a delicious chocolate-dipped fruit spread.
The real draw of Grizzly House is the atmosphere, which is kind of like something out of a 70s swingers movie. The decor is a bit dated, and there just so happens to be rotary phones at each booth which you can use to phone people at other tables! If nothing else, it’s sure to be a memorable night. Just don’t wear your best outfit, as you’ll likely smell like a mixture of grease and smoke for a few days thanks to all those fondue pots.
Another great option is popular Bear Street Tavern, which is renowned for its thin crust pizzas. They come with a side of house-made chili sauce and honey to really give them a kick, and if that doesn’t do it you could always order a round of ‘shot-skis’—yes, a round of shooters affixed to a ski! If you prefer to class it up a bit, head upstairs for a locally-sourced meal at their sister restaurant, The Bison.
Where to stay
High end: The Fairmont Banff Springs is one of the most famous hotels in Canada, thanks to its enviable position in a mountain valley, castle-like architecture and world-class golf course and spa. Rumour has it there are even a few ghosts kicking around! Alternatively, book a room at the beautiful Rimrock Resort, which has epic views thanks to its perch halfway up a mountain, and is close to the hot springs.
Mid-Range: It takes at least a few days to properly explore Banff and the surrounding area, so it’s a good idea to rent a suite with a kitchen, laundry and multiple bedrooms to make the long-term stay more comfortable. Hidden Ridge Resort is a great pick, located on Tunnel Mountain just a five-minute drive from Banff’s main strip. It also boasts one of the best hot tubs in the area!
Many visitors also base themselves in Canmore, which is about 10 minutes away from Banff by car. Many of the gorgeous hotels boast suites for around $120 per night, which make them an affordable yet luxe base for exploring. The Stoneridge Resort, Falcon Crest Lodge or Grande Rockies Resort are all great picks.
How to get to Banff
The closest airport to Banff is the Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is a one hour drive away. There are regular shuttle services, and renting a car to enjoy a road trip between Calgary and Banff is a great option. Note that you’ll need to purchase a Parks Canada parks pass at the entrance to the Banff National Park if you arrive this way.
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