Banff is blessed with a strong cultural heritage and there are many ways to immerse yourself into both the past and the present of the people, places, and events that continue to influence the direction of the town.
For breakfast, the Cake Company on Bear St is a great place to enjoy a coffee and a muffin and see many of the older Banff characters still spinning their stories before their working day.
Banff Alberta has several excellent museums, each offering a different perspective. The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is perhaps the most famous, and portrays the history and culture of Banff and the Canadian Rockies, through its variety of current exhibitions. They also offer a selection of guided tours. The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum is dedicated to the culture of the First Nations of North America and displays interpretive exhibitions and artifacts, and the Banff Park Museum displays an extensive range of natural history specimens and is itself a building of historic significance.
For lunch you could try a chicken and cranberry sandwich at Evelyns Coffee Bar or some fresh pasta at Coyotes, both Banff owned and popular with locals.
For shopping, tasteful gifts and local books can be found at the Banff Book & Art Den, and fine pieces of local artwork can be viewed and purchased at Mountain Galleries, or Canada House Gallery.
A fine place for dinner would be the Three Ravens Restaurant at the Banff Centre, which has impressive views over the Bow Valley and is perfectly located if you are planning to take in a Banff Centre performance afterwards. The Banff Centre regularly hosts live music, dance, drama, and mountain culture events, and it is well worth checking to see their events calendar to see what’s on while you are here.
To spend the night, why not stay at Banff’s most historic hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs, or at Treetops, an exclusive Banff B&B, owned and run by long-time Banff locals.
A visit to Banff doesn’t have to break the bank. Following these local’s tips will guarantee you a fun day while still leaving enough money left over for an after dinner treat.
For a hearty breakfast, why not try Phil’s Diner where you can order eggs any style plus all the trimmings. For a fun and free activity in the mountains, you can’t beat hiking. The Tunnel Mountain and Marsh Loop trails are strongly recommended and are just a short walk from town. For shopping at reasonable prices you can’t beat the Great Canadian Dollar Store or OK Gifts, and you’ll find them both downtown. A well priced lunch can be found at the Sushi Train, Subway, or at the food court in Cascade Mall. If you still have the energy, why not try an afternoon hike on the C Level Cirque trail, or if you just want to relax, then a visit to Johnson Lake may be in order. For an Italian style dinner you could try the Old Spaghetti Factory or Athena Pizza and the Homestead Inn is the perfect place for a well priced night’s sleep, or you could camp at Tunnel Mountain Campground.
Must See & Do
Take a stroll along the Bow River interpretive trail to the Bow Falls. Visit the Whyte Museum (current exhibition is outstanding - Group of Seven to Tako Tanabe). Ride up the Banff Gondola to see spectacular scenery and wildlife. Take a wander around the historical Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, don’t miss the medieval Mount Stephan hall.
Try to See & Do
Walk along the short Marsh Trail at the Cave and Basin, a winding boardwalk though a unique and sensitive hot springs ecosystem, great bird watching. Take in a performance at the world class arts venue the Banff Centre, book yourself onto a Banff Tour with Brewster, a fantastic way to see the area with experienced guides. Go for a dip at the Banff Upper Hot Springs or visit the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, a great look into the native cultures of the area, they have a wonderful gift shop.
Hike in the high alpine at Sunshine Meadows to see a plethora of stunning wildflowers. Take a rafting tour, hike up Johnston Canyon, a gorgeous deep canyon with an excellent interpretive trail – grab an ice cream from the little hut at the start of the trail. Visit the famous hamlet of Lake Louise, wander around the lake trail to the trail head for the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House - a very rewarding hike with some of the best scenery in the Rockies. An absolute must is a ride on Brewster’s Ice Explorer on the Icefields Parkway half way to Jasper, this is a once in a life time experience.
So you’ve taken in the sights and done a couple of hikes, and now you just want to have some fun? The following tips should help you do just that…
For breakfast, slip into a booth at Brunos, right downtown. Then for a fun, yet relaxing activity you can’t beat floating along the Bow River courtesy of Blue Canoe Rentals. Shopping for treats at Mountain Chocolates or Cows is hard to beat, and fashion and beauty lovers will adore 3 Wild Women and Smashing Cosmetica.
For lunch, you could try the Sushi Train or Timbers Patio, and then relax in the afternoon with a couple’s massage at Mountain Spa.
Earls or Chilis both offer great food and a fun atmosphere for dinner, and then work off the food by dancing at Banff’s best night club, Aurora. If all that boogying has built up an appetite, then a late night pizza at Aardvarks is the perfect way to round off the night.
For this fun filled schedule, the best place to stay is the Mount Royal Hotel, right in the heart of the action.
Banff is located just 135km from the city of Calgary, and approximately 1.5 hours from Calgary Airport.
Airport shuttles are reliable, comfortable and frequent and the main two operators are Brewster and Banff Airporter.
Car rental companies are also well represented at Calgary Airport, and renting a car can offer more independence, especially if you plan to tour around during your stay.
Driving to Banff is straightforward - almost the whole journey is west on Highway 1, also known as the Trans Canada Highway, and the route from Calgary to Banff is usually fairly quiet, especially compared to driving in Europe. However in winter the road can be covered in snow and ice and extra care should be taken, especially if you are not used to winter driving.
If you have extra time before or after your visit to Banff, you should consider spending some time in Calgary, a modern city with interesting attractions, and a good selection of restaurants and shopping. To find out more, visit the online guide to Calgary at www.calgaryalberta.com.