Whether you're looking for an action-packed adventure that won't break the bank or a luxury vacation indulgent in some of the finest food, drinks, and history Canada has to offer, Banff has you covered. A melting pot of transients and Canadians alike, Banff is a goldmine for free-spirited wanderers looking to make the big bucks in this tourism-dense winter wonderland. A chateau-style town so unique it just might entice you enough to brave the cold Canadian winter. Here are my top 5 winter activities you can't miss.
Traveling to Banff in the winter is a completely different experience than seeing it in the summer. If you're brave enough and you have the proper attire you can definitely still get in some killer hikes in the winter, though, the best way to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife, the magnificent lakes, and the inconceivable Rockies without spending too much time in the cold, is to simply take a drive. Sitting at the crossroads of Mount Rundle and Mount Cascade, Banff is cradled by mountain views in every direction. If you're looking for an action-packed day that can be had for free, all you need to do is step outside your door. At roughly 5KM from town, you can even head to lake Minnewaska and go for a skate! Embrace the cartoonish realism of the mountains cape and take some incredibly crisp, white pictures while you're at it.
2. Shop and Eat
Surprisingly, the day that always ends up being my favourite on a trip is the day I can just putter around town and have nowhere to be. Conveniently Banff basically consists of 2 main roads whose distance can be walked in less than 20 mins. Apart from your typical souvenir shops, the town hosts a variety of jewellery shops, boutiques, and chocolatiers. If you're limited for space or only flying carry-on, check out my blog post titled "The best souvenirs to look for a backpacker" for some small and impactful souvenir ideas. Cow-themed ice cream shops, Beavertails, vintage-inspired candy shops, pubs, and a bevy of trendy restaurants to catch a bite to eat flood the streets of Banff. They even have a traditional Hudson's Bay store in town if you're looking for an authentic, quality, Canadian souvenir. One thing to note is that the pricing for food is fairly standard across town and that standard is fairly expensive. The low to mid-range restaurants are about $20.00 Cad per meal and roughly $14.00-$20.00 Cad per alcoholic drink. Higher quality meals are around $35.00-$45.00 and a drink in a nicer bar will run you about $26.00. In my experience, I found that the higher cost of food and drink was offset by the fact that almost all of the activities we did were free and within walking distance. For a truly unforgettable experience, take the gondola up to Sky Bistro for some fine dining. The view is incredible, there's a whole newly remodelled museum feature up there, and the food is unreal. Be warned the gondola and the dinner will run up a hefty yet deserving price tag.
3. Where to Stay
There are actually quite a few options for accommodation in Banff, and although in the summer the prices can be catastrophic, in the low-winter season, great deals can be found. We stayed at The Mount Royal Hotel right in town and at the time of booking they were having a 20% off sale if you book 3 or more nights. The hotel is absolutely beautiful, right in the hustle and bustle of town and for 4 nights after taxes only cost us $460.00 Cad. They even have a Tony Romas in the hotel if you don't want to venture out into the cold. Our rooms were upgraded for free to rooms with mountain views and we were given 2 free drink vouchers for the upstairs lounge/bar. Which, as fore mentioned with the drink prices, saved us quite a bit of cash. The bar offers free plush robes and towels to lounge in while you graze between the outdoor hot tubs and the bar. In the hot tubs, you're surrounded by panoramic mountain views and the chill of the icy winter air. On the second floor, there is a small kitchen with tea/coffee available at any time and a lounge room to simply hang out, read, or play some board games in. We spent a lot of time just chatting and laughing in the lounge and bar and especially after being outside, the hot tubs were an amazing way to end the cold days. I would absolutely stay at this hotel again, I have no complaints and for the price, you can't beat it. The hostel in town is roughly $120.00 a night for a bed in a mixed dorm room, so for less than a hostel bed, you can enjoy some comfortable luxury living at the Mount Royal Hotel.
The castle in the mountains. If you can't afford to stay here while you are in Banff, you have to at least spend the day exploring the haunting halls of the Fairmont hotel. Opened in 1888, this grand castle-like hotel nestled on the side of a mountain is packed to the brim with history. The majority of the hotel, furniture, and artwork are all original and they even have a small gallery with original photos, menus, dishware, and artefacts to look through. Pictures of Marilyn Munroe and the menu that was given to the Royal family when they stayed here are even on display. 76,000 sqft. of winding staircases, haunted hallways, and tunnels to explore. It hosts several restaurants and the Rundle bar, where a book can be pulled on the grand bookcase to reveal a doorway to a hidden bar. Like a step back in time, the hotel is notoriously haunted. On the 8th floor, you can see where a door to a room was wallpapered over. At the base of one of the grand staircases, a story of a ghost bride who fell down the stairs is hung. A hallway of mirrors can be found in the depths of a ballroom. If there is anything you do in Banff, exploring the Fairmont has to be one of them. Simply appreciating the history, the beauty, and the opulence of the hotel is awe-inspiring.
This tiny mountain town draws people in from across the globe because of its movie-Esq aesthetic and laid-back winter vibes. Adrenaline junkies rejoice as Banff is the Canadian epicentre for winter sports. Whether you like to ski or snowboard, The Rockies are the perfect challenge for any alpine-adventurous tourist. Buses will pick you up right in town and all of the equipment you need can be rented at a reasonable (reasonable for Banff) price tag. As winter is low season, you can experience skiing and snowboarding some of the most incredible mountains while you peer down onto the clouds without the claustrophobia of a thousand other tourists at your side.
No matter your age, budget, or activity level, there is something here for everyone. As a Canadian, to experience winter somewhere that's so close yet feels so far from home, Banff is a great opportunity to appreciate some Canadian history, geography and indulge in some incredible food and drink.