Let’s kick it off simple, Banff is a damn vibe and just may be the ultimate mountain getaway. The small town has a big presence with a commanding food scene, tailored hospitality and immersive nature experiences that will leave you feeling worlds away.
I ventured out to Banff to create content for the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Board. The Banff team was very enthusiastic of their town’s evolving food scene, which is filled with nifty cafes, picturesque venues and dynamite chefs. After indulging in the crafts of a few artisans spearheading this forward food march, I’m comfortable vouching for Banff as a valid foodie destination. What makes the town’s food scene unique is that its solitary location has paved the way for a well defined local food culture.
Now let’s not forget what Banff is truly famous for: Its abundance of adventure, which is arguably the core of its entire reputation. For good reason too, as the idyllic town sits in the heart of Banff National Park. You can expect to find a landscape packed with insane lakes, thunderous mountains, wildlife and hikes to see it all. Plus the air is really fresh. I’m talking REALLY fresh.
However what I found most valuable was that Banff is a digestible trip for just about every kind of traveler. I’m someone who appreciates nature, needs good food, loves convenience and enjoys pockets of luxury. I found myself all smiles throughout my trip.
Making the journey to Banff? Here’s some of the essentials:
STAY IN BANFF’S MOUNTAIN CASTLE
The Banff Springs, a Fairmont property, is the crown jewel of the town’s hospitality industry. Straight up. The resort is historic yet modern, channeling rustic vibes without sacrificing luxury and comfort. Banff is an exciting place to be, but you’ll want to make time for the hotel too. Boasting multiple high quality restaurants and bars, as well as a pristine spa, Fairmont’s Banff Springs has become an institution of its own right. (Over 1,000 people work here!)
I highly suggest grabbing a room on the 7th, 8th or 9th floor, which have truly captivating Banff views that made the stay here fully immersive. Which brings me to my next point: Don’t miss the sunrise!
Jet lag was in full swing from my last two travels, but the up side was catching the sunrise every day. Looking outside each morning to see the mountains, rivers and sky lit up in an impressive array of pinks, purples and blues was something I’ll never forget about my time in Banff.
MAKE THE JOURNEY TO LAKE LOUISE
You didn’t properly go to Banff if you don’t make the pilgrimage to Lake Louise. Hop on an adventure with Discover Banff Tours to make the journey enjoyable, easy and informative. Our scenic photo excursion to Lake Louise was perfect for a photographer, which is exactly what I wanted on my visit to the iconic lake.
We saw a so much of Banff’s scenery which evolved throughout the tour wildly, from rivers shrouded in greens to the great lake which was frozen solid. Discover Banff Tours also offers a variety of experiences like wildlife watching, horseback riding, dog sledding, IceWalks, sleigh-rides and more.
Once you make it to the lake a lunch at the Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise is a proper move. Their menu is approachable, high quality and pretty damn scenic. The cheesesteak, lobster roll, caesar and French onion worked warmly against a well done Manhattan, making for an epic lunch.
Pro Tip: Skip the crowds and have a table of your choice (go window-side) when you arrive a bit early (11am) to grab your seat.
I only got to view a frozen Lake Louise, and though beautiful, I knew it wasn’t capturing the mesmerizing landscape in all its glory. Just means I’ll have to make my way here when it’s melted and alive. We did have some fun on the frozen lake though!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO EAT IN BANFF
The food scene in Banff is an excellent companion to the destination’s adventure tourism. I was thoroughly impressed with each of the restaurants, chefs and artisans I found weaved through the mountain town.
Block is a small venue, but its worldly in flavor and hospitality. Especially when its Asian inspiration shines through. The small plates, craft cocktails and artistic design all lend to an intimate experience that is well suited for a party of two. The salmon was zesty, the steak super tender and the maple infused old fashion was choice.
Didn’t make a mistake crushing brunch at Melissa’s Missteak, a Banff staple (according to locals). Inside an impressive log cabin style restaurant awaits warm vibes and hearty cuisine. Goblet mimosas combined with eggs benedict and steak + eggs proved to be a noble brunch choice. I got the New York strip & cheesy scramble, add bacon.
BANFF GONDOLA & SKY BISTRO EXPERIENCE.
From the moment you board the Banff Gondola and ascend into unparalleled views of the national park, it becomes clear that this experience sits at the top of must do’s while in Banff. Combine that with a top notch restaurant that awaits you on the mountain’s peak and you’ve brought yourself to the summit of Banff’s dining scene.
Sky Bistro was my best meal in Banff. What impressed me most was how the quality of cuisine matched the stunning views of mountain peaks and clouds that surrounded the dining room. The duck wings, zucchini fritters, short ribs, sweet potato gnocchi, brownies and butter tarts are an essential try.
The Bison has all the makings for a memorable Banff meal: It’s regional, well thought out and classy – without the slightest hint of pretentiousness. I was particularly impressed with the joint’s love of cast iron and wood fired flame, which makes for a mean elk ragu that worked excellent in their signature gnocchi poutine. Menu concept is humble but really smart and takes into account a variety of health and lifestyle choices.
I wasn’t able to have a traditional meal at Three Ravens, but I was lucky enough to get a seat to a collaboration dinner between its executive chef, Sébastien Tessier and celebrity chef Anita Lo. The restaurant itself is covered in glass windows which peer out to a scenic display of mountains. A fine dining essence radiates through plating and polished style.
Three Ravens’ ethos matches that of its venue: The Banff Centre, where you can get a healthy dose of creative arts. I would consider both worthy of consideration during your time in Banff.
THE UPRISING BAKERY.
If you’re a bread lover, keep an eye on The Uprising Bakery‘s effort to get a storefront or finding a place serving their bread. Baker-owner Patrick has dedicated his craft to creating perfect bread and he’s done a damn good job at it. His sourdough and focaccia was particularly impressive.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BANFF.
Banff is a really solid option for a getaway. It’s rich in nature and experiences while its hospitality scene is quite advanced for its small town build. You could probably leave feeling quite accomplished in 3-5 nights. Flights from JFK run about 4 hours to Calgary, which is about an hour and a half from Banff itself.
The more popular Banff gets, the more exclusive the destination will become. Built in a National Park, you won’t find many other hotels being built here due to regulations. The more it achieves in popularity, the scarcer the rooms, so make the journey sooner rather than later! Safe travels.