Banff, Canada, Travel Guide: Where to Stay, Eat, and Drink

A National Park that's basically a snow globe come to life.

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Bruce Yuanyue BiGetty Images

The first and most widely visited National Park in Canada, Banff is known for its pristine nature, countless sources of adventure, and an impressive culinary scene. Summer is the region's peak season, but winter—a quieter time at the park—is its most magical. Banff is so special, in-fact, that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth paid the park a visit in 1939 and royals have been vacationing in the area ever since. Whether you're all about an outdoor adventure or you prefer a spa-cation, a visit to Banff will leave you satisfied and in awe of its beauty.

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WHERE TO STAY

The Fairmont Banff Springs

Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” this resort is a historic gem that was built in 1888 by the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Cornelius Van Home. Van Home fashioned the hotel after a medieval Scottish castle with the hopes of increasing tourism on the railway. His plan worked. The hotel was a hit, becoming a summer mountain getaway destination in the ‘20s and eventually a year-round resort. Today the castle offers downright stunning views of the mountains, a state-of-the-art spa complete with an outdoor hot tub and heated pool (especially magical in the snow), and an in-house black lab ambassador named Bear. If you forget any of your warm weather gear, visit the Lululemon Outerwear pop-up inside the hotel. Forgot your work out clothes? Fairmont Fit will lend you workout gear and shoes from Reebok.

BOOK IT

WHERE TO EAT

Wild Flour Bakery

For breakfast or a quick lunch, walk into town and grab a fresh baked pastry and an artisanal coffee at Wild Flour Bakery, particularly if you are there early in the week. Every Monday and Tuesday a new variety of loaves are prepared (a daily bread schedule is posted online). Carb lovers rejoice!

Sky Bistro

For sweet views and a bit of an upscale ambience, visit Sky Bistro. Take a gondola ride up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain (a mere 7,510 feet). There you’ll find the restaurant fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows and magnificent views. Oh, and the food's delicious, too. Order the ocean-to-sky seafood chowder, split the fennel salad with radicchio, apple, pecorino, pumpkin seeds, and truffle vinaigrette, and get the sky bistro gnocchi for your main: homemade from sweet potatoes and tossed with a sage brown butter sauce, parsnip puree, pea shoots, and Roquefort.

Block Kitchen + Bar

For a low-key night out, the cozy atmosphere at Block Kitchen + Bar will do just fine. The restaurant specializes in Asian-influenced tapas and creative cocktails from chef Stéphane Prévost, who's devoted to using Alberta's local ingredients and seeking out sustainable cooking practices. Order a bunch to share. Menu highlights include duck spring rolls, pork belly lettuce wraps, and pan-flashed spicy prawns with peanut sauce. You obviously can’t leave without trying one of the craft cocktails. Maybe the Pop Bang Marg made with tequila, Cointreau, lemon, chili, and cilantro? Or perhaps the refreshing Watermelon Splash made with vodka, watermelon, cucumber, and lemon?

Chuck's Steakhouse

If you’re a meat and potatoes kind of gal, you have to stop by Chuck’s Steakhouse. Chuck and the steakhouse are both local legends, plus the Alberta region is known for their cattle ranches. Go big or go home here. Order the French onion soup, the steak tartare with pickled pear, Dijon mustard, cured egg yolk, bone marrow aioli, and potato chips, and split an Alberta Raised Wagyu bone-in ribeye-steak. Wash it all down with a full-bodied Canadian red (yes, we said Canadian red—they're good!).

WHAT TO DO

There's no shortage of winter activities in Banff but if you only have a few days, here's our short list:

Visit Lake Louise

A must-do day trip. With bright turquoise waters, the surrounding mountains, and the scenic hiking trails, Lake Louise was practically made for Instagram. Go for a canoe ride in the warmer seasons and skate come winter.

See the Scenery from Above

For a bucket list experience, book a helicopter tour with Alpine Helicopters Inc. Warm up with some coffee or hot cocoa in the lodge before you make your way out (and up). For a super special occasion, you can even arrange to land on a mountain before circling back to the base!

Rejuvenate

For a little rest and relaxation, check out the Banff Upper Hot Springs. A heated pool filled with minerals from the surrounding mountains that are medicinal for the body and mind.

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