How to Plan a Trip to Banff to Get a Load of These Views

Lake Louise in Banff National Park | © Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera / Flickr
Lake Louise in Banff National Park | © Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer1 March 2017

Banff, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, is a popular place. Over 3.6 million people visited Banff National Park in 2014 and 2015, and this number is continuing to grow. Here is a guide to the best places to stay, best things to eat, and the best things to do in this stunning Alberta town.

Getting to Banff

Banff is conveniently located just 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Calgary, which has an international airport. From Calgary, there’s the option to get a shuttle from the airport, hop on a Greyhound bus, or hire a car. If visiting from Vancouver, Banff is a very scenic day’s drive away, or 850 kilometers (530 miles). A Parks Pass is required when driving into Banff National Park. For a more picturesque and luxurious journey into the area, the iconic Rocky Mountaineer train also stops in town.

Rocky Mountaineer in Banff National Park | © Roderick Eime / Flickr

Where to stay


A fantastic budget accommodation option in Banff is Samesun, a backpacker lodge. Because it was formerly a hotel, the dorm rooms have little luxurious touches, such as fireplaces, armchairs, and private bathrooms. Dorm bed rates begin at CAD$33 (US$24.75), and the hostel is on Banff’s main street, so all attractions are within walking distance.

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Samesun Banff, for budget accommodation | © Hayley Simpson


With rooms starting at CAD$104 (US$78), Banff Park Lodge is an affordable hotel located just off the main street and right near the Bow River. The lodge has many excellent amenities, including two on-site restaurants, an indoor pool, a free ski shuttle, and an airport shuttle service.

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For a luxurious stay in Banff, look no further than the Fairmont Banff Springs. The stately hotel has 764 guestrooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, a golf course, and a full-service spa. It sits like a castle on the hill, overlooking Banff and surrounded by rocky mountains. Room rates begin at CAD$395 (US$296).

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The stately Fairmont Banff Springs | © Diana Norgaard / Flickr

Where to eat

Balkan Restaurant

For fresh Greek food in the heart of Banff, head to Balkan Restaurant. It’s a family affair, and signature dishes include slow-roasted lamb shanks and Greek share platters. Every Tuesday and Thursday night at the Balkan is Greek night, which involves belly dancing, plate smashing, and Greek dancing.

Melissa’s Missteak

An institution in Banff, Melissa’s Missteak has been the town’s best steakhouse and family restaurant for over 30 years. They serve their “legendary family breakfast” every morning and also have a sports bar upstairs. They pride themselves on serving fresh and made-from-scratch meals only.

Brunch at Melissa's Missteak | © Calgary Reviews / Flickr

Banff Ave Brewing Co.

For beer lovers, check out Banff Ave Brewing Co. They use only the best ingredients in their beer, including glacial water straight from the Canadian Rockies. The menu features Canadian staples, which pair perfectly with their beers. Some of their beer varieties include a blonde ale, black pilsner, hefeweizen, and an IPA.

The Bison

“Whether in high heels or hiking boots, our dining room is yours.” The Bison is a restaurant serving regionally inspired and seasonal meals in an open concept kitchen. Their dining room features windows on three sides with mountain views, plus they have a terrace perfect for summer drinks. Pair your meal with a local beer or signature cocktail.

Dinner served at Bison Restaurant | © Elsie Hui / Flickr

What to see and do

Banff National Park is a big place – 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles) in fact – and it’s filled with many natural wonders and outdoor activities. Close to town, take an easy stroll along the Bow River to Bow Falls. From here, visitors can climb the hill to see the prestigious Fairmont Banff Springs. Take a walk around the grounds and check out its panoramic mountain views. An easy public bus ride away is Banff Upper Hot Springs, an affordable relaxation experience.

Next stop is the Banff Gondola, which travels to Sulphur Mountain’s summit. There’s a boardwalk at the top for views of the township and six different mountain ranges. There are also interactive displays, restaurants, a theater, and a rooftop observation deck on top of Sulphur Mountain.

Looking down on Banff | © TPSDave / Pixabay

A little bit further from town are just a few beautiful turquoise lakes. Must-visits include Lake Minnewanka, Vermilion Lakes, Moraine Lake, and Lake Louise. The drive to the latter two lakes, along the Bow Valley Parkway, is just as picturesque as the destinations themselves. During summer, there’s the option to kayak on the lakes, whereas in winter, Lake Louise becomes an ice skating rink.

Moraine Lake | © Mike Boehmer / Flickr

There are also many hiking trails around Banff National Park, which offer even more mountain, lakeside, and glacier views, including Wenkchemna Pass and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. The final outdoor attraction in the national park is Johnston Canyon, where you can join hundreds of people in summer and hike to its Upper and Lower Falls.

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