Town of Banff: A perfect Canadian Rockies town

Town of Banff mountain views

When we first rolled into Banff, the sun had just set and we felt like tired death after our accidentally insane hike of Big Beehive at Lake Louise. We parked on a side street and starting walking towards the sounds of people. But before we got to humans, we heard sounds in the residential garden to our right and saw a couple of mule deer just hanging out next to an Impala, noshing like it was totally normal. Didn’t even startle when we started trying to get a stable free-hand picture in the failing light. Welcome to the north?

 

What to expect from this Canadian Rockies town

As a couple of central Virginians, one thing we are NOT accustomed to is the absolute charm of a ski town like downtown Banff. Imagine walking along a snow-lined, two-lane road on a nippy day. Cars stop without issue when you want to cross the two-lane streets. Welcome to the CANADIAN north?

Seeing the town during the day is even better. Then you can tell that the architecture has a distinctly rustic feel – lots of exposed timbers and inspiration from chalets. People offer you help if you look lost, and twinkling lights hang from balconies and along the streets. Most stores and restaurants have colorful, often wooden, signs that overhang the street. And everything is so CLEAN. And the best part about all of this is that, anywhere you look, you’re surrounded by towering geological giants – snowcapped (or covered) mountains are EVERYWHERE.

Like any tourist-focused town (and it IS tourist-focused – in fact, it was originally designed in the late 20th century to have the best possible views of the mountains) gift shops abound. If you’re bored, just go in – some of their souvenirs are hilarious. Don’t miss the t-shirts! But just know that there’s more than just kitsch here.

Boyfriend Perspective: It is such a cozy town. None of the buildings were more than 2 or 3 three stories, giving a small town feel and leaving the view to be its astounding self. A reboot of John Denver’s The Christmas Gift would not be out of place here when it snowed.

 

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What to do in Town of Banff

Stop by the visitor center. This sounds absurd, right? Because we all have Google. But if you haven’t ordered your park pass yet, have questions about current back-country conditions, or want to know anything about the surrounding area, this is the place to be. After all, asking real people is often a little more satisfying than the good ol’ Goog.

Talk a walk. The scenery and atmosphere are two of the best things about this town, aside from its proximity to insanely gorgeous impactful natural attractions. And, if you’re from anywhere that’s a little less polite, cross the street a couple times. It’s SO WEIRD when cars actually stop…

Go shopping. Banff Avenue has a surprisingly large number of stores for its size, so if you need to restock or simply feel like a spree, you can’t go too far wrong. Bonus, most of the stores offer Canadian-made goods.

 

Where to eat in downtown Banff

On that first night downtown, when we had just hiked for hours and were both hungry enough that meat on the hoof had started to look tasty (run, deer, run!), we both whipped out our phones and started looking for decently-reviewed restaurants. As we perused, a man walking an adorable pup stopped, apologized for interrupting, and asked if he could help us. We let him know we were enthusiastically in need of dinner, and he gave us several area recommendations for different types of cuisine.

Banff Brewing Company. Dill pickle fried chicken sandwich, anyone? It’s a little greasy, but if you’re feeling something hearty and filling, this is your spot. Also, their rhubarb cheesecake is CRAZY good. This very much a ski bar, and very much frequented by locals. It was actually while sitting at our corner high top that we heard a local group of snowboarders talking about a Twitter account that specifically sends out warnings when the aurora is particularly active – and wouldn’t you know that, on the way back to Canmore, we ended up pulling off the highway to grab a couple long exposures of the Northern Lights?! Nothing like a local watering hole for quality info.

Boyfriend Perspective: Good pub food, good craft beer, and very welcoming staff. This would be my first choice to eat at when we come back.

Whitebark Café. Guys, we’d literally go back to Banff just for this. Forgive the lack of food photography skills, but holy bajeezus your stomach won’t regret a trip here. The coffee is delicious, but their breakfast foods are the best. Bacon egg cups (which, thankfully for me, weren’t runny), quinoa bowls with yogurt so thick it looks like ice cream, rhubarb bars (with a few extra for the road), and super tasty quiche were all on our morning, post-Johnston Canyon menu. Speaking officially, no regrets were had!

Boyfriend Perspective: For those wondering, rhubarb bars are like date bars made with rhubarb instead. If you are unfamiliar with rhubarb, its a bit of sweet citrus flavor without bite sour bite, pair nicely with strawberry. They are delicious and….hey Meagan, did we ever get that recipe?

 

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How to get around Banff

WALK. Seriously, it’s so small, there’s almost no reason to drive unless the weather is crap. In the fall, while we visited, sunny skies and a gentle breeze made walking around a joy during the day.

If you’re not feeling the pedestrian thing, grab a bike or a scooter. Equally easy. Cars are just kind of superfluous.

 

Have you ever spent time in the Town of Banff? What was your favorite restaurant, or favorite thing about the town?

 

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Exploring the Town of Banff: A perfect Canadian Rockies town


Also published on Medium.

19 Replies to “Town of Banff: A perfect Canadian Rockies town”

  1. We agree with you 100% Banff is a perfect Canadian mountain paradise. You made us want to go back again.

    We had a great time bowling at the Banff Springs too…

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    1. Heck yeah! And we’ll have to add that to our list for when we return 🙂

  2. I’ve never been to Banff but it looks absolutely gorgeous. I love the mix of nature/adventure coupled with small town charm. The locals sound super friendly too!

    1. It is, and they were 🙂 We can’t wait to get back there in the next year or two!

  3. I can’t believe I’ve never been to Banff. I’ve been reading about it for years, but I haven’t made the trip yet. Your posts makes me want to visit even more.

    1. Ahhh! Do it! It’s completely worth the trip 🙂 and you can always fly in the Calgary if you don’t want to do what us crazy people did and drive from Vancouver 😛 Hope you make it there soon!

  4. I always love reading the little snippets of your boyfriend’s perspective on the places you guys travel to! I’ve been to Banff three times at least in both summer and winter and absolutely love it. Will defs have to hit up Banff Brewing Company next time I’m in town!

  5. Carolina Colborn says: Reply

    Of course I remember Banff, the scenery, the shopping and the Banff brewing Company. Your boyfriend’s perspective is so refershing!

  6. Never been to canada yet. But this place looks like must visit. Have heard about it couple of times, so would love to visit here someday.

    1. Man, there’s so much to do in all the provinces that it’s hard to choose! But I think this area is a great intro to all the natural mountain beauty Canada can offer 🙂

  7. Baniff seems so magnificent and astonishing, Luke and Meagan. When would be the best time of the year to explore this cute town?

    1. We loved exploring in the fall because the weather was just so cool and beautiful. That said, we’ve talked about having a second visit earlier in the year to see what the area is like when it’s warmer – our only concern is being swamped by visitors in early summer (lots of hikers) or mid-winter (skiiers). The curse of the introvert: always avoiding crowds! hah

  8. Look so gorgeous. I’m all about taking a walk to enjoy the scenery!

  9. I love walkable cities and have always wanted to visit Banff! A scooter sounds like a pretty awesome way to get around, though.

    1. That could definitely be awesome, too. But even just walking around was really nice with the weather we had. Nice and breezy, and lovely scenery all around. Can’t beat it!

  10. Canadian Rockies have been haunting me for a long time now and we are seriously thinking of planning a trip for October 2018. This post on Banff will definitely help. Will the weather be good that time of the year?

    1. YES! October in Banff was gorgeous. We were there in the first week of October, just in time for the larches to start changing to gold. It was absolutely stunning and is also kind of a tourist shoulder season, which is even better. We needed insulation layers in the mornings and evenings (it got down into the 20s F) but during the day we were able to hike in jeans, long sleeve shirts, and maaaaybe a puffy vest depending on the altitude and proximity to water 🙂

  11. Banff and Lake Louise are on my bucket list. The charm, natural beauty, and nice folks are all attractive aspects of this tourist hot spot. And Whitebark Cafe sounds like my type of eatery.

    1. Girl, you can’t go wrong at Whitebark 😉 Hopefully you make it out that way soon – Banff is definitely worth the trip!

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