Since seeing pictures of the Faimont Banff Springs perched regally in the heart of the majestic Canadian Rockies, it has been at the top of my travel list. The stars aligned in March, when an opportunity to escape for a couple of days to ski emerged and the Banff/Lake Louise area was the only place with decent snow. I quickly flew into research mode. Where to stay? Banff or Lake Louise? Too much to do both? Where to eat? Would we need a car? Here are my tips for how to break up one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the world. Thankfully my boyfriend was happy to move hotels every two nights (staying in a total of four hotels in eight nights).
First things first, you fly into Calgary, and yes you definitely need a car, especially if you plan on moving around as much as we did! Banff is roughly an hour and a half from the Calgary airport, and Lake Louise is 45 minutes beyond Banff.
I also loved experiencing both Banff and Lake Louise. Banff definitely has more going on in terms of restaurants, shops and a town. Lake Louise is more secluded, pristine, and uniquely beautiful (details on Lake Louise will follow this in a separate post).
Where to stay in Banff:
We used a splurge and save tactic so we could do all that we wanted to on our trip. Thankfully the dollar was strong in Canada which also helped us maximize. We spent our first two nights in the heart of town at The Mount Royal Hotel. For $70 USD a night (I found a special), we had a perfectly clean, spacious and pleasant room with a view of the mountains. The staff was lovely and the best part was we were steps from action – the ideal location to get oriented.
We spent our last two nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs, which lived up to my grand expectations and was the perfect, magical ending to our amazing trip. The Fairmont Banff Springs boasts a 125 year-old history and is an experience in itself, complete with 13 dining options, a bowling and entertainment center, spa, extensive pool area, golf (in the warmer months), and our favorite – an outdoor hot pool which we soaked in everyday after skiing… with a cocktail. Usually large hotels overwhelm me, but I appreciated the old world feel and cozy nooks of this hotel. The service was incredible and we loved wine and appetizers at Grapes Wine Bar (the former library) and enjoyed the amazing views of the Bow River from the Rundle Lounge.
Eating & Drinking in Banff:
We kicked off our trip with dinner at the Juniper Bistro so that we could take in the views of Mount Rundle and the town of Banff. It is slightly outside of town located on the slopes of lower Mount Norquay. The food was good, the service was great, the atmosphere was quiet (perhaps a little too quiet), and the view was the highlight.
Dinner at The Bison was a favorite with its warm and vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant is housed on the 2nd floor, has windows on three sides, and is right in the center of town. Known for its meats and locally sourced produce the “bison” short ribs were appropriately incredible and a worthy representation of the restaurant’s name.
Dinner at Three Ravens was by far our most exquisite culinary experience. The food was ambitious, perfectly executed, and beautifully presented. A would-be surprise for a mountain town, except Banff we discovered, is quite an intellectual and culinary hub. The setting of Three Ravens is unique as it located in the Banff Centre, an arts, performance, and meeting center. As it is situated in the corner of the larger dining area, the restaurant is not cozy and intimate, but is one of the most special vantage points to watch the sun set over the Bow Valley as the walls are all windows, ceiling-to-floor.
Block is a tiny spot right in town that has delicious cocktails and appetizers. Great for an apres snack!
The Bear Street Tavern is Banff’s raved about pizza joint. It’s comfortable with inviting booths and a lovely patio for the Summer months. Great pizza, and they do offer gluten free crusts!
We were there to Ski and there are three Mountains to choose from in Banff/Lake Louise Area. We spent most of our time at Sunshine Mountain, because it has the best snow conditions in late March. It is located about 15 minutes north of the town of Banff in the direction of Lake Louise. Mount Norquay is the smallest mountain, located right on the edge of town and is known as the “locals” mountain. Sadly the snow conditions weren’t great when we were there so we skipped Mount Norquay. Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is about 45 minutes north of Banff claims to be “Canada’s largest single ski resort.” It is the largest of the area’s three mountains with 139 trails and several enormous bowls. The scenery from the top is unforgettable!
In addition to Skiing, Banff offers so many other activities – skating, dog-sledging, snow mobile adventures, and hot springs will keep you busy in the Winter. I look forward to visiting in the Summer for hiking, biking, fishing, and all the performances and exhibits the Banff Center offers. Apparently Banff is busiest in the Summer months. We will be back!