No matter when you visit, there is absolutely no shortage of things to do in Banff.
This tiny town sits in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and is spectacularly beautiful virtually all year round. Despite its reputation as a launchpad for ski slopes and hiking trails, there’s a lot more to do in Banff than outdoor adventures to suite people of all ages and interests.
Get your planner out! You’re going to need it.
Drink cocktails and gaze at mountains
The Park Distillery is hands-down my favourite place to eat, drink, and mountain-gaze in Banff. Possibly in the whole of Canada.
Perched right in the middle of town, this restaurant, bar and distillery is nice and cosy inside with fires and wood furnishings, and a balcony overlooking Tunnel Mountain and Mount Rundle. While the balcony is probably best-used in summer, there are a bunch of heaters and blankets (and cocktails!) to keep you toasty in spring and fall as well.
Speaking of cocktails, the selection is fantastic! It includes a variety of spirits made right there on the premises, and my absolute favourite is The Sawback – pineapple, triple sec, lime, agave, and homemade chilli vodka. The. Best.
Soak in natural hot springs
There’s something incredible about bathing in water heated naturally by the Earth’s mantle, and Banff Upper Hot Springs is the perfect place to do it.
The springs were once considered a place of healing by the First Nations people due to the water’s minerals and unique properties, but now it function like a kind of public swimming pool with lockers, ladders, bathrooms, and a cafe, all set against a spectacular backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The springs were the very first tourist attraction in Banff, and it’s still a great spot to visit all year-round.
Visit Mount Norquay
Whether you’re skiing or sightseeing, Mount Norquay is so close to the town it’s difficult to think of a reason not to go. Not only is it a great place to ski in winter due to its close proximity to town, the chairlifts still operate during the warmer months taking passengers up to the cosy cafe to eat, drink, and take in a great view of the town.
Ride the Banff Gondola and marvel at six mountain ranges
If you’re in to great views, this is the one you can’t miss.
The Banff Gondola takes you 2,281 meters (7,485 ft) above sea level and boasts a 360-degree view of Banff, the Bow Valley, and six mountain ranges. If you’re feeling adventurous (and it’s not covered in snow) you can wander along the skywalk for 1km until you reach Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station. On a good night, you can see the Northern Lights.
For chilly days when you’re not up to walking, there’s also a cafe, cafeteria, and the Sky Bistro where you can fine dine while mountain-gazing.
Check out local venues
Banff may be small, but there are plenty of venues around town with loads of things to do.
Go tenpin bowling while chowing down on New York-style pizza at retro-themed High Rollers, see live music at Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon, head to the theatre at the Banff Centre, check out Banff Farmer’s Market (at the time of writing summer and winter markets were being held, but double-check before getting excited), get pampered at one of the many massage parlours (or at the Fairmont Spa if you’re feeling fancy), visit one of the many museums and learn about why this beautiful yet arctic place became a town, head to virtually any pub for karaoke, and it’s literally always happy hour at one of the many bars in town, so make sure you check them out!
Feel like royalty at Fairmont Banff Springs
The Fairmont seems to make an appearance all over Canada in beautiful locations, but this one is a bit different. Originally built in 1888, the hotel sits right at the Bow Falls (also a must-see) and looks like a Scottish castle that somehow found itself in Canada.
It’s pretty pricey to actually stay there, but visitors are welcome to wander the grounds, lounges, restaurants, and cocktail bars and gander at the surrounding mountains. With the wood-panelled bars, regal red carpets, and giant chandeliers, walking just about anywhere in this place makes you feel like royalty.
Hike and Ski
It would be impossible to write about things to do in Banff without mentioning hiking and skiing – the place is a wonderland for all things ‘adventure’, and I know I keep saying it, but it really is stunningly-beautiful.
Whether you’re there in winter or summer, you can either marvel, ski, ice skate, or hike at Lake Louise, Sunshine, Lake Moraine, or Lake Minnewanka (pronounced mini-wonka for all the Australians in the house 😉). While the deep freeze of winter veils the emerald hues of the lakes in clouds of white, they’re still beautifully icy to look at and skate on.
So there you have it! Whether you’re in to hiking, skiing, snowboarding, gondola-riding, eating, drinking, hot tubs, bowling, or almost anything else you might want to do while on holidays, there’s no shortage of things to do in Banff all year round.