Banff is one of the most popular tourist cities in the Alberta province of Canada. Travelers flock to this destination to enjoy its breathtaking views. The city’s position on the Trans-Canada Highway makes it convenient to reach, while its panoramic scenery encapsulates everything that’s wonderful about the Canadian Rockies. Read on to find out the best itinerary for a visit to one of the best locales in all of Canada.

Early Morning: (Almost) Flying into Banff

When you research your flight, you’ll discover a surprise. Banff Airport (code: YBA) isn’t where you’re most likely to enter the city. Banff has an elevation of 1,400 meters or higher, and most tourists, especially international travelers, fly rather than drive into town. Alas, Banff Airport is only open for emergency landings.

Your airport destination is Calgary International Airport (code: YYC). The airport is 90 miles away from Banff. You’ll want to arrive early in the morning to have a full day in town. Schedule the flight with the earliest arrival time. Then, either rent a car or use the airport shuttle service. Called the Banff Airliner, the shuttle is a relatively inexpensive option that will transport you from Calgary to Banff. Try to sleep on the bus. You’ll need your rest ahead of a full morning itinerary.

Early Morning: Breakfast in Banff

When you enter Banff early in the morning, you’ll suffer hunger pangs after a long flight. Also, you’ll need some protein as you anticipate a full itinerary in an exciting tourist town. The goal is to eat breakfast somewhere that immediately gives you the sensation that you’re in the legendary mountains of Banff. Ignore options at the airport food court or in Banff National Park. You want to dine where the action is.

Once you exit the Banff Airliner, you’ll want to grab a Lyft or Uber. Your destination is a hotel restaurant, but this property understandably doesn’t have airport shuttle service to Calgary. You’ll either need to rent a car at the airport or use ride-sharing services during the day. This guide suggests ride-sharing throughout the itinerary.

The best place to get you in the mood for a Banff vacation is the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The Bow Valley Grill serves breakfast from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. each day and offers a weekend brunch buffet, too. You’re getting an early start, which means brunch is too late.

You may experience a disoriented sensation when you arrive at the hotel. After all, Fairmont is a popular hotel chain with properties in 22 countries. You may expect an ordinary hotel chain breakfast here. When your car approaches the facility, you’ll realize that’s not the case. This resort is one of the stateliest facilities in all of Alberta. You’ll feel like you’re dining at a palace.

Your breakfast has an idyllic setting that displays all the majestic scenery of the Canadian Rockies. It also has the type of opulence you’d expect of a fine hotel. The Fairmont brand has a reputation for luxury, and you’ll feel that way at Bow Valley Grill. You could order a la carte here, picking a pile of pancakes and some mouth-watering banana bread French toast. Why should you have to pick, though?

The breakfast buffet at the hotel has a reasonable cost and includes both entrees plus several other savory options. You can even sample some of the world-famous Fairmont signature teas. HC Valentine coffee is also available if you’re still drowsy from the flight. You need maximum alertness for the rest of your morning!

If you’re traveling on a tight budget, $35 per person for breakfast is a bit excessive. You should try Wild Flour Bakery instead. One of the top-ranked Banff eateries according to Trip Advisor, this establishment hearkens back to the earliest days of the city. Canadians incorporated Banff in 1885. This restaurant arrived only a few years later. It’s almost as old as Banff itself!

At Wild Flour, you’re going to want complex carbohydrates, which is a fancy way of saying lots of biscuits! The bakery-fresh breads come straight from the kitchen every morning, and the workers brag that they’re all baked with love. Make sure to order the cinnamon buns and the restaurant’s signature breakfast frittata sandwich. Also, if you’re traveling with people who have special dietary needs, this place is perfect. It has gluten-free and vegan dishes for each course. It’s the perfect compromise choice!

Moraine lake national park
Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.

Morning in the Park

You’ll now want to catch a ride over to Banff National Park. It’s the oldest national park in Canada, and Banff was the first city ever to incorporate inside a park. You’re obviously going to spend a lot of time here due to all the wonderful tourist options.

The price of admission won’t break your budget, either. Roughly 20 Canadian dollars will get you through the gates. Better yet, you’ll have access through 4 p.m. the next day regardless of when you enter the first time. After you get done with today’s itinerary, remember that you can spend more time in the park tomorrow if you’re so inclined. You will buy your ticket at the visitor information center in Banff. You can also buy in Lake Louise if you find that’s closer. (Using this itinerary, it would mean you’ve gotten lost, though.)

The first thing you’ll want to do is schedule a park tour. Several free tours are available, but many of the good ones aren’t cheap. The Banff National Park Guided Hike is a great, although expensive, option at roughly 100 Canadian dollars, and it includes lunch. Since you’ll have other lunch suggestions in a minute, only take this tour if you plan to ignore the next part of this itinerary. If you love hiking, it’s a great way to see all the amazing sights in Banff while getting some exercise.

High-energy travelers will have so much to do at Banff National Park. One of the tours is a horseback-riding adventure for roughly 65 Canadian dollars per person. Groupon and other deal sites frequently offer half-off deals. Plan ahead to save a lot of money while you’re traveling!

The horse trails in Banff are all amazing. The scenery is majestic, and the mile-high air will help you breathe better than you have in years. Your cowboy guide will lead you through the park. This worker will also show you the best way to befriend your horse, guaranteeing that you have a smooth ride. The only catch with a horse tour is that it’ll take about two hours. Between the travel time, admission purchase, and the tour, it’s already time for…

Lunch in Banff National Park

Your new best friend is Melissa. She runs a restaurant in Banff National Park, and it’s one of the most popular local eateries. Melissa’s Restaurant and Bar is among the highest-ranked bars in Alberta, but don’t let that mislead you. The food’s exemplary, too!

Melissa’s steak is especially popular, but you’re eating lunch now. You don’t want a 10-ounce ribeye at noon, right? Instead, you’ll want to try the restaurant’s beloved lunch offering, the B.C. wild salmon filet. With a lake next door, this fish is the freshest you’ll ever taste. Of course, if you’re not a salmon fan, you can have the conventional choice, fish and chips, instead. Then again, you may want to try the steak sandwich to see why everyone loves Melissa’s steak flavors. You know what? You’ll have an active afternoon. Just get the ribeye!

Would you rather eat something silly that seems touristy? Head over to Beaver Tails, a pastry store that serves plenty of lunch meals. You can try a hot dog hidden in a pastry rather than a conventional bun. You could also order the house specialty, Beaver Bites. These decadent donut balls rest under a massive scoop of ice cream, and the ice cream has a caramel or hot fudge topping! Finally, you can eat one of the most famous delicacies in Canada, poutine. Beaver Tails sells several variations.

If you’re in the mood for a conventional lunch menu, Bill Peyto’s Café is the choice. You’ll have to travel a bit for this one, as it’s technically in Lake Louise. Adventurous travelers will discover that this hidden gem serves the basics like burgers and sandwiches for lunch. It also throws in some delicious alternatives like a buffalo chicken wrap and a Montreal hot dog, aka a Steamie. The best part about this restaurant is that it resides next to a hostel. That’s why you know it’s a cheap meal.

Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola in Banff.

Spend Some Time in the Sky!

You’ll want your food to digest before you embark on the afternoon’s adventures. The best way to pass the time is to ride the Banff Gondola. This heavenly transportation system will thrust you into the air and ship you off to the park’s greatest heights. You’ll enjoy an ethereal view of Sulphur Mountain during the ten-minute ascent. Best of all, the journey only costs 70 Canadian dollars.

When you reach the top of the Banff Gondola, you’ll discover an entertainment shopping complex and a 360-degree rooftop observation deck. You’ll also discover a series of hands-on interactive displays that will make you feel like you’re a part of the Canadian Rockies. You’ll easily spend 90 minutes exploring this facility and admiring this rare, unforgettable view of the mountains.

Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure
Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure in Banff.

Afternoon in the Water

You’re now ready to burn off some of those lunch calories. You should go on the Kananaskis River Rafting Adventure, a five-hour tour that will have you paddling for dear life. You’ll get to see wildlife play in the river as you float near them. You can also see the many thunderous river waterfalls that are an integral part of the park.

Of course, you may not feel adventurous after lunch. Guests who want to luxuriate a bit can still go out on the water. The Banff Lake Cruise is only 60 Canadian dollars, half the price of river rafting. You won’t get the same rush from it, but you also won’t feel exhausted in the afternoon.

After you’re done on the water, you can get back in the air. Scenic chairlifts are a popular way to move around the park. For 40 Canadian dollars, you get a 360-degree view of the mountains from one of the highest elevations in the country. The only catch is that it’s similar to your prior Banff Gondola ride. You should maybe just pick one unless you’re a Gondola fanatic.

Dinner in Town

You’ll spend the rest of the evening walking around Banff. Your goal is to have the best view of the city. Three restaurants tower above the rest in this category. Eden offers fine dining in the form of French cuisine. It’s a Five-Diamond restaurant and a recipient of multiple Wine Spectator awards. Expect the meal’s cost to reflect these facts. Still, you won’t mind splurging for lobster terrine, goose, and a dessert known simply as Orange & Lavender.

The Juniper Bistro is a hotel restaurant that features wall-to-wall windows. You’ll have a view of the mountains from any seat. It’s also a reasonably priced meal relative to Eden. You can feast on charcuteries with cheese and duck breast for roughly 65 Canadian dollars per person.

If you want to save money while still eating well, head over to Waldhaus Pub & Patio. It’s a more comfortable setting, but the patio meal is memorable. You’ll relax in a mountain setting while dining on Bavarian delicacies. You can get Haus Chips, a schnitzel plate, and apple strudel for 45 Canadian dollars.

The Cascade Gardens
The Cascade Gardens in Banff.

Evening Walk

You’re almost ready for bed, but don’t turn in yet! First, you’ll want to visit Canada Place. The Cascade Gardens in this area will dazzle you. After a few moments there, you’ll understand why it’s considered one of the most photographed places in all of Canada. Of course, that’s true of Banff as a whole. Make sure to take lots of pictures while you’re there! Your friends will feel so jealous of the beautiful places you visited. The Cascade Gardens is probably the most gorgeous of all, though.

Where to Stay in Banff

Again, Banff is a beloved tourist destination. As such, you’ll pay a high price for a hotel room. The following are potential places where you can stay, at least one of which should fit your budget.

Most hotels are in the same general area, which is downtown Banff. You’re generally selecting one based on amenities and budget. The priciest rooms in Banff rival the most expensive ones anywhere on the planet. Then again, some are basically restored castles. If you can afford the hotel rate, you’ll have an unforgettable time in the room.

Great Hotels

The best hotel in Banff according to TripAdvisor rankings is Moose Hotel and Suites. This property also offers strong value. At 430 Canadian dollars per night, it’s one of the most affordable rooms out of the high-end resorts.

The Juniper Hotel, home to the Juniper Bistro suggested above, is even cheaper at 280 Canadian dollars per night. It’s probably the best overall value in the city. Plus, you’ll have the added convenience of eating supper where you’re staying. You can grab a quick shower or pool swim either before or after dinner.

The Rimrock Hotel offers the same tantalizing convenience if you choose to dine at Eden. This resort falls between Moose Hotels and Suites and The Juniper Hotel in value. It costs roughly 365 Canadian dollars per night. The hotel has more reasonable prices than its beloved restaurant does.

Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain in Banff.

Available Hostels

Despite its lofty tourism status, the city does offer a few hostels. Banff International Hostel is a mountain lodge that generously throws in breakfast for the economical traveler. Samesun Banff does the same and throws in free WiFi, allowing you to keep up with news of the world. Hi Banff Alpine Center has free WiFi and luggage storage, and it even adds free transportation to the park. You can stay at any of them for less than 40 Canadian dollars nightly.

Best Private Rentals

As a dream mountain getaway, Banff has many vacation rentals available. You can scale the options to fit your needs. If you’re traveling by yourself, single rooms are rare but possible. Banff Aspen Lodge Rooms sells one-bedrooms starting at 160 Canadian dollars. Banff – A Mountain Suite promises a romantic two-bedroom backdrop for 500 Canadian dollars per night. You’ll even find large homes, sometimes even mansions, available as private rentals. These can cost more than 1,000 Canadian dollars per night.

The other option that’s growing in popularity is Airbnb. More than 100 homes in the city are Airbnb options. Again, the options will suit any budget. Some Airbnb owners have homes that can comfortably host 16 guests! You’ll obviously pay more than 500 Canadian dollars a night for one of them. Then again, you can split the bill 16 ways. It’s also possible to stay at an Airbnb for less than 100 Canadian dollars a night, making it a viable option above hostels but cheaper than regular hotel rooms. If you’re comfortable with Airbnbs, Banff has some wonderful listings.

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