Downtown Banff, cradled in Alberta’s mighty Canadian Rocky Mountains, is a delightful all-season destination for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
With spectacular natural beauty, a local alpine spirit, and world-renowned mountain resorts, Banff attracts visitors from across the globe all year long.
Winter brings a snowy paradise, famed for its exceptional skiing, while summer offers an outdoor wonderland for hikers and nature enthusiasts. Shopping, Canadian cuisine, and easy access to the wilderness complete the Banff experience.
Why Visit Banff
If you’re in search of a memorable mountain getaway, add Banff to your travel itinerary.
Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, this mountain village boasts some of the most spectacular wild scenery in North America. In downtown Banff proper, the lively streets are lined with an interesting array of shops where you can purchase locally produced goods.
Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the abundant skiing, snowboarding, hiking, paddling, and mountain biking opportunities available in the Rocky Mountains. Banff serves as the ideal base from which to venture out into the alpine landscapes.
In town, you can indulge in a hot soak in Banff National Park’s steaming thermal springs, perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure, shopping, or after you’ve enjoyed a delicious meal.
With its delightful mountain vistas and playful spirit, Banff is a high-altitude town that truly offers it all.
Wildlife & Nature
Downtown Banff is situated inside Canada’s pristine Banff National Park, celebrated for its abundance of wildlife and natural scenery that makes it one of the most beautiful places to photograph in the world.
The town, bounded by the Canadian Rockies, is also located in a valley with the lovely glacial-fed Bow River running through it.
Wildlife in the region is numerous, to say the least, and includes bighorn sheep, cougars, elk, moose, black bears, brown grizzlies—and even a few wolf packs.
As a rule, wild animals don’t typically venture into the town center—although you might catch sight of some deer and elk roving around the periphery of Banff, or through the suburbs.
Mount Temple, Mount Rundle, Cascade Mountain, and Mount Norquay are a few of the most prominent snow-covered peaks in the area. Mount Assiniboine, bordering Banff National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is the region’s tallest summit, at 11,870 feet.
Lake Louise, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Banff, is a divine alpine lake and a popular canoeing and hiking destination. You’ll also find other impressive turquoise-colored glacial lakes nearby, like Emerald Lake, primed for outdoor activities.
Tips For Visiting Banff
Bring good walking shoes or boots when you visit downtown Banff. The town is fairly small, which means you can check most of it out on foot. During the summer, several blocks are even marked off as a pedestrian-only zone.
Make sure you bring proper clothing for the mountain climate as well. The weather can change quickly, and unexpectedly here.
Dress in layers, so you can peel off clothing if you get too hot, put on a fuzzy hat if you get too cold, or toss on a rain jacket if a sudden shower catches you off-guard.
Also, keep in mind that Banff is at a higher altitude. Breathing might be slightly more difficult for some folks due to less oxygen in the air, which means you should monitor your physical exertion levels if you don’t exercise very often.
Try to stay hydrated too, because, at high elevations, your lungs have to work harder for oxygen, increasing your rate of respiration, which can cause more water loss compared to when your body is closer to sea level.
When you get out into nature, take care to safeguard Banff’s diverse wildlife and habitat. Maintain a safe distance from the fauna, and never approach or feed wild animals. Try to stick to designated trails while trekking to avoid unnecessary damage to the ecosystem.
Things to Do & Attractions in Downtown Banff
Stroll Along Banff Avenue
When you reach Banff, start off by ambling along Banff Avenue, which boasts plenty of dining, shopping, and entertainment options. The street is lined with buildings that exude a chic ski chalet vibe.
See Nature at Bow Falls Trail
For a scenic stroll, walk over to the Bow Falls Trail. This is a brilliant nature route where you’ll catch sight of the rushing torrent of the Bow River and Bow Falls, and the tall mountain peaks surrounding the town.
If you don’t have time to head to the trail, you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Bow River in downtown Banff’s Central Park, where you could even spot the occasional elk.
Visit Banff Park Museum
If you’d like to learn more about Banff National Park’s flora and fauna, head over to Banff Park Museum. Inside this storied institution, built in 1903, (the edifice looks like a giant ski lodge), you’ll find a wonderful collection of stuffed, preserved, and labeled Rocky Mountain flora and fauna.
The museum’s collection, first supplied by the Natural History Branch of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1895, will give you deeper insight into the region’s plants and wildlife.
Head to the Top of Sulphur Mountain
For sweeping vistas from above, ride the Banff Gondola up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. At the top, you’ll be treated to views over Banff and the Bow Valley below, plus the many peaks surrounding the alpine valley.
Once you’ve hit Sulphur Mountain’s summit, you can ramble across the vertigo-inducing wooden boardwalk, check out the interpretive center and exhibits, or make your way over to several different trailheads for a mountain hike, weather permitting.
Explore Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Just a few minutes southwest of downtown Banff you’ll bump into the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, which is a great locale—and also Canada’s first official national park— to learn more about the region’s geothermal activity.
You’ll get to see the thermal springs and interactive displays here, and you can even book a guided tour through the dimly lit caves.
Bask in Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs is a major regional attraction, offering visitors a relaxing soak in hot mineral-rich water with stunning mountain views that Canada is known for. The springs are easily accessible by car, located just under three miles outside of town.
And for those of you with extra time to spare, the Upper Hot Springs Trail will provide you with an opportunity to immerse yourself in Alberta’s natural beauty while making your way up to the hot springs.
The trail, winding through the forest, will offer you a unique hiking experience before you bathe in the thermal waters.
Take in History at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
If you’re interested in delving into the rich history of humans in the Canadian Rockies and the art and cultural heritage that came out of these majestic mountains, a visit to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in downtown Banff should make your list of things to do.
The Whyte Museum is home to a fascinating array of exhibits that offer insights into the geological history of the region and the activities of European explorers, First Nations communities, settlers, and others.
Join a Wildlife Safari
If you’re an explorer looking to discover the wilderness, consider booking a guided wildlife safari in Banff.
You’ll have the opportunity to join a local guide and search for an incredible variety of wildlife species in their natural habitats outside the city, including majestic creatures like deer, elk, bears, moose, raptors, wildcats, and more.
Food & Drink in Banff
Downtown Banff is home to several restaurants, pubs, and bakeries that emphasize locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients that reflect the natural surroundings, including bison, elk, fresh trout, wild berries, herbs, and mushrooms.
One noteworthy spot is the Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar, which features campfire-inspired cuisine, smoked meats, burgers, truffle fries, creative cocktails, and strong spirits.
The Bison Restaurant & Terrace (also known as “The Bison”) specializes in sustainable regional gastronomy and serves hearty dishes like bison ribeye, Alberta beef tenderloin, wood-fired duck, and roasted root veggies. The restaurant also offers a charming outdoor eating space, under a protective canopy.
For meat lovers, Saltlik Steakhouse is another option you may want to consider. This upscale steakhouse serves a variety of beef cuts, plus carpaccio, prawns, lobster, and other flavorful seafood dishes.
If you’re looking for a break from all the meat and seafood, Nourish Bistro is the perfect spot. This vegetarian and vegan restaurant specializes in locally sourced, nutritious, and delicious dishes like loaded nachos, vegetarian Japanese dumplings, and poutine (fries smothered with cheese curd).
For people who enjoy craft beer, Banff Avenue Brewing Co. is a must-visit multi-story brewery pub in downtown Banff. The brewery offers nourishing pub fare like burgers and poutine, as well as Detroit-style deep-dish pizza and pasta in The Lodge, and refreshing craft beer in The Taproom.
If searching for something beyond the typical elk or burger options, check out Tooloulou’s, located on Caribou Street near the river, for authentic New Orleans-style Cajun and Creole cuisine.
With dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp po’ boy sandwiches, Cajun dirty rice, blackened Snapper, and crawfish, Tooloulou’s has a surfeit of flavorful Cajun dishes for you to enjoy.
And for those of you in the mood for something sweet, head over to Wild Flour Bakery. This bakery and café offers great coffee and an array of tasty baked goods like baguettes, bread, croissants, tarts, and more. They also serve breakfast and lunch, with menu options like house-made granolas, frittata sandwiches, decadent grilled cheese sandwiches, zesty soups, and salads.
Whitebark Café is a comfy locale worth swinging by for fair-trade, organic coffee, and sell delicious snacks like banana mango vegan muffins, spinach and tofu pastries, and frittatas.
Aside from the great dining options in downtown Banff, there are also several special events and food festivals you should keep an eye out for, including Banff Farmers’ Market, and Canmore Uncorked, both of which showcase the region’s culinary expertise.
Banff Farmers’ Market is an outdoor market held every Wednesday, from June to October. The market features a wide variety of vendors selling fresh, locally grown produce, plus baked goods, artisanal foods, handmade crafts, honey and jams, and knickknacks and items.
At the Farmers Market in Banff, you can also browse through a wide selection of handmade articles, including jewelry, pottery, paintings, and other crafts. The sound of live music will often accompany you through the market as well, adding to the lively atmosphere.
Best Time to Visit Banff
Summer, from June to August, attracts the most visitors due to the pleasant weather, and is one of the best times to visit Banff. Autumn, from September to November, offers the opportunity to witness the changing colors of the foliage and embark on alpine hikes before the heavy snowfall arrives.
Winter, from December through February, is the peak skiing/snow sports season. Spring, from March to May, is great for observing wildlife, town exploration, and leisurely hikes before the summer peak.
Discover the many delights of downtown Banff with our Alaska Cruise Tours to Banff, which will let you explore this extremely likable mountain village, along with Banff’s beautiful and majestic natural surroundings.