There was so much to love about our trip to Canada last month but the little town of Banff really topped it for me. I love me a quaint little town. All of the craftsman houses that lined the crisscrossing streets, which were named after woodland creatures made me want to open an ice cream shop and call myself a local. Banff Ave and Bear St is where you would find most of the restaurants, shops, and coffee houses but that’s not all there is to Banff.
What we did
One of my favorite places of the entire trip, I almost missed out on. I really wanted to get back to town, sit at a coffee shop and get to writing after an already long day of exploring. (There’s something about traveling and being in a town no one knows you that really inspires me.) But with a little bit of peer pressure, and a toddle temper tantrum on my part, my sister and friend talked me into visiting Johnston Canyon.
This short half mile walk to the lower falls was my bar the easiest “hike” we did the whole week, and not something to miss. We exited the highway just after the town of Banff and drove a few miles into the canyon. The drive itself was stunning and we were keeping our eyes pealed for wildlife the whole time. Once we got to the canyon we saw there is a whole little resort there. The little lodge and bungalows looked absolutely beautiful and I’d love to wake up right in the middle of the wilderness.
Like I said earlier, we only went a half mile into the canyon to the lower falls. The upper falls is another mile in and it was starting to get dark and rain a little so we opted for the shorter route.
We didn’t have time but one thing we were told was a must do was the hot springs. Banff has a hot springs just outside of town but a few locals told us it was more or less a glorified hot tub and they suggested us to head to Radium Hot Springs. This was more than an hour and a half south of Banff and we defiantly would have taken the trip if we had time in our schedule.
My favorite part of the town was walking up and down Banff Ave., going in and out of all of the shops. We saved this for our last day and it was a great way to relax, veg out a little, and try some local food and treats.
As you know from my Lake Louise travel guide, I have a love for good hotels. We didn’t stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, mainly because I knew it was a little out of the way and we really wanted to be as close to town as possible, but we headed over there one day and it was just as stunning at the Chateau Lake Louise. We explored their grounds, got the famous hot chocolate at STOCK Food & Drink and even did a little shopping at Fernweh, a cute little shop at the hotel.
This hotel is just as stunning as you could imagine a castle in the middle of the Rocky Mountains would be. It was pretty over cast while we were there so we couldn’t see the amazing views but just walking the amazing property was well worth the quick trip up to the hotel.
Where we ate
Banff Ave Brewing Company – When there’s a local brewery in town, we have to try it out. We started with splitting their sampler to be able to try six of their home brewed beers. I opted for a pint of Head Smashed IPA and Michelle and Michelle opted for the We’re Jammin’ Apricot Rhubarb Ale. We split a soft pretzel and headed out. Definitely a good place for bar food.
Block Kitchen + Bar – This was absolutely my favorite meal of the trip. We woke up on our last morning to a rainy and over cast day and were in desperate need of a little pick me up. Someone the night before told us about Block and told us it fills up quick but to wait because they have the best food in town. We were luck to grab the last table available in their small, maybe 10 table restaurant.
We started with three tapas, Pig Duck and Fig Cretons, Pork Gyoza and Bao. As you can see the menu is definitely Asian inspired. We didn’t stop there. Because the appetizers were so good we each ordered a bowl of their special: Thai Curry Ramen. It. Was. Amazing. I am still craving it. If you’re in town, definitely stop by Block. Their small menu seems like it is constantly changing which is always a good sign of a fun chef.
Pacini – After a week of hiking, these three Italian girls needed some good pasta in our lives. We grabbed a late dinner at Pacini in the Moose hotel mainly because of the outdoor firepits we saw as we drove by, but when it was raining and we had to sit inside, we were a little bummed. The food made up for the weather though. There were so many good options but I got the Seafood Linguini and I would defiantly recommend it! And when your meal starts with a bread bar, is there anything better? Try it out.
Second Cup Coffee Co – We had breakfast here one morning and it was my favorite of the coffee shops we stopped at. They had a build your own oatmeal bowl which was awesome. It looks like this is a Canadian chain and you have options all across Canada.
Cows – Apparently people in Banff take their ice cream very seriously. We were hoping to go to Cows since that’s what we had read the most about. Our overly opinionated taxi driver on our first night in Banff told us not to waste our time, that its over rated and somewhere else was better. I honestly don’t even remember where he recommended because a few other locals we talked to basically told us he was nuts and Cows is the best, and they did not disappoint. Go to Cows. If there’s a line, wait in it. It’s worth it.
The Grizzly House – We had to take a pretty late reservation to get into this popular restaurant on a Friday night, but it was well worth the wait. We opted for the Four Course Fondue meals but we bartered with our server. None of us are big dessert girls so he let us trade our dessert course for both appetizers.
We started with the soup and then had the cheese and garlic fondue with bread to dip and veggies boiled in a delicious oil broth that was out of this world. For our dinner course we were each able to pick what type of meat combo we wanted. We got the Original Fondue dinner (beef and chicken), Hunter Fondue Dinner (wild boar, buffalo and venison), and their Seafood Special Fondue dinner (lobster, prawn and scallops). Our server set us up with hot rocks to grill on and oil fondue and told us which meat is better to be cooked.
The Grizzly House is definitely not somewhere to miss. Make a reservation and go hungry because you will leave full and unbuttoning your pants.
Where we stayed
In Banff we ended up opting for an AirBnB, mostly because there were very little options. We started looking for lodging only a month before we went on our trip. I thought that’d be plenty of time but it wasn’t at all. Our options were either stay for at a hotel on Banff Ave for a crazy amount of money each night, or stay in the Tunnel Mountain area of town, which was a pretty good location and just a quick 5 minute cab ride from town.
Protip: There are no Ubers in Banff so you have to rely on local cabs. This really only was a problem once we were in town and couldn’t call a cab from our phones because we were using WiFi. But we were always able to find someone to lend us their phone so it wasn’t too bad.
There are a ton of hotels right in town, and they probably would have been a little more convenient then our AirBnB but you need to book early for availability. While we were looking for accommodations we were actually getting a little nervous because campgrounds were the only thing that was coming up for a while, and lets be real, that wasn’t going to happen.