If you’re itching to experience the lifestyle of a Swiss skiing village, but don’t want to fork over the cash for a trans-Atlantic flight, consider Banff. Thanks to its location in the heart of the Canadian Rockies near the southeastern border of Banff National Park – Canada’s first national park – taking trips here will decrease not only your flight time from the U.S. but also your expenses (although only marginally). Banff caters to intrepid explorers who prefer to end the day in a nice hotel rather than roughing it at the campgrounds (though, there are plenty of those, too). Opportunities for adventure abound, so pick your sport: Ski down Mount Norquay, hike to the massive, free-standing limestone pillars known as the Hoodoos, “scramble” up the face of the Stoney Squaw Mountain or bike along Healy Creek. When you are exhausted, retreat to your cozy (and warm) resort, and replenish yourself with a hefty helping of bison meat.
How To Save Money in Banff
- Sleep outside During the summer, camping in the national park is a cost-efficient alternative to overpriced hotels and a means to immediately access the wilderness that you came to explore.
- Book in advance In addition to selecting your accommodations, purchase your lift tickets and festival passes as early as possible.
- Consider the Big3 Season Pass If you know you’re going to ski at all three of the area’s resorts (Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay), you may want to purchase this pass, which grants you access to all three, plus discounts on rentals, dining and lessons, among other perks.
Banff Culture & Customs
Banff residents are generally friendly to tourists. Feel free to ask for help or directions.
During the day, dress is casual, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time skiing or exploring the park. It is common to see hiking attire in restaurants during lunch. However, if you are planning to go to dinner, it’s best to bring slightly dressier attire. Make sure you bring warm clothing, particularly during the winter. Consider packing layers for summer trips as the temperature does tend to fluctuate.
The Canadian dollar is roughly equivalent to the American dollar, which you can exchange at several of the banks along Banff Avenue. Most hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards. Similar to the U.S., an average tip is 15 percent. Taxicab drivers, tour guides and hotel bellmen are accustomed to being tipped about 10 percent, too. However, depending on the quality and nature of the service, tips can range from 10 to 20 percent.
Vegetarians should be aware that Banff restaurants specialize in meat. Expensive and moderately priced restaurants alike serve up healthy portions of Canadian specialties, such as elk, bison, venison and trout (the bedrock of Canadian Rocky Mountain cuisine). But even if you’re not a carnivore, you’ll still be able to find some vegetarian-friendly restaurants, including Nourish Vegetarian Bistro, which diners describe as a “hidden gem.”
Downtown Banff boasts plenty of casual eateries. Favorites includeBanff Ave. Brewing Company (lauded for its upscale pub fare and craft brews) and Block Kitchen and Bar (the eatery is small and so are its plates, but travelers like its intimate atmosphere).
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, stray from the main drag and explore some of the side streets. For a hearty meal and rustic, mountain-style ambiance, travelers recommend restaurants in the northern part of town, such as the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant & Lodge, which serves regional cuisine and offer incredible views of the mountains. For an even more stunning vantage point, head to Three Ravens Restaurant & Wine Bar, which wows visitors with its menus and alpine views – seen through floor-to-ceiling windows.