Banff was our Christmas-week town. We spent seven days there over the Christmas period last year, and adored it. Everyone had told us how ‘pretty’ and ‘fairy-tale’ it was….and everyone was 100% correct. It is very hard to describe and while photos are beautiful, it is so much more in real life. Come along with us…..and maybe it will be added to your ‘bucket list’ too.
We flew from Victoria (be prepared to have to walk out into the cold weather to board the plane), landing in Calgary. From there it was a simple coach transfer to Banff. The transfer was meant to take an hour and a half however due to a multi vehicle crash on the Trans-Canada Highway our transfer was over three hours.
Banff was first settled in the 1880’s, after the transcontinental railway was built through the Bow Valley. It is located within the Banff National Park, and is the second highest elevation in Alberta after Lake Louise. It is a resort town but has a population year-round of approx. 8K.
- I would recommend staying between River and say Fox Streets as then it is only a short walk into the main ‘city centre’ few blocks. Otherwise if you stayed at Hidden Valley Ridge Resort or even the Fairmont Banff Springs, you would always have to wait for the public transit service to transfer you into town and could feel isolated.
- We stayed at the Moose Suites, which only opened in 2016. The best point of the Moose was being able to walk straight out onto the street, plus had a balcony. We weren’t all enclosed in a building – we felt that we were part of the environment.
- The Moose Suites also allowed you to use the ‘Roam’ Transit Service for free – simply by showing the driver your room key card.
- Rug up and put on all of your layers BEFORE you walk out that door, because you will be cold straight away and if you are still trying to put on gloves, your hands get cold very quickly and then take forever to warm up.
Public Transport –
- The Roam Transit Service covers 4 routes, with routes 1, 2 and 4 connecting the town, Tunnel Mountain, the Banff Springs Resort, and the Banff Gondola. Route 3 connects to Canmore.
- Normally trips are $2.00 per person – need to have change – but as mentioned staying at the Moose this was free.
- The pickups are 40 minutes apart, and some stops, such as Sulphur Mountain Gondola, has a live schedule in the waiting area.
- Regular schedule also ran on Christmas Day.
- Banff has quite a few restaurants, cafes etc, from sushi, ribs, ‘hot rock’ fondue, fudge, through to fine dining. All accommodation has their own restaurants.
- There is one actual ‘shopping centre’, but didn’t find that of much interest.
- Plenty of snow, ski clothing and equipment stores line Banff Avenue.
- There is a Gap, as well as a lot of tourist type shops.
- I found one store, ‘Canadian Fashion Xperience’, on Wolf Street, between Banff Ave and Bear Street, which sold all Canadian made items and brands, such as Iris Svetlawke, LisetteL etc.
- There are two convenience stores, however the main one is the IGA, one block down from the Moose Suites, which contained everything we needed, from bread & milk, to sushi platters and salads.
- There is a hire car office in Banff Avenue, and I had arranged a car, however after seeing the 10 cars and 2 semi-trailers down embankments and in the snow on the transfer to Banff, we had second thoughts.
- You don’t need an International Drivers Licence, as our Australian one is part of some Convention/Treaty covering International Driving Permits, however there is a lot of internet pages covering that as long as your Australian Licence is in English or French, then all good.
- We also rode in a couple of taxis while snowing and even those experienced drivers were sliding on the roads, so we bailed on the hire car – there was a cancellation fee, but a lot less than have an accident and ruining the holiday.
Must Dos –
Any ‘what to do in Banff’ search on the Internet will come up with heaps of options, however from our experience during the snowing, Christmas season, I say you must do –
- Sleigh Riding – I booked this online http://www.banffadventures.com/Things-To-Do/Winter-Activities/Banff-Sleigh-Rides – had an option of a two person single sleigh, or on a larger sleigh with about 8 other people. The day I wanted to go there was no private sleighs left, however we had the front row on the large sleigh and it was fine. Taxi ride there was simple and then the office staff booked a return taxi for us at the end of the ride. Enjoy our full video.
- Dog Sledding – the ultimate must do ever. My travel agent booked this and there was quite abit of toing and froing, mainly due to various dates and then the time differences. You have to give your weights, as there is a maximum per sled. Plus we paid extra to only have us on the sled, no third party. Plus ours was the ‘guest driven’, not ‘guide driven’ sled. Even though a little nerve wracking at the start, you must drive your own sled – so much fun. Exactly what can you to expect and see our gorgeous dogs.
- Hot Springs – a stop on Route 1 of the Roam Transit System. A short walk around and up the hill from the drop off point. Definitely worth visiting – some more pics can be seen here and details of the Springs.
- Sulphur Mountain / Gondola – last stop on Route 1 of the Roam Transit System. Go rugged up as well as you can, as heading to the top of Sulphur Mountain and then if you venture up towards the Weather Station, the weather can turn very nasty and bitterly cold. Many fabulous photos here.
- Fairmont Banff Springs – this was our Christmas Day venue – gorgeous old world building, stunning views up into the Rockies and a scrumptious buffet. On Route 2 on the Roam Transit System. Come with us on Christmas Day.
- Roam Public Transit Service – you will likely get your few trips on this, heading to Sulphur Mountain, Hot Springs and Fairmont Banff Springs above.
- The Fudgery – walking along Banff Avenue you will be gobsmacked at this window display. Lined up in this window are all of these ‘nut popsicles’ – only way to describe them. We had to venture in and try some. There are a variety of nut options, I went for pecans and Anthony went for cashews…….they are all basically glued together with toffee and then Anthony’s was also chocolate coated – so yummy.
- Eat at the Grizzly House – this place is the strangest building and we walked past it several times, thinking ‘don’t know about that place’ and only looked quite small from outside. One lunch I made the split second decision to eat there……..huge inside and so rustic. The menus have a wide and weird range of meat options – see my Foods of America video – from rattlesnake to alligator, to simply chicken and beef. They bring out the salad, sauces and raw meats, along with a sizzling ‘hot rock’ and plenty of butter. So you basically cook your own meat at the table. They swap out the ‘hot rock’ half way through the meal too.
Anthony and I fell in love with Banff. It is now my ‘happy place’.