I would use this to get around: Unfortunately, the above horse-drawn carriage isn’t actually an option so you’ll need motorized transport of some sort. Most of the universe seems to prefer RVs or enormous tour busses when driving to and from Banff, but you can also just use a regular old car. I usually do. A word on parking: it’s free throughout the town of Banff but all vehicles must display a valid Parks Canada pass on the windshield of their vehicle. Passes can be easily bought online and printed at home, but if you aren’t that organized you can also purchase a pass at the park entry gate or at any of the information centres once in town. Once in Banff, the town itself is easily walkable with a compact little downtown section and trails winding along the river through town, and having mountain bikes in summer is a really great idea.
I would stay here: I’ve slept on both ends of the spectrum in Banff, which is to say that I’ve slept in the back of my Toyota Matrix in the dead of winter (surprisingly, not that bad) and I’ve stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise with a couple of girlfriends for a little Rocky Mountain weekend getaway (not surprisingly, really REALLY amazing). If you can swing it – and you really should try to swing it – I highly recommend staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The word iconic was (probably) invented because there were no other words to describe this hotel. At the very least, you MUST visit the hotel. At the very most, you should consider taking out a second mortgage on your house and staying here for as long as possible. There are tons of options in town, however, including a great hostel at the Banff Mountain Lodge and lots of vacation rentals that make for a great home base if travelling with family or a large group of friends. Of course, the obvious choice is to camp, given that you are in one of the country’s most pristine national parks.
I would eat here: The Bison on Banff’s Bear Ave is a hot spot for good reason. You’ll want to Instagram every bite. Coyotes is a nice option for a light lunch and features lots of alternatives for gluten-free or vegetarian folks. If eating is less a necessity and more an event to be savoured and celebrated, make a reservation for fondue at The Walliser Stube in the Chateau Lake Louise.
I would drink here: The Banff Ave Brewing Co. is the perfect spot to grab an afternoon beer after summiting some mountain or other. They’ve got a wide selection of craft beers, a great pub menu and, if the weather’s fine, you can sit on a little patio overlooking Banff Ave and people watch to your secretly shallow and judgemental little heart’s content.
I would do this: Get up there. Hiking, skiing, gondola riding: the mountains are calling. Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village are the main attractions for alpine skiers, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the Rockies and just about zero excuses not to spend the bulk of your time outside exploring. Lake Louise itself is a day trip not to be missed regardless of the season, with snowshoe/hiking trails and the world famous turquoise lake perfect for paddling in summer and skating in winter. There’s even a horse-drawn carriage that takes romantic tourists on a postcard-y ride through snowcapped forests.
I wouldn’t do this: Violate traffic laws. Speeding fines are doubled throughout Banff and Lake Louise as it is a national park, and there are cops with radar gun thingies everywhere along the highway. Relax, take it easy and enjoy the view.