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This is your ultimate guide to visiting Banff at Christmas time including the best events to get you in the holiday spirit, things to do in the winter, and the best places to visit and stay. We’re going to help you plan your perfect Banff Christmas holiday this December!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so why not celebrate in the most wonderful place in Canada? Banff, Alberta is easily one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada (and the entire world for that matter!) With the mountain peaks dipped in white and Christmas lights lining the streets, Banff is even more magical during the holidays.
Banff is the perfect place to visit this Christmas season with tons of seasonal events as well as fun winter activities!
But planning a holiday to one of Canada’s most popular destinations during one of the busiest seasons is a big task. That’s right, there is a lot of planning that you need to do in advance if you want to visit Banff in the month of December.
Which is exactly why we wrote this blog! We are hoping that this complete guide to visiting Banff at Christmas (or during the entire holiday season) will ensure you have the best time possible!
Why Visit Banff at Christmas?
As I said, Banff during the Christmas holidays is magic. Think of snow, Christmas lights, Christmas markets, carols, parades, cozy fireside glasses of wine, skiing, and hot springs! To me, Banff is the ultimate Canadian Christmas destination as there is just so much to do and see in Banff around Christmas!
Going to Banff for Christmas is also a great choice for all types of travelers. There are lots of events for families, and the snowy romantic atmosphere is perfect for couples or even those honeymooning in Banff!
The truth is, visiting Banff during the holidays is sure to get you into the Christmas Spirit.
Banff Christmas Events
One of the best things about Christmas in Banff is all of the annual events that are held. These events are spread out across the month of November, December, and January, so no matter when you’re planning your Banff Christmas visit, you’re likely to attend an event or two.
Banff Christmas Markets
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a traditional “European-style” Christmas Market then you’re in luck, because the Christmas markets in Banff are very similar. At the Banff Christmas Markets, you can wander different stalls of vendors selling Christmas crafts, foods, and more all while listening to Christmas music surrounded by lights.
There is also a large outdoor patio with a fire where you can enjoy everything from mulled wine to hot chocolate! Expect lots of family-friendly entertainment including photos with Santa!
The Banff Christmas Markets are held annually at 100 Sundance Road in Banff. There is an entrance fee of $7.50 for adults ($15 on weekends.) The market is normally held over the last two weeks in November, however, be sure to keep an eye on their website for the most updated information.
Please note: The Banff Christmas Market is unfortunately closed for the 2021 Christmas season, but nearby you can still visit the Canmore Christmas Markets! Only a 20-minute drive from Banff will have you at another very fun Christmas Market. In 2021, the Canmore Christmas Markets are held on November 21 and 22 from 10 am to 4 pm.
Christmas at the Castle
Every year Banff’s historic castle becomes the center of Christmas celebrations. The Fairmont Banff Springs is one of the most luxurious hotels in Banff and during the holiday season they really get into the Christmas spirit with decorations everywhere, daily events, and Christmas-themed meals.
The Christmas at the Castle calendar of events changes daily, with some events open to the public and some open for only hotel guests. Some of their most popular events include caroling performances and meet and greet sessions with Christmas Characters (Santa Claus and his elves!)
Christmas at the Castle is an annual event that starts at the end of November and goes until early January. To experience it the best, you should book a stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Chrsitmas Carols in the Park
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas Carol?! In Banff, there are weekly free caroling concerts put on in Banff Ave Square. At 4 pm and 7 pm every Saturday in December leading up to Christmas, you can enjoy the caroling concert for yourself.
This concert is outdoors and while there is a large outdoor fire to stay cozy, it can still be cold so be sure to dress warm!
Official dates and times for Carols in the Park have not yet been released for 2021. Stay tuned for updates.
Santa Claus Parade of Lights
Every year Banff Ave turns into the location of a vibrant Christmas parade featuring lots of songs, lights, parade floats, and Christmas characters. This family-friendly event is a one-day celebration of the beginning of Christmas.
The parade typically starts around 6 pm and is held annually on a Saturday in mid-late November. The exact date of the 2021 parade has not yet been announced, so keep checking their website for updates.
Related Read: Jasper is also a great Christmas desination. Read our blog about visiitng Jasper in December!
Things to do in Banff at Christmas and during the Holiday Season
There are some really great things to do in Banff during the Christmas season. So, make the most of winter and get out and experience some of Banff’s best Christmas activities!
Skiing and Snowboarding
Of course, the most popular thing to do in Banff in the snow is hitting the slopes! With numerous ski fields in the area, there are tons of choices when it comes to skiing or snowboarding. Sunshine Village and Mt Norquay are the closest ski fields to Banff, however, Lake Louise Ski Resort is pretty close too and also very popular.
During the holiday season, ski fields are open daily, even on Christmas Day! In fact, both Mt Norquay Ski Resort and Sunshine Village offer a full-day FREE lift pass for those who dress in a full Santa outfit (Mrs. Claus, elves, and reindeer count too!) You can find out more information on opening times and events on Mt Norquay and Sunshine’s websites.
For a really epic ski trip in Banff over Christmas, be sure to book your Ski Big 3 passes! With this pass, you’ll visit all three of the ski resorts in Banff National Park. Dan and I recently did this and it was a blast! We got to explore a new resort daily and tackled some of Canada’s most famous runs.
Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
There are few activities as Christmassy as riding in a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow around Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful and unique activity that is especially suited to Christmas time in Banff.
In Banff, you can choose to join a group horse-drawn sleigh ride for about $50 CAD per person for a 40-minute ride. Alternatively, you can book a private sleigh ride for two people for about $225 CAD. Either way, this is sure to be a memorable Christmas experience in Banff!
Hot tip: The horse-drawn sleigh is completely open-air so be sure to dress accordingly!
Dog sledding is one of those once in a lifetime activities I have always wanted to do. Finally, after years of thinking about it, Dan and I finally signed up for a dog sledding tour – and we couldn’t be happier with our choice!
On our tour, our guide and six beautiful dogs took us by sled on a 10-kilometer-long adventure in Spray Lakes Provincial Park. At the halfway point we got out to bond with the dogs as well as enjoy a delicious hot chocolate. We learned all about dog sledding and of course, the dogs themselves (our favorite part!)
We did our tour with Howling Dog Tours located in Canmore. Although not in Banff, it was their ethics that made the drive worth it. Howling Dogs Tours adopts the majority of their dogs and take in any Alaskan and Siberian Huskies no matter what they look like (it’s actually funny because some of them don’t look like huskies at all!) On top of that, the dogs work a schedule with plenty of days off and only run to their ability.
The tour we did costs $225 CAD for adults and $115 for children and lasts for around 2 hours. Howling Dog Tours also offers a half-day tour if you want longer experience.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Banff is to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs. These hot springs have some of the best views of the mountains and make for the perfect place to relax in warm water after a cold winter day exploring Banff National Park.
The Banff Upper Hot Springs are located only a short 5-minute drive from Banff town and they are open daily with entrance fees of less than $8 CAD per adult. The hot springs do get very busy sometimes, so my best advice is to visit an hour before close which is when it starts to slow down.
Please note: The Banff Upper Hot Springs are currently closed, however it is anticipated that they will be open for the Banff Christmas season this year! Check their website for recent updates.
Spirit of Christmas Store
Located right on Banff Ave is the perfect store for all of your Christmas-themed shopping. The Spirit of Christmas store is a huge 2-level store that features an endless amount of Christmas related items including ornaments, decorations, gifts, and more. It’s quite literally the best Christmas store I’ve ever been to.
During the holiday season, the Spirit of Christmas store also has Santa Claus for meet and greets!
Wandering Banff Ave and stopping at the Spirit of Christmas is a must-do in Banff for the holidays!
Riding the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulpher Mountain is another popular activity in Banff that you can do during the winter season. The gondola takes you on an 8-minute-long climb up 698 meters in elevation until you reach the top of the mountain. Here, you can enjoy the most incredible views as well as viewing platforms, gift shops, and restaurants.
During Christmas, the Banff Gondola also gets into the holiday spirit by offering special Christmas events including Santa meet and greets and other family fun events. These special events are free to those who already purchased the Banff Gondola admission ticket, and run daily from mid-November to Christmas.
Hiking in the snow can be a challenge – that is if you don’t have snowshoes on! Snowshoeing is a classic Canadian winter experience that makes hiking fun and easier in the deep snow you get in and around Banff.
If you’ve never snowshoed before then going on a guided tour is best for learning.
From Banff, you can join a couple of different snowshoeing tours that include your gear and an experienced guide. This particular tour takes you to Kootney National Park’s famous Paint Pots, whereas this one visits the beautiful Marble Canyon.
Alternatively, you can head to the Nordic Centre in Canmore and explore the many trails there. Snowshoeing at the Nordic Centre is one of the best things to do in Canmore in the winter months.
Related read: For another epic winter adventure, be sure to drive from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway then do the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk – it is truly amazing and one of the best things to do in Jasper in winter!
Lake Louise Day Trip
Lake Louise is a winter wonderland. The lake freezes allowing visitors to go snowshoeing, skating, or even ride in a horse-drawn sleigh. The surrounding snow-covered mountains and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise really set the scene for one of the most beautiful winter destinations in the world.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is also another amazing (but expensive) place to stay near Banff for Christmas. They offer daily Christmas activities and events for guests, and even sometimes the public too.
However, if staying at the Fairmont isn’t quite in your budget you can always visit on a day trip. This organized tour departs from Banff and includes your transport, a snack, the use of snowshoes, and four hours of free time at Lake Louise to do whatever your heart desires!
For more ideas, check out our blog about the 33 best things to do in Banff!
Tips for Visiting Banff at Christmas
There are a few little things I want to remind you about before heading to Banff at Christmas:
- Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year in Banff. And as such, you need to book your hotel, tours, and even dinner reservations well in advance!
- It can be realllllyyyyyyy cold! You will 100% need a winter jacket, boots, mittens, hat (beanie or toque), and likely even snow pants if you plan on spending much time outside.
- Allow for road closures and winter driving conditions. When snowy or icy conditions affect the roads it is possible to experience delays, and sometimes it may even be best to stay put for a day or two longer than planned. Also, have winter tires on your vehicle.
Related Read: Banff is also amazing in the autumn with gorgeous trees everywhere. Check out our complete guide to visiting Banff in fall for more info on the best things to do and see!
Where to Stay in Banff for Christmas
Fairmont Banff Springs – Luxury Hotel
The Fairmont is the most luxurious place to stay in Banff. Featuring 11 onsite restaurants and 14 stores, this hotel is an experience above and beyond just a beautiful stay. With a heated outdoor pool, indoor pool, and day spa it is perfect for relaxation. Plus, they have their annual Christmas in the Castle event with tons of festive daily activities!
You can check prices and availability for the Fairmont Banff Springs on Booking.com!
Banff Inn – Great Value Hotel
The Banff Inn is the perfect hotel for those who are budget conscious without wanting to sacrifice comfort. The location is central right on Banff Ave and they have an onsite restaurant and bar as well as a hot tub! The affordable rooms come in various layouts to suit families or couples traveling to Banff for the holiday season! The great value of this hotel means it is almost always fully booked, so be sure to book in advance!
You can check prices and availability for the Banff Inn on Booking.com!
Samesun Banff – Budget Hostel
The Samesun Banff is Banff’s best-located hostel for those on a tight budget. They offer lots of different dorms to keep your costs down while in Banff, as well as a really social atmosphere. The onsite bar and restaurant have great deals and daily happy hours with events – and Christmas events too!
Renting a Car in Alberta
If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to the best attractions within them requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Rental Cars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada and using crown land and campsites you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Winter Travel Essentials
If you’re planning to visit Canada in winter then there are a few things you should pack – things we never travel without. Some you may already have, but others you may want to pick up before you leave. This is especially true if you want to enjoy some of the best outdoor activities!
Here are some of our must-have winter essentials:
Crampons/ Ice Cleats: This is the one item I have that I use so much. If you love the outdoors and enjoy short walks and hikes, crampons are a must! The best part is, the pair that I own is only $29 CAD. They aren’t the best pair out there but they’re perfect for the everyday explorer/traveler.
Insulated water bottle: In the summer you want to keep your water cold but in winter, you want to keep it from freezing. That’s why I always carry an insulated water bottle. This Iron Flask Water Bottle is perfect because it doubles as a thermos so it’s great for carrying hot water for those winter hot chocolates! I have the 32-ounce bottle in pink but I wish I had one of the multi-colored bottles!
Merino wool socks: Cold feet can ruin your time exploring the great outdoors during winter. Please do yourself a favor and get a good quality pair of socks. Even just one pair with come in handy but I myself carry three of these COZIA Wool Socks. They’re 80% Merino wool and really warm. The best part is they are only $15 each! When I’m skiing I can even double them up if it’s -30 °C.
Thermal layers: Staying warm begins from your first layer. Life outside during the Candian winter is much more comfortable with thermal layers. There are a lot of great products in this space but look out for Merino wool products – they’re the best in my opinion!
Ski Gloves: Did you know ski resorts in Canada don’t rent gloves? That means you’re going to need to bring your own. I get really cold hands so I love these new heated rechargeable gloves. They keep your hands warm in the coldest temperatures. Although expensive, you’ll never wear another pair of gloves again.
Polarized sunglasses/ ski goggles: People often forget that on a sunny day in the mountains, the sun can really hurt your eyes when it reflects off the snow. For around town, check out these polarized sunglasses and for in the mountains these ski goggles.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. During the winter though, it’s perfect for keeping my nose and cheeks covered from the cold especially when skiing or hiking. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Before you go…
I hope this blog helps you prepare for having an amazing Christmas in Banff! It truly is a great place to spend the festive season and I’m sure you won’t regret it!
Be sure to check out the rest of our Canada blogs if you’re looking for more inspiration for traveling one of our absolute favorite countries! Also, we’ve some of our personal favorite related blogs below: