Are you dreaming of a white Christmas in Banff?
Christmas lights, snowy weather and sipping hot chocolate by a fireplace are one of those things that make up for an iconic Christmas atmosphere. And the good news is you can find all that and more in Banff. There is even an entire store dedicated to the spirit of Christmas in Banff, which speaks for itself.
Banff is truly hard to beat for a festive getaway and world-class ski resorts!
If you’re unsure what to do in Banff, I’ll give you plenty of activities to consider. I was lucky to live next to Banff national park and experience this winter wonderland firsthand, so I’ll share some local tips for spending Christmas in Banff.
There are endless Banff winter activities to do in this charming mountain town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the holiday season – from husky sledding to taking a dip in the outdoor hot spring pool.
However, you’ll need to plan a few months in advance as the accommodation gets booked up pretty quickly during the busy winter season.
The Most Festive Things to do Around Christmas in Banff
Top Things to Do in Banff During Festive Season
- Take a Photo with Santa on Mountaintop Banff
- Hop on Elf Express
- Indulge in the Banff Chocolate Trail
- Cuddle with Huskie on Dog Sledding Ride
- Stop by at Sprit of Chrismas Shop, Banff
- Try Traditional Beavertails
- Spoil your Taste Buds at Banff Christmas Market
- Shop Till you Drop in Downtown Banff
- Take Part in the Christmas Banff Scavenger Hunt
- Witness Banff’s Live Christmas Story Lights
- Spend Night Bowling with Your Family in Banff
- Admire the CP Holiday Train
- Spend a Magical Evening Watching a Live Performance of the Christmas Carol
- Experience Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
- Stay Warm and Cozy in Banff Cabin
- Ski or Snowboard on World-Class Ski Resorts
- Get your Adrenaline Rush on Heli Skiing Tour
- Head to the SkiBig3 resorts to Spot Santa Skiing on the Slope
- Take a Dip in Banff Hot Spring
- Get a Birdseye View from the Helicopter Tour
- Go on a Winter Hike to Tunnel Mountain
- Get Active on a Snowshoe Adventure
- Go on a Panoramic Cross Country Skiing Adventure
- Spend a Fun Filled Day Sledding or Snow Tubing
- Visit Banff Craft Beer Festival
Best Things to Do in Lake Louise During Christmas
- Have a Delicious Christmas Dinner at Chateau Lake Louise
- Join Santa’s Workshop
- Ice Skate Under the Stars on Iconic Lake Louise Lake
- Visit the Ice Magic Festival
- Explore Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies
- Sip Festive Cocktails at Lake Louise Ice Bar
- Go on a Winter Hike to Fairview Lookout
Top Things to Do near Banff
- Admire Nearby Lakes – Lake Morraine, Peyto lake, Bow lake
- Ice Walk Johnston Canyon
- Visit Emerald Lake Lodge
- Roadtrip the Icefields Parkway
- Check out next-door Canmore Downtown
- See the Breathtaking Northern Lights
- Venture Out to Abraham Lake
1. Take a Photo with Santa on Mountaintop Banff
Hop on the Banff Gondola and ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where you can enjoy breathtaking 360 views of the Canadian Rockies. Then, make your Christmas wishes come true by visiting Santa Clause himself at the Mountaintop. From November 20, you have an opportunity to take a photo with Santa, who hangs out here.
Kids (one per adult) have free entry before noon every day. Mountaintop Christmas activities are included in the price of Gondola ride.
If you want to make your experience even more unforgettable for your children, you can hop on elf express. (read the next point below)
2. Hop on Elf Express
You can join the fun with elves and get picked up in Banff downtown by Christmas decorated coach.
The Santa Elf Express will drop you at the Banff gondola ride. What follows is storytelling and an encounter with Santa on top, plus the views of Sulphur mountain.
3. Indulge in the Banff Chocolate Trail
There is no better way to warm up after a day spent skiing on the slopes than drinking hot chocolate on a winter night. Banff Chocolate trail is the hot chocolate hunting map of 20+ restaurants serving hot chocolate in town from November to January.
4. Cuddle with Huskie on Dog Sledding Ride
For a truly unique and memorable experience, get your heart racing on a dog sledding tour with Howling Dog Tours.
They offer 2h or half-day tours, so you can choose the one that fits your budget and schedule the best.
And there’s nothing like cuddling with husky puppies after an adventurous dog sledding tour. Husky puppies are so cute, and they’ll definitely make your day. I can guarantee that!
5. Stop by at Sprit of Chrismas Shop, Banff
The Spirit of Christmas shop in Banff is Canada’s largest Christmas store spreading Christmas vibes all year round. It is located on Banff ave. In this festive shop, you will find your perfect Christmas decorations, snow globes, ornaments, cards or wrapping paper for your Christmas presents.
Stepping into the store always puts a smile on my face. It’s like being transported into a Christmas movie.
In fact, a few Hallmark movies were filmed in Banff, including Winter getaway and Snowkissed.
6. Try Traditional Beavertails
When I first heard the expression ‘beavertail’, I took it quite literally and was horrified that Canadians would eat beaver tails and consider them a local delicacy.
Only later, I discovered it’s actually a type of fried dough with a sweet topping of your choice ranging from apple & cinnamon to classic banana & chocolate. So luckily, no harm is done to beavers in making those delicious beavertails.
There is a Beavertail shop on Banff Ave, so you can have a quick bite and try this traditional Canadian desert while you browse the stores. Whether you’re a local or tourist, having beavertails is always a good idea.
7. Spoil your Taste Buds at Banff Christmas Market
Coming from Europe, one of the best parts about Christmas was strolling Christmas markets with live Christmas carols in the background and the scent of cinnamon and hot mulled wine.
Therefore I was stoked to find out that Banff also has a Christmas market and not just any market.
Christmas market in Banff will truly blow your mind with over 100 artisanal vendors, live music, a Christmas tree, an outdoor fire lounge, Santa’s House, Reindeer Stables, Christmas treats and warm festive drinks.
Entry Fee is CA$10.00 + 5% GST. Children 10 and under get free entrance.
Dates for the 2023 Christmas season
NOVEMBER 17 – 19
8. Have a Delicious Christmas Dinner at Chateau Lake Louise
Speaking of food, it gets even better. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise organizes every year’s Christmas dinner party in style.
The evening starts at 6 pm with a short sleigh ride from Chateau to Dance barn, where you can get jolly and dance to tunes of live country music.
After the dance, you can fill your belly with roast beef, roasted potatoes and strawberry-rhubarb pie.
9. Shop Till you Drop in Banff Downtown
Do you get Christmas shopping fever? No worries! If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind Christmas presents, Banff ave is the perfect place to be as it has many cute boutique stores with beautiful Canadian arts & crafts.
You can find here everything from hand-made jewelry to Christmas decorations. There will surely be something to fill up your Christmas stockings for everyone on your Santa shopping list.
If you don’t want to overspend, you can still have fun just browsing and soaking up the atmosphere of Banff downtown with all the Christmas lights and buzz.
10. Take Part in the Banff Scavenger Hunt
If you’re not a big fan of Christmas shopping, you can go on a scavenger hunt through the streets of Banff instead. It’s a digital competition game prompting you to find items, solve puzzles and riddles.
You can earn extra points for submitting videos and photos. It’s a digital hunt that takes about 1 to 2 hours to fully complete. You can participate in the entire game or only partially.
11. Witness Banff’s Live Christmas Story Lights
Banff took Christmas lights decorations to the next level by assembling Banff’s Live Christmas Story.
You can take a walk through the outdoor Cascade of Time Garden in search of the Christmas spirit.
Along your way, you’ll find illuminated animal sculptures accompanied by sounds and a captivating story of wildlife in Banff national park.
Where: Cascade of Time Garden – Cave Avenue, Banff
When: Select dates from Nov 17 – Dec 31, 2023
What Time: 4:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Tickets: Available from October 23, 2023
12. Join Santa’s Workshop
Do you love gifts with a personal touch? Well, if that’s case, then you should definitely not miss out on Santa’s workshop at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Here you’ll have the opportunity to craft your own Christmas cards, and Christmas ornaments or decorate a picture frame.
Location: LAGO/Santa’s Workshop
13. Spend Night Bowling with Your Family in Banff
Looking for a fun way to spend an evening with your whole family and loved ones during your Banff Christmas holiday? Then look no further than High Rollers Banff. They are open from 4 pm to 2 am.
You can play bowling for 1h to 2.5h. There is also a bowling shoe rental, a large pizza and a pint. Add some music and you’re sure to have a good time.
14. Admire the CP Holiday Train
Each November and December, the holiday trains can be seen traveling across Canada and the US, with scheduled stops in 150 communities.
You can greet the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) Holiday Train when it comes rolling in through Banff in all its decorated glory. It’s full of colorful lights and decorations and reminds me of an iconic Coca-Cola Christmas truck, only a lot bigger.
The holiday train is an initiative to embrace true holiday spirit and raise funds and food for those less fortunate.
15. Spend a Magical Evening Watching a Live Performance of the Christmas Carol
Learn about the true meaning of Christmas in a special performance on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Christmas Carol is a Christmas story classic accompanied by Christmas carols. It’s sure to put you in the holiday mood.
Location: The Conference Centre’s Theatre at 405 SPRAY AVENUE, BANFF ALBERTA or Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
16. Get Active on a Snowshoe Adventure
Prime snowshoeing conditions are during late December through early April, especially after a fresh snowfall.
If you don’t have your snowshoes, there are many places where you can buy or rent a pair in Banff and Lake Louise.
Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to fully take in the epic mountain landscape of Banff national park.
My favorite is Marsh Loop, with great views of the Bow Valley and the Ink Pots via Moose Meadows trail.
17. Experience Sleigh Ride
Looking for a fun family winter activity or a romantic date idea?
How about dashing through the snow on a private horse-drawn sleigh ride?
Exploring the Rockies on a sleigh ride is a unique way to capture a festive atmosphere surrounded by sparkling snow meadows and snow-covered mountains.
Different sleigh ride package tours last roughly 45 mins to 1h.
Sleigh rides depart from Warner Stables and run from December to March, depending on weather conditions. You can book the tours via Banff adventures.
18. Stay Warm and Cozy in Banff Cabin
I don’t know how about you, but I can’t picture a better place to spend Christmas than warm and cozy in a rustic log cabin.
You can simply curl up by the fireplace with a good book and admire the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
There are plenty of gorgeous cabins in the Banff area.
I love Storm Mountain Lodge, but there are many more to choose from.
I recommend booking your accommodation and special events tickets in advance as Banff gets pretty busy during the winter holidays. The best spots tend to get booked out in no time. Moreover, prepurchased tickets usually cost a lot less.
19. Ski or Snowboard on World-Class Ski Resorts
With an abundant of white powdery snow, Banff is a paradise for ski enthusiasts. Plus, Alberta is one of the provinces with the highest number of sunny days in Canada, even in winter. There are three world-class ski resorts in Banff National Park:
- Sunshine Village
- Lake Louise Ski Resort
- Mt Norquay
Each offers different skiing and snowboarding experiences, so you can pick the one that fits your needs the most. If you’re unsure which option to go for, you can simply purchase a SkiBig3 lift ticket, which grants you access to all three ski resorts.
The views are so incredible that you might need to take off your gloves and pinch yourself to double-check that you’re not dreaming.
Christmas is definitely a great time to hit the slopes with family and friends. However, I recommend booking your tickets in advance because they tend to sell out quickly, especially during the peak festive season.
If you’d like to spend not only Christmas but an entire winter season plus enjoy the top ski resorts for free, you might be interested in reading:
20. Get your Adrenaline Rush on Heli Skiing Tour
For an adrenaline rush and once-in-a-lifetime experience, you could try heli skiing. Basically, you get dropped by helicopter with a guide from where you can ski in uncharted fresh powder territories.
Please note this option is only recommended for advanced skiers. Be careful of avalanche risk!
21. Head to the SkiBig3 resorts to Spot Santa Skiing on the Slope
The good news is that all three Banff ski resorts are open on Christmas day. Banff sunshine village used to give free ski passes to people who would come dressed up as Santa.
Keep an eye on their website and see if there’s a similar event happening in 2022.
22. Take a Dip at Banff Hot Spring
There’s nothing like soaking in a hot spring to warm up after a long day of exploring in the cold.
Banff Upper Hot Springs is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park, and it’s open all year round.
There’s also an outdoor pool with a pleasant hot water temperature, even in winter.
I recommend going early in the morning or later in the evening because it can get quite busy during the daytime, especially during the peak season.
23. Get a Birdseye View from the Helicopter Tour
Banff is unsurprisingly a very popular place during the Christmas holidays. One way to escape the crowds is by taking a helicopter tour.
There are many different companies offering helicopter tours in Banff, such as Alpine Helicopters or Banff Adventures.
The helicopter tours can be pricey, but it’s an experience worth splurging on.
24. Visit Banff Craft Beer Festival
Mark November 23th to 25th in your calendar if you love a good old pint. The Banff Craft Beer Festival has an exclusive selection of only Alerta’s craft beers.
Discover Banff’s food and drink scene with over 40 vendors from Alberta. There will also be live music, so you’re sure to have a blast!
25. Ice Skate Under the Stars on Iconic Lake Louise
Skating on Lake Louise is one of those not-to-be-missed activities in Banff National Park. There’s something magical about skating surrounded by mountain scenery with snow-covered mountain peaks.
There’s an ice castle on the lake, which makes your experience even more magical.
And the best part is it’s completely free!
The best season for ice skating on Lake Louise is generally between mid-December and mid-April. Skating on Lake Louise is possible 24/7. During the evening, the ice rink is lit until 11 pm.
Make sure you dress warmly because it can get quite cold, even if you’re skating.
If you don’t have your own skates, don’t worry because you can simply rent a pair at Chateau Ski and Snow Rentals.
Lake Louise turns into a fairy tale during Ice Magic Festival.
26. Visit the Ice Magic Festival
If you’re lucky enough to be in Banff National Park during Ice Magic Festival, then you’re in for a treat.
The festival takes place annually in January and it’s definitely a must-see event.
During the festival, world-class ice carvers from around the world come together to create beautiful ice sculptures using only hand tools.
The festival is free to attend, and it’s open to the public at Lake Louise.
27. Explore Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies
I remember being pretty amazed when I first saw the elk casually strolling the road from Canmore to Banff. And it was not just one elk but the entire herd!
Seeing wildlife on a regular basis was probably one of the highlights of living close to Banff national park.
You might get lucky and spot some bighorn sheep or moose too, but if you’d like to increase your chances of spotting them, you can join a wildlife tour.
Guided wildlife tours are a great way to see some of the most iconic animals in the Canadian Rockies Banff national park is home to animals such as elk, bighorn sheep, deer, coyotes and more.
28. Sip Festive Cocktails at Lake Louise Ice Bar
Ok, it’s time to get jolly and hit one of the coolest bar in the Canadian Rockies. Quite literally the coolest since the Ice bar is made of 20 blocks of ice.
From 12pm to 6pm you can buy your S’mores Kit at Ice bar and toast your marshmallow at the Ice bar campfire.
S’mores is a snack made from honey graham crackers, milk chocolate and large marshmallows. A real treat popular in Canada or US.
I recommend trying mulled wine, Chilli vodka hot chocolate or cacao tincture.
29. Go on a Winter Hike
One of the best ways to experience a winter wonderland in the Canadian Rockies is by going on a winter hike.
There are plenty of easy-to-intermediate trails that offer stunning views of the mountains, valleys and lakes.
A popular winter hike among locals is Tunnel Mountain, with a terrific view of Mount Rundle and Fairview lookout, from where you can see the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise.
Going on a winter hike is a great way to get active and lose some extra kilos after the Christmas feast.
30. Go on a Panoramic Cross Country Skiing Adventure
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cross-country skier, Banff national park is the perfect place to enjoy this winter activity.
There are several easy and intermediate trails that offer stunning panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies.
One of my favorite things to do was cross-country skiing in the morning and then stopping by a backcountry cafe for a hot chocolate and some snacks.
Popular cross-country trail spots are Canmore Nordic Centre and The Great Divide Trail.
31. Spend a Fun Filled Day Sledding or Snow Tubing
Sledding is such a fun-filled winter activity for kids and adults alike.
You can go sledding on Banff Cascade Ponds or behind Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which looks like Santa’s Christmas castle in winter.
If you don’t have a sled, no worries because you can try snow tubing at Mt Norquay or Lake Louise instead.
Snow tubing is just like sledding, except that a unique towing system will pull you back to the top of the hill.
Sessions must be booked in advance.
Mt Norquay Schedule
- The morning slot is from 10 am to 12:30 pm.
- The afternoon session is from 1:30 pm to 4 pm.
- For Night time sledding, you can go snow tubing on Friday and Saturday 5 pm – 7:30 pm
Lake Louise Schedule
- 10:30 am to 4 pm from December to early May
Still not sure whether you should spend Christmas in Banff?
Here are some more festive activities near Banff:
32. Ice Walk Johnston Canyon
If you’re looking for a unique experience, then I suggest going on an ice walk in Johnston Canyon.
This is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re up for the challenge, then it’s an experience that you won’t forget any time soon.
I recommend going with a professional certified guide and getting proper gear, including ice cleats and warm clothes, because the trail can be very icy. Proper gear is what makes all the difference between an enjoyable time and a miserable experience.
If you’re an experienced climber and want to take your adventure to the next level, you can ice climb Johnston Canyon Ice Crag.
33. Admire Nearby Lakes – Lake Morraine, Peyto lake, Bow lake, lake Minnewanka
Banff national park is blessed to have not one but plenty of gorgeous turquoise lakes such as Lake Louise, Moraine lake and Peyto lake.
They’re all easily accessible by car from Banff.
The best time to visit them is early morning when the sun casts a beautiful golden hue on the mountains and water.
Don’t forget to bring your camera because you’ll want to take lots of photos and capture this beauty!
34. Visit Emerald Lake Lodge
Emerald Lake Lodge is a stunning lakeside lodge located in the heart of Yoho national park, just a short drive from Banff.
Although it’s more popular to visit in summer to fully take in the stunning emerald color, in winter, it’s also very beautiful. The lodge is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the quiet beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
35. Roadtrip the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a scenic drive that connects Banff and Jasper national parks. It was rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, and rightly so.
The drive takes 3h if you don’t take any stops, but that will be hard to resist as you pass through so many epic spots along the way.
Picture stunning mountain scenery, turquoise lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and valleys.
There are plenty of stops along the way where you can get out and explore, such as Bow lake, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.
If you’re planning on driving the Icefields Parkway in winter, check road conditions before setting off, as it might be unplowed. Also, winter tires are a must-have on the Icefields Parkway from November 1 to April 1.
36. Check out next-door Canmore
In case you get bored of Banff, Canmore is another quaint mountain town surrounded by iconic Three Sister Mountains. It’s only 20 minutes drive from Banff.
The main street in Canmore is lined with cute boutiques and cafes, making it the perfect place to do Christmas shopping or stop for a coffee and a bite to eat.
Some of my favorite shops in Canmore are Rocky Mountain Soap Company, where you can buy locally made natural bath and body products, and Tin Box for funky gifts and souvenirs.
After shopping, you can stop by Rocky Mountain Bagel for a delicious artisan bagel and hot chocolate or a fancy green geisha matcha latte.
For a quick lunch break, I recommend JK Bakery, where you can order hearty soup and yummy pastries.
37. See the Breathtaking Northern Lights
You may be wondering if it’s possible to witness the northern lights in Banff. And the answer is YES!
However, it depends on your luck and clear skies. You can download the My Aurora Forecast app or sign up for the Aurorawatch website so you won’t miss out on your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see epic northern lights. The app will give you real-time weather conditions and alerts if the aurora is likely to appear or not during your stay.
One of the hot spots to experience Aurora Borealis close to Banff are:
- Vermilion lakes
- Bow lake
- Lake Minnewanka
- Cascade Ponts
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a natural light colorful display that can be seen in the night sky and is an unforgettable spectacle to witness that will fill you up with a sense of awe.
38. Venture Out to Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is an Instagram-worthy spot and a fun road trip about two hours from Banff. The lake is famous for the methane gas bubbles that form in the winter months.
The best time to see the bubbles is early morning before the sun can melt them.
Places to Stay for Christmas in Banff
- Best Cabin – Banff Log Cabin Guesthouse
- Best Christmas Atmosphere – Chateau Lake Louise, Fairmont Banff Springs
- Best Value for Money – Dorothy Motel
- Best Luxury – Moraine Lake Lodge
Christmas in Banff FAQ
Is Banff busy at Christmas?
Banff gets busy around the Christmas holidays until about a week after January. You can expect holiday crowds from December 24 until after New Year. The same goes for the rest of the Banff national park. Visitors flock here to spend Christmas inside a winter wonderland, but it’s nothing compared to the summer crowds. If you prefer fewer crowds, considered visiting Banff during the off-season (January to March or September to November).
Is it worth going to Banff in December?
December is an excellent time to visit Banff National Park. The entire Bow Valley has a magical Christmas atmosphere. Plus, there are tons of great winter activities to do in Banff. The Rocky Mountains are beautiful no matter what time of the year, but they have a unique feel when covered in fresh snow. Spending Christmas in Banff is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Can I see Northern Lights in Banff?
Yes, you can see the northern lights in Banff. The Aurora Borealis shows up several times throughout the year, especially in the winter months (October to April). You can set up Aurora alerts on the AuroraWatch website, so you won’t miss out on your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Is Lake Louise frozen by Christmas?
Lake Louise is frozen on average from mid-December until mid-April, depending on weather conditions. Lake Louise is cleared daily for ice skating. You can rent your ice skates at Chateau Lake Louise.
Does it snow in Banff at Christmas?
Banff and Lake Louise can (almost) guarantee snowfall during the Christmas holiday. If you choose to spend Christmas in Banff, make sure to pack lots of layers, as the weather can get pretty cold. Temperatures in December often go below zero.
Where is Banff Christmas market?
The Banff Christmas market is held at Warner Stables. With over 100 artisanal vendors, live music, an outdoor fire lounge, Santa’s House and Reindeer Stables, Christmas treats and festive drinks, there is something for the whole family.