It’s mid November and the holiday countdown is on! There’s nothing quite like Christmas in the mountains, and Banff turns into a true winter wonderland. Wrap yourself up in the festive atmosphere with these experiences that capture the tastes, scents and sounds of Christmas in Banff.
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Christmas in Banff
To get everyone in the holiday spirit, I recommend taking in a joyous Christmas concert complete with carols and holiday favourites. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity always has a good lineup – from A Charlie Brown Christmas to an East Coast Christmas. Ticket prices and dates vary, so check their events calendar.
More festive holiday tunes can be heard underground. Canmore Cave Tours runs concerts in the heart of Grotto Mountain just before Christmas. Even beginners can take part in this caving experience.
The first three Saturdays in December – the 7th, 14th and 21st, head to Banff Avenue Square for Carols in the Park.
Banff Christmast Market
Dozens of local vendors spread Christmas cheer at the Banff Christmas Market. It only runs two weekends in November and this one coming up, November 22-24 is the final one.
It’s pure Canadiana with the stables totally blinged out, hundreds of twinkling lights, and the smell of woodsmoke mingled with roasted chestnuts in the air.
Saunter through the stalls sampling homemade delicacies (raclette!), while you decide which seasonal crafts to snap up. Besides handicrafts and festive food, there’s live entertainment, sleigh rides and Santa photos.
Banff coffee shops
You’ll want to hit up a few of Banff’s select coffee shops and restaurants over the holidays. That’s because Banff has launched a new Hot Chocolate Trail running the month of December.
Score a kid-approved candy cane hot chocolate at Good Earth Coffeehouse or decadent from scratch one at Little Wild and Wild Flour (my go-to coffee shop and bakery for sourdough).
Brilliantly boozy hot chocolates can be found at Park Distillery, Baker Creek Mountain Resort, Banff Gondola, Balkan Restaurant and Juniper Bistro. For a vegan and gluten-free option, head to Nourish Bistro.
Christmas at the Castle
If Fairmont Banff Springs looks like a chocolate-box illustration every other season, just imagine what its stately halls look like after those elves have had a go at it.
Forget deck the halls, it’s more like deck the castle with dozens upon dozens of garlands, swags and Christmas trees bedazzling the Castle in the Rockies.
Even if you haven’t booked in for the night, it’s worth a visit to enwrap yourself in the enchanting environment. One we get enough snow, Vermillion lawn will turn into Vermillion skating rink with rentals available on-site. Sip cocktails outside by the outdoor fire or head indoors to the Santa Bar (Ramsay Bar until November 29) for a festive cocktail.
Guests can do holiday crafts with Mrs. Claus, have PJ Party with Santa and take gift making workshops. There are loads of photo opps with the whole North Pole crew, and so much programming you’ll probably need to come back to Christmas at the Castle year after year just to get ‘er all done.
Banff Christmas store
If there’s one store guaranteed to get you in the holiday mood, it’s got to be Banff’s one and only Christmas store. The Spirit of Christmas is Canada’s largest year-round Christmas store. Over 5,000 sq ft brimming with trees, holiday villages and dazzling ornaments (that can be personalized for free!) tempt holiday shoppers in Banff.
Not only will you’ll find everything needed to decorate your home, they have a large selection of collectibles and a Rogers’ Chocolates on site.
If you’re on the hunt for distinctive gifts, consider this holiday wish granted. Perfect presents for wee-ones are yours at Scallywags and at Duck Duck Moose, where toys, crafts and trinkets are suitable from tots to teens.
Banff Candy Stores
The holidays just aren’t complete without adding a few rich treats to our waistline, now are they? Naturally, The Fudgery boasts oodles of fudge (27 different varieties to be exact), but it’s their bear paws made with caramels cashews and three kinds of chocolate that really hit the sweet spot.
But if it’s candy you’re after, then candy you shall have! For an old school experience, duck into the Banff Candy Store to find old fashion candies sold by the pound, sponge toffee and chocolates. Tip: pick up a jar of either Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate spread or Creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter to kick your holiday baking up a notch.
Banff Sweet Shoppe is another one not to miss. In this pretty shop you’ll find an impressive selection of candies, chocolate bars, old fashion favourites displayed in glass jars. There’s also several imported treats from UK, Japan and Germany, hundreds of Pez dispensers and over 60 flavours of taffy.
Mountaintop Christmas at Banff Gondola
Did you know Santa has a satellite workshop atop Sulphur Mountain? Get whisked up to the summit via Banff Gondola, so you can meet the big man himself and get family photos taken.
Additionally, there are letter writing stations, crafts, giant board games to play, holiday films to watch, plus cookie decorating. Note: these are not your basic grocery store cookies. I ate one, ok, two, and it was one of the best sugar cookies (courtesy of Banff’s Bare Bistro) I’ve scarfed back in a long time.
Enjoying a kid-free escape? Right beside the Santa photo area is a small table selling the best mulled wine I’ve ever had. Truth. It’s an old Swedish recipe one of the bartenders from Sky Bistro whips up. You can also score a boozy hot chocolate here and a regular one for the kids.
Outdoors you’ll find plenty of Insta-inspiration with the snow capped peaks of the Rockies as your background. Even if it’s freezing, you’ll want to stroll outside as there are fire pits and a heated igloo to keep you toasty.
All actives are complimentary with admission and if you show up before noon, kids get in for free. Mountaintop Christmas takes place on weekends November 16 to December 22 and runs daily December 23-30 from 10 am to 3 pm at Banff Gondola.
Banff Ski deals
This period right now, before Christmas hits is one of the best times to go skiing in Banff. Not only are there tons of deals, but there’s few crowds, so it feels like you have the entire mountain to yourself.
Want to ski with the Clauses? Take a few festive turns with Mr and Mrs. Claus at Sunshine Village December 14, 15 and 21.
You can also ski with Santa at Lake Louise Ski Resort December 21 and 22. After the lifts close on December 24, you can stay for a turkey feast, do some night tubing and get a complimentary shuttle back to your hotel.
If you dress up as Santa, Mrs. Clause, a reindeer, or elf, you’ll get to ski for free at Mount Norquay on Christmas Day. Note: it’s got to be the full costume for the entire day. A Santa hat won’t cut it.
New Years Eve in Banff
The Torchlight Parade is one of Banff’s most beloved New Year’s tradition. While it takes place at Mount Norquay at 7 pm on New Year’s Eve, you don’t actually want to be at Mt. Norquay to view it.
The best views are found in downtown Banff, so grab a hot chocolate along the hot chocolate trail, head outside and gaze up. There’s also a torchlit parade taking place at Sunshine Mountain Lodge on New Year’s Eve at 7 pm.
Or, take in a Rocky Mountain New Year’s Eve at Lake Louise Ski Resort. There’s a buffet dinner, cash bar, options for night snow tubing, a live band and complimentary shuttle service into Lake Louise and Banff.
For a gala event, head to Fairmont Banff Springs for a four course dinner and dance with a live orchestra. There are other dinners (buffet style) in the hotel for New Year’s Eve and hotel guests can drop their kids off at the NYE Children’s Party at Kids @ the Castle.
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