Top Vancouver Winter Holiday Activities
VanDusen Festival of Lights
The VanDusen Garden Festival of Lights is without a doubt one of the Lower Mainland’s best places to admire Christmas light decorations. Prices range from around $11 to $23 per person depending on your age, when you go and how you buy your tickets. Kids ages 3 and under are free.
The Festival of Lights is amazing, highly recommended and a good deal for what you get.
The Festival of Lights runs from December 1st, 2018, until January 6th, 2019.
If visiting the Christmas at Canada Place attraction, consider checking out FlyOver Canada as well while you’re there. Located right at Canada Place, the multi-dimensional theatre flying experience is fun any time of the year, but only from late November to early January do guests get to help Santa on an exhilarating adventure across the country and to the North Pole.
Especially good times to go include when Santa is visiting or when they have special live performances. It’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance, especially on these days.
This season FlyOver Canada runs from November 22, 2018, until January 6, 2019
Vancouver Christmas Market
Another great downtown holiday venue is the Vancouver Christmas Market which takes place at the Jack Poole Plaza by the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Open daily until Christmas Eve, the Vancouver Christmas Market features numerous German and other European-themed stalls selling all kinds of Christmas-y items, from souvenirs to European festival food to a range of festive “adult” beverages to help with the holiday season celebrations.
In 2018 the Vancouver Christmas Market runs from November 21st to December 24th.
Glow Christmas is a new indoor Christmas attraction in a garden centre’s giant greenhouse in Langley that started in 2017. The place features a light maze, giant light tunnel, all sorts of Christmas displays, live music and a market.
Langley’s Glow Christmas event runs this year from November 22, 2018, until January 19 in 2019. It’s one of the region’s few indoor Christmas attractions, and so a great place on rainy days.
Holiday Heights at Bloedel
Holiday Heights at the Bloedel Conservatory is an indoor Christmas attraction at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park.
Holiday Heights is a wonderful family-friendly event and very popular.
This season the attraction runs from December 14, 2018, until January 6, 2019.
Lights at Lafarge
Christmas is celebrated in the Tri-Cities area with the Lights at Lafarge event at Lafarge Lake in Town Centre Park at the corner of Guildford Way and Pinetree Way in Coquitlam. It’s a free event featuring holiday lights and Christmas decorations all around the lake.
Last year, Lights at Lafarge took place from November 25th until mid-January. In 2018 the attraction starts up on Saturday, November 24th. Typically, the lights are on between 4:30 and 11 pm every day, except for on New Year’s Eve when the event runs until 1 am. This year’s season will be similar.
Christmas at the Cannery
Steveston Village’s Festival of Trees takes place at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Richmond during the month of December. The National Historic Site is worth visiting any time of the year, but especially on rainy winter days and at Christmas when it’s full of decorated trees.
The Festival of Trees isn’t actually a “festival” so much as a Christmas-y display that showcases the artistic talents of local businesses and community organizations who each sponsor and decorate a tree. In addition to the holiday decorations there is usually also some kind of craft activity for children.
In 2018 the trees are on display from December 1st until the 31st (every day except for December 25th and 26th)
Christmas at Burnaby Village
Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park is a great place to visit in December. The Lake is wonderful to walk around during the day when it’s sunny and Heritage Christmas at Burnaby Village is a festive place to be in the afternoons and evenings.
Burnaby Village is free this time of year and open until January 1st. Best times to go include evenings on days when it’s open late and lit up with all its Christmas decorations.
Heritage Christmas runs from November 24, 2018, until January 4, 2019.
Bright Nights at Stanley Park
Bright Nights at Stanley Park is arguably the most wonderful and magical place to take children to admire Christmas decorations in the Lower Mainland. Open from the end of November until the beginning of January with admission by donation, this is one attraction you’ll definitely want to visit, especially if you have kids.
In 2018 Bright Nights may be open every day from about November 27th until January 6th, except for Christmas Day on December 25th.
NOTE: Areas of Stanley Park facing Canada Place are good locations to view the New Year’s Eve Fireworks off Coal Harbour on December 31st. Expect Bright Nights to be especially crowded on that evening, and for parking in the area to be impossible.
Christmas at Canada Place
If you plan to be in downtown Vancouver between 8 am and 11 pm between late November and the end of December, then also check out The Canadian Trail along Canada Place‘s West Promenade. It’s just a few blocks from Waterfront Station (so convenient to get to) and only a few blocks from Gastown and the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre.
Christmas at Canada Place is a fairly simple event, but free and includes an avenue of decorated Christmas trees and Christmas displays to look at.
An especially good (and busy) time to check out Canada Place is on December 31st during the New Year’s Eve celebrations, especially in the CF Pacific Centre Viewing Lounge where you can avoid the unbelievable crowds.
Last year Christmas at Canada Place ran from November 23rd until December 31st. We expect 2018 to be similar.
Santa Claus Parade
Speaking of Santa Claus, one of the best places to see the big guy in red is at the Santa Claus Parade when it takes place on Sunday, December 2, beginning at 1 pm. Attracting as many as 300,000 people in good years, this annual event starts at Broughton, goes along West Georgia Street, turns up Howe and then finishes at Davie Street.
On parade day, from 10 until about noon, there are also special kids’ activities behind the Vancouver Art Gallery on Robson Street.
TIPS: Dress warmly, get there early to find a good viewing spot and take public transit if you can. If the weather is good there will be a LOT of people! Hang onto your kids tight!
Ice Skating at Robson Square
Another great winter tradition just down the street from Canada Place is ice skating at Robson Square. Skating takes place on the outdoor rink at the corner of Robson and Howe from 9 am to 9 pm until the end of February, and until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. The skating is free if you bring your own equipment and rentals are only about $4.
There is also ice skating at recreation centres all over the Lower Mainland, as well as at the top of Grouse Mountain during the Peak of Christmas
This past year the free ice skating at Robson Square ran from December 1, 2017, until February 28, 2018. The 2018/19 season will be similar.
Holiday Hi-Light Festival at Park & Tilford
If you plan to be in North Vancouver over the holidays and want to see some great FREE Christmas lights, then check out the displays at Park and Tilford mall where admission is by donation. They aren’t quite as amazing as the lights at Stanley Park, or at more expensive places like VanDusen Garden or Capilano Suspension Bridge, but they are still beautiful, impressive and recommended.
In previous years, it has been open nightly from the end of November until December 31, the Holiday Hi-Light Festival is a great place to visit on your way back from one of the local ski hills, and especially Friday evenings leading up to Christmas when they have special Family Nights activities.
The Holiday Hi-Light Festival runs from November 30th until December 31st.
Christmas in Lower Lonsdale
December is a good time to visit the Lower Lonsdale area of North Vancouver. The Lonsdale Quay Public Market is a great place to shop anytime of the year, but especially at Christmas.
Just a short walk east of Lonsdale Quay and the SeaBus Terminal is Shipbuilders’ Square where, on a few weekends in December, there are special Christmas markets.
The biggest event at Shipbuilders’ Square in December is the Shipyards Christmas Festival which is a free event featuring a vendor market, live music, family-friendly activities and the lighting of the City of North Vancouver’s official Christmas tree. The main festivities take place on Saturday, December 1st, in 2018. The market activities are scheduled to continue on the next day too though (on Sunday December 2nd).
Lower Lonsdale is also a great place to view the New Year’s Eve Fireworks off Coal Harbour on December 31. Good vantage points include the waterfront at Lonsdale Quay, the pier by Shipbuilder’s Square, and at Waterfront Park which is just a 5-minute walk west of the SeaBus Terminal.
Canyon Lights at Capilano
Arguably the best time of the year to visit Capilano Suspension Bridge – one of Vancouver’s best and most popular tourist attractions – is between the end of November and the beginning of January during the Canyon Lights festivities. That’s when the place is lit up with some of the Lower Mainland’s most beautiful Christmas light displays, both close to the ground and way up above the river below and in among the trees.
If you’re a BC resident, for the price of regular admission you can get an annual pass which will allow you back in for the following 364 days, including for a bit of Canyon Lights again next year.
The Canyon Lights event runs every day from November 22, 2018, to January 27, 2019.
Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain
If you like snow, Christmas decorations and any kind of winter sport, then you must visit Grouse Mountain for the Peak of Christmas.
Running from the end of November until the first few days of January, Peak of Christmas features holiday movies, sleigh rides, Santa Claus and a great collection of gingerbread displays. There are also ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding and fine dining opportunities, plus one of the best views of Vancouver at night.
This holiday season the Peak of Christmas runs from November 23, 2018, until January 6, 2019
Winter at Mt. Seymour
Nothing symbolizes winter on the North Shore more than skiing (except possibly rain at lower levels). There are three fantastic mountains in the area, including Mount Seymour which offers great ski slopes (especially for young families) as well as tubing and snowshoeing (the last of which is free in the provincial park just off the top parking lot).
Mt. Seymour isn’t the most Christmas-y place in the Lower Mainland, but it is festive and definitely winter-y (at least in years when there’s snow)! A particularly celebratory time to be up at the hill is on December 31st in the evening during their Family First Night New Year’s festivities.
TIP: Check the Mt. Seymour website before going to confirm what’s open, and book the New Year’s event in advance as it almost always sells out.
Cypress at Christmas
As with the North Shore’s other ski hills, when there’s lots of snow then Cypress Mountain is an amazing place to be in December, especially on sunny days as well as at night. There are no better things to do in the sunshine in winter than spend the day with friends or family downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or tubing.
If you’re into winter sports, then head up at least once over the holidays, or at least sometime over the course of the season.
Check the Cypress website before going to confirm what’s running when you plan to go.
Dundarave Festival of Lights
The Dundarave Festival of Lights is a small and normally fairly quiet and simple community event in West Vancouver that features a forest of decorated Christmas trees throughout most of December. It’s a nice destination to combine with a walk along the seawall on a sunny day, especially on Saturday afternoons leading up to Christmas when there is live entertainment and concerts.
The festival runs for most of December with special events on the Saturdays including Wassail Night on December 22, 2018.
Surrey’s Christmas Train
The best place to take children for holiday season activities in Surrey is Bear Creek Park at 13750-88th Avenue for the miniature train rides through the Christmas forest.
At the attraction kids get to visit with Santa Claus and do activities on the platform while waiting for the train ride.
In 2018 the Santa Express runs from 10 am to 4 pm from December 1st until the 31st every day except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. During the same period, the Christmas Night Train runs from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm Wednesdays to Sundays.
One of the most popular Christmas activities in the Lower Mainland is the Polar Express at the West Coast Railway Museum in Squamish from late November until just before Christmas. It’s so popular, in fact, that tickets for it sell out way in advance.
Just like in the movie, the Polar Express train ride includes hot chocolate and cookies, a visit by the hobo, chefs, entertainment, singing and a magical 40-minute train ride to the North Pole! Also just like in the movie, the event dress-code is pajamas of course, at least for the kids!
2018 dates are November 24-25 and December 1-2, 8-9 and 15-16.
One of the best places in the world in winter if you love snow sports is Whistler. If you like to ski or snowboard, you need to go at least once in your lifetime, but preferably much more each season. New Year’s Eve will also be especially fun up at the resort, with concerts and fireworks in the evening of the 31st.
Expect to see Whistler village festively decorated all holiday season, and the slopes to be full of people with happy faces!
Xmas Markets and Craft Fairs
There are lots of Christmas markets and craft fairs happening in late November and early December, as well as winter markets that take place regularly on weekends at different places. These are great venues to see local handmade art, do Christmas shopping and meet talented local farmers and artisans.
Christmas Plays and Theatre
Christmas lights like those at Stanley Park capture the magic of the holiday season, but so too do Christmas plays and live theatre. December is a great time to see a holiday show in Vancouver.
The Nutcracker Ballet
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas for many people without seeing the Nutcracker. If you like ballet, then check out one of Vancouver’s annual productions.
2018 Performances with Goh Ballet are from December 21st to 23rd at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Sweet Soul Gospel Concert
In addition to theatre and ballet, few things make the season feel like Christmas more than holiday choir concerts. One of the most fun, energetic and entertaining is by the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church at 1490 Nanton Avenue.
In 2018 the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir’s Christmas concert is on Saturday, December 22, from 7:30 until 9:00 pm. Tickets are only sold at the door which opens at 6:45 pm. Prices are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, $10 for youth (ages 10 to 15), and free for children ages 9 and under (all of which is the same as last year). This concert is highly recommended.
The choir also performs at other venues throughout the holiday season including at Grouse Mountain’s Peak of Christmas most years, usually on the first four Sunday afternoons of December. Check out the VOC website for more details.
TIP: Get to the St. Andrew’s Wesley venue early, be prepared for a long lineup outside to get in, and try to sit near the front if possible (although you’re sure to have a foot-stomping good time no matter where you sit, so long as you get in).
Yule Duel: Caroling for a Cause
If you’re looking for more Christmas choir entertainment opportunities, then check out Yule Duel: Caroling for a Cause – a friendly competition between choirs on the sidewalks of Gastown one evening in early December. This is a great event to combine with a visit to Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt, a walk around the promenade at Canada Place, or a visit to the Vancouver Christmas Market afterwards.
Yule Duel takes place in the evening along Water Street on December 6th in 2018.
Other Christmas Concerts
There are lots of Christmas concerts throughout the Lower Mainland, including many by churches, school groups and local community choirs. In addition to the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir and Yule Duel performances mentioned above, other impressive Christmas concerts to look out for include performances by the following groups:
- Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
- Vancouver Chamber Choir
- Vancouver Welshmen’s Choir
- Chor Leoni
- Vancouver Bach Choir
- North Shore Celtic Ensemble
Other good places to enjoy live music over the holidays include the Dundarave Festival of Lights on Saturdays in West Vancouver and at the Vancouver Christmas Market at various times and days, among other places.
TIP: A fair number of concerts take place downtown, which makes them great activities to combine with quick visits to other attractions. The Christmas Lights of Hope displays at St. Paul’s Hospital at 1081 Burrard Street, for example, are both impressive and close to St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church. Also, just a few blocks in the other direction at 655 Burrard Street is Gingerbread Lane.
Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt
Halfway between Canada Place and St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (where a number of Christmas concerts take place) is Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency. For most of December the hotel’s foyer becomes one of the best places on the West Coast to see amazing gingerbread creations. Because of its location, this is a great activity to combine with other events while in the area.
Note: Vancouver’s other exceptional place to see Christmas gingerbread displays is at the top of Grouse Mountain.
Gingerbread Lane starts on November 30th and continues until December 28th, 2018.
For more ideas on things to do over the Christmas holidays, check out the Vancouver December Calendar on the Vancouver Best Places website.