Christmas in Vancouver: The Outside Edition

Canyon Lights

While some of us prefer wintering on the couch with a bottomless mug of hot chocolate, Metro Vancouver’s Christmas season serves-up a shimmering array of outdoor festive happenings to pry you from your perch. Wrap up and check out the following fresh air Yuletide activities.

On the Streets

Downtown’s December 3 Santa Claus Parade is a family-friendly must-see. Arrive early for a good sidewalk spot and fuel-up with a hot drink before snapping plenty of over-the-shoulder selfies of marching bands, decorated floats and the finale appearance of the jolly old elf himself.

You don’t have to wait until December to head outside, though. November 25’s CandyTown Holiday Festival is a chestnut-warming Yaletown street party of ice-carving, live music and craft and candy workshops – plus Santa himself holding court at a temporarily relocated North Pole.

Vancouver Christmas Market

On the Waterfront

Now in its second year at Jack Poole Plaza, the Glühwein-flavoured Vancouver Christmas Market is also a top outdoor draw. Seventy-five artisan huts keep browsers busy – don’t miss the traditional German ornaments – but it’s the piping hot food stands that’ll warm you, serving everything from gulasch to schnitzel.

Nearby, add a slow stroll along the outside of Canada Place. Festive returnees here this year include the Avenue of Christmas Trees and the charming Woodward’s Christmas windows – antique festive displays from the former Hastings Street department store. There’s also something new in 2017: a glistening, walk-though light display themed on Canada’s North.

Canyon Lights

Sparkling Lights

Capilano Suspension Bridge also lures twinkle-eyed illuminations fans with its magical Canyon Lights display. Inch your way across the glittering bridge and crane your neck at the sparkling bulbs studding the park’s lofty foliage – including “the World’s Tallest Living Christmas Tree.” A free shuttle can get you here from downtown and tickets for locals include unlimited re-entry for 12 months.

Back in the city, VanDusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights and Stanley Park’s Bright Nights are also back this year. The latter’s miniature train ride is a beloved Christmas tradition but its attendant illuminations – three million bulbs arrayed into festive scenes and displays – is equally delightful. Alternatively, hop on another train: the SkyTrain Evergreen Extension delivers you to Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station, steps from the lovely Lights at Lafarge outdoor illuminations.

Image courtesy of spantossed |

Under the Radar

Looking for something different to do outdoors this year? Gastown’s Yule Duel brings competing carol singers to the streets of the historic neighbourhood on December 7. And when you need to triple salchow to your hearts content, the returning Robson Square Ice Rink  is a must – the city’s official Christmas trees are also right alongside for some added seasonal spirit.

Burnaby Village Museum

Winter Wonderlands

Finally, if you fancy a time-travel wander around an old-school Christmas village, check out the yesteryear charms of Burnaby Heritage Museum. Its lovely antique buildings are spruced up in their festive finery for the season – and a whirl on the 1912-built carousel will warm you up faster than a nip of brandy-infused eggnog.

But when only a snow-covered wonderland will get you in the Yuletide mood, head up to North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain. The powder-draped trees here frame a host of Peak of Christmas activities including shimmering light installations, real-life reindeer and Santa himself ensconced in his workshop – a festive sighting that should be on every local’s holiday season bucket list.

Guest blogger John Lee is the creator of, a comprehensive online guide to festive happenings in and around the city. Profiling more than 75 Christmas events, shows and attractions, it was co-created with Max the cat — who writes the site’s gift reviews and often appears on its @MyVanChristmas Twitter feed.

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