How To Make the Most of Christmas in Vancouver For Free!

Lights of Hope | Photo: Ann Hung / Flickr

Don’t worry if Christmas shopping has left your credit cards in a smouldering heap: you don’t need money to have a smoking great Yuletide in Vancouver. Check out these cracking free festive activities in and around the city – and buy yourself a pressie with all the money you save.

Christmas Lights

Metro Vancouver is studded with gratis illuminations, starting with downtown’s dramatic St Paul’s Hospital Lights of Hope display – donations towards the work of their Foundation are greatly appreciated. Next, hop across to West Vancouver’s Dundarave Festival of Lights, with added free concerts on December 16 and 23.

Back downtown, consider the cost-free Holiday Lights Walking Tour hosted by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association – register ahead.

CP Rail

Bulb-Tastic Burbs

Alternatively, hop on SkyTrain’s Evergreen Extension to Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station. Steps from the stop, is Coquitlam’s shimmering Lights at Lafarge, one of the region’s biggest free displays. Check their website for additional free activities, including December 22’s caroling sing-along.

If you’re still have camera card space, catch sight of the CP Holiday Train trundling through the region over the festive season. Traveling across the country, its loco and carriages are vividly studded with lights, while scheduled stops at Pitt Meadows, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam include free live music performances.

Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver

Downtown Wonderlands

Back in the city, there are many more ways to stoke your festive spirit without breaking the bank. Stroll pier-like Canada Place to view the antique Woodward’s Christmas windows alongside a host of decorated Christmas trees and a lovely light display – complete with a giant moose – celebrating Canada’s North.

If you need a warm-up, hit the Four Seasons Hotel a few blocks away. Their Festival of Trees is in full swing, with dozens of decorated displays to peruse. The nearby Hyatt Regency’s Gingerbread Lane is also back, with its metropolis of candy-studded miniature constructions. Both displays invite donations to worthy causes.

Salvador Dali drooping clock sculpture

Outdoor Action

If it’s time to stretch your legs outside, head to Robson Square Ice Rink. It’s free with your own skates (you can also hire them for a small fee) and there’s free live music on many nights. Vancouver’s towering official Christmas tree is nearby, and while you’re in the vicinity, pop into the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s lobby to spot a Salvador Dali drooping clock sculpture framed by sparkling decorations.

But if you’re in the mood for a seasonal walk, head to the West Side. Christmas in Kerrisdale is a reminder of a time when Yuletide shoppers strolled around with parcels and carol singing percolated through the air. On pre-Christmas Saturdays, there’s a brass band, wandering Santa and free horse carriage rides as well.

Burnaby Village Museum

Yesteryear Cheer

There are several more fee-free ways to channel the spirit of Christmas past in Metro Vancouver. Burnaby Village Museum is a wonderland of antique buildings brightly decorated for the festive season. Be sure to add $2.65 to your budget and you can also ride their 1920s carousel.

Alternatively, Canada 150 celebrations mean entry is free at festively-decorated Fort Langley. That’s also the deal at Steveston’s Gulf of Georgia Cannery, which is hosting its own Festival of Trees. Stick around in the village on December 16 to catch a Songs in the Snow carol performance at Steveston Museum’s Town Square Park.

Elf, courtesy iMDB.

Movies for Free!

Finally, if taking the family out for a free Christmas flick appeals, there are several local options. UBC’s Wesbrook Village is screening Elf in its Welcome Centre on December 20; Renfrew library branch is showing The Muppet Christmas Carol on December 22; and Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre is offering The Polar Express on December 23.

Gratis movies aren’t just for kids, though. Mount Pleasant library branch is showing alternative Christmas classic Die Hard on the evening of December 22. It’s the perfect way to flex your Bruce Willis-like muscles for all that heavy plate-lifting ahead.

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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