Christmas in Vancouver: The Inside and Outside Guide

CREDIT:Bob Frid 2016 – Fly Over Canada

We all know how Vancouver’s winter weather works: one day it’s blue skies and sun and the next could mean drenching rain or bone-chilling cold. But so long as you’re dressed for any eventuality––and you have a good plan B––there’s no need to hide indoors with endless mugs of hot chocolate.

And that’s especially true during the holidays. Metro Vancouver is lined like a bauble-covered Christmas tree with sparkling activities to check out during the festive season. And while some are perfect for those crisp, cloud-free winter days, others are ideal when you really need to head indoors.

Each is fully detailed on my annual Vancouver Christmas Guide pop-up website––along with giveaway prizes guaranteed to warm you on the coldest winter days. Need more tips? Read on for my hot recommendations on local Yuletide activities––both inside and outside––then start marking your calendar.


Indoor magic

Now open for the season in downtown Vancouver (it’s a 10-minute walk south of Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain Station), Glow Vancouver is a great way to snap selfies with shimmering illuminations without having to wear a toque. The indoor attraction includes around one million lights––and some giant, twinkling sculptures of a snowman, teddy bear, walk-in bauble and much more.

Glow Vancouver offers sparkling indoor illuminations. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee

You can also experience the magic of Christmas indoors at FlyOver Canada, located inside Canada Place. The popular simulator ride’s holiday edition takes travellers on a breathtaking big-screen glide across the country––complete with mischievous elves and an eye-popping finale visit to the North Pole residence of Santa himself.


Homes for the holidays

That’s not the only residence worth exploring this holiday season. The Hyatt Regency Hotel’s sweet Gingerbread Lane constructions are a justifiably popular annual tradition for many Christmas fans––look for the cool, highly colourful cruise ship confection that’s on display there this year.

Watch the birdy at Festivale Tropicale. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

And then there’s Vancouver’s year-round home of 150 tropical, free-flying birds. Bloedel Conservatory is celebrating its 50th birthday over the holidays with its Festivale Tropicale event. From December 7 to January 5, the climate-controlled dome is adding illuminations, Yuletide music, Christmas plants and a kid-friendly scavenger hunt to its balmy indoor temperatures.


Warming events

The beloved Christmas Wish Breakfast is also back again this year at downtown’s Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel. On December 17, bring an unwrapped toy and partake of an early morning party filled with heartwarming festive fun, from live music to a hearty breakfast.

There’s also a full menu of indoor holiday markets to cover off all your gift shopping needs. Consider the festive editions of Got Craft? at the Croatian Cultural Centre; Make It! at the PNE Forum; and the hipster-hugging Eastside Flea. And don’t miss the brand new Vancouver Holiday Bazaar at Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre from December 13 to 15.

Need more? It’s Main Street’s final Shiny Fuzzy Muddy event this year. And the new Pacific Arts Market is also running special Sunday afternoon Christmas events––don’t miss this cool spot if you haven’t discovered it yet. Craving alternatives? Check out Weirdos Holiday Market and Krampus Markt, where photos with the horned Christmas demon himself will also be available.


Outside activities

The outdoors will also be calling your name over the holidays, with a holly jolly host of alfresco options. Yaletown’s November 30 CandyTown event––a large free festival with live music, ice-carving and appearances by both Santa and the Ice Queen––pops up on November 30. The next day, the Vancouver Santa Claus Parade rolls through downtown with floats, marching bands and the bearded wonder himself.

Ice-carving is part of the action at CandyTown. PHOTO CREDIT: Britney Gill Photography.

Over at the PNE/Hastings Park area, you’ll find even more characters. Look out for Yin the Yeti and Zaos the Ice Elf as your wander the Aurora Winter Festival site, but save time for live music, food gardens, an adrenalin-rushing tube park and more.


On the waterfront

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Glühwein-flavoured Vancouver Christmas Market is also a top outdoor draw. Dozens of artisan huts at Jack Poole Plaza 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 raclette to turkey legs.

Don’t miss the 10th annual Vancouver Christmas Market. PHOTO CREDIT: Vancouver Christmas Market.

Nearby, add a slow stroll along the outside of Canada Place. From December 6, you can point your camera at the Avenue of Trees, antique Woodward’s department store Christmas windows and a giant twinkling moose sculpture––aka ‘Chrismoose.’


Sparkling lights

Illuminations are also the lure at Capilano Suspension Bridge’s magical Canyon Lights. Inch your way across the glittering bridge, check out the new walk-through light tunnel on the Cliffwalk and crane your neck at the park’s sparklingly decorated forest flora, transforming several of the largest examples into the world’s tallest living Christmas trees. There’s a handy free shuttle to get you here from downtown.

Canyon Lights is a magical illuminations display at Capilano. PHOTO CREDIT: Capilano Suspension Bridge.

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. Alternatively, hop on another train: SkyTrain’s Evergreen Extension delivers you to Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station, steps from the lovely, free-entry Lights at Lafarge illuminations.


Under the radar

Looking for something different to do outdoors this year? Yule Duel––now in a new downtown location outside the Vancouver Art Gallery––brings competing carol singers to the streets on December 5. And when you need to triple salchow to your hearts content, the nearby Robson Square Ice Rink is a must––the city’s towering official Christmas tree is also just a few steps away for some added Yuletide magic.


Travel writer John Lee is the creator of the Vancouver Christmas Guide, the only online guide to festive happenings in and around the city. Profiling around 100 local 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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