Celebrating Christmas in Vancouver in Person

Lights of Hope is again back this year. PHOTO CREDIT: Lights of Hope.

While some local festivities have been cancelled in 2020 and others are operating virtually, there’s still a glittering gift box of in-person attractions, events, and shows to enjoy, from reinvented favourites to brand new Yuletide happenings.

As the curator of the annual Vancouver Christmas Guide––now in its fourth year––I’ve been researching all the options and adding them to our site. I’ve also rounded-up some of my favourites below so you can start planning your celebrations right away.

Keep in mind that there are safety protocols and limited numbers at all activities this time around, which means that reserving as far ahead as possible is vital. Ready for some chestnut-warming shenanigans? Read on, start booking and remember to Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Christmassy this holiday season.


Lovely Lights

Illuminations are the backdrop to every great Christmas and there are plenty of shimmering options around the region in 2020. A festive favourite, Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park runs from December 1 to January 3, complete with a decorated bridge, walk-through light tunnel and eight sparkling Douglas firs transformed into ‘the world’s tallest Christmas trees.’

Capilano Canyon Lights is a local favorite. PHOTO CREDIT: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

Capilano isn’t the only twinkling hot spot this year. VanDusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights transforms its flora-framed pathways into a walk-through winter wonderland once again. And if you happen to be Christmas shopping downtown, beeline along Burrard Street to the eye-popping Lights of Hope illuminations fronting St. Paul’s Hospital.

Shoppers should also keep their eyes peeled on Granville Island, where large light installations invite plenty of festive selfie-snapping from November 12 onwards. And don’t forget the city’s beloved Bright Nights in Stanley Park. Things are a little different with this family-friendly favourite this year: the plaza of sparkling displays is on hiatus but the train is operating in all its glory, trundling passengers past a full array of nostalgic Yuletide installations. This will be one of Vancouver’s hottest tickets this season, so reserve your spot ASAP.


Drive-thru & More

Booking ahead is also required at a new local Christmas activity. The PNE WinterLights transforms part of their Showgrounds site into a COVID-safe 2km drive-thru route. Load your ‘holiday bubble’ into the car (participants are encouraged to decorate their vehicle), then trundle through nine enchanted areas studded with illuminations, characters and performers. Your task is to locate Santa, but don’t miss the penguins, dancing elves, and a gigantic Christmas tree en route.

Need more? Keep the car handy and drive out to Steveston Village (PHO allowing), where the boutique stores are perfect for gift shopping and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site is once again hosting its glittering Festival of Trees. And if you’re looking for more lights, Christmas Glow Langley is replacing its now-cancelled run at the Greater Vancouver Zoo with a sparkling drive-thru experience at the Darvonda Nurseries site.

The Festival of Trees at Steveston’s Gulf of Georgia Cannery. PHOTO CREDIT: Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society.


Added Attractions

You should also gather together your ‘holiday bubble’ (we’re officially calling this your ‘holiday bauble’) for downtown’s FlyOver Canada. Limited spots are available but it’s hard to beat the thrill of zooming over the country from above then zipping up to the North Pole for a meet-and-greet with the Jolly Old Elf and some of his mischievous helpers.

Keep your eyes peeled for Santa at FlyOver Canada. PHOTO CREDIT: FlyOver Canada.

The icicle-draped summit of Grouse Mountain is as close as most of us will likely get to the North Pole. But many locals love to wrap-up and crunch across the snow up here during the holiday season. At the time of writing, plans were still being formulated for their annual Peak of Christmas activities, but previous years have included sleigh rides, real-life reindeer and an appearance from Santa himself.

That’s not the only way to bask in some seasonal spirit in Metro Vancouver this year. Like stepping back to Yuletide’s past, the delightful, free-entry Burnaby Heritage Christmas is also back in 2020, complete with its authentic yesteryear buildings and magical nostalgic decorations.

Step into Christmas past at Burnaby’s Heritage Christmas. PHOTO CREDIT: Burnaby Village Museum.


Pressie Time

Online shopping is fine, of course, but many of us love browsing in-person for Christmas gifts. Consider a drive out to the largest holiday store in Western Canada. Located in Surrey, the glittering Christmas Store at Potter’s is a gigantic Yuletide grotto of decorations, stocking stuffers and gourmet treats––including this year’s Dr. Bonnie Henry Whisky BBQ Sauce, sold in aid of the BC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

Nutcrackers at the Christmas Store at Potter’s. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Back in Vancouver, shoppers craving unique artisan creations for those stubborn holdouts on their gift list should also head to the Pacific Arts Market. This under-the-radar Broadway gem is stuffed with the handmade work of dozens of diverse artists and creatives. Check their website for extra Christmas events in the run-up to the big day.


Live on Stage

*To comply with the PHO, these events may now be digital-only.

Many theatres have cancelled their Christmas productions this year, while others have taken their shows online. But if you’re missing a spot of in-person stage action, book ahead for two special holiday productions in the city. The Arts Club Theatre Company’s heartwarming 12 Dates of Christmas is running at the BMO Theatre. And over at the Metro Theatre, there’s an intriguing version of a well-loved classic. A Christmas Carol Radio Play presents the Scrooge story as if it’s a 1940s radio broadcast, complete with musical tracks and live sounds effects. It’s the perfect way to say ‘bah humbug’ to 2020 and still keep a festive smile on your face!

A Christmas Carol Radio Play, live on stage at the Metro Theatre. PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Theatre.

For more Christmas activity ideas, check out the Vancouver Christmas Guide website. Created by Lonely Planet travel writer John Lee, the site is the only online guide to 2020’s festive happenings in and around the city. Profiling dozens of holiday events, shows and attractions, it is co-authored with Max the cat, who writes the site’s gift reviews and often appears on its @MyVanChristmas Twitter feed.


Until November 23, 2020, BC residents are strongly encouraged to avoid non-essential travel to, from, and between the Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Sea-to-Sky, and Sunshine Coast regions. Let’s do our part by following provincial health orders and continuing to support local businesses in accordance with the latest health orders. For residents living outside of the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, continue to travel smart, and #exploreBC safely and responsibly.

If you have questions about the latest provincial health orders, please visit the BC Government website.

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