Canada is a wonderful place to spend your Christmas holidays. And in this post, we will highlight some delightful things to do in Vancouver in winter. From Christmas markets, festive events, ice skating, and shopping, Vancouver will not disappoint you!
Vancouver in Winter: Planning for your trip, weather, packing & accommodation
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Vancouver is located in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It is one of the metro cities in Canada with high living costs, but that brings in ample work opportunities (yes there is competition), skyscrapers, luxury hotels, lots of greenery, and quick access to mountain views.
Getting to Vancouver is easy.
Vancouver is served by the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and it is located in Richmond, BC. It is about 30 minutes away from the city centre. YVR airport connects Vancouver to the rest of the world.
From Vancouver Airport, you can hop on the SkyTrain to reach downtown in about 30 minutes. SkyTrain from Vancouver Airport to downtown fees: 2 Zone Ticket $9.00 (two-zone fare of $4.00 + YVR Fare of $5).
Another option to reach Vancouver by flight is to opt for budget airlines (Swoop) and land in Abbotsford. Flight tickets are cheaper, but you will have to take a bus (or rent a car) to reach Vancouver, it takes about an hour or so.
Vancouver is well connected by road from the USA, Alberta and other parts of British Columbia.
- Whistler to Vancouver: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Seattle USA to Vancouver by road: Seattle to Vancouver is 2 hours and 30 minutes by road
- Calgary Alberta to Vancouver: 10 hours and 30 minutes by road. You can take a road trip through the Canadian Rockies to reach Vancouver. You can do this route in 2 to 3 days by exploring sights along the way.
Trains are available from Toronto and Edmonton to Vancouver, and tickets on VIA Rail typically costs around $45-$200 CAD. These prices typically increase with distance traveled. You can also book scenic train rides from Vancouver to Banff via RockyMountaineer.com
Vancouver in winter weather & temperature
Typically winter months in Canada are from December to February. And that holds true for Vancouver as well. However, what is uncommon in Vancity is that the winter temperatures are quite milder as compared to other parts of Canada.
So if I were to wear a -20 degree parka, tall warm boots, scarves, gloves, and beanie in Alberta and Saskatchewan, I get by with a light jacket or a thick cardigan, ankle length boots, and warm cap 🙂 yes, you get it. It is mild.
Take a look at the temperature for the 3 months, and depending on your cold threshold pack accordingly.
Vancouver winter weather
- December: 7 degree C/3 degree C (H/L), expect 15 days of rain
- January: 7 degree C/3 degree C (H/L), expect 15 days of rain
- February: 8 degree C/3 degree C (H/L), expect 13 days of rain
As you can see, temperatures never go below freezing point, but rains are common. Below you will find packing tips for Vancouver in winter.
Packing for Vancouver winters
- 1 x warm jacket: Wear a warm waterproof jacket (not like a ski jacket) OR
- 1 x warm long cardigan or fleece jacket
- 2 – 3 tops, long sleeve shirts
- 2 bottoms (I wear my jeans, and lightweight thermal leggings)
- 1 x Scarf
- 1 x Beanie
- 1 x Gloves
- 1 x warm boots, preferably waterproof. Check out my favorite pair
- 2 -3 warm socks
- Loungewear for hotel/resort
- 1 x Ski jacket, snow pants, if you are heading to mountain resorts
Where to stay in Vancouver BC?
We highly recommend Downtown Vancouver for your first trip. You can pretty much walk from your hotel to various landmarks, or take a tour bus from Canada Place. Here are our top picks
- Fairmont Hotel Vancouver – A 4-star hotel, this property is located very close to many of the attractions and places to visit in Vancouver in winter. The property includes beautiful suites, with downtown views as well as a spa and a lavish restaurant on site. Click to view hotel prices and availability here
- Sheraton Vancouver Wall center – Another 4-star property in downtown, this Sheraton hotel is located just 10 minutes walk from the Burrard light-rail station, and 2 km from the waterfront Stanley Park. You can ditch the car, and easily commute using LRT or walk to the waterfront area. View photos and room availability here
- Residence Inn by Marriott Vancouver Downtown – A 3-star mid-range hotel property located in the downtown area. You can easily walk to attractions from here, including the Vancouver Aquarium. The hotel offers free breakfast to guests and has a spa on-site. More about this hotel here
60+ Things to do in Vancouver in winter 2020: Attractions, tours & festivals
Wander Downtown Vancouver
One of the amazing free things to do in Vancouver in winter is walk the downtown area, and soak in festive lights and the views of the waterfront. Make sure you are dressed warmly, and you have your camera out to snap those holiday decor.
During winters, you can expect cafes and restaurants to have a seasonal (and a delightful) menu which you can order. At Robson Street, you can admire the big Christmas tree all lit up for the season.
Drive through Stanley Park
In the winters, take a drive through Stanley Park and admire the various structures inside this amazing urban park. On our first trip to the city, we embarked on the hop on and hop off tour that took us through the Stanley Park (with photo stops), and it was amazing to check out attractions like – Totem poles, Girl in a wetsuit, Harry Jerome Statue, and the cute Brockton Point Lighthouse.
You can also embark on the Vancouver Holiday Lights and Karaoke Trolley to admire the illuminating Bright Nights at Stanley Park and beyond. Click to grab tickets for the Christmas Lights tour.
Go skating in Vancouver’s Robson Square
In the winter Vancouver opens up ice skating rinks in various parts of the city. Most notable among them are at Robson Square (they are open from December to February) and at the Vancouver Skate Plaza.
You can rent ice skates at Robson Square for $5 CAD/ pair, and skating is absolutely free.
Enjoy a winter walking tour with a local
Book a walking tour with a Vancouver local to understand the city’s history and hit all the highlights. You are helping a local business by booking a tour!
Drink hot chocolate (or my favorite peppermint mocha!)
Festive cheer is even more delightful when you have a cuppa hot chocolate in your hands. The chill in the air, and a warm drink will brighten up your day. There are so many cafes in the Downtown area as well as Robson Street where you can stop by and pick up a drink (including my favorite Peppermint Mocha!)
Enjoy festive lights at the Canada Place
Canada Place in the downtown area is all decked up for the festive season. You can experience lights and decorations here like the Avenue of Christmas Trees, Sails of Light, and many winter lights displays. This is completely free, so don’t miss it.
Fly with Santa at FlyOver Canada
Enjoy Christmas with Santa, at FlyOver Canada in downtown Vancouver. You can fly with Santa across Canada, and get into the festive spirit.
FlyOver Canada is a unique way to experience various Canadian destinations from one spot, you can virtually fly over the landmarks, feel the wind gust, or the warm breeze – all from the heart of Vancouver.
Check out festive lights in Chinatown
Admire decorations and festive menu in various spots in Vancouver’s Chinatown. If you are in town in December (Dec 21st), you can attend the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival.
Capilano Suspension Bridge in winter
Located in North Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is an all-round destination. It is open every day (except December 25), and during winters it’s amazing with the lovely Christmas decorations and festive lights. Get tickets for Canyon Lights Events in Capilano Bridge Park
Capilano in the daytime and in the evening is very different but so worth the visit. Note that some days due to snow and slippery conditions, attractions such as TreeTops Adventure may not be open (and you get a discounted entry ticket in that case). You will be able to cross the bridge though.
Opt for a free bus to the CapBridge Park, from the Canada Place in Vancouver downtown.
Enjoy the chill in the air by a bonfire
Enjoy bonfires (and don’t forget warm cocoa) in West Vancouver’s Dundarave Park at night. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket and listen to live music, with friends and family.
Go on a sunset buffet tour
Enjoy a sunset meal on a cruise with your loved one, as you ring in the festive season. These cruises are for 2.50 hours, and they come with a delicious meal (charged per person).
Admire Lions Gate Bridge
The Lions Gate Bridge is a beautiful green colored suspension bridge in Vancouver. Officially known as the First Narrows Bridge, it connects the City of Vancouver to the District of North, and West Vancouver.
On a warm sunny day you can check out the bridge from the Prospect Point Lookout, or if it’s too cold just drive through the bridge to take a look at this engineering marvel.
Visit the Prospect Point Lookout
I know it’s cold. But if you love winters, and a little snow head to the Prospect Point Lookout to soak in views of the Lions Gate Bridge, the waters and the cold chill!
Check out the Gastown District Festive Lights
The Steam Clock at the Gastown District is pretty popular, and it made it to the list of our Vancouver Bucket list. During winters, it is a warm sight to see the smoke coming out of the clock. The entire district is filled with Victorian-style buildings and looks very European in the winter.
Gastown Food tour
While you are at Gastown, opt for a delicious food tour and go restaurant and bar hopping in the Vancity. Vancouver’s culinary scene is delightful! Check out this highly recommended food tour here
Shop at the Robson Street
Love to shop? Head to Robson Street to score great deals for the holiday season. Shop deals on premium clothing labels, electronics or gifts for loved ones.
Visit the Vancouver Art Museum
Visit the world-class Vancouver Art Museum, which boasts 4 floors of temporary exhibitions and the installation of 4 iconic works by Emily Carr. You can also take a guided tour of the permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Add this attraction to your Vancouver winter itinerary (when it’s too cold outside).
Feast at a Vancouver Restaurant
Pig out at one of the seafood restaurants (or any downtown multi-cuisine restaurant) and relish the delicious culinary scene of Vancouver City. It is known to be a foodie destination for a reason.
Explore Granville Island
Make a trip to Granville Island for a few hours. Granville Island is a shopping district, located across False Creek from Downtown Vancouver and under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge. On the island, you can check out the Granville Island Public Market and buy local produce and delicacies.
During the Christmas season, you can shop for souvenirs and gifts from Granville Island. The district is home to many seafood restaurants as well. Try our favorite fish and chips with a chilled beer in the afternoon.
Take in city views from Vancouver Lookout
Take in Vancity views from Vancouver Lookout, a 147 metre high observation tower. The tower boasts of a glass elevator that takes you to an observation deck, which greets you with 360° views of the city.
Ticket prices for the observation tower are $18.95 CAD per adult entry. If you are feeling adventurous climb 32 storeys and enjoy a free beer. Vancouver Lookout also has a revolving sky restaurant on-site called the Top Of Vancouver.
Eat at Top Of Vancouver Restaurant
As the name suggests, this restaurant literally takes you to top of Vancouver (from the Lookout Tower). Dine at the Top of Vancouver Restaurant, which is a revolving restaurant with 360 views of the city, and celebrate the holiday season in style!
Stay at a fancy waterfront hotel
Vancouver’s waterfront area is filled with 5-star, heritage hotels starting with the Fairmont Waterfront and the Pan Pacific hotel. Room rates start at $350 CAD per night, but the views are so worth it for a romantic staycation in the city!
Visit the Bloedel Conservatory: Vancouver Winter Attractions
Queen Elizabeth Park is a wonderful oasis in central Vancouver. In the winter, it is even more exciting when you step foot into the Bloedel Conservatory.
When it is cold or rainy outside, head to the conservatory and learn about free-flying exotic birds, plants, and flowers. The conservatory is home to about 700+ varieties of birds fauna and flora that are kept in a temperature controlled environment.
Learn about cultures at the Museum of Anthropology
The UBC Museum of Anthropology is an amazing resource to learn about First Nations peoples and other cultural communities in Canada. The museum is very tranquil, and history-anthropology enthusiasts will definitely like it here.
Set side 2 to 3 hours to completely explore the museum. Admission tickets start at $18 CAD+. Parking is available on-site.
Watch Polar Bear Swim on New Years
You can cheer or swim with the Polar bears in the English Bay to start off the New Year. For 2021, the event is set for January 1st. The event runs from 12:00 until around 3:30 pm. This is one of the coolest free things to do in Vancouver winters.
The English Bay Polar Bear Swim is one of its kind, and it has been a tradition since 1920. In 2020 it marked its centenary celebrations.
Watch a Vancouver Canucks game
Vancouver Canucks is an ice hockey team in Canada (based out of Vancouver). They compete in the National Hockey League – NHL. When in town, you can watch them play at the Rogers Arena.
Or head to one of these bars for a sports night,
- The Sports Bar at the Rogers Arena
- Red Card Sports Bar + Eatery
- St Augustine
Enjoy afternoon high tea at Patisserie fur Elise
Located in Hamilton Street, this cute pastry shop – Patisserie fur Elise – transports you to England with their charming tea service. This French pastry shop, housed in a Victorian home, is your perfect Instagrammable location for all things fancy food-related.
Join a brewery tour
Vancouver has quite a long brewery history. It boasts of a rich beer community owing to its status as a port city. You can join a brewery tour in Vancouver to learn about its rich past, go behind the scenes of how beer is brewed, and also try out various samplings.
Here is a 3 hour beer tour, offered by a local guide. In this tour, you will embark on the route that takes you to Parallel 49, Bomber, and Off The Rail, with tastings and snacks at each location and a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewing process.
Stop at the Olympic Cauldron: Jack Poole Plaza
Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, and we highly recommend paying a visit to the Whistler Sliding center to take part in fun winter activities. If you are staying in town for your trip, you can go visit the Olympic Plaza in downtown Vancouver. Free to explore.
Drive the Sea to Sky Highway
Enjoy a scenic drive from Vancouver to Whistler or Squamish aka Highway 99. Driving from Vancouver to Whistler can be dangerous at times, especially in the winters. We recommend embarking on this road trip if you are comfortable with driving in the winter.
If you embark on a day tour, the route is still the same.
Winter Outdoor Activities in and around Vancouver
Outdoor skating at the Vanier Pond Park
Vanier Park is a municipal park, which transforms into a nice outdoor skating rink for families to enjoy in the winter.
Go on winter hikes at Lynn Loop (Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge Park)
Lynn Loop at the Suspension Bridge Park is an easy trail to embark on winter hikes. It takes about 2 hours covering just over 5km of ground. You can easily reach Lynn Canyon Loop by public transit.
This is a great opportunity to admire wildlife, and admire the beauty of Mount Fromme and other nature wonders.
Check out frozen Norvan Falls in North Vancouver
If you looking for winter hikes near Vancouver, embark on a 14 km round trip to visit Norvan Falls. The waterfalls will be completely frozen during this time (at least most of the time), and it makes for a nice winter walk/hike to the falls. It begins at Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and ends after a 7 km walk through the wilderness to reach the falls. The terrain is flat all throughout.
Enjoy at the Cypress Mountains
Vancouver downtown to Cypress mountains is just 30 minutes away. You can easily take a trip to the mountains by car, and go skiing or winter hiking!
Add a romantic fondue tour at the Cypress Mountains
Chocolate and wonderful mountain views are a perfect match. You can add a Fondue Tour at the Cypress Mountains. These tours are conducted in the evening, and they have to be pre-booked to reserve your spot.
Relish fresh fruits, and chocolate fondue, with a hot apple cider. For an additional charge, you can also enjoy a pint of beer.
The fondue tour is offered as a package with snowshoeing options included, along with a guided tour. You can view packages and book here online
Take day trip to the Grouse Mountains
Grouse Mountains is the answer to amazing views, from Vancouver city. Hop on the cable car to take in views of the city, and nearby mountains. During winters the sight is spectacular with beautiful lights and snow-dusted peaks!
Go zip lining at the Grouse Mountains
Feeling adventurous? Opt for zip-lining tours at the Grouse Mountains.
Ziplining at Grouse mountains involves a 90-minute duration of pure thrill, going between the peaks of Grouse Mountain and Dam Mountain.
Skiing and snowboarding in Grouse Mountains
One of the most popular activities in Grouse Mountains is embarking on snow related outdoor activities like skiing and snowboarding, and the amazing part – you get to soak in amazing city views of Vancouver!
Go skiing and tobogganing Seymour Mountain
Mount Seymour Ski Resort is located only 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Mt Seymour is perfect for a quick getaway, and if not skiing consider getting your feet wet into tobogganing, it is SO much fun!
Tobogganing involves sliding downhill over snow! Sounds exciting right?
Heli skiing in Coastal Mountain
Embark on a heli-skiing tour in a small group, and be mesmerized by spectacular ski terrain. Be ready to cruise down wide-open powder bowls for a fun adventurous day!
Go cross country skiing in Whistler
Located only an hour and half away from Vancouver, Whistler is an amazing place for cross country skiing and other winter activities. With world class resort and ski facilities you can’t go wrong with a day or weekend trip to Whistler from Vancouver.
Go sliding at the Canadian Bobsleigh
The Whistler Sliding Centre is a Canadian bobsleigh, and skeleton track located in Whistler. It hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, and is part of the Whistler Blackcomb resort. This is a perfect addition to winter getaways from Vancouver.
It doesn’t matter if you are new to these rides, there are instructors available. They provide you with a safety orientation, before heading into a 4-person bobsleigh. With many twists and turns (and at a speed of 125+ kph), you will feel the force and the adrenaline rush!
Bobsleigh and skeleton rides are available seasonally from December through to the end of March.
Enjoy festive lights in the resort town of Whistler (nonskiers)
Whistler resort town turns into a Christmas town with mountain views and pretty festive lights. Whistler is perfect for a day trip from Vancouver. As a non-skier, you can feast in their restaurants, go Christmas shopping, and relax in the lap of nature or at Scandinave Spa.
Take a day trip to Victoria to admire the festivities at the Butchart Gardens
Enjoy a day-long tour to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. This includes a 1.50-hour scenic ferry ride to Victoria, and you get to explore Government Street, Chinatown, and the Inner Harbour. Take time to admire ocean views, and eat at artisan cafes.
Butchart Gardens are wonderfully decked up for the festive season, do make time to stop by there!
Festive Events in Vancouver in Winter
Vancouver Christmas Parade
Christmas Parade is a delightful way to ring in the Xmas season to the city. Christmas parade is a free event that takes place at the end of November/December. This year’s event date is set for December 6 2020.
The parade itself usually starts at noon and lasts for around two hours. You can expect a lot of amazing dance groups and community organizations, marching music bands and more.
Don’t forget to dress warmly, and buy yourself a hot drink as you enjoy this festive show!
Vancouver Christmas Markets (postponed to 2021)
Set up in the heart of Vancouver Downtown, the Christmas markets are a great way to experience the winters in the city. These markets are inspired by the German Christkindlemarkt, and it brings in over 80 vendors showcasing and selling Christmas souvenirs and wares. Not to forget food and drinks too.
This is a ticketed event. Vancouver Christmas Markets are cancelled for 2020, and is postponed to 2021, you can check the details on their website here
Christmas Tree Lights at Robson Street
Admire the lights at the Robson Street, especially the 76 feet tall Christmas tree at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Enjoy free music, cookies, and hot chocolate. Event takes place in November, and stays up for the month of December.
Ride the Vancouver Holiday Lights and Karaoke Trolley
Hop on the Vancouver Holiday Lights and Karaoke Trolley and check out the night lights at Stanley Park (called Bright Nights), and the VanDusen Festival of Lights.
Enjoy the fun festive music, as you ride the trolley!
Check out the Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Canyon Lights are the festive event that takes place at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Typical dates are from December to early January. We recommend visiting the Park in the evening to admire all the festive lights in the woods. Check out this year’s dates for Canyon Lights.
Carol Ship Parade of Lights in Downtown
Join the festive procession in downtown Vancouver (takes place every weekend in the month of December). It is completely free to admire the parade and the festive lights from downtown. You can opt for (paid) dinner cruises here.
Join the Vancouver’s Annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
Head to the Chinatown in Vancouver, to attend the pretty Annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival. The festival takes place in various locations including at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown, and Granville Island. This event marks the darkest day of the year (December 21st) and is celebrated keeping the old-world traditions in mind.
Festival of Lights at Van Dusen Botanical Garden
One of the most popular Vancouver Christmas lights is that of the Dusen Botanical Garden. The lights look wonderful in the dark, and the beautiful reflections on the lake make them so stunning. In the garden, you will witness pretty dancing lights, with candy cane trees, and gingerbread walk trails.
Christmas in Kerrisdale
Kerrisdale turns into a pretty Christmas village, with everything X-massy related from horse carriage rides, festive food and markets. It turns into a fairy tale of sorts. Best of all it is FREE. Find out the dates for this year’s event
Attend the Hot Chocolate Festival
Hot chocolate festival is held at the end of January, where you can try out different chocolate flavours.
Head to Aurora Winter Festival (postponed to 2021)
The Aurora Winter Festival is a Christmas-themed attraction in Vancouver. This event is filled with holiday lights, market vendors and amusement rides on-site.
Dine Out Vancouver
Dine Out Vancouver is a 17 day long food festival hosted by Tourism Vancouver, to promote the city’s vibrant culinary scene. The event starts in mid of January, and concludes by the first few days in February. During this festival, you can choose three-course dinners or more at four price points—$15, $25, $35, and $45 CAD.
Over 300 restaurants participate in this event, so you got a lot of varieties and options to choose from. Learn more about this event here
Celebrate Chinese New Year
If you are planning a Vancouver winter getaway in January, especially around the Chinese New Year, we highly recommend visiting Chinatown to witness the New Year Parade, and the festive cheer in the district.
Everything looks very beautiful with the red lanterns and decorations, as the new year celebrations are in full gear! Free event to attend/participle.
Vancouver International Wine Festival
Vancouver International Wine Festival is held at the tail end of the winter season in Vancity (end of February to the beginning of March). It is one of the finest wine fests in the world, attended by over 16 countries, showcasing thousands of wines.
2021 dates are set as Feb. 22, 2021 – Mar. 1, 2021 to be held at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Add this to your list of things to do in Vancouver in February.
We hope you enjoyed this list of amazing Vancouver Winter Activities. If we missed anything do let us know in the comments below!
More Canada Planning Tips
- Golden BC: Things to do Golden BC
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- Banff Alberta Winter: Banff Christmas Guide
- Lake Louise Alberta Winter: Lake Louise Winter
- Ontario Winter Destinations: Ontario winter getaways