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Best Vancouver Christmas Activities

Top December Things to Do

A lot happens in Metro Vancouver over the holiday season including markets, Christmas lights, winter sport activities, Santa and more.

Top Winter Holiday Activities in Vancouver

Below is a list of over two dozen top things (in no particular order) to do during the holiday season.

Click on any of the following links to jump to a specific attraction or activity, or continue scrolling down and read the entire list.


Free Christmas Attraction Venues

Lights by the Lake | Stanley Park | Yule Duel | Gingerbread Lane | Canada Place | Santa Parades | Robson Square | Park & Tilford | Dundarave | Lafarge Lake | Burnaby Village


Christmas Shows, Artisan Markets & Entertainment

Craft Markets | Christmas Plays | Nutcracker Ballet | Sweet Gospel Choir | Gastown Yule Duel | Other Concerts


City of Vancouver Christmas Attractions

Aurora Winter FestivalChristmas Glow | VanDusen Garden | Stanley Park | Gingerbread Lane | Canada Place | FlyOver Canada | Santa Parade | Christmas Market | Robson Square | Festivale Tropicale


Christmas Attractions in Other Nearby Municipalities

Burnaby Village | Surrey’s Train | Park & Tilford | Lower Lonsdale | Christmas at the Cannery | Capilano Bridge | Grouse Mountain | Mount Seymour | Dundarave | Polar Express | Whistler | Lafarge Lake | Christmas Glow


Wondering how to make the holiday season extra special? Then take in as much as you can!

Free Events in December

If visiting the Christmas at Canada Place attraction, consider checking out FlyOver Canada as well while you’re there. Located right at Canada Place, the multi-dimensional theatre flying experience is fun any time of the year, but only from late November to early January do guests get to help Santa on an exhilarating adventure across the country and to the North Pole.

Especially good times to go include when Santa is visiting or when they have special live performances. It’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance, especially on these days.

Click FlyOver Canada at Christmas for details.

FlyOver Canada’s Christmas-themed show ran from November 21, 2019, until January 5, 2020. Dates in the 2020/21 season are to be confirmed.

Another great downtown holiday venue is the Vancouver Christmas Market which takes place at the Jack Poole Plaza by the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Open daily until Christmas Eve, the Vancouver Christmas Market features numerous German and other European-themed stalls selling all kinds of Christmassy items, from souvenirs to European festival food to a range of festive “adult” beverages to help with the holiday season celebrations.

The Vancouver Christmas Market ran from November 20 until Christmas Eve in 2019. 2020 details are to be confirmed.

Gingerbread Men at Market
Gingerbread Men at Vancouver Christmas Market

3. Christmas Glow (in both Abbotsford & Vancouver)

Christmas Glow used to be an indoor Christmas festival in a garden centre’s giant greenhouse in Langley. As of 2019, however, it had two new venues – one in Abbotsford and one in downtown Vancouver.

The place features a light maze, giant light tunnel, all sorts of Christmas displays, live music and a market. It’s one of the region’s few indoor Christmas attractions, and so a great place on rainy days.

For further details, click Christmas Glow or Christmas Glow Vancouver.

In 2019 Christmas Glow took place at the Harbour Convention Centre in Vancouver between November 21, 2019 and January 4, 2020, and at the Tradex Centre in Abbotsford from December 5, 2019, until January 4, 2020. Dates for the 2020/21 Christmas season are to be confirmed.

Glow Vancouver at Christmas
Glow Christmas in Abbotsford and Vancouver

4. Christmas at the Cannery

Steveston Village’s Festival of Trees takes place at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Richmond during the month of December. The National Historic Site is worth visiting any time of the year, but especially on rainy winter days and at Christmas when it’s full of decorated trees.

The Festival of Trees isn’t actually a “festival” so much as a Christmassy display that showcases the artistic talents of local businesses and community organizations who each sponsor and decorate a tree. In addition to the holiday decorations there is usually also some kind of craft activity for children.

Click Steveston Festival of Trees for more information.

In 2019 the trees were on display from December 1 until the 31 (every day except for December 25 and 26). 2020 dates are to be confirmed.

The Aurora Winter Festival is a Christmas attraction with light displays, magical lands, market vendors, food trucks, amusement rides, Santa Claus and live entertainment. A couple of years ago it took place near Yaletown in downtown Vancouver near False Creek. Last year it had a new venue which was four times larger at Hastings Park (at the PNE).

Last year the Aurora Winter Festival ran from Friday, November 22, until Tuesday, December 31. It won’t be happening at all in 2020, however, due to COVID-19.

Aurora Winter Festival
Aurora Winter Festival Light Displays

Formerly called Holiday Heights at the Bloedel Conservatory, Festivale Tropicale is an indoor Christmas attraction at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park.

The attraction is a family-friendly event that features indoor Christmas illuminations among the plants in the glass-domed conservatory.

This season the event ran from December 7, 2019, until January 5, 2020 (so for one week longer than the year before). 2020/21 details are to be confirmed.

Christmas is celebrated in the Tri-Cities area with the Lights at Lafarge event at Lafarge Lake in Town Centre Park at the corner of Guildford Way and Pinetree Way in Coquitlam. It’s a free event featuring holiday lights and Christmas decorations all around the lake.

Lights at Lafarge takes place from late November until mid to late January most years. Typically, the lights are on between 4:30 and 11 pm every day, except for on New Year’s Eve when the event runs until 1 am.

For more information, click Lights at Lafarge.

This year the illuminations started up on November 30 and continued until January 19 in 2020. When it starts for the Christmas season in 2020 is to be confirmed.

The VanDusen Garden Festival of Lights is without a doubt one of the Lower Mainland’s best places to admire Christmas light decorations. Prices usually range from around $11 to $25 per person depending on your age, when you go and how you buy your tickets. Kids ages 3 and under are free.

The Festival of Lights ran from November 30, 2019, until January 5, 2020. Dates for the 2020 Christmas season are to be confirmed.

VanDusen Garden Lights and Archway
VanDusen Festival of Lights

Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park is a great place to visit in December. The Lake is wonderful to walk around during the day when it’s sunny and Heritage Christmas at Burnaby Village is a festive place to be in the afternoons and evenings.

Burnaby Village is free this time of year and open until January 1. Best times to go include evenings on days when it’s open late and lit up with all its Christmas decorations.

Heritage Christmas ran from November 23, 2019, until January 3, 2020. Dates for this current year are to be confirmed.

Burnaby Village at Christmas with Snow
Heritage Christmas at Burnaby Village

Bright Nights at Stanley Park is arguably the most wonderful and magical place to take children to admire Christmas decorations in the Lower Mainland. Open from the end of November until the beginning of January with admission by donation, this is one attraction you’ll definitely want to visit, especially if you have kids.

In 2019 Bright Nights was open every day from November 28 until January 1, except for Christmas Day on December 25. 2020 dates are to be confirmed.

Stanley Park Bright Nights
Bright Nights at Stanley Park

Lights by the Lake is a free holiday lights attraction at Harrison Hot Springs. All along the waterfront are Christmas displays and illuminations. It’s quite spectacular!

The event has a sasquatch theme, so a fair number of the twinkling art displays feature Big Foot characters and members of his or her family doing everything from skiing to windsurfing to cycling. New for 2019, there was also an outdoor ice skating rink at one end of the greenspace along the water.

Celebrating its second season, Lights by the Lake began on November 23 in 2019 and finished on January 12, 2020. Dates for the Christmas season in 2020 are to be confirmed.

If you plan to be in downtown Vancouver between 8 am and 11 pm between late November and the end of December, then also check out The Canadian Trail along Canada Place‘s West Promenade. It’s just a few blocks from Waterfront Station (so convenient to get to) and only a few blocks from Gastown and the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre.

Christmas at Canada Place is a fairly simple event, but free and includes an avenue of decorated Christmas trees and Christmas displays to look at.

Last year Christmas at Canada Place ran from December 6 until January 1. 2020 dates are to be confirmed.

Canada Place at Night at Christmas

13. Santa Claus Parades

Santa Claus parades are great places to see the big guy in red and get into the festive spirit, especially when you have young children.

The City of Vancouver’s Santa Claus Parade usually takes place on the first Sunday in December beginning at 12 pm. Attracting as many as 300,000 people in good years, this annual event starts at Broughton, goes along West Georgia Street, turns up Howe and then finishes at Davie Street.

In Vancouver on parade day, from 10 until about noon, there are also special kids’ activities outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Vancouver isn’t the only municipality to have a Santa Claus parade in the Lower Mainland. Other communities do too including Aldergrove, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, Steveston Village, Surrey and a few other places.

For a comprehensive list of Santa Claus parades in Metro Vancouver and the surrounding area, see our article about Lower Mainland Christmas Parades.

TIPS: Dress warmly, get there early to find a good viewing spot and take public transit if you can. If the weather is good there will be a LOT of people! Hang onto your kids tight!

In 2019 the Vancouver Santa Claus Parade happened on Sunday, December 1. Other Lower Mainland Christmas parades took place between November 30 and December 24. 2020 dates are to be confirmed.

Another great winter tradition just down the street from Canada Place is ice skating at Robson Square. Skating takes place on the outdoor rink at the corner of Robson and Howe from 9 am to 9 pm until the end of February, and until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. The skating is free if you bring your own equipment and rentals last year were only about $4.

There is also ice skating at recreation centres all over the Lower Mainland, as well as at the top of Grouse Mountain during the Peak of Christmas

The free ice skating at Robson Square ran last year from December 1 until February 29 (weather permitting). Dates for the 2020/21 season are to be confirmed.

Best Christmas Activities

If you plan to be in North Vancouver over the holidays and want to see some great FREE Christmas lights, then check out the displays at Park and Tilford mall where admission is by donation. They aren’t quite as amazing as the lights at Stanley Park, or at more expensive places like VanDusen Garden or Capilano Suspension Bridge, but they are still beautiful, impressive and recommended.

The Holiday Hi-Light Festival is a great place to visit on your way back from one of the local ski hills, and especially Friday evenings leading up to Christmas when they have special Family Nights activities.

The Holiday Hi-Light Festival ran from November 29 until December 31, 2019. 2020 dates are to be confirmed.

Park and Tilford Gardens in Snow
Holiday Hi-Light Festival at Park and Tilford

16. Christmas in Lower Lonsdale

December is a good time to visit the Lower Lonsdale area of North Vancouver. The Lonsdale Quay Public Market is a great place to shop anytime of the year, but especially at Christmas.

Just a short walk east of Lonsdale Quay and the SeaBus Terminal is Shipbuilders’ Square where, on a few weekends in December, there are special Christmas markets.

The biggest event at Shipbuilders’ Square in December is the Shipyards Christmas Festival which is a free event featuring a vendor market, live music, family-friendly activities and the lighting of the City of North Vancouver’s official Christmas tree. The main festivities take place on a Saturday around the beginning of December. The market activities continue on the next day too.

The Shipyards Christmas Festival took place on November 30 in 2019. The date in 2020 is to be determined.

Displays at Shipyards Christmas Market
Shipyards Christmas Market

Arguably the best time of the year to visit Capilano Suspension Bridge – one of Vancouver’s best and most popular tourist attractions – is between the end of November and the beginning of January during the Canyon Lights festivities. That’s when the place is lit up with some of the Lower Mainland’s most beautiful Christmas light displays, both close to the ground and way up above the river below and in among the trees.

If you’re a BC resident, for the price of regular admission you can get an annual pass which will allow you back in for the following 364 days, including for a bit of Canyon Lights again next year.

The Canyon Lights event usually runs every day from late November until mid to late January. In the 2019/2020 season it ran from November 22, 2019, until January 26, 2020. Dates and details for this year are to be confirmed.

Canyon Lights at Capilano Bridge

If you like snow, Christmas decorations and any kind of winter sport, then you must visit Grouse Mountain for the Peak of Christmas.

Running from the end of November until the first few days of January, Peak of Christmas features holiday movies, sleigh rides, Santa Claus and a great collection of gingerbread displays. There are also ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding and fine dining opportunities, plus one of the best views of Vancouver at night.

The Peak of Christmas usually runs from late November until the first weekend of January. In the 2019/2020 season it ran from November 22, 2019, until January 5, 2020. Dates for the 2020/21 season are to be confirmed.

Grouse Mountain Skating Rink
Ice Skating during Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain

Nothing symbolizes winter on the North Shore more than skiing (except possibly rain at lower levels). There are three fantastic mountains in the area, including Mount Seymour which offers great ski slopes (especially for young families) as well as tubing and snowshoeing (the last of which is free in the provincial park just off the top parking lot).

Mt. Seymour isn’t the most Christmassy place in the Lower Mainland, but it is festive and definitely wintry (at least in years when there’s snow)! A particularly celebratory time to be up at the hill is on December 31st in the evening during their Family First Night New Year’s festivities.

Festive events at Mt. Seymour in 2019 included Spot Santa on December 21 and 22 as well as Family First Night on December 31. 2020 event dates and details are to be confirmed.

Vancouver Christmas Concerts

The Dundarave Festival of Lights is a small and normally fairly quiet and simple community event in West Vancouver that features a forest of decorated Christmas trees throughout most of December. It’s a nice destination to combine with a walk along the seawall on a sunny day, especially on Saturday afternoons leading up to Christmas when there is live entertainment and concerts.

The festival runs for most of December with special events on the four Saturdays leading up to Christmas Day. 2020 dates are likely November 28 and December 5, 12 and 19, but exact details are to be confirmed.

Dundarave Festival of Lights
Wassail Night at Dundarave Festival of Lights

The best place to take children for holiday season activities in Surrey is Bear Creek Park at 13750-88th Avenue for the miniature train rides through the Christmas forest.

At the attraction kids get to visit with Santa Claus and do activities on the platform while waiting for the train ride.

The Santa Express usually runs from 10 am to 4 pm for the full month of December every day except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. During the same period, the Christmas Night Train typically runs from 6 pm until 10 pm Wednesdays to Sundays.

The Surrey Christmas Train ran from December 7 to 31 in 2019. 2020 dates and details are to be confirmed.

Santa, Mrs Claus and the Bear Creek Train
Christmas Train at Bear Creek Park

22. Polar Express

One of the most popular Christmas activities in the Lower Mainland is the Polar Express at the West Coast Railway Museum in Squamish from late November until just before Christmas. It’s so popular, in fact, that tickets for it sell out way in advance.

Just like in the movie, the Polar Express train ride includes hot chocolate and cookies, a visit by the hobo, chefs, entertainment, singing and a magical 40-minute train ride to the North Pole! Also just like in the movie, the event dress-code is pajamas of course, at least for the kids!

Click Polar Express Christmas for more information.

2019 dates were the weekends of November 23-24, November 30-December 1, December 7-8 and 14-15. 2020 dates and details are to be confirmed.

Polar Express Conductor with Golden Ticket
The Polar Express in Squamish

One of the best places in the world in winter if you love snow sports is Whistler. If you like to ski or snowboard, you need to go at least once in your lifetime, but preferably much more each season. New Year’s Eve will also be especially fun up at the resort, with concerts and fireworks in the evening of the 31st.

Expect to see Whistler village festively decorated all holiday season, and the slopes to be full of people with happy faces!

Whistler-Blackcomb

There are lots of Christmas markets and craft fairs happening in late November and early December, as well as winter markets that take place regularly on weekends at different places. These are great venues to see local handmade art, do Christmas shopping and meet talented local farmers and artisans.

Examples of exceptional holiday artisan markets in and around the Vancouver region in 2019 included the following:

  • Saint Thomas Aquinas Christmas Fair – an exceptional market that features over 120 artisan vendors in North Vancouver on November 3 in 2019.
  • Circle Craft Market – the “Cadillac” of Vancouver holiday artisan markets, this event features high-end art and artisan products. As many as 300 local vendors participate and over 40,000 Christmas shoppers attend. It takes place at the Vancouver Convention from November 7 until 11 in 2019.
  • Shipyards Christmas Markets – close to 50 or so artisan vendors in the Pipe Shop at North Vancouver’s Shipyards on November 30 and December 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15 in 2019.
  • Christmas at Hycroft – another one of our favourite holiday craft fairs, this one takes place at Vancouver’s Hycroft Manor (which is without a doubt the most beautiful venue for an artisan market in Canada). The event runs from November 14 until 17 in 2019.
  • The Olde Farmhouse – a massive market full of vintage goods, farmhouse-style furniture and antiques at the TRADEX Centre in Abbotsford on November 23 and 24 in 2019. So it’s not technically a “craft fair”, although many of the products you’ll see were either originally handmade by artisans or restored by them (or both)!
  • Kickoff to Christmas Makers Market – a giant market featuring close to 140 vendors at the Ag Rec Building in Abbotsford on the weekend of November 29 and 30 in 2019. Most of the products you’ll see here have been made by local craftspeople.
  • Vancouver Christmas Market – it’s not a “craft fair” like most of the region’s other Christmas markets. It is a market though, and one that features a wide range of artisan vendors selling everything from craft-distilled spirits to exotic hand-painted German Christmas ornaments. It took place in Jack Poole Plaza beside the Vancouver Convention Centre from November 20 until Christmas Eve in 2019. It’s also Vancouver’s longest running and most famous holiday market.
  • All About Christmas Gift Expo – a major winter holiday-themed market in Chilliwack on December 6 to 8 in 2019. The event features over 200 vendors selling a wide range of products.
  • Vancouver Holiday Bazaar – a large Christmas artisan market at the Roundhouse community Centre in Yaletown on December 13 to 15.

For a much more comprehensive list of similar events, see our article about Lower Mainland Christmas Craft Fairs.

For a list of markets that feature local farm produce and that continue running outside the Christmas season, click Vancouver Winter Markets.

Christmas Craft Fairs

25. Christmas Plays and Theatre

Christmas lights like those at Stanley Park capture the magic of the holiday season, but so too do Christmas plays and live theatre. December is a great time to see a holiday show in Vancouver.

Shows taking place in 2019 included Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley and It’s a Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle, both of which were Arts Club Theatre productions.

Click December Theatre for a sample of shows and more information.

Christmas Nutcracker Soldier Ornament

26. The Nutcracker Ballet

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas for many people without seeing the Nutcracker. If you like ballet, then check out one of Vancouver’s annual productions.

2019 performances with Goh Ballet were from December 20 to 22 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

27. Sweet Soul Gospel Concert

In addition to theatre and ballet, few things make the season feel like Christmas more than holiday choir concerts. One of the most fun, energetic and entertaining is by the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir.

In 2019 the concert was on December 21 at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church at 1490 Nanton Avenue (where it was last year too). In previous years it has been held at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church on Burrard at Nelson, but that venue has been undergoing major renovations.

The VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir’s Christmas concert is usually on the weekend just prior to Christmas Day from 7:30 until 9:00 pm. Tickets are only sold at the door which opens at 6:45 pm each year. Prices are around $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, $10 for youth (ages 10 to 15), and free for children ages 9 and under. This concert is highly recommended.

In 2019 the concert took place on Saturday, December 21 from 7:30 until 9:00 pm. 

The choir also performs at other venues throughout the holiday season including at Grouse Mountain’s Peak of Christmas most years, usually on the first four Sunday afternoons of December. Check out the VOC website for more details.

TIP: Get to the venue early, be prepared for a long lineup outside to get in, and try to sit near the front if possible (although you’re sure to have a foot-stomping good time no matter where you sit, so long as you get in).

VOC Gospel Choir
VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir at Grouse Mountain

If you’re looking for more Christmas choir entertainment opportunities, then check out Yule Duel: Caroling for a Cause – a friendly competition between choirs one evening in early December. In past years it has taken place in the streets of Gastown. In 2019 it had a new location – in the plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Yule Duel took place on the evening of Thursday, December 5 in 2019. 2020 details are to be confirmed.

Vancouver Christmas Tree Festival

There are lots of Christmas concerts throughout the Lower Mainland, including many by churches, school groups and local community choirs. In addition to the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir and Yule Duel performances mentioned above, other impressive Christmas concerts to look out for include performances by the following groups:

For a sample list of great concert opportunities over the holiday season check out Vancouver Christmas Concerts.

TIP: A fair number of concerts take place downtown, which makes them great activities to combine with quick visits to other attractions. The Christmas Lights of Hope displays at St. Paul’s Hospital at 1081 Burrard Street, for example, are both impressive and close to St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church. Also, just a few blocks in the other direction at 655 Burrard Street is Gingerbread Lane.

Kasian Architecture Gingerbread Display
Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt

Halfway between Canada Place and St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (where a number of Christmas concerts take place) is Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency. For most of December the hotel’s foyer becomes one of the best places on the West Coast to see amazing gingerbread creations. Because of its location, and the fact that it’s such a tiny event, this is a great activity to combine with other events while in the area.

Note: Vancouver’s other exceptional place to see Christmas gingerbread displays is at the top of Grouse Mountain.

Gingerbread Lane ran from November 30 until December 31 in 2019. 2020 details are to be confirmed.

Other Information

For more ideas on things to do over the Christmas holidays, check out the Vancouver December Calendar.

Other articles that might be of interest include the following:

 

 

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