A lot happens in Metro Vancouver over the holiday season including markets, Christmas lights, winter sport activities, Santa and more.
2020 will be very different though because of COVID-19. Lots of events have been cancelled this year, but a number are still happening. Those that do still plan to run will look very different from previous years.
Because of COVID-19 and resulting government restrictions, most Lower Mainland Christmas events and attractions aren’t happening this year. PNE WinterLights and Glow Christmas still can, because they are drive-thru events. Most others, however, including ones that involve more than just free lights to look at, have been cancelled as of December 7, 2020.
Places that don’t have events, but do have light displays, include West Vancouver’s Dundarave, North Vancouver’s Shipyards, Maple Ridge and a few other places. With venues like these, people are encouraged to just visit ones close to where they live. Granville island also has impressive Christmas illuminations. It’s an exceptional place to do Christmas shopping. The light displays there can also be viewed from the comfort of your car as a free drive-thru-style activity for people who want.
Whatever you do this holiday season, stick close to home, don’t travel, wear a mask when needed, stay physically distanced, and don’t go out at all if you aren’t feeling well. Only go to events that are in a drive-thru style, and just check out Christmas lights in your part of town and with people from within your bubble (e.g., your immediate household). Have a merry Christmas everyone, but a safe and responsible one!
Top Winter Holiday Activities in Vancouver
One of the few Christmas events still allowed to happen in 2020 is the PNE WinterLights drive-thru event. There are also free Christmas lights to enjoy at places like Granville Island and other venues like Dundarave in West Vancouver and Memorial Peace Park in Maple Ridge. Glow Langley‘s Christmas drive-thru event is also still happening. Most other organized events, however, have been cancelled as per government orders related to the coronavirus pandemic and measures to try to control it.
Below we list Christmas events that are happening in 2020, attractions that we’re not yet sure about, and ones that have definitely been cancelled (like the Vancouver Christmas Market at Jack Pool Plaza, Lights at Lafarge in Coquitlam and the Holiday Hi-Light Festival in North Vancouver).
Click on any of the following links to jump to a specific attraction or activity, or continue reading for the entire list. And with whatever activities you end up doing, be sure to wear a mask, stay close to home, stick with just your immediate bubble of people, practice physical distancing and don’t go out if you’re not feeling well.
Christmas Attractions That ARE HAPPENING in 2020*
In addition to the above, although not events, there are still Christmas lights to admire at places like Granville Island, Dundarave in West Vancouver, St. Paul’s Hospital and a few other places. Also, although not running as “events”, there are still Christmas lights to admire at Capilano Suspension Bridge (up until 6 pm) and Grouse Mountain.
Note: Unless attending a drive-thru event, like at the PNE or the Glow event in Langley, admire the Christmas lights at places close to home!
Christmas Displays for People to Enjoy Close to Home in 2020
In addition to the above, the Christmas lights in places like Maple Ridge, West Vancouver and Granville Island are also pretty. Although their Christmas tree-lighting events got cancelled, the Christmas trees in places like Surrey City Hall, the Shipyards in North Vancouver, and outside the Vancouver Art Gallery are also nice to see for people who live in those neighbourhoods.
Christmas Attractions That Have Been CANCELLED for 2020
VanDusen Garden | Bright Nights | Gingerbread Lane | Canada Place | Vancouver Santa Parade | Christmas Market | Lights at Lafarge | Polar Express | Holiday Hi-Light Festival | Surrey’s Christmas Train | Festivale Tropicale | Canyon Lights | Peak of Christmas | FlyOver Canada | Burnaby Village | Robson Square | Yule Duel Christmas Concerts
Below is a list of two dozen or so top things to do during the holiday season most years (and not necessarily in any particular order, although most of the ones still running in 2020 are near the top). At the bottom of each entry we provide information about the event’s status during the 2020/21 Christmas season.
This year the Pacific National Exhibition is hosting a drive-thru-style event called PNE Winter Lights. At it people can drive around the PNE grounds in their cars while admiring the holiday illuminations and trying to find Santa Claus.
The fact that you can stay in your car throughout the event is awesome! It also promises to be wonderful to see! Don’t forget to take your camera!
PNE WinterLights happens on December 12 to 13, December 15 to 23, and December 26 to January 3. This event is still happening because it is a drive-thru-style event.
For tickets and full details see the PNE’s Official Website.
2. Holiday Lights at Granville Island
There is more to Granville Island than just shops, restaurants and theatre venues, especially during the Christmas season. Between the middle of November and the beginning of January the district is decorated with all kinds of beautiful holiday lights.
In 2020 the Christmas displays and illuminations run from November 12 until January 3. Admission to the area, as always, is free.
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 (or evening around dusk).
In years when there isn’t a pandemic on Saturday afternoons leading up to Christmas there is live entertainment and concerts (but not in 2020).
The festival runs for most of December in 2020. It only features the Forest of Miracles this year though. Because of COVID-19 there are no special events on the four Saturdays leading up to Christmas Day as there have been in previous years.
See our article about the Dundarave Festival of Lights for more information.
4. Christmas Glow
Christmas Glow used to be an indoor Christmas event in a garden centre’s giant greenhouse in Langley. Last year it had two new venues instead – one in Abbotsford and one in downtown Vancouver. In 2020 the event takes place outdoors in just one place. The original plan was for it to happen at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. That idea changed though. Now it’s taking place at Milner Gardens in Langley, which is the same place as the event’s very first year.
The event features a light maze, giant light tunnel, all sorts of Christmas displays, live music and a market. It used to be one of the region’s few indoor Christmas attractions, and so a great place on rainy days. In 2020, because of COVID-19, it’s an outdoor event (which makes a lot of sense given the current world situation). It’s also a drive-thru-style event this year where guests get to enjoy the experience from the comfort and safety of their cars.
For the 2020/21 Christmas season the event happens at Milner Gardens in Langley from December 8 until January 9. This event is still happening because it is a drive-thru event. It has NOT been cancelled.
For further details, click Christmas Glow in Langley.
5. 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 Christmas-y 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 (although not likely in 2020 due to COVID-19).
In 2020 the trees are on display from December 1 to December 24. Given that people are advised not to travel this Christmas season, however, people who don’t live in the Richmond region are encouraged to check out the trees and vote for their favourites online instead of in person.
Click Steveston Festival of Trees for more information.
FlyOver Canada is located at Canada Place. The multi-dimensional theatre flying experience is fun any time of the year, but only from late November until early January do guests get to accompany Santa on an exhilarating adventure across the country and to the North Pole.
This attraction is a top pick on days with both good and bad weather (because it’s indoors). The venue is also operating at a reduced capacity and with special safety precautions in place.
FlyOver Canada’s Christmas-themed show was scheduled to run from November 19, 2020, until January 3, 2021. The shows went for a while, but then got cancelled due to government health orders regarding the coronavirus. The status of the shows, consequently, are now to be determined. If they start back up again it won’t be until January 9th at the earliest.
Click FlyOver Canada at Christmas for more details.
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 $8 to $14 per person depending on your age, when you go and how you buy your tickets. Kids ages 3 and under are free.
In the 2020/21 season, the Festival of Lights was going to run from November 27 to January 3. Opening day got postponed due to government concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, however. The new first day of the season was going to be on Friday, December 11, or at least it was until it got CANCELLED completely when the government announced that no events can happen until January 9th at the earliest.
See our article about the Festival of Lights for more details.
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 usually by donation (but not in 2020), this is one attraction you’ll definitely want to visit, especially if you have kids.
In 2020 Bright Nights was going to be open every day from November 26 until January 1, except for Christmas Day. Opening day for the event got postponed, however, until December 8. On December 7, however, as per government orders, the event got completely CANCELLED.
Note: As of the beginning of December, all train tickets for the 2020 season had already SOLD OUT!
See our article about Bright Nights at Stanley Park to learn more.
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 UP 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 the Canyon Lights season the following year.
In the 2020/21 season, Canyon Lights was going to run from December 8, 2020, until January 3, 2021. On December 7, however, the government announced that no non-drive-thru-style events can go ahead this Christmas season. Canyon Lights, consequently, isn’t running as an “official event”. Capilano Bridge, the attraction, however, is still open (and the Christmas lights there are all still on display and available to see up until 6 pm each day).
See our article about Canyon Lights at Capilano Bridge for more details.
If you like snow, Christmas decorations and any kind of winter sport, then you need to visit Grouse Mountain for the Peak of Christmas.
Running from the end of November until the first few days of January, the Peak of Christmas features Christmas lights, ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding opportunities, plus one of the best views of Vancouver at night. In years when there isn’t a pandemic, the attraction also offers holiday movies, sleigh rides, concerts with choirs, visits with Santa Claus, fine dining opportunities and a great collection of gingerbread displays. (Note: Most if not all of the last mentioned extra activities are not happening in 2020 because of COVID-19, although exact details are to be confirmed and may vary.)
The Peak of Christmas usually runs from late November until the first weekend of January. In the 2020/2021 season it was going to take place from November 20 until January 3. Because of government orders that “events” not take place, the ski hill cancelled its Peak of Christmas “event” and related in-person activities like visits with Santa Claus. Christmas lights and things like the Light Walk and outdoor skating, however, are still available for people to enjoy.
See our article about the Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain for more details.
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 usually free this time of year and open until the first day or so of January. Best times to go include evenings on days when it’s open late and lit up with all its Christmas decorations.
Heritage Christmas was scheduled to run on select days from November 21, 2020, until January 1, 2021. Due to new government restrictions regarding COVID-19, however, as of November 20 the venue has ceased operations until further notice. As of December 7th, it looks like the event has been completely CANCELLED and so now not happening again until Christmas 2021.
Another great winter tradition is ice skating at Robson Square. Skating usually 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.
The free ice skating at Robson Square ran last year from December 1 until February 29 (weather permitting). Dates and details for the 2020/21 season are to be confirmed. Hopefully it can happen, but it’s not looking likely.
If you’re looking for Christmas choir entertainment opportunities, then check out Yule Duel: Caroling for a Cause. It’s 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. It did not happen in 2020 details. 2021 details are to be determined.
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 last year and back again in 2020, there is also a small outdoor ice skating rink at one end of the greenspace along the water.
Lights by the Lake was going to take place from November 21, 2020, until January 10, 2021. Because of new government restrictions, however, it looks like the event has been cancelled, although the Christmas lights are still available for LOCALS to enjoy (but not for people outside the region).
Click Lights by the Lake to learn more.
Halfway between Canada Place and St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (where a number of Christmas concerts usually take place) is Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency.
In years without global pandemics, 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. In a typical year there are between about two and three dozen gingerbread creations on display.
Gingerbread Lane ran from November 30 until December 31 in 2019. The event has been CANCELLED for the 2020 season.
To learn more see our article about Gingerbread Lane.
If you plan to be in downtown Vancouver between 8 am and 11 pm between late November and the end of December, then 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. In a typical year it includes an avenue of decorated Christmas trees and holiday displays to look at.
Last year Christmas at Canada Place ran from December 6 until January 1. The normal in-person light displays have been CANCELLED for 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the sails will likely still be lit up red and green.
Click Christmas at Canada Place to learn more about the event in normal years.
17. Vancouver Santa Claus Parade
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 noon. Attracting as many as 300,000 people in good years, this annual event normally 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: In years when the parade does take place, 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. The 2020 Santa Claus Parade in Vancouver has been CANCELLED due to COVID-19.
To learn more about the event in a typical year click Vancouver Santa Claus Parade.
Another great downtown holiday venue most years is the Vancouver Christmas Market which takes place at 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 Christmas-y 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. It has been CANCELLED for 2020. Hopefully it will be back again in 2021.
To learn more about the annual event see our article about the Vancouver Christmas Market.
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 usually 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.
In 2019 the illuminations started up on November 30 and continued until January 19 in 2020. Unfortunately, the 2020/21 event has been cancelled.
For more information, click Coquitlam’s Lights at Lafarge.
20. 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 of the same name, 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!
2019 dates were the weekends of November 23-24, November 30-December 1, December 7-8 and 14-15. In 2020 the Polar Express ride is cancelled due to COVID-19.
Click Polar Express Christmas for more information.
In years when there isn’t COVID-19, 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 on Friday evenings leading up to Christmas when they have special family activities.
The Holiday Hi-Light Festival ran from November 29 until December 31, 2019. The festival has been cancelled for the 2020 season.
See our article about the Holiday Hi-Light Festival to learn more.
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.
In a typical year 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. The event was cancelled though for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To learn more click Surrey Miniature Train Rides.
The attraction is a family-friendly event that features indoor Christmas illuminations among the plants in the glass-domed conservatory.
Last year the event ran from December 7, 2019, until January 5, 2020 (so for one week longer than the year before). The 2020/21 event has been cancelled due to COVID-19.
Click Christmas at the Bloedel Conservatory to learn more about this event.
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:
- Vancouver’s December Calendar
- Free December Events in Vancouver
- What’s Happening This Weekend
- Vancouver Festivals & Events
- Vancouver Shows & Entertainment
- Lower Mainland Christmas Craft Fairs
- Vancouver Events for Children
- Vancouver Rainy Day Activities