There are many places in Metro Vancouver to see sparkling Christmas lights, admire seasonal decorations and enjoy the festive winter holiday season.
In typical years there are gardens with amazing illumination displays, gingerbread house competitions, Christmas musical performances, holiday markets to explore, popular attractions all lit up and a whole lot more.
Because of COVID-19, however, things were different last year and will be again in 2021.
ATTRACTIONS IMPACTED BY COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
No public events could take place between November 19th, 2020, and January 8th, 2021. The one new exception was events that were of a drive-thru nature where guests didn’t get out of their cars and where they attended only with people from within their own households.
As a result, events like Glow Christmas in Langley and PNE WinterLights in Vancouver still took place last year. Locals were also able to explore Granville Island on foot and enjoy the illuminations there.
In 2021 we expect most events will be possible. The PNE will likely be running some kind of event, FlyOver Canada plans to have its Soar with Santa film, and Canyon Lights at Capilano Bridge is happening. Exact details about some of these and other events, however, are to be confirmed.
Top Holiday Season Activities
Below are some of the top places in Metro Vancouver to see Christmas lights, holiday decorations and get into the festive spirit (in our opinion).
(Note: Since a “best place” for one person is different from a “best place” for someone else, our list is not in order or any form of ranking. In addition to the top places, we also list a few extras at the bottom.)
1. PNE WinterLights
The Pacific National Exhibition hosted an all-new drive-thru-style event in 2020 where visitors got to drive around the venue and see Christmas lights, magical lands and live entertainment from their cars. PNE WinterLights also featured food trucks for people wanting a tasty holiday snack.
This attraction was one of our top picks for a number of reasons. At between $39 and $49 for a carload of people, it was both affordable and safe with respect to COVID-19. It was also designed for families and promises to be both beautiful and fun!
To learn more see our article about PNE WinterLights.
PNE WinterLights ran on select dates between December 12th, 2020, and January 3rd, 2021.
In 2021 we expect the PNE to run some kind of Christmas-themed event. What it is, however, is to be confirmed.
2. Christmas at FlyOver Canada
FlyOver Canada is an exceptional multi-dimensional movie theatre attraction at Canada Place where you get to “fly over” Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and then up to the Arctic. The attraction adopts a wonderful winter holiday theme during the Christmas season.
In the Christmas version of the experience, guests are entertained by elves and get to follow Santa on his travels across the country.
This attraction is exceptional for a number of reasons. One is because the experience is both unique and really cool. It’s also entertaining and educational at the same time. The film is an indoor event, which makes it good regardless of the weather. In 2020 the venue was operating at a reduced capacity though, to help keep everyone safe. Also, face masks were mandatory and enhanced cleaning practices were in place.
Click FlyOver Canada at Christmas for details.
This year the Christmas-themed film runs from December 6th, 2021, until January 3rd, 2022.
3. Canyon Lights at Capilano
Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver is amazing. Their Christmas lights win top prize for being tastefully displayed, and the bridges and unique walkways make this a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience.
Click Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge for more information.
Last year the attraction was expected to operate from December 8th until January 3rd. As per government orders on December 7th, that non-drive-thru-style events not take place, this event didn’t happen.
Capilano Bridge, the tourist attraction, remains open during the day. The formal event involving Christmas lights all evening, however, won’t be seen again until the winter of 2021/22.
In 2021 the event is happening. This year’s season for Canyon Lights runs from November 20th, 2021, until January 23rd, 2022.
See our article about Canyon Lights for more information.
4. Christmas Glow in Langley
Christmas Glow is an attraction with hundreds of thousands of lights and numerous family-friendly things to see and do. There are Christmas light displays, activities for children and live music.
In its first and second years the attraction took place indoors in a giant greenhouse in Langley. In 2019 it had two indoor venues – one in Abbotsford and the other in downtown Vancouver. The Abbotsford event was at the Tradex Centre while the Vancouver venue was at the Harbour Convention Centre by False Creek.
In 2020 Glow Christmas returned to Langley. Instead of being an indoor event in a giant greenhouse, however, it changed to a drive-thru event once again at a greenhouse in Langley, although it happened outdoors instead of indoors.
To learn more click Christmas Glow Langley.
Last year the event ran from December 8th, 2020, until January 30th, 2021. Because it was a drive-thru event, it was not affected by the BC Government’s order that all other types of public events not take place in 2020.
Dates and other details for the event in 2021 are to be confirmed. It is happening again, and in a drive-thru format. Where and when, however, haven’t yet been announced (as of the early fall of 2021).
5. Forest of Miracles
The Dundarave Festival of Lights is an event that takes place at the waterfront in West Vancouver. It normally involves live entertainment and family-friendly activities on the four Saturdays leading up to Christmas. It also features decorated Christmas trees throughout December in the form of the Forest of Miracles.
In 2020, because of COVID-19, none of the live events happened. Dozens of Christmas trees were on display though and lit up at night.
West Vancouver’s waterfront at Dundarave is a beautiful spot. The seawall there, in fact, is one of our favourite places to walk on Vancouver’s North Shore. The area is beautiful any time of the year. In the late afternoon and evening in December, it’s especially pretty with all the Christmas lights.
To learn more see our article about the Dundarave Festival of Lights.
Last year the trees in the Forest of Miracles were decorated and lit up at night for the month of December. Admission was free.
6. Lights by the Lake (for people who live in the Harrison area)
Christmas Lights by the Lake is an annual event at Harrison Hot Springs in the Fraser Valley. From late November until around the middle of January the waterfront in the resort town gets lit up with holiday lights and illuminations. Most years there is also a small ice rink for people to skate on.
To learn more see our article about Lights by the Lake.
The light displays were supposed to be set up between November 21st and January 10th for the 2020-21 season. Unfortunately, the Christmas lights attraction didn’t take place due to COVID-19.
Other Christmas Places to Check Out (in Future Years)
The above was our top recommended places to check out last Christmas. There are other great Christmas-themed venues though. Below we list some of our favourites that were cancelled in 2020, because of COVID-19, as well as a few others that may or may not be happening this year.
Lights at Lafarge in Coquitlam (CANCELLED last year)
The decorations are beautiful, the walk around the lake is most pleasant, the scenery is wonderful and the attraction is completely free! The venue is also conveniently located near the Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain Station. If you live in the area or have never been, we highly recommend it.
For more information, click Lights at Lafarge.
The attraction started up on November 30th, 2019, and it ran until January 19th, 2020. Due to COVID-19, it didn’t happen in 2020.
Vancouver Christmas Market (CANCELLED last year)
The Vancouver Christmas Market is Vancouver’s original German-themed outdoor holiday market. It’s home to dozens of artisan vendors and food stalls selling a wide range of festive products. Located at Jack Poole Plaza beside the Convention Centre, it also features a carousel ride and live entertainment.
The market is interesting and of high quality, there’s a nice festive atmosphere to it, and the event is about as authentic a German Christmas market as you can get in a place like Vancouver.
If you are looking for an outdoor market with interesting knick-knacks to see while enjoying mulled wine or cider with friends, then this can be a great place to be.
Click Vancouver Christmas Market for more information.
The market was open daily between November 20th and December 24th in 2019. It didn’t take place in 2020 because of the pandemic. We expect it to happen, however, in 2021.
Aurora Winter Festival (CANCELLED last year)
One of Vancouver’s newest Christmas attractions is the Aurora Winter Festival which celebrated its inaugural year in 2018 at Concord Pacific Place. In 2019 it took place at the PNE.
The Aurora Winter Festival is a massive event with a wide variety of things to see and do. In years when it does run it has a Christmas-themed vendor market, an outdoor skating rink, tubing slides, light displays and live entertainment. It also of course offers photo opportunities with Santa, plus amazing background settings for taking selfies!
Click Aurora Winter Festival for further details about the attraction.
This event was open between November 22nd and December 31st in 2019 but didn’t happen last year due to COVID-19.
Holiday Hi-Light Festival (CANCELLED last year)
If you plan to be in North Vancouver and want to see some good free Christmas lights, then check out the displays at Park and Tilford mall. Admission is by donation.
The Holiday Hi-Light Festival illuminations aren’t as impressive as the lights at Stanley Park, or at more expensive places like VanDusen Garden or Capilano Suspension Bridge. Considering that they’re free though, they are actually quite impressive and well worth checking out, especially during Family Nights which take place on Friday evenings in December. Admission is by donation with all funds raised going to the City and District of North Vancouver Fire Fighter Societies.
Click Park and Tilford Holiday Hi-Light Festival for more information.
This attraction was open nightly from November 29th to December 31st in 2019. It didn’t take place last year because of the pandemic.
Peak of Christmas at Grouse (CANCELLED last year)
Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver offers some of the best Christmas-time activities in the Lower Mainland.
At the Peak of Christmas in typical years, there are holiday movies in the theatre, sleigh rides, Santa to visit and gingerbread houses all on display and included with admission. There are also ice skating opportunities, trails for snowshoeing, fine dining and of course the great ski slopes with their amazing views of Vancouver below.
At a cost of about $100 or more for a family, the Peak of Christmas isn’t cheap. Admission is included with a ski ticket though, which makes all the attractions at the resort suddenly become a pretty good deal (especially for people with season’s ski passes).
Details about the 2021 event are still unknown as of mid-June but will likely be similar. Click Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain for more information.
Dates for the Peak of Christmas last year were going to be from November 20th, 2020, until January 3rd, 2021 but didn’t take place due to COVID-19.
Bright Nights at Stanley Park (CANCELLED last year)
Vancouver’s Stanley Park hosts one of the most amazing presentations of child-friendly Christmas lights and festive-themed displays in the Lower Mainland, with over three million sparkling lights viewed by gazillions of people each year (or at least in years without COVID-19).
Admission to Bright Nights is usually by donation, with funds going to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. In 2020, because of the coronavirus, people had to pay to get in. The charity, however, still got a portion of the proceeds.
In 2020, because of the pandemic and the need to limit the number of people in the area, the free Christmas light displays didn’t happen. The miniature train rides ran though, and the bulk of the decorations and illuminations were concentrated in that area.
Click Bright Nights at Stanley Park for more information.
Bright Nights was going to be open from December 8th, 2020, until January 1st, 2021 but didn’t take place due to the pandemic.
Heritage Christmas in Burnaby (CANCELLED last year)
Burnaby Village’s Heritage Christmas is one of the best holiday festive deals in Metro Vancouver – not only is it a great place to get into the Christmas mood, but it’s also free! It doesn’t have the best or largest displays of Christmas lights and decorations, but for the price they charge it’s still impressive, plus you get interesting pieces of history thrown in to boot!
Click Heritage Christmas at Burnaby Village for more information.
Heritage Christmas was going to take place on select dates from December 8th, 2020, until January 1st, 2021. It didn’t happen because of the pandemic.
VanDusen Festival of Lights (CANCELLED last year)
Interested in seeing amazing light displays in Vancouver’s finest botanical garden? This is a must-see attraction!
At the event there are hundreds of thousands of sparkling Christmas lights and other fun stuff! It’s one of our favourite places for getting into a festive Christmas spirit! The attraction also usually offers carousel rides and visits with Santa.
Click VanDusen Festival of Lights for more information.
Last year the Festival of Lights was going to run from December 11th to January 3rd in 2020. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen due to COVID-19.
Whether the Festival of Lights happens or not in 2021 is to be determined. Hopefully it will!
Christmas Lights at Granville Island
The Christmas and Holiday Lights are free to see at Granville Island. It’s not so much an event as Vancouver’s world-famous shopping and entertainment district getting decked out for the holidays and looking extra festive. The place is beautiful, and admission is free!
If you go to Granville Island for shopping (where you’ll find amazing unique and wonderful things), be sure to wander around and admire the lights. They are on from dusk until late.
For more details see our article about Granville Island at Christmas.
Christmas and Holiday Lights ran from November 12th until the first Sunday in January 2021. As this wasn’t an “event” so much as a collection of pretty lights, it still happened last year and will likely take place during 2021’s holiday season too.
The lights at Granville Island was one of the best Christmas attractions last year, because it was allowed to happen. In typical years it’s really nice, but not one of the top 10.
Christmas Craft Fairs
November and December are the months for Christmas crafts fairs, and there are usually lots of them in Metro Vancouver. For a list of craft fairs click Lower Mainland Christmas Craft Fairs.
The Christmas season is usually a great time of year for music and the performing arts. In years when there isn’t a pandemic, there are choirs and orchestras performing throughout the Lower Mainland.
Some of our favourite music any time of the year is offered by the following groups:
- Vancouver Bach Choir
- Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
- Vancouver Chamber Choir
- Chor Leoni Men’s Choir (an exceptional group made up of largely professional singers).
- Vancouver Oratorio Choir (a 90 or so member choir of Christian vocalists and musicians).
- Vancouver Welsh Men’s Choir (an excellent male voice choir).
- VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir (they do great performances throughout the year, including an especially festive one for Christmas each December).
Click Christmas Concerts for a sample list of performances and dates in the Lower Mainland.
Christmas at Canada Place (CANCELLED last year)
If you plan to be in downtown Vancouver between mid-December and the end of the month, then check out The Canadian Trail along Canada Place‘s West Promenade. It’s just a few blocks from Waterfront Station, next door to the new Vancouver Convention Centre building, and only a few blocks from Gastown and the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre.
Click Christmas at Canada Place for more details.
Christmas at Canada Place took place in 2019 from December 6th until January 1st. Because of COVID-19 and the state of the world, however, the in-person displays and activities didn’t happen in 2020.
Hyatt Gingerbread Lane (CANCELLED last year)
For one of the best displays of gingerbread houses in Vancouver, check out Gingerbread Lane downtown at the Hyatt Regency on Burrard Street near Georgia. The hotel’s foyer becomes home to dozens of beautiful and delicious-looking gingerbread creations. It’s not necessarily a destination of its own, but if you are in the area it’s worth a visit.
For more information, click Gingerbread Lane at the Hyatt Regency.
The gingerbread houses were on display from November 30th until December 31st in 2019. This event didn’t take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Christmas Activities
Other popular Christmas-y things to do in Vancouver include the following:
- Christmas plays and theatre throughout town – see Vancouver’s Shows and Entertainment Calendar for details.
- Robson Square Ice Skating – free ice skating from the beginning of December until February from 9 am to 9 pm daily, and until 11 pm on Fridays and Saturday nights. (Cancelled in 2020.)
- Christmas at the Cannery – the historic site at Steveston Village in Richmond is decorated with Christmas trees from area businesses all month, making December a good time to visit the Gulf of Georgia Cannery.
- Festivale Tropicale at Bloedel – a popular indoor attraction at the Bloedel Conservatory at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park. The glass-domed building gets decorated with Christmas lights and decorations. It was open in 2019 between 10 am and 9 pm every day between December 7th and January 5th (except for Christmas Day). (The event didn’t happen in 2020 due to COVID-19.)
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver’s December Calendar
- Vancouver’s November and January Calendars
- Best Christmas Activities
- Lower Mainland Christmas Craft Fairs
- Vancouver Theatre in December
- Vancouver Christmas Concerts
- Lower Mainland Santa Claus Parades
- Vancouver Winter Activities
- Lower Mainland Ski Hills
- Vancouver Rainy Day Activities