Home Vancouver Events Calendar Festivals and Events in Vancouver Metro Vancouver New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swims Vancouver’s English Bay Polar Bear Swim

Vancouver’s English Bay Polar Bear Swim

English Bay on Polar Bear Swim Day

The Polar Bear Swim at English Bay Beach is the largest New Year’s Day swimming event in Metro Vancouver. In 2025 it takes place on Saturday, January 1st.

The event runs from 12:00 pm until 4:00 pm. It normally attracts 2,000 participants and tens of thousands of spectators.

To learn about the event at English Bay, continue reading. For information about similar events in different communities (including North Vancouver, White Rock, Port Moody, Delta and Squamish), see our article about Lower Mainland Polar Bear Swims.

 

Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver

The English Bay Polar Bear Swim is one of the longest-running events of its kind in the world. In 1920 it started with less than a dozen swimmers. Nowadays, the icy New Year’s day dip can attract over 2,500 willing participants. In 2020, an estimated 45,000 people attended and over 7,000 registered as swimmers. That set a new Vancouver record.

Unfortunately, the in-person event was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19. That year a virtual event took place instead. 2022 was the same. In 2023, the swim returned to English Bay Beach which is located not far from the corner of Denman Street and Davie at 1790 Beach Avenue. The 2024 event happened at the same location.

Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim is a free event. Both swimming participants and onlookers, however, are usually encouraged to bring a donation of cash or non-perishable food items benefiting the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

 

2023 White Rock Polar Bear Plunge

 

What Happens at the Polar Bear Swim?

On New Year’s Day, thousands of people usually gather at English Bay Beach in Vancouver’s West End in the early afternoon. Rain or shine, crowds of Vancouverites show up to either take part in or watch a crazy Canadian tradition. Everyone dresses warmly, many have cameras, some are in costume and about 2,000 or so arrive with swimsuits underneath their clothes.

Soon after 2:00 pm, Polar Bear Swim participants start to get ready. Winter clothing gets peeled off, skin starts to appear and people slowly make their way to the starting line. While holding on to participants’ towels and clothing, friends and family members jostle for viewing positions and get their cameras set. Costumes get their final touches.

At 2:30 pm, after a brief official welcome, a horn blasts and the English Bay Polar Bear Swim begins.

 

The Race to the Water

At the start of the swim there’s a 100-yard dash for those wanting a brisk swim. Swimmers wanting to enter the race meet at the front line on the Stanley Park-side of the racing enclosure most years. At the sound of the horn they run to the water and swim to a buoy marking the finish line. The first three people to touch the buoy usually win a prize. If you are one of them in the future, don’t forget to give the lifeguard in the boat nearby your name before you swim away.

After the 100-yard dash race, a second horn is sounded and the rest of the 2,000 or more bathers remaining on the beach run like crazy folks into the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean. They splash around, scream for a bit and even swim for anywhere between a couple of seconds and several minutes. After that they run back out screaming and reunite with their friends, towels and warm clothing as fast as they can. It’s a sight to be seen when it happens!

In addition to the swimming, there is typically live music, warming tents, food trucks and more. Activities on January 1st in 2025 will likely be similar.

 

Polar Bear Participants
Getting Ready for the 100-Yard Dash

 

How to Participate in the Polar Bear Swim

Participation in the Polar Bear Swim is free, but you have to register. If you don’t register, you can watch but can’t swim.

Some people register on the day of the event, but, because of the number of folks participating, registering online in advance is recommended.

Participants in the Polar Bear Swim are encouraged to dress up in costume and all registered swimmers have a chance to win prizes most years. The swim participants also get commemorative certificates after the event.

 

English Bay Polar Bear Video

Below is a video of the English Bay Polar Bear swim to give you an idea of what to expect. As you’ll see, it’s a big event, there are crowds of people and the water is cold!

This video was taken at the swim on January 1st in 2020. The band playing at the event (and in the background in parts of the video) is Side One.

 

 

Tips & Advice

Below is a list of suggestions to help you make the most of your next in-person English Bay Polar Bear Swim experience.

 

Things to Consider in Advance

TIP #1: Arrive well before 2:30 pm to find parking, register and get ready. If planning to swim, get to the beach by 1:30 pm at the very latest, but earlier is better.

TIP #2: Don’t forget your camera, costume, towel and warm clothing to dress into afterwards. If swimming, also make sure to bring a friend or family member who can hold onto your stuff while you’re in the water and take your photo.

TIP #3: Plan in advance where you’ll meet whoever is looking after your belongings. There’s nothing worse than coming out of ice-cold water and then having to search endlessly for your friends among thousands of people while you shiver in the cold.

TIP #4: Don’t forget to have your camera or cell phone well-charged as it would be terrible to risk life and limb and not have a picture afterwards to show for it.

TIP #5: If you’ve been feeling under the weather, have heart issues or aren’t in the best of health, don’t swim – just watch. It’s not worth the risk (or the torture).

TIP #6: Remember to bring your cash or non-perishable food item donation for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. It’s a great cause, so give generously!

 

Other Things to Keep in Mind

TIP #1: Don’t stay in the water for more than 15 minutes. Longer than that and you’ll risk getting hypothermia.

TIP #2: Share your photos on X and Instagram. Use the hashtag #VanPolarBearSwim for a chance to win prizes.

TIP #3: A limited number of Polar Bear Swim souvenir T-shirts, sweatshirts and other merchandise are available for sale online and at English Bay on the day of the event.

TIP #4: Combine your trip to the English Bay Polar Bear Swim with other activities in the area. There are a number of great restaurants close by, although for some you’ll need to book ahead of time. The seawall is also beautiful to walk along, although you’ll likely want to do that before your swim – not after – while you’re still warm and dry.

 

Other Information

For more information about the English Bay Polar Bear Swim, see the City of Vancouver website.

For ideas on other things to do in Metro Vancouver check out any of the following: