Vancouver’s most amazing and affordable Christmas lights are the Bright Nights displays at Stanley Park which feature millions of sparkling festive lights.
See below for in-depth details about the Bright Nights Christmas attraction including its features, history and how it developed.
Stanley Park Christmas Lights
Arguably the best place to take children in December to see holiday decorations and illuminations in the Lower Mainland, Bright Nights is an annual event running from the end of November until the beginning of January each year.
Open most days during the holiday season from around 3 until 10 pm, Bright Nights probably features the most lights of any attraction in Metro Vancouver, as well as wonderful Christmas character displays and festive cheer.
This article includes information on all of the following topics. Click on any one of the link titles to jump to a specific subject, or continue reading to learn all about this wonderful Vancouver Christmas attraction.
Admission to Bright Nights
Bright Nights is usually open every day from the end of November until the first weekend in January, except for Christmas Day on December 25th.
Admission to Bright Nights is by donation, with all proceeds going toward the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. It’s a great cause, so give generously! The suggested donation amount is $5 per person, but feel free to give more! It’s well worth it!
Bright Nights Location
Bright Nights takes place in Stanley Park just off Pipeline Road in the middle of the park. If using GPS to get there, type in 690 Pipeline Road and it’ll get you close enough to see signs directing you where to go. Or, park for free at a variety of parking lots mentioned below.
Bright Nights Miniature Train
The miniature train at Stanley Park during Bright Nights is incredibly popular and takes about 12 minutes. If planning to go on the train, buy your tickets in advance and still expect to stand in line, but not for unreasonably long.
During the Bright Nights season there are matinee trains during the day, which are cheaper but don’t include live actors. There are also evening train rides when it’s dark, the lights are spectacular and there’s a live performer. The night time trips cost more, but are guaranteed to put you in a festive mood (unless you’re the Grinch) and are highly recommended.
See Stanley Park Train for information on the train rides at other times of the year.
Stanley Park Train Hours
Tickets for the Stanley Park miniature train during the Christmas season are sold in half-hour time slots, with several trains departing during each 30-minute period. The hours of operation for the Bright Nights train rides in 2017 were as follows:
November 30 – December 14, 2017
- Friday to Sunday: 10:00 am – 2:30 pm matinees
- Monday to Thursday: 3:00 – 10:00 pm night trains
- Friday to Sunday: 3:00 – 11:00 pm night trains
December 15-24 and 26, 2017
- Daily: 10:00 – 2:30 pm matinees
- Nightly: 3:00 – 11:00 pm night trains
December 27 – January 1, 2018
- Daily: 10:00 – 2:30 pm matinees
- Nightly: 3:00 – 10:00 pm night trains
January 1-6, 2018
- Daily: 4:00 – 9:00 pm night trains (with trains only – no live actors)
Bright Nights Miniature Train Cost
Matinee trains cost about $6 (plus GST) per person and night train tickets cost $12 for adults and $9 for both seniors and youth. Children ages 3 to 12 cost $8 and little folk ages 2 and under are free.
Note: During the matinee train trips as well as the evening rides after New Year’s Day, there are no live actors. In the evenings at other times, however, live actors complement all the amazing lights and make the experience extra special.
Other Bright Nights Activities
In addition to the miniature train and millions of holiday lights, there is Santa’s Workshop which is indoors and includes Christmas displays and photo opportunities with Santa Claus (which cost about $10).
At Bright Nights there is also a small craft hut with a Christmas film running on a small screen and tables with crayons and coloring papers for young children.
Parking at Bright Nights in Stanley Park
Stanley Park has pay parking throughout the year, but during Bright Nights all parking in the immediate area and specific overflow lots is free, subject to some restrictions. This usually includes parking at the Stanley Park Info Booth, at lots along North Pipeline Road and at the Beaver Lake parking lot.
Note: Parking lots at the Vancouver Aquarium and in other areas still require payment. Also, immediate onsite parking is free during the operating hours of the Stanley Park Train and in the above-mentioned overflow lots daily after 3 pm.
About Bright Nights
Vancouver’s Bright Nights has been running at Stanley Park since 1997 and is today one of Western Canada’s largest and most famous Christmas attractions.
Admission to Bright Nights is by donation with proceeds benefiting the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund which is a registered charity that does all kinds of valuable work to support victims of fires and educate the public to help keep people safe. It also sends child burn victims to summer camp, and provides support and accommodations to families of burn victims in hospital.
The History of Bright Nights
Bright Nights is a tremendously popular and valuable attraction with an interesting story involving creative ideas, Christmas and community passion, and tons of hard work.
Bright Nights Early History
Years ago each December, a couple in Surrey – Bob and Marg Wingfield – turned the outside of their home into a Winter Wonderland and collected donations from appreciative viewers for the Burn Unit at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).
The Wingfields owned a retail store that sold knick-knack-sorts-of-things and over the years they had collected an impressive array of Christmas decorations from tradeshows and various suppliers.
After decorating their home and collecting donations for many years, and raising over half a million dollars for the Burn Unit at VGH, the Wingfields decided to retire from their holiday-decorating hobby.
The Wingfields then approached North Vancouver firefighter Peter Hansen to see if the BC Professional Firefighters Burn Fund (a different but related charity from the one they were donating to) would be interested in taking over the decorations and their Christmas fundraising tradition.
Bright Nights and The Burn Fund
Peter Hansen was a member of the BC Professional Firefighters Burn Fund, as was Jeff Dighton from the City of Vancouver Fire Department. Together the two men took the lead in convincing the Burn Fund’s Board to take on the Wingfield’s offer, and the challenging task of finding a location to set up each year.
At the time, in the late 1990s, Stanley Park already had its annual Christmas Miniature Train. The venue around the railway was lit up and decorated in December each year, but the area just outside in the park was dark, wide-open and empty.
The location was the perfect spot! The Vancouver Parks Board just had to be convinced to let it happen. Negotiations began and after considerable hard work and convincing the Parks Board finally agreed to allow the project.
The BC Professional Firefighters Burn Fund purchased the lights, decorations, an antique sleigh and a variety of mechanized characters from the Wingfields. Bob Wingfield then helped a group of firefighter volunteers set up the displays (in both the first and second years of the event) and in 1997 Stanley Park celebrated its first of many Bright Nights events.
Bright Nights Today and Over the Years
The legacy of Bob and Marg Wingfield’s Winter Wonderland, and the hard work of Peter Hansen, Jeff Dighton and numerous other firefighter volunteers, continues today.
What began with about half a million lights and miscellaneous decorations in 1997 is today one of the largest, most affordable and most impressive displays of Christmas lights anywhere on the planet.
In 1997 Bright Nights raised enough cash donations to cover its initial costs, and today it features an estimated 3 million lights and generates around $400,000 annually for the Burn Fund.
Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and corporate support, the event has extremely low operating expenses and thus a huge charitable impact!
Community Support and Volunteers
Over the years Bright Nights has received tremendous support from the community. The Vancouver Parks Board generously supplies all the electricity, and paid for the initial power infrastructure which in 1997 didn’t exist. Also, around the year 2000, the Parks Board covered the cost of paving the pathways through that part of the park which exist today and greatly benefit the attraction.
Over the past 20 or so years, lights and decorations have been added to the collection at Bright Nights, with additions being financed through donations of cash and products. BC Hydro, for example, has donated significantly towards the purchase and transition to energy-efficient LED lighting.
Every day in November leading up to opening night at the end of the month, between around 10 and 30 Lower Mainland fire fighters donate their time to set up the displays. It takes hundreds of people and thousands of volunteer hours, as well as extensive ladder-climbing time on area fire trucks. White Spot restaurant generously feeds all the volunteers during this time, which is greatly appreciated.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit Bright Nights annually. Also, hundreds of British Columbians suffer severe burn injuries and require support and treatment each year. Donations collected by fire fighter volunteers at Bright Nights over the winter holiday season is used to support victims of burn accidents.
Bright Nights is a fabulous Christmas tradition and for an amazing cause! Well done and thank you to all the founders, organizers and amazing volunteers!
Tips and Advice
The following is a list of tips and suggestions to help you make the most out of your experience at Stanley Park’s Bright Nights:
TIP #1: If you’re paying for the night train, don’t go at the very start, before it gets dark, as the lights are what make it so special.
TIP #2: To avoid the biggest crowds, go on a weekday before the second half of December. It’s busiest on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as weekdays close to Christmas Day.
TIP #3: Tickets are valid for one Bright Nights ride during the specific time slot as shown on the ticket. This is good, as it means less waiting in line than you might otherwise have to do. However, the tickets are non-refundable, so don’t miss your scheduled time! Get to the park early, relax and enjoy the millions of lights until the start of your scheduled time period.
TIP #4: Stanley Park’s Bright Nights is Vancouver’s best place for Christmas lights for children. Expect there to be lots of other people checking out the displays though – so maybe leave the kids’ stroller in your car on the busiest nights. The site is wheelchair accessible, however, as is the miniature train.
TIP #5: Be generous with your donations to the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund. The Christmas displays at Stanley Park are some of the best in the Lower Mainland, with comparable attractions charging between $10 and over $40 per person. Also, thousands of volunteer hours go into the event, and it’s for a most worthwhile cause. Hopefully you, your family and friends will never need help and support from the Burn Fund. If you ever do though, you’ll be truly grateful to the people who put this great event on!
TIP #6: If it has been raining a lot, as it often does in Vancouver in winter, wear boots or other waterproof footwear. The pathways are paved, but there can be puddles.
For more information on the Bright Nights’ miniature train rides and hours, see the City of Vancouver’s Stanley Park webpage.
For information about the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund, check out the Burn Fund‘s website.
For more ideas on places to see Christmas lights in the Lower Mainland, check out any of the following:
- Top Things to do at Christmas
- Vancouver’s Best Christmas Activities
- Vancouver’s December Events Calendar