The Most Magical Vancouver Holiday Must-Dos: Festive Things to Do in Metro Vancouver for Christmas

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As many of you know, I’m a Christmas-obsessed gingerbread human who practically came out of the womb in a snowflake sweater.

It should therefore surprise no one that the whole glitzy Vancouver Christmas experience is one of my favourite things about my hometown.

Truly, Vancouver does NOT mess around at Christmas. Entering the downtown core is like getting punched in the face with Yuletide joy, and frankly, I’m not mad about it.

I’m talking decadent light displays, giant Christmas trees, elaborate gingerbread houses and a seemingly endless stream of activities that are both free (AKA more money for dumplings) and paid.

Needless to say, you’ll never have trouble finding something festive to do during the Vancouver Christmas season. Trust me, I’ve been at it for 20+ years.

So if you’re looking for inspiration on things to do in Vancouver during Christmas time, This list is for you!

In this post, I’m summarizing my favourite things to do in Vancouver at Christmas ft. the best FREE activities, alongside the most famous paid attractions and whether or not they’re worth your time and money. Enjoy these tips & let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any of your Vancouver Christmas faves.

Save this list of Holiday Activities in Vancouver for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

1. Gingerbread Lane (Free, Donations Encouraged)

Address: Hyatt Regency Vancouver, 655 Burrard Street

As an avid baker & gingerbread fangirl, Gingerbread Lane is always one of the highlights of my holiday season in Vancouver.

Imagine a collection of the most creative and spectacular gingerbread creations you’ve ever seen, all in a space that smells (of course) like spicy, gingerbread-y heaven. This festival is completely free to visit, with donations going to Make A Wish.

Here, you can gawk at entrants in various categories from Secondary School to amateur and professional, with creations like stunningly impressive gingerbread houses, castles and more. You’ll definitely be left with important questions like “how the heck high school students can create perfect fondant corgis?” (true story).

This Vancouver Christmas gem is located right next to Burrard station so is easily accessible by transit. Don’t miss it! 

2. Giant Baubles at Park Place (Free)

Address: Park Place, 666 Burrard Street

Located right across the street from Burrard Station (and seconds away from Gingerbread Lane), these giant red baubles are a festive little photo opp, and worth a quick stop when you’re downtown.

If you’re looking for undeniably “extra” photo props – these are it… just don’t be surprised if you’re sharing the space with countless other eager photoshooters.

Random fact: this installation is located steps away from Christian Grey’s office (or where they filmed it at least) in Fifty Shades of Grey.

3. BBCHF Festival of Trees (Free, Donations Encouraged)

Close by at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, you’ll find another long standing tradition that has taken place for over 30 years: the BC Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees, with over 20 trees to admire from local businesses and organizations… plus a special treat this year in the form of a gingerbread Hotel Vancouver!

4. Vancouver’s Tallest Christmas Tree (Free)

Over at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one of the city’s most popular Christmas trees awaits, standing at 76 feet tall making it the tallest Christmas tree in Western Canada.

5. Robson Square Skating (Free w/ Your Own Skates)

Address: Robson Square (below street level)

And while you’re already at Robson Square, you might as well head down a level below to visit the Robson Square skating rink – which is totally free if you bring your own skates, and only $5 for rentals!

Trust me when I say that this is THE quintessential Vancouver Christmas date night activity.

If you’ve ever been young and in love in Vancouver, you’ve probably adorably held hands while skating in loops at this iconic spot, so why not join the love-fest and skate away?

6. Lights of Hope at St Paul’s Hospital (Free)

Address: 1081 Burrard St

Over 100,000 light bulbs deck the glittering facade of St Paul’s Hospital during the holiday season, and yes it is SPECTACULAR! 

It takes over 6 weeks and 150 volunteers to create this beast every year, and hands down, this is one of my favourite Vancouver Christmas lights displays.

I especially love that it’s so centrally located in downtown Vancouver that you only have to walk a few extra minutes from the main shopping drag to see it. If you’re making it a goal to enjoy allll the amazing Vancouver Christmas lights on display, this is a must-see for your list.

NOTE: Down a block, there’s also some beautifully lit trees in front of the Sheraton Wall Centre.

7. Christmas at Canada Place (Free)

Address: 999 Canada Place

If you’re looking for something more atmospheric and romantic, be sure to soak in ALL the Christmas vibes at Canada Place by night.

It’s pretty easy to see why Canada Place is one of my favourite place areas in the city to enjoy a nighttime stroll: there’s the glittering reflection of the lights, the serene sound of gentle waves and just a wonderful, uniquely Vancouver vibe.

Well, the magic factor is cranked up to 9000 during the Christmas season when the iconic sails of Canada Place are lit up in Christmas colours, plus festive trees along the Canadian Trail, with unique window displays ranging from adorable to low key creepy.

8. Soar w/ Santa at FlyOver Canada

Address: 999 Canada Place (walk along where the sails are and follow the signs)

FlyOver Canada is an 4D interactive experience that takes you on a journey across Canada on a sort of motion simulator.

I’ve done this several times including during the Christmas season when they have a special Christmas theme and there’s some cheesy Santa Claus add-ons superimposed over the footage.

My honest opinion is that this attraction isn’t really worth the money. I’ve paid once full-price just to try it, and have gone a few more times with friends who could get in for free. 30 bucks is steep (that’s a meal!!) for a short ride, and I don’t think it’s a “must do” by any means.

That said, it might be fun if you have kids and you want to bring them on a ride of some sort. The footage is really stunning and especially for kids, the ride aspect of it is fun.

Plus, you get to see lots of Canada in one swoop! I personally wouldn’t go out of my way to do it though.

9. Vancouver Christmas Market

Address: Jack Poole Plaza 

If you spent any amount of time on my blog you’ll know that I am utterly obsessed with Christmas Markets. Now that I live in Germany, I basically eat, sleep and live at these markets, so honestly the prospect of going to a copycat German Christmas Market in Vancouver has not always been at the top of my mind.

The FOMO gets to me though and I always pop into the Vancouver Xmas Market when I’m in town for the holidays.

With an entry fee of over $20, this event has ifs fair share of haters, especially since your ticket doesn’t include much besides entry and free carousel rides, meaning you pay to get in and pay more on top of that for pricey food, drink, and gifts. Plus, there’s often huge line ups to get in and to buy popular food times.

But, prices and wait times aside, the market is undeniably atmospheric, with over 90 wooden chalets housing vendors selling gifts and treats in the idyllic Jack Poole Plaza. There’s also picturesque light displays and on site entertainment, along with some decent eats if you can overlook the eye-watering prices and wait times.

So, to make the most of your experience, avoid weekends, go earlier in the season and have your expectations in check. Read my full Vancouver Christmas Market review for more.

Joining downtown Vancouver’s festive lineup this year is a new event called Liven Up Coal Harbour, with fun light installations and performances along Vancouver’s waterfront, from Canada Place to Cardero Park. The installations are fairly spaced out, so don’t expect a wild wonderland of lights, but it’s still a nice area for a stroll, especially on weekends when there are special performances and activities.

A special highlight for me this year was an unexpectedly epic fire show!

11. Stanley Park Bright Nights (By Donation)

Continuing along the Seawall, you’ll reach Stanley Park, home to another one of Vancouver’s top festive events: Stanley Park Bright Nights.

With entry by donation, this festive display is organized every year in support of the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, with hundreds of firefighters from across the province contributing their time to putting up the over 3 million Christmas lights that make this one of Vancouver’s most dazzling events of the season.

A highlight here is the Bright Nights train, back this year after a long 4 year hiatus, with tickets selling out almost as quick as Taylor Swift tickets. Even without the train ride though, the experience is nice for families, with some very pretty light installations in the middle of Vancouver’s most famous park.

12. Fleurs de Villes Vancouver Noël Edition (Limited Time)

But there’s more than just these season wide events in downtown Vancouver. On any given week or or weekend you’re bound to find more temporary festive things to do as well. 

During their special Noel edition for instance, Fleurs de Ville Vancouver recruits the expertise of local florists to create over 30 pieces of floral art installations, displayed all around Downtown Vancouver. 

Highlights this year included floral renditions of Buddy the Elf, the Grinch, and beautiful wintery fashion statements, made all the more enchanting with fresh flowers.

13. Winter Terraces & Pop-Ups

There’s also festive pop ups to enjoy during the holidays at bars and restaurants all around town, including special winter terraces (I really enjoyed the one at Earls Yaletown!), holiday cocktail offerings and bookable events like Tinseltown, not to be confused with the infamous Vancouver mall of the same name. 

I booked this pop up thinking it would involve cute cocktails in a festively decorated setting. I was not expecting a fully immersive guided experience led by Ebenezer Scrooge, involving singalongs, trivia and even a dash of improv in creating our own Hallmark Christmas movie. It was fun, but definitely unexpected.

14. The Van Dusen Festival of Lights

Address: 5251 Oak St

With a over a million twinkly lights shining in its honour, the Van Dusen Festival of Lights is probably my favourite paid Christmas activity in Vancouver.

After all, it has been on for over 30 years, so they must be doing something right.

This event transforms the city’s most popular botanical garden into a true winter wonderland with over a million lights spread across 15 acres of pretty themed displays, and a handful of food vendors to enjoy on site.

The pretty displays over Livingstone Lake (with a musical show every 20 minutes) are a highlight, but of course, nothing quite beats grabbing a fireside mulled wine at the Shaughnessy Wine Patio.

It’s a way cheaper alternative to the Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge, and (in my opinion) much nicer.

15. Holiday Lights at Bloedel Conservatory

Address: 4600 Cambie St (Inside Queen Elizabeth Park)

Speaking of parks, Queen Elizabeth Park is one of my all-time favourite parks to visit in Vancouver.

One of its starring attractions is of course the Bloedel Conservatory, which houses countless floral species and is also a functional bird sanctuary.

During the holiday season, they deck the conservatory out with pretty lights and Christmas displays for “Holiday Lights”, a nice indoor Christmas activity to hide from the rain.

NOTE: Beware that this attraction is fairly small and you can easily go through the entire thing in less than 30 minutes.

16. PNE Winter Fair

A relatively new addition to the Vancouver holiday scene is the PNE Winter Fair, set on the same grounds as the famous summer fair, which has been a Vancouver family staple for decades.

Now, I’ll level with you: the winter edition is MUCH smaller than the summer fair, with access restricted to just a small portion of the grounds (and no rides either), but what you’ll find here is a fun collection of festive activities, from admiring pretty light displays and snacking on food vendors to free skating, ice bumper cars (for an extra fee) and hopping on their holiday train.

The entry fee might seem questionable for a pretty small event, but the main value (in my opinion) comes from the performances which are included in the ticket price. My main highlight for instance was an amazing rendition of the Nutcracker….. on ice, which would have been worth the entry ticket on its own! There was also a fun festive musical as well as some live music.

NOTE: A lot of negative reviews seem to complain about the parking situation, but I avoided this by Ubering in/out. Just an FYI in case that’s an option for you!

17. Shipyards Skating (Free w/ Your Own Skates)

Now, let’s move onto some fun festive events beyond Vancouver… we’re not going far though. Just across the water in North Vancouver, you’ll find festive fun at Shipyards where there’s a free skating rink (with rentals at an additional cost), as well as festive pop up events like a winter artisan and craft market.

This skating rink is actually MUCH larger than the one at Robson Square, and offers gorgeous views of the downtown skyline, so I’d definitely recommend taking the Seabus over and checking it out. I was lucky enough to witness a bride and groom do their first dance on skates here… with lightsabers! I love Canada.

18. Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain

Up on Grouse Mountain, they also have a special event called the Peak of Christmas that transforms the mountaintop into the North Pole, complete with Santa’s workshop, reindeer, a skating rink and a special light walk.

NOTE: Most of the mountain’s main attractions are not available at this time (e.g. the Lumberjack Show, the bears, etc.) so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this experience as fully worth it, given how expensive the gondola is up/down.

19. Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge

Address: Capilano Suspension Bridge, 3735 Capilano Rd

And of course, there’s Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which decks one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions in an array of twinkly lights, including the bridge itself and the park’s cliff walk and treetops adventure, plus festive installations all in the middle of a literal rainforest. 

This ticket doesn’t come cheap, but B.C. residents can turn their ticket into an annual pass for free, and it’s a pretty magical experience so long as you miss the often overbearing crowds. I’d recommend going on weekdays just before it gets dark, and bundling up dry/warm because it can get VERY cold there at night.

20. Cloverdale Christmas Tree Fest (Free)

Over in Surrey, the Surrey Museum is home to the Cloverdale Christmas Tree Fest, a fun festival of trees with over 20 uniquely decorated trees sponsored by local businesses. This event isn’t huge, but it’s a cute and wholesome stop if you’re looking for festive things to do with kids… plus there are other great exhibits at the museum to enjoy, like a huge LEGO one during my visit!

Upon entry, you can vote for your favourite Christmas trees too for a chance to win some prizes.

21. Potters Christmas Shop (Free to Enter)

Another festive highlight in Surrey is the amazing wonderland known as Potters.

I’m tempted to call it a garden centre but let me be clear: this is NOT your average garden centre. During the holiday season, it becomes a true festive wonderland, with themed sections offering a truly epic assortment of ornaments, decorations, lights & gifts.

Best of all? The prices here are surprisingly affordable, with great deals like a whole tube of baubles for only $3. Little surprise I ended up with an armful of purchases within minutes of arriving. 

22. Martini Town Merry & Bright

Out in Langley, there was also a new event I checked out this year ripped straight from a Hallmark Christmas movie. Because it literally was. 

Martini Town is a movie back lot in Aldergrove used for a wide range of productions, including a range of Hallmark Christmas movies anddddd Riverdale, which you’ll see from the diner used as Pop’s. For the holidays, they’ve decorated the entire place in gorgeous festive decor, and opened their doors to the public, making for some obscenely delightful photo opps.

Granted, there’s not a lot to do here besides roam around and take photos, so it may not be worth the long drive depending on where you live, but so long as you have your expectations in check, I think you’d have a good time! Plus, there are some nice food options on site, like pizza and BBQ. I grabbed a Margerita pizza and after walking around in the cold, it definitely hit the spot.

23. Lights at Lafarge (Free)

In Coquitlam, the highlight of the festive season is the free light display at Lafarge Lake, which illuminates a 1.2km lakeside trail with over 100,000 lights. This is the largest free display of its kind in Metro Vancouver, and while it doesn’t take long to make the full loop, it certainly is a magical place for a stroll.

Best of all, this one is transit friendly, with the Lafarge Skytrain station just steps away. 

24. Heritage Christmas at Burnaby Village Museum (Free)

Another amazing free holiday attraction can be found in Burnaby, at the Burnaby Village Museum’s Heritage Christmas event.

Offering 10 acres of festive, historic fun, there’s plenty of pretty lights here to admire, but also 38 exhibits that recreate an authentic 1920s community, from browsing shop recreations and watching craftsman demos to hopping on an old timey tram to taking a ride on the museum’s beautiful century old carousel.

If you’re a history nerd like me, this is definitely a free event you don’t want to miss.

BONUS: Drool over ALL the amazing Vancouver Christmas Lights

Vancouver Christmas lights are no joke. I feel like every single year the stakes get raised higher and higher, which is definitely not a bad thing when you’re hunting for delightful photo opps. 

That said, one of the best free activities to enjoy in Vancouver during Christmas time is admiring all the Christmas lights displays.

Downtown Vancouver Christmas lights are especially abundant, with all of Robson Street lit up and twinkly BUT if you have access to a car, roaming around to see house displays is equally delightful… and Vancouverites really go wild over this stuff.

Trust me: I grew up next to a house that literally GLOWS for a full-month straight with sing-songey musical decor…  My parents never stood a chance.

There are far too many houses to list but you can click here for a directory of amazingly decorated houses submitted by the owners themselves.

So, how does a Vancouver Christmas sound? 😉

I hope you enjoyed this lengthy roundup of free and paid Christmas things in Vancouver! Did I miss any of your favourites? Let me know in the comments!

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🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

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🏨 For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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