After my recent fanatical binge of Christmas markets in Germany, I returned home to Vancouver this month with every intention of snobbily skipping the Vancouver Christmas Market.
After so much rolling around “the real deal”, I had a hunch that no Canadian copycat could compare.
I instead decided to prioritize important holiday things like solo Ferrero Rocher dates and repeat viewings of the Princess Switch. [Both definitely NOT cries for help]
But, cursed as I am with a millennial mindset, I got FOMO quicker than you can say ‘avocado toast’ or ‘can’t afford to buy property’.
After all, the Vancouver Christmas Market is one of the most festive traditions in Vancouver during Christmas time. Even after nine years, many still consider the Christmas Market in Jack Poole Plaza a must-do Christmas activity (as never-ending lines will confirm).
… And of course, who am I to reject an excuse to gorge on mulled wine, and potatoes in various shapes?
So I Visited the Vancouver Christmas Market…
Grinchy skepticism in tow, I made my visit on a chilly Wednesday afternoon.
Having visited the market years ago in its original location by Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I didn’t have super high hopes for the Vancouver Christmas Market this year. All I remember is bouncing from line-up to line-up, drowning in a claustrophobic mob of humans hangry for sausage.
I was pleasantly surprised though to find that the new Jack Poole Plaza location is a million times better and more enjoyable than its sad predecessor. If you’re put off by outdated reviews, know that the location was changed in 2016 and the market was made bigger and better from that season onwards.
Today, the Vancouver Christmas Market has over 80 huts selling all kinds of goodies, from traditional German eats like potato pancakes, bratwurst and pork hocks to stalls crammed with beer steins, ugly Xmas sweaters, handmade soaps and even lavender products from Provence.
There’s even a big tent from Käthe Wohlfahrt, one of the most well-known Xmas brands in Germany, and a “Wunderbar” where you can get a fix of cocktails in a cozy tent… not to mention plenty of made-for-Instagram moments, including a hollow Christmas tree you can walk in, a twinkly “Lover’s Lane” and a few other designated photo opps like a lit up frame.
So, how good is Vancouver’s Christmas Market? Is it authentic and worth the (admittedly) steep price tag?
My answer is an irritating “yes, but….”
And welcome to that but!!! Below you’ll find my full review and guide to the Vancouver Christmas Market to help you make the most of your visit. While the market is on its final days for the year, hopefully this gives you a glimpse into what it might be like next year, or so you can plan accordingly!
Vancouver Christmas Market: Basic Info
Before we dive into my ranty, long-worded review, here are the basic pieces of information you need to know to coordinate your own Vancouver Xmas Market visit.
Vancouver Christmas Market Dates & Location: Nov 20 – Dec 24, 2019. 2020 TBA
Vancouver Christmas Market Hours: Daily from 11:30am to 9:30pm except on Dec 24 when it closes early at 6pm
Vancouver Christmas Market Admission/Price Info: $12.99 for adults, $10.99 for seniors, $6.99 for youth, add 4 dollars extra for FAST PASS. Tip: You can always save a few bucks if you look for deals and Groupons – they always have them!
A Quick Review of Vancouver Xmas Market
Let’s start on a positive note: I enjoyed the Vancouver Christmas Market a lot more than I thought I would.
It’s quaint, cute, and there’s no setting more quintessentially Vancouver than Jack Poole Plaza, with its glowing Olympic Cauldron and glassy skyscraper backdrop.
BUT you see: there are a few fatal flaws that you need to overlook in order to really enjoy the Vancouver Xmas Market.
First – it’s overpriced. That’s just the reality. With alcoholic drinks at $8.50, food items in the $7-15 range and let’s not forget, the entrance fee of $12 per person, it’s definitely not a cheap day out. You kind of need to just accept that.
Second: it gets tremendously crowded, creating back-ups of line after line after line. I highly suggest you visit outside of the weekends and early evenings to ensure you have the best possible time.
Lastly, the market’s “authenticity” borders more on corny copycat vs. authentic replication. For instance, many of the stalls just tack “Das” and “Haus” on everything to make it seem vaguely German, and the stalls that DO tout typical German products like wooden nutcrackers and elaborate beer steins have cheesy “MADE IN GERMANY” signs all over them. From time to time, you’ll even hear corny oompah music (which is usually more meant for beer halls and Oktoberfest). If you don’t mind the experience being a little cheesy and not 100% “authentic”, then you’ll have a great time.
So what’s the final verdict then?
Overall, I would say the Vancouver Christmas Market is worth a visit IF you go during a quieter off-peak period and take advantage of the deals they offer, preferably with some good company in tow.
While it’s not quite the same as the real deal in Germany, it comes kinda close, and really how bad can it be if there’s cheese, potatoes, mulled wine and Christmas lights involved?
Given the steep prices, the crowds and the shameless German cliches, you really shouldn’t compare this to an actual European Christmas market, but if you take it for what it is – a nice atmospheric outing, then it’s good fun and a great way to get into the festive mood while in Vancouver.
Vancouver Christmas Market Must-Knows Before You Go
So if you’ve decided that YES , this outing is for you, let’s chat about how to make the most of your experience! Before your visit to the Vancouver Xmas Market, here are some must-knows to keep in mind:
1. Vancouver Christmas Market Admission is by cash only
In true German fashion, the Vancouver Xmas Market has crowned cash as king!
Before your visit, know that they don’t accept cards or anything BUT cash at the admission booths, so you need to make sure you have some sweet dolla bills on you prior to visiting. While there are ATMs around, I would just withdraw some cash in advance because on-site ATMs often charge fees, which is no good when that’s precious sausage money you’re wasting.
Many of the vendors also only take cash, so keep that in mind!
2. Don’t pay full-price! You will almost always find some kind of Groupon or discount
If you’re flexible with when you visit the Vancouver Christmas Market, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be able to squeeze in for a steeply discounted price…. which is, again, more sausage money!
Every single year, there are coupon codes and Groupons floating around for the market, which is why BEFORE you visit and pay full price at the door, I highly suggest you Google “Vancouver Christmas market discount”, “Vancouver Christmas Market Promo Code” or “Vancouver Christmas Market Groupon”. Alternatively, you can keep an eye on official Vancouver Christmas Market social media channels as they often advertise specials/deals in their updates.
3, Want to visit multiple times? You can get stamped for re-entry
If you’re especially extra like I am, you might want to visit the market twice in one day like I did.
Why? Well, the market gets a lot more atmospheric at night, but the downside of that is the crowds arrive too… so it might be smart to split your visit in two so you can enjoy the stalls without crowds and line-ups, then return later for the pretty romantic atmosphere by night.
I personally arrived at 3:30pm, enjoyed the relative quiet, browsed some stalls, ate some food and then came back later in the evening for the ambiance. All you need to do is get stamped on your way out and you can show your stamp at the admission gate.
NOTE: The stamps are not great, and mine had practically rubbed off by the time I returned. The lovely girl at the Admission box was nice enough to let me slide back in though, no questions asked.
4. Avoid the Vancouver Xmas Market on weekends and peak periods (e.g. right after work)
I’ve heard of a lot of people being disappointed with the Vancouver Christmas Market experience, but almost unanimously, these people went when there were huge crowds. The main complaint? Gargantuan line-ups, stuffy human mobs and other claustrophobic woes. I walked by on a Saturday evening and the line-up to get in was so horrible, it snaked around and around, and even had to be split in two for an “overflow line” a few metres away. Yuletide Hunger Games, you know.
In contrast, I went on a Wednesday in the late afternoon and there was SOOO much free space, I could have cartwheeled the entire thing. This made the experience infinitely more enjoyable! So, if you’re at all able to avoid peak times like weekends and weekdays after work, then do it.
5. Specify when you want the cute mug
Is it a good thing or a bad thing that my #1 gripe with the Vancouver Christmas Market has to do with mugs?
Anyways, the usual system in Germany is you get your mulled wine in a cute mug, that you pay a small deposit for it when buying the wine. You then get that money back when you return the mug in all its sticky glory, or if you sneak it off in your purse, you’ve kinda paid for it through your deposit.
I love this system – it reduces waste and drinking from a real mug is just 1 million extra cozy points.
Unfortunately, the Vancouver Xmas Market works like this: you pay $8.50 for your mulled wine and it comes in a paper cup… If you want the cute souvenir mug, you buy it for $5 and they CAN put it in there for you, but you should obviously bring this up with them before. In other words, don’t assume the cute mug is automatic like I did. It may upset you more than it rationally should 😉
Vancouver Christmas Market Food
Alright – now let’s get to the good stuff. Obviously, as one of the most vibrant foodie cities in the world, one of the main things to do at the Vancouver Xmas market is eat until implosion. Here are some of the market’s food items that I (or some of my friends) personally tried:
Mulled Wine (Glühwein)
Get it at: The big Christmas Pyramid
Cost: $8.50 for a a red Glühwein, white Glühwein or Feuerzangenbowle (Glühwein with caramelized rum-soaked sugar), $5 extra for a souvenir mug
There is no treat more synonymous with Christmas markets than sweet, sweet Glühwein, AKA mulled wine. A cup of this is a must-have while strolling around the market, and while the price tag is a little steep in my opinion, (and let’s not forget the aforementioned #MugGate I mentioned earlier), the Glühwein at the Vancouver Christmas Market was actually decently tasty… even in a paper cup.
Get it at: Traditional Spanish Churros
Cost: 3 churros for $6; 6 churros for $10; additional drizzle/topping for $1
I admit, this is an odd inclusion for the top of the list, because they’re far from “traditional German Christmas market food” but wow let me tell ya, the churros at the Traditional Spanish Churros stall were THE best I’ve had in a long time – even better than ones I’ve tried in Spain. These tubes of deep fried dough are perfectly crispy and dusted to perfection with sugar, cinnamon and optional chocolate drizzle for an extra dollar. They’re glorious and you need to try them.
Get it at: Freybe Brat Haus
Cost: $8 for a sausage in a bun
It’s a German market, so duh there’s gonna be sausages, and because it’s Vancouver, there will probably be a line-up for these sausages. Fret not, the line moves quickly thanks to an uber-efficient system, so I didn’t wait more than five minutes to get my claws on some sweet sweet wurst.
At the stall, I had a Bavarian smokie served with sauerkraut in a bun. It was pretty tasty, although the picky critic in me felt like the skin was a little tough and the bun a lil limp BUT hey I’m pretty much in a relationship with IKEA hot dogs so how can I really be an authority on sausages?
Get it at: Das Spätzle Haus
One of my favourite German dishes ever! Basically, think of Spätzle as bouncy little egg noodles, and at Das Spätzle Haus, you can get them fried and served with one of two toppings: the classic Käsespätzle, with emmentaler cheese and onions or with wild mushroom cream sauce and pickled purple cabbage. My friends have had this and said it was super good, albeit a little oily. You can even get frozen packs to take home for $10 (!!!) a pop.
Get it at: Cheese Me Raclette
Cheese Me Raclette is the only place in Vancouver that serves the Central European wonder-food: raclette. Basically it’s when you scrape a layer of melted cheese straight off the wheel as a cozy blanket for toppings like meat, potatoes, bread, pickles and onions. It is honestly the tastiest creation on Earth, and while I didn’t try the Vancouver Xmas Market version myself, it’s such a uniquely delicious delicacy that I needed to include it on the list.
Pork hock (Schweinshaxe)
Get it at: Haxen Haus
Cost: $24(ish) for a full pork knucke, $12 for a half portion (which is plenty!)
Schweinshaxe, pork knuckle or pork hock as it’s called at the Vancouver Christmas Market is one of the staple foods of Oktoberfest, and therefore a sight now synonymous with Germany itself. These juicy slabs of roasted pork will surely taunt you with their hypnotizing spin, and as an avid consumer of Schweinshaxe back in Munich, I implore you to try this Bavarian classic for yourself. Friends who visited me once for Oktoberfest tried the Haxen Haus at the Vancouver Xmas Market and said it was great!
“Inside Out Cinnamon Roll Pancake”
Get it at: Mr. Hotcakes
Cost: $7 for one pancake (served in a cup with whipped cream), $1 extra for a scoop of ice cream
I was first drawn to this stall thanks to its stark no BS marketing. The longwinded sign “Gooey part of a cinnamon roll stuffed inside flaky/chewy pancake” calls at you from afar, kinda like “I KNOW THIS SOUNDS CONFUSING BUT I PROMISE IT’S GOOD” and guys – it IS. They have a savoury option as well, but I went for the classic “inside out cinnamon roll pancake”, just like the sign beckoned me to. The best way I can describe this to you is if you’ve ever tried a Chinese green onion pancake, the texture is 100% the same as that, except with a gooey sweet brown sugar/cinnamon filling… and topped liberally with whipped cream of course.
Other Vancouver Christmas Food Items To Watch Out For
I didn’t get to personally test these, but while we’re on the topic of food, they’re worth a mention. Here are some other yummy items to try at the Vancouver Christmas Market:
Chimney Cake (Kürtöskalács): A popular Hungarian treat served at Christmas markets around the world – it’s basically a sweet doughey spit cake with a kind of has a subtle almost lemon-y flavour – great if you don’t want anything too sweet.
Hurricane Potatoes: Deep-fried spiralized potatoes that are served on a stick and powdered with different flavours. While they’re definitely not German, they’re a favourite of mine from the Vancouver Night Market. If you’ve never tried them before, you can get them at Das Kartoffelhaus, and I would recommend these over the Kartoffelpuffers, which I found pretty underwhelming (they were very thin, limp and not crispy enough).
Perogies: I didn’t try them at the Vancouver Christmas Market but perogies are my favourite foods ever so I needed to include them! They’re amazing dumplings usually with a cheese and potato filling.
Shopping at Vancouver Christmas Market
In true Vancouver fashion, the Vancouver Christmas Market is packed wall to wall with an ecclectic mix of products from around the world, and of course, from beautiful BC too. This is a one-stop shop if you want to hop from booth to booth exploring a wide range of things from craft ciders and alpaca wool sweaters to handmade ornaments, soap, jewelry, candles, and more. While prices are overall of course a little higher than average, the stalls are still a lot of fun to browse. With over 80 of them, you’re bound to find at least one thing you like! Click here for a list of Vancouver Xmas Market vendors for this year.
Other Things to do at Vancouver Christmas Market
Okay, lastly, besides eating and shopping, there are plenty of other things that can occupy your time at the Vancouver Xmas market, such as…
Have a cozy drink at Wunderbar
If you’re looking for a cozy sort of chalet setting for a few drinks and nibbles, be sure to check out the Vancouver Christmas Market’s Wunderbar. While the website says you need reservations, we walked right in to a half empty tent at around 6pm on a Wednesday.
In the Wunderbar, they have a small selection of holiday-inspired cocktails/drinks, including Feuerzangenbowle, but oddly not regular mulled wine. I went with the Krampus cocktail based on name alone, and to be honest it was pretty watery and disappointing. That said, the ambiance of the place is nice, with twinkly lights, decorated trees, wooden benches and even a roaring (fake) fireplace – a great place to escape the madness of the market for a while.
NOTE: Once again, I somehow got in without a reservation but reserving a timeslot is listed as mandatory on their website and therefore highly recommended.
Enjoy some glistening photo opps
Let’s face it – it’s not a real Vancouver event until there’s some good ol’ fashioned vessels for millennial narcissism. One of the more unique features of the market is the abundance of designated photo spots, from a Mary Poppins-themed umbrella installation, to a glittering Lover’s Lane arch, a walk-in Christmas Tree, a glittery Christmas frame, some big nutcrackers and of course, little light figures by the Olympic Cauldron. In other words, yes, this is the perfect place to snap those carefree holiday candids.
Shop for ornaments in the special Käthe Wohlfahrt tent
This shop is the real deal.
Käthe Wohlfahrt is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) German companies in the business of magical AF decorations for Christmas. They even have a Christmas Museum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber that I loved. As one of the biggest names in Christmas decor, it’s no surprise they’re adequately represented at the Vancouver Xmas Market. Inside their special covered tent, you can explore all sorts of beautiful ornaments or even buy yourself a Christmas pyramid like the giant one spinning in the center of the market.
NOTE: This place gets pretty long line-ups, so only go if you really appreciate Christmas ornaments/decorations or are keen to go shopping….. otherwise, you wait a long time just for a quick loop around the tent (it’s not huge).
Attend a special themed day/event
All throughout the season, Vancouver Christmas Market spices things up with different specials and themes. The first two Tuesdays of the market for example are Foodie Tuesdays, where many stalls will have smaller sized portions for $4 or less. They also have a special Date Night with 2 for 1 admission and other coupley things. Click here for a list of the Vancouver Xmas Market’s season events.
Ride the Christmas carousel
One of the fan favaourites among kiddos and kiddos a heart is the Christmas carousel. Rides are not included with your admission fee, but they’re relatively affordable at $3 per ride, and a $10 day pass for unlimited rides if you really want to puke out all your bratwurst.
Get photos with Santa
Santa’s photo hut is another highlight for those visiting the Vancouver Christmas market, certainly with kids. For $30 (remember the whole “overpriced” thing…), you get three photos in digital format and one printed… Remember it’s for Santa though, so it’s worth it! Clearly he needs money for a gym membership after those billions of milk and cookie combos.
Enjoy some live performances
Last but not least, one of the coolest things I noticed was that the large Christmas Pyramid in the center of the Vancouver Christmas Market actually acts as a stage for performances throughout the evening. I realized this as an ominous Game of Thronesy sounding violin tore through the air, and I looked up to see an actual man enthusiastically jammin’ on his festive, elevated stage. Definitely something to look forward to!
Any other questions about the Vancouver Christmas Market?
Fire away in the comments below! I hope you enjoyed reading all about Vancouver’s German Christmas Market. Auf wiedersehen, and have a safe trip!