Although I loved my two Vancouver summers, my Vancouver Christmas was something special. For the entire month of December in 2013, my friends and I tried to fit in as many Christmas-related activities as possible. From parades to Christmas lights to carol karaoke, it was a lot of fun. Our Christmas was made even better when it snowed (twice!) before the big day. I know locals hate it when it snows, but as a temporary resident I literally jumped for joy as the white stuff fell all around me. Sitting on a food truck in the snow? Ticked off the bucket list.
Here is my complete guide to a very Vancouver Christmas: the best activities to enjoy to make your holidays extra wholesome.
1. Vancouver Christmas Market
When & Where: 21 November to 24 December from 11 to 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza
I visited the Vancouver Christmas Market twice during my working holiday. It was totally what I would expect from a similar market in Europe. There were wooden stalls selling wooden products. Mulled cider and wine was served in speciality mugs. There were Christmas carols, trees and lights galore. I definitely recommend visiting the market and feasting on the hearty food. Perhaps you will find an unique Christmas decoration to hang on your tree as well. If you immediately fall in love with the cosy atmosphere, there are season tickets so you can return as many times as you want.
Read More: The 10 Best Vancouver Day Trips
2. Vancouver Winter Wonderland
When & Where: 11 to 20 December at PNE Forum
A new event on the calendar, Vancouver Winter Wonderland looks like an impressive indoor festival. Apparently there is going to be a three-storey walk-through snow globe. That’s awesome. Plus arts and crafts projects for the young (and young at heart) with proceeds going to charity. Winter Wonderland will also feature gifts, games and food — what more could you want?
3. Karaoke Christmas Lights Trolley Tour
When & Where: 1 to 31 December from 6:30pm. Pick up at Canada Place.
As soon as I heard about this wonderful initiative, I told my friend we needed to go. The Karaoke Christmas Lights Trolley Tour is so much fun for Christmas lovers. The Vancouver trolley takes you to two main Christmas events in Vancouver: Bright Nights at Stanley Park and Van Dusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights.
There is more on these events below, but while travelling between these places, the trolley does Christmas carol karaoke. We sung badly to Feliz Navidad, Last Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It was like all my Christmas dreams had come true. Seriously, if you love Christmas and carols and lights, this is your tour.
4. The Peak of Christmas
When & Where: 27 November to 4 January at Grouse Mountain
Nicknamed Vancouver’s North Pole, I loved visiting Grouse Mountain’s Peak of Christmas. On top of the mountain you will find a winter wonderland. There is a real life reindeer and an outdoor ice skating rink. My friend and I got a photo with Santa (sitting on either side of his chair). The photo was by donation, with all proceeds going to the SOS Children’s Village. We made an awesome snowman, and I loved playing in the snow.
Inside there is an arts and crafts corner, and we totally decorated snowmen to hang on our trees. We sipped hot chocolate as the sun set and then went outside to see the mountain lit up at night. I mean, for an Aussie, this scene blew my mind. It looked magical, just like the white Christmas images I had always seen in movies. To witness the bright lights myself was something special.
There are also sleigh rides and a new sliding zone, which I totally would have slid down during my visit. This year they also established light walks. Walking in a winter wonderland, for reals.
5. Van Dusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights
When & Where: 1 to 31 December at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens
Van Dusen Botanical Gardens turns on the watts during December. Over one million lights decorate the gardens for the Festival of Lights. My favourite part is the Dancing Lights on Livingstone Lake. The interactive light show is programmed to correspond with festive tunes. So much fun.
6. Christmas at Canada Place
When & Where: 12 to 30 December at Canada Place
For another chance to see Santa, check out Christmas at Canada Place. For something unique, there is an Avenue of Christmas Trees. Each tree is decorated differently. When I visited there was even a tree solely decorated in Vancouver Canucks decorations. There is also Woodward’s Windows, which feature several handcrafted Christmas scenes. The Karaoke Christmas Lights Trolley Tour departs from Canada Place, so why not stop by beforehand?
7. Bright Nights at Stanley Park
When & Where: 26 November to 2 January at Stanley Park
The Bright Nights at Stanley Park event is the biggest annual fundraiser for the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. Entry to Bright Nights is by donation, but if you do the trolley tour a donation is automatically included. Three million lights decorate the trees and festive scenes in Stanley Park. There are also train tours throughout the night.
8. Santa Claus Parade
When & Where: 6 December in Downtown Vancouver
The parade winds its way through downtown Vancouver from 1pm on 6 December. Out of all the Christmas activities listed here, the parade would be my least favourite. I think the others are more intimate and hence more festive. But if you are downtown, why not check out a lot of Santas walking down the road?
Honourable Mention: Whistler’s Winter Wonderland
Whistler, or Whistralia as it is commonly known, was where I had a white Christmas with friends in 2013. We had such a memorable time frolicking in the snow, trying Caesars for the first time (never again) and taking photos of the picturesque and brightly lit Whistler Village. If it wasn’t for the freezing temperatures, I could have been at home with the amount of Australian accents echoing through the town.
Merry Vancouver Christmas
I hope you enjoy your holidays, wherever in the world it may be. If you happen to be in my beloved Vancouver, sing a song on the trolley for me. Last Christmas, I gave you my heart… okay, I’ll stop.