It may be hard to believe, but the first day of winter officially starts Dec. 21. Winter Solstice, as the shortest day of the year, has the fewest hours of sunlight, so although the snow has been piling up since December, today is the day we can finally say we’ve been living in a winter wonderland.
With the season in full force, here is our ultimate guide to winter in Vancouver for everyone, whether they’re into tobogganing full-speed down a mountain or checking out a festival dedicated entirely to hot chocolate.
The 23rd Annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival celebrates the longest night of the year with lantern processions, drum performances from First Nations, Japanese and African performers, and a meditative Labyrinth of Light. As a free community event that takes place on Granville Island, Yaletown and Strathcona, the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival is an event that will set a glow to the night.
An established holiday tradition well into its 19th year, Bright Nights is a Christmas train ride in Stanley Park that runs from November 28th, 2016 to January 1st, 2017. Take a ride on a train and experience over three million sparkling lights, festive displays and live performers along the way. With daytime and nighttime rides available, the train ride is sure to dazzle those on the journey.
The 7th annual Vancouver Christmas Market is back again with a new location at the Jack Poole Plaza near the Olympic Cauldron. A German-inspired Christmas market overlooking the water, there’s a variety of cultural activities, food and drink vendors and entertainment. From Bavarian beer, potato pancakes on a stick to glass ornaments and alpaca wool clothing, the Vancouver Christmas Markets makes for a perfect stroll for those in the mood for snacks and shopping. Open daily from 11 am to 9 pm from November 26th to December 31st, 2016.
The Festival of Lights, from December 1st, 2016 to January 2nd, 2017, transforms the VanDusen Botanical Garden into a colourful walk with surprises tucked around every corner and not an inch left uncovered by a sleigh or disco ball. There is mulled mine and hot apple cider to drink on the walk and plenty of photo opportunities set up to ensure visitors have a picture-perfect time.
Located in Queen Elizabeth Park, Bloedel Conservatory is an indoor tropical garden that gets into the holiday spirit by putting on magical lights and festive music from December 9th, 2016 to January 2nd, 2017. Holiday Heights is also home to a holiday ferris wheel that provides one of the best seats in the city. If you want to ride the ferris wheel and catch spectacular views of Vancouver, be sure to check their website for updates before you go, since the ferris wheel may be closed due to weather conditions.
The outdoor ice rink in Robson Square has become so popular, it can be easy to forget it only came onto the winter scene six years ago after major renovations. Open December 1st, 2016 to February 14th, 2017, the Robson Square ice rink can get packed quick but it’s worth the wait to skate in the heart of downtown.
Making its debut in Vancouver this year, Enchant is the world’s largest Christmas light maze with over 55,000 square feet of illuminated sculptures that tell the story of the great search Santa goes on to find his missing reindeer after a huge snowstorm. Up until December 31st, 2016, visitors can go scouting for the missing reindeer themselves as well as check out the market that has over 40 local vendors and 12 food trucks.
The Hyatt Regency Vancouver has one of the sweetest traditions in the city with gingerbread house entries from schoolchildren, amateurs and culinary professionals. From December 2nd to 28th, the lobby of Hyatt Regency Vancouver is home to Gingerbread Lane, full of sugary constructions with charming scenes and amazing design made by talented folks in the community.
Christmas In Kerrisdale
If you’re in the neighbourhood, Christmas in Kerrisdale adds a joyful touch to the community with strolling brass bands, Christmas quartets, horse and carriage rides as well as Santa and elf visits. As one of Vancouver’s most charming neighbourhoods, Kerrisdale Village is a pleasant place to wander during the weekends of the month of December.
Looking for late night lights? Look no further than Lights at Lafarge Winter Display that boasts one of the largest outdoor light events in the Lower Mainland that’s open until 11 pm seven days a week. More than 100,000 lights shine around Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam, making magical strolls irresistible for night owls in the area.
From November 24th to January 8th, 2017, Canyon Lights will be on full display at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park with hundreds of thousands of lights strung up throughout the park. What’s interesting about this year is an interactive lighting display in the rainforest where guests, using flashlights, can awaken tiny lights to glimmer like fireflies.
Affectionately known as Vancouver’s North Pole, Peak of Christmas on Grouse Mountain is open from November 25th, 2016 to January 2nd, 2017 and features a wide range of activities including the Light Walk around Blue Grouse Lake, the SOS Children’s Gingerbread Village, an ice skating pond and mountain sleigh rides.
Snowshoeing is an accessible winter activity best suited for those that enjoy exploring snow-covered forests without sinking knee-deep into powder. A breathtaking way to spend the afternoon in the natural outdoors, Whistler Blackcomb has a number of snowshoe-specific trails for self-guided and guided tours such as Lost Lake Park and Ski Callaghan.
For those looking for a fast thrill, getting on a snowmobile compares to no other. Whistler Blackcomb offers snowmobile tours that allow visitors access to a variety of trails. From snowy slopes to the open backcountry, BC has one of the most snowmobile-friendly communities in Whistler to get set and jet, day or night.
The Arctic sled dogs that power sled rides have been bred to travel over ice and through snow for over a thousand years and were used in Canada by fur traders and natives. As a unique way to travel through the backcountry of Whistler, dog sledding is not only a great way to spend some time with Alaskan huskies but it’s also an exhilarating mode to flying past meadows, lakes and mountain views.
Located on Blackcomb Mountain, the Coca-Cola Tube Park has seven tube lanes to enjoy with different speeds from gentle to more adventures lanes that are longer and faster. As a fun activity for the family, tubing makes for a fun alternative for those who need a break from skiing or snowboarding but still want to slide down mountains.
Ziplining may be thought of as a summer activity, but the zipline at Grouse Mountain is still open for business during the winter months. Zipping up to 80 km per hour, visitors can zoom past the tops of Grouse Mountain and Dam Mountain right from Blue Grouse Lake. No experience is required for flying free as a bird.
“Thunder On Ice” is Whistler Sliding Centre’s Public Bobsleigh Program that allows people to jump on a bobsled ride down the world’s fastest track. As part of the Whistler Olympic Park constructed for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the bobsleigh track is a recreational sports legacy track. With the support of a trained bobsleigh pilot, four-person teams can go through 10 twists and turns at speeds more than 125 km per hour from December 12th, 2016 to April 2nd, 2017.
Supporting small farm production, Vancouver Farmers Markets runs eight weekly markets in all seasons with 455,000 shoppers per year. Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, baked goods, artisan food, craft beer and more. Come rain or shine, Hastings Park and Nat Bailey is open from November 6th, 2016 to April 30th, 2017 every weekend excluding holidays.
Richmond residents can venture out for the fresh catch of the day at the winter farmers market at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site in Steveston. From November 2016 to April 2017, the winter farmers market has vendors selling baked goods, artisan chocolates, handmade soaps and handcrafted leather and more.
Since 1976, swimmers have been making a splash in English Bay on New Year’s Day. A Vancouver tradition with thousands of participants that come to dip their toes and then some, the Polar Bear Swim is an intense and refreshing way to start 2017 right.
Like the Polar Bear Swim in English Bay, the North Shore also has its own long-standing New Year’s tradition with the Penguin Plunge at Deep Cove. As a community event in Panorama Park with live music and costume judging contests, swimmers can do the penguin waddle right into the icy waters of Deep Cove.
The 7th Annual Hot Chocolate Festival returns to Vancouver from January 19th to February 14th, 2017 and if it’s anything like previous years, visitors can look for more rock stars in the chocolate community and learn more about one of the sweetest beans in the world.
Canada’s largest gluten free event is back in town from January 14th to 15th, 2017 for another successful event that’s fun and informative. Gluten Free Expo is a show for those looking to try out new gluten food products including free samples of beer, pizza, breads and perogies. Ticket-goers can also save on deals and product giveaways as well as learn from doctors and chefs on diet and food concerns.
As one of Vancouver’s signature live performing arts festivals, PuSH International Performing Arts Festival runs from January 16th, to February 5th, 2017. Showcasing the work of international and local artists, PuSh aims to expand the horizons of the audience with original and multi-disciplined work. One of the more well-known festivals in the city, PuSh takes place across venues, studios, theatres and halls across the city, and will interest those who enjoy contemporary performing arts.
Calling all foodies with a budget, Dine Out Vancouver runs from January 20th to February 5th, 2017. As Canada’s largest annual food and drink festival, diners can enjoy prix-fix meals ranging from $20-$40 per person from hundreds of restaurants. Besides eating out like a king without breaking the wallet, Dine Out Festival also offers activities to indulge the inner foodie inside everyone including guided dining adventures, brunch crawls, cocktail classes, craft beer tastings and more.
Runners with New Year’s Resolutions should take note of the Vancouver Chilly Chase that’s well into its 13th year. With a flat racecourse at 5K, 10K, 15K and Half routes that go along the seawall, runners are exposed to their first race of the season with gorgeous views of Vancouver during winter.
In its 25th year, Whistler Pride and Ski Festival is a celebration of diversity with gay men and women coming to Whistler from 26 nations around the world in honour of WinterPRIDE every year. This year, it will take place January 22nd to 29th, 2017. As a friendly destination for skiing and riding, the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival is a premier vacation option for gay and lesbian community worldwide.
Chinese New Year Celebrations
With over 17% of the Metro Vancouver population made up of ethnic Chinese residents, it goes without saying that February 7th and 8th are busy times of the year. There are tons of Chinese New Year’s celebrations to check out, whether this is the annual Chinese New Year Parade through Chinatown or dropping by the International Buddhist Temple in Richmond on the evening of New Year’s Eve.
Vancouver’s comedy festival, JFP NorthWest, runs from February 16th, 2017 to February 25th, 2017 across venues across the city. Balancing a star-studded lineup including headliners Sarah Silverman and Trevor Noah with the best local comedic shows the city has to offer, JFL NorthWest shines a spotlight on Vancouver’s comedy scene.