If you're anything like us, there’s no need to max out your credit cards when you’re planning your festive activities in and around the city. Here at the Vancouver Christmas Guide, our natural approach is to hunt for free, low-cost or by-donation things to do during the holidays. Close your wallet and check out some of our thrift-hugging suggestions below. And don’t forget to peruse the Free Stuff! page on our site for a chance to win lots of gratis tickets and more.
Vancouver is richly baubled with shimmering holiday displays that won't cost you a penny. Start with Burrard Street’s eye-popping St. Paul’s Hospital Lights of Hope, but keep in mind that donations towards the work of their Foundation are greatly appreciated.
Then stroll north on Burrard to Canada Place. From December 1 to January 2, the building’s ground-level exterior will be adorned with decorated trees and illuminations. Also back this year are the beloved Woodward’s Christmas windows––antique Yuletide store displays from the 1960s.
Wrap up and head to Stanley Park this year as well. From November 30 to January 1, the park's beloved Bright Nights is back for its 26th season, complete with walk-through light displays and shimmering dioramas. A vital fundraiser for the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, your at-the-gate donation is always welcome. And this year, the beloved Stanley Park Christmas Train is back as well (tickets are now on sale for this additional attraction).
On the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city’s official Christmas tree––a 76-foot-high cone of twinkling illuminations––invites feverish selfie photo action throughout the holidays. There’s a free switch-on party at 6pm on December 1. The City of Surrey also has its own admission-free Tree Lighting Festival on November 25 and 26, complete with live entertainment, food trucks and free fairground rides.
Need to warm-up? Downtown's historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is once-again hosting the annual Festival of Trees Vancouver, complete with a forest of beautifully decorated trees, from November 23 onwards. It's not the only free-entry tree fest around. From November 25 to December 23, the Museum of Surrey is also hosting its annual Cloverdale Christmas Tree Festival.
Speaking of foliage, don't miss downtown’s Fleurs de Villes NÖEL. Back for its fifth year and running from December 8 to 17, this floral art trail includes dozens of brilliantly creative flower-studded sculptures and installations––previous years have included a Snow Queen, flying reindeer and much more.
And while the city’s Christmas Parade has sadly been cancelled again in 2023 (will it ever return?), several beloved cost-free festive happenings are back this year. Don’t miss the Hyatt Regency’s Gingerbread Lane, complete with lots of brilliant gingerbread constructions, and be sure to visit the Christmas Wish Breakfast at the Pan Pacific on December 13. Bring an unwrapped new toy or two for the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau’s toy drive and enjoy a festive reverie of breakfast, live music and much more.
Ice skating, markets and more
Robson Square Ice Rink is also returning in early December, and you can hit the ice (hopefully not literally) for free with your own skates or rent them for a few dollars. There is also free skating at Kerrisdale Arena on December 17––plus free carriage rides and live music around the nearby shops on select Saturdays in December.
Alternatively, finish off your gift shopping at a free-entry festive market. Among our under-the-radar favourites are Tugboat Landing Artisan Market and New West Holiday Farmers Market. This year, we're also planning to do a little Christmas gift shopping at the Deer Lake Winter Festival (running November 24 to 26) and the Winter Treasures Artisan Market, which is operating from now until December 20.
We also love Vancouver's Pacific Arts Market, which is hosting several free-entry holiday happenings this year––including its December 17 Santa's Workshop event. And if you're still in an artsy groove, check out the free-entry Rebecca Bair art show at Coquitlam's Evergreen Cultural Centre, a few steps from Lafarge-Lake Douglas SkyTrain Station. It's also a short walk from here to the ever-popular Lights at Lafarge illuminations.
In fact, you'd be remiss not to include the communities around Vancouver in your holiday celebrations this year––especially if you're looking for cost-free activities. Illuminate Maple Ridge, running from November 24 to January 6, includes a full menu of family-friendly fun from sparkling light displays to a self-guided Candy Cane Tour.
Over in Richmond, shoreline Steveston Village is hosting a roster of free or low-cost holiday happenings with its Winter in the Village program, which runs from November 23 to the end of December. Look out for decorated storefronts as well as boats at Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll also find alfresco carol performances and the vintage Steveston Tram exhibit fully decorated for the season (we're also looking forward to checking out the cool Lego models on display here).
For more information on festive events, attractions and shows in the city and beyond, visit the Vancouver Christmas Guide. Written by Lonely Planet travel writer John Lee, it’s the best online guide to the area’s 2023 holiday happenings. The site was co-created with Christmas Cat Max, who pens its gift reviews and often appears on its @MyVanChristmas Twitter feed.