Christmas for Free in Metro Vancouver!
This story first appeared on Inside Vancouver in December 2022
There’s no need to max out your credit cards when you’re planning your festive activities in and around the city this year. Over at the Vancouver Christmas Guide, our natural approach is to hunt down free, low-cost or by-donation things to do during the holidays––feel free to visit us online for a full rundown of recommendations.
Ready to dive into the 2022 Christmas season? Close your wallet and check out some of our thrift-hugging suggestions below. And don’t forget to peruse the giveaways section of 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. At 6pm on both December 2 and December 3, they’re hosting a festive light display with 300 synchronized drones hovering over the waterfront. Until January 2, the building’s ground-level exterior will also 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.
Something that isn't back for 2022 is the mechanically challenged Stanley Park Christmas Train. But you should still head to Bright Nights, the park’s 25th annual light display and fundraiser for the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. Your at-the-gate donation brings you into a walk-through wonderland of illuminations––plus Santa’s workshop, live entertainment and more.
Across the city, Granville Island is fully adorned with selfie-ready festive light installations. And don't forget Coquitlam’s incredibly popular Lights at Lafarge––a 1.2km walkway of shimmering illuminations. Easily reached from Vancouver on the SkyTrain, it’s just across from Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station.
On the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city’s official Christmas tree––a 75-foot-high cone of twinkling illuminations––also invites feverish photo action throughout the holidays. There’s a free switch-on party at 6pm on December 2. Need to warm-up? Across the street, the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is once-again hosting the annual Festival of Trees Vancouver, complete with a record-breaking number of decorated trees this year.
If you prefer to peruse decorated trees outside, wrap-up and head to West Vancouver’s Dundarave Festival of Lights. You’ll find more than 130 twinkling exemplars on display––while December Saturdays will also include a toe-tapping array of gratis “entertainment and merriment.”
Speaking of foliage, don't miss downtown’s Fleurs de Villes NÖEL. Back for its fourth year and running from December 9 to 18, this floral art trail includes dozens of brilliantly creative flower-studded sculptures and installations––look out for a Snow Queen, flying reindeer and much more this time around.
And while the city’s Christmas Parade has sadly been postponed again, several beloved cost-free festive happenings are returning this year. Don’t miss the Hyatt Regency’s Gingerbread Lane, complete with lots of brilliant gingerbread constructions, and be sure to the Christmas Wish Breakfast at the Pan Pacific on December 14. 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, and you can hit the ice (hopefully not literally) for free with your own skates or rent them for $5. Time your visit between December 13 and 24 for live evening entertainment. There is also free skating at Kerrisdale Arena on December 18––plus free carriage rides and live music around the nearby shops on Saturdays throughout December.
Alternatively, finish off your gift shopping at a free-entry festive market. Among our upcoming favourites are two from Coast Valley Markets: Winter on 49th Holiday Market and Holidays on Hudson Christmas Market––both also have fun Friday evening openings. We’re also looking forward to Holiday Pop-Up on the Square––complete with vendors, live music and food trucks, it’s on at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s North Plaza on December 9 and 10.
Over in Richmond, shoreline Steveston is hosting a December-long roster of free or low-cost holiday happenings with its Winter in the Village program. Look out for decorated storefronts as well as boats at Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll also find alfresco carol performances, horse-drawn carriage rides and a vintage Winter Tram pavilion, complete with cool Lego models and more.
Nostalgia is also the hook at Burnaby Village Museum’s Heritage Christmas, where antique buildings are decorated in sparkling festive finery. Be sure to add $2.65 to your budget so you can ride their magical 1920s carousel. Over in Surrey, the free-entry Historic Stewart Farm is also offering lots of vintage-flavoured activities in a fully decorated farmhouse that evokes Victorian Yuletide celebrations.
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 2022 holiday happenings. The site was co-created with Christmas Cat Max, who pens its gift reviews and often appears on its @MyVanChristmas Twitter feed.