Christmas in Vancouver
This story originally appeared on Inside Vancouver
in November 2018
I grew up in a house where cash was always tight and treats were few and far between. But, thanks to my parents, the festive season was always the most magical time of the year––which is a big part of why I created my holiday-hugging Vancouver Christmas Guide site a couple of years ago.
The main lesson I learned when I was a turkey-craving little kid? You don’t need money to have a very special Christmastime. Read on for my glittering garland of cool, fee-free festive activities in and around the city. And then buy yourself a well-deserved pressie with all the money you save.
Metro Vancouver is studded with gratis festive illuminations, starting with downtown’s soaring St Paul’s Hospital Lights of Hope display – donations towards the work of their Foundation are greatly appreciated. Next, hop across to West Vancouver’s Dundarave Festival of Lights, with added free concerts on December Saturdays.
Alternatively, jump on SkyTrain’s Evergreen Extension to Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station. Steps from the stop, is Coquitlam’s shimmering Lights at Lafarge, one of the region’s biggest free displays. Check their website for additional free activities throughout the run, including caroling sing-a-longs and ugly sweater night.
If you still have camera card space, catch sight of the CP Holiday Train trundling through the region over the festive season. Travelling across the country, its loco and carriages will be vividly studded with lights, while scheduled stops at Pitt Meadows, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam include free 30-minute live music performances.
Back in the city, there are many more ways to stoke your festive spirit without breaking the bank. Stroll pier-like Canada Place to view a host of decorated Christmas trees as well as their charming old Woodward’s Christmas windows––complete with some extremely mischievous looking antique elves.
If you need a warm-up, hit the Four Seasons Hotel a few blocks away. Their Festival of Trees is now in full swing, with dozens of decorated displays to peruse. The nearby Hyatt Regency’s Gingerbread Lane is also back this year (from November 30), with its tasty-looking metropolis of candy-studded miniature constructions. Both displays invite donations to worthy causes.
If it’s time to stretch your legs outside, head to Robson Square Ice Rink. It’s free with your own skates (you can also hire them for a small fee) and there’s free live music on many nights. For lots of locals, this is one of their favourite family-friendly holiday activities.
The big man himself, of course, is the star of this year’s December 2 Vancouver Santa Claus Parade (arrive early to find your spot). But if you’re in the mood for a seasonal stroll, head to the West Side. Christmas in Kerrisdale is a reminder of a time when Yuletide shoppers strolled around with parcels and carol singing percolated through the air. On pre-Christmas Saturdays from December 8, there’s a brass band, wandering Santa and free horse carriage rides as well.
Love the idea of walking off your mince pie belly? Check out the utterly delightful Yule Duel carol singing groups dotted around the streets of Gastown on the evening of December 6. It’s a great opportunity to polish off some Christmas shopping at the same time as well.
There are several more fee-free ways to channel the spirit of Christmas past in Metro Vancouver. And the best of the bunch is Burnaby Village Museum, complete with its old-fashioned wonderland of antique buildings brightly decorated for the festive season. Be sure to add $2.65 to your budget and you can also ride their magical 1920s carousel.
And if you’re out in South Surrey, beeline to Historic Stewart Farm on December 8, where Yuletides of old will be evocatively recalled with carols, apple cider and figgy pudding.
Alternatively, visit Richmond’s Steveston Village for a host of gratis holiday experiences, including a Christmas Classic Car Cruise and Songs in the Snow caroling. And if you hit the village’s Gulf of Georgia Cannery festive Farmers’ Market on its December 2, 9 or 16 dates, you’ll also receive free entry to the Cannery plus free access to its sparkling Festival of Trees.