Christmas for Free in Metro Vancouver!
This story first appeared on Inside Vancouver in November 2021
Many of us are going all-out this Christmas to make up for last year’s disappointing festive season. In fact, judging from the record-breaking site traffic at the 2021 Vancouver Christmas Guide, it looks like we’re all determined to dive into as many local holiday happenings as we can this time around.
But if your credit cards are sweating after all the shows, attractions and events you’ve booked, why not give your budget a restorative breather? There are lots of fun ways to celebrate the season in and around the city without being too spendy––read on for our sparkling rundown of moneysaving recommendations.
Vancouver is studded with twinkling 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. And since you’re already downtown, hit the corner of Granville and West Georgia where you’ll also find a humungous walk-through Christmas bauble that’s perfect for sparkling selfies.
Canada Place is also a magnet for festive freebie fans. From December 3, it’s pier-like exterior will shimmer with decorated Christmas trees plus a towering moose traced in lights––while its sail-shaped roof will be illuminated in holiday hues. The Woodward’s Christmas Windows can also be seen here. These 1960s animatronic department store displays often include naughty elves, Victorian musicians and a gaggle of beady-eyed geese.
Across the city, Granville Island is already fully adorned for the season with trees wrapped in lights, huge musical notes shining overhead and a giant glowing star installation near the Public Market. With its dramatic Granville Bridge backdrop, this colourful star is a popular festive photo for many visitors.
Back downtown, on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city’s official Christmas tree––a 75-feet-high cone of twinkling illuminations––also invites plenty of fevered photo action throughout the season. And if you need to warm-up on a chilly evening here, the nearby Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is hosting this year’s Festival of Trees Vancouver, complete with a lobby-full of creatively decorated foliage.
Looking for more trees? If you want to peruse a sparkling array of alfresco examples, wrap-up and head to West Vancouver’s Dundarave Festival of Lights where dozens of decorated natural trees await––as well as four December Saturdays of gratis outdoor concerts.
Nostalgia is a major draw at one of Metro Vancouver’s best admission-free holiday attractions. Burnaby Village Museum’s Heritage Christmas serves-up a winter wonderland of antique buildings decorated in festive finery. Be sure to add $2.65 to your budget so you can ride their magical 1920s carousel. Time your visit for the evening of December 4 and you can also catch the attraction’s official Bright in Burnaby tree-lighting event.
There are also echoes of Christmas past in Kerrisdale, one of Vancouver’s oldest-established residential neighbourhoods. Its storefront-lined 41st Avenue main drag is a great spot for gift shopping––especially on pre-Christmas December Saturdays (plus Thursday December 23), when free carriage rides, a brass band and carol singers will add a large slice of festive good cheer to your visit.
Over at the Vancouver Maritime Museum on December 7, you can also join in with the gratis Community Carolling at Kits Point event. It’s a family-friendly evening of outdoor carol singing with the Salvation Army band as well as cookie-decorating activities and by-donation entry to the museum.
Kerrisdale Arena will be hosting free ice-skating on December 19. But it’s not the only local spot to lace-up your boots and practice your triple salchows on a budget. Robson Square Ice Rink opens again on December 2 and you can hit the ice (hopefully not literally) for free with your own skates or rent them for $5 (helmet included). Time your visit between December 13 and 24 for live entertainment every evening.
Over in North Vancouver––a short walk from the Lonsdale Quay SeaBus terminal––the covered, 12,000-square-feet Shipyards Skate Plaza will also be offering free ice time from early December onwards.
Aim to visit the North Shore on the weekends of December 4 and 5 or December 11 and 12 and you can also warm-up at the indoor Shipyards Christmas Market. There’s always a welcoming, family-friendly vibe at this cost-free Pipe Shop event, and it’s a great place to pick-up cool artisan-made pressies. It’s not the only local holiday market with an admission-free policy: check out December 4’s Tugboat Landing Artisan Market in South Vancouver as well.
There are several additional ways to celebrate the season without travelling too far from the city. We’re particularly looking forward to the free, family-friendly Christmas in Pitt Meadows event on December 3, complete with live entertainment, a holiday train and the city’s all-important tree-lighting ceremony. Back in North Vancouver, there’ll also be a gratis tree-lighting party on December 4.
Need more? Port Moody’s heritage train station is hosting the brand-new Holiday Festival at the Museum this year. From December 1 to Christmas Eve, it includes live performances, craft beer, a tent-covered artisan market and more. While over in Steveston Village, December 5’s holiday happenings include Santa’s arrival by boat and a classic car parade.