Christmas Season (also known as the season of spending) is here. However, you don’t always need to spend money to have great holidays. Below is a list of some free activities that one can do with family and friends to enjoy Christmas in Vancouver.
Robson Square Ice Rink is open Sunday – Thursday from 9am – 9pm and Fridays & Saturdays from 9am – 11pm. Skating is free; skate rentals are $4, helmets and ice cleats are $2.
The annual Vancouver Tree Lighting Celebration is a free party at the Jack Poole Plaza at the Convention Centre in downtown Vancouver. The celebration includes the ceremonial lighting of a 50-foot Christmas Tree, plus live entertainment hosted by Steve Darling of Global TV.
One of Vancouver’s more unique holiday traditions is the parade of “Carol Ships”–ships decked out with elaborate Christmas lights–that take to Vancouver’s waterways for nightly processions. To go aboard the Carol Ships costs money, but it’s free to watch the spectacle at any of the shoreside Carol Ship events, including Carol Ship watching and bonfires in North Burnaby and West Vancouver’s Dundarave Park.
Kerrisdale Village–a picturesque shopping district in the southern Vancouver–celebrates the season with lots of free fun, including free horse and carriage rides (Saturdays only and December 23), live Christmas music in the streets, and a chance to meet Santa and his elves.
The Rogers Santa Claus Parade features over 60 marching bands, dance troupes, festive floats and community groups, attracting over 300,000 spectators along its route through downtown Vancouver.
This year, free events include the famous Canada Place Sails of Light and strolling by the historic Woodward’s Windows, a classic Christmas movie in Rudolph’s Theatre, the beautiful Canada Place Sails of Light and much more. It’s all taking place along The Canadian Trail (Canada Place West Promenade) from December 13 – 31, 2014.
Every year, the residents of East Vancouver’s Trinity Street join together to create one of the best displays of Christmas lights in Vancouver. Houses along Trinity Street go all-out for the holidays with incredible light displays and festive decor, inviting their neighbours (and all of Vancouver) to enjoy a free stroll.
The Winter Solstice is an event that celebrates the return of the light after the year’s shortest day. The Festival includes lantern displays, live musical performances, and events in five Vancouver neighbourhoods, including Yaletown, the Downtown Eastside, Granville Island, and at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden in Chinatown. All Festival events are free, but donations are requested.
Held in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Light Up the Night celebrates the first night of Chanukah with by lighting Canada’s tallest Menorah! The celebration also includes special performers, and free hot cocoa and latkes. Festivities start at 6pm.
You can also bring a unwrapped toy to donate to the Chanukah Toy Drive for the BC Children’s Hospital.
Yaletown hosts the its third-annual free Christmas event in Vancouver: a festival on Mainland Street (between Davie and Nelson) that includes a “All I want for Christmas” street market, horse-drawn carriage rides, reindeer, ice skating, and Santa. (Bring your own camera for pictures with Santa!)
Of course there are always the “not free” Vancouver Winter Classics:
1. 2014 Christmas Market in Vancouver
The annual Vancouver Christmas Market will be celebrating its fifth anniversary in the heart of downtown at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza starting November 22 and will run until Christmas Eve.
2. The Nutcracker
Follow the fearless female heroine, Clara, as her Christmas dream becomes magical reality. Danced to Tchaikovsky’s glorious music, Clara’s turn-of-the-century stately mansion becomes a whirlwind fantasy of live toy soldiers, dancing mice and a mischievous bear who steals the Christmas pudding. When: December 12 to 14, performances at 7:30 p.m.; December 13 to 14, performances at 2 p.m. Tickets here.
3. Flyover Canada Christmas Edition
FlyOver Canada transforms into a winter wonderland this holiday season as we take guests on a magical journey with Santa across Canada and on to the North Pole – from December 5 to January 6. In addition to the special Christmas edition of the ride, they’ve got Christmas decorations, holiday music, lights, hot drinks, festive food and more! Tickets here.
4. Karaoke Christmas Trolley Tour
Three hours of Christmas family fun featuring Stanley Park’s Bright Nights Display and Van Dusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights – from December 10 to December 30 (no tours on Christmas Day). More info here.
5. A Traditional Christmas from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Metro Vancouver’s most beloved Holiday music tradition plays to sold out houses in South Delta, Burnaby, the North Shore, Surrey and downtown Vancouver. Get your tickets early. See details at the VSO website
6. Ugly Christmas Sweater Party
The most fun you can have with your knitwear on. Celebrate a season of sweateriness with the original Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at Commodore Ballroom on Friday, December 19. It’s your opportunity to showcase your ugliest, loudest, jingle-bell-est sweater and grant a wish for a seriously ill child. More info here.
7. The Peak at Grouse Mountain
Bring your family to Santa’s Workshop on Grouse Mountain and meet reindeer, or take a sleigh-ride through our mystical alpine forest. You can also experience the tranquil beauty of skating on our 8,000 square foot mountaintop Ice Skating Pond, surrounded by snow-topped trees – November 28 to December 24, 2014.
8. VanDusen Garden’s Festival of Lights
Experience the Festival of Lights, a frozen winter wonderland with over one million lights decorating VanDusen Garden. Stroll with friends and family through themed areas and enjoy the Dancing Lights show on Livingstone Lake, the gnome performance, and the shadow puppet show. Have photos taken with Santa, savour holiday treats, and delight in much more! From December 10 to January 4. Closed on Christmas Day.
9. Canyon Lights in North Vancouver
See the tallest Christmas tree in the world at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park from November 29 to January 3. More info here.
10. Bright Nights at Stanley Park
During the holiday season, the Bright Nights Train and Plaza at Stanley Park sparkles with three million twinkling lights, decorating the darkness that comes early at this time of year. From November 27 to January 4 (Closed on Christmas Day), $6-11 for train tickets. More info here.