Known for its vibrant atmosphere and lovely coastal scenes, Vancouver is a favorite destination for travelers along Canada's West Coast. This port city boasts year-round appeal, thanks to its prime location between the ocean and the mountains and its unique culture, which presents itself through art, food and an eclectic mix of sites to explore. Even as the temperature begins to fall, there is no drop in the number of activities. Here are 10 of the best things to do in Vancouver this winter.
1. Get Festive at Grouse Mountain
An annual event at Grouse Mountain, the Peak of Christmas Festival is something that Vancouverites look forward to every December. Go ice skating atop a mountain or take a walk through a tunnel illuminated by Christmas lights. The Theater in the Sky is the perfect place to watch a Christmas classic with hot chocolate in hand. For the kiddos, there is a Christmas Village where they can make crafts, write a letter to Santa and visit a reindeer habitat.
2. Ice Skate in Robson Square
Robson Square is located right in the heart of the city and is a favorite locale for shopping, dining and people watching. Beginning in December, the domed, open-air building at the center of the square transforms into an ice skating rink. It is particularly magical to skate here in the evenings when all the buildings of downtown are illuminated and the surrounding trees twinkle with holiday lights.
3. Visit the Vancouver Christmas Market
Sip mulled wine and peruse handmade wares at the annual Vancouver Christmas Market. This German-inspired market is filled with traditional offerings and modern excitement and is complete with more than 80 unique vendor stalls. While at the market, do not forget to visit the walk-in Christmas tree and to ride the Christmas Carousel.
4. Experience Bright Nights in Stanley Park
Stanley Park is a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, and around the holidays, the park sparkles in the night with over 3 million lights. Perhaps the most beloved attraction within the park during the winter is the Bright Nights Train. This model replica of the Canadian Pacific Railway #374 takes passengers through illuminated winter scenes and puts nostalgia at the forefront of the brief adventure.
5. Zipline Above the Snow
The mountain scenes of Grouse and Whistler are impressive in the spring and summer, but covered in snow, they become otherworldly. Gain a new perspective on these mountains by seeing them from above on the ziplines at Grouse and Whistler Mountains. At Grouse, spend 2 hours taking in the snow-capped peaks, the brilliant white valleys and the hearty evergreen forests.
6. Hit the Slopes
Is it even winter in Vancouver if you do not try your hand at mountainside winter sports? Vancouver is home to three mountains - Grouse, Cypress and Seymour - all of which boast challenging ski and snowboarding courses that draw visitors from miles around. If skiing is not your cup of tea, try tobogganing, tubing or snowshoeing. You can even head down the mountain with your own personal chauffeur through the snow with a snow limo tour
7. Cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the 10 best things to do in Vancouver in the winter each year. Walk over 100 feet above the forest floor on a series of seven suspension bridges and watch how the forest transforms as hundreds of thousands of lights cover the trees, Cliffwalk and canyon. The tallest Christmas trees in the world can be found here, as there are eight decorated fir trees that stretch up to 110 feet tall!
8. Watch the Carol Ship Parade of Lights
For the past 50 years, the beginning of December has brought a beloved tradition: the illuminated boats of the Carol Ship Parade of Lights. On Friday and Saturday nights from the first week of December until nearly Christmas, ships decked out in holiday lights cruise through the waters of downtown Vancouver. Some nights there are only a few ships, whereas others can include 50 or more.
9. Taste Your Way Through the Hot Chocolate Festival
Vancouver's annual hot chocolate festival is not a one-day event; instead, it is a month-long experience that allows connoisseurs to sample tons of unique hot chocolate drinks throughout the city. There are traditional versions, alcoholic drinks and even varieties that combine hot chocolate with fruits, teas and other unusual ingredients. The contest not only pits the hot chocolates against one another, but it also gives out prizes to tasters who use social media to document their culinary adventures.
10. Seek Out Waterfalls
British Columbia is home to an abundance of waterfalls, and in the winter, the plummeting temperatures allow them to partially or totally freeze over. Lynn Canyon Falls in North Vancouver is the closest place to see the beautiful frozen water formations; however, there are many others within day trip distance.
Get out and explore the best Vancouver has to offer this winter with a rail tour from Vacations By Rail. Several of our seasonal itineraries highlight this spectacular city, including the Winter in the Rockies, Winter in Western Canada and Canadian Snow Train tours, and bring winter magic to life.