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Last updated on November 26th, 2023 at 07:16 pm

A re you curious about what Vancouver is like in winter? There are dozens of things to do to keep you occupied through the rain and colder temperatures. Vancouver is a gateway to incredible winter getaways while maintaining one of the mildest winters in the country, making it a must-visit for a magical winter holiday.

When I moved to Vancouver, everyone warned me about the winters  – “the rain and the short, dark days get you down – and summers really are the best!” Call me a wild child, but I personally love Vancouver in winter. The festive lights, cozying up in a pub with a glass of whiskey, hitting the local slopes for snowboarding, exploring the rain-soaked rainforest, the arctic seabirds that spend their winter bobbing in the waves along the sea wall, the hot chocolate festival, and winter shows all make this incredible city well worth visiting during the winter months. If you find yourself in Vancouver as a visitor for the Christmas market or the epic ski slopes, or if you live here and are looking for some inspiration regarding all the fun things to do in the winter, this guide has you covered. 

Fun things to do to enjoy in Winter in Vancouver, Canada

Perhaps it’s because I was born and raised in Alaska that I find Vancouver winters mild and enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be from an Arctic climate to love Vancouver in winter – you just have to pack the proper clothing and come with a sense of adventure. That’s why this guide covers more than all the best activities to do in Vancouver in winter but also all the essential tips and information you need to have an epic time.

Make sure you save this guide for your upcoming trip to Vancouver during the winter months. Or, if you are a local looking to stay up to date on all the fun annual winter events like the Winter Solstice and upcoming shows, bookmark this, as it will be updated every year with the latest information! Enjoy the very best of Vancouver this winter!

QUICK LOOK

  • Vancouver is one of Canada’s best cities for winter!
  • With mild winters but easy access to snowy landscapes, it is the ideal destination for a combination of winter landscapes and cozy urban exploration
  • Visiting during winter allows you to save some money, enjoy fewer crowds, and contribute to a more sustainable experience.
  • There are dozens of delightful things to do from ice skating, watching hockey, exploring the rainforest, checking out a Christmas market or enjoying the foodie scene.

Land Acknowledgement 

Vancouver lies on the unceeded lands and territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations. The Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh have unique languages, cultures, clothing, and traditions, with dozens of smaller individual tribes within each nation. They inhabited the lands immemorial, living a subsistence lifestyle along the coast and Fraser River valley. 

As you explore Vancouver, remember you are on their traditional and ancestral lands. Take time to learn about each culture, starting on the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh websites. You can also visit the Musqueam Cultural Center to learn more about their culture and visit the gift shop. The cultural center is a beautiful building designed and inspired by Musqueam headdresses. It is right on the mouth of the Fraser River in a beautiful setting. The Squamish and Lil’wat Cultural Center is in Whistler, and it is an educational place to see films, participate in live workshops, and explore art and a museum. The Tsleil-Waututh Community Center is near Deep Cove, but I think it is only open to the public for special events, such as an annual Christmas event. Visiting these indoor cultural centers is a great addition to your Vancouver winter itinerary.

Reasons to Visit Vancouver in Winter

If summer is so great, why should you visit Vancouver in winter? Well, there are plenty of things to enjoy about the winter months in Vancouver. Aside from all the activities, exploring Vancouver in winter contributes to a sustainable economy and diffuses the summer tourism boom. 

Explore with fewer crowds – Most tourists visit Vancouver as a start or end terminal cruise stop on the way to Alaska. But, when the cruise season ends, the tourist crowds dissipate, and Vancouver begins to fall into a cadence of local comings and goings. Some of Vancouver’s best attractions, like Granville Island, the sea wall, Science World, and the sprawling nature parks, are all at your disposal but without the throngs of tourists. 

However, that is not to say it is tourist-free. It should be noted that Vancouver is a popular tourist destination for skiing. So, places such as Whistler are very full from December to March. So, expect big crowds along the sea to sky highway and at the ski resorts. Locals also enjoy the city year-round. Shoulder seasons are the quietest time in Vancouver, and you get a feel for real life and life as a local. 

Vancouver in winter

Save money and contribute to a more sustainable tourism economy. When you visit outside the peak tourist season, you help businesses survive the lull. Especially if you visit during the early and late winter, shop at local small businesses, dine at mom-and-pop restaurants and enjoy the tourist experience at a time when your dollars go a bit further. Visiting off-season also more evenly distributes tourist numbers and lessens the impact on the natural environment. 

Enjoy mild winters but still see snowy landscapes. Vancouver winters can be a bit rainy, but as one of the warmest places in Canada, the winters are quite mild. There’s only a handful of times that I need heavier winter coats, and you can usually get away with packing some good layers and waterproofs. But the best part is that if you want a snowy winter vacation, you can head to the North Shore mountains for skiing, sledding, and other winter sports. 

Winter in Vancouver sunset beach

An excuse to stay indoors. During the summer, finding a reason to stay indoors and visit museums can be tricky. That means many visitors often miss the museums, art galleries, cozy pubs, and local shops. If the weather is less than ideal in winter, it is the best excuse to head indoors, warm up, and enjoy the cultural highlights of Vancouver. 

Tips for Visiting Vancouver in Winter

Vancouver Winter Weather

No matter what month you visit Vancouver, from November to March, you can expect rain to happen on average 15 days per month, or 50% of the time during these months. Of course, the number of rainy days and the intensity varies, but the key message to take away is to be prepared for rain.

The temperatures in late autumn through winter and early spring average about 3-5°C up to 7-9°C, with things starting to warm up in March.

Vancouver sea wall in winter

We occasionally get a cold snap that can bring snow and below-freezing temperatures – like the snowpocalypse of Christmas 2022. The entire city shut down during this snowstorm, and we had snow on the ground for days. And in the era of climate change, we get the occasional atmospheric river and warmer weather. So, always double-check the 10-day forecast before traveling to best prepare for seasonal weather.

The winter of 2023/24 is an El Niño year. That means that, on average, temperatures will likely be warmer and dryer, but it has been raining a lot this past October and November, so we will see.

What to Pack for Vancouver Winter

Packing for your winter vacation in Vancouver can be tough. The key is to pack layers and quality waterproof shoes and jackets.  The great thing about Vancouver is that it is probably one of the most casual cities. Going out to events or dinner in more casual attire is not uncommon. Of course, if you like to dress up for shows, you won’t be out of place. That’s what’s so great about Vancouver: we don’t have any societal fashion expectations, so dress it up or down, and you will fit right in. 

Vancouver Seawall

As with all my packing tips, I encourage you to look through your closet for existing pieces that will work so you don’t have to buy new items. Or you can ask a friend or family member to borrow a good rain jacket. However, I suggest good investment pieces and staples for your travel or general wardrobe if you do decide to get something new for your trip.

Rain Jacket

The first essential you’ll likely want to pack is a waterproof jacket. For winter in Vancouver, you will need something to keep you both warm and dry If you snowboard ski, or live in a colder climate your regular winter jacket should do just fine, as long as the waterproofing on it is still good.

Ganesh and I both swear by our 3-in-1 jackets. They are great because they provide extra insulation in colder weather, or you can use the shell in warmer temperatures.

  • For women, I own and recommend the North Face 3-1 Eco Tri-Climate jacket. It is light enough for city wear but has great insulation and waterproofing. I love this jacket! For the cold snaps, I can easily layer this with a technical fleece to stay nice and cozy.
    • I also recommend the Patagonia 3-in-1 based on Ganesh’s love for this jacket in men’s and other Patagonia products I own.
  • For the guys, Ganesh has had his Patagonia 3-in-1 for almost ten years, and he sent it back to Patagonia once for repair during his 9th year of owning it. Their commitment to repairing their products is excellent, and he got a second life out of his jacket, making Patagonia a great investment.

If you are not on a budget and looking to invest in a quality rain jacket that will last you years, I recommend Arc’teryx waterproof products. I have an Arc’teryx jacket for multi-day backpacking and hiking tours, and I trust their waterproofing fully to keep me dry on the trail and when walking around the city. Again, you are looking for something insulated and waterproof, or a shell with layers.

If you decide to just bring a shell for women or a shell for men, to save on weight and space you will need some good layers for Vancouver winter, as shells alone are not warm enough. I would pair this with something like a nano puff for women or men, and maybe keep a technical fleece for women or men on hand. But, if you do have an insulated winter jacket that might be a better item to bring.

Waterproof Shoes

The next essential you will need is a quality waterproof shoe. You don’t need big snow boots unless you plan on heading up to Whistler or spending a lot of time in the mountains.

Vancouver Laughing Men statues

Other Winter Essentials for Vancouver

  • Your favorite casual clothing and layers you own. You don’t need to do a big shop as long as you have the essentials. I love PrAna basics for their comfort and commitment to sustainability
  • If you prefer an Umbrella to keep you dry, invest in a quality compact product that won’t break or turn inside out easily. The longer they last the less waste that goes in a landfill.
  • Wool socks are a must to keep your feet warm and dry. I love Farm to Feet as a sustainable, ethical, and eco company.
  • Winter hats are always a good idea to pack for cooler climates. I love my winter hat with a bill to keep rain off my face; it’s great for anyone who wears makeup. Or just a regular beanie for men. Pistil is great for being a small US company committed to sustainability.
  • Gloves are essential. You might opt for just regular gloves to keep you warm for men or women (Ganesh and I both have N. Face) or a waterproof option for men or for women
  • A cute scarf for the ladies or the guys. Dress up your rain or winter jacket.
  • A purse that won’t get ruined if wet
  • Base layers: if heading into the mountains, you easily get cold. REI has its line of light base layers, including tops and bottoms for women and tops and bottoms for men
  • Reusable coffee cup. You’ll want something sustainable for hot drinks! Some cafes in N. Vancouver don’t offer to-go cups; you must bring your own! Plus you get a discount at cafes around the city.
  • All the other travel essentials to keep you safe, warm, dry, and comfortable.

Getting Around Vancouver in Winter

The downtown core of Vancouver is one of the more pedestrian-friendly and walkable cities in North America. When the weather is nice, I suggest walking from A to B to enjoy Vancouver’s integrated nature, get some steps, and travel carbon-free.

But, with the chances of rain at about 50%, you should get acquainted with the public transportation in Vancouver. Busses are the most common way to get around in the downtown area. You can use a contactless card as you enter the bus—no need to tap off as you exit.

We have a sky train system, which is the best way to get to some outer areas, such as Main Street, Queen Elizabeth Park, Burnaby, and the Airport. You can use the same contactless system with your card, but make sure you tap on and off.

Vancouver Sea Bus ferry

Our Seabus is a great way to access N. Vancouver for winter events at the shipyards, like holiday markets.

If you want to save a few loonies, you can always use the kiosk at the Sky Train stations to get a compass card. However, adding another plastic card to your stash is wasteful if you don’t live here, so I suggest sticking to the easy system of tapping on and off with your contactless car.  

Google Maps is the best navigation tool to help you understand your bus and Sky Train options.

There are also a lot of shuttle services that will get you to places like Whistler, Grouse, and Cypress Mountains, but more on that later.

Vancouver Winter Activities & Things To Do

The great thing about Vancouver’s mild winters is that you can do just about anything that you can do in summer, just with more clothing. We Vancouver locals still hike, bike, walk along the sea wall, and enjoy the integration of nature and urban life we are so fortunate to have in our daily lives. Of course, though, there are plenty of special events just for the holidays or to light up the nights. For example, hockey season is only in winter, and the snow-filled mountains open up many activities you can only do in winter!

Watch Hockey – Go Canucks Go!

I come from a hockey family. My dad, from Canada, grew up playing hockey and, at 73, is still on the rink. It’s no surprise then that my all-time favorite thing to do in Vancouver in winter is attend a hockey game. The Canucks are the local team, and watching them play is a blast. You can get tickets on their main website or a trusted seller. The 2023/2024 NHL hockey season runs from October to April, making this the perfect winter activity in Vancouver.

Canucks Game Vancouver Hockey things to do in the winter

Our colors are true blue, true green, and white, so pack those colors if you have them in your wardrobe – or choose a competitive jersey from your favorite NHL team if you dare – just kidding, the Canucks fans are absurdly nice. The Rogers Arena has excellent seating, so you can’t go wrong with whatever seat you choose. If you are on a budget, you can stop by Yaletown for happy hour at most of their pubs. Go Canucks Go!

There is security at the event, and your bags will be checked. Do not bring large pieces of luggage, bags, or anything else against their policy.

The Vancouver Christmas Market!

After living in Germany for seven years, I might be considered a European Christmas snob. While the Vancouver Christmas Market isn’t quite on the same level as the Alsace or Munich Christmas markets, it is still great. Vancouver only has one official Christmas market, and it is in the perfect location- right downtown, overlooking the harbor and with views of the North Shore mountains. The large market manages to maintain a cozy, intimate vibe. One thing I think the Vancouver market does better than some of the European markets is the wares, making this a great market to get some sustainable Christmas gift shopping done. The vendors are a mix of local BC and Canadian artisans and authentic European goods.

Vancouver Christmas Market things to do in winter

There is an entrance fee, but once you are inside, it is worth it, as you’ll find dozens of traditional European and uniquely Canadian food vendors, plenty of places to get Glühwein, and lots of festive decorations. 

The Vancouver Christmas Market is from November 16 – December 23, 2023, with varying hours of operation throughout the season. Visit their website for hours and ticketing information. Getting your ticket in advance on busy nights and weekends might be a good idea.  

PNE Winter Fair

The PNE is like our state fairgrounds, and the Winter Fair is a festive winter experience the whole family can enjoy. You’ll find holiday light displays and lots of entertainment. Enjoy ice skating and ice bumper cars, or ride a holiday express train around the park. You can get tickets to see holiday-themed shows, including the Nut Cracker on Ice, musicals, orchestra events, and an interactive Christmas experience for kids. While not quite a Christmas market, the Winter Fair does have food trucks and vendors selling wares. 

The event is from Dec 8-9, 2023, and again from Dec 14 – 23, 2023. Tickets for adults at the gate at $30, with cheaper options for kids, seniors, and advanced sales. The biggest complaints about the winter fair are parking and crowds. Visit on a weekday if you can, and ride the bus or catch an Uber to avoid the hassle and cost of parking.

Go Ice Skating

Every December, Robson Square in downtown Vancouver transforms into an outdoor skating rink. As Vancouver’s only public outdoor rink, you can skate under a geometric dome that lights up at night. As a bonus, Robson Square is always festive, with plenty of holiday lights and the Vancouver city night lights as a backdrop. 

Grouse Mountain also has a massive outdoor skating pond. Head up to the high alpine resort and rent skates to enjoy a fun-filled day skating on an 8,000-square-foot pond! I grew up skating on ponds in Alaska, and it is such a fun experience!

Ski or Snowboard

One of the best reasons to visit Vancouver during winter is the epic skiing and snowboarding opportunities. While most of you have heard of Whistler, our North Shore mountains have small, local resorts that can make for a great day or half day of riding. 

Whistler & Blackcomb

People come from all over the world to ski the epic slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb. Whether you head up on a very long day trip from Vancouver, stay overnight or for several nights. Whistler and Blackcomb combined have hundreds of runs and terrain great for everyone, from new beginners to advanced riders. 

Blackcomb mountain Whistler snowboarding

Whistler is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the world. I grew up snowboarding in Alaska, and I am not used to the crowds at Whistler, so I suggest going during the week and staying overnight. Otherwise, you must leave early in the morning and expect to return late. You can spend much of your day waiting in line on busy weekends. We usually stay at the Westin in Whistler, a 3+ sustainable property, or rent a cabin if we stay for the week. 

You can drive up to Whistler alone if you have a car rental. Otherwise, you can catch the SkyLynx shuttle from the airport or downtown Vancouver.  

Cypress & Grouse

If you want a smaller, more intimate ski and snowboard experience, check out Cypress and Grouse mountains in N. Vancouver’s N. Shore. Grouse Mountain is a small ski field, ideal for beginners and intermediate riders. At the same time, Cypress is a mid-sized mountain suitable for all levels.  

Cypress mountain ski resort Vancouver

There are shuttles and buses that you can ride to access Cypress and Grouse easily.

Try Snow Activities 

If you are not a skier or snowboarder but still love being outdoors in the snow, then the Vancouver area has loads of fun snow sports and activities. Cypress Mountain and Grouse Mountain transform into winter playgrounds with tubing, skiing, and snowshoe trails, but several options exist. 

Tubing & Sledding

Tubing and sledding are some of the best outdoor activities in the snow. For all these activities, wear proper snow gear and boots. 

  • Gnarly’s Tube Park at Cypress Mountain has six tube runs lasting 100m long. You should book an advanced ticket on busy weekends and holidays, which costs $34 per person. They also have a gentle sledding area where you can bring your sled. 
  • Mt. Seymour also has a tube park, tube tow, and winter play area. For $33, you can tube, or $15 for sledding. Visit their cafe afterward to warm up next to a fireplace. 
  • Sky to Sky Gondola Park. The famous gondola has a lovely winter with a long tubing course. You only need to pay $5 plus the cost of the gondola ticket.
  • Grouse Mountain has a small sledding area where you can rent sleds and enjoy their slide zone.

Snowshoe & Cross Country Skiing

You’re quickly learning that Cypress is THE winter destination for winter sports. The Nordic Area at Cypress has 19km of groomed ski trails, some of which are lit at night. You can rent cross-country skis or sign up for lessons.  

If you are looking for a full-day trip out of Munich to go cross-country skiing, check out EC Manning Park, which has 64km of Nordic trails. 

Snowshoeing at Cypress Vancouver Winter things to do

Once again, Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse Mountain have trails for snowshoeing. You can rent shoes at MEC in North Vancouver. Or even better, book a snowshoe tour with a local guide so you are well-equipped and have someone to take you to the best views! Howe Sound and looking out over Vancouver in Winter is magical, for lack of a better word. 

Enjoy Festive Lights

With the long, dark winters, Vancouver goes all out with festive holiday light displays. Even just walking around downtown, you can enjoy trees lit up and plenty of Christmas lights, but there are several places to enjoy incredibly curated light displays and shows. These are all outdoor events, so dress appropriately for the weather and being outside after dark. 

Granville Festive Lights

If you are on a tighter budget, head over to Granville Island, starting when Daylight Savings Ends and lasting until March, when it begins again. From Nov 12, 2023, to Jan 3rd, 2024, there will be a memorable holiday and Christmas light display. You can enjoy the festive and ambient light displays as you meander the charming streets of Granville Island, shopping at local boutiques and eating tasty food from the food market. 

Some highlights include the Public Market Star and the Granville Island Hotel. Granville Island is free to enter and explore. I recommend riding the aqua bus over just before sunset and going for a stroll as the lights begin to light up the night.  

Capilano Winter Lights

Capilano Rainforest Park and suspension bridge is home to Canyon Lights, Vancouver’s most famous and incredible display of lights. While Capilano can be overrated on any regular day, it truly comes alive with its seasonal canyon lights. I suggest going before sunset on a weeknight to enjoy the rainforest before dark. Then, once dusk settles, the entire rainforest park lights up with incredible displays.

Capilano suspension bridge Canyon lights winter things in Vancouver

The suspension bridge is just a taste of what you’ll get as you explore the tree tops and water features with captivating lights spanning a few kilometers of forested trails. The area also has some colonial and Indigenous historical information, a cafe, and a snow owl scavenger hunt.

Get your tickets in advance, or combine Canyon Lights with a tour of VancouverThe canyon lights turn on Nov 17, 2023, and last until January 21, 2024.

VanDusen Festive Lights

VanDusen is an incredible botanical garden in central Vancouver. The botanical gardens are known for their extravagant themed holiday events. VanDusen goes all out for the festive winter seasons with 1 million twinkling lights. Every plant and tree is wrapped in colorful lights, and glowing displays highlight rare and endangered plants and animals. This is an evening event, so make sure you dress warm. Take time to enjoy snacks from various food vendors and make a charitable donation to Make-A-Wish.

November 24, 2023 – January 7, 2024, from 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Closed on Christmas Day. 

West End Lights

“West End, best end” as we say here in Vancouver. I live in the West End, and let me tell you, this neighborhood is unlike any other downtown metros around the world. This intimate, community-based neighborhood goes all out for every holiday, and Christmas is no exception. Meander the streets from Robson to Davie and Thurlow to Denman and enjoy the colorful heritage houses lit with holiday light displays. The best house is on Nelson and Bute, but you’ll find magic around my adorable neighborhood. Grab a coffee at Greenhorn to keep you warm as you explore.

West End Vancouver Christmas lights

Stanley Park Bright Nights

BC firefighter volunteers turn Stanley Park into a Christmas wonderland every winter. At 690 Pipeline Road, you’ll enter a part of Stanley Park that comes to life with thousands of twinkle lights and displays. Walk through a light tunnel, visit Santa’s workshop, an old fire truck, and a Christmas village. Returning this year is the Stanley Park Vintage Train. Ride a small vintage train through Stanley Park’s parts lit up for the holiday season. The train has been out of commission for several years and is making its refurbished comeback for 2023. Advanced tickets are required; unfortunately, they sold out within 1 hour!

BC firefighters host the event, and it is a fundraising opportunity for them, so please make sure you donate to help secure BC’s future at a time when our forest fires are becoming more extreme. Bright Nights is from November 30, 2023, to January 1, 2024. Visit after dark for the best experience.

Community Winter Markets

While summer might be THE season for farmers markets, don’t forget because winter in Vancouver has its fair share of community markets and even winter farmers markets.

Shipyard Christmas and Artisan Markets

Support small local businesses in North Vancouver. On December 2nd, visit the Shipyards for their 2023 Christmas market featuring local artisans, including a special made in the North Vancouver section. Shop for jewelry, chocolates, hand-sewn gifts, snacks, and more! Expect a full entertainment schedule for shows, music, and performances. A tree-lighting ceremony also exists. Another Christmas event will happen in the same location on December 16- 17.

Lonsdale Quay North Vancouver

On December 10, 2023, North Vancouver has the Winter Artisan Market. This is a fantastic opportunity to explore the charming N. Vancouver and support small local artists. The event is open from noon to 7 pm. As you shop for a sustainable and one-of-a-kind gift, you can pick up some freebies – like hot chocolate and enjoy festival violin music.

Just catch the Vancouver Sea Bus to N. Vancouver and head to the Shipyards for these events. 

Winter Farmers Market

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the chance to support local farms and small producers. Head to the Riley Park Winter Farmer’s Market every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., November to March. Shop from over 85 farm vendors and food and gourmet producers at 30th Ave & Ontario. Bring your reusable tote to grab all those winter veggies, homemade soups, and spirits to get you through the long winter. 

Japan Market Christmas Market

Japan Market hosts its own Christmas Market. From December 2-3, 10 am – 5 pm, stop by UBC Robson Square downtown to stock up on all your favorite Japanese products and food. Many vendors sell locally-made Japanese-inspired foods and products, but you can find imported goods from Japan. This is a tremendous cultural blend to pick up unique Japanese-themed gifts for the holiday season.

Vancouver skyline

Check Out Yaletown Candy Town

Downtown Yaletown transforms into a magical Candy Town for a limited time in December! Walks streets full of holiday lights and decorations as characters and performers (like the gingerbread man) parade around. Hundreds of local merchants have booths to sell their wares, making this a great opportunity for sustainable gift-giving. Enjoy photo stations, live music, and live ice carving.

While the event is family-friendly, there is also a self-guided cocktail tour for those of drinking age. Some proceeded from the event to go toward BC Children’s Hospital.

The 2023 event will occur from Bill Curtis Square to Helmcken Plaza on Dec 2.

Go Birding! See Arctic Sea Birds

Vancouver is an unexpectedly fantastic place for winter birding. With mild winter temperatures, many birds, such as Arctic sea birds, spend their winters along the Vancouver seawall, our agricultural fields, or wetlands. 

Winter birding in Vancouver

One of my favorite things to do in winter is to walk the entire Vancouver Sea Wall (12km). As you walk, you’ll see thousands of Arctic seabirds, including Surf scooters, Buffleheads, Barrows goldeneyes, rare gulls, and Mergansers bobbing in the waters. They hang out in the ocean west of Lion’s Gate along the sea wall. Bring your binoculars and camera for this free and bird-filled walk.

You can also visit the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta for chances to see cranes, ducks, snow geese, canvasback, grebes, hawks, and more! You’ll need to make a reservation if you come by private car. It is about 45 min – 1 hour away from downtown Vancouver. 

sandhill crane George c reifel bird sanctuary

The Comox Valley is known for the swans and geese that overwinter in the agricultural fields. 

Download the MerlinID phone app to help you track and identify the winter birds you spot and help contribute to citizen science data!

Enjoy Vancouver’s Foodie Scene

Vancouver is known around the world for its incredible food and restaurant scene. Condé Nast named it one of the best cities in the world for food, with 9 Michelin Star restaurants and 17 Bib Gourmand spots. And, what better time to do it than during the darker and colder months when cozying up indoors for multi-course meals is a no-brainer? Of course, there are plenty of more budget-friendly eats as well. 

Vancouver is a no-brainer if you like seafood, authentic Chinese and Cantonese, and fine dining. But, unfortunately for us vegetarians and vegans, Vancouver’s dining scene is not entirely on par with the likes of Berlin or Munich, which are known to have some of the best vegetarian dining in Europe, but there are options. As a vegetarian, my recommendations focus on plant-forward restaurants.

Restaurants

For fine dining restaurants, I suggest the vegan Michelin-recommended Acorn restaurant. This is where I go for my birthdays; it is Vancouver’s best vegan experience. For choices to appeal to all tastes, the 1-star Michelin restaurant, Published on Main, is excellent, and Nightengale downtown is another fantastic option. 

Published on Main Vancouver restaurant

For mid-price, Fable Kitchen and Farmers Apprentice have sustainable, ethically sourced options for everyone. Karma Indian Bistro is excellent for trying out Vancouver’s incredible Indian cuisine. Little Bird Dim Sum is a great spot for casual dim sum and craft beer. 

Foodie Tours

If you are on a budget, head to Granville and peruse the extensive food and market stalls -they are covered, so this is a great rainy-day activity. You can also book a festive foodie tour of Granville, so you have local tips for the best food. These tours cater to vegetarians with advanced notice. 

Gastown is another foodie hub, and you can explore the rich food scene on your own or hire a guide to take you to a sit-down course at three restaurants or snack your way through Gastown with multiple stops (vegetarians accommodated with advanced notice). 

To appreciate Vancouver’s incredible Asian food, hire a guide to take you to Richmond, known to have some of the best Chinese food outside of China. Otherwise, you can check Richmond’s dumpling trail for a DIY experience. 

Dine Out Vancouver

After the festive season, cities can fall into a post-holiday slump, but Vancouver keeps things exciting with a foodie-focused city-wide event. Hundreds of restaurants around Vancouver participate in Dine Out Vancouver, featuring special multi-course menus and experiences to showcase their best culinary delights. The offerings range from fine dining to family-friendly experiences. Visit the website for updated information for the 2024 season, or check if your favorite restaurant is participating.

Last year, we went to Zarak by Aghan Kitchen for their Dine Out meal, which was drool-worthy!  Dine Out Vancouver starts on January 17 and lasts until February 4, 2024

Enjoy the Boozy and Beverage Scene

If you prefer liquid meals, Vancouver also has a lively, boozy, and beverage scene to enjoy. Whether you are looking to escape the cold with craft cocktails, hidden speakeasies, craft beers, local wine, or coffee and hot chocolate, there is something to satiate your thirst.

Vancouver is known for some excellent craft breweries. One of my top breweries is Stanley Park Brewery. Enjoy a selection of craft beer right on the outskirts of the famous Stanley Park. If the weather permits, stroll along English Bay into Stanley Park before sitting down to enjoy your craft beer. 

Stanley Park Brewery Vancouver

Mt. Pleasant, near Main Street, is known as our craft beer district with dozens of breweries like 33 Acres, Main St. Brewing, Faculty Brewing, and more. If the weather permits, pair this with a day of street art touring using the Vancouver Mural Festival App. If all the options are overwhelming, book a guided street art and brewery tour, a coffee and street art tour, a behind the scene brewery tour, or a private beer-tasting tour so you can have local insider knowledge with you to find the best beers, brews, and breweries. 

If you prefer stronger drinks, check out the full-day distillery tour.

For my craft cocktail fans, I recommend visiting the H Tasting Lounge. The local crew mixes up some incredibly over-the-top (in a good way) cocktails, often using locally sourced ingredients. The Bartholomew is probably one of Vancouver’s best cocktail bars, but it is also one of the most popular and, thus, hard-to-find seating; try The Watson as an alternative. The Stock Room is a fun hidden bar – journey past the burger joint, and you’re in for a treat! Mount Pleasant Vintage Provisions is a funky and hipster bar and socializing space in one of our best neighborhoods. 

If you are looking for local BC wine, then Is This French? is one of the best options. The wine is, in fact, not French – but local BC wine! Visit for Happy Hour. Vancouver Urban Winery is an industrial winery in downtown Vancouver that makes its wines in-house using local BC grapes. La Fabrique St-George Winery is a fun place to make wine-tasting and charcuterie boards from local products.  

Vancouver cocktails The Watson

For that post-holiday slump for the beverage junkies, don’t miss the Hot Chocolate Festival. Dozens of cafes and bars around Vancouver participate in this event and make over-the-top hot chocolate creations. Decadent hot chocolates will be on special menus from January 14, 2024, to February 14, 2024. This is the perfect excuse to warm up indoors.

Appreciate Art 

If, after all that food and beverage, you are looking for a more cultured experience, then you might want to visit some of Vancouver’s incredible art galleries. 

The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is my top recommendation for art galleries. Bill Reid is arguably the most influential Canadian artist, putting Haida and First Nations art and craftwork on the global map. The gallery features a stunning monumental (totem) pole and a piece of art depicting the Haida Origin story, which has been cited as one of the most essential modern First Nations pieces. The room is beautiful in a historic Vancouver building, and the ceilings are large enough for the pole. 

Another great choice is the Vancouver Art Gallery, which features permanent and rotating art collections. Enjoy modern, abstract, and interactive art primarily from local artists such as Emily Carr. Don’t miss their offsite exhibit for funky pop-up exhibits. Free admission is on the first Friday of every month. 

You can also visit the Contemporary Art Gallery and the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery.

If you prefer to support local artists and buy something unique to take home, don’t miss the Pacific Arts Market for all the best local-created art in Vancouver.

Visit Museums

Vancouver has a few hidden gems worth visiting if you need a good escape from the rain or cold. Science World is a local and visitor favorite. This funky-shaped spherical building at the end of False Creek is home to a fantastic science museum. Enjoy a walk along the sea wall or catch the aqua bus to visit this museum, which is fun for the whole family. 

Science World Vancouver

The University of British Columbia (UBC) campus has some of the best museums. Head out there to explore the beautiful campus grounds and surrounding area. The two museums to visit are the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Anthropology Museum (temporarily closed until 2024 for renovations). While you’re out there, you can visit a cafe or explore the Pacific Spirit Park if the weather permits. 

The Vancouver Museum is good for learning about Vancouver-specific history and culture. It’s not my top recommended thing to do in Vancouver, but it is something to fill the time in a pinch.

Britannia Mine Museum Things to do in Vancovuer

While about 30 minutes north of Vancouver, the Britannia Mine Museum is a fantastic experience. Visit a real mine that operated for decades as you learn about the balance of mining for critical resources and environmental preservation. Part of the tour includes a train ride into the actual mine to see demonstrations. Book admission for full experience with BOOM! included. My friend Christina and I did just this and had a great time. Or spend the day with a guide and see the area around the mine. The mine has some special events for the holidays as well.

Explore the Bloedel Conservatory 

If you want to warm up, head to the Bloedel Conservatory. Inside Queen Elizabeth Park is a tropical botanical garden—step inside the humid and warm atmosphere to learn bout plant biodiversity and conservation. Home to 100 free-flying birds, the conservatory is also a fun place to learn about tropical birds.

Enjoy Winter Theaters and Shows

Winter is a great time to dress up and enjoy theater, symphonies, and shows! 

Vancouver is often home to the famous tents of Cirque du Soleil. For winter 2023, we have Kooza coming to town!

We are home to a beautiful theater, the Queen Elizabeth Theater, which plays operas such as Carmen and Don Pasqual this winter. It is also the home of dance events, musicals, and more.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra plays a special candlelight to lighten the dark winter nights. They also have several holiday movies with music played by a live orchestra. This season, we have Home Alone, Elf, The Snowman and more!

Art in downtown Vancouver at Canada Place

For the entire list of all entertainment happening in Vancouver this winter, head to the theater website and search for the dates you will visit us.

Disney on Ice is one of the many winter shows coming to Vancouver this year! Get your tickets in advance if you will be in Vancouver November 22-26. This year’s show is Encanto and Frozen, playing at The Pacific Coliseum at the PNE. Disney on Ice is fun for the whole family, and tickets will likely go quickly.

Relax at a Spa 

If all you want to do is curl up, be pampered, and pretend like the cold and rain don’t exist, book yourself a spa day. 

The all-new Miraj Hammam Spa – is a Hammam-inspired spa with Moroccan design and wellness products for a relaxing day that transports you far from Vancouver. A local and visitor favorite is the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Pacific, which offers a luxurious experience in a traditional spa setting. 

And if you are heading up to Whistler, don’t miss the Scandinavian Spa.

Ride the Sea to Sky Gondola

About 45 minutes north of Vancouver is the famous Sea to Sky Gondola. The gondola takes you up high for incredible views over the Howe Sound UNESCO biosphere reserve. In winter, expect snowy landscapes and magical views. Walk across the suspension bridge surrounded by snow-covered trees, go tubing, walking, snowshoeing, or enjoy a meal with a view.  

View of Howe Sound near Vancouver

Afterward, stop by Squamish. Meander downtown and visit Fox and Oat for coffee and doughnuts to warm you up, or continue to Whistler. You can also book a guided excursion to visit the Sea to Sky Gondola and Whistler, with transportation and Gondola tickets included. 

Visit Whistler

Whistler is an incredible destination for winter. Not only are the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains epic for world-class skiing, as I already mentioned, but the entire town and surrounding region are well worth checking out. As an avid snowboarder, I recommend spending at least three days in Whistler to get a feel for both mountains and explore the Whistler area. 

Downtown Whistler

You can explore the charming Whistler Village if you aren’t a big skier or snowboarder. The snow-covered alpine business district is such a joy to explore. Visit local boutiques, dine and world-class food, cozy up at one of the breweries, and check out the Olympic sites. If you have time back in Vancouver, spend a few hours at the Scandinavian Spa to relax those muscles and decompress. 

Hit the beach for a Polar Swim.

If you have always wanted to swim in winter, Vancouver has incredible beaches for business year-round. If brave enough, dip down at English Bay or Sunset Beach.

Polar Swim Vancouver Winter

If you need motivation to brave the cold waters, join thousands of locals and tourists who do an annual Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day. The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim is one of the oldest polar plunges in the world, dating back to the 1920s. Start your year with a refreshing swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Celebrate New Year

Speaking of the New Year’s celebrations, Vancouver is a good place to ring in the New Year. Our fireworks show has been canceled once again, but considering the growing awareness surrounding the environmental impact of fireworks and their impact on wildlife, celebrations are better off without them. However, I hope to see the festivities events return at Canada Place in 2024 – hopefully with drones!

But, there are still plenty of parties, events, and celebrations around the city. Check out Eventbrite for any that you might enjoy. Alternatively, heading to Cyrprus for their New Year’s Eve party is an excellent choice. 

Lunar New Year

Vancouver’s Chinese or Lunar New Year festivities are on another level. I enjoy them more than the Western New Year. With a large Chinese population and a historic downtown Chinatown, the Lunar New Year is hopping—ring in the Year of the Dragon in February 2024. On the first Sunday of the New Year, there is a large parade and festival downtown. After the parade, meander Chinatown, shop at traditional bakeries and tea shops, and listen to traditional songs and dance. Last year, I visited a booth where a man painted my word of choice as a Chinese New Year omen of good luck. 

Celebrate Winter Solstice

Another fun and festive event is the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival. You don’t even have to be pagan to celebrate the darkest day of the year – but it helps :) Solstice is an essential event for those of us who grew up in northern latitudes as it’s our first sign that we’ve reached the darkest hour, and slowly but surely, we will return to the bright, long summers. In Vancouver, the Winter Solstice is about making lanterns to walk through the streets, fire shows, candle-lit labyrinths, music, and anything else to light up the darkness.   

This year, the 2023 Winter Solstice is December 21st, but there are events leading up to and on the Solstice. The festival occurs across three venues: Yaletown, Granville Island, Strathcona, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden.

tea light candles

You can join a lantern-making workshop at the Yaletown Community Center on December 12-13, starting at 6:30 p.m. On Solstice at the Yaletown Exhibition Hall, there is a Labyrinth of Light, and you can join a procession with your hand-made lantern or purchase one on-site. 

Make lanterns at the False Creek Community Center daily from Dec 10-21st before joining the Granville Lantern Procession on the solstice. Don’t forget to check out the Labyrinth here and the fire performances.

This is just scratching the surface of all the solstice events and workshops around the city; check out all the details with dates, times, and specific events on this comprehensive website.

Whale and Wildlife Watching

Most people don’t think of the dead of winter as a great time to go whale-watching, but it can be done! To potentially see whales in winter, you must head over to Vancouver Island – with a guided tour that departs from Vancouver. Enjoy a full day, including a scenic flight and a whale-watching tour. The whales off Vancouver Island are around the entire year, so this is your chance to check off that bucket list item even in the middle of winter. 

Vancouver beach in winter

I only recommend one company for winter whale watching in Vancouver, Prince of Whales. They are eco-certified and get my stamp of approval for ethical wildlife excursions. 

If you want something closer to Vancouver and more budget-friendly, you can join them for a sightseeing and wildlife tour, but this is not a whale-watching excursion.

Go Vintage Shopping

If you are in the mood for a day of shopping, head to Main Street! Main Street has dozens of adorable vintage, second-hand, and thrift stores. Support small local businesses as you explore the fun and colorful Main Street. Start your adventure on Main and 7th and then walk south, stopping at whatever store catches your eye. I suggest Minted Mall, Dig It, C’est La Vie Boutique, and Much + Little. 

You can easily spend an entire day in this area shopping, sipping coffee, and checking out street art. Grab lunch at the veg-friendly Arbor and finish with a cocktail at The Watson. 

Take a Simulated Flight

Fly Over Canada is an immersive, full-sense experience, so you can see, hear, smell, and feel everything that makes Canada such a special country. If you haven’t done a Fly Over tour, it feels like a Disney Land ride. You sit in a way that your legs dangle down, and as your seat moves, you feel as if you are flying over Canada. With a high-definition widescreen, aromatic smells, wind in your hair, and noises, you will feel like a bird flying over incredible landscapes.  Get your entry tickets and get ready to fly!

Try an Escape Room

Escape Rooms are another activity I primarily do in winter. Last Christmas break, my whole family and I decided to do an escape room, and it was a fun way to pass the time in winter. We all went out for beers after and enjoyed each other’s company. The best options are I-Exit Downtown for a pirate theme or Exit Gastown for themed events and gamer-focused themes. 

Festive Dinner Cruise

Take a festive dinner cruise on a fancy boat. You’ll navigate the waters through False Creek around North and West Vancouver at sunset. Sit down to a full double entree holiday meal and enjoy the Christmas spirit with live music and lights. This would be a great way to see the city skyline at night and enjoy good company and food. 

Enjoy Nature Walks 

Do as the locals do and get outside if the weather isn’t too bad or you have the right gear. These lower-elevation walks are almost guaranteed to be snow-free, but always check the conditions before you head out.

Stanley Park Canada

Stanley Park is my favorite place to explore in winter, even in the rain. This magical forested park has kilometers of trails right in the heart of our city. Head down any trails, and you might spot owls, woodpeckers, and other little critters. Make your way to Prospect Point for an incredible view or Beaver Lake to see what critters are around for winter. 

Another great spot is the Pacific Spirt Regional Park out by the UBC campus. Meander down dozens of trails and breathe in that fresh forest air.    

Lynn Canyon Vancouver

If you have a car, you can also explore Lynn Canyon for a free suspension bridge, forest boardwalks, and incredible rainforest views. This is a bit more than a walk, so expect some stairs and a bit of elevation.

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Where to Stay in Vancouver

As with many Canadian cities, Vancouver is battling Airbnb and short-term rentals, contributing to ongoing housing concerns. I suggest you book one of the following recommended hotels. If you decide to book an Airbnb, ensure the Airbnb you are booking is someone’s full-time residence and they are renting it legally as a temporary stay.

I should note that Vancouver hotels are generally on the more expensive side. The super-budget options are usually hostels, places with shared bathrooms, dated and run down. The best of these budget spots is probably Hostel International. Many people complain that they feel like they overpay for what they get. But there are a few gems hidden around the city. While everyone’s budget differs, I suggest three different price brackets.

Vancouver Skyline with snow

Lower End Hotels

The Sylvia Hotel is an iconic heritage hotel between Stanley Park, English Bay, and the West End. It is a simple yet elegant hotel that my uncle swears by. Whenever he comes from Calgary to visit, he only stays at the Sylvia for its location, value, and attached restaurant.

Sonder Apartments are where I recommend all my friends stay when they visit. These modern studio apartments are quiet in the West End but just minutes away from bars, restaurants, and nature. With a kitchen, they are great for longer stays.

Rosellen Apartments is a good alternative to AirBnb with apartments and larger spaces. Sustainable 3+ property

Mid-Range Hotels

Metropolitan is a clean and modern hotel right downtown. This value is decent for Vancouver, with an excellent on-site restaurant and a slight luxury feel. Sustainable 3+ property

Georgian Court is surprisingly modern and upscale inside, contrasting with the more dated brick exterior. Relax at their spa, enjoy an in-hotel restaurant and comfortable rooms in a great location. Sustainable 3+ property.

O Canada Bed and Breakfast Enjoy a bed and breakfast in an adorable heritage home. The location is fantastic, and breakfast is included!

High-End Hotels

Fairmont Pacific Rim – The Fairmont is a Canadian chain of hotels known for its luxury and excellent customer service. Relax at their incredible spa and enjoy amazing views. Sustainable 3+ property.

Pan Pacific is a surprisingly good value, considering the views, location, rooftop pool, and amenities. Sustainable 3+ property

winter in vancouver engagement rings at sunset beach

Areas to Avoid: While many hotels have closed in Vancouver’s downtown East Side, just in case any remain, do not book a hotel or apartment there. It is our most troubling neighborhood, with a large unhoused population and rampant drug use.

If these don’t align with your needs, then search with Booking.com using the sustainability filter to find a good option for your personal needs.

Share Vancouver in Winter

30 ways to enjoy Vancouver in winter. A complete guide to winter in Vancouver, Canada

This complete guide to winter in Vancouver will ensure you have a fantastic experience. Enjoy more than 30 delightful things to beat the cold including ice skating, holiday markets, museums, winter-themed shows, and where to find snow. Whether you are visiting Vancouver for an event or conference, a dedicated winter holiday, as a stopover on your way to Whistler; or you are a local resident looking for new and unique events and ways to enjoy winter. Even in the midst of darker and rainier months, Vancouver City lights up with festive cheer making it a great winter destination.

A complete guide to winter in Vancouver. Things to do and tips to enjoy Vancouver, Canada in winter.
Things to do to enjoy winter in Vancouver, a complete guide.

Curiosity Saves’ Sustainable Travel Resources & Tips

Planning sustainable travel can be challenging, but here are a few of my favorite resources with some tips on filtering out unethical and unsustainable rubbish (well, as best we can, anyway).

Accommodation: I primarily use Booking.com to find sustainable accommodation. Not only do you get a Genius Discount for being a loyal customer, but their new feature allows you to filter based on sustainability. When available, I will always choose a sustainable 3+ property, which means the hotel has significantly reduced its environmental impact and has a vested interest in the community. You can read about each hotel’s efforts at the bottom of the page. 

But, sometimes, something like a vacation rental is the best option. In that case, I first check EcoBnB for sustainable and ethical short-term stays. If there isn’t anything available in my region, I will try to book AirBnB only if it is someone’s full-time home, a Tiny Home on someone’s property, or a Glamping or camping location. This helps ensure short-term rentals don’t contribute to a region’s housing crisis. 

 

Buses and Trains: When possible, I always advocate for taking trains and buses over flying. To find and book the best train and bus transportation in Europe, Canada, and the United States (yes, they have trains and buses), I always use Omio. Omio is a fantastic resource for quickly comparing train and bus routes with English search results. If you book with them, you have access to tickets with an easy-to-use QR code and have clear and concise directions regarding platforms and essential details.

Omio was a lifesaver for me when living in Europe and trying to navigate each country’s sustainable transit choices.

Of course, you might need to book a flight when trains and buses aren’t an option, and you’ve first considered reducing or altering your trip to avoid flying as much as possible. I use Google Flights for their easy-to-understand carbon comparison tool. When available, I will always opt for direct flights and choose more sustainable airlines such as Lufthansa.

 

Car Rental: I love a good road trip! When looking for the best rate on car rentals, I use Discover Cars. Discover Cars lets you shop for the best rate in English and keeps all your details in one place. Ganesh and I drove a Polestar EV at home and typically aim to book electric zero-emission or hybrid cars when we travel. Discover Cars has a filter that makes it easy to find hybrid and fully electric cars. They also offer resources on how to find charging stations best – but for that, I recommend the Plugshare app. 

 

eSIM: Swapping out SIM cards in every country you travel to is wasteful and confusing. That’s why I use and recommend Airalo eSIM. Airalo is a game changer for travel, as I can purchase a local or regional SIM with a pre-determined amount of data and download an eSIM directly on my phone.

 

Packing Essentials: Before buying, first consider if you need new items. If you do, invest in quality and long-lasting technical clothing from your local Co-Op like REI. REI is also great for getting your reusable water bottle and cutlery set

Another option is Patagonia, which has fantastic pieces like clothing that embody regenerative practices. Patagonia will always repair items or swap them out and recycle them at the end of their line. 

For my favorite ethical socks, I recommend Farm to Feet for socks made with regenerative practices that keep you stink and sweat-free and great for travel! Pistil Designs is my favorite small company for cold-weather essentials.

I only use one brand of backpacks for hiking and traveling: Osprey. All my Osprey bags have lasted me 10+ years, making them a great sustainable investment. Whether it is a day bag I take hiking in places like Spain, a multi-day backpack to cross the Alps, or my favorite carry-on.

 

Tours and Excursions: I generally only use GetYourGuide when booking activities for myself while on holiday. GetYourGuide has an extensive collection of tours, excursions, and admission tickets for activities worldwide. When booking, you can look for the eco-certified badge, stay away from tours that promise wildlife encounters or direct contact, look for local tour guides, and quickly search the tour operator to ensure you support ethical operators.

While GetYourGuide is excellent for most locations, Viator by Trip Advisor has better activities for some of my favorite destinations, like my home state of Alaska. The same guidelines apply.

Winter in Vancouver - 30+ Unique Things to Do and Guide (2023/2024)Winter in Vancouver - 30+ Unique Things to Do and Guide (2023/2024)Winter in Vancouver - 30+ Unique Things to Do and Guide (2023/2024)Winter in Vancouver - 30+ Unique Things to Do and Guide (2023/2024)