As one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, not to mention one of the mildest in terms of climate, there are lots of things to do in Vancouver in winter. From skiing at the world-famous Whistler Blackcomb Resort to exploring the many city attractions, cafes, and restaurants, there’s no reason to be bored in Vancouver in winter.
While Vancouver in the summer is the most popular time to visit, the winter brings its own benefits such as fewer people, cheaper accommodation, and of course, winter activities. So, whether you’re looking for some outdoor adventure in the mountains or looking to explore the city itself, we’ve got you covered in this guide to the best things to do in Vancouver in winter.
Don’t forget! We’ve also created an extensive guide to the best things to do in British Columbia!
Go Skiing and Snowboarding
Although Vancouver gets more rain than it does snow, the nearby mountains get lots of white powder, making it a great destination for skiing and snowboarding. For most people, the first mountain that comes to mind is Whistler. After all, it’s the largest ski resort in Canada and was host to the 2010 Winter Olympics. We’ll talk about Whistler below, but first, we want to talk about the other ski resorts that are much closer to the city.
The closest ski resort is Grouse Mountain (accessible by transit), followed by Seymour and Cypress. These three resorts are roughly 30 minutes from Vancouver, much closer than Whistler. They’re also significantly cheaper than Whistler, coming in at around $70 for a day.
As mentioned above, Whistler is typically the first place that comes to mind when people think of skiing near Vancouver. Whistler Blackcomb is world-famous for a reason, with more than 4,757 (1,925 hectares) of skiable terrain, 36 lifts, and a whopping 200+ runs. It’s roughly two hours north of Vancouver, most of which is done on the beautiful Sea-to-Sky Highway. Lift tickets, as you may have guessed, are quite a bit more expensive here. They clock in at roughly $190 for an adult. However, if budget isn’t an issue and you’re into skiing and snowboarding, visiting Whistler is definitely one of the top things to do in Vancouver in winter. (Click here to learn about all the fun tours in Whistler).
At the same time, there’s much more to Whistler than the ski resort. It’s also a beautiful mountain village with lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. There are also fun attractions and museums, as well as lots of outdoor adventures such as snowshoeing, fat biking, snowmobiling, and winter festivals. Plus, there are lots of luxurious hotels and spas, including a Scandinavian Spa if you’d rather tone it down a notch.
While there are not a lot of places to skate outdoors in Vancouver (it’s mild, remember?), there is an outdoor skating rink at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver that is temporarily set up from December to February. It’s free to use and skate rentals are only $5 (approx). Because it’s downtown, it’s a convenient option to experience a quintessential Canadian winter activity and afterwards, you can easily warm up at one of the many restaurants, bars, or cafes.
Aside from that, there are other options for skating indoors at one of the many recreation centres, and these usually have public skating at various times for roughly $10.
Attend a Winter Festival
Like any world-class city, Vancouver is home to many festivals, making them an ideal way to experience Vancouver in winter. Below are some of the top festivals and events to experience.
Stanley Park Bright Nights
One of the best parts about exploring Vancouver in winter is all the bright festive decorations and when you combine the beauty of the holiday season with Stanley Park, it really becomes a match made in heaven. The Stanley Park Bright Nights is a fun, family-friendly event that takes place between November and January, featuring lots of festive lights, a 12-minute miniature Christmas Train ride, and even places to get a hot drink or buy some gifts. The price to attend is usually $10 with proceeds going to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Another beautiful place to check out some bright festive lights is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is wrapped in thousands of twinkling lights during the Canyon Lights Winter Festival, which takes place between November and January as well. Visitors will also find the eighth-highest Christmas tree in the world.
This annual festival takes place around the Lunar New Year and is inclusive to all cultures, celebrating the Lunar New Year in general rather than Chinese-specific. LunarFest includes family-friendly activities, art displays, and entertainment. It begins in late January and runs for one month.
Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
This one-night-only yearly festival celebrates the longest night of the year. Venues alternate between Granville Island, Yaletown, or Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in China Town with fun activities such as lantern-making, fire performances, and live entertainment. It’s only one day though!
Whistler Pride and Ski Festival
Having been around for more than 30 years, it’s no secret that Whistler Pride and Ski Festival are loved by many people. This LGBTQI festival spans more than eight fun-filled days of entertainment and snow sports in the month of January.
Glow in Langley
If you’re in Vancouver during the Christmas season and are up for a 45-minute drive to Langley, one of the coolest things to do is the Glow Festival, a unique 20-minute Christmas drive-through experience for anyone wanting to see lots of beautiful Christmas lights and decorations.
Walk Across the Capilano Suspension Bridge
As one of the top attractions in Vancouver, there’s no reason why it’s not also one of the top things to do in Vancouver in winter. One of the benefits of visiting Vancouver in winter is not only being able to walk across Capilano Suspension Bridge with fewer people but also seeing the Canyon Lights Show, which features thousands of beautiful Christmas lights.
But aside from the lights, the main attraction here is the suspension bridge, which hangs 110 feet above the Capilano River. There’s also the new Cliff Walk, which takes visitors along the cliff face, and a Treetop Adventure, a fun experience not for the faint-hearted. This is also just an easy option for meandering through the West Coast rainforest on wooden platforms.
Pro Tip: If Capilano Suspension Bridge feels too touristy for you, or just too expensive, there’s a free smaller suspension bridge ins Lynn Canyon Park.
Watch a Hockey Game
As you probably know, hockey is the most popular winter sport in Canada, so if you want to see what the NHL (National Hockey League) is all about, watch a Vancouver Canucks game at Rogers Arena.
With 82 games played in a season (roughly half at home), there’s usually a game or two on any given week. Prices vary on the night, the team they’re playing, and the seat, but if you really want to go, you can probably find a decent deal at a reseller like StubHub or GameTime. You can also buy tickets from Ticketmaster.
One of the easiest winter activities you can do is snowshoeing. All you do is strap snowshoes to your own shoes and start walking! It’s such a great winter activity and a wonderful way to experience deep snow. While Vancouver itself doesn’t get much snow, the surrounding area does. Both Seymour and Cypress mountains have extensive trail options that are well-marked and are good for all experience levels.
If you don’t have your own snowshoes, there are places that rent them in Vancouver. Just ask your hotel for the closest option.
Explore Grouse Mountain
One of the most popular outdoor attractions in Vancouver is Grouse Mountain, a beautiful mountain area with epic views of the city, ocean, and surrounding mountain peaks. It’s widely known for hiking, skiing, and snowboarding, but there’s much more to Grouse Mountain than that. There’s the gondola ride itself which can be fun to do, but at the top you’ll find skating, snowshoeing, zip-lining or just many trails to enjoy a scenic walk. There’s also a Light Walk they set up at night during the winter months and a popular sleigh ride. Plus, there’s a full-service restaurant and cafe, so you have no fear of going hungry or having to bring your own food.
Grouse Mountain is only 12 kilometres from downtown Vancouver, making it a very easy place to reach for locals and tourists alike. Admission is roughly $60 and that includes the gondola and a sleigh ride.
Visit Stanley Park
Whenever we visit Vancouver, we always make sure we visit Stanley Park. It’s such a beautiful place to go for a walk, cycle, or jog. It’s almost entirely surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and features many forest trails, sandy beaches, and the stunning Sea Wall that circles the perimeter.
Visitors can explore the almost-forgotten stories of the park with a guided walking tour or bike tour when visiting Stanley Park in winter.
Popular tour options: Vancouver City Sightseeing Tour: Granville Island & Stanley Park.
Admire the Christmas Lights
One of the benefits of visiting Vancouver in winter, as well as many cities in Canada in the winter, is all the beautiful Christmas lights you’ll find throughout the city. We’ve already mentioned some great places to see them, such as Capilano Suspension Bridge and Stanley Park, but you can also find them throughout the city. Another great spot to see lights that is completely free is the Granville Island Festive Lights, which take place from November until the New Year.
Go Cross-Country Skiing
While downhill skiing is very fun, but also scary and challenging, cross-country skiing is much more of a workout and not as “scary” for people who don’t want to soar down a mountain. It has actually become one of our favourite sports and is not nearly as expensive as skiing at the resorts. In fact, most trails are free so the biggest expense is either buying or renting the skis and boots. One of the best places to try it out is Cypress Mountain’s Nordic Area, which features 19km of groomed trails, 7.5km of night skiing trails, lessons, and on-site rentals.
Go Tubing and Tobogganing
Another popular Canadian winter activity is tubing and tobogganing. Up until fairly recently, it’s been more of a local activity, with people buying tubes or sleds and finding hills to ride down. Nowadays, however, tubing and tobogganing have opened up as an attraction, making it easier and safer for anyone to enjoy. One of the most popular places to go is Cypress Mountain, which features the Gnarly Tube Park. Not only is everything provided, but instead of walking back up the hill, you can link the tube to a conveyor belt and go up the easy way. Located roughly 30-45 minutes from Vancouver, it can be an easy day trip for anyone visiting the city.
Another cool spot to check out is Mount Seymour’s toboggan park, a designated area where families can enjoy the mountain. However, you must book ahead of time for this activity.
Shop at the Vancouver Christmas Market
When it comes to Christmas Markets, Europe always comes to mind, but if you can’t make it across the ocean, the next best thing might just be the Vancouver Christmas Market, which was inspired by the classic Christmas markets in Germany and Europe, featuring delicious food, festive music, and shopping.
Located at the Jack Poole Plaza (prices start at $13 for adults), visitors will find many different vendors selling all sorts of goods and handicrafts, as well as food and drink such as mulled wine and schnitzel. The market opens around November 20th and runs until December 24th.
Another great market to visit is the Winter Farmers’ Market in Riley Park. Located just outside Nat Bailey Stadium, the market has up to 70 stalls for you to browse, including goods, food trucks, coffee vendors, fresh produce, and live entertainment.
Explore Science World
It’s no secret, but Vancouver can get pretty rainy during the winter months. Plus, despite being milder than the rest of Canada, it’s still quite chilly. So, when you need an indoor day and want to expand your mind, head to Science World! Not only is its spherical shape dominate the Vancouver skyline, but they also feature loads of interesting exhibits and shows, as well as a virtual reality room. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids.
Ride the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus
While hop-on-hop-off buses might look touristy, they really are a convenient way to see the city. In the summer months, walking around Vancouver is a wonderful way to see this Pacific city, but in the winter when rain is very common, having a warm dry place mode of transportation is a welcome relief from the chilly weather. Once you purchase a pass, it’s valid for 24 hours and features more than 30 stops, including popular locations like Gastown, Chinatown, and Stanley Park, just to name a few. All buses are equipped with headsets and audio commentary so you can learn more about the city as you travel and tickets cost around $60. Book your Hop-On Hop-Off Tour here.
Go Fat Biking
Strap a pair of fat tires on a bike and all of a sudden, biking through the snow isn’t so difficult. Fat Biking has become all the rage in winter destinations across Canada and Vancouver is no different. This is a great thing to do in Vancouver in winter, as long as you’re willing to head out of the city to a place like Squamish. It takes a little bit of practice, but there are lots of trails to explore and places to rent the bikes, making it an easy thing to do if you can make it there.
Wander the VanDusen Gardens
These year-round gardens are beautiful in the summer, but even during the winter in Vancouver, the VanDusen Gardens can be a joy to stroll around, especially since they transform into a festive experience with more than one million festive lights spread out over 10 acres. These themed light displays even feature festive music in the background, creating a magical experience to get into the holiday spirit.
Go Winter Hiking
Although it might be rainy, Vancouver is a great place for year-round hiking, with so much natural beauty surrounding the city. It’s also a free activity to do as all you need is the proper clothing. There are many places to go hiking without getting into the mountains, with one of the most popular options being Lynn Canyon, which we mentioned further up in this article due to the beautiful, and free, suspension bridge.
Lynn Canyon features a one-way loop hike that will take about 1.5 hours to complete and is quite easy. Due to its low elevation, it can be enjoyed year-round with very few days having snow. People also love hiking in Stanley Park and along the Seawall, traversing the Fort-to-Fort Trail, and visiting Quarry Rock.
Take a Food Tour
Vancouver is one of the top food destinations in the country and when it’s wet and chilly outside, why not head indoors and fill your tummy? Whether you opt for scouring the restaurant scene by yourself or opting for a tour, there are plenty of options for all tastebuds.
If you’re looking for an experience with other people, there are many different food tours to choose from. Plus, you’ll actually learn about the culture and history in addition to the food. Some of the most popular tours include the Gastown Historic Walking Food Tour, the Granville Island Food Tour, and the Vancouver Downtown and Gastown Donut Tour if you love donuts as much as Canadians do.
Explore Granville Island
Speaking of food, if you’re looking for a cool place to try a variety of food, head to Granville Island, which is right along the water and accessible via ferry or car. This is one of the most popular attractions in Vancouver in winter or in summer. However, the nice thing about visiting in the winter is that there will be much fewer tourists to share the tables with. Plus, it’s not just restaurants. There’s also a brewery, art galleries, and lots of shops to browse.
As mentioned, it can also be fun to arrive via the False Creek Ferry or Aquabus, adding to the experience of being in an ocean city. At the same time, you can simply walk to the island as well by crossing the Granville Street Bridge, which sits just atop the island. Granville Market is open seven days a week and there’s also a two-hour tour that takes you to eight foodie destinations with more than 20 tastings.
Take a Sightseeing Seaplane Tour
If you’re like us and you really love a good view, you may want to consider a sightseeing seaplane tour, which will take you up into the skies for spectacular views of this beautiful city. However, you’ll see much more than just the city on these 30-minute tours as you soar by the harbour and the mountains as well. Tours can be pricey, as you might imagine, but for roughly $150, it’s totally worth it. You can also pay a little more and book an extended 45-minute flight!
Explore the Vancouver Aquarium
While it might be a bit chilly to go diving in the waters around Vancouver, it’s definitely easier to see the sea life at the Vancouver Aquarium, which is located within Stanley Park. A star attraction in Vancouver since 1956, it houses more than 65,000 animals such as octopuses, alligators, otters, seals, and sea lions. One of the coolest things we saw there was the tank of jellyfish.
The Aquarium is also committed to education and conservation, including an extensive marine mammal rescue program and a new Marine Mammal Rescue exhibit where guests can meet some rescued seals and sea lions. It’s a family-friendly destination with tons of programs aimed towards children and adults alike but can also be a fabulous place for a date night.
Go Swimming with Hundreds of People
If you’ve always wanted to do a “polar dip” but just can’t make it up to the polar regions, why not do the next best thing and join hundreds of people as they go for a swim in the chilly ocean on New Year’s Day, every single year. If you can’t make it out on that one day, you can always go alone or with friends from public beaches such as English Bay or Locarno Beach.
Drink Some Beer
If you like beer, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold, rainy, or beautiful and sunny, beer is always an option. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of local Vancouver breweries to enjoy a cold pint. There are far too many to list in this article, but just to start, you could try Granville Island Brewing, Yellow Dog Brewing, The Parkside Brewery, Storm Brewing, or even Stanley Park Brewing if you happen to be close to Stanley Park.
As you might expect, there’s also a beer tour you can join if you’d like to sample a bunch of different breweries with people from around the world. These tours include transportation, beer, tours of the locations, and even a souvenir to remember it all later.
Take a Wine Tour in Fraser Valley
If beer isn’t your thing but alcoholic grape juice is, you’re in luck! While the wine scene in Vancouver certainly doesn’t compare to the wineries in Osoyoos or Kelowna, you can still find some delicious varieties in Fraser Valley. Some of the most popular wineries are Glass House Estate Winery, Township 7 Vineyards and Winery, and Backyards Winery. All of these wineries can be visited on your own or you can take a guided tour, which not only makes it easier to indulge in the wine, but also offers loads of information, a fun group of people, a tour of the wine-making process, and a light lunch and snacks. Click here to learn more about the Fraser Valley Wine Tour.
As with any major city, another great way to escape the winter chill is to go shopping. Whether you’re in Vancouver during the Christmas season where you can shop at the Christmas markets, or visit later in the winter, there are plenty of opportunities to use your credit card. If you’re into high-end stuff, you’ll probably enjoy Robson Street in downtown Vancouver (although it’s not just high-end shopping), and there are also shopping malls, such as Vancouver’s Pacific Centre, Burnaby’s Metrotown, or McArthurGlen Outlet Mall.
Admire Vancouver from the Vancouver Lookout
One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to admire the best views of each destination, and when it comes to Vancouver, it’s hard to beat the Vancouver Lookout, which is located downtown and offers stunning 360-degree views of the city, mountains, and ocean from an elevation of 168 metres (533 feet). Just getting there is half the fun, as you’ll get to enjoy a 40-second ride in a glass elevator. Click here to book your tickets.
Relax at a Spa
After a few days of exploring Vancouver in the winter, you might be looking for a warm place to kick back and relax. To truly indulge in relaxation, you’ll want to hit up a spa. If you want upscale, head to the Fairmont Pacific Rim and spend a day in their large day spa, hot tub, or heated outdoor pool. Fairmont isn’t the only option though. There’s also CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, Rosewood Spa, and many more.
See All of Canada in a Simulator Ride
Taking a road trip across Canada can be one of the most beautiful things you do, but not everyone has the time and money to drive across the second-largest country on Earth. So how else can you get a taste of this stunning country? Experience the FlyOver Canada simulator ride, which offers a spectacular birds-eye view of Canada’s most dramatic landscapes. The ride is only eight minutes but will leave you breathless. Some people have even cried. From this simulated flying experience, you’ll see many of Canada’s most iconic scenery, including the prairies, mountains, ocean, rivers, and lakes, just to name a few. Click here to book your ticket for FlyOver Canada.
Take a Walking Tour of Gastown
Gastown is definitely one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods to explore in Vancouver, not to mention one of the oldest. It’s where you’ll find the famous steam clock, cobblestone streets, and lots of old buildings. It’s also one of the best places to grab a bite to eat or find some souvenirs. However, when it comes to old streets like this, it makes the experience much better when you actually learn the history and stories that made Vancouver what it is today. For that, opt for a Gastown Walking Tour, which will fill you in on all the more interesting stories and information in less than two hours.
Check Out a Museum
As one of the largest cities in Canada, there’s no shortage of interesting museums to check out. Some of the most popular include:
Vancouver Museum Of Anthropology at UBC
Although this beautiful museum is closed until late 2023, it’s one of the most beautiful museums in the country. MOA houses nearly 50,000 works from almost every part of the world, while the Laboratory of Archaeology houses an additional 535,000 archaeological objects. Most notably, this museum is known for its sizable Northwest Coast collections, including the finest collection of works by Bill Reid.
Museum of Vancouver
The Museum of Vancouver is the largest civic history museum in Canada. Located in Vanier Park, it features Vancouver-focused exhibitions and programs that encourage conversations about what was, is, and can be Vancouver.
Burnaby Village Museum
Located in Burnaby, the Burnaby Village Museum transports visitors back in time to the roaring 20s that Vancouver experienced. You’ll get to walk through the town while conversing with period-clothed townsfolk that makes the museum come to life. If you happen to be here around the Christmas season, they also hold a lovely Heritage Christmas event with Christmas lights and a fun scavenger hunt.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Another great way to pass a day in Vancouver in winter is to admire all the beautiful art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver, this gallery houses many stunning art collections and also features rotating exhibitions that often focus on local Canadian artists or commentaries on current events. The fee to enter is around $24 but on Tuesday, you can enter by donation.
Stay in a Nice Hotel
Another way to make your trip to Vancouver in winter a wonderful experience is to book a nice hotel in a good location. There’s something nice about coming back to a beautiful room with views of the city, or a comfortable hotel with all the amenities you desire. Where you stay might depend on the type of hotel you want or the type of area, such as something close to Stanley Park or Gastown.
Here are some popular high-end options:
The Westin Bayshore: This 4-star hotel overlooks Coal Harbour, offering stunning views and close access to Stanley Park.
Fairmont Pacific Rim: This stunning 4.5-star hotel also offers ocean views but is closer to Gastown.
Opus Hotel: This 4-star property offers glowing reviews and easy access to Rogers Arena and Granville Island.
Here are some popular mid-range options:
Sonder at Revival: This 4-star property sits in Vancouver’s West End and is very close to Stanley Park.
EXchange Hotel Vancouver: This lovely 4-star property is close to downtown Vancouver and within walking distance of Canada Place.
GEC Granville Suites Downtown: This 3-star property offers a great location with close access to Yaletown, Granville Island, and Sunset Beach.
Here are some popular budget options:
The Cambie Hostel: This 2-star hostel offers a great location within Gastown and has a popular little social bar attached to it.
The Samesun Vancouver: This 1.5-star hostel offers good reviews and is right in the middle of downtown Vancouver.
As incredible as Vancouver is, there’s so much more to British Columbia! For more destination ideas, check out our British Columbia travel guides below.
- Things to Do in Victoria BC
- Things to Do on Vancouver Island
- Things to Do in Nanaimo
- Things to Do in Tofino
- Things to Do in Kamloops