If there is one event that defines summer in Vancouver, it's the Honda Celebration of Light international fireworks competition and festival, which features three nights of the best fireworks displays in Canada.
Since 1990, the annual Celebration of Light has become one of the most prestigious fireworks competitions in the world, attracting the world's best fireworks pyrotechnicians and designers. Past shows have included competitors from China, Canada, the UK, and Brazil.
Where to Watch the Celebration of Light Fireworks
With over one million people attending the Celebration of Light fireworks each year, the prime viewing points will be extremely crowded. To get a spot at Downtown's most popular vantage point, English Bay Beach, you must go very early, especially if you have children; adults will be able to enjoy the show even standing in the back.
If you're willing to put up with the crowds, English Bay Beach is the best place to go: not only do you get the best fireworks views, there are tons of concession stands, food vendors, and good restroom access, too. Try to arrive on foot, or bike, if possible as transit is very crowded and parking is next to impossible.
If you don't want sand in your shoes, there is limited, ticketed, seating at English Bay Beach. The tickets can be a bit pricey and sell out early, so prepare before you arrive. Options include the YVR Observation Deck, a bleacher-style seating area by the beach, and The Concord Lounge seating at the Inukshuk on the corner of English Bay.
Second Beach is only a short stroll from English Bay but it gives a quieter, although partially obstructed, view of the fireworks. Limited parking is available but it's best to walk, or bike, there to make it easier to leave as everybody vacates the beaches quite quickly after the fireworks have ended.
Vanier Park, situated across the bay from English Bay Beach, is another prime fireworks viewing area. It also fills up quickly and gets crowded. Like English Bay Beach, roads to Vanier Park close early on fireworks day, so your best bet is to bike or use public transit to get here.
Another popular viewing spot that tends to be a lot less crowded is Stanley Park. You'll be able to see the fireworks perfectly from any point along the Stanley Park Seawall facing English Bay.
And for families with young children, there's a slightly less hectic area a bit outside the main crowd with a great view of the fireworks: Dundarave Pier in West Vancouver. If you're traveling there from downtown, make sure you leave enough time to account for bridge traffic on Lions Gate Bridge, which connects downtown to the North Shore.
Watching From the Water
There are Celebration of Light sightseeing cruises that let you watch the fireworks from the water, and private boats are allowed, with some restrictions. If you're planning to moor your boat in English Bay, be aware that boats are limited to areas outside a set perimeter, so they don't get too close to the fireworks barge. Organizers of the event advise that anyone not experienced with operating a boat at night might want to watch from the shore instead.
Free Shorefest Concerts Before the Fireworks at English Bay Beach
The free concert series Shorefest, one of the largest free music concerts in Vancouver, takes place each night of the Fireworks Competition at Sunset Beach (the beach just south of English Bay Beach; it's within close walking distance). The concerts directly precede the fireworks.
Traditionally, this concert features the music of a Canadian artist; past concerts have included big names such as Bryan Adams and The Tragically Hip.
And the Fireworks Winner Is...
Not only is it a fireworks competition, the Celebration of Light is the longest-running offshore fireworks competition in the world. The fireworks displays are judged by a panel of industry experts, sponsor representatives, and celebrities, with points awarded for design and artistry, originality, quality, and how well the displays are synchronized with their musical accompaniments.