Christmas and the winter holidays are major celebrations in Vancouver and the city comes alive with colorful light displays and festive events during the months of November, December, and January. One of the top Vancouver Christmas attractions is the annual VanDusen Botanical Garden's Festival of Lights, which is also one of Vancouver's best holiday light displays.
History of VanDusen Festival of Lights
VanDusen Botanical Garden opened in 1975 on the site of a golf course that had been there since 1912, located on land that had been leased from the Canadian Pacific Railway. There were 12,000 trees, flowers, and shrubs planted, representing 3,072 species and creating the botanical garden. The 2018 VanDusen Festival of Lights is the 34th annual event, making it Vancouver's longest-running holiday event.
What to Expect at the VanDusen Festival of Lights
The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a gorgeous, landscaped garden in the center of Vancouver; it's located about 15 minutes south of downtown Vancouver (by car) or is an easy transit ride from downtown. Head to the gardens early in the evening to find parking either in the parking lot or on the street and avoid the crowds that come later in the night. Buying your ticket online can also help to jump the line-up.
Every December, the annual VanDusen Festival of Lights transforms the garden from a serene botanical oasis into a winter wonderland that attracts around 110,000 visitors every year. More than a million colorful lights are strewn around flower beds, trees, shrubs, and decorations, combining to create an awesome spectacle.
Visitors stroll through brightly-lit pathways--including the Gingerbread Walk and Candy Cane Lane--watch the Dancing Lights show (lights around Livingstone Lake "dance" to holiday music), enjoy hot chocolate and other snacks, and--most importantly for kids!--visit Santa and his elves. There's also a licensed fireside area for adults to enjoy a beverage, as well as food trucks throughout the garden selling sweet treats. Visitors aged two and up (over 36 inches) can ride the carousel and everyone can visit the fundraising Make-A-Wish Glowstar grotto in the middle of the garden.
VanDusen covers 22 hectares (55 acres); not all of the garden is lit up for the Festival. The one million lights are confined to the "front" of the garden, that is, the section easily accessible from the main entrance. Paths are wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs. A leisurely visit takes about an hour. (In other words, if it's very cold, you'll be outside for a long time so, make sure you're dressed appropriately.)
The VanDusen Festival of Lights is hugely popular in Vancouver, with many locals attending every year. Most people--especially kids--will love the vivid over-abundance of decor and color; a small minority may find it garish. If you like holiday light displays, then you must see this one--it's quite exceptional.
Getting to the VanDusen Festival of Lights
VanDusen Botanical Garden is located at 5251 Oak St. in Vancouver. For drivers, there's a free parking lot at the garden entrance. Take the #17 Oak bus up Granville Street from the city center and ask the bus driver to drop you off at West 37th Avenue, VanDusen Botanical Garden is just across the road. Check out Translink for bus schedules and this map to VanDusen Botanical Garden.
Making the Most of Your Visit
For adults without kids, plan to spend about one to two hours at the Festival. That's enough time to walk through the displays and enjoy the Dancing Lights once or twice, as well as a stop for a warming drink and a snack.
For kids, plan on spending about two hours there (depending on their age)--they'll want plenty of time to run around, investigate all the paths and displays, and, of course, visit Santa.
How to Visit
VanDusen's Festival of Lights will run from December 1, 2018, to January 6, 2019, this winter. Opening times are 4.30 p.m. to 9 p.m. from December 1 to 20, then 4.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. between December 21 to January 1 (closed December 25), and 4.30 p.m. to 9 p.m. between January 2 and 6.
Adult tickets cost $18.50 online and $20 at the gate. Senior and youth tickets are $14.25 online and $15.50 at the gate and various rates apply for younger guests. Tickets can be purchased online at the VanDusen Botanical Garden Festival of Lights website.