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 the city's best holiday light displays.
History of the Garden and Festival
VanDusen Botanical Garden opened in 1975 on the site of a golf course that had been there since 1912—located on land leased from the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the garden was created, 12,000 trees, flowers, and shrubs were planted, representing 3,072 species. Since 1984, The VanDusen Festival of Lights has been shining, 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. Every winter, the annual VanDusen Festival of Lights transforms the serene botanical oasis into a winter wonderland that attracts around 110,000 visitors. More than 1 million colorful lights are strewn around flower beds, trees, shrubs, and decorations, combining to create an awesome spectacle.
The festival is hugely popular and many locals attend every year. Most people—especially kids—love the vivid over-abundance of decor and color (though some may find it garish). If you like holiday light displays, then you must see this exceptional one.
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), and enjoy hot chocolate and other snacks. You can take photos with Santa in the Visitor Centre through December 24, 2019. There's also a licensed Fireside Lounge area for adults to enjoy a beverage, as well as food vendors throughout the garden selling treats. Visitors aged two and up (over 36 inches or .9 meters) can ride the carousel, and everyone can visit the fundraising Make-A-Wish Canada Candle grotto in the middle of the garden.
VanDusen covers 55 acres; the 1 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.
Getting to the VanDusen Festival of Lights
VanDusen Botanical Garden is located at 5251 Oak Street in Vancouver, about 15 minutes south of downtown by car. Head to the gardens early in the evening to avoid the crowds that come later in the night. There's a parking lot just off West 37th Avenue and street parking along Oak and nearby side streets.
Check out Translink for bus schedules; you can take the #17 Oak bus from downtown Vancouver.
Making the Most of Your Visit
Plan to spend about one to two hours at the festival. Kids will want plenty of time to run around, investigate all the paths and displays, and, of course, visit Santa. 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. Dress appropriately if it's very cold.
VanDusen's Festival of Lights will run from November 30, 2019, through January 5, 2020; however, the garden is closed December 25 and possibly in heavy snow, wind, or other inclement weather conditions.
Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended and will save you money. There are limited tickets online and at the gate.