You don't have to spend money to enjoy Christmas in Vancouver because there are plenty of events, attractions, and activities in the city this holiday season that are completely free of charge. Vancouver is a popular place to visit during Christmas because it offers the winter vibe you expect around the holidays, but without the subzero temperatures found in many other parts of Canada during this time. From ice skating at Robson Square to wandering through creative lighting displays, Vancouver hosts a variety of wintertime activities that will appeal to visitors of all ages.
Go Ice Skating at Robson Square
Since reopening for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the outdoor ice skating rink at Robson Square has become one of Vancouver's most popular holiday and winter activities.
Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the Robson Square Ice Rink is open this year from November 30, 2019, until February 29, 2020. If you have your own pair of skates, admission onto the rink is completely free. If you need to rent a pair of skates, it costs only $5 and must be paid in cash. Donations are also accepted, and all donated funds go toward the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.
Each choir will be judged by a panel of celebrity guest judges and the reaction from the crowd to compete for awards and prizes. The event is free to attend, but donations will be collected during the performances, and all funds raised will benefit May's Place, a hospice in the Downtown Eastside.
Vancouver Tree Lighting Celebration
The annual Vancouver Tree Lighting Celebration takes place on November 29, 2019, at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the very heart of downtown Vancouver.
The celebration, which lasts from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., includes the ceremonial lighting of an impressive Christmas tree plus live entertainment and refreshments of hot chocolate and cookies. Afterward, your kids can also enjoy a visit with Santa Claus, who will be stationed at a mobile workshop nearby for photo ops.
Carol Ships Parade of Lights
One of Vancouver's most unique holiday traditions is the parade of "Carol Ships"—ships decked out with elaborate Christmas lights—that take to Vancouver's waterways for nightly processions on Friday and Saturday nights in December. There are dozens of boats that are illuminated for Christmas, and it's a fun way to change up your holiday routine from the typical tree lightings.
Although it costs money to go aboard one of the Carol Ships in the parade, you can watch this spectacle at any of the shoreside Carol Ship events for free.
Kerrisdale Village, a picturesque shopping district in southern Vancouver, celebrates the season with lots of fun including horse and carriage rides, live Christmas music in the streets, a skating event, and a chance to meet Santa and his elves. The village is open December 4, 14, 21, and 23, 2019, from noon to 4 p.m. There is also a skating event on December 15, 2019, with free admission and free rentals.
One of the top five Vancouver holiday attractions, the Santa Claus Parade features more than 60 marching bands, dance troupes, festive floats, and community groups and attracts more than 300,000 spectators along its route through downtown Vancouver each year.
In previous years, the intersection of Howe and Georgia streets (where the parade makes its only turn) were overcrowded, so event organizers suggest that the best places to watch the festivities are at the start and end of the parade at the intersections of Georgia and Broughton streets or at Howe and Davie streets.
Christmas at Canada Place
Canada Place is a historic landmark on the Vancouver waterfront that's home to the Vancouver Convention Center, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, and the city's World Trade Centre (among other attractions).
Each year, this popular attraction goes all out for Christmas at Canada Place, a month-long celebration of the holidays featuring lighting displays, family activities, and special events throughout December.
This free event takes place at the Canadian Trial and North Point at Canada Place from December 6, 2019, to January 1, 2020. Events and attractions include the famous Canada Place Sails of Light, the Avenue of Christmas Trees, and Woodward’s Windows, a series of window displays that rival New York City's Fifth Avenue holiday windows.
Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
Take part in one of the world's oldest traditions at this annual event that celebrates the return of the light after the year's shortest day, the winter solstice.
The festival lights up the longest night of the year with lantern displays, live musical performances, fire shows, dancing, and more events in Yaletown, Granville Island, and at the Strathcona Community Center. All festival events are free, but donations are requested.
Coquitlam's Lights at Lafarge Winter Lights
Coquitlam's Lafarge Lake transforms into a magical outdoor holiday wonderland each December. With 100,000 twinkling lights, Lights at Lafarge is one of the largest free holiday lights displays in the Lower Mainland.
The lights will be turned on November 30, 2019, and will stay on nightly until January 19, 2020. You can drive to Lights at Lafarge or take the SkyTrain Evergreen Extension to the last stop, Lafarge Lake-Douglas. You can also join for special events at the Lake throughout December, such as Jingle Bells Night on December 20, 2019, when thousands of people come out to try and set the world record for most carolers singing Jingle Bells together.