Before you plan a trip to Vancouver, BC, it's helpful to understand what the terms "peak season" (or "high season"), "shoulder season," and "off season" mean, and when, specifically, those terms apply to Vancouver, BC.
Why? Because there are real differences in travel experience between Vancouver's peak seasons and its off seasons. One obvious difference is price: During peak season, hotels may be as much as 50% more expensive than their off-season price!
There are other reasons, besides cost, to compare and contrast peak season travel in Vancouver with off season travel. For travelers who don't have to be tied to school schedules, there are a lot of wonderful reasons--listed below--to visit Vancouver in the off season.
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When is Peak Season in Vancouver, BC?
Peak season is the period of the year when the largest number of people travel to / in Vancouver, BC. It refers to a number of travel industry metrics that measure how many people are traveling to / in a city, including accommodation rates at hotels. For example, during peak season, many Downtown Vancouver hotels will be 100% full, while during off season the same hotels may be only 50% full.
In Vancouver, BC, peak seasons are:
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Why is Summer Peak Season in Vancouver?
There are two major reasons why summer is peak season for Vancouver: summer is high-travel time for North America in general, and Vancouver has the "best" weather (more sun, warmer temperatures, less rain, long daylight hours) in the summer months.
Christmastime (Winter Holidays) is also a typically high-travel time for all of North America. In addition to traveling to see family, people with school-age kids usually get a two-week vacation around Christmastime, and Vancouver--just a few hours from Whistler, BC--is perfectly situated for a winter getaway with snow sports.
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Benefits to Peak Season Travel in Vancouver, BC
Aside from school schedules, there are good reasons to travel to Vancouver during summer peak season, especially if you like outdoor adventure:
- Vancouver is gorgeous in the sunshine, and there's more sun in the summer months. (August is usually reliably sunny.)
- With the exception of snow sports, all of Vancouver's outdoor activities--hiking, kayaking, biking around Stanley Park--are open in the summer and more fun in warmer weather.
- Summer in Vancouver is packed with free things to do, including free music festivals and cultural festivals.
- Outdoor Vancouver attractions--like the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park--are more fun in warmer weather.
The winter peak season (Christmas) has it's own benefits:
- There are gorgeous and unique holiday light displays, including the Carol Ships Parade of Lights and the VanDusen Botanical Garden's Festival of Lights.
- Vancouver has fabulous Christmas and holiday shopping, special holiday markets and after-Christmas sales (including Boxing Day--D...ecember 26--the biggest sales day in Canada).
- There are loads of Christmas and holiday-themed attractions, concerts, and festivals.
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Negatives to Peak Season Travel in Vancouver, BC
There are also reasons to avoid peak season in Vancouver:
Continue to 5 of 11 below.
- Hotels and accommodations (even AirBnB) are significantly more expensive during peak seasons.
- Longer wait times for crossing the US / Canada border and at airports.
- Flights into Vancouver are usually more expensive ($100 - $200 more, in some cases) in peak season.
- Larger crowds at Vancouver attractions.
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When is it Shoulder Season in Vancouver, BC?
Shoulder seasons refer to the periods around the summer peak season; these are times of the year that are, basically, in the middle cost-wise. For example, prices for hotels in shoulder seasons are not as high as in peak seasons but not as low as in off season.
In Vancouver, BC, shoulder seasons are:
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Benefits to Shoulder Season Travel in Vancouver, BC
The greatest variable with shoulder seasons is the weather. A warm May or September will provide all the benefits of summer's peak season while hotel and flight costs will be (at least a little) lower and there will be fewer crowds.
Benefits to shoulder-season travel, by month:
- April is typically cool and rainy, but has whale-watching and spring gardens.
- May is a wonderful time to visit for foodies: there are the annual BC Spot Prawn and BC Halibut festivals--which inspire restaurants to create fresh spot prawn and halibut dishes--and the famous Asian-style night markets in Richmond open in mid-May.
- Early September is often still warm, so ideal for outdoor activities, while late September is perfect for touring fall foliage.
- In October, Vancouver goes all-out with a month of Halloween attractions and events, including "haunted" Vancouver tours and ghost tours. It's fun for pop culture geeks, too: the annual Vancouver Halloween Parade is all about cosplay.
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Negatives to Shoulder Season Travel in Vancouver, BC
Most of the reasons to avoid shoulder season travel are weather-related:
- The variable weather (which is really an issue all year) can make a trip less fun. April, September, and October are all typically rainy months, and temperatures can vary from average highs around 16ºC / 61ºF to average lows around 12ºC / 54ºF. (Vancouver's Average Monthly Temperatures & Rain)
- Weather may affect your enjoyment of outdoor activities. Some folks are happy to hike and bike whatever the weather, but if enjoying Vancouver's outdoor activities is high on your list and you know you won't enjoy them as much if you're too wet or too cold, then paying more for summer peak season may be wiser.
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When is it Off Season in Vancouver, BC?
Off season describes the times of the year with the lowest travel rates to / in Vancouver. This is the season with the lowest hotel occupancy rates (which is why hotel prices are usually lower during this period; they're effectively "on sale"), and the best deals on airfare or vacation packages.
In Vancouver, BC, off season is:Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Benefits to Off Season Travel in Vancouver, BC: Lower Costs
There are many cost benefits to off season travel in Vancouver:
- According to The Vancouver Sun (2014), travelers can cut costs by 25% by traveling in the off season.
- Hotels have lower occupancy rates, which means you have more options and will get a better price on your room. Rooms that cost $300 in peak season may be as low as $200 or $150 in off season, a 33% - 50% "discount."
- Vancouver hotels and spas often offer special deals and packages to attract off-season travelers. (This is especially true in February, around Valentine's Day; see below.)
- Sharing economy accommodations like AirBnB and VRBO have lower occupancy rates, which means more options for longer stays or for staying in Downtown Vancouver.
- Airfare into Vancouver may cost less in the off season.
- There will be shorter wait times at US / Canada border crossings and airports.
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More Benefits to Off Season Travel: Year-Round Attractions & Special Events
All of Vancouver's Top 10 Attractions are open year-round, and you can enjoy them in any weather--especially the indoor ones! Off season is the ideal time to visit Vancouver museums and galleries and to enjoy Vancouver theatre, shopping, nightlife, and dining, since you can do all of those things regardless of the weather.
The off season also has unique and special events that show off different sides of Vancouver:
- Late November and early-December have snow sports (weather permitting) and ice skating, plus Christmas attractions that open early.
- January is ideal for foodies: Every January, Tourism Vancouver hosts the two-week Dine Out Vancouver food festival, with multiple restaurant events, food tastings, and food tours.
- January is also perfect for bargain hunters who love to shop after-Christmas sales.
- Late January / early February celebrates Chinese New Year in Vancouver, including the annual Vancouver Chinese New Year Parade through Chinatown. (Vancouver's Chinatown is the third... largest in North America.)
- February is perfect for a romantic getaway to Vancouver for Valentine's Day (many hotels and spas offer special Valentine's Day packages), or for combining a trip to Vancouver with a romantic getaway to Vancouver Island (where you can curl up together and watch winter storms).
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Negatives to Off Season Travel in Vancouver, BC
There are two immutable negatives to the off season in Vancouver (and they're the same ones locals who live here complain about): weather and short days.
In comparison to the rest of Canada, Vancouver actually has a very mild winter. It's rare for it to snow in the city, and if it does snow, it's rare for it to last on the ground more than a few days. It's also much warmer than most of winter Canada; Vancouver's winter lows are around 1ºC / 32ºF (highs are around 6ºC / 42ºF), above freezing. A winter coat is sufficient; you don't need special boots / gloves / equipment to be out and about in winter in Vancouver.
But: It's still cold. And it rains. So, it's cold, wet, and grey and cloudy most days.
It's also dark. Vancouver has limited daylight in the winter months. In December, for example, the sun rises around 7:40am and is down by 4:30pm. Yes, it is full, nighttime dark by 5pm. This continues through January and February.
If you're dining and... shopping and going clubbing, dark-at-4:30pm is not a big deal. But if you want to see Vancouver's Best Viewpoints or visit Vancouver's Most Instagrammed Landmarks or do anything that involves daylight after 5pm, then off season may be "off" for you.