December in Vancouver: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Vancouver skyline with mountains

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Visiting any North American city during the holiday season is sure to perk your spirit, and with its plethora of festivals, boat parades, and Christmas displays, Vancouver, British Columbia, is certainly no exception.

You can take a leisurely stroll through the spectacular lights at the VanDusen Botanical Garden while sipping hot cocoa or grab the family and head to Canada Place for arts, crafts, and a visit from Santa Claus. Of course, world-class shopping and mountain views are the icing on the cake of any stay in this mild-climate city, so don't let the chance of rain spoil your fun.

Weather

Vancouver is much milder than many other Canadian cities in terms of weather in December. Temperatures hover above freezing and rain can be plentiful, as this is one of Vancouver's rainiest months. You can expect average December temperatures to linger around 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius), with highs around 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius).

A surprise winter storm is rare around the holidays. The amount of snowfall has been dwindling in lower British Columbia recently, making the chance for a white Christmas only 10 percent. 

What to Pack

Be prepared for rain on any given December day in Vancouver, but don't let it keep you indoors during your trip. Instead, pack layers and waterproofs aplenty and venture outside to one of the many rainy-day attractions in town.

  • Closed-toed waterproof shoes or boots will help you navigate the adverse weather with dry toes.
  • An umbrella is recommended, but not very travel-friendly, so consider picking up one from a local store.
  • Winter accessories that are easy to store in a large, metro sling bag or backpack.
  • Sweaters are the standard December uniform in this West Coast city, so wear them out to dinner and under your top layers to keep you cozy and warm.
  • A rain jacket is, of course, essential for this Canadian extension of the very wet Pacific Northwest.

Events

December is brimming with holiday decorations and festivities to fill you with seasonal cheer. Whether it's a full-fledged family outing or a romantic dinner, Vancouver's events provide entertainment for all ages. 

  • Christmas at Canada Place: Located outdoors on the West Promenade of Canada Place, this mid-December highlight includes giant gingerbread men, a 35-foot-high Christmas tree, animated Woodward’s window characters, carolers, and a visit from Santa Claus himself.
  • Bright Nights Christmas Train in Stanley Park: Hop aboard the Bright Nights Christmas Train for an enchanted journey through the illuminated woods and past Santa's workshop (all in Stanley Park) from late November until early January. During December, the park is decorated with three million Christmas lights and all train ride proceeds benefit the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters' Burn Fund. 
  • Winter Solstice Lantern Festival: Vancouver's annual lantern festival illuminates the night sky on winter solstice every year. This cultural event—highlighting the return of the sun with lanterns, drumming, music, and dancing—is held at various locations, including Yaletown, Granville Island, and Chinatown.
  • Vancouver Carol Ships Parade of Lights: Processions of boats bedecked with holiday lights motor along various waterways throughout December. In North Vancouver, hit up Shipyard's Christmas Festival on December 1, 2019, and visit the artisans market before the ships set sail. On December 14, the Carol Ships Shoreline Celebration takes place in Deep Cove’s Panorama Park with a bonfire, activities for kids, and a boat parade.
  • VanDusen Festival of Lights: VanDusen Botanical Garden is a jaw-dropping city highlight any time of the year, but especially when it's decorated with 55 acres of Christmas lights. Stroll through the Gingerbread Walk and along Candy Cane Lane while enjoying hot chocolate and other snacks during the annual Festival of Lights. Tickets are limited, though, so buy them ahead of time. 

December Travel Tips

  • Powder heads can day trip to Whistler-Blackcomb to enjoy some of the world's best (and most extreme) skiing and snowboarding.
  • December 25 (Christmas Day) is a statutory holiday, so expect restaurants, shops, and museums to be closed.
  • In Canada, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, which is when everyone is meant to return unwanted gifts to the stores. Stores will have major sales, so if you're a shopper, this is your day.
  • Traveling in early December is less expensive than traveling during the last 10 days of the month (the height of the holiday season between Christmas and New Year's Eve). Airfare, accommodations, and even some attractions will be cheaper if you visit before the holiday rush.
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