While Canadian winters are legendary, exploring what to do in Vancouver in winter reveals it’s more than just gloves and toques, though those are essential.
Depending on who you ask, winter might be the best time to visit. The city’s natural beauty shines, offering ample space to explore without the icy constraints of cities like Calgary or Montreal.
Let’s elevate the experience with some top Vancouver winter activities, where you can discover the city’s warmth amidst the chilly season.
Vancouver Winter Activities & Events
Ski and Snowboard the Local Mountains
This is no word of a lie – in fact, there are three local ski mountains to do it.
Yes, just above North Vancouver on the North Shore Mountains are the following:
- Grouse Mountain (33 runs and 5 terrain parks, most accessible and best for snowboarders)
- Seymour Mountain (40 runs, best for beginners and cross country skiing)
- Cypress Mountain (53 runs, largest total terrain and best for experienced skiers)
Walk the Stanley Park Seawall
The city never sparkles as it does on a crisp, clear winter day – the way the snow reflects the sun off the mountains, with the ocean blues and forest greens popping wears out camera batteries like nothing else.
Walking the Vancouver Seawall is the best way to see it all.
This pedestrian road looping around North America’s highest-rated urban park is filled with interesting stops. The famous totem poles might be the city’s top photo spot, Siwash Rock is one of the city’s most unique natural wonders, and the view of the Lions Gate bridge is legendary.
You can also stop in to see the Vancouver Aquarium.
Related: Best Vancouver City Tours
Eat and Drink on a Winter Patio
The great thing about Vancouver in winter is that it’s rarely cold enough to truly fear the outdoors – so enjoying some of Vancouver’s best restaurants on their patios is a must to soak up the scenery.
Cardero’s marina-side patio in Coal Harbour gives epic views of Stanley Park and North Vancouver and its mountains. Cozying up under their heaters with a blanket and West Coast comfort food is a must.
? Big on beer? Check out the best brewery tours in Vancouver.
Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge
If you’re visiting Vancouver in winter though it becomes even more of a must-see, in the form of an end-to-end-lit, multi-coloured changing display that illuminates the bridge and the canyon below.
Other park activities during Canyon Lights Festival include their Treetops Adventure and Cliffwalk also get a colourful makeover.
Add some festive live music, the mesmerizing Arc de Lumina, and the eighth tallest Christmas tree in the world and we’re in must-book territory.
Catch a Canucks Game
The great thing about visiting Vancouver in winter is that you can see the world’s best ice hockey league as a spectator – and not have to care about the damn team.
The citizens of British Columbia have long suffered as fans of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, not having won a championship since… well, ever. But die-hard supporters still fill Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver hoping that one day it changes.
Ride the Stanley Park Train
This model replica ride of the Canadian Pacific Railroad #374, the one that pulled into Vancouver in the late 1880s after having completed the first Canadian transcontinental trip, typically runs from late November until early January.
With Stanley Park Bright Nights you’ll chug along through Stanley Park and see it the way you’ve never seen before – lit up and sparkling for the holidays with pretty, playful displays along the way.
The Christmas music and carol singing really bring the holiday season alive, and this is one of the best things to do when visiting Vancouver with kids.
The Sea to Sky Gondola
You’ll ride 2905 feet up the mountain in a Swiss-style ski gondola with some amazing views of the Coast Mountains and Howe Sound below.
Up top, there’s a 9000 sq. foot lodge with world-class dining and the views to match. Things to do in Vancouver in winter include winter hikes, guided climbing tours, snowshoeing, and even backcountry skiing.
The icing on the cake? The 100 m Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge and its 360° panoramic view.
Go Tubing at Cypress
If you’re winter sports curious but not willing to go the whole way skiing then this is the next best bet. Not only will you find the drive up to Cypress Mountain to give you priceless views of the city, but the activity up top is our favourite spot for a little childish fun.
Of course, the 6 chutes (up to 100 m long) at Gnarly’s Tube Park cater to all sorts. There are steeper runs for adults as well as a sliding centre for children under 6.
Mandatory bookings include your own tube and unlimited access to the tow rope – all you’re asked to do is bomb down through the snow screaming bloody murder.
Visit the Museum of Anthropology
The world’s premier collection of Northwest Coast Indigenous antiquities is the perfect place to learn about the region’s first inhabitants and the ultimate escape from Vancouver’s winter rains.
There are hundreds of thousands of artifacts here spanning British Columbia’s various Indigenous tribes, though what stands out is the main hall and Bill Reid’s Raven and First Men.
The Multiversity Galleries also cover cultures from all around the world, with tribal masks from South America and Korean ceramics being highlights.
Make sure you head out back to see a full-size replica Haida longhouse and totem poles.
Looking for an alternative? We’ve got plenty in our list of best museums in Vancouver.
Warm Up with Local Coffee Masters
Coffee culture reigns so supremely here that Vancouver was voted the #3 coffee city in the entire world by the Matador Travel Network.
In a caffeine crunch? Local chains Prado, Caffe Artigiano, and JJ Bean can save you whatever Vancouver neighbourhood you’re in.
For my money, though I’m recommending Prototype – where else can your beans get roasted while you wait with their bullet roaster? Their cold brew flights and waffle iron donuts are also top-notch.
I was also blown away by Harken Coffee for the sheer style of the place, and their winter blend really hits the spot when the temperature drops. They also make homemade Lucky Charms cereal.
Explore Historic Gastown
Of all the places to visit in Vancouver in winter, we wouldn’t dream of omitting the city’s coolest, most historic district called Gastown.
First of all, the way the Gastown Steamclock (our city’s most photographed object) pumps its steam to the tune of the Westminster Quarters just hits different in winter – it’s an even more steamy affair and the lights really bring it to life.
Second of all, there’s no way you can visit Vancouver without having dinner at one of Gastown’s best restaurants. This is where comfort food gets modern spins and local ingredients go to thrive.
You also can’t go wrong here for all the indigenous galleries like the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery.
Related: The Best Food Tours in Vancouver
Go Snowshoeing at Seymour
It doesn’t get any more Canadian than strapping on a pair of snowshoes, frolicking through old-growth forests and scenic lakes, and following undulating paths towards solitude.
Why Seymour Mountain though? First of all, it was named the #1 Snowshoeing Resort in North America by Snowshoe Magazine. Second of all, many of their gentle, well-marked trails are perfect for beginners or hikers looking for a low-intensity snow stroll.
Snowshoeing experiences start with simple rentals with paper maps and go all way up to fully-guided Chocolate Fondue Tours.
Go to Whistler
If you’re renting a car, it’s really a crime to skip over one of the world’s most beautiful drives and forgo visiting one of Canada’s great resort towns.
Co-host of the 2010 Olympic Games, 5-star ski resort, home to an amazing array of gourmet restaurants and spa experiences (like Scandinave), Whistler is at the top of every list of day trips from Vancouver.
Book a Whistler hotel and make a couple of days out of it, you won’t be disappointed.
The Robson Square Ice Rink
Just below the Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Square Ice Rink, you’ll find this outdoor winter wonderland. I love it because it’s one of the best cheap things to do in Vancouver – it’s free if you’ve got your own skates, otherwise it’s just $5.00 for a skate rental.
Over the Christmas holidays you’ll also find their 12 Days of Christmas live music programme, and more recently their brand new cafe with outdoor heaters, skate driers, and mean hot chocolate makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
Riley Park Winter Farmers Market
You’ll find Vancouver’s largest selection of fresh foods over the winter season here, every Saturday between 10:00 am to 2:00 pm (November 6th to April 16th, 2021).
This isn’t any old boring market though. It’s at the parking lot of Nat Bailey Stadium, so there’s plenty of room to set up live music stages, fence off an area for kids activities, and just let visitors enjoy the farm fresh produce, food trucks, and artisan coffee spots out in the crisp open air.
In winter they really up their game by adding artisans and crafters, jewellery makers, and stalls that specialize in preserves and all types of cider, liquor, and craft beer.
Not in town on a Saturday? Granville Island is the city’s best full-time food market.
Chinatown and the Chinese New Year Parade
The Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver has put on a Chinese New Year parade every year since 1977. The 1.3 km long route along Keefer Street in Chinatown typically has up to 3000 performers, including one of the largest lion dance teams outside of China.
There are over 100,000 spectators expected every year, so make sure you get there early.
While the parade does typically go in late January or early February, if your Vancouver winter visit is outside this time you should still check out North America’s 2nd largest Chinatown – the restaurants themselves are worth the trip.
Try Out Fat Biking
Conquer snowy trails and embrace the chilly breeze as you navigate the stunning landscapes on two wheels.
For an optimal experience, bundle up in layers, don a waterproof jacket, and equip yourself with sturdy boots and gloves.
Check tire pressure for the best grip on snow, and choose wide trails for smoother rides.
As you pedal through the winter wonderland, savor the unique thrill of Fat Biking, a perfect blend of adventure and nature exploration.
Visit the Fraser Valley on a Wine Tour
Even in Vancouver in winter I recommend Vancouver’s best wine tours: where lush landscapes meet exceptional wineries.
Indulge in a delightful journey through picturesque vineyards, savoring exquisite wines, and discovering the rich terroir.
With a perfect blend of scenic beauty and world-class winemaking, a Fraser Valley wine tour promises a memorable experience for wine enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Immerse yourself in the unique flavors and stories that characterize the wines of Fraser Valley, making every sip a journey through the heart of British Columbia’s wine country.
What to Do in Vancouver In Winter FAQ
What is there to do in Vancouver in winter?
Certainly, there are things to do in Vancouver in winter that bounds with outdoor delights, from skiing to leisurely walks along the iconic Stanley Park Seawall. Revel in a variety of activities, ensuring an enjoyable winter experience in the city.
Is Vancouver worth visiting in winter?
Yes, Vancouver is worth visiting in winter with Canucks hockey, cozy cafes in Yaletown and Gastown, and festive attractions like Capilano Bridge and Vandusen light shows. A perfect seasonal getaway!
What happens during winter in Vancouver?
During winter in Vancouver, experience mild temperatures around 0-5°C (about 45°F). Enjoy outdoor activities like skiing and strolls on the Stanley Park Seawall. Embrace festive events, but be prepared for rain with warm waterproof clothing.
How harsh is winter in Vancouver?
Winter in Vancouver can be comparable with European cities like London or Amsterdam or American cities like Seattle. That’s to say, it gets cold and dreary but by no means is it a typical Canadian winter full of snow and ice.
Is winter a good time to visit Vancouver?
If you’re a fan of the winter outdoors, specifically mountain activities then Vancouver is the perfect winter vacation spot. Beyond this, if you like cafe culture, visiting unique neighbourhoods, and the idea of a winter escape to Canada without worrying about harsh weather Vancouver could be your next stop.
How long is winter in Vancouver?
Winter in Vancouver typically spans from December to February. Occasional snow occurs, but the season is characterized more by rain, making waterproof clothing advisable for the damp climate.
Do you need a winter jacket in Vancouver?
Yes, a winter jacket is advisable in Vancouver. While temperatures remain relatively mild, around 0-5°C (about 45°F), the city experiences rainy winters. A waterproof jacket will help you stay dry and comfortable.
Looking For More Vancouver Winter Activities?
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