Vancouver Winter Activities

Why visit Vancouver in the winter? Despite the region’s frequently damp weather, there’s plenty to do during the winter months. And if you’re watching your budget, winter is the most economical time to travel to Vancouver. Unless you are traveling during the Christmas/New Year holidays, accommodation prices can drop to half of their summertime rates.

Start planning your trip with these 10 winter activities to try in Vancouver.

gourmet food at Dine Out Vancouver
During Dine Out Vancouver, more than 300 restaurants offer special fixed-price menus. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Eat Out with Dine Out Vancouver

Vancouver hosts a popular annual restaurant festival from mid-January through early February, when local dining spots offer good-value fixed-price menus and numerous other food events take place around town.

Nearly 300 restaurants participate, serving $20, $30, or $40 three-course meals, while other events include guest chef dinners, brunch crawls, food tours, craft beer tastings, and lots more. Get event details, a list of participating restaurants, and information about discounted accommodation packages online at Dine Out Vancouver.

Go to a Festival

It’s not just food that gets festival treatment in Vancouver. Whether you’re interested in theatre, music, wine, even hot chocolate, Vancouver’s winter calendar is packed with special events.

Avant-garde theatre fans line up for the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which presents an eclectic selection of theater, music, dance, and multimedia events for three weeks starting in mid-January. In February, Granville Island hosts Winterruption, a weekend of music, art, food, and family-friendly activities.

Prefer to toast winter with a glass of bubbly? Then mark your calendar for late February and the Vancouver International Wine Festival, a week of wine-tastings, seminars, wine dinners, and a festive gala that all show off hundreds of wines.

Or warm up at the annual Hot Chocolate Festival, starting in January, when cafés and chocolatiers across the city concoct new chocolate drinks and other confections.

Sample Local Spirits

Get out of the rain and into one of Vancouver’s small batch distilleries, where you can taste gin, vodka, or other spirits. Long Table Distillery in Yaletown, the city’s first micro-distillery, produces several varieties of gin and vodka in their copper-pot still. Stop by for a custom cocktail on the weekend when they host popular Gin & Tonic Fridays and Cocktail Saturdays.

At Liberty Distillery on Granville Island, you can sip handcrafted spirits at their elaborately carved bar. Head to the East Side for a sampling stop at Odd Society Spirits, a small-batch distillery in a former motorcycle garage.

Browse the Granville Island Galleries

On a warm summer day, Granville Island—with its popular public market and numerous art galleries and shops—can be wall-to-wall people. Take advantage of the quieter winter season to explore the island’s art studios and chat with the artisans at work. There are weavers and potters, glassblowers and broom makers, wood carvers and jewelry crafters. Both browsing and holiday shopping are encouraged.

ski lifts at Cypress Mountain with views of Vancouver
On a clear day at Cypress Mountain, you can see miles of beautiful scenery. Photo © Carolyn B Heller.

Go Skiing or Snowboarding

You don’t have to go far from the city to go skiing or snowboarding. Vancouver has three mountains just 30- to 45-minutes from downtown. The closest is Grouse Mountain, the most family-friendly is Mount Seymour, and the largest is Cypress Mountain, which was a host site for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

And from Vancouver, it’s just a two-hour drive to the mega-resort of Whistler-Blackcomb, handy for a day trip or weekend adventure.

Tip: It can be snowing in the mountains when it’s raining in the city, so check the forecast if you’re thinking about a ski day.

Explore the Coffee Scene

If the weather is damp or chilly, head for one of Vancouver’s numerous independent cafés, where you can wile away the afternoon over a pour-over or a cappuccino.

Some local favorites include Small Victory in Yaletown, which also makes excellent baked goods (try the almond croissant), and Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters, with locations in Kitsilano and on Main Street, where you can pair your drinks with donuts. In Gastown, look for Revolver Coffee, or go right for the pastries at Purebread.

Check Out the Art

The Vancouver Art Gallery highlights works by British Columbia artists, along with diverse modern and contemporary exhibitions. On the University of British Columbia campus, the first-rate Museum of Anthropology has a stunning collection of native totem poles, other works by west coast indigenous artists, and art and artifacts from traditional cultures around the world.

New in late 2017, the Polygon Art Gallery on the North Vancouver waterfront showcases photography and contemporary visual arts. Catch the Seabus from Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay, a short stroll from the gallery.

front view of the International Buddhist Temple in Vancouver's Richmond neighborhood
Visit the International Buddhist Temple on the night prior to the Lunar New Year to welcome the coming year. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Celebrate Lunar New Year

With its huge Asian population, Vancouver celebrates Lunar New Year in a big way, with a parade through Chinatown that draws nearly 100,000 spectators. In Richmond, the Aberdeen Centre shopping mall hosts a week of performances and New Year’s events, and on the eve of the Lunar New Year itself, many people welcome the coming year at the International Buddhist Temple.

Try Ice Skating

From December through February, you can ice-skate downtown at the Robson Square Ice Rink, under a dome outdoors near the Vancouver Art Gallery. Skating is free; rentals are available.

During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the Richmond Olympic Oval hosted the speed-skating events. Now, during the Oval’s public skating hours, you can practice your own skating moves on the indoor Olympic-size rink.

Or if you’d rather watch skaters than take your own spin around the ice, cheer for the Vancouver Canucks, the city’s National Hockey League team. See the Canucks play at Rogers Arena, or join local fans to watch the game at sports bars around the city.

outside view of the dome of Bloedel Conservatory
At any time of year, it’s tropical inside the Bloedel Conservatory. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Wander Through a Garden

While you might not think of visiting a garden in the winter, the VanDusen Botanical Garden illuminates the dark evenings with its annual holiday Festival of Lights. Thousands of twinkling bulbs light up the garden paths from early December until the beginning of January.

Nearby, the Bloedel Conservatory, high on a hill in Queen Elizabeth Park, is an indoor greenhouse that’s tropical and warm year-round, even when it’s chilly outdoors. Who needs summer?

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