Vancouver is a fun city in British Columbia to visit any time of the year, as there’s always something going on. However, if you’re looking to beat some of the crowds that summer brings, planning a trip to Vancouver in the winter is a great way to explore the city. I used to hibernate for most of the winter, but now I realize it’s one of the best times to travel—minimal waits at the borders or at restaurants, and hotels are cheaper, too!
I love heading out on a short weekend trip from Seattle to visit Vancouver when I want an “international” vacation without having to drive too far. Winter in Vancouver is the perfect time to get settled into cozy coffee shops, go shopping, and watch sports at the local bar. I try to go up at least once a year to visit when my schedule allows, and I’m always discovering new activities (although the Vancouver Christmas Market is always one of my favorites!).
In this article, I’ll give you tips on visiting Vancouver during winter as well as a list of the best things to do in Vancouver in winter so you can start planning your own trip here. You’ll wish you came up sooner once you visit during this time of the year!
This post was last updated in September 2023.
Vancouver in Winter Travel Tips
Whether you’re planning a month-long trip or you’re only staying in Vancouver for the weekend, here are a few Vancouver winter travel tips you need to know before planning what to do in Vancouver in the winter.
Vancouver Winter Weather
Vancouver’s weather in the winter is mild compared to some other places in Canada. The coldest temperatures some southern areas in Canada reach in winter are 5°F to 23°F, while the northern and coastal regions can get into the negative numbers.
In the colder months, you can expect some rain and a little snow. Similar to winter in Seattle, temperatures in Vancouver in the winter range from 30°F to 45°F, making them great for exploring or hiking.
What to Pack for Winter in Vancouver
You don’t need to add too many extra items to your packing list, with the exception of warmer clothes and coats. If you’re planning on hiking, warm winter hiking clothing is an excellent thing to pack for your trip. Consider adding these items to your suitcase:
- Waterproof hiking boots – Invest in some waterproof hiking boots to avoid getting your feet wet in the rainy and snowy seasons.
- Merino wool socks – Keep your toes warm while hiking in these warm Merino wool socks that trap heat.
- Backpack – This comfortable backpack is lightweight and will keep your items dry.
Where to Stay in Vancouver in the Winter
Here are three mid-range accommodation recommendations for your stay in Vancouver in the winter. They are all close to the city center, so everything is within walking distance, and you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
- Moda Hotel – This hotel is in the city center of downtown Vancouver. It has two restaurants and two bars on location. Each room has a private bathroom, flat-screen TV, and a coffee machine. You’ll love the quiet and spacious rooms close to many shopping areas and tons of restaurants. (rates start at $109 per night)
- O Canada House – This historic Victorian B&B boasts city views guests can enjoy from the garden terrace. It is only a short 1.2-mile distance from Stanley Park and a quick 5-minute drive to Grouse Mountain. Your stay includes complimentary breakfast as well as 24-hour access to drinks and a fully stocked pantry. (rates start at $129 per night)
- The St. Regis Hotel – This hotel is a little higher-end than the other two accommodations but still good value for money. It is in an excellent location in downtown Vancouver and is close to the Vancouver Convention Center and BC Place. The hotel has two restaurants to choose from and a complimentary breakfast every morning. (rates start at $134 per night)
Prefer a vacation rental? Here are some you might enjoy during winter in Vancouver.
- This stylish, 2-story loft boasts a great view of the city. It sleeps 2 and comes with a full kitchen and spacious living room. (rates start at $156 per night)
- This modern suite sleeps up to 8 and has secured parking, an ideal location downtown, and a breathtaking view. (rates start at $160 per night)
- This freshly renovated, bright, airy, and spacious condo sleeps 4, has a rooftop garden pool, and is only a 10-15 min walk from central Vancouver. (rates start at $165 per night)
15 Things to Do in Vancouver in the Winter
Vancouver offers some exciting activities, rain or snow. Here are a few fun things to do in the city during the cold winter months, whether you’re a local or coming up from a road trip from Seattle to Vancouver.
1. Shop at Riley Park Winter Farmers’ Market
You don’t have to wait for Vancouver in the summer to visit farmers’ markets. Consider the Riley Park Farmers’ Market if you’re looking to get out of the rain but still want outdoor things to do in Vancouver in winter.
It is open every Saturday starting November 2023 to March 2024 from 10 am to 2 pm. Located just outside Nat Bailey Stadium, the market has up to 70 stalls for you to browse through and explore during Vancouver in wintertime.
Come rain or shine, each week, the market promises food trucks, coffee vendors, fresh produce, and live entertainment. The marketplace is wheelchair-friendly and allows pets.
There is also a seating area for parents while their children play in the kids’ room. This market is a fun activity for the whole family, whether you visit during the winter or springtime in Vancouver.
2. Spend a Day at Grouse Mountain
While it’s a fun fall activity in Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is also one of the must-see places to visit in Vancouver in winter. Get close to the alpine landscape of British Columbia at Grouse Mountain.
Only eight miles outside Vancouver, this park is an excellent escape from the bustling city. It is filled with many outdoor activities and entertainment for both young and old.
An admission ticket gives you access to the many activities available in the park. A lumberjack show and a view of endangered animals, like owls and bears, will entertain the kids.
Hike the face of Grouse Mountain by following the appropriately named Grouse Grind trail for a fun physical challenge. For a relaxing view of the alpine landscape, take the Skyride aerial tram as one of the more scenic Vancouver winter activities.
The park has various outdoor winter activities, like ziplining in the winter forest or skiing and snowboarding in the snow. When night falls, be sure to check out the Light Walk the park sets up every winter. I recommend wearing snowshoes to walk through this twinkling arch covered in snow and lights for the festive season.
Buy your Grouse Mountain admission ticket here to guarantee the lowest price.
3. Play in the Snow
Vancouver has relatively little snowfall in the winter compared to the surrounding cities in Canada. It only has about ten days of snowfall every year, and most snowfall is in Vancouver in January. So when those snowflakes start falling, take advantage of the winter activities in Vancouver.
Mount Seymour’s toboggan park is a designated point in the park where families can sled down the icy mountain. You must book ahead of time, as tickets aren’t currently sold on the mountain. I also recommend visiting during off-peak times like weekdays to have fewer people in the area and save money.
Another fun activity when looking for what to do in Vancouver in winter is to go snow tubing down Cypress Mountain. Sit and enjoy the thrill of the 110-yard ride and have the tube tow pull you back up to enjoy another ride. You will also need to book your spot in advance for this Vancouver winter activity.
There are many mountains to go skiing in Vancouver. Depending on your pace, you can have a relaxing cruise or opt for a full-body workout. If you’re still a beginner, most places offer skiing lessons on-site as well.
Build an Igloo in Whistler
This sounds like a childhood fantasy, but you can build and sleep in your own igloo! If you’re willing to travel north to Whistler, instructors will give you a short tutorial before having you build your icy dome.
Snowshoeing has grown in popularity over the last few years. People enjoy it because you get to re-experience your favorite trails in a fresh way in the winter. It also gives you a new challenge on your Vancouver winter hikes with the added difficulty of snow.
Portland in the winter is another fun place to visit this time of year.
4. Go to a Winter Festival
Vancouver has a festival for every season and reason, making it ideal for things to do in Vancouver during winter. If you’re looking for festive winter activities, Vancouver has them. Lucky for you, cold winter weather and snow will not slow the festivities down.
Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
This yearly festival celebrates the longest night of the year, and venues alternate between Granville Island, Yaletown, or Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown. Typical activities include lantern-making, fire performances, and live entertainment. Each venue provides its own unique activities. You do not want to miss this multi-cultural celebration when you need things to do in Vancouver in December.
Thursday, December 21, 2023, from 6-10 PM
Whistler Pride and Ski Festival
Whistler is the proud host of the yearly LGBTQI Pride Week and ski festival. This festival is celebrating almost 30 years of existence and is still as big as ever. A weekend in Whistler is not enough for this event. It spans over eight jam-packed days of entertainment and snow sports and is one of the top things to do in Vancouver in January if you don’t mind a drive.
January 21 – 28, 2024
Vancouver Craft Beer Week
Check out your favorite breweries on Vancouver’s North Shore. The annual craft beer festival in Vancouver takes place over a week in early November. Each brewery has special foods, collab brews, and games. Collect stickers at each brewery and paste them in your ‘passport’ to stand a chance to win awesome prizes.
If you miss Craft Beer Week, you can still take this brewery tour of three fantastic craft beer breweries in the area.
November 3 -14, 2023
You’ll also love all the things to do on Vancouver Island in the winter.
5. Have a Winter Wonderland Drive Through in Langley
Langley is southeast of Vancouver and just a 45-minute drive away from the city when you need something to do in Vancouver in the winter. It has a small population but sees big crowds during the many festivals and events it hosts. One of the popular events Langley hosts yearly is Glow, which you’ll want to stop at during a 3 day trip to Vancouver.
The Glow Gardens in Langley is worth the short trip, where you’ll enjoy a unique Christmas drive-through experience. It wasn’t always a drive-through event, but they had to pivot to a new idea for this beloved Christmas event in Vancouver since the pandemic. The leisurely 20-minute drive is full of Christmas lights and decorations when you want winter things to do in Vancouver.
6. Take a Walking Tour Through Gastown
Visit the oldest commercial district in Vancouver and uncover some fun secrets of the area. The area grew from a single tavern back in 1867. The Steam Clock, built in 1977, is a notable landmark in the area and one of the only steam-powered clocks in the world. The famous clock fits in well with the Victorian architecture of the surrounding buildings.
Join a prohibition city walking tour and discover the boozy history of Vancouver’s bootlegging past. This tour will take you through downtown Vancouver and all through Gastown, where you’ll see the places real mob bosses ruled during this time.
7. Get in the Christmas Spirit
Vancouver is big on getting into the festive spirit, and the city has various places decked out with joyful Christmas lights and decorations. If you’re in the town during the festive season, visiting the lights is one of the best things to do in the Vancouver winter.
Between the winter months of November and January, visitors can see the Bright Nights Christmas light display in the heart of the park. Admission to the event is $10, and all proceeds go to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund.
The 12-minute miniature Christmas Train is an in-demand ride that takes visitors through the park for a great look at all the lights. It’s perfect for what to do in Vancouver in January, when it’s a bit colder out.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
This suspension bridge is transformed into a winter wonderland from late November to late January. During the Canyon Lights Winter Festival, this bridge is wrapped in thousands of twinkling Christmas lights and stands beside the eighth-highest Christmas tree in the world.
Jack Poole Plaza
Delight in German-style foods and drinks at the Vancouver Christmas Market. Refreshments like Gluhwein and salty pretzels are plentiful at this European-style holiday event. The event runs from November to December and ends on Christmas Eve.
This Yulefest will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit. It has fun activities for everyone and a heated Alpine Lounge to warm up in. Over 80 vendors sell delicious foods and great finds for Christmas presents.
8. Walk or Ride a Bike in Stanley Park
Stanley Park is Vancouver’s oldest park and is usually a tourist’s first stop when entering the city. The Pacific Ocean almost entirely surrounds it, and the park features forest trails, calming beaches, and the famous Sea Wall.
This is actually always our first stop on our annual Whistler trip after we drive up from Seattle because it couldn’t be more perfect. We all get to stretch our legs, the kids can run around as much as they want, and we always stop at Stanley Park Brewing for lunch and beers before heading up to Whistler in the winter.
The Sea Wall is divided into two sections – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. A walk along the Sea Wall path is great to get some fresh air and learn about the park’s history. Visitors can explore the almost-forgotten stories of the park with a guided walking tour or bike tour when visiting Stanley Park in winter.
9. Walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge
As the name suggests, this park’s main feature is the suspension bridge that hangs 110 feet above the Capilano River. Besides the bridge, there is an overflow of outdoor activities to do in Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
Try out the new Cliff Walk for a heart-stopping walk along the high cliff face of the Capilano River. Another fun experience, not for the faint-hearted, is the Treetops Adventure. This popular park attraction lets you weave through the West Coast rainforest on wooden platforms. The platforms and bridges can reach up to 110 feet high, but the views are worth it even if you have a slight fear of heights.
While you can go here year-round, this is one of the more popular Vancouver winter attractions due to the lights that hang up around the bridge during this time of year.
10. Stay Warm and Visit a Museum
If you’re not feeling up to exploring the city in the rainy weather, you can visit a museum when looking for things to do in winter in Vancouver and stay warm.
The museum offers a variety of programs, both in-person and online, so you don’t even have to leave your hotel room. For in-person visits, the museum is open Monday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Learn more about Vancouver’s history or view one of the many exciting exhibitions on display.
Burnaby Village Museum
Visitors are transported back in time to the roaring 20s in Vancouver. Walk through the town as period-clothed townsfolk welcome you and show you how locals lived life during this time.
In November and December, a heritage Christmas event is held at the museum. Enjoy Christmas lights and a fun scavenger hunt at the celebration when looking for what to do in Vancouver in December.
Museum of Anthropology
Traditional and contemporary artworks fill this iconic building. Conventional totem poles guard the front in a jarring juxtaposition to the modern structure of the museum. Inside, you’ll find many more instances of new coexisting with old in the beautiful artworks and exhibitions.
11. Go Ice Skating for Free in Robson Square
We all love free things, and Robson Square knows that. The plaza is one of the city’s most important landmarks and hosts many community celebrations. In winter, a semi-indoor skating rink is open for both young and old to enjoy. Skate rentals cost about $5, but it’s free if you bring your own, so it’s an affordable activity when looking for what to do in Vancouver during the winter.
Robson Square is on Robson Street and forms part of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Robson Street is a long street that also includes many luxury department stores. After ice skating, be sure to fuel yourself for some shopping by checking out the restaurants along the way.
12. Eat Seafood on Granville Island
Granville Island is a peninsula just a six-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. You can take the False Creek Ferry or an aquabus from the many stops downtown. If you like, you can walk to the island by crossing the Granville Street Bridge, which sits just atop the island. I love coming here during the year to browse all the vendors and shops.
The Granville Market is open seven days a week from 9 am to 6 pm. You can take a Granville Island Market Tour to familiarize yourself with the regional food and drink options unique to the area. The two-hour tour takes you to eight destinations and gives you over 20 signature tastings. One of the tastings includes Canada’s favorite poutines, but with an added twist.
Don’t forget to check out the highly recommended Lobsterman and Tony’s Oyster and Fish Café for the freshest seafood dishes in town.
If you feel like taking a trip to another island, you’ll love going on a Vancouver Island road trip.
13. Visit Science World with the Kids
Spend between three to four hours inside this STEAM center when visiting Vancouver in the winter. Science World is a non-profit center that is open every day of the week. The center aims to ignite wonder through science and nature.
The center has interactive exhibits and galleries to encourage kids to learn through touch. There are 11 live science shows daily and virtual reality rooms. This center will keep the curious young ones interested and engaged. Science World is a great place to take kids who love learning and exploring.
14. Spend the Day with Animals
The Vancouver Aquarium has thousands of ocean species and over 30 unique exhibits, so you’ll want to stop here while visiting Vancouver during the winter. During its 60 years of existence, the aquarium has strived to create a safe space for sea animals. They’ve recently added a new Marine Mammal Rescue exhibit where guests can meet some rescued seals and sea lions.
We stop here every year with the kids because it’s by far one of the best aquariums I’ve seen, and I’ve been to quite a few. Our family is easily here for hours because it takes you that long to look through all the exhibits.
Bloedel Conservatory Wildlife is in Queen Elizabeth Park at the top of Little Mountain. Since its opening in 1969, the conservatory now houses more than 600 exotic birds and plants.
Bloedel Conservatory demonstrates the importance of habitat protection and has an indoor tropical and subtropical rainforest habitat. You’ll forget you’re in a cold city once you enter their doors.
Take this private tour of the Vancouver Aquarium and Bloedel Conservatory for a fun indoor activity.
15. Take a Day Trip to Whistler
British Columbia Highway 99 has many names, like the Squamish Highway or the more affectionately nicknamed Sea to Sky Highway. The highway got its name because of the mountains enveloping it, stretching from the sea to the sky. A Vancouver to Whistler drive on this highway will be sure to take your breath away.
If you’re looking for some outdoor activities, then Whistler is a great place to visit. Many locals love coming here for a Vancouver weekend getaway as well.
Whistler is a popular skiing destination with loads of activities in the snow. Take a dip in the hot Scandinave Spa, which feels especially great in winter. Afterward, zipline through the peaks or take a gondola through the sky to experience the Alpine views.
Take this Sea to Sky and Whistler tour to get the whole experience of these picturesque views.
And there are some of the best activities to do in Vancouver in the winter! Leave a comment and let me know which one you’re most excited to do.