19 free things to do this winter in Vancouver 2016

Dec 20 2016, 9:55 pm


With Christmas celebrations, holiday get-togethers, and ski trips, winter can be tough on the wallet.

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Fortunately, it’s entirely possible to enjoy winter in Vancouver without breaking the bank.

Here are 19 free things to do in Vancouver to help you make the most of the winter, while spending the least.

Chalet Place, North Vancouver Light Display

  • What: A home up in the high hills of North Vancouver has been lighting up with over 100,000 lights each Christmas for a few years, all in a good cause. The homeowners welcome visitors but encourage a donation to the Harvest Project in return.
  • Where: 4967 Chalet Place, North Vancouver
    When:  Monday, November 28 to Friday, January 6, 2017. On opening night, the lights will be viewable from 6:30 pm, on all other nights, the house will be illuminated from 5:30 pm.

Trinity Street

  • What: For well over a decade, homeowners on Trinity Street (between the 2400 and 2900 blocks) in East Vancouver are known for going all out during the holidays. While there might not be an actual festival happening, be sure to pass by the neighbourhood and take in the lights.
  • Where: Trinity Street, Vancouver (between Slocan and Renfrew)
  • When: Throughout winter

Concord’s New Year’s Eve Vancouver Fireworks Celebration

  • What: This was Canada’s largest New Year’s Eve event last year, attracting over 80,000 attendees at its inaugural event. The free, all-ages event by the Vancouver New Year’s Eve Celebration Society includes a free festival on Canada Place Way with two outdoor concert stages, over 20 food trucks, roaming live entertainment, and sponsor exhibitions.
  • When: Saturday, December 31, 2016 from 6:30 pm to 12:15 am (Family Fireworks at 9 pm; Midnight Countdown Fireworks at 12:00 am)
  • Where: Canada Place Way (999 Canada Place, Vancouver). Please note that the fireworks can be viewed from across Coal Harbour.

Tubing or tobogganing

Snow tubing (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

  • What: When there’s snow on the ground, There are numerous areas around Metro Vancouver to try your hand at snow tubing and tobogganing on our local mountains.
  • Where: Various locations
  • When: Throughout winter months as conditions allow.


Elfin Lakes / Shutterstock

  • What: Whether you’re a regular or a beginner, snowshoeing is a fun and easy way to get outside in the winter, see some marvellous scenery, and have some exercise.
  • Where: Various locations.
  • When: Throughout winter months as conditions allow.

Window shop ’til you drop

There’s no shortage of places to window shop in the city (Image: Sorbis /Shutterstock)

  • What: Vancouver boasts some world-class shopping districts, and are a feast for the eyes any time of year. And when you’re “just lookin,” no one has to know you actually can’t afford it.

Lights at Lafarge Lake

The lights at Lafarge Lake. (Image: Ania Jedrzejewska / Instagram)

  • What: See more than 100,000 twinkling lights light up Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake, in a magical, free, outdoor display for visitors of all ages.
  • When: Town Centre Park – 1299 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam
  • When: Nightly from dusk to 11 pm, until January 22

Robson Square Skating Rink

Go for a skate at Vancouver’s Robson Square. Photo: Robson Square Skating Rink

  • What: The Robson Square Ice Rink, located in downtown Vancouver, is open all through the Christmas Holidays, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Skating is free with your own skates, otherwise rentals are available. The rink also features a concession stand with snacks and warm drinks.
  • Where: Robson Square – 800 Robson Square, Vancouver
  • When: The rink is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm Sunday to Thursday, and from 9 am to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays, until February 14.

Annual Polar Bear Swim

Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver. Photo: Sherwood411 / Flickr

  • What: The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club is one of the largest and oldest Polar Bear Clubs in the world. Its initial swim was in 1920, when a small number of hardy swimmers took the plunge into English Bay on New Year’s Day.
  • Where: English Bay, Vancouver
  • When: January 1, 2017

No Pants Skytrain Ride

Hundreds of people took off their pants during the event in 2014. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/Shutterstock)

  • What: The No Pants Skytrain Ride is an annual global event started by Improv Everywhere in New York in 2002. The mission is simple: you ride the Skytrain with no pants.
  • Where: Meet on the south side of the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station by the ticket machines. From there, the group will divide. Full route coming soon.
    RSVP: On Facebook, participation is free, commemorative t-shirts are $20.
  • When: Sunday, January 8 at 2:30 pm

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver (Image: Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock)

What: Vancouver’s Chinese New Year’s celebration isn’t something to be missed, and the free, annual parade is one of the celebrations biggest draws. In 2017, the Year of the Rooster begins on January 28.

Get free stuff Online

Maybe you’re suffering from the winter doldrums and want to apartment therapy your space on the cheap. The Vancouver online classifieds have tons of free stuff that only requires pick-up. From furniture and home appliances to pets, you have a decent chance of finding what you’re after. The oft overlooked swap/trade section is excellent for quirkier deals.

Cultivate Smarts at a Vancouver Public Library Event

Become a self-taught genius Good Will Hunting-style or simply improve your dinner conversation skills by attending any of the free public events at the VPL. They’ve put some awesome effort into creating a novel line up (pardon the pun).

Family Day

Family Day is an ideal time to get outside and play in the snow (Image: VITMARK / Shutterstock)

  • What: Family Day is not a national statutory holiday, but lucky for us it’s observed in BC (as well as Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan). Family Day was created to give people time to spend with their families but it also provides a day off between New Years Day and Good Friday, which are approximately three months apart.
  • Where: In Vancouver and across BC
  • When: Monday, February 20

Visit Granville Island

Granville Island is a good bet any time of year (Image: James Wheeler / Shutterstock)

  • What: Regardless of the time of year, a visit to Granville Island is always a safer bet. The popular Vancouver attraction has a variety of shops and novelties to check out, and boasts numerous areas for people watching and life pondering.
  • Where: Granville Island – 1669 Johnston St. Vancouver
  • When: Daily from 9 am to 7 pm

Free tastings

Image: Liquor Depot Canada / Facebook

  • What: Ok, so it may not be an “event” in the traditional sense of the word but, it’s still certainly free. Many liquor stores do on-site sample tasting on select days, and provide people with the perfect opportunity to figure out what they really want. In fact the Everything Wine Store Everything Wine Store gives out free samples from 2 to 6 pm daily.

Enjoy Tuesdays at the Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery / Shutterstock

  • What: Make your Tuesdays a little more artsy, during the gallery’s ‘by donation’ night. But even if your pockets are empty, you can still check it out.
  • Where: Vancouver Art Gallery – 750 Hornby St. Vancouver
  • When: 5 pm to 9 pm, every Tuesday night.



Help out your fellow human by volunteering during the winter season. Volunteering/Shutterstock

  • What: Volunteering doesn’t cost a thing and the payoff in terms of helping out your fellow human is huge. Volunteers are especially in demand during the cold winter months, and there’s no shortage of places to spend some time and do some good.

Play in a park

Stanley Park in the winter (Image: globetrekimages / Flickr)

  • What: Vancouver’s Park’s are open year-round, and provide the perfect, close-to-home opportunity to get out, breathe the fresh winter air, and enjoy the scenery.
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