10 Top Things To Do In Vancouver In Winter

Canada’s third-largest city, and arguably the most beautiful, welcome to Vancouver! Framed by the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains, the city is known for having spectacular natural scenery. Because of this, I was super excited to visit Vancouver in February to make the most of its cozy coffee shop culture and epic winter activities…

So, following an awesome trip, I’ve pulled together a list of the best things to do in Vancouver in winter, along with some top tips for how to enjoy winter in Vancouver to help you plan your own visit:

things to do in vancouver in winter

Winter in Vancouver weather –

The first question I had when planning my Vancouver itinerary was: how cold is it going to be?

Like me, you’ll probably be relieved to find out that Vancouver has quite a mild climate, with average temperatures between 0-6°C in winter. This is very similar to what I’m used to in London, as is the tendency for it to rain… This said, compared to other cities in Canada, the milder temperatures make winter in Vancouver ideal for sightseeing and exploring!

What to wear in Vancouver in winter –

As above, since the weather isn’t extreme you shouldn’t need to add too many additional items to your Vancouver packing list! Yet, a raincoat is advisable for those grey days and you may want to pack enough layers and snow pants to make the most of the more adventurous things to do in Vancouver in winter.

What to wear in Vancouver in winter

Where to stay in Vancouver in winter –

Another benefit of visiting Vancouver in winter is fewer crowds and thus cheaper accommodation. Despite this, I still found most of the hotels and Airbnb’s in central Downtown (close to all the best places to visit in Vancouver) to be expensive.

In this way, The Burrard is a needle in the haystack when it comes to stylish and comfortable places to stay in Vancouver that don’t break the bank! I booked this hotel last minute and was so impressed with its central downtown location. Plus, facing a lush green courtyard, my room was extremely comfortable.

Bookings at The Burrard even came with free bike rentals… A real bonus, as you’ll see below!

The Burrard Vancouver
The Burrard

Yet, if you’d prefer to stay outside of the Downtown area, other options for places to stay in Vancouver include bustling Yaletown, or West End which borders Stanley Park.

Whilst Vancouver is an incredibly safe and friendly city, I would avoid staying in Downtown Eastside (Chinatown and East Hastings) as the area has quite a large homeless population who are sadly plagued by a drug epidemic. I accidentally walked through the area when exploring nearby Gastown and have to admit to feeling quite unsafe.

What to do in Vancouver BC in winter –

Without further ado let’s get into the 10 best things to do in Vancouver in winter (all of which you could tick off in just a couple of days)!

Winter vancouver itinerary

1) Cycle The Stanley Park Seawall:

Let’s kick things off with undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Vancouver Canada; Stanley Park. Spanning 4.5km² it’s one of North America’s largest urban green spaces and combines First Nations culture and historic woodlands with waterfront trails and epic views.

By far the best way to explore is by cycling around the 8.8km Seawall, which famously encircles the park. I found the trail took around 1.5-2 hours to complete and would highly recommend hopping on two wheels! Cycling from downtown, you’ll first be treated to fabulous views of the city’s skyline before contrasting ocean blues and forest greens whiz by.

More than this, there are plenty of interesting things to see along the way such as Lions Gate Bridge (one of the world’s longest suspension bridges) and several sandy coves. I found Second Beach to be the perfect place to stop for a peaceful break!

Second Beach Stanley Park

To cycle the route, you’ll find a selection of bike rental shops near the entrance to Stanley Park. Here you can expect to pay around 20 CAD for an hour-and-a-half rental. But, staying at The Burrard meant I could pick up a bike from the hotel and cycle straight to the park for free!

free things to do in vancouver

TOP TIP: Cyclists must travel around the Stanely Park Seawall counterclockwise. This means it’s difficult to turn back. So, make sure you’re prepared to complete the whole loop.

2) Check Out The Stanley Park Totem Poles:

Another highlight within Stanley Park is the beautiful collection of First Nations Totem Poles found at Brockton Point. Thought to be the most visited attraction within the whole of British Columbia, there are nine Totems, all of which are exquisitely decorated, and some are over 100 years old!

Stanley Park Totem Poles

The Totem Poles have been displayed at Brockton Point since the 1960s in honour of the area’s original inhabitants! Interestingly, most are now replicas of the originals, with the most recent addition created by a local artist in 2009. This was commissioned to honour Rose, the last surviving member of the Brockton Community who continued to live in the park until 1935.

3) Explore Historic Gastown:

Another must on any Vancouver itinerary is a visit to historic Gastown and the city’s famous Steam Clock… Nestled at the corner of Cambie and Water, it’s one of the only working steam clocks in the world.

best places to visit in vancouver canada

Built in 1977 it’s (ironically) no longer powered by steam, but does release a puff of smoke every hour and whistles a tune. Overall, I found the clock to be a little bit of a gimmick, but it’s still fun to see… If you’re happy to wait in the crowd.

As one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, make sure you explore more of Gastown! Characterised by Victorian architecture, red brick buildings, and cobblestone streets, it feels full of history. What’s more, it’s the ideal place to eat and shop!

Gastown what to do in Vancouver

4) Visit The Capilano Suspension Bridge And Lights Show:

Out of all the things to do in Vancouver in winter, visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge was my personal favourite. A 15-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, the 137m long bridge swings across Capilano Canyon; and has become an iconic symbol of the city!

In addition, there’s much more to see, as the wider Capilano Park is home to more heart-stopping moments, including a treetop adventure trial and cliffwalk. The latter is a cantilevered walkway which clings to the granite cliffs high above the canyon.

TOP TIP: I found that the cliffwalk provided the best views of the canyon and thus epic photo opportunities.

Whilst a highlight to visit all year round, winter at Capilano is extra special due to the Canyon Lights Show. Throughout the darker months, all the mentioned attractions (and the surrounding forest), get lit up with an illuminating display of twinkling multi-coloured lights. Which, makes a visit even more magical.

At 66.95 CAD for an adult’s ticket, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park isn’t the cheapest but, I’d say it’s a must-see and thus recommend including it in your Vancouver itinerary! Plus, if you book online in advance you will get a slight discount.

5) See Vancouver From Above (Via Seaplane):

If your budget allows, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will make your trip even more memorable is a seaplane tour. Whilst Vancouver is a fantastic city to explore on foot, everything looks better from above! As such, the most popular tours are 20-30 minute scenic flights that allow you to enjoy aerial views of the city’s skyline, coast and mountain peaks.

Vancouver in winter bucket list

There are several different companies which offer such flights from Coal Habour, meaning prices vary but start at around 160 CAD. Whilst I wasn’t personally able to tick this experience off my Vancouver in winter bucket list, Harbour Air does come highly recommended.

6) Experience The Canada FlyOver:

If, like me, you’re thinking “Seaplanes are a little out of my price range” luckily, there’s another way to experience the best views in Vancouver and more of Canada’s diverse and dramatic landscapes… Introducing the Flyover!

This simulated ride gives you an immersive experience for almost 10 minutes! You honestly feel as though you’re soaring across the sky, as your seat moves with the camera. ‘Wind’ blowing in your hair and ‘rain’ spraying in your face completes the 4D experience.

things to do in vancouver winter
Canada Place, home of the Flyover

What’s more, the Flyover is located in Canada Place, another must-see landmark during your time in the city.

7) Catch An Ice Hockey Game:

No trip to Canada would be complete without catching an ice hockey game. Seeing the Vancouver Canucks, in action at the Rogers Arena, is a quintessential Canadian experience and winter is the perfect time to catch them in action!

When they’re in town the Canucks usually play a few times a week. Prices can vary massively depending on the match and seats, so my advice would be to book early and make sure you use a reputable website.

8) Warm Up With A Coffee:

Ask any local what to do in Vancouver in winter and they’ll tell you to cosy up in one of the city’s many cafes. Even though I only spent a few days in Vancouver, it was easy to tell that it has a fantastic brunch and coffee culture. As a Coeliac I was even able to enjoy/find gluten free options extremely easily – which is sometimes difficult when travelling!

things to do in vancouver in winter

Thus, if it’s raining outside (or you need a break from sightseeing) stopping for a hot drink and a sweet treat is always a good option in Vancouver.

9) Get A Birds-Eye View From The Vancouver Lookout:

Ok, I know I’ve talked a lot about getting a birds-eye view of the city, but another viewpoint that has to make it onto my list of the best things to do in Vancouver is the Vancouver Lookout.

Located at the top of the Harbour Centre (near Gastown) the lookout is almost 150m high and offers 360-degree views. My top tip is to time your visit with the sunset, as the orange glow and twinkling building lights create a stunning view.

Vancouver Lookout

TOP TIP: Tickets can be purchased online for 18.25 CAD.

10) Hit The Slopes And Go Skiing Or Snowboarding –

Let’s be honest the main reason most people plan a visit to Vancouver in winter is to enjoy the snow! Amazingly, you can leave your downtown hotel and be on the slopes of the North Shore Mountains in 30 minutes. There are three main resorts:

  • Grouse Mountain (the most accessible with 33 runs and 5 terrain parks)
  • Cypress Mountain (the largest with 53 runs and it’s best for experienced skiers)
  • Seymour Mountain (with 40 runs it’s best for beginners and cross-country skiing)

If you aren’t a skier or snowboarder there are still plenty more outdoor activities to enjoy around Vancouver! Like ziplining through the wintery forest on Grouse Mountain, snowtubing down Cypress Mountain or going snowshoeing if you fancy a winter’s hike.

What’s more, the iconic world-class ski resort of Whistler is just a 90-minute drive along the impressive sea-to-sky highway. However, whilst this is undoubtely one of the most epic winter day trips from Vancouver that you can take, I’d actually recommend planning a longer trip to Whistler as there’s so much to see and do! For example, I spent 4 days in Whistler as part of my Canadian road trip from Vancouver to Calgary.

Vancouver to Whistler in Winter

♦♦♦

In all my travels I haven’t come across a city that so perfectly blends urban living with nature, making Vancouver truly unique. As you can see from my list of the best things to do, it offers the best of both worlds between sightseeing and enjoying the great outdoors! So, whether you’re planning a 2 day itinerary in Vancouver (like me) or planning to spend longer in the city, you’ll soon discover that nowhere is quite as magical as winter in Vancouver!

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