Vancouver's winters are a delightful mix of rain and snow. One moment you’re dodging raindrops under your umbrella, and the next, fluffy snowflakes are swirling around you.
It's a unique and charming experience, especially as you sip hot cocoa, bundle up, and still head out into the cold weather.
So that you can make the most of this season, we’ve gathered some facts, exciting things to do, and useful tips about the winter season in Vancouver. Read on!
What is Vancouver like in winter?
Winter in Vancouver lasts from December to February. Temperatures are relatively mild, ranging from 0°C (32°F) to 10°C (50°F), with occasional drops below freezing.
Vancouver had its coldest day on record back on December 29, 1968, when temperatures plummeted to -17.8°C (0°F) at the official weather station (airport station).
Still, compared to Canada’s interior and northern parts, the city doesn’t experience harsh temperatures, thanks to its coastal location and the influence of warm currents in the Pacific Ocean.
The Rocky Mountains also lend a helping hand by blocking the flow of cold Arctic air into the region. Another mountain range, The Cascades, causes moisture from the ocean to move up the slope, cool down, and fall as rain on Vancouver.
There may be other factors to consider, but it all boils down to less snow, more rain. In fact, it’s not uncommon to experience rainy days throughout the winter months.
All that rain contributes to the city’s lush greenery, which makes it a beautiful place to be even in the colder months.
On the other hand, the city does receive light snow that doesn't accumulate significantly. In 2015, there was too little snow that it was recorded as “unmeasurable.”
So, it’s no wonder that Vancouver has a relatively low chance of a white Christmas. Environment Canada puts it at a nine percent probability – compare that with Toronto (GTA) at 51% and Quebec at 99%.
Things to Do during Winter in Vancouver
Ski on the Grouse Mountain
Address: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4K9
A short 15-minute drive away from downtown, you’ll find Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. It’s a winter wonderland where skiers and snowboarders can explore 33 runs, and snowshoers trek through 9 kilometers of trails surrounded by scenic views.
You can also enjoy outdoor skating, sled and sleigh rides, and the magical Light Walk that’s only available during winter.
Skate for Free at Robson Square Ice Skating Rink
Address: 800 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 3B7
Outside of winter, Robson Square (What is Robson Street in Vancouver known for?) is quite busy hosting music festivals, dance classes, and community celebrations. From December to February, its main attraction is the Ice Skating Rink.
Spanning around 6000 sq. feet, the ice rink provides a huge open-air and roof-covered space for everyone to enjoy. You can bring your own skates or rent a pair for CAD 5.
There’s even live music playing at certain hours within the twelve days leading to Christmas. Talk about getting into a festive mood!
Cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Winter
Address: 3735 Capilano Rd, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4J1
The Capilano Suspension Bridge (Is the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver worth it?) is a beloved attraction all year round. Visitors chase the thrill of walking on a swaying bridge that’s 140 meters long and suspended high above the forest floor.
From November to January, though, the bridge becomes even more enchanting when they switch on the Canyon Lights display. It’s open from 11 AM to 9 PM, so you can get an evening admission ticket to see the illuminated rainforest.
Be sure to dress for a winter outdoor experience as the park can be chilly in the evening.
Watch a Live Hockey Game at Rogers Arena
Address: 800 Griffiths Way, Vancouver, BC V6B 6G1
Canadians love hockey, and you’ll see that while watching the Vancouver Canucks play against NHL teams at the Rogers Arena.
Hockey is all about ice and winter, but attending a game allows you to escape the chilly weather and enjoy the warmth of the indoor arena. Aside from the excellent vantage point to witness the action on the ice, the energy of the crowd is truly electric.
After all the cheering and chanting, you can head to the nearby Gastown (Gastown) for a post-game beer. It’s just a short walk of about 10 minutes, or if you prefer wheels, you can get there in about 3 minutes.
Drop by the Vancouver Christmas Market
From November to December, the Coal Harbour (Coal Harbour Guide) also gets into the festive mood with the Vancouver Christmas Market held at Jack Poole Plaza.
It’s the perfect place to find Christmas presents and refreshments to share with your visiting family and friends. You’ll have plenty of options to explore with over 80 vendors selling a variety of European-style goods.
Watch PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
Held in multiple venues across Vancouver, from traditional theaters to the streets, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival showcases thought-provoking and innovative multi-media performances.
The festival happens right in the middle of winter, so you’ll have the perfect escape from the colder weather. The intimate settings allow the audience to truly connect with the performers and witness the city’s arts community in full swing.
Catch the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival
The Winter Solstice is already a special time even just for the tang yuan or glutinous rice balls. But really, it’s an important celebration that’s rooted in Chinese culture but has expanded to other parts of the world to bring cultures together.
The festival honors the longest night of the year and the return of light and warmth with longer daylight hours. Keep an eye on the Secret Lantern Society for the festival schedule in Granville Island, Yaletown, or Strathcona.
Laugh Out Loud at JFL Vancouver
Laughter is a great way to beat the winter blues. Happening a few days in February, the JFL Vancouver brings together some of the world’s best comedians, delivering side-splitting performances from the largest arenas to the most intimate settings.
Stand-up, improv, sketch comedy – what better way is there to get ready for spring!
Tips for Staying in Vancouver during Winter
- Dress for the weather. You’ll need to dress in layers to keep yourself warm and dry. Make sure your puffer coat, scarf, sweater, waterproof boots, and umbrella are ready – and occasionally, your gloves, too.
If you’re snowboarding, you’ll need extra gear, but make sure you don’t go out there without the right wind-proof and water-proof snowboarding jacket.
- Know the risks to your health. Staying outside in the winter cold can increase your chances of getting hypothermia, frostbite, or physical injuries due to the slippery ground. Be familiar with the symptoms and first aid for these conditions.
- Review road conditions. Plan ahead to avoid impassable roads and stretch your travel time a bit to accommodate unexpected circumstances.
- Stay updated on weather conditions. Vancouver’s weather can change quickly, so stay informed about any weather advisories or storm warnings. This will help you plan your activities accordingly and ensure a safe stay in the city.
- Have fun indoors. With Vancouver’s many establishments, you can surely find an indoor spot where you can cozy up and escape the winter chill. Try visiting the nearest cafe, public library, or art gallery for an amazing warm time.