Things to do in Vancouver in Winter
January 28, 2018
Growing up in Canada, Vancouver has always been one of my favorite cities – but one I didn’t always get enough time to visit. After Dan and I’s recent visit with my family in Edmonton we had a couple of days to kill in Vancouver on a deliberate extended layover. Although the weather at this time of year is less than ideal with ongoing drizzles of rain, we still had a great time exploring the city and had some memorable experiences finding things to do in Vancouver in winter.
In the winter months finding things to do on a budget can be hard. Entrance fees to museums, hockey games, indoor exhibits and seasonal events can be expensive for backpackers. So here is a complete guide for things to do in Vancouver in Winter including our best budget tips as well as recommendations for accommodation and restaurants.
Things to do in Vancouver in Winter
Upon arriving in Vancouver we were immediately told by our friend who picked us up from the airport that we were “lucky” as it was a nice day out. This was confusing as it didn’t seem like a “nice day” by any means. I mean, it wasn’t cold like Edmonton was, but thick grey clouds covered the sky and ruined any chance of views of the mountains which surround Vancouver. I looked at the weather forecast which called for rain every single day.
Soon, I found out that rain is the typical weather for Vancouver during the winter season and I had no choice but to make the most of it for my short and sweet visit. Daniel and I are outdoorsy, there was no way we were going to spend the next few days inside museums or Aquariums (not to mention our budget just simply wouldn’t allow it.) So with my rain jacket and umbrella I explored the city of Vancouver over the next couple of days and came up with quite the list of things to do in Vancouver in Winter while staying on a budget.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge has to be one of the most famous attractions in Vancouver. This is my most expensive suggestion, but also my most favorite! Luckily for us, during the months of December and January the Capilano Suspension Bridge puts on a light show in celebration of the holiday season. This light show is ranked among other world class light shows, and after visiting for myself, I can see why. Although the light show was very neat, the Capilano Suspension Bridge would be an amazing sight during the day as well, and definitely one of the top things to do in Vancouver in winter.
What Exactly Is the Capilano Suspension Bridge?
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is essentially a suspension bridge which hangs over a large gorge and river. There is historical significance as the first suspension bridge in this area dates back to 1889 and although the bridge has been redone may times since then, it still remains a historical symbol to Vancouver (there is tons of information at the bridge about its history.)
The actual suspension bridge is now just a part of what is a large park with multiple activities. There are trails within the forest, a suspended cliff walk with a glass floor, tree top walk, tree houses, lakes, and multiple smaller suspension bridges hanging from the trees. Exploring the entire park will take about 2 hours and is guaranteed to be an adventure-filled outdoor activity.
How to Get There?
From downtown Vancouver there is actually a free shuttle to and from the bridge. The schedule and pick up locations for the shuttle can be found online here.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge current entrance fees are $42.95 for an adult, $33.95 for a student and $14.95 for a child. You can check their website out for advanced tickets and family discounts here.
Make sure to bring some water and snacks with you. Also, an umbrella and rain jacket are a good idea in the winter. Luckily, the forest provides some protection from the rain so the weather conditions don’t matter too much for this activity. They also provide free rain ponchos and some covered resting spots.
If you aren’t sure whether to visit during the day or night, I would advise going an hour or so before sunset and stay long enough to experience both. Although I really enjoyed the light show at night, I think the day time experience would be really neat also and provide some cool nature views.
Stanley Park is a beautiful (and FREE) park in downtown Vancouver. The hostel we stayed at (HI Vancouver Downtown, read below for more info) was only a couple minutes walking from the park entrance. Even with the light rain, we explored Stanley Park easily. The park provides great views of the city, lakes, and nature trails through the forest. Stanley Park is definitely a perfect addition to our list of things to do in Vancouver in winter.
On the day we went it rained the entire time. Although I do believe Stanley Park would be more enjoyable in the summer months, it was nice to essentially have the park to ourselves. It was peaceful, quiet, and the rain made the air feel fresh. We must have walked around exploring Stanley Park for more than two hours, enjoying every moment!
Granville Island is a small island just a couple minutes by ferry from downtown Vancouver. It is a popular spot for tourists. On Granville Island there are various small boutique shops, restaurants, different types of markets, and viewpoints. We headed over to Granville Island one afternoon and found ourselves entertained for a few hours.
From downtown there are a couple different ferry companies that offer a quick and cheap ride over to the island. We took False Creek Ferries, the port was only a two minute walk from our accommodation and the ride was $5.50 for a return ticket. For pick up and drop off locations see the map below.
Granville Island Markets
Another free activity, the indoor markets on Granville Island! These markets offer everything from crafts, to baking goods, to fast food, to fresh meat and produce. The markets are covered and heated so it makes for a great place to spend a cold afternoon.
When we were at the markets we tried a German-style hot dog and bought some homemade pasta to cook up at the hostel for dinner.
Granville Island Brewery Tour
The Granville Island Brewing Company is a popular spot on Granville Island for beers and some food. However, many people do not know that this place actually is still an operating brewery and offers brewery tours for only $10 CAN!
The tour lasted for about an hour and included some information on how beer is made, a tour of the brewery, and three beer tastings of our choice! It was a fun little activity, and the beer was excellent!
We ended up leaving Granville Island with a six pack of craft beer from the brewery and fresh pasta to make for dinner. We headed back to the hostel ready for some drinks and dinner while socializing with some other backpackers.
While we do like to cook to save some money when travelling in more expensive places, Vancouver has a great budget food option – Sushi! In downtown Vancouver it is easy to find high quality sushi for about $5-10 CAN. There are literally hundreds of Sushi places to choose from in downtown Vancouver.
We went to Momo’s Sushi, which was fantastic and cheap. The secret to picking a good Sushi place is to pick one that is very busy. We didn’t know anything about Momo’s before we went there, but when we walked by on a Thursday night it was packed and we had to wait a few minutes for a table. The wait was worth it and we both got more Sushi than we could eat with a tip for $20 CAN!
Our Recommendations for Travel Plans
Where to Stay in Vancouver
I highly recommend staying right in downtown Vancouver. I personally think downtown is great in terms of amenities and accessibility to everything you may want to do while visiting Vancouver.
We stayed at the hostel called “HI Vancouver Downtown” and it was fantastic. It had a hostel vibe with many common areas for meeting other travelers. The wifi, beds and bathrooms were also really good. The kitchen was huge, clean, and fully equipped and the free breakfast was an added bonus. I found the staff to be helpful and the location was ideal. I would stay here again in a heartbeat and would recommend the HI Vancouver Downtown to anyone looking for a comfortable and affordable stay.
Budget Tips for Visiting Vancouver
-Take advantage of the Sky Train and public buses as transport. Vancouver has not yet adopted Uber, and taxi’s are wildly expensive.
-If you are looking to go out drinking take advantage of “Happy Hour” deals and “during the week specials”. Partying at clubs late on Friday and Saturday nights will be very costly. Drinking at your hostel instead of going out will be a huge budget saver especially if you buy your alcohol from the BC Liquor stores (instead of privately owned ones) where the prices are usually much lower.
-Take advantage of deal websites such as Groupon (my favorite.) During the winter months it is common to find coupons and discounts on things to do as well as really great restaurants. Sometimes these deals are as much as 80% off!
-Join in on affordable tours and outings organised by your hostel. Sometimes there are even free activities! HI Canada hostels are great for having lots of things to do planned for the guests.
Vancouver is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, and after visiting I can see why. In the end the rain really didn’t affect our time in Vancouver too much and Vancouver in the winter was still an amazing experience. Vancouver will continue to be a place we will visit regularly.
If you have anything to add or ask feel free to contact us or comment below!