Vancouver, B.C., lights up for Christmas. And it hosts one of the oldest and biggest polar-bear swims on New Year’s Day.
Here are five fun things to do in the city over the holidays:
1. Bright Nights in Stanley Park
In the heart of 1,000-acre Stanley Park, a miniature train goes over little bridges and through the woods into a Christmas world.
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The train’s 1.5 -mile route is part of a holiday display called Bright Nights, with 3 million lights strung through trees and outlining Christmas character displays. There’s music, food and happy crowds.
Entrance to the lighted walking paths is by donation (donations go to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund). Tickets must be purchased for the train.
Info: Bright Nights runs Dec. 5-Jan. 5 with variable hours (closed Christmas Day). bit.ly/XfhJBd
Tickets for the miniature train cost from $6 to $11 (with discounts for children and seniors). Purchase at the park, although weekends can sell out, or in advance through ticketmaster.ca.
2. VanDusen Botanical Garden
Get more bright lights and a lovely walk at the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden, a 15-minute drive south of downtown. A million holiday lights bring the 54-acre garden to twinkling life, outlining stately trees, bathing the ponds in a kaleidoscope of colors and creating silhouettes of holiday characters. Making it even cheerier are nightly choirs, a ho-ho’ing Santa and impish Christmas gnomes.
Info: The Festival of Lights runs Dec. 11-Jan. 4 (closed Christmas Day) from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the garden at 5251 Oak St. bit.ly/Qr23dK
Get tickets at the garden or in advance (recommended for weekends, which get very busy) at ticketstonight.ca, $16.75 for an adult; discounts for children, seniors; family rate (two adults and children under 18), $36.50.
3. Robson Square, Robson Street
Want to be more urban? In the heart of downtown Vancouver, go ice skating on the outdoor rink at downtown’s Robson Square (free admission, skate rentals $4). Then stroll with the throngs of holiday shoppers amid the trendy clothing shops on adjoining Robson Street, lit up for the holidays.
On Dec. 1, be prepared for a crowd of tens of thousands on nearby Georgia Street for the city’s annual Christmas Parade (starts at 1 p.m.).
4. Grouse Mountain
If you want some exercise along with holiday fun, go skiing or boarding on Grouse Mountain, just a half-hour from downtown, and join in the “Peak of Christmas” at the 3,700-foot ski area.
Take a sleigh ride; see Santa and live reindeer; hear choirs and watch family-holiday movies; skate on an outdoor rink (rentals available) amid the snow.
Grouse is reached by an aerial tram that swoops up the steep mountainside. Many of the “Peak” events are free once you get to the top. There’s also a good restaurant and bar at the day lodge, with great views of the city and harbor below.
Info: Peak of Christmas runs daily Nov. 23 to Dec. 24; family ticket, $79.95. grousemountain.com/peak-of-christmas
5. Be a polar bear at English Bay
To bid the holiday season farewell, take the plunge with several thousand revelers at the Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day. This past Jan. 1, more than 2,200 swimmers dashed, some in wacky costumes, into the chilly waters of English Bay on the south edge of downtown. The jolly, shivering swim is an almost 100-year-old tradition in Vancouver.
• Flyover Canada, a high-tech, flight-simulation ride that opened this summer showcasing Canadian scenery, adds a Christmas preshow with choirs, treats and more. (Admission fee.) flyovercanada.com
• Vancouver Christmas Market. Shop, snack and make merry amid 45 kiosks in an open-air plaza modeled after a traditional German Christmas market. (Admission fee.) vancouverchristmasmarket.com
• Capilano Suspension Bridge. Walk amid bright lights and decorated trees and across the swaying pedestrian bridge that spans a deep canyon in North Vancouver. (Hefty admission fee.) capbridge.com
Kristin Jackson: email@example.com