It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Ever since the temperature dropped back down below 20 degrees in September, I have been looking forward to the second best time of year in Vancouver (or I imagine, anywhere in North America): Christmas! I’ve been feeling somewhat festive since mid-November this year, which is unusual for me as I have a tendency to forgo anything that smells remotely like Christmas until after my birthday on December 14th. This might have had something to do with the fact that I was flying home on December 10th, so I had only 10 days to fit in all the merriment that was on offer.
First up were the ‘unofficial’ activities; the kind you don’t have to pay for. Vancouver is a haven of free festive fun at Christmas time, as everything from street lighting to hotel lobbies become a tourist attraction. The Hyatt hosted a gingerbread village with lifelike models of gingerbread sceneries, the Four Seasons displayed a Festival of (beautifully decorated) Trees and walking through the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was like stepping into Home Alone 2. Robson Street was lovely as ever with its golden fairy lights lining the streets, and the Lights of Hope decorating St. Paul’s Hospital were bright (if not a little tacky for my liking).
Speaking of tacky, one of the first ‘official’ activities I booked was the Stanley Park Bright Nights, which the website describes as ‘the most spectacular lighting display in Canada’. There is no doubt that the lights were bright, though the main plaza was less beautiful-romantic-fairy-lights and more oh-god-why-didn’t-I-bring-my-sunglasses. The little train ride taking us on a tour of the displays reminded me of a British theme park as I shrank away from glow in the dark santas and back lit cardboard cut-outs of choir boys. To be fair the kids seemed to love it, and I’m sure the train and accompanying festive snacks (think waffles, chestnuts and popcorn) is a great treat for families. Personally I just found it all a bit random, and definitely not worth the $23.50 for two tickets. We decided to skip the snacks and jump on the bus back to Downtown for some sushi.
I had high hopes for the Vancouver Christmas Market, as their website claimed it was one of the world’s top 10 Christmas markets. Not to self: stop believing websites. The Christmas Market was very wooden and very German with a number of stalls selling local food, beautiful decorations and luxurious clothing. There was German beer, German wine, German cider and German sausages. Being Vancouver, ‘German’, ‘local’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘luxurious’ were all code words for ‘expensive’, and after paying $5 to get in I was disappointed to fork over $8 for a bratwurst. The apple cider was delicious and the atmosphere reminded me of home, but after sampling the free markets of Winchester and London I was expecting something a little bigger.
The final attraction was Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. For 11 months of the year the park is famous for the 450ft suspension bridge which hangs over 230ft over the canyon in the North Shore, and every December this is hitched up a level when thousands and thousands of lights are added to the treetops, the Cliffwalk overlooking the bridge, and the bridge itself. This was the beautiful and romantic setting that I was looking for, complete with Santa’s sleigh for Kodak moments. It does loose a few points for keeping the vast majority of lights to the bridge and not lighting up the rest of the canyon too, though I do appreciate the logistical challenges that would cause. The final bugbear is the price. At $25 per adult it isn’t a cheap night, and I wouldn’t say that it’s a worthwhile one either. However, BC Residents can get a free annual pass with one full day admission ticket throughout the year, so I used mine to get in for free and really enjoyed it.
I’m sure there were other activities that I missed, but these were the highlights and I’m glad I managed to squeeze them in before my flight home. Next year I’ll do my best to stay a little later, and will hopefully add some snow-based adventures to the list. The moral of the story is that although many Christmas activities can be little more than tourist traps which don’t always reflect the price of admission, Vancouver’s everyday experiences make up for these and will almost certainly stir up that festive feeling.