Jan 9, 2012

Our 5 Favourite Winter Activities For Families In Vancouver

Vancouver is a gorgeous city—it’s no surprise that it has consistently been dubbed the ‘Most Liveable City In The World’.  It’s got it all—the coastal location, with a mountainous backdrop, forests andparks a plenty, great food from all corners of the world, an arts andculture scene and friendly, environmentally and minority sensitive,ethnically-diverse inhabitants.

Watching a sea plane land in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, B.C.


As part of another group writing project with other ‘Families On The Move’, were are presenting things to do/places to explore in our own hometown.  While we currently live in Melbourne, Australia (which incidentally is the current 'Most Liveable City'), it’s Vancouver, Canada where I lived for 26yrs which I consider 'my hometown'.

I personally think summer is when Vancouver is at its finest, providing a wealth of activities (mostly outdoors) to entertain locals and tourists alike, while showcasing its beauty and allure. So when we decided to spent 3 weeks in 
Vancouver for Christmas 2011, it was done with mixed feelings.

What would we do there in the winter, especially with a 4 & 6yr old??

Well to our surprise, we found lots of family-friendly activities to more than fill our time, both outdoors and in--even in the winter!  And thus we saw and experienced a completely different side to my beloved city.  We must preface that we had crisp, even sunny weather with daytime temps around 0-5 degrees Celsius.  (We had virtually no rain, except for a few days around Christmas—this is extremely rare for this time of year.) Once we got ourselves outfitted appropriately with warm jackets, hats and gloves, we were fine.  I once heard that ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice in clothing!’  That is so true.
So if you ever find yourself lucky enough to be in Vancouver, even if it’s winter, check out our 5 Favourite Activities For Families (In Winter or Summer):

HEAD UP TO A LOCAL MOUNTAIN. Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Mt. Seymour are all about a 20 min drive from downtown Vancouver.    From their tops, the views of Vancouver and beyond are breathtaking.  You can also do some hiking, watch birds (and bears—only if you are lucky, or unlucky depending on how you look at it!), have a meal, and just enjoy the clean alpine air.  In the winter, you can down-hill or cross-country ski, toboggan, tube, and or snowshoe.  Grouse Mountain also has a gondola ride from the base to the top, where more activities are on offer.

View of Vancouver from Cypress Mountain Look-out

Tobogganing at Cypress Mountain

CROSS A SUSPENSION BRIDGE.  There are 2 suspension bridges for the not-feint at heart located about 20 min drive from downtown Vancouver.  My favourite (and least touristy) of the two has always been Lynn Canyon Park.  In the winter and spring, the water roars down Lynn Creek below and the water is crystal clear (and icy) year-round.  The Diving Pool is a favourite spot among locals in the summer months. There are many hectares of forested trails set among tall western cedar and hemlock trees on both sides of the bridge.  You feel so small there, and quiet as you stroll along.  And the icing on the cake is that entry is free.  There’s also a terrific Ecology Centre there (entry by donation) which has lots of interactive displays to keep adults and kids 3yrs+ interested and engaged about the world we live in.

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge

DO THE SEAWALL.  The Stanley Park seawall is a 10km+ vehicle-free path that circles, well, Stanley Park.  You can walk, run, in-line skate, or bicycle all or part of the way, with every step of the way offering you spectacular and unexpected views of the downtown, West Vancouver, Strait of Georgia, Spanish Banks and English Bay.  It’s a popular place with the locals, with many people pushing strollers too.  And of course, it’s free.

GO TO GRANVILLE ISLAND.  Granville Island is an ‘island’ set beneath the Granville Street bridge, just across the water (False Creek) from downtown Vancouver.  You can get to it either via the road which runs to it, or on the Aquabus service from various points across False Creek (which is fun to do with the kids too).  The main attraction is thePublic Market that’s popular with the locals for fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as for delicacies such as fresh pasta, home made ice cream, organic food, specialty cheeses, and other ‘fine foods’.  There’s also a strong local artists’ ‘haven’ there and you can watch them work, or you can purchase unique hand-made items ranging from jewellery, handicrafts, hand-blown glass, wood-crafts and textiles.  There’s also a ‘Kids Market’ in a separate building, with shops catering to all things related to kids, including shoes and clothing, educational toys, baby accessories, hairdressers, and even a playcentre.  In the summer (or a crisp winter’s day), grab yourself a coffee and some food, sit outside on the plaza behind the market and listen to the various musicians as they play and or sing while you watch the world sail past on the Creek.  And don’t forget to buy a bag of seeds for the kids to feed the throngs of seagulls—a great photo opportunity!

GO ICE SKATING.  In Australia where we live, it’s practically a given that people swim.  Babies as young as 6 months old (and even younger), are enrolled in swim lessons (ok, ‘water familiarisation’ lessons).  But it seems that in Vancouver, kids ice skate instead, usually beginning with lessons as early as aged 3yrs.  Skating lessons usually lead to joining ice hockey teams (Canadians are mad about their ice hockey) or to figure skating (girls and boys) lessons.  Ice rinks are plentiful (unlike in Greater Melbourne, where there are only 2 rinks) and many are even open year-round.  A Public Skating session of 2+hrs in duration often costs around $3.00 US/CAD per person, and skate rentals are available for approximately a similar price.  (In contrast, in Melbourne, a public skate session at the Docklands Icehouse costs $23.50 US/AUD per adult and $19.50 for kids 6-14yrs and $13.00 for kids 3-5yrs, although it does include skate rental.)   It’s a great family activity, winter or summer.  There’s even a free public rink at Robson Square downtown (skate rental extra).

These are just some of our favourite things to do in Vancouver which also happen to be inexpensive and enjoyed by the locals (aka not totally touristy) too.  For more ideas—check out www.kidsvancouver.com.  And if you are there around Christmastime, there are a host of activities on offer too that highlight the magic of the holidays.
Check out these posts by other families who are sharing their favourite places to explore with kids in their hometowns:


    Europe/Middle East:
    North America:
     Central America/Mexico:


    1. I love BC in Winter. Your photos sure take me back there. Great ideas - can't wait to get on those bridges with my kids!

    2. I discovered on this last visit that there's lots to love in the winter too, but summer is still my favourite! Thanks for stopping by Justin.

    3. Beautiful! I do not like the winter at all, in fact we make it our purpose to follow summer around where we can:) That being said this list makes even me want to explore in the winter! I think i'll stick to summer time where I am sure most of these activities can still be done. I have not been top Canada at all yet, I suppose I need to add it to the bucket list!

    4. That bridge is amaaaaing!! Last time we drove through we only had a little baby...

      Making a note for a return trip with kids! Thanks!

    5. Yes, we generally prefer to follow summer too, and have had 10 months of it until HK and Vancouver, but now we are back to summer for the next 4 months hopefully.

    6. Three weeks with hardly any rain? Astonishing! You know, of all the things you mention, I think I miss going round the seawall most of all.

      I agree with you that Vancouver is at it's best during the summer, but you've hit the nail on the head for winter activities. Glad you had such a lovely visit.

    7. Thanks Renee. We definitely know we got lucky with the atypical weather so we made the most of it. Too much to do there though, and not enough time in 3 weeks! Hopefully we'll be back in summer next time around.

    8. what a diverse group of activities - sure to keep ANY kid (or adult) happy! what a beautiful place. i can't wait to go!!

    9. I'd love to have a white Christmas .... just once. Crisp clear days sound so wonderful!

    10. Reading your post made me homesick for Vancouver. Our family has only lived there for 8 years (and been away for 8 months), but all these spots are so familiar and bring me happy memories. Thanks for the post.

    11. "What would we do there in the winter, especially with a 4 & 6yr old??" - It's amazing how kids show a different side of a place. How did the girls adjust to being bundled up after months of summer weather? They look way braver than I would have been on that suspension bridge!

    12. vancouver is a special place indeed and i have appreciated it so much more since moving away. luckily we try to visit as often as possible and as a result, are still discovering it in a new light, with kids in tow!

      the kids enjoyed the wintery activities, but were saddened that they couldn't wear their summer clothes! also, at Lynn Canyon, the sight of the crystal clear mountain water running in the river made them want to jump in despite the coldness outside --that is, until they realised how icy the water was too!

      Thanks for your comments folks.

    13. Gosh that looks amazing - I love the idea of walking over a long bridge with the views and the water below.
      We are heading to Melbourne early this year so we will have to check out the ice-skating rink. But I have to admit the cost sounds a lot cheaper over there :)

      thanks for sharing your amazing winter activities to do while visiting Vancouver


    14. I love Vancouver. I was there years ago but in the Summer time. I stayed a little outside by the Fjords like structures. SO gorgeous!!!!

      THis was way before I even thought of having kids:) But am dying to return with the family now.

    15. Now that we have kids and are traveling with them, it's interesting the new perspective that we have towards the places that we visit. Keeps things 'fresh' anyway! Thanks for visiting us here.

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    17. Hi,
      I also see that "Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge" it's really beautiful and also a good place for child activities vancouver