Christmas time when you have little kids is SO MUCH FUN. My kids love everything Christmas and I really love watching their little eyes light up as they see Santa Claus, beautiful Christmas lights, or a giant Christmas tree.
We live in a small town, but we are luckily within close driving distance to both Seattle and Vancouver, so we have access to so many amazing Pacific Northwest Christmas events. I have to say – Vancouver really kills it for Christmas. There are tons of really great Christmas activities for families – so many that it’s hard to choose even when you are planning a whole weekend of Christmas fun.
For our magical Christmas weekend in Vancouver, we chose the events and activities we thought would most appeal to my twins, who are currently 3 ½. However, most everything we did would really appeal to all ages.
This is our first time doing a weekend like this, so I’ll tell you all about our amazing weekend, then let you know what we’d do to make it even better next time.
Our Magical Christmas Itinerary
Westin Grand in downtown Vancouver. We booked the king suite, which was only a tiny price increase from the standard room. The room had a king bedroom and a living space with a pull out sofa. The kids slept comfortably on the pull-out sofa, and my husband and I enjoyed having a bit of space, and a door to close after the kids had gone to sleep.
The bathroom has a huge soaking tub, and doors on each end for access from the bedroom and the living area. The hotel is stylish, up to date, and has great sound insulation. I hate when you can hear your neighbors cough or the people above you moving around. In the Westin Grand Vancouver, I never heard another guest. Being downtown, I heard a few sirens, but can’t blame the hotel for that. The hotel has room service and a lovely restaurant with great service.
Right as we got into Vancouver, we headed down to Stanley Park for Bright Nights. I’ll admit, normally I kinda hate that it gets dark at 4:30 pm in the winter this far north. But when it comes to checking out Christmas lights with kids, it’s SO convenient that we can get out and check out the lights and still make it to bed on time.
Bright Nights at Stanley Park features a wonderful Christmas train, a bright lights display, plus tons of fabulous vendors. The Christmas train is perfect for young kids! The ride is only about 10 minutes long, and it’s decorated beautifully with all-things-Christmas. It takes you around the area to see probably about half of the lights on displays at the park. The train books up quickly, especially in the early evening (prime time for younger children), so be sure to book early.
Also remember, this event benefits the B.C. Professional Firefighter Burn Fund, so you can feel great about buying your tickets!
The rest of the park is perfectly walkable, totally saturated with lights so there is always something great to see. Plus, you can easily pick up dinner, or hot cocoa here as well. The event, though popular, never felt overcrowded. We easily found a place to sit and enjoy our hot cocoas, and plenty of breathing room to enjoy the event.
We picked up bento boxes and enjoyed them in your room. When traveling with young children, we find that we just don’t look forward to eating out the way we used to. Room service menus are often limited and expensive, so we often do take out as a wonderful compromise. We picked up bento boxes from Bentoyo, just across the street from our hotel. Bento boxes are great to share with young children because there are so many little things to try. So my picky eaters will definitely find SOMETHING they like.
Probably if you are traveling with younger children, you are up and out the door MUCH earlier than you’d like to be. Take advantage of it by having a big, delicious breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Hendricks Resto-Lounge. They offer a regular menu, as well as a breakfast buffet. They were even willing to customize breakfast for my picky eaters. The restaurant has big windows that look out into the street. My kids were entertained watching everything going on outside, making it easier for them to sit still for breakfast.
Next, we made our way over to Flyover Canada, and Canada Place. The entire area is decorated for Christmas at Canada Place and was a great, low-key area to explore outside.
Canada Place is a very short drive or a long-ish walk from the Grand Westin. We opted to drive, but if you and your kids are capable, I’d highly recommend walking to avoid parking hassle and fees. Canada Place has a huge parking garage, which makes parking simple, but parking fees are quite high.
Flyover Canada is at the very far end of Canada Place. As you walk down, you’ll be able to view the beautiful Avenue of Trees, which is a collection of beautifully decorated trees, each sponsored by an area business. Each tree has a different theme, and some of the themes are really fun! My kids were pretty obsessed with the construction-themed tree, but we also really enjoyed the train-themed, and travel-themed trees.
Further down, you’ll see the traditional Woodward’s Windows. These windows have some animatronic traditional Christmas window scenes. The polar bears were a hit for my kids.
Flyover Canada has Christmas rides all day long, 7 days a week, so reservations really aren’t necessary. Flyover Canada does a good job decorating every inch of the facility, adding to the magic of the ride. The ride begins in a small ‘snow’ filled room, with an instructional video from Santa’s elves, giving you your mission – to collect all of the elves who have taken holiday throughout Canada. They are due to report back to the North Pole.
The ride is a single row of seats, with seat belts. The seats rise up above the 65-foot spherical screen, and you can even feel the wind and mist as you ‘fly’ across the country. The ride is gentle enough that most will be comfortable with it. However, I did have to let me 3-year-olds in on the secret that we weren’t really flying over the mountains because they did get a little nervous about the whole experience for a moment.
The ride features much of the beautiful scenery featured in the Flyover Canada ride year-round, but with some playful elves added to spice things up a bit. After ‘collecting all the elves’, you’ll make your way up to the North Pole, which was certainly the highlight of the ride for my 3-year-olds.
The North Pole portion of the ride is super fun, with tons of jolly imagery, and it’s even peppermint-scented! The entire experience lasts just under half an hour, which felt just about right. You can pick up a photo of your family at the North Pole, and grab a gingerbread man cookie on your way out to complete the experience. Overall, this was fun, extremely kid-friendly to the point that it was almost an easy experience that we’ll definitely repeat.
Next, we got ourselves ready to head up to Squamish, British Columbia, by car along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. Before leaving, we picked up a picnic lunch for the road. We love Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches because they are delicious and portable. We picked up a couple of sandwiches from Viet Sub Vietnamese Cuisine, near our hotel in downtown Vancouver. It was extremely quick, and they made a wonderful, flavorful, on-the-road lunch.
We made it to Squamish Polar Express at West Coast Railway in the early afternoon. I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the Polar Express since they were born. My kids love trains and they’ve been waiting for their opportunity to ride a real train and it did not disappoint. Again, this even books up early, so be sure to make reservations early. You’ll also want to arrive early, as it’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the train itself, and there are some interesting old trains, and play areas you’ll want to check out.
We opted for the matinee because it worked better for our schedule. But, yes, it would probably have been a bit more fun to go after dark. It’s a bit hard to imagine that you are taking the train to the North Pole when you can see the snow-less British Columbia terrain clearly out your window.
However, most of the action was ON the train. There are volunteer actors playing the characters from the movie/book to make this train ride extra special. The volunteer playing the conductor was excellent and was even a voice match for Tom Hanks. Pajama’ed actors ran down the aisles of the train ‘looking for their lost tickets’. We were served delicious hot cocoa and cookies, and the total ride was short enough that my 3-year-olds didn’t get bored.
After the train ride, make sure you save some time for the mini train, meeting Santa, and the amazing working miniature train displays. Kids can even control some of them! The area can get quite crowded and lines get long, but there are a lot of really fun things to do and see in the after-the-train-ride building.
We started the scenic drive on the Sea to Sky highway back to Vancouver right at around 4:00-4:30 pm. After heading off from West Coast Railways, we realized we’d timed our drive perfectly. We were able to enjoy the lengthy sunset as we drove along the always stunning Sea to Sky highway. The views were incredible, and our boring drive really became a memorable part of our magical weekend.
Canyon Lights at Capilano Bridge was probably the thing I was most looking forward to on our magical Christmas weekend, and it did not disappoint. Canyon Lights is a mature take on Christmas lights, with lots of fun features for outdoorsy kids. For me, it was the highlight of the weekend. Read everything you need to know about Canyon Lights here.
For dinner, we picked up a quick meal for the kids at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Quick dinner options included grilled cheese, burgers, and french fries. My kids were happy to eat that, but my husband and I opted to wait for room service after the kids fell asleep. Sometimes it’s so nice to eat in peace once they are asleep! Room service at the Westin Grand was delicious, but it didn’t have a ton of kid-friendly options for my particularly picky eaters.
We picked up a quick breakfast from Starbucks. The Canadian favorite, Tim Horton, was also located very near our hotel and would have been great as well. Both offer fun Christmas breakfast and drink menus (i.e. NOT HEALTHY) like a gingerbread mocha or a sugarplum cheese danish.
Then we headed over to Flyover Canada Christmas AGAIN because I’m are a dork and booked it twice and the tickets are really strictly non-refundable. But it’s totally cool because it was such a fun little ride! If not for my mistake, we might have just headed home early because Monday always comes FAST after a weekend away.
We began our journey home, exhausted and happy, and DEFINITELY feeling the Christmas magic!
If anything took away from the magic of our still very magical Christmas weekend, it was all the driving. If we took this trip again, we’d rearrange to give ourselves far LESS time in the car, finding parking, getting buckled into car seats, etc., and more time just enjoying everything. Here’s my IMPROVED itinerary:
Fairmont Waterfront, Pan Pacific Vancouver, or another hotel within walking distance Canada Place.
Stanley Park Bright Nights Christmas train. This is exactly what we did and we’d do it again just the same way. No improvements necessary here.
Flyover Canada Christmas and explore Christmas at Canda Place, just as we did. But I’d make sure we had time to move just as slowly as we wanted, which is a wonderful freedom when traveling with preschool-aged kids.
Take the 5-minute walk over to Vancouver Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Center, and spend the afternoon exploring and snacking
Take the free shuttle from Canada Place to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Taking the shuttles means not worrying about parking, which is a SUPER nice convenience. Arrive just at sunset, hopefully beating some of the crowds as well, and leaving plenty of time before our kids get too tired to walk and have to be carried.
Pick up a quick breakfast from Starbucks, and head out early for the 10:00 am Squamish Polar Express Train ride.
Head on home! Enjoy the Sea to Sky Highway.
What would you add to this nearly-perfect weekend? Anything you’d skip? We can’t wait to create another magical Christmas weekend this year!