Although downtown is the center of holiday activity, there are three farther-flung excursions you should consider. Vancouver's wonderful Stanley Park celebrates the season with the Bright Nights Christmas Train, which carries passengers on a 15-minute ride past musicians, dioramas, live performances by actors, and (literally) about a million lights. Just as spectacular are Vancouver's carol ships, filled with singing passengers and cruising the city's many waterways nightly from late November to right before Christmas; any boat owner can participate. A more stationary Vancouver landmark, Grouse Mountain, also decks itself out for the season. Follow Vancouverites and board the Skyride, whose 100-passenger cars make the mile-long climb to the top of the 3,700-foot mountain. The city views are breathtaking (so are the temperatures―dress warmly), and you'll be entertained by Santa, reindeer, sleigh rides, ice-skating, choir music, and classic Christmas movies shown in the Theatre in the Sky.
Come evening, head back downtown and savor one of the city's other holiday pleasures: its great hotels. Lobbies are filled with spectacular decorations―festoons of cedar, dazzling Christmas trees, and urns bursting with greens, fruits, and flowers. Most likely, the lobbies will also be filled with entertainment―carolers sing and brass quartets blast out "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
So make the rounds, from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to the Sutton Place Hotel to the Metropolitan. Plunk down into a big, soft chair or sofa to absorb the music and the decorations. Contemplate the shopping bags filled with presents for your loved ones as you sip a restorative hot cocoa or a really restorative martini. And if, as you sit there, someone wishes you a happy holiday, say the same back to them. It is, after all, the Vancouver spirit.
Each of these December detours from downtown Vancouver is well worth the trip. So is a visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Garden; for information on it, click here.
Carol Ships Parade of Lights. Decorated ships cruise from dusk to 10, from late November through late December. One of the best places to see them is at Canada Place or at Coal Harbor at the entrance to Stanley Park.
Grouse Mountain. From Vancouver, follow Georgia St. through Stanley Park and across Lions Gate Bridge. Take the North Vancouver exit and turn left on Capilano Rd. Follow the road 3 miles to its end at the Grouse Mountain parking lot. 9 a.m.- 10 p.m.; $22 (includes the Skyride and Theatre in the Sky). www.grousemountain.com or (604) 984-0661.
Stanley Park: The Bright Nights Christmas Train. Tickets are sold only for the day of the ride. You can buy tickets for specific times at the ticket booth starting at noon daily. Enter the park at Georgia St., bear right, then take an immediate left and follow the signs to the Rose Garden and Miniature Train. 15-minute train rides run 3-10 Dec 6-Jan 4 (closed Christmas Day). $7 adults, reduced fares for children, seniors, and families. www.parks.vancouver.bc.ca or (604) 257-8531.