Festive fans will be donning their glittery Christmas sweaters and exploring a stocking-full of activities on Vancouver Island this holiday season. But where are the best places to feel as Christmassy as an elf with a belly full of mince pies?
Read on for our tinsel-tastic recommendations, then plan your own jolly Island jaunt––complete with a candy cane or three in your pocket.
South Island & Cowichan
B.C. capital Victoria is the perfect spot to launch your festivities. Start with a selfie at the province’s official Christmas tree––which will be illuminated along with the historic Parliament Buildings from December 5––then head to the Royal BC Museum, where their replica Old Town street is already bedecked in yesteryear Yuletide finery.
Christmas traditions are also on display at 19th-century Craigdarroch Castle, where vintage decorations and old-fashioned carols will transport you to holidays past. Book ahead for their lively readings of A Christmas Carol by actor Jason Stevens. Back downtown, add a Festive Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel––then peruse your other Victorian Christmas options by visiting Destination Greater Victoria’s website.
A 30-minute drive away, Butchart Garden’s The Magic of Christmas transforms the beloved botanical attraction into a wonderland of illuminations, ice-skating and live music. It’s a short hop from here to Sidney, a stroll-worthy seaside town with decorated storefronts, a Festival of Trees and some magical holiday carriage rides.
Further north, the Cowichan region will also be fully festooned for Christmas. Drop by historic Ladysmith, where the six-week Festival of Lights on photogenic First Avenue launches with a glittering November 28 parade. Then hit Duncan’s BC Forest Discovery Centre, where the Christmas Express steam engine awaits its passengers. Does it visit the North Pole? Hop aboard to find out.
A 20-minute drive away, Cobble Hill’s bucolic Merridale Cidery & Distillery is offering Friday and Saturday Long Table Dinners throughout the 2019 holiday season. Starting November 29, these family-friendly, farm-to-table feasts are framed by twinkling lights––and you can also partake of some warming Christmas beverages.
Central Vancouver Island
This area offers its own enticing Yuletide treats. Consider a holiday show at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre––book their rib-tickling O Christmas Tea, puppet-based A Christmas Carol or the 13th annual Yellowpoint Christmas Spectacular, an Island tradition stuffed with seasonal cheer. And don’t miss the city’s Gingerbread Village at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, running Saturdays until December 14.
There’s also a sack-full of other options in this region. On select December days, Milner Christmas Magic transforms its gardens with glittering lights. Music, storytelling and Santa appearances are also part of the fun here. And if you’re in the area on December 14, take the family to Morningstar Farm. That’s when the home of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks hosts Christmas on the Farm, complete with wagon rides, friendly animals and more.
A 15-minute drive away, Errington’s North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre hosts its Magical Nights of Light again this year. From December 6 to 21, this Friday and Saturday evening event includes illuminations, hot chocolate and Santa visits. And since you’re in the area, why not drop into Parksville? Town businesses will be adorned with creatively (and competitively) decorated North Poles until December 18––perfect for a Yuletide photo or two.
There are two festive baubles in the north-central area to consider as you point yourself towards the Island’s top half. Mount Washington’s multifarious 12 Days of Christmas serves-up Santa photos, Christmas Day dinner and a Boxing Day torchlight parade. But there’s also a holiday craft fair in the area that couldn’t be more conveniently scheduled.
Island communities large and small host their own one or two-day festive fairs––from Cumberland WinterFaire to Coombs Christmas Fair––but Courtenay’s Winter Market at the Comox Valley Art Gallery runs daily from December 7 to 28. It’s the perfect place to find unique artisan items for all those stubborn holdouts on your pressie list.
Continue north on December 14 and hop on the ferry from Port McNeill to Alert Bay. Here, you’ll find a unique north island community event that might be the highlight of your trip: the first annual ‘Yalis Kismis Festival. This family-friendly evening event promises live music, a tree lighting and a meet-and-greet with the Jolly Old Elf himself.
The Island’s west coast also offers plenty of chestnut-warming holiday happenings. Tofino Botanical Gardens hosts Tofino Winterlights from November 29 to January 5, transforming its fern-studded grounds with an array of creative illuminations. Uniquely, you can also snag photos with both Santa and Sasquatch here on December 11.
And if you’re in town on December 6, hop the free Jingle into Christmas shuttle bus for an evening tour of Tofino––plus the chance to partake of late-opening stores and galleries. If you’re still here the next day, drop into the Winter Artisan Market at the Tofino Community Hall.
But perhaps the best way to celebrate Christmas––and add a soaring finale to your Vancouver Island visit––is to join the locals at a special festive concert. The 100-member Tofino and Ucluelet Choir performs in Ucluelet on December 14 and Tofino on December 15. Expect a full evening of smile-triggering Yuletide bonhomie to send you on your way.
Travel writer John Lee is a lifelong fan of the most wonderful time of the year––and the creator of the Vancouver Christmas Guide.