Vancouver on Canada’s south Pacific coast lies in an area which has been nicknamed "Canada's Banana Belt" or “Lotus Land.” Warmed by the North Pacific Current and sheltered by the beautiful Coast Mountains, the city is protected from the extreme weather experienced elsewhere in Canada. It enjoys a temperate climate with pleasant summers and mild winters, and visitors come year-round to enjoy what Vancouver has to offer.
Spring comes early to Vancouver. By Valentine’s Day, while other parts of Canada may still be deep in winter snow, Vancouver air begins to feel quite springlike.
The weather can be extremely changeable at this time of year, alternating between brilliant sunshine and pouring rain. Nevertheless, spring4 can be the time to get out on the water for whale watching, which starts in March, You can also golf at one of Vancouver's budget friendly public golf courses. One of these, Fraserview in South Vancouver, is considered one of the best public golf courses in Canada.
Spring is perfect for exploring Vancouver's public parks and gardens. You can experience a variety of ecosystems "from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean"5 in the 22 hectare Van Dusen Botanical Garden, which received a 2016 Trip Advisor certificate of excellence. You can enjoy a stunning view of the city from the highest point in Vancouver at Queen Elizabeth Park, and if the rain blows in while you are there, you can escape into a tropical paradise under the glass dome of the Bloedel Conservatory.Credit: By Craig Nagy from Vancouver, Canada (Another view from above) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Stanley Park, a 400 hectare (1000 acre) park situated on a headland in Vancouver's West End, is Vancouver's largest and most popular park. April is the month to visit the rose garden, while early May is the time to enjoy the rhododendron garden. Guided nature walks are offered by naturalists at the Stanley Park Nature House.4
Viewing cherry blossoms is a Japanese spring tradition which can be enjoyed in the Nitobe Memorial Garden. Considered one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America, Nitobe is on the campus of the University of British Columbia7.Credit: By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Another Asian jewel is the Sun Yat Sen classical Chinese garden in Vancouver's Chinatown. Named as a world top city garden by National Geographic, Sun Yat Sen combines four traditional elements. Weathered limestone rock, jade green water, plants rich in symbolism, and harmonious architecture blend together to create an environment of balance and tranquility.8
Summer in Vancouver is glorious with long sunny days and average maximum temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius (around 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in July and August.
The long, summer evenings are perfect for enjoying Metro Vancouver's night markets. These take place every weekend from late spring to early fall and feature a variety of international food and entertainment. The Panda Market is located on Vulcan Way in Richmond, the Shipyards Night Market is held in North Vancouver on Friday evenings, and the Richmond Night Market, close to Bridgeport Station on the Canada Line, is easily reached by rapid transit.9
Summer is also the best season to explore Stanley Park. From Lost Lagoon at the Georgia Street entrance you can hike, bike or skate around the 8.8 km (5.5 mile) seawall to enjoy vistas of Vancouver and the North Shore.
Along the Seawall are two great beaches, Second and Third Beach, and the totem poles at Brockton Point at the eastern tip of the park. You can take a narrated horse drawn tour around the park, travel through the forest on a miniature train, or meet belugas and other sea creatures at the Vancouver Aquarium.6
Summer is also the time for traditional tea ceremonies in the classical Japanese tea house at Nitobe Memorial Garden. These take place hourly on the last Saturday of the month from May to September. Reservation are recommended as space is limited7.
For those seeking something more spectacular than a genteel tea ceremony, July is the time for fireworks, beginning with Canada day celebrations on July 1. The Festival of Fire later in July is a spectacular multi-day international fireworks competition which takes place in English Bay. You can view the fireworks from the shore or aboard a charter boat on the water.
Heading for the water is a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. In addition to Second and Third Beaches in Stanley Park, other Vancouver beaches offer great views and safe swimming. English Bay Beach, in the densely populated West End close to Stanley Park, has great restaurants and shopping nearby and is one of the best locations for watching the fireworks festival. Further west and away from downtown are Kitsilano Beach, Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach where you can enjoy picnicking, swimming, walking or biking. Further west is Wreck Beach, considered one of the world's best clothing optional beaches, which is reached via a short hike down a steep wooded trail12.Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=123955
The beaches are also the location for two of Vancouver's popular cultural events, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in July at Jericho Beach10 and the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival which takes place from June to September on the waterfront in Vanier Park11.
Another way to cool off is to head to the top of Grouse Mountain via North America's largest aerial tramway, the Grouse Mountain Skyride. On a clear day, the mile journey up the mountain provides a spectacular view of the city and beyond. At the top you can watch the high definition documentary Born to Fly at the Theatre in the Sky. Other activities include logging shows, raptor presentations, and an opportunity to become acquainted with bears14. A unique northwest coast experience on Grouse, the Hiwus Feasthouse, offers First Nations food accompanied by traditional song and dance13.
Further afield, the Whistler-Blackcomb mountains offer a wealth of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, bear viewing, golf, fishing, ATV tours, horseback riding and more. You can explore the 200 plus stores and more than 90 restaurants in Whistler Village or take a thrilling ride on the Whistler/Blackcomb Peak to Peak Gondola. Traveling 3.024 kilometres (1.88 miles), from the summit of Whistler to the Peak of Blackcomb, this is the highest and longest unsupported lift span in the world,15.
Credit: Photo by Lesley Hebert
Although the days are beginning to shorten, pleasant weather continues through most of September and often into October, providing ample opportunities to enjoy the colors of fall foliage16 in Vancouver parks and gardens. Particularly lovely are the Main Mall, Botanical Gardens and Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia, and the Laburnum Walk at Van Dusen Gardens. Stanley Park is also pretty in the fall, and in October, the Stanley Park miniature train is transformed into a Halloween ghost train for the young and young-at-heart.6
Fall is the time to sample fresh local fruit and vegetables at the local farmers' markets. The West End Farmers Market, held every Saturday from May to October, is a short walk from downtown and a good location to pick up the ingredients for a picnic in Stanley Park. The Granville Island Farmers Market is held on Thursdays next to Granville Island Public Market.17
As fall progresses the temperature falls and rainy days become more frequent. Indoor activities begin to seem appealing, making the end of September the perfect time for Vancouver to host one of the largest film festivals in North America. In 2015 the Vancouver International Film Festival showcased 370 films from around the world representing 70 countries.
In December and January, temperatures usually hover around freezing and precipitation can come in the form of either rain or snow. Typical Vancouver snow is wet and heavy, causing traffic to snarl and Vancouverites to curse, but often melts away in a matter of days.
Of course, the precipitation that rains on downtown Vancouver has its upside in the snow pack which forms on the surrounding mountains. With three nearby ski slopes, Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour, a 15 minute drive from downtown Vancouver on the north shore, Vancouver is a prime winter sport destination.
The world class Whistler/Blackcomb resort area area, the primary location of the 2010 winter Olympic Games, offers every imaginable winter sport, from skiing to dog sledding. At the heart of the Whistler/Blackcomb resort are the stores, restaurants and clubs of Whistler Village.
You can also enjoy winter sports in downtown Vancouver. Robson Square, between the stunning modernist provincial law court complex and the neo-classical Vancouver Art Gallery, features a sunken skating rink protected by a domed roof which is open all winter.
Shopping in downtown Vancouver is a year-round pastime, but winter shoppers who wish to escape the weather for a spell can explore the extensive underground Pacific Centre shopping complex.
In December, the downtown stores and hotel lobbies blaze with holiday lights. Lights also twinkle in other Vancouver locations such as the Canada Place cruise ship terminal and Van Dusen Gardens. The young at heart can enjoy two million twinkling lights from the Stanley Park miniature train, or take in a traditional Christmas display at Heritage Village, an open air museum in nearby Burnaby1. Even the downtown harbor is alight with displays on watercraft of all kinds during the December Carol Ship Parade of Light. You can watch the parade from the shore, or book a carol singalong or dinner cruise to view it from the water2.
The finale of the holiday season, every January 1, is one of the world’s largest and oldest annual polar bear swims3 which takes place at English Bay Beach.
Some of the Crazy Antics at the Polar Bear Swim
Brave souls can register in front of the English Bay Bathhouse from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day for a 2:30 start. Those who are not so brave can come along to watch the shenanigans, which include costumes, a 100 yard swim race and the presentation of prizes.
So, spring, summer, winter or fall, Vancouver always has something to offer.