Traditionally, Vancouver’s year revolves around two monumental moments: the first day of ski season and the first day of summer. But there’s way more events in Vancouver worthy of marking the calendar (although we're always down for the best beaches in Vancouver). From film festivals that take over the cinemas in Vancouver to Christmas markets, food markets and even fireworks, we’ve scoped out the biggest and most exciting events that you can expect in Vancouver every year.
RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Vancouver
Best events in Vancouver
What is it: One of the largest open-air night markets in North America, attracting over a million visitors every year
Why go: With rows upon rows of vendors, this sprawling market features over 600 food items like Malaysian roti, hot cheeto mozzarella sticks, and fresh lobster rolls. Each summer has a different theme, but every year features huge art installations, live music, carnival games, and different kinds of rides (virtual reality, anyone?). Hop off the skytrain at Bridgeport station, eat, play games, and wander back to the food and eat again.
Dates: Weekends from May to October
What is it: The largest offshore fireworks competition in the world.
Why go: For three evenings at the end of July every year, families pack their picnic blankets to the beach to ooh and aah as three countries compete to amaze the crowds with a fireworks show. Choreographed to music and featuring creative explosions of light and design with every synchronized beat, the shows provide a perfect spectacle for a sandy summer night.
Dates: End of July
What is it: A professional Shakespeare festival, 30-plus years in the running
Why go: White tents pop up across the beautiful waterfront at Vanier Park every summer hosting amazing Shakespearean sets. Go for some classic Shakespeare theater, or opt for a play with a modern twist like a spaghetti-western adaptation or a contemporary retelling of the Bard's works.
Dates: June through September
What is it: A week of literary talks and events featuring big-name authors from around the world
Why go: The Vancouver Writers Fest does programming throughout the year, but every October they have a weeklong festival in Granville Island that is popping with all things literary. Previous author talks include those from Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Roxanne Gay.
Dates: End of October
What is it: One of the continent’s five largest film festivals, serving all your favorite indie films along with some special stand-out categories specific to Vancouver
Why go: For two weeks in the fall, the Vancouver International Film Festival welcomes films to the screen and actors and producers to the stage for a series of screenings, talks and more. The films come from all over, but there are a few platforms that make this festival particularly notable: vibrant documentaries, a huge Canadian film program, and the “Dragons and Tigers” series—one of the largest selections of films from East Asia.
Dates: Two weeks from the end of September to early October
What is it: The TED conference is hosted annually in Vancouver, bringing thought leaders from across the globe together to talk technology, entertainment and design.
Why go: You may not be able to actually snag a ticket to the event (it’s invite only and even the cheapest seats are more than $5,000), but it is pretty cool to be around the Vancouver Convention Center every year when the world’s greatest creators, scientists, and other game-changers come together. Host a TED watch party with friends and get inspired by some classic talks, or seek out one of Vancouver’s many TEDx events that are open to the public.
Dates: March or April
What is it: A city-wide jazz festival featuring 300 concerts across 35 venues
Why go: This festival takes the city by storm, attracting hundreds of thousands of jazz lovers and bringing in big-time headliners like Lauryn Hill and Lady Gaga. Ticketed performances happen across the city and free shows take place in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Dates: Late June to early July
What is it: A three-day convention on pop culture in the Vancouver Convention Center
Why go: Tens of thousands of attendees get their geek on at this pop culture convention, including meet-and-greets with celebrity guests, panels and vendors. Dress up as your favorite Game of Thrones character or watch famous comic artists recreate their works IRL.
Dates: Late February
What is it: A twinkling European-inspired Christmas village under the Olympic Cauldron at Coal Harbour
Why go: Missing those German Christmas markets that seem to pop up across northern Europe? Or never been but always wanted to go? The Vancouver Christmas Market brings the charms and festivities of old-time Christmas festivals to the West Coast, with 80 huts full of holiday trinkets, warm cider, and cheese raclette.
Dates: End of November through Christmas Eve
What is it: An Arctic-themed winter festival erected in Hastings Park, featuring an ice rink and tube park
Why go: The Aurora Winter Festival offers much more than your typical holiday cheer. The set up whisks you away to the North Pole with whimsical light displays, an illuminated Ferris wheel and giant sculptures.
Dates: November 22 to January 5
What is it: A 10-day comedy festival with a line-up full of the world’s most well known class clowns.
Why go: Although newish, this annual festival has already featured big names in the comedy world, such as Aziz Ansari, Trevor Noah, and Vancouver native Seth Rogen. Go for the celebrity shows, but stick around for comedy film screenings, panels, improv, and all the stand-up and sketches you can get.
What is it: A local music-and-arts festival that takes over West 4th every summer, spanning blocks across the cultural hub of Kitsalano
Why go: For Vancouver’s biggest block party, Khatsalano does not disappoint. The eclectic local art and artisan goods that spill out onto the streets each year mean there’s lots to bring home as you weave between vendors and across stages booming with live music. Walk down to Kits beach at any point for a picnic break and before heading back to join the party.
Dates: Early July
What is it: Vancouver’s most popular urban music festival, featuring hit artists in the R&B, hip hop, alternative and electronic music scenes.
Why go: Pronounced “faded,” this music festival brings 40,000 music-lovers together for two solid days of dancing, bopping, singing, and partying. Headliners like Khalid, Zedd, Kygo and Tory Lanez have all graced the stage.
Dates: Early July
What is it: Vancouver’s botanical garden gets decked out in Christmas lights every year
Why go: VanDeusen Botanical Garden is gorgeous any time of year, but it’s in the winter season, when you expect flowers to be burrowed in the cold, that the garden really takes your breath away. With over one million little twinkling lights weaved through the gardens, VanDeusen becomes a magical haven of brilliant paths to stroll and explore.
Dates: December 1 through January 6