The various festivals and special events held in Vancouver and Victoria every year draw tens of thousands of visitors and reflect an extraordinary diversity of cultures. Things may seem a little quiet in the winter and early spring, but that's because most residents simply head for the ski slopes. Resorts in Whistler Blackcomb (tel. 800/944-7853; www.whistler.com) have events happening nearly every weekend.
The dates below are approximate, and intended to help you plan your journey. For more information on events or help with planning, visit Tourism Vancouver (tel. 604/683-2000; www.tourismvancouver.com), Tourism Victoria (tel. 250/953-2033; www.tourismvictoria.com), or Destination BC (www.HelloBC.com).
Polar Bear Swim, Vancouver. Thousands of hardy citizens show up in elaborate costumes to dip into the icy waters of English Bay. Visit http://vancouver.ca for more information. January 1.
Dine Out, Vancouver. For 3 weeks starting in late January, Vancouver’s hottest restaurants offer three-course dinners at bargain prices, as well as a variety of other cool foodie events. For info, visit www.tourismvancouver.com.
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver. An international performing-arts festival featuring over 100 groundbreaking performances. Check out www.pushfestival.ca for more info. Late January to early February.
Chinese (Lunar) New Year, Vancouver, Richmond, and Victoria. In Chinese cultures, the 2-week-long festival is the time to pay debts, forgive grievances, and feast on exceptional food. On the official night of the Lunar New Year, celebrations start with a bang—firecrackers, drums, dragon dances, and multi-course banquets. The biggest celebration is in Richmond, www.tourismrichmond.com. Dates and events vary yearly.
Vancouver International Wine Festival. One of North America’s biggest and most respected wine festivals offers the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines from all over the world. Call tel. 604/873-3311 or 877/321-3121 or visit www.vanwinefest.ca. Mid-February.
International Bhangra Celebration, Vancouver. The city’s vast South Asian population celebrates with lively folk music and dance that originates in the Punjab. Details at www.vibc.org. Mid-February.
Dine Out, Victoria. For 10 days, Victoria’s most popular restaurants offer three-course dinners at great bargain prices. For details, visit www.tourismvictoria.com.
CelticFest, Vancouver. For 5 days each year, the sounds of fiddles, bagpipes, bodhrans, dancing feet, and voices resound throughout the city in celebration of Celtic culture. Visit www.celticfestvancouver.com. Mid-March.
Pacific Rim Whale Festival, Pacific Rim National Park. Every spring, more than 20,000 gray whales migrate past Vancouver Island’s west coast, and this fest celebrates with art shows, gala dinners, and whale-spotting excursions. Call tel. 250/726-5164 or visit www.pacificrimwhalefestival.com. Mid-March to early April.
Baisakhi Day Parade, Vancouver. The Sikh New Year is celebrated with a colorful parade around “Little India,” where streets are packed with musicians, dancers, and stalls offering free traditional food. Visit www.tourismvancouver.com. Mid-April.
Vancouver Sun Run. Canada’s biggest 10km (6.25-mile) race sees more than 60,000 runners, joggers, and walkers going through the city’s West End to BC Place Stadium. Call tel. 604/689-9441 or register at https://register.vancouversunrun.com.
Vancouver International Children’s Festival. North America’s premier annual festival of performing arts for young audiences features activities, plays, music, crafts, and celebrities throughout Granville Island. Call tel. 604/708-5655 or visit www.childrensfestival.ca. Mid-May.
Swiftsure International Yacht Race, Victoria. Colorful and fast sailboats make for spectacular scenery on the waters around Victoria. Visit www.tourismvictoria.com. Third or fourth weekend in May.
Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, Vancouver. More than 150 local and international teams compete in this annual festival that also features music, dance, and Chinese acrobatics around False Creek. Visit www.dragonboatbc.ca. Third weekend in June.
TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. More than 800 international jazz and blues players perform at 25 venues ranging from the Orpheum Theatre to free outdoor stages. Call tel. 604/872-5200 or visit www.coastaljazz.ca for more information. Late June/early July.
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver. One of the city’s most popular festivals. Each year, four of Shakespeare’s plays are performed in a tent overlooking English Bay. Call tel. 604/739-0559 or visit www.bardonthebeach.org. Late May through late September.
Victoria International Cycling Festival. Canada’s biggest cycling event features drag races, urban mountain biking events, and two-wheel tricks atop a floating barge, as well as activities for all the two-wheelers in the family. Visit www.vicf.ca for details.
Canada Day. In Vancouver, celebrate the country’s birthday at an all-day celebration at Canada Place Pier, complete with music, dance, a 21-gun salute at noon, and fireworks. In Victoria, head to the Inner Harbour for music, food, and fireworks. But wherever you are, all communities will be celebrating. July 1.
Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Get your mellow on at this outdoor fest at Jericho Beach Park. Contact the Vancouver Folk Music Society at tel. 604/602-9798 or visit www.thefestival.bc.ca. Second or third weekend in July.
Taste, Victoria. A festival of food and wine. Pairings, dinners, workshops, and the grand tasting with more than 100 selections all offer an irresistible sampling of Vancouver Island cuisine. Visit www.victoriataste.com.
Honda Celebration of Light, Vancouver. The night skies above English Bay explode with spectacular light shows in the world’s biggest offshore fireworks competition. Visit www.hondacelebrationoflight.com for information. Three nights at the end of July to first week of August.
Victoria Symphony Splash. The city’s beautiful Inner Harbour is transformed into a concert stage for the largest outdoor symphony event in Canada. There’s music, food, fun, and all the bells, whistles, cannons, and fireworks of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” performed by the Victoria Symphony. Visit www.victoriasymphony.ca/splash. First Sunday in August.
Vancouver Pride Parade & Festival. This huge and hugely popular gay- and lesbian-pride festival features numerous events throughout the week, but the highlight is, without a doubt, the exuberant parade through the city’s West End. For more info, contact the Pride Society (tel. 604/687-0955; www.vancouverpride.ca). First Monday in August (BC Day).
Abbottsford International Air Show. Barnstorming stuntmen and precision military pilots fly everything from Sopwith Camels to Stealth Bombers in one of the biggest air shows in the world, held just outside Vancouver. Call tel. 604/852-8511 or visit www.abbotsfordairshow.com. Second weekend in August.
Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver. The city’s favorite fair includes one of North America’s best all-wooden roller coasters. Special events include livestock demonstrations, logger competitions, fashion shows, and a midway. Call tel. 604/253-2311 or visit www.pne.ca for more details. Mid-August to Labour Day.
Classic Boat Festival, Victoria. Boaters from around the world converge in Victoria’s Inner Harbour for this annual Labor Day weekend celebration, which includes races, a parade of steam vessels, a cruise up the Gorge Waterway, and vessels open for tours. For more information, call tel. 250/383-8306 or visit www.classicboatfestival.ca. Last weekend in August.
Vancouver Fringe Festival. This celebration of the performing arts features more than 600 original and innovative shows, performed throughout the city by groups from Canada and around the world. Call tel. 604/257-0350 or check out www.vancouverfringe.com for more info. First and second week of September.
Victoria International Chalk Festival. Artists from around the world transform the streets of Victoria into a unique gallery of spectacular chalk art that must be seen to be believed. For info, visit www.victoriachalkfestival.com. Second weekend in September.
The Great Canadian Beer Festival, Victoria. Featuring samples from the province’s best microbreweries, this event is held at Royal Athletic Park. For more information, call tel. 250/383-2332 or visit www.gcbf.com. Early September.
Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival. Public readings by Canadian and international authors, as well as writers’ workshops, take place on Granville Island and at other locations in the Lower Mainland. Call tel. 604/681-6330 or check www.writersfest.bc.ca for details. Mid-October.
Cornucopia, Whistler.Ten days—including two weekends—of eating, drinking, sampling, and seminars that often coincide with the opening of the ski season at Whistler Mountain Resort. For tickets and info, visit www.whistlercornucopia.com. Mid-November.
Carol Ship Parade of Lights Festival, Vancouver. Cruise ships decorated with colorful Christmas lights sail around English Bay, while onboard guests sip cider and sing their way through the canon of Christmas carols. For more info, call tel. 604/878-8999 or check out www.carolships.org. First 3 weeks in December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.