When it comes to the holidays, nothing is more festive than the beautiful light displays. Some of my fondest memories involve watching the Macy’s star light up in downtown Seattle, walking around parks and zoos to see their light displays and driving around local neighborhoods taking in the lights. Most Christmas tree and town lightings are over before the holiday season, but there are still plenty of light displays open around the area. Likewise, now is the perfect time to explore local neighborhoods for lights as people have had time to put up their decorations. Some houses are decorated so elaborately you would think they have been done by professionals. Here is our list of the best places to get your holiday light fix for 2014, whether you want to see some of the more popular displays or avoid the crowds by checking out some secret hot spots that are off the beaten path.

Holiday lights at Pike Place Market

Holiday lights at Pike Place Market

Seattle

With half a million colored lights shaped to flowers and critters, you will feel like you have entered a magical, sparkling forest or garden at Garden d’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. To view even more animals, there is also the ZooLights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, which features their famous green and purple tree as well as a new 15.5 foot Mount Rainier display and a 12th man Seahawk tree. Meanwhile, fans of traditional displays will love seeing lights, while also sampling some local brews, around the city of Seattle on the Holiday Brews and Bulbs Tour. They might also enjoy the Lights of Christmas at Warm Beach in Stanwood. In addition to millions of lights, there are enough activities (from live music to Washington state’s only talking Christmas tree) that you could spend a whole weekend exploring them.

While there are plenty of commercial displays in the Seattle area worth visiting, there are also a number of outstanding neighborhood displays that are completely free for your whole family to visit. The community on N.E. Park Road has been putting on Candy Cane Lane for six decades, which features 23 houses decked out in classic holiday decor that visitors can drive or walk through. The Zembruski family on the eastside also goes all out for Christmas, combining traditional and technical elements to create a Woodinville Wonderland in their own backyard. If you and your neighbors are still looking for inspiration for creating your own holiday displays, make sure to stop by Kirkland to see the ultimate sports fan’s display.

Christmas lights and snow in the Sunken Garden. Courtesy of The Bucthart Gardens

Christmas lights and snow in the Sunken Garden. Courtesy of The Bucthart Gardens

Victoria

As soon as you enter Victoria, you are greeted by the festive green and red lights decorating the Parliament Buildings downtown. However, Parliament are not the only ones who go all out for the holidays — a lot of neighborhoods do as well. If you plan on doing a driving tour of lights, make sure to stop by the communities of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula, there is even a handy 2014 Christmas Lights Map created by the Times Colonist to help you find the best houses to visit.

Of course, the biggest, and likely the brightest, Christmas lights display in Victoria is at The Butchart Gardens during their Magic of Christmas season. All fifty acres of The Gardens are covered in dazzling lights and there are special “Twelve Days of Christmas” displays interspersed throughout. In fact, you may want to sing the song as you go along to make sure you find them all. Speaking of singing, there are also nightly carolers, an ice skating rink and free hot chocolate for kids under 12 years of age who bring a paper snowflake. If you want to skip driving this time around, The Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights Tour will take you and your friends or family up to gardens to see the lights, driving through many of the festively decorated towns along the way.

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge. Courtesy of The Listel Hotel Vancouver

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge. Courtesy of The Listel Hotel Vancouver

Vancouver

See two of Vancouver’s most of famous Christmas lights displays during one easy trip on the Karaoke Christmas Lights Tour. First you’ll visit the Bright Nights of Stanley Park where you can either walk or ride the Christmas train through the park’s grounds to discover of all of the displays filling the park. Second, you’ll stop at the VanDusen Festival of Lights, where you can watch dancing lights on Livingstone Lake, themed lights arrangements and more. While in town you might also want to check out the Carol Ships Parade of Lights, as lighted boats travel through Vancouver’s waterways. Likewise, there is also the Canyon Lights event at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where the bridge (and the surrounding trees) is covered is glittering lights making it appear as though it is a strand of diamonds. Finally, don’t forget the Vancouver neighborhoods. Swing by the Trinity Street Christmas Lights Festival where residents compete with their neighbors to have the most decorated house, many of which would put the Griswolds to shame.

Decorated houses on Peacock Lane. Creative Commons Licensed by Visitor7

Decorated houses on Peacock Lane. Creative Commons Licensed by Visitor7

Portland

Hop on the Portland Christmas Tour to view the city’s houses and mansions at their finest. Visit Peacock Lane and enjoy a tradition that has been around since the 1920s. The owners of the Tudor houses go all out to cover them in lights and also create a variety of nativity and wintertime scenes on their yards. You will also stop by both Pittock and Victorian mansions, which have lights on the outside as well as on the inside in addition to rooms decorated in different themes. Next, enjoy lights, singing and peaceful reflection as the tour makes its way to the Christmas Lights at the Grotto, where there are five indoor concerts each night and outdoor caroling. Finally, take in the “largest holiday light show west of the Mississippi” with the Winter Wonderland at Portland Race Track. This drive through exhibit is fun for the whole family and features over 250 colorful lights arrangements and animated scenes, ensuring this attraction will end up on your list of places to visit during the holidays for years to come.

Although the Portland Christmas Tour does cover most of the popular light displays in Portland, it does miss a few. Animal lovers will want to make a trip to ZooLights to view holiday displays featuring both animatronic and live wildlife, while those who enjoy nautical activities may want to take a ride on of the lighted Christmas Ships (or watch from some place warm) as they travel up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

With so many fascinating and beautiful lights displays around the Pacific Northwest, you could easily spend days visiting them. However, if you want to discover more even more displays or seasonal activities happening in your part of town, check out our December Things to Do posts. Another option is to simply drive around and explore the lights in your town, you might be surprised how creative your neighbors can be.

Although it is not officially winter for a few more weeks, December 21 to be exact, it sure feels like it in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle recently got its first snowfall on November 29 and the weather continues to be chilly. Early snowfalls have helped the festive holiday atmosphere come faster to the northwest, and while we hope they are not the only ones we see in the lowlands, you can never be too sure in this area that is famously hard to predict. However, the good news is that snow has also been falling on the mountains, allowing Whistler to start the season early on November 22 and the cooler weather permitting Grouse Mountain to open on November 15. This way, even if there is not more lowland snow here in the Pacific Northwest, you can head to either mountain and participate in snow filled activities to help get you in the holiday spirit.

Snowmobiling on Whistler

Snowmobiling on Whistler

Whistler Blackcomb

Featuring two side by side mountains with 8,100 acres of groomed terrain, there is more area to explore at Whistler Blackcomb than any other resort in North America. In fact, there are over 200 hundred trails at Whistler, ensuring that even if you visit more than once you will not run out of things to do. The mountains’ 5,280 feet elevation feet elevation allow for abundant amounts of regular snowfall, with an average annual snowfall of 38.2 feet. As such, Whistler really is a paradise for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

However, your adventures don’t have end with the traditional wintertime activities. Take a ride on the wilder side and feel the wind in your hair as you cruise through the Callaghan Valley on a snowmobile. A fun activity for beginning snowmobilers and families, on this trip you will get to take in scenic views of the backcountry as you travel to the historic NorthAir Goldmine. For a more romantic take on snowmobiling, enjoy Mountain Top Fondue via Snowcat or Snowmobile. Choose to travel by snowcat or snowmobile to Crystal Hut on top of Blackcomb Mountain, where you will be treated to a candle-lit fondue dinner accompanied by wine and a fresh baked fruit pie. Be sure to take in the great views and live entertainment, you really will feel like you are on top of the world.

Mountain Top Fondue at Crystal Hut

Mountain Top Fondue at Crystal Hut

If you start to miss your four-legged friend from home while you are away, there is no better way to get in some furry cuddles while exploring the snow than on the Trapper’s Run Dogsled Tour. A professional musher will teach you how to harness, stage and command the dogs as they lead you through the Callaghan Valley– you will even learn some history from your guide along the way.

Snowcat on Blackcomb

Snowcat on Blackcomb

The nice thing about Whistler Village is that it really is its own unique community, and provides plenty of options for fun once you are off the slopes. Pick up some new gear while shopping, relax at the spa or spend a night on the town (Whistler has some of the best nightlife around) visiting the local bars and clubs. Likewise, if you work up an appetite skiing or snowboarding grab some delicious cuisine from one of the 200 restaurants. New this year is Garbo’s Grill, which will be serving up burgers and breakfast sandwiches. Finally, before you leave Whistler Blackcomb make sure you make at least one trip between the two mountains on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola. This gondola is the World’s longest continuous lift system and the highest lift of its kind, proving an experience and views you won’t find anywhere else.

Grouse Mountain

Like Whistler, Grouse Mountain as a variety of year round activities, but with an average of 102 inches of snowfall per year, this 4,039 foot mountain is also well known for its wintertime options. One of the things that make Grouse Mountain different from other resorts is that you can purchase lift tickets for night skiing, which, for instance, is not offered at Whistler. While skiing and snowboarding in the dark may sound scary to some, it is an experience of its own, as the lift ride up and landscape can seem completely different in the dark. The other advantage to night skiing is it gives you more time to get a last few runs in or provides the option of breaking for dinner and then skiing again once you have refueled.

Snowboarding on Grouse Mountain

Snowboarding on Grouse Mountain

In addition to night skiing, there are a ton of festive activities at Grouse Mountain during their Peak of Christmas celebration. The festivities run until December 24, providing fun things to do for every age. Kids can “elf” themselves by creating a special elf hat, determine if they are elf sized, see what they would look like as an elf and take a picture of themselves as an elf. There are also opportunities to visit with Santa and learn about his reindeer Dancer and Prancer. More adventurous visitors can take in the beautiful scenery while skating or riding through the winter wonderland on a sleigh. After a busy day, relax by watching a classic Christmas movie on the big-screen at the Theatre in the Sky.

Exploring Grouse Mountain

Exploring Grouse Mountain

Whether you end up visiting Whistler Blackcomb or Grouse Mountain, you are sure to get your snow fix this holiday season. However, if you decide you do want more time in the snow or are not able to get up to the mountains both Whistler and Grouse Mountain are typically open for skiing until mid-April, which provides you with plenty of time to enjoy the slopes.

We recently mentioned the variety of events taking place all over the Pacific Northwest in the coming weeks and how they provide a great opportunity to continue an old holiday tradition or start a new one with your friends and family. This winter the Chihuly Garden and Glass is instituting a holiday tradition of their own, the White Winter Tower with Golden Putti.

White Winter Tower with Golden Putti. Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass

White Winter Tower with Golden Putti. Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass

At 14 feet tall, the White Winter Tower is simply stunning. The tower is created from clear, frosted and white glass spikes, spirals and feathers that have been arranged to form an artistic Christmas tree. In addition, on every few branches are golden cherubs, which are known as “Putti” in Italian. The tower is then illuminated with lights, so it glows warmly. Fully assembled, the Winter White Tower appears as though it is one seamless piece, but in reality it is made up of many elements. Every spike, spiral and feather is hand forged and each putti was individually sculpted and then attached to the blown feathers. The remaining pieces were then connected together with a series of poles and attachments. From start to finish, the entire creation process of the White Winter Tower with Golden Putti took Dale Chihuly and his team several weeks to create.

According to the Chihuly Garden and Glass, the White Winter Tower derives from the Venetian influence on Chihuly’s work and also features elements from the much loved Putti series that combined vessel forms with solid hot-glass figurative sculpture. The idea to create art including the mischievous angels evolved from an invitation to conduct a demonstration at Pilchuck Glass School with Italian Master Pino Signoretto. After working with Signoretto, Chihuly felt glass was an excellent medium for capturing the character of the putti and continued to use them in his Venetian and Ikebana collections. However, it is rare to spot putti in Chihuly’s towers, making this exhibit truly something special.

Golden Putti in White Winter Tower. Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass

Golden Putti in White Winter Tower. Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass

While you are at the Chihuly Garden and Glass, make sure to stop for a bite to eat at the Collections Café, which is an experience in itself. Named after Chihuly’s collections, the Café provides visitors an opportunity to view some of the objects that inspire Chihuly to create his beautiful artwork. A collection of accordions hangs from the ceiling and each table contains its own shadow box style display case, so you can look underneath the dishes and silverware on your table to view an assortment of objects. To make things more interesting, each table contains its own unique collection, whether it is film canisters, shaving brushes, wooden doll house furniture, glass juicers, clocks, cast iron dogs, ornaments, glass bottles and more.

The White Winter Tower will only be on display until January 28, 2014, so make sure to stop by this holiday season to see this wonderful exhibit in person, before it is gone for the year. In addition to the tower, every Sunday until December 21, 2014 Chihuly Garden and Glass will be offering special holiday programming, such as tours, art activities for kids and musical performances by local choirs that are great for the whole family.

Watch the video below to see the installation process of the Winter White Tower in action.

White Winter Tower with Golden Putti from Chihuly Garden and Glass on Vimeo.

It is hard to believe that it is December already, it seems that each year flies by faster than the one before. Although the year is almost over, that does not mean that there is not anything fun to do. In fact, the opposite is true! You will find plenty of festive December things to do in Portland from shopping to taking in holiday lights to even sipping brews. Before you know it, you will be ringing in the New Year. Luckily Portland has a lot options for celebrating the beginning of 2015 too, so you can start your year on the right track.

Holiday Express. Creative Commons Licensed by Noel Zia Lee

Holiday Express. Creative Commons Licensed by Noel Zia Lee

Enjoy Festivities All Around Town

Looking for something different to do with your friends and family this holiday season? Start a new tradition and enjoy the effects of Portland’s winter weather from the inside by taking them on the Holiday Express. Kids (and even adults) who have seen or read the classic tale “Polar Express” will delight in this similar experience. While the train won’t take you all the way to the North Pole to visit Santa, Santa and his elves will come to you and join you as you travel through the scenic Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to the Springwater Trail gateway. Another festive activity that provides you with the option to move indoors during inclement weather is the Miracle of a Million Lights at the Victorian Belle Mansion. Explore the lights decorating the mansion and its expansive grounds, then take your tour indoors to view the ten uniquely decorated Christmas trees, decorations, antiques and vintage heirlooms. There will also be musical performances by local choirs, groups and individual arts as well as homemade cider and cookies should you get hungry.

ZooLights. Credit: Margaret Davis

ZooLights. Credit: Margaret Davis

‘Tis the Season to be Dazzled by Holiday Lights

If you enjoy taking in light displays, you don’t have to look very far as they can be found all over town. Those who prefer the more traditional approach can view Christmas tree lightings in Beaverton, Tualatin, Alberta Main Street, Milwaukie and Oregon City during the first week in December. Nature lovers will delight in walking through colorfully lit Maddax Woods while searching for representations of the 40 different creatures found there or checking out the one million LED lights that form animals at the ZooLights display. However, your season of light viewing won’t be complete without stopping by the Winter Wonderland at Portland International Raceway, which was been named the “Largest Holiday Light Show West of the Mississippi. The show has over 250 displays, so it is a good thing you are allowed to drive through it!

To make sure you don’t miss out on any of these fabulous attractions, you can also go on the Portland Christmas Tour, which combines a couple of them and a few other popular spots into one simple trip on a luxury coach. Some of the places you will visit include Pittock Mansion, Queen Anne Mansion, the Christmas Festival of Lights at the Grotto, Winter Wonderland at Portland Race Track and the Peacock Lane Christmas Lights.

Christmas at Pittock Mansion

Christmas at Pittock Mansion

Spend New Year’s Eve Out on the Town

Although it is hard to believe that 2014 is already coming to a close, there is no better time to get a head start on planning your New Year’s Eve festivities. The creative side of Portland really comes out this time of year, as there are parties to suit a variety of interests. Whether you enjoy, art, music or even running, you are sure to find the perfect way to ring in the new year. One of the more famous New Year’s parties is the Champagne Ball at the Hilton Portland and Executive Tower. The party features a whopping 17 bars, two bands, DJs and a video dance party. If you would rather tickle your funny bone than dance the night away, check out the New Year’s Eve Extravaganza, featuring stand up, sketch improve and aerial artists. Whatever option you choose, you are sure to ring in the new year with a smile on your face.

More December Things to Do in Portland

Wondering what to do for the holidays now that they have arrived? Well, you are in luck as there a variety of December things to do in Vancouver, BC to help celebrate them. Whether you have a few more gifts and goodies to buy or want to do something festive to participate in the spirit of the season, you will find plenty of markets, events and activities around town to ensure these items get checked off your to-do list.

Lost Lagoon at Stanley Park. Creative Commons Licensed by Bobanny

Lost Lagoon at Stanley Park. Creative Commons Licensed by Bobanny

Singing and Lights Will Make Your Holidays Bright

There is nothing better than checking out sparkling lights to get the holiday spirit. Luckily, Karaoke Christmas Lights Tour makes this easier than ever by transporting you to some of the best displays around Vancouver in their luxury coaches, while everyone on board sings Christmas carols along the way. You’ll to take in the lights of downtown, the Bright Nights at Stanley Park, the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden as well as other local light displays. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the VanDusen Festival of Lights, so there variety of events happening at the garden. There are eight minute dancing lights shows on Livingstone Lake, a room filled with holiday themed buildings and cityscapes created entirely out of LEGO and themed lights arrangements. While the Karaoke Christmas Lights Tour gives you time to enjoy the displays, it is possible to visit gardens on your own if you don’t get to see everything. Fortunately, admission to the gardens is pretty budget-friendly should you want to make a return trip.

Another great spot for viewing holiday lights is at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, for their Canyon Lights event. Here, you can see hundreds of thousands of glittering lights throughout the rainforest, the Cliffwalk and on the suspension bridge itself. In addition to having an amazing lights display, the park is also home to the world’s tallest living Christmas tree. The Douglas-fir stands at 152 ft. (46.4 m) and at 250 years old has a pretty significant lifespan. The tree will also be decked out in lights, so make sure to come see it in all its glory.

Victoria Trolley at Christmastime

Victoria Trolley at Christmastime

Make Sure You are Prepped for the Holidays with Shopping and Activities

One of the most time consuming holiday activities can be shopping for gifts, but this doesn’t have to be a chore if you associate it with something fun like the Vancouver Christmas Market. This German market provides you with the opportunity to treat nearly all your senses. You can sample traditional German, Turkish, Ukrainian, Austrian, Eastern European and Canadian fare and relax with friends and family. There are also plenty of events and activities the whole family is sure to enjoy, from chocolate tasting and singing, to gingerbread decorating and ornament making for kids. When you are ready to begin shopping, you will certainly have plenty of unique gifts to choose from such as authentic wood carvings, knitted goods, pottery, nutcrackers and toys.

If you are looking for more family-friendly activities, try taking everyone to the Holidays at the Vancouver Aquarium. Every gallery in the aquarium will be decked out in festive décor, Scuba Claus will be taking daily swims with the fish and there are eel-electric lights powered by the electricity generated by the electric eels. Likewise, there is the Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain, which provides kids with opportunity to get out in the snow (if the weather permits) and go on sleigh rides, skate under the starts, visit with Santa’s reindeer Dancer and Prancer, see amazing creations in the Gingerbread village and watch classic Christmas movies on the high definition Theatre in the Sky. With so many options to choose from, whatever you choose to do this holiday season, you are sure to delight the whole family.

Holiday lights at Stanley Park. Creative Commons Licensed by Rominak

Holiday lights at Stanley Park. Creative Commons Licensed by Rominak

More December Things to Do in Vancouver, BC

The holidays are only a few short days away, and the thing that makes them so wonderful in this part of the world is there are a ton of fun December things to do in Seattle no matter what your age. Likewise, there are activities for every interest, whether you enjoy lights, theater, singing or even sweet treats. With so many events around town, this is the perfect opportunity to carry on an old tradition and revisit one of your favorite activities from when you were younger or try something new and start a tradition of your own.

Seattle Skyline at Christmas

Seattle Skyline at Christmas

Take in Sparkling Lights Around the Town

If one of your favorite parts of the holiday season is taking in lights displays, be prepared to be dazzled. Nearly everywhere you look, you can see lights of all shapes and sizes decorating buildings and attractions. Let your imagination go wild and experience WildLights to see you favorite furry friends at Woodland Park Zoo joined by a menagerie of animals created out of lights. While most of the live animals will be sleeping during the evening, there are a few nocturnal ones (such as sloths and Indian flying foxes) you can visit in the Day Exhibit. At the north end of the zoo there will also be two special guests to greet visitors during the holiday season – reindeer! If you are interested in viewing more classical lights displays, check out the Holiday Brews and Bulbs Tour, which is a holiday lights tour with a fun twist. During this excursion you will be driven through Seattle’s festively decorated neighborhoods so you can take in the lights and scenic views. What makes this tour different is that long the way you will be stopping to tour three local craft or microbreweries and try some of their tasty brews, talk about holiday cheer!

In Seattle, not only can you see lights on land, but you can see them on the water as well. Find a location near the water (or even on the boat itself) during the Christmas Ship Festival and watch as the Christmas Ship leads a parade of boats all decked out in lights around the waterfront. If you are one the designated parks the ships stop at, you will get hear the on board choir serenade everyone with Christmas Carols.

For those of willing to travel outside the city limits to view lights, head east to the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival. Step back in time in this Bavarian village to enjoy fresh roasted chestnuts, hot spiced wine and mulled cider served inside a traditional Gluhwein tent, caroling, costumed characters such as Santa and Father Christmas strolling around town, snowshoeing, sledding and plenty of opportunities for shopping. Of course, the highlight of the day is the lighting ceremony itself, which illuminates Leavenworth with thousands of sparkling lights.

Pike Place Market during the holidays. Credit : Claudia Cooper

Pike Place Market during the holidays. Credit : Claudia Cooper

Carols and Plays Full of Holiday Cheer

Arts lovers will rejoice this holiday season, as there a variety of festive performances around town. If you are in to traditional holiday shows, you can catch “A Christmas Carol” at the ACT Theatre, which has been running for the past 39 years. This year is also the final time the Pacific Northwest Ballet will be performing the Stowell & Sendak Nutcracker, so make sure you see this other long-time favorite before it is gone. In addition to the classics, there are a few new productions that are sure to bring grin or two. The Seattle Theatre Group presents “Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” which brings the famous tale to life on stage. For even more laughs and singing, check out “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” which uses singing to retell the trials and tribulations of the movie’s Ralphie during Christmas time.

Ring in the New Year in Style

Although New Years seems like it is a long way off at this point, the end of December will be here before you know it. Luckily, there are almost as many options for celebrating the new year in Seattle as there are Christmas. One thing everyone should do at least once, if possible, is celebrate New Year’s at the Needle. Gather at the bottom of the Space Needle (make sure to bring something warm, to wear and to drink) and watch as fireworks shoot off from the top when the clock strikes midnight. If you would be prefer to be a bit warmer, join one of the parties inside. You can view the fireworks and art from the New Year’s Eve pARTy at Chihuly Garden and Glass or there are a few parties that take place inside the Space Needle itself, either the SkyCity Soiree or the Observation Deck Dance Party, which will give you unique views of the fireworks.

More December Things to Do in Seattle

The last month of the year is here and with it comes an abundance of holiday things to do in Victoria. You’ll find a number of places to view festive decorations and lights, ice skating, holiday performances and even last minute shopping opportunities. While this season also brings extra shopping and preparing, take a break from the hustle and bustle and allow yourself some time to take in the holiday happenings. Many of these activities are filled with cheer and will cause you to remember that the holidays really can be a lot of fun.

Victoria Parliament Buildings decked out in holiday lights. Credit: Michael Brown

Victoria Parliament Buildings decked out in holiday lights. Credit: Michael Brown

City Lights Shine Bright All Month Long

This year holiday festivities start early since the beginning of December falls on a Monday. Help launch all the fun by attending the 7th Annual Centennial Square Christmas tree Light-Up and watch as the Christmas tree blooms into life with thousands of lights. There will be plenty of free treats and musical performances to keep any little ones engaged, so be sure to stick around for the Island Farms Santa Light Parade afterwards. The parade features marching bands and floats decked out in, what else, lights!

You can experience even more holiday décor and lights if you venture outside of the downtown Victoria. Hop aboard the Festive Victoria Tour to see popular attractions like Craighdarroch Castle in their holiday finest. The Butchart Gardens also goes all out for the holidays, covering all their gardens in lights and even creating an ice skating rink, making the Holiday Lights Tour something you don’t want to miss.

Holiday horse-drawn trolley rides. Credit: Carrie MacLachlan

Holiday Horse-Drawn Trolley Rides. Credit: Carrie MacLachlan

Enjoy the Holidays Indoors and Out

In addition to lights, there a number of other December things to do in Victoria. The Fairmont Empress is bringing ice skating downtown by opening a rink to the front lawn, complete with opportunities to warm up with cider or hot cocoa. There is also a variety of indoor entertainment around town, from performances of the Nutcracker, Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, singing by the Irish Tenors and more.

If you like sweet treats, Canada’s 6th Annual National Gingerbread Showcase will be on display at Laurel Point now until January 4. These creations are made entirely out of candy, but please don’t eat them, no matter how tempting they may be. However, do look for the entry submitted by Clipper Vacations! Making gingerbread houses is not the only sweet thing Clipper is doing this season. If you take a picture sharing a kiss with family, friends or pets under the city’s biggest mistletoe, your picture could win you round trip tickets for two to Seattle aboard the Victoria Clipper ferry. If that isn’t sharing the love, we don’t know what is.

One of the many shops in Victoria. Credit: Michelle Stewart

One of the many shops in Victoria. Credit: Michelle Stewart

Last Call for Last Minute Shopping

Of course, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without shopping. Luckily there are plenty of markets that open up in and around town to help satiate your needs. There is the Victoria Public Market Artisan Corner, which sets up in Victoria Public Market every Saturday and Sunday, from November 15th until Christmas. This special section provides an opportunity for many of Vancouver Island’s talented artists to sell and show off their amazing work. Similarly, the Bastion Square Holiday Pop-Up Market features locally produced crafts and sumptuous treats that make for great stocking stuffers. Finally, there is a special night market at Ship Point during the lighted ship parade.

Before the end of the holiday season, make sure to take advantage of the free horse-drawn trolley rides, which circulate through the downtown area on the weekends leading up to Christmas. A fun and unique way to travel, these rides make last minute shopping easier and allow you to take in all the lights and sights around Victoria.

More December Things to Do in Victoria

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City Creative Commons Licensed by Adamantios

One of China’s most treasured and mysterious areas, the Forbidden City, was home to the imperial palace from 1416-1911 during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Located in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City contained about 980 buildings and 10,000 rooms. As its name suggests, the city was forbidden to everyone except the 24 emperors who occupied it over the five centuries it was in operation, the imperial household and special visitors. As a result, there has been much curiosity over the city, what life inside the city and the objects the city contained.

Now, with the launch of the Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors,” the imperial palace will no longer be a secret. Thus, inquiring minds will finally get a chance to have a glimpse of what life inside the city might have been like. The exhibition showcases 200 precious works, many of which are from some of the emperors’ most private rooms, which have not been widely seen outside of China. The artifacts are from as from as early as 500 CE to the early 20th century, and include items such as paintings, ceramics, gold and silverware, jade, bronzes and textiles. The collection is divided into nine sections, based on what the items would have been used for or where they were found in the city. For instance, at the entrance of the exhibit (which is called “Reigning”) you will find the emperor’s throne and portraiture and symbols, in the “Warring” section ceremonial armor and weaponry are displayed, and in “Symbols” you can see the colors, iconography reserved for emperors. Likewise, documents created especially by emperors, such as poetry, political documents and calligraphy are found in “Texting.” In “Consuming” and “Collecting” areas you can see collections of expensive and precocious objects.

“The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors,” exhibit is on display until January 11, 2015, and is a great excursion to add to your next trip to Vancouver. Better yet, add on a stop at Chinatown, which is the largest in all of Canada. Here, you can learn about Chinese culture in Vancouver, shop and enjoy tasty Chinese food. After January, the “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors,” will be moving on, so make sure to take advantage of the chance to visit while it is in town, and get a look at what life was like for some of the most powerful rulers in Chinese history.

Details:

Where:

Vancouver Art Gallery: 750 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z2H7

When:

October 18, 2014 to January 11, 2015

For Tickets & More Information:

visit the the Vancouver Art Gallery website

Festive Victoria Tour

The Children’s Pavilion at The Butchart Gardens

The holidays are an exciting time of year, with a number of activities and events to attend. As fun as the holidays are, they can also be stressful with gifts to purchase, meals to prepare and a full social calendar. However, these things should not deter you from enjoying the holiday season. Escape the hustle and bustle while still enjoying the spirit of the season with the Festive Victoria Tour. This fully narrated tour allows you to explore the city of Victoria during this delightful time of year, as many popular locations are festooned with sparkling lights and seasonal decor.

Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

The tour begins by traveling through Mile 0 (the start of 8,000 km Trans-Canada Highway that spans the entire length of Canada), Beacon Hill Park and Cook Street Village. The coach also goes through the popular Chinatown, which is the oldest in Canada and only the second in age in North America to the Chinatown in San Francisco, California. Next, visit Craigdarroch Castle, and take a self-guided tour of this 1800’s mansion that has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The Craigdarroch was created for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and Joan. Featuring 39 rooms, the castle has become well known for its stained glass windows and ornate carved wood. During the holidays, these furnishings look even more beautiful as they are decorated with traditional Victorian Christmas décor.

The Butchart Gardens at Christmas

The Butchart Gardens at Christmas

Take in views of Mt. Tolmie, the towns of Oak Bay and Saanich all lit up with lights and scenic views of the water along Marine Drive as you travel to The Butchart Gardens. Once you arrive at the Gardens, you will have time to explore the 55 acres of manicured grounds. These gardens, which were a limestone quarry, are stunning any time of the year, but the caretakers at the garden really go all out for the holidays. View wintertime flowers like snowdrops and hellebore or stop and take a break to go ice skating at the outdoor rink that is set up only during the holiday season. While you are at the gardens you will be treated to a holiday high tea, featuring traditional delicacies, savory sandwiches, house sweets and a flight of three local wines. If you enjoy holiday lights, you may wish to stay at The Butchart Gardens to view their spectacular show (later buses are available, please call in advance to make arrangements). All of the grounds are covered in thousands of lights and there are special Twelve Days of Christmas displays interspersed throughout. You can also hear music played by carolers and a brass band from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each evening and enjoy snacks and a cup of hot chocolate in the Coffee Shop.

The Victoria Butterfly Gardens

The Victoria Butterfly Gardens

If you are continuing on the tour, the final stop is a self-guided tour of the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. You will see a number of exotic plants and animals such as poison dart frogs, tropical birds and of course, butterflies. After spending a day enjoying the highlights of Victoria all dressed for the season, and spending some time relaxing in one of Victoria’s spas after your tour, such as the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Empress, you’ll be ready to face the holidays with renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps you will even find time to do a little shopping before you return. If a fun getaway and all of the holiday sights and activities during the Festive Victoria Tour doesn’t get you in the spirit of the season nothing will!

Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival

You know the drill. Now that Halloween is over, even though you are probably still managing a sugar-hangover, it is time to kick your holiday planning into high gear. However, determining exactly what you want to do for the holidays can often be more challenging. If you find yourself struggling for ideas, why not start a new tradition? Instead of attending the same town Christmas tree lighting you go to every year, take a day trip to experience the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival. Visiting this Bavarian village is sure get in you in the holiday spirit, as it is filled with quaintly decorated chalets and chateaus and full of holiday cheer.

Not only is a trip to Leavenworth a fun way to celebrate the holidays, but will also provide respite from the daily hustle and bustle. After all, the city really goes all out to create this festival that combines the best parts of the winter season into one neat package. You can enjoy classic holiday activities like listening to carolers, sledding in Front Street Park, going on a Winter Wonderland Walk (or snowshoe, if weather permits) along Riverfront Park and meet costumed Christmas characters such as Santa, Mrs. Claus and Father Christmas. In addition, you’ll be able to find tasty treats like German brats, roasted chestnuts and hot spiced wine and cider being sold inside a traditional Gluhwein Tent.

Leavenworth_Snow_Morning

Photo: Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce

The holiday festivities begin at 11:00 am each Saturday and Sunday during the first three weeks of December with music and then kicks into high gear with the arrival of Santa parade at 12:00 pm. During the rest of the day you are free to participate in the many activities, shop or explore the town. Make sure to catch the lighting ceremony at 4:30 pm though, which illuminates Leavenworth with thousands of sparkling lights.

However, the best part is that you don’t even have to worry about driving over the pass to Leavenworth yourself. Choose to depart from one of several pickup locations and one of our luxury motor coaches will transport you to Leavenworth. All you have to do is sit back, enjoy the complimentary breakfast box from Clipper Cafe, relax and take in the views along the way.

Speaking of minimizing your anxiety, the best way to make sure you tackle everything on your holiday to-do list is by planning ahead. Start scheduling your holiday activities and trips like the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival now, so you don’t feel crunched for time later. Come December all you will have to do is get your friends and family loaded up on the bus and you will be on your way to creating memories.

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