Little-known fact about Vancouver: The city loves to throw a party. Major festivals, held throughout the year, celebrate everything from jazz music to world-class wines and Shakespeare. Events are well attended and lavishly produced, sometimes stretching over several weeks. Here's a season-by-season rundown of the best of Vancouver:
- Summer: Vancouver's brief, beautiful summer is jam packed with festivals. Things get started with the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, a 10-day event in late June drawing 1,800-plus musicians to the city for some 400 concerts, many of which are free. At the same time, Canada's equivalent of Shakespeare in the Park, known as Bard on the Beach, kicks off. For three months, troupes perform Shakespeare's classics in big tents set up in Vanier Park to overlook the Pacific Ocean. The highlight of summer for many Vancouverites is the Honda Celebration of Light, a competitive fireworks contest held over three nights at English Bay. International teams set off stunning pyrotechnics choreographed to music, vying for top prize.
- Fall: With the weather growing cooler, Vancouverites turn their attention indoors. The Vancouver International Film Festival, held at the end of September, screens more than 350 films for some 150,000 attendees over the course of two weeks. Meanwhile, the unique and indefinable Fringe Festival is two solid weeks of off-beat, alternative and just plain weird theatre, staged at various venues on waterfront Granville Island.
- Winter: The long, rainy winter doesn't dampen local spirits. The holidays kick off with the annual Christmas Market, an authentic German-style craft and food fair held outdoors in December. It features dozens of wooden booths, rows of decorated trees and plenty of mulled wine to keep visitors warm. Another Vancouver classic is the festive Carol Ships. Throughout December, cruise boats festooned with Christmas lights set sail after sunset, treating passengers to lavish holiday feasts, old-time caroling and gorgeous views. And the kids shouldn't miss Bright Nights, a display of more than a million lights in Vancouver's Stanley Park, complete with a holiday train ride through the forest. Finally, foodies rejoice over Dine Out Vancouver. Each January, hundreds of local restaurants offer deeply discounted three-course menus, allowing diners to taste-drive the best cuisine the city has to offer.
- Spring: The official start of spring in Vancouver is marked by the Cherry Blossom Festival. Each April, more than 37,000 Japanese cherry trees shower the city with their blossoms, and Vancouverites celebrate with a month full of outdoor concerts, guided walks and bike rides through the blossoms and picnics. And spring wouldn't be complete without the Vancouver International Wine Festival, when nearly 200 wineries from around the world converge on the city for a full week of sipping and paired tastings attended by more than 25,000 people.