Vancouver’s Best Family Activities

Stanley Park Miniature Train Running on two km of track through the city’s largest park, the old-timey train operates most of the year. Holidays give added oomph, though. A Christmas tradition, Bright Nights is a family event that teens and romantic 20-somethings have eagerly adopted. Through October, events turn dark with the (not too spooky) Ghost Train. For both, beneath trees spangled with more than a million lights, stilt walkers and other performers enliven the decorated woods. 604-257-8531.

The Fair & Playland at the PNE A century-old tradition packed with cotton candy, a petting zoo, and the roller coasters of Playland. Don’t miss the wooden coaster, the park’s most historic and spectacular attraction. August 20-
September 5. PNE Grounds, 2901 E. Hastings St., 604-253-2311.

Illuminares Create your own lantern in the weeks leading up to this annual lit procession featuring art installations and eccentric performances. The event moves this year to the Canada Place promenade and Coal Harbour seawall. July 30. 999 Canada Pl., 604-879-8611.

Science World Find hundreds of “teachable moment” interactive displays that are actually fun, including optical illusions, live science demonstrations, virtual musical instruments, and Omnimax films on a five-storey dome screen. 1455 Quebec St., 604-443-7443.

Vancouver Aquarium The aquarium has 166 displays with over 70,000 animals, from West Coast mammals (sea lions and harbour seals) to exotic species like Amazonian caimans. A Trainer Tour ($24) lets you interact with sea otters, or help train a whale on a Beluga Encounter ($130 per person, $175 for adult and child). Stanley Park, 604-659-3474.

Vancouver International Children’s Festival Masses of children delirious with sugar and drama—and their keepers—congregate each year for a week of clowns, theatre, tattoo artists, roving characters, and music. Now in a new location. May 30-June 5, 2012. Granville Island, 604-708-5655.

Granville Island Kids Market Over a dozen tot-tailored shops bring clothes, boots, books, puppets, kites, and toys, toys, toys down Junior’s reach. A two-storey ball maze and games arcade up the adrenaline factor. 1496 Cartwright St., 604-689-8447.

Swimming Pools Vancouver has 13 publicly operated pools around town. Our picks: the sprawling new Aquatic Centre at Hillcrest Park, near Queen Elizabeth Park; the UBC Aquatic Centre (see; and, for toddlers, the tot pool at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre downtown. Outdoors, check out the 137-metre Kitsilano Pool (Canada’s longest) and Stanley Park’s ridiculously scenic Second Beach Pool.

Festival of Lights Through December, the VanDusen Botanical Garden transforms with fairy lights, strolling carollers, and Saint Nick himself into a Christmas wonderland. The dancing lights around Livingstone Lake, timed to seasonal songs, are magical; doubly so with a bag of just-roasted chestnuts and a mug of hot apple cider. 5251 Oak St., 604-257-8335.