The annual Celebration of Light is so loved in Vancouver that it is considered by many to be the premier summer event in the city. Attendance topped 1.4 million for the 2018 edition of the multi-day spectacle that features a showcase of pyrotechnics from three different nations. During the course of a week, each country takes one turn to set the sky afire with fireworks synched to music. For 2019, the participating nations include India (July 27), Canada (July 31) and Croatia (August 3).
Here are some tips for seeing the festival.
Fireworks Viewing Options
In recent years, the Celebration of Light, which began in 1990, has transformed from only a night-time event to a full festival that includes hours of musical performances, VIP seating, an airshow, and dinner experiences. From Sunset Beach west to Stanley Park, the seawall along English Bay is lined with food trucks, artisan vendors, and activities that encourage crowds to come early and stay until after 10:30 p.m., which is around the time the fireworks show culminates on each of its three nights.
The fireworks are set off from barges stationed in English Bay and each year spectators clamour for a viewing spot. Most onlookers choose to watch while standing on the sand or sitting in beach chairs but there are a variety of ways to take in the Honda Celebration of Light.
VIP SEATS: Fireworks lovers who want even more bang for their night can choose from one of three special viewing options. The Concord Lounge at the Inukshuk is a dining experience that boasts the “closest views” of the fireworks. Diners sit at white-linen tables while savouring barbecue favourites and summer produce. Access costs $169 per person for regular admission or $209 for reserved seating, and includes two drink tickets for use at the venue’s private bar.
The YVR Observation Deck is a stadium-style bleacher section with rows of benches and a quality speaker system that provides excellent sound so viewers can enjoy both the visual and auditory highlights of the show. Entrance costs $49 for a seat (or $44 for an unobstructed view). The facility includes a bar and washrooms.
Adjacent to the YVR Observation Deck is the Keg Lounge, which is on Beach Avenue. The pop-up lounge includes comfortable seats and a party atmosphere throughout the night. Tickets cost $159 for regular admission or $199 for reserved seats. The price includes two complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
ON A BOAT: For the first time, V2V Vacations is welcoming up to 150 guests for a two-hour cruise of English Bay and Howe Sound during each of the three nights of the fireworks. The company operates the V2V Empress, a luxury catamaran yacht that sails between Vancouver and Victoria. Among its features are BC wines and local foods, as well as a viewing deck that will be ideal for seeing the fireworks. Each passenger pays $125 for general admission or $160 for the Royal VIP fare that includes access to the observation deck, complimentary platters and snacks, and a sparkling wine toast to the fireworks.
Among the other companies offering boat experiences to view the fireworks are Spirit Cruises (starting at $129.95 per person) and Vancouver Water Adventures, which features a cruise to Bowen Island and dinner on each of the fireworks nights (starting at $199 per person).
More Celebration of Light Dining Options
Papi’s Seafood and Oyster Bar: Located on Denman Street and one block from the beach at English Bay, Papi’s is the newest restaurant in the city’s West End. It takes over the space formerly occupied by Beach Bay Cafe and adds a needed focus on oysters, seafood, and wine to the neighbourhood. Its patio faces the water and is a good spot to dine before catching the action in the sky.
Cactus Club: The Cactus Club’s English Bay location is a hard-to-beat spot for taking in all of the festival’s highlights. The patio is long and attractive, and because it looks onto the heart of the beach there are mostly unobstructed views of the water. The reserved seating will be fully booked but a number of seats are kept for walk-ins, so those who arrive early may still be able to grab a patio table.
m8: The newest place to dine on the seawall is this European-Asian fusion restaurant on False Creek, steps from the Burrard Bridge and the starting point of the Celebration of Light festival action. The menu includes interesting fare such as shimeji mushroom tempura and foie gras served with wild mushrooms and a Korean barbecue sauce.
Sylvia Hotel: One of the best locations in the city to see the fireworks is the Sylvia Hotel, located on Beach Avenue right in front of English Bay. Kudos to its management for allowing patrons at its restaurant and patio to leave their tables to take in the fireworks and then return to finish their drinks or meal. I got a spot on the patio twice during the 2018 festival and couldn’t believe what a gem I had discovered.