Best Things To Do in Vancouver
Vancouver is meant to be experienced outdoors. Thanks to its temperate climate and abundance of rain, the city has its fair share of lush outdoor spaces, the largest among them being Stanley Park. If you're not up for strolling its nearly 1,000 acres, visit some of the city's other beloved outdoor attractions like Queen Elizabeth Park or VanDusen Botanical Garden. For a real thrill, take a walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which hovers 230 feet above Capilano River. When you're ready to refuel, you'll have your pick of delicious market eats at Granville Island and Lonsdale Quay.
Updated June 19, 2019
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This nearly 1,000-acre park on the tip of Vancouver's "thumb" (just north of the West End) is home to some of the city's favorite, most-visited attractions. In fact, you could easily spend more than a day here and still not see everything this urban oasis has to offer. If you want to experience the park the way the locals do, walk, cycle or jog around the nearly 20-mile-long Seawall that hugs Vancouver's waterfront. The path starts at the Vancouver Convention Centre and ends at Spanish Banks Beach Park. If you're not up for the walk, you'll find several bike rental companies near the park. With your bike, you'll be able to explore the more than 17 miles of forest trails that are much less crowded than the rest of the park. Travelers recommend biking the South Creek Trail, which leads to the lily pad-covered Beaver Lake. If you're not up for all that exercise, you can ride a hop-on, hop-off trolley or a horse-drawn carriage. Both guided tours (offered seasonally) include informational narration. Recent visitors said the park offers a great escape from the city and has one of the prettiest seawall walks around.
Families with kids in tow will find plenty of family-friendly to-dos here as well, including an outdoor water park and a separate heated, outdoor pool. The park also boasts four playgrounds and a miniature train that snakes through more than a mile of forest. The Vancouver Aquarium is also nestled within the park, but costs extra. Art and history buffs will likely want to stop at Brockton Point to see the First Nation totem pole display (along the Seawall). It's estimated that some of the original totem poles were carved in the late 1880s.
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This former industrial site is now one of Vancouver's most beloved neighborhoods. Practically its own mini-city, Granville Island's former factories now house trendy restaurants, galleries and theaters. But the main draw here is the Granville Island Public Market, often described as one of the best open-air markets in North America. Among the seemingly endless aisles of fresh produce and local crafts, you'll find a variety of food stalls selling everything from baked goods to ethnic snacks. If the weather is nice, try and grab a seat outside by the water. You can watch ferry boats putter back and forth in English Bay while enjoying the performances of the buskers who regularly play for market crowds. After filling up on market eats, head to the perpetually busy Kids Market. This playtopia sells toys and crafts and features an indoor play area. If you don't have kids in tow, visit Canada's first microbrewery – Granville Island Brewing. You can enjoy daily tours and tastings in the taproom. Visitors call the island lively, colorful and a great place to shop for both gifts and food.
Though Granville Island can be enjoyed year-round, it offers the most activities when the weather is warm. Consider renting a kayak to explore the marinas or passing some time at the free waterpark. Located just 2 miles northwest of central Vancouver, Granville Island is accessible from central Vancouver by bus, car and ferry daily. If you're coming from downtown, the No. 50 False Creek stops near Granville Island. The market is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; some retail shops operate on different hours. Entry to the island is free, but specific attractions may charge admission. For more information, check out the Granville Island website.
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Attracting more than 6 million visitors a year, Queen Elizabeth Park is one of Vancouver's most popular outdoor spaces (second only to Stanley Park). Spread out across nearly 130 acres, the park features a rose garden, a meticulously manicured quarry garden, and an arboretum with about 1,500 native and exotic trees. When you're not admiring the park's flora, head inside the Bloedel Conservatory to visit the fauna. The conservatory features more than 120 free-flying exotic birds, not to mention 500 tropical plants and three different climate zones. Step outside the conservatory and you'll spot the Dancing Waters fountain display, along with several sculptures scattered throughout the plaza. Since the park sits at the highest point in Vancouver, it offers spectacular views of the city skyline, mountains and shoreline from the fountain plaza.
If you don't have time to devote an entire day to touring Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, located about 2 miles due south of downtown Vancouver, is a great alternative. Many visitors say it has the best views of the city you can find and the grounds are well maintained. While you don't have to pay anything to get into the park, you will have to pay to park. From May 1 to Sept. 30, you can expect to pay CA$3.50 (about $2.70) per hour or CA$13 (about $10) per day; rates from Oct. 1 to April 30 decrease to CA$2.50 per hour (about $1.90) and CA$7 (about $5.40) per day. The park is also accessible via the Canada Line on the SkyTrain – the Oakridge-41st Avenue Station is within walking distance of the park. For more information, visit the City of Vancouver website.
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When the weather's nice, follow Vancouverites down to the shores of English Bay to Kitsilano "Kits" Beach. Often compared to L.A.'s Venice Beach, this shoreline along the northern edge of Kitsilano is the city's most popular swim spot, especially for the city's 20-something crowd. When you're not relaxing on the sand or admiring the skyline views, you'll find areas for in-line skating and volleyball, along with tennis courts and a playground. Visitors do warn that the beach can get quite busy in summer, but it is clean and always has "good vibes." If you're in the mood for swim but the bay water is just a little too chilly for your liking, try the area's heated, saltwater Kitsilano Pool (open May to mid-September). You can also visit the nearby Vancouver Maritime Museum, which offers an educational respite from the summer sun. When you need to grab a refreshment, you'll find several concession stands as well as a more formal dining room at The Boathouse Restaurant on Kits Beach.
You don't have to pay to access the beach, but you will have to pay for parking. Parking from April 1 to Sept. 30 will cost you CA$3.50 (about $2.70) hourly and CA$13 (about $10) daily. From Oct. 1 to March 31 hourly parking rates decrease to CA$2.50 (about $1.90); daily rates decrease to CA$7 (about $5.40). If you're traveling via public transportation, the No. 2 bus offers service between downtown and Kits Beach. Entrance to the pool will also cost you. Single-day admission for adults costs CA$6.10 (about $4.70); youths ages 13 to 18 years old get in for CA$4.36 (about $3.35) and children ages 3 to 12 enter for CA$3.07 (about $2.35). Check out the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation website for more information on Kits Beach.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Vancouver4.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.1 miles to city centerBeaches, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Spanish Banks boasts a few features that set it apart from the city's other beloved shorelines. Thanks to its location about 5 miles northwest of downtown Vancouver, Spanish Banks is the least crowded and most quiet. It's also the best place to try your hand at skimboarding – a cross between surfing and skateboarding – due to the low tidal conditions (at low tide the water is more than half a mile off shore). If the ocean water is too chilly, there are plenty of volleyball courts available for pick-up games. Visitors call the beach beautiful and say exploring at low tide can be lots of fun, especially for kids.
The easiest way to reach Spanish Banks is by car, but several bus routes also service the area. Parking is free from Oct. 1 to March 31. The rest of the year, it costs CA$3.50 (about $2.70) an hour or CA$13 (around $10) for the day. To find out more about the facilities offered at the beach, consult the Vancouver Parks and Recreation website.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Vancouver1.9 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.9 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Often described by travelers as a hidden gem, the VanDusen Botanical Garden is spread across 55 acres in the center of Vancouver. Recent visitors called the garden very peaceful. The garden features several sections, including a stone garden and a hedge maze – a favorite among past visitors. But perhaps the most popular feature of VanDusen is the Laburnum Walk (pictured above), described on the garden's website as the most photographed area of its 55 acres. The path is made memorable by the yellow, chain-like blooms that hang from the Laburnum branches. Peak bloom for these plants occurs in mid-May but if you're not in Vancouver during their prime blooming period, check out what will be in season during your visit with this bloom calendar here.
You can explore all of the garden's meandering paths with a self-guided tour – pamphlets are available at the garden information desk. Docent-led tours (included in admission) are offered daily starting at 1 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. from April through the end of October. From November to March, tours are provided every Sunday at 1 p.m. If all that walking makes you hungry, refuel at the two eateries located on-site, the Shaughnessy Restaurant and the Truffles Cafe.
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Vancouver's definitive late night hot spot, Yaletown has steadily increased in popularity since it transformed from a warehouse district to the trendy area it is today. Often compared to New York City's SoHo neighborhood, Yaletown features chic boutiques, restaurants and hotels (including one of the city's top properties, OPUS Vancouver). Even if you don't plan to hang your hat at OPUS, you should still plan to check out the hotel's cocktail lounge of the same name. Other top nightlife spots include Yaletown Brewing Co., Pierre's Lounge and Bar None. Recent visitors say there is something for everyone there, with a wide range of dining and drinking options in a variety of prices.
You'll find Yaletown in downtown Vancouver, about 2 miles southeast of Stanley Park. If you don't have your own set of wheels, you can get to Yaletown via the Canada Line SkyTrain; take the train to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station. Several buses also service the area. For more information on the restaurants, hotels and events in Yaletown, visit the area's website.
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Towering over North Vancouver, Grouse Mountain has been a popular outdoor getaway for years, especially since the views from the summit span the entire city on a clear day. Originally used only for skiing, Grouse now offers year-round activities, including the Grouse Grind, a nearly 2-mile trail often referred to by residents as "Mother Nature's Stairmaster" (there are a total of 2,830 stairs along the trail). During the winter – a favorite time for locals – you'll have a bevy of activities to occupy your time. Grouse Mountain's slopes boast 33 ski and snowboard runs, four chairlifts and six terrain parks, not to mention four snowshoeing trails. There's also a zip line, a skating pond, a high-definition cinema, a wildlife refuge and several eateries, including a Starbucks and The Observatory, a formal dining room with 360-degree mountaintop views. Many past visitors raved about the excellent (albeit pricey) food at the top.
There are two ways to reach the top: You can break a sweat on the Grouse Grind or enjoy a scenic ride on the Skyride gondola (the cost of which also covers several of the activities offered at the summit). General admission can be a bit pricey at CA$44.95 (about $34) for adults and CA$25.95 (about $19) for children, but includes entry to several activities located at the summit. If you choose to tackle the Grouse Grind, you don't need to pay for the hike up, but you will have to pay CA$10 (about $7.70) for the Skyride back down. (Downhill hiking is not allowed.) Grouse Mountain welcomes visitors every day of the year, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Full-day lift tickets for adults cost CA$63 (about $48.50) and CA$45 (approximately $35) for youths ages 13 to 18; tickets for children 5 to 12 years old cost CA$28 (about $21.50). If you don't have your own gear, make sure you factor in the cost of equipment rental, too. The Skyride offers round trips from 8:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For a complete list of Grouse Mountain activities and prices, visit the Grouse Mountain website.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Vancouver5.9 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND5.9 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
While the city itself hasn't celebrated a large amount of birthdays, the area on which Vancouver was founded possesses a rich, cultural past. The Museum of Anthropology (part of the University of British Columbia) houses one of the world's most impressive collections of art and artifacts from the Northwest Coast First Nations. In the Great Hall alone, you'll spot ornately decorated canoes, ritual masks, totem poles and other Native American relics. Other areas of the museum display 15th-century European pottery, priceless jewelry and local art. You can embark on your own self-guided walk-through of the museum, but recent travelers highly suggest following one of the docents. Tours are offered an average of three times per day; consult the MOA website for exact times. Recent visitors said the collection is amazing, though might not interest younger children.
Located on the western edge of Point Grey, the Museum of Anthropology is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Thursday the museum stays open until 9 p.m. From mid-October to mid-May, the museum is closed on Mondays. Admission for adults costs CA$18 (about $14); children ages 6 and younger get in for free. You can save on ticket prices by visiting on Thursday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. when admission is just CA$10 (about $7.70). If you drive here, you'll have to pay an extra CA$3.50 (about $2.70) per hour for parking. If you prefer to take public transit, you'll have to walk from the UBC bus loop stop to the museum (a distance of a little less than a mile). A cafe and shop are also located on-site. For more details, consult the MOA's website.
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Some travelers say the Vancouver Lookout should be your first sightseeing stop. From the panoramic observation deck, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city below, including the North Shore and Olympic Peninsula Mountains, as well as the sprawling Stanley Park.
Sitting on the 55th floor of the Harbour Centre building in downtown Vancouver, the lookout is reached via glass elevator, where the 40-second ride takes visitors up more than 550 feet to the top. Make the most of the spectacular vantage point by visiting on a clear day; recent visitors said you won't get your money's worth if there's cloud cover.
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Those in the know say the Vancouver Aquarium is definitely worth exploring, whether you're traveling with kids or just looking for a little extra marine knowledge. As the home of more than 50,000 different animals belonging to 734 different species, this is a great place to become acquainted with local animals as well as exotic creatures. But don't come here expecting SeaWorld: Past visitors say the aquarium's focus is more on interactive exhibits and education and less on choreographed animal performances. Different exhibits mimic various habitats, from the icy tanks of the Canada's Arctic exhibit to the colorful clownfish and intimidating black-tip reef sharks sheltered in the Tropic Zone. Don't miss the Graham Amazon Gallery, a giant atrium where three-toed sloths and stunning tree frogs take shelter from the hourly simulated rainstorms.
While some recent visitors comment on the steep cost of admission, they also say that if you schedule enough time, it's worth the price. For a little extra, you can tag along for a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Vancouver5.3 miles to city center5.3 miles to city centerHiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Overcome your vertigo and experience Vancouver the way the birds do. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is the oldest tourist attraction in the city (it dates back to 1889), and the 450-foot-long, 230-foot-high bridge offers spectacular views of the Capilano River below. Visitors call it thrilling, exciting and an overall great experience. The fun doesn't end once you reach the other side of the canyon; more suspension bridges and daredevil activities await at the Treetops Adventure. With this canopy walk – set among the park's 250-year-old Douglas fir trees – you'll have the chance to walk 110 feet above the forest floor, from viewing platform to viewing platform. Continue to tempt fate along the Cliffwalk, a set of cantilevered and suspended walkways that meander along the canyon's edge. Though recent travelers praised the unique experience the attraction offers, visitors aren't as pleased with the high admission price or the limited parking. To avoid the school crowds, plan your visit in the morning.
Dangling high above North Vancouver (about 7 miles north of downtown), the Capilano Suspension Bridge is open daily; hours vary seasonally. Entry to the bridge complex costs CA$42.95 (approximately $33) for adults, CA$26.95 (approximately $20.75) for kids ages 13 to 16 and CA$14.95 (about $11.50) for children ages 6 to 12. Parking costs CA$5 (about $3.85) per vehicle. If you would rather take public transit, you can hop on the SeaBus in downtown Vancouver and take it across the harbor to Lonsdale Quay. From the quay, you can take the No. 236 bus to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The park also offers a free shuttle service from several locations in downtown Vancouver to the park. Shuttles depart every 15 minutes. For a complete list of hours and prices, visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge website.
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