Living in France as a Canadian expat from Vancouver, we get asked, “What should we see on our trip to the West Coast of Canada?”
Well, luckily I have a long list of the best things to do in Vancouver – the city is packed with exciting things to do and see.
Transport in Vancouver
Walking through Stanley Park or discovering sealife at the Vancouver Aquarium will take you all day to get from one attraction to the next, but with a day pass from the Hop-on, Hop-off bus — hoping on and off the buses provides easy and timely transportation around Vancouver. Each bus includes a commentary about the city pointing out historical facts and sights throughout. The buses run within 10 minutes of each other so after hopping off, waiting times are kept to a minimum so you can enjoy all that Vancouver has to offer during daily hours.
Or, if you feel like a bit more adventure and physical exercise, a bike rental is a great option. ezeeRiders Bike Rentals offer a moderate bike inventory on the corner of Robson and Denman streets near Stanely Park. Self-rental makes it easy to choose a bike and get riding around the city stopping at each sight mapped out prior to your start. Cycle BC is another company renting bikes in Vancouver. Inside their rental office, the staff offers map and routes through the city to help plan your city tour. Vancouver is very bike-friendly so many of the streets have designated bike lanes to protect riders.
Best things to do in Vancouver
When visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the major attractions range from Granville Island Public Market to the many sights of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
And making your way to other well-known sights throughout Vancouver’s beautiful landscape is a great way to explore all that the city offers its visitors.
1. Stanley Park
Right in downtown, this park offers a greener side of Vancouver. There are no sky-rise buildings or traffic in this quiet park. Instead, it offers recreational facilities and natural attractions such as bird watching.
Stanley Park is a beautiful green space of 4000 square kilometres with a walkway all around which follows the shoreline. You will find people riding bikes, rollerblading, and walking around the seawall. There are beaches in Stanley Park for picnics, a swimming pool, lawn bowling, playgrounds and natural paths through ancient trees.
There is a look out towards of Lions Gate Bridge or First Narrows Bridge. It was built over the first narrowing point of the inlet by the Guinness family. It is worth stopping for pictures of North Vancouver. The bridge connects North Van with Downtown. There is also the very famous TeaHouse Restaurant that Alfonz took me to on our anniversary.
The aquarium is located in the centre of the Stanley Park and is a huge tourist attraction. They have dolphin and Beluga whale shows. My favourite is the Amazon Rain Forest exhibition. If you look above your heads, try to spot the three sloths that live there, which is our ritual when going with the kids. This is Canada’s largest aquarium home to 800 different aquatic species. You can book your tickets online before to skip the line.
3. Robson Street
This street runs through the down town core, and is lined with high-end shops, fabulous restaurants and is full of foot tourists year round. Here you can find Steamrollers Mexican wraps, fast food but healthy. At the end of Robson Street you can rent bikes and tour around the SeaWall.
4. Granville Island
This island has a big market, shops and restaurants. Alfonz and I were married on a boat rented through Accent Cruises that docks right in front of Bridges, the famous and excellent restaurant. Granville Island is home to the Comedy Club, Arts Club Theatre and great pubs for the travellers looking for nightlife. When we are on a boat we often dock here and go for lunch at one of the burger joints.
The Granville Island market sells everything from freshly prepared food and snacks to local produce and raw seafood. Honey, breads, pastries and flowers are also being sold among the numerous vendors occupying the indoor market. Grab a bite to eat and sit outside on ledges and benches outlining the dock and listen to live music or other artistic performances. Be careful of the fearless seagulls flying low as they are ready to steal your food right from your plate. Stroll the beaches of the island after exhausting the public market or shop at the many small boutique shops lining the streets of Granville Island.
5. Kitsilano & Jericho Beaches
Kitsilano and Jericho beaches are my old stomping grounds. If you follow the beach you will end up at Granville Island going towards the city. With many photo opportunities and nice walks along the paths, any beach is sure to be a restful stop.
6. North Vancouver’s Quay Market
Catch the SeaBus at Waterfront station that crosses the Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver for a day at the Quay. Lovely little shops, much like Granville Island, gives a pretty view of the water.
7. Science World
This is the giant shiny metal ball on the skyline, and is entertainment for children of all ages. They have an Omnimax Theatre showing many interesting documentaries, such as the Rocky Mountain Express.
You may learn more about this unique construction on the quite popular Vancouver Highlights Bike Tour – The Grand Tour that will last about 5 hours
It’s downtown and known for the steam clock and the excellent micro brewery pub, Steamworks. When we lived in the Delta Hotel Suites for the first few years of our marriage, we made many stops to the local hotspots of Gastown. The night life here is fabulous, Lamplighter comes to mind. Try Thai Palace for excellent Thai food in Vancouver.
Have a “The Forbidden Downtown and Gastown Walking Tour” where you will discover the scandalous side of Vancouver history.
Or have a “Gastown Historic Walking Food Tour”. It will take you through the cobbled stone streets of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. You will enjoy local craft beer, Japanese Kar-age style chicken, freshly made Sicilian Tortellini with local wine, tasty pork and potato croquette, crispy sweet & chili cauliflower, organic smooth soft ice cream and creamy awarding winning cheesecake!
9. Metrotown Shopping Centre
This is a huge mall on the Sky Train route. I have taken the kids from one end of the Sky Train to the other, just to show them the lower mainland.
10. White Rock White Rock
This little seaside community is where we lived for 8 years with the children. It is known for great restaurants along the beach. I recommend Pearl for excellent food & Mobydicks for fish and chips (try the in house tartar sauce.)
11. Capilano Suspension Bridge
Located in North Vancouver, it offers an amazing view of the canyon below and recently they added tree top walking excursion. Eco-walks along the bridge will have you souring above treetops, along granite cliffs and over sprawling canyons as the suspension bridge has visitors walking 450 feet across and 250 feet above the ground. This attraction offers visitors an appreciation for Vancouver’s natural beauty. This is one of the best things to do in Vancouver for nature lovers!
12. Whistler Mountain
Whistler & Blackcomb are beautiful mountains with a very pretty village, worth the 1 1/2 hour drive from downtown. I would suggest staying a night in one of the fabulous Whistler Village hotels with a spa and really enjoy a massage or a pedicure.
13. Harrison Hot Springs
Going two hours east by car, you will find Harrison Hot Springs. Stay in the resort and enjoy open air healing pools and a lovely dinner in one of their restaurants. We enjoyed the Copper room our last visit, and Alfonz wasn’t feeling well so they wrapped up his dinner and send it up tot he room for us. We like to wander out of the resort for at least one meal, our favourites are The Black Forest for German food (i suggest their schnitzel) and the Crazy Fish for seafood.
14. Vancouver Island
It is only accessible by BC Ferries and the ride alone is worth the journey to Victoria for the few nights. Often our family travelled to the mainland from Duncan, my hometown in between Victoria and Naniamo, and we saw orca and dolphins in the waters of the Georgia Straight. Last year our family took a whale watching tour from Campbell River and spotted two pods of Killer Whales totaling 13 mammals in one afternoon. Often you can spot Grizzly and Black bears on this tour, many eagles, sea lions sunbathing and a variety of wildlife. We loved the zodiac boats, great for speed, and we caught up with the whales twice. It was surprisingly cool on the water, and they geared us up in parkas. We took and extensive four hour tour and both kids managed to fall asleep on the way back.
15. Grouse Mountain
Head to the top of this mountain, a 15 minute Super Skyride from downtown, and go on trail hikes, zipline through the mountains or enjoy winter activities such as snowshoeing or skiing or summer activities depending on the time of your visit. The adventures at the top of this mountain provide a fun natural experience for everyone.
16. Classical Chinese Garden
This is the first Chinese Garden constructed outside of China. With flowers and plants native to the country, this garden offers a beautifully tailored landscape. The serenity and peace felt inside the garden is produced through authentic techniques and rock formations. Admission includes a guided tour and a cup of Chinese tea to enjoy during your walk.
17. Olympic Attractions in Vancouver
The Vancouver Convention Center is the location of the 2010 Winter Games’ Olympic Cauldron. The torch reflects blue and green spotlights at night and during special events in the city, the flame of the torch is lit. Richmond Olympic Oval, the facility that hosted the 2010 speed skating events, has since turned into a public ice rink with a track and other fitness facilities on site. And with delicious dining right next door to the Olympic Oval on Richmond Street, stop in one of the many restaurants for a bite to eat.
If you are going to Victoria, check out the Museum, Butterfly Gardens and Butchard Gardens . If travelling North on Vancouver Island check out Tofino, famous for storm watching, surfing and whale watching. The community of Tofino is on the ocean side and not the Georgia Straight side of the Island and the spectacular forces of the Pacific Ocean can be witnessed here. You can rent out a cabin right on the beach, and I have writer and painter friends that have used them as a retreat spot.
If you enjoy wine, then definitely check out the nearby Naramata Bench Wine Country.
Items 1-8 on our list of best things to do in Vancouver can be easily accessible by Skytrain and no need for a car when staying in downtown Vancouver. Items 9-14 you will need a car – you can rent a car with Europcar Canada.
Among the large sky-rise building spotting the city, you can find natural beauty, fun activities, historical landmarks and a greener landscape throughout.
Vancouver is the ultimate destination to explore your inner adventure, while taking in the culture and customs of one of Canada’s largest cities.