Top 15 attractions and things to do in Vancouver
Glass-fronted skyscrapers are crowned by the peaks of the North Shore Mountains in this feel-good Canadian city. Enjoy laidback life in 'The Couve', with our tips on what to do and see in Vancouver.
1. Wander Stanley Park
Get acquainted with Vancouver's diverse waterfront landscape, with a walk round this 400-hectare protected space on the tip of the city's main peninsula. The list of things to see here is endless, including the Beaver Lake wetlands, acres of towering indigenous cedars and big-leaf maple trees, and the famous totem poles at Brockton Point, celebrating the art of First Nations people in Canada. The seawall that surround the park is a good way to get an overview, on foot or by bike, or if you want to save your legs, the Stanley Park Train takes in the highlights, from coastal rainforests to sandy beaches (catch it near Vancouver Aquarium).
2. Eat at Granville Island Public Market
Fresh produce abounds at the indoor farmers' market on Granville Island, south of downtown Vancouver across False Creek. Something of a Mecca for Vancouverites embracing the 'local food movement', you can pick whatever tempts your senses for a picnic lunch from the numerous artisan cheese, seafood and fruit and veg stalls, or go for a tasty takeaway from the Market Grill or Kaisereck Deli (try the bratwurst). Jump aboard a water taxi and head back across the creek to eat al fresco on Sunset Beach. Read more about the city's eco-friendly approach to eating, with our article on why 2017's a great year to visit Vancouver.
Opening times: Daily 9am - 7pm.
Location: 1669 Johnston St.
3. Brave Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Cross over the Lions Gate Bridge (stopping for a photo on the way) to North Vancouver, to see Canada's native forests from a tree's eye view. Made up of a network of skybridges, including a stomach-flipping cliffside walk above Capilano Canyon, this is outdoor adventure at another level. Visit during the winter months to see the 'Canyon Lights' light up the park as the sun goes down.
Opening times: Daily (January 9 to March 10) 9am - 5pm, (March 11 to April 14) 9am - 6pm, (April 15 to May 19) 9am - 7pm, (May 20 – September 4) 8.30am - 8pm, (September 5 to October 9) 9am - 6pm, (October 10 to November 22) 9am - 5pm, (November 23 to January 28, closed Dec 25th) 11am - 9pm.
Location: . Take the free shuttle service from Downtown Vancouver.
Prices: Adults $39.95, Children 13-16yrs $26.95, 6-12yrs $13.95.
4. Take the Sea to Sky Highway
For petrol heads, Highway 99, or the Sea to Sky Highway, takes some beating. Much as its name suggests, it's a 78 mile road stretching from the shore in Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Mountain range at an altitude of 2,200 feet. It's one of the most beautiful drives you're likely to experience. If you'd rather appreciate more of the views during the summer, let the train take the strain. The Rocky Mountaineer train takes to you to the mountain town (and further destinations in the Canadian Rockies) at a slower pace of 3 hours in a mixture of open-air carriages or enclosed ones with large sky windows to better appreciate the area's wild beauty.
5. Explore Science World
Vancouver doesn't do things by halves, and its collection of museums are world-class in every sense. The huge geodesic dome housing Science World will wow younger and older visitors alike, as will the hundreds of interactive exhibits inside. There's a constant series of live demos and shows to choose from every day, as well as an OMINIMAX dome showing immersive films on marvels of science and engineering. Well worth a few hours' visit.
Opening times: Tues to Fri 10am – 5pm; Sat, Sun & holidays 10am – 6pm.
Location: TELUS World of Science, 1455 Quebec Street.
Prices: Adults $23.25, Concessions $18.50, Children 3 - 12 $15.25.
6. Ski in Whistler-Blackcomb
Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 with all the skiing action taking place in the mountains beyond the city in Whistler. As one of the major venues for the games, Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is the largest skiable area in North America and offers more than 200 runs to challenge your skills. With a season that stretches into May for spring skiing and snowboarding and mid-June for summer glacier skiing, you really can hit the piste in the morning and be back in Vancouver to soak up the sun on the beach in the afternoon. Jump aboard the Whistler Shuttle bus for the easiest way to get to Whistler from Vancouver. Find more of the world's best places to ski late in the year, with our guide.
7. Experience Bard on the Beach
For the culture vulture keen on both sonnets and sun, Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival is the perfect combination. With a programme running from early June to September, it's one of Canada's biggest not-for-profit festivals. Two purpose built tents are set up in Vanier Park on the waterfront, so that theatre-goers can watch the actors perform Shakespeare's works against a stunning backdrop of sea and mountains.
8. Stroll around Gastown
The spot where the city's original settlers first put down roots in the mid-nineteenth century, Gastown is the oldest neighbourhood in the city and one of the essential things to see in Vancouver for first-timers. Located just north-east of downtown, nearly all the buildings in the quarter have heritage designation, so you get a real flavour of the old settlement here. It's an eminently walkable district, populated by award-winning restaurants, edgy galleries and indie fashion boutiques; if you're souvenir-shopping, pop your head into the Inuit Gallery on Cambie St, for beautifully-crafted art and design pieces.
9. Food with a view at The Observatory
To really push the boat out, opting for a gourmet meal with a view just as breathtaking as the dishes in front of you is always a good call. The Observatory restaurant on Grouse Mountain, the peak directly above Vancouver, is accessed by a gondola. When you reach the top, drink in the panoramic vista of Vancouver and English Bay, before tucking into a dish of Pacific salmon or farm-fresh steak and a bottle of British Columbia's finest wine.
Opening times: Daily 5pm - 10pm. Tickets for the Skyride gondola are complimentary if you book a table online.
Location: Peak Chalet at Grouse Mountain, The Peak of Vancouver, 6400 Nancy Greene Way.
Prices: Starters from $13, mains from $25. Five-course tasting menu $125 (including wine pairings).
10. Taste the flavours of Richmond Night Market
With the largest Asian community in North America, Vancouver's Richmond district offers up a culturally diverse and culinary delightful experience. Taking place every weekend during the summer, hop on the SkyTrain to Bridgeport Station, south of the Fraser River, for the Richmond Night Market. It's an assault on the senses with the smells of fantastic foods tempting you from every quarter. How about a bowl of curry fish balls, followed by a mango pancake? The best way to approach this market is to go hungry and go early: its popularity means queues can be long.
Opening times: (May to Oct only) Fri & Sat, 7pm - 12am; Sundays & public holidays 7pm - 12am.
Location: 8351 River Road, Richmond.
Prices: Adults $3.25, Under 10s free.
11. Hit Kitsilano Beach
Kitsilano Beach, or 'Kits' for short, sits on the coast just to the west of Vanier Park, so it's perfect to escape to on a hot summer's day. There are stacks of activities if you're feeling more energetic, including tennis courts, windsurfing and other watersports rentals and a heated saltwater swimming pool. A little closer to the urban sprawl is English Bay Beach, which you can reach on foot from most downtown Vancouver hotels.
12. Nitobe Memorial Garden
Vancouver is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, and nowhere is this more evident than this serene garden, set within the University of British Columbia grounds. It's at its most beautiful in spring, when the cherry trees come into bloom, or if you're here in summer you can take part in a traditional tea ceremony on the last Saturday of the month, at the Ichibo-an (teahouse).
Opening times: (Nov 1 to March 12) daily 9.30am - 4.30pm, (Mar to Oct 31) Daily 9.30am - 4.30pm.
Location: UBC Botanical Garden, 6804 Marine Dr SW.
Prices: (Mar 13 to Oct 31) Adults $7, Concessions $5.50, Children $4. (Nov 1 to Mar 12 donation only). Combination tickets with the UBC Botanical Garden are available.
13. Cruise for whales
Head out beyond the bay in search of the majestic whale pods that return to this region every year between June and September. Vancouver Whale Watch in Richmond is a good pick for day trips from Vancouver, with a 95% success rate of spotting orcas or humpback whales in the right season, and plenty of other local residents to look out for like sea lions, porpoises and bald eagles. Tours generally follow the whales down into US territory, around the San Juan Islands off Washington state, or to the Gulf Islands next to Vancouver Island.
Opening times: (June 16 to Sept 4) departures at 9am and 2pm; (April 1 to June 15 & Sept 5 to Oct 31) 11am only.
Location: Vancouver Whale Watch, Suite 210 - 12240 Second Avenue, Richmond (Steveston). Shuttles from Downtown Vancouver are available for an extra $15.
Prices: Adults from $130, Children 4-12yrs from $80.
14. Hike Cypress Mountain
If you're just in town for a quick city break and can't get to Whistler, Cypress Mountain ski resort is half an hour's drive north of Vancouver in the North Shore Mountains. Not a snowsports fan? Not to worry: it's a year-round destination featuring rugged mountain trails ripe for hiking and mountain biking, and once you're up there, the scenery stretches out towards the Cascade Mountains to the southeast and the Georgia Strait to the west. Average temperatures of around 10°C make it a good place to get outdoors, whatever the season.
15. Find bears on Vancouver Island
Both black bears and grizzlies are native to these parts, and there are lots of ways to see them. Bear-watching boat tours leave from Tofino on the south-west coast of Vancouver Island, in search of black bears among the rock pools of Clayoquot Sound, or you can go DIY in Port Alberni, where you'll often find bears feasting on salmon near Victoria Quay between June and October. If grizzly bears are top of your list of things to see in Vancouver, there's a wildlife sanctuary on Grouse Mountain home to two grizzlies (accessed via the same Skyride you use to get to the Observatory). To catch them in the wild, head to Knight or Bute Inlet, two remote fjords in up-state British Columbia home to thriving populations of grizzlies. You can even book a luxury package with Knight Inlet Lodge, a remote floating retreat bang in the midst of grizzly territory at Glendale Cove. August is the best time to view bears here, as they stock up on food reserves before winter.
How to get to Vancouver
You'll need a connecting flight to get to Vancouver from UK regional airports like Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham, but there are direct BA and Air Canada flights from London Heathrow. Cheaper routes go from Gatwick via Calgary with Canada's low-cost airline, Westjet.
Vancouver has two airports, Vancouver International and Vancouver Coal Harbour, but you're likely to arrive at the former if coming from the UK. Vancouver International Airport is about a 20-minute drive south of Downtown Vancouver.
Tempted? Find flights to Vancouver with our search tool:
Where to stay in Vancouver
Taste the high life at Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver with its award-winning in-house restaurant and luxury touches like marble bathrooms (from £188 a night). Alternatively, Windsor Guest House is simple but cosy and very handy for Granville Island (from £83).
Budget rooms and dorm beds can be found at the good-value Hi Vancouver Central, which comes with a delicious all-you-can-eat breakfast of bagels and muffins (rooms from £59).
*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.
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