Things to Do in Vancouver
Vancouver’s Stanley Park enjoys a stellar natural setting, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and laid out against the backdrop of the snow-capped North Shore Mountains. At nearly 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in size, it’s a mix of coastal red-cedar forest, lakes and lagoons, and scenic meadows. A walk along the public park’s seawall is an essential part of experiencing Vancouver.
Get your fill of Vancouver's famous natural landscapes at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a quintessential British Columbia experience and one of the Pacific Northwest's most popular attractions. Travelers are drawn to the park to walk out onto the the 450-foot (137-meter) suspension bridge as it sways between the temperate rain forest trees over the rushing Capilano River below. Other highlights include kid-friendly guided nature walks; several First Nations totem poles; the 700-foot-long (213-meter) Cliffwalk; and the TreeTops Adventure, a swinging network of smaller, open-ended suspension bridges strung between eight towering Douglas fir trees.
Situated between Kistilano and Stanley Park, English Bay is one of Vancouver’s best spots for water sports, such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Two popular beaches—Kitsilano Beach and English Bay—face out onto the bay, as does part of the Stanley Park seawall, a waterside promenade used by cyclists and walkers.
Surrounded by water on three sides, downtown Vancouver is the place to go for sea views, bright lights, and action. The city’s commercial core, it encompasses several distinct areas including shop-lined Robson Street, the green expanse of Stanley Park, historic Gastown, and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America.
One of Vancouver’s oldest and buzziest districts, Gastown is packed with Victorian architecture and cobbled streets. Named after John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, an English mariner who opened a saloon in the area in the 19th century, the district is filled with heritage buildings now hosting boutiques, coffee shops, hip restaurants, and bars.
Overflowing with art studios, theaters, restaurants, and kid-friendly activities, Vancouver’s Granville Island is a popular spot for both tourists and locals. The “island”—really a small peninsula—is an ideal getaway from the bustle of city life, with waterfront views, scenic alleyways, and a thriving food and art culture.
Opened in 1986, Canada Place is hard to miss: The complex was built to look like a ship, and its five large fiberglass “sails” are visible above the Vancouver waterfront. This is the city’s main cruise ship terminal, and the complex is also home to a convention center, a hotel, and FlyOver Canada, a flight-simulation ride.
The impressive Lions Gate Bridge spans the Burrard Inlet, connecting North and West Vancouver with the downtown area. This suspension bridge originally opened in 1938, and is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. At the bridge’s south end is leafy Stanley Park, another major attraction in Vancouver.
Perched 545 feet (167 meters) above sea level, this well-kept park affords wonderful views over downtown Vancouver. A sunken quarry garden, a 1,500-tree arboretum, a rose garden, floral displays, and public artworks make this 128-acre (52-hectare) recreational space one of the most pleasing outdoor hangouts in the city.
An inlet dividing downtown Vancouver from the rest of the city, False Creek borders some of Vancouver’s busiest shoreside neighborhoods, from chic Yaletown to Granville Island. The inlet hums with the activity of ferries, kayaks, and other boats, while the water’s edge is lined with scenic paths.
More Things to Do in Vancouver
The summit of Grouse Mountain features some of the best views in all of British Columbia—from Vancouver’s downtown towers to the green expanse of Stanley Park and the entirety of Fraser Valley. Visitors can ride the Skyride aerial tram or hike up to the 3,642-foot (1,110-meter) peak for panoramic vistas and a variety of outdoor activities.
Established in the 1890s by migrant workers, this Vancouver neighborhood is now among the biggest and most vibrant Chinatowns in North America. It’s packed with Asian grocers, Chinese herbalists, dim sum restaurants, trinket stores, and meat shops filled with tempting displays of hanging char siu and roast ducks.
Pedestrian-friendly Yaletown is Vancouver’s "little SoHo", a former red-brick rail terminal turned into a warehouse district lined with swanky New York-style lofts and chichi boutiques. The focal point of the modern-day yuppie enclave exudes a hip and inviting atmosphere - especially at night, when its sophisticated drink and dine spots are packed to the rafters with the city’s beautiful people checking each other out.
Walking along Yaletown streets provides a bounty of attractions. The neighborhood has plenty of pricey boutiques to window shops, art galleries to linger in, and lots of places to stop for lunch, coffee or a splurge-worth dinner. Some of the best seafood restaurants are here, as is Yaletown Brewing Company, where you can sample its home-brewed beer.
If you’re curious about the area’s almost-forgotten rough-and-ready past, follow the old rail lines embedded in many of the streets and amble over to the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. You’ll find a mothballed steam train that recalls the area’s original raison d’etre.
Locals and visitors alike flock to Robson Street for shopping, dining, and people watching. It’s the biggest retail street in the city with department stores, chain stores, and high-end shops, plus a variety of eateries, all located near downtown Vancouver’s attractions and waterfront.
During the 10-minute ride to the 2,900-foot (884-meter) summit station, passengers of the Sea to Sky Gondola are treated to sweeping views of some of British Columbia’s most epic landscapes. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the gondola cars reveal the sky-piercing peaks of the Coast Mountains and the glittering fjords of Howe Sound.
Known locally as Kits Beach, this broad stretch of sand is a popular summer hangout and brims with joggers, tanners, and families. Views of downtown Vancouver skyscrapers, the Burrard Inlet, and the North Shore Mountains are a big draw, as is Kitsilano Pool, a huge heated outdoor saltwater pool that spans 451 feet (137 meters) in length.
Perched atop a downtown high-rise, this circular observation platform yields panoramic views of glassy skyscrapers, Vancouver Harbour, and the magnificent peaks of the North Shore and Olympic ranges. A glass-enclosed elevator zooms up to the platform so that street scenes seem to shrink before visitors’ very eyes.
Originally built to host the athletes who stayed in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, this waterfront development offers views of the city. Stroll or bike the False Creek Seawall, seeThe Birds sculptures at Olympic Village Square, and dine and people-watch at the area’s restaurants and bars.
Set at the eastern edge of False Creek, Science World’s geodesic dome—originally built for Expo 86—is an icon of the Vancouver cityscape. Experience its wide range of curiosity-igniting exhibits that cover topics ranging from the human body to sustainability, as well as an OMNIMAX® dome movie theater and live science demonstrations.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, in Vancouver’s Chinatown, was the first “scholar’s” garden built outside of China in the Ming Dynasty tradition. This cultural and natural oasis offers a serene break from Vancouver’s hustle and bustle, and the nonprofit organization was named the one of top 10 city gardens in the world by National Geographic.
One of the highlights on a visit to bucolic Stanley Park, as well as Vancouver itself, is a walk or bike ride along the famous Seawall Promenade. The 9km/5.5mi stone wall hugs the waterside edge, following the entire perimeter of Stanley Park and beyond, offering cyclists, pedestrians, joggers, and inline skaters scenic vistas of forest, sea, and sky.
Starting from Coal Harbour, it winds eastward toward Brockton Point, then curves northwest along the Burrard Inlet, with views of the North Shore mountains across the water. Spaced at regular intervals along the walk are information panels that go into various aspects of Vancouver’s past. It’s education, exercise and eye-candy at the same time. After you pass Lions Gate Bridge, snake down the west side of the park, a perfect spot to watch the sun sink into the Pacific.
After circling the park, the Seawall Promenade continues along Sunset Beach, on the southeast side of downtown, around False Creek, past the Burrard Street Bridge, through Vanier Park, and finishing off at Kitsilano Beach Park.
Vancouver Aquarium is one of the city’s most popular family-friendly attractions, with many visitors coming as part of a day out in Stanley Park. More than 50,000 living creatures—from sharks to sea otters to sea stars—dart, dive, and splash around the nonprofit aquarium, the largest in Canada. As well as marine life exhibits, the aquarium also stages shows, feedings, animal encounters, and trainer talks.
Located in Jack Poole Plaza in front of the Vancouver Convention Center, the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron was built to commemorate the city's 2010 hosting of the Winter Olympic Games. The 33-foot-tall cauldron was constructed with steel and glass and was first lit as the Olympic torch made it's final run on the relay to B.C. Place Stadium for the opening ceremony of the games. Across the plaza from the cauldron is the Vancouver Convention Center, which was host to the media during the Winter Games and a key cog to the operations of the event. It's a fitting placement to commemorate the amount of work put into the event by the city of Vancouver.
Today, the cauldron, which is back-dropped by stunning view of mountains and sea, has become a tourist destination in the heart of downtown Vancouver. However, the cauldron is only lit on days of special importance such as Remembrance Day or Canada Day. Understandably so, as it is estimated that the operating cost of the cauldron is about $5,000 every 4 hours. Although during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the cauldron was also set alight on days that Canadian athletes claimed a gold medal.
Meandering paths weave through this tranquil green retreat in the heart of Vancouver, where more than 7,500 plant varieties grow in themed displays, ranging from a Canadian heritage garden and a Japanese garden to a formal rose garden. Wildlife species, including blue herons, ducks, and turtles, live within the garden limits.