A diverse city backed by towering mountains, Vancouver is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. On the Strait of Georgia and spliced by False Creek, Vancouver, BC perfectly balances outdoor activities with many cultural highlights.
Downtown features museums, galleries, Canada Place, and the beautiful Stanley Park. It’s a happening city in its own right. But very few locations can lay claim to the sort of scenery Vancouver provides. Beyond the city are snow-capped peaks carved by years of slow-moving glaciers.
The Top Things to do in Vancouver, BC
The Coast Mountains which cut through British Columbia is awe-inspiring allowing visitors a wide spread of activities to enjoy. This comprehensive guide will help you uncover the best things to do in Vancouver.
At any time of year, visiting Grouse Mountain is one of the best things to do in Vancouver. The view from the top provides unmatched scenery, with epic vistas of the city skyline in the valley below. Check out all the activities to do on Grouse Mountain at Grouse Mountain – The Peak of Vancouver
Getting to the summit is simple thanks to the gondola that runs every day. After the scenic ride, hiking adventures await along with mountain top restaurants. The top hike to do in the park is the infamous Grouse Grind, often described as Mother Nature’s StairMaster. When the snow falls, Grouse Mountain becomes a winter paradise, with skiing, skating, and snowshoeing on offer. Because of ample beginner runs, it’s a magnificent spot for the family to go skiing.
Ready to explore Vancouver’s nature? Read up on the best hikes to do in Vancouver.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Having the moniker of Vancouver’s first tourist attraction may make visitors wonder if the site is outdated. Yet the city’s suspension bridge, which opened in 1889, continues to wow and thrill those that walk across to this day.
The 70m footbridge connects two sides of a deep canyon, with hiking trails and outdoor adventures waiting on the other side. The bridge sees a lot of visitors, so it’s one of those attractions that is well worth getting up early for.
Conveniently, you can catch a free shutting to the Capilano Suspension Bridge from downtown Vancouver. Once you’ve arrived, up the ante by experiencing the transparent Cliff Walk. Pick up this self-guided tour of the attraction that includes entry to the park.
Located on the peninsula, Stanley Park offers a natural escape just steps from downtown Vancouver. The edge of the park carves along the bay, providing excellent biking and a place for casual strolls. Beyond the water, you’ll find another top attraction on this list, the Vancouver Aquarium. While the park offers beautiful skyline and ocean views. Get on a bike to explore Stanely Park with this guided cycling tour.
Stanley Park is a great spot for an afternoon picnic with space for yard games. In the summer, the heated public pool is open, bringing excited families along for the afternoon. While in spring, colors burst through the landscape, including vibrant cherry trees.
- One of the best ways to see Vancouver and Stanely park is on a private tour. Book this highly-reviewed private tour to see Stanley Park, Granville Island, Gastown, Canada Place, and more on a four-hour excursion all to yourself.
Queen Elizabeth Park
From one park to another, Queen Elizabeth Park has a bit of everything. The center of the park known as Little Mountain is the highest point in the city and is a great place to go for a sunset or to see the snow-capped peaks to the north.
While Stanley Park is all about nature, Queen Elizabeth Park is fun-packed. Come here for mini and disk golf, tennis courts, and the Bloedel Conservatory. The latter featuring an illuminated geodesic dome. Also in the urban park is the Quarry Garden. The repurposed quarry comes with a spectacular entrance and is a wonderful place to walk on a clear day.
Vancouver is a fun city to explore, but beyond the city limits lies an incredible place to see migrating whales. Off the coastline of British Columbia, eager whale watchers keep their eyes peeled for gray and humpback whales.
The whale watching season begins in March as the temperatures begin to rise and last until October. You’ll discover plenty of ways to see these beautiful beasts, whether that be from a private dinghy, touring boat, or from above in a plane. Beyond whales, it’s common to spot orcas and minke on your journey.
Book this highly rated half-day whale watching tour from Vancouver. It offers easy cancellation within 24 hours of tour and last minute bookings.
Vancouver Art Gallery
In downtown Vancouver, the city’s prominent art gallery is one of the top art institutions in Canada. One of the best things to do in Vancouver is to sign up for a guided tour of the gallery.
On any day during the week, you can explore the innovative art space with the helping hand of an expert. Learn about the displays and the stories behind them. When you’re ready for a break, sit down at the on-site bistro patio before going out on your own. The Vancouver Art Gallery is next to Robson Square, a popular gathering place in the city center.
Many cities have wonderful stories of old warehouses reborn to become a top attraction. Vancouver’s version of this is Granville Island. The old industrial port in the city has been replaced by a thriving arts community and offers a point of difference to the rest of Vancouver.
Inside the warehouses, you’ll find art galleries featuring local artists, a boisterous dining scene along with independent theaters. But perhaps the most popular thing to do here is to explore the Granville Island Public Market. Come here for fresh produce and delicious treats. If you’re up for a pint, check out Granville Island Brewing Company.
Granville Island is technically not an island, so you can arrive via car or ferry.
Vandusen Botanical Garden
An oasis in the heart of the city, VanDusen Botanical Garden, is a sight to behold. All told, the garden covers a massive 55 acres with a worldwide plant selection that adds to over 7000 plants.
The quiet setting is the perfect way to relax and escape from the oft-chaotic downtown Vancouver. Keep your camera handy as you explore the colorful gardens, art sculptures, unique architecture, and even a beguiling waterfall.
There are multiple restaurants on-site that offer anything from a relaxing coffee to a scrumptious midday meal. If you’re in Vancouver during the winter, stop by for the annual Festival of Lights.
Looking for more things to do in British Columbia? Read these articles for travel inspiration
Vancouver Maritime Museum
Although offering splendid views on English Bay, the inside of the Vancouver Maritime Museum is what guests remember the most. One of the top things to do in Vancouver is to explore the historic museum, learning seagoing tales that date back centuries.
The museum offers a diverse range of perspectives and takes a look at prominent explorations in the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic Oceans. Inside the stunning A-frame building is the beautiful RCP Vessel St Roch. Jump behind the wheel and feel what it would be like to helm the historic boat.
Capilano Suspension Bridge may get all the plaudits, but it isn’t the only one of its kind in Vancouver. The Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is a local favorite, particularly as it avoids the tourist hordes and doesn’t cost a penny.
In the Lynn Valley, Lynn Canyon Park brings spectacular scenery that is sure to excite your inner-explorer. Several forest trails lead you to remote swimming holes and natural waterfalls. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon the bridge, which connects to the other side over 50 hair-raising meters.
Despite its name, Vancouver Island is two hours away from the city by ferry. Nevertheless, the trip is one of the best things to do in Vancouver. In a country of amazing beauty, there’s something breathtaking about Vancouver Island.
The two-hour journey features a ferry ride from the city and ends at the largest island on the Pacific Coast of North America. Such is the bevy of things to do, ideally, you’ll have some time to explore. But if you only have a day, then there are several tours around the island. Must-see spots include Victoria, the Pacific Rim National Park in Tofino (also great for surfing), and the impeccable Butchart Gardens. Speaking of road trips, read up on our itinerary for driving through BC’s Sunshine Coast.
Book this Vancouver to Victoria tour that includes a ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia and through the Gulf Island to Vancouver Island to explore the beautiful Butchart Gardens followed by a sightseeing tour of downtown Victoria.
Watch the Vancouver Canucks
We all know Canada to be a hockey-mad country, so why not lean into the excitement and venture off to a local game? The Vancouver Canucks play in the NHL, which runs from October to April, and the home team averages just under 20,000 to each game.
Playing out of Rogers Arena, grab yourself a foam finger and root for the home team. Whether you know much about hockey or not, the noise of the crowd is sure to get you involved. Once the game is over, downtown Vancouver will be at your disposal.
When traveling around Vancouver, there’s a chance you would have noticed the huge metal dome structure on False Creek. What you may not know, however, is that it’s home to one of the top things to do in Vancouver with kids.
The family-friendly Science World features 12 interactive exhibits designed to get you thinking about how the world works. Activities range from exploring motion, water, and the history of inventions.
The 12 exhibits are complemented by various touring exhibitions that have been a part of renowned museums and other science centers. Once you’re all done exploring, kick back and watch a show on the massive five-story domed screen. The largest of its kind on earth.
Not to be confused with a classic ocean-going vessel, Canada Place is a permanent structure and the arrival point for many cruise ships. Beyond being a terminal, Canada Place is also a hotel and the Vancouver Convention Center. But that’s not why it’s on the list.
The pier rolls way out into the harbor, providing travelers and locals with wonderful views of the mountains in the distance and the picturesque bay. Also at the end of the pier is Flyover Canada. Jump in the flight simulator and explore the country from above. Most Alaska cruises depart or end in Vancouver. One of our Alaskan cruises ended here. Check out our cruise experience.
After passing through the impressive Millenium Gate, you’ve officially arrived in Vancouver’s bustling Chinatown. This part of the city mixes modern development with many historic buildings from the Vancouver’s early years. Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America and is a top spot for cheap eats. The iconic Dim Sum at Floata Seafood Restaurant is a must-eat on any visit.
After eating a tad too much, explore the interesting local shops before making your way to Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Created via traditional methods, with manicured gardens and beautiful streams, the gardens are a nod to the Ming Dynasty.
Museum of Anthropology
Much of your time in Vancouver will be spent admiring the scenery that envelopes the city. It’s everywhere you turn. But to understand Vancouver on a deeper level, then one must visit the Museum of Anthropology.
The museum is a section of the University of British Columbia and has a keen focus on the Northwest Coast First Nations. Explore native art, large totem poles, and mosaics.
Beyond local human history, the museum looks toward the South Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe. It all comes together inside an old World War II fort transformed into a cultural highlight.
As the city’s oldest district, Gastown is a must-visit on your travels to Vancouver. Gastown developed on the back of legendary John Deighton. The man was a griot, a throwback to past storytellers, and quickly gained the nickname Gassy Jack. A statue of Deighton can now be found in Maple Tree Square.
Gastown offers an immense number of quality restaurants, interesting galleries and local boutiques. All placed within Victorian-era buildings.
Just a brief walk from Canada Place, Gastown is lined with cobblestone streets lit by classic lampposts. It’s a journey back in time, especially when the fog rolls in and the lamps shine through the clouds.
One way to soak up the sun when in Vancouver is with a trip to Kitsilano Beach. The local favorite is a land-back location with dazzling city and mountain views. The spacious beach is popular on summer days when locals come to bake on the soft sands or have fun on the volleyball courts.
Jumping in the water isn’t so popular, but you’ll soon discover a heated outdoor pool. Once you’re done having a dip, dry off and enjoy the several walking trails through the green space, or kick back at a local cafe. You’ll also find yourself minutes from shopping on West Fourth Avenue.
Close to Stanley Park, English Bay is another popular beachfront that brings the crowds on sunny days. As a part of Vancouver’s West End, English Bay plays host to the Celebration of Light.
The annual festival, held in July, sees eye-popping fireworks light up the sky and live music. But on any regular day you’ll find residents relaxing under the gigantic trees, rollerblading or taking in the many public art exhibits. Like Kitsilano Beach, it’s not common to swim at English Bay. But that doesn’t stop those braving the frigid waters for the Polar Bear Swim, held on New Year’s Day.
South of downtown Vancouver, Richmond is home to Vancouver’s other Chinatown. Walking around the trendy neighborhood will bring you to several authentic Chinese restaurants ready to entertain your taste buds.
But Richmond isn’t just about food. You’ll find a beautiful Buddhist temple and discover the small village of Steveston. The beautiful area of Richmond is home to a National History Site, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. The old boat sheds were once a part of the west coast’s historic fishing industry. But are now filled with waterfront restaurants and boutiques.
If you’re wondering what to do in Vancouver at night, then make your way to the Richmond Night Market. The vibrant market is full of interesting stalls selling souvenirs and art. Naturally, it’s another great place to try some Chinese street eats at the many food stalls.
Sea-to-Sky Scenic Drive
If you want to get out of the bustle of Vancouver, why not complete one of the best scenic drives in Canada? The Sea-to-Sky road is a 90 minute journey beginning in downtown and ending at the famous town of Whistler.
The road trip is packed with highlights, with stunning vistas throughout. Pass waterfalls, sprawling lakes and snow-capped peaks. Have your camera on full charge, because you never know what’s around the corner.
Want to know more about the epic drive? Read our guide to the Sea-to-Sky.
By now you may have some appreciation for the spectacular landscape that flanks Vancouver. But from ground level it’s hard to understand the sheer scale of the local mountain ranges.
One way to experience the dramatic surroundings is from the sky. Head to the heavens and look down on British Columbia. See rugged glacial mountains, far-off oceans, and Vancouver’s top sites. These can include Vancouver’s North Shore, Grouse Mountain, and False Creek cutting through downtown. The unforgettable experience will see you land on the harborfront, ready to tackle more top attractions.
Want another way to explore Canada’s amazing scenery? Check out our guide on the iconic Rocky Mountaineer.
Wonder what to do in Vancouver with kids? The Vancouver Aquarium has everything you need to keep the young ones occupied. The aquarium is home to a wide range of marine life and is one of the largest of its kind in North America.
The Vancouver Aquarium is in Stanley Park. Come here for sharks, belugas, sea lions and African penguins. There are over 20 shows to enjoy and along with the Graham Amazon Gallery, you’ll have a hard time picking what to see next.
Museum of Vancouver
If you can’t get enough of local history, then be sure to pay a visit to the Museum of Vancouver. Dedicated to all things “Couve”, explore the city’s history from the very start.
Begin with the Coast Salish communities that first settled on the north Pacific Coast. Later, move on to the development of Japantown, the fascinating Kitsilano hippie days before learning about Vancouver’s 20th century evolution.
Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Aside from Grouse Mountain, there are many epic ski resorts within a short drive from Vancouver. Spend the day on the trails at Cypress Mountain, Mt. Seymour or even the iconic Whistler Blackcomb. Whistler is just 120 km (75 miles from Vancouver and Cypress, Seymore and Grouse are all around 30 minutes from downtown. Read more at our Whistler Snowboarding Adventure
Because of its unique geographical position, Vancouver sees a lot of rain. The upside is incredible powder and world-class skiing. If you have an extra day on your itinerary and the lifts are running, then do yourself a favor and go shred.
Lonsdale Quay Market
Starting from the Waterfront Station, enjoy a ride on the Seabus, Vancouver’s passenger-only ferry to Lonsdale Quay. This is where visitors will uncover the waterfront of Lonsdale Quay Market.
With over 90 shops and food vendors on-site, the market is a happening place and full of possibilities. There are specialty food shops and a fresh food market, perfect for loading up the picnic basket. The public market also has play areas and kid shops. Couples will love the wire fence with spectacular views of Vancouver, with hundreds of love locks in place.
What to Know
Now that your itinerary is full of the best things to do in Vancouver, let’s explore all you need to know to enjoy the city!
Getting to Downtown Vancouver
We always rent a car and find it is the best way to get around Vancouver. You can shop for car rentals from the Vancouver Airport at RentalCars.com
The main arrival point for Vancouver is the Vancouver International Airport. The airport is roughly nine miles from downtown and the easiest way to get there is via the Airport SkyTrain. The trip takes 25 minutes to complete and begins just after 5 am and ends at 1 am. A ticket costs 9 CAD (approx $7 USD) one way unless you have a pre-purchased pass, which reduces the price to $5 ( about $3.50 USD).
Taxis are another popular option with rides taking around 30 minutes, depending on the location of your hotel. Expect to pay between $25 – $30 CAT ($20 – $25 USD)
Best Time to Visit Vancouver, British Columbia
Unless you’ve come to Vancouver to tear up the slopes, then spring, summer, and early autumn are the best times to visit Vancouver. Vancouver is notorious for rain, and summer is the best time to avoid getting wet. Festivals are happening and spots like Stanley Park pack out with locals. Autumn is an excellent time to visit Vancouver for fall colours, the temperature is still quite pleasant and there are many fall adventure sto be had.
The spring sees the local environment come to life as wildflowers paint the landscape. This time of year is also less crowded and you’ll find it easier to explore the best attractions in Vancouver.
Where to Stay in Vancouver
It may be tempting to stay in Richmond or in North Vancouver, but to experience the best of Vancouver, it’s recommended that you stay downtown. From your doorstep, you’ll be within walking distance of many highlights from English Bay to Gastown.
Here are some top choices to suit all budgets:
- Budget: With a highly rated location, you won’t have to spend much at the Samesun Vancouver to enjoy a quick stroll to Robson Street, Stanley Park and the best of downtown. Check out rates and availability on TripAdvisor/ Booking.com
- Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver is one of Vancouver’s premier hotels in the heart of downtown. It is elegant and has that old world charm of the grand hotels across the country like Toronto’s Royal York. Check out rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
- The Opus Vancouver is an excellent boutique hotel located in Yaletown that is within walking distance of everything. Plus there are great options for dining and nightlife close by and its just a short walk to the waterfront. Check out rates and availability on TripAdvisor / Booking.com