20 great things to do in Vancouver

Walk Stanley Park, scale Grouse Mountain, then sup a perfect cocktail

20 great things to do in Vancouver Grouse Mountain Skyride - © Alys Tomlinson/Time Out
By Time Out editors. Compiled by Sulakshana Gupta and Anna Leach

1. Experience island life

Stroll through the lively market, browse boutiques or picnic with the pigeons on Granville Island, one of the most popular spots in Vancouver. Beyond the market, there are enough boutiques, restaurants and little galleries to make winding through the picturesque lanes worthwhile. This is the place to pick up delicious good like fine charcuterie or wine-soaked cherries. If all that strolling and winding has left you in need of organic Fairtrade coffee, you can find it in friendly little Agro Café at 1363 Railspur Avenue.

See all markets in Vancouver

2. Challenge the Grouse Grind

Locally known as 'Mother Nature's Stairmaster', the Grouse Mountain Grind path is built largely of big wooden steps. The track takes you 850m up the mountain and is a difficult and strenuous climb – but can be thrilling if you're into heart attack defying hikes. A hundred thousand people try it every year, making Grouse the most hiked mountain in world. There's an easier way to get up too, the Skyride: a giant airborne gondola that departs every 15 minutes.

3. Arm yourself with chopsticks

Thanks to its large Asian population, Vancouver is home to some of the best and cheapest sushi in North America. Freshly shucked oysters, award-winning sushi and simply prepared seafood can be found in the Blue Water Café & Raw Bar. For a more traditional Japanese experience, try out the freshly prepared rolls and sashimi at Okada Sushi, or pick out a lobster from the live tub. Depending how cheap you want to go, there are sushi deals advertised all over the downtown area.

See all fish & seafood restaurants in Vancouver

4. Grin and bare it

Canada's only and infamous nudist beach, Wreck Beach, offers a panoramic view of the ocean and distant San Juan Islands, half a mile of sandy shore on which to bare your bunnies, a backdrop of coniferous forest, and the occasional eagle to remind you that you're at the edge of wilderness. With a family area, a hippie-tastic party zone and a gay area it caters to nudists of most persuasions, though half a million visitors make the pilgrimage every year, so don't expect privacy on a hot summer's day.

Read more about Vancouver's beaches in our Vancouver area guide

5. Hike around Stanley Park

Stanley Park has been called the soul of the city and the envy of the world. Cross it on a horse-drawn carriage if you're lazy, but better, just wander on foot, though be warned, at 400 hectares (1,000 acres) it's slightly bigger than New York's Central Park, making it the largest urban park in North America. Because it's almost an island, Stanley Park is wrapped with a sea wall that offers nine kilometres (five miles) of spectacular waterfront views.

See all parks & gardens in Vancouver

6. Brunch like the locals

Settle down to a brunch Vancouver-style at Pan Pacific, where the lengthy multi-course blow-out buffet is accompanied by champagne. Other hotels offer similar fare, and excellent, though less opulent breakfasts can be had all over town. Try the Templeton for free range eggs, organic sausages, and the signature rosemary roasted potatoes.

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7. Get your snow shoes on

With the first dusting of snow on the local mountains, Vancouverites eagerly look north and assess their skiing options: the three areas within easy reach – Cypress, Grouse and Seymour – are within a mere half an hour of downtown. All provide terrain for skiing, boarding and snowshoeing (simple and growing in popularity). Thanks to great floodlights, the runs are open until around 10pm seven days a week during the main season. Views of the city are fantastic.

See all winter sport venues in Vancouver

8. Relish the rain

It rains buckets in Vancouver but don't let that put a damper on your plans. Simply re-route to the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden with its covered walkways and pavilions rimmed with hand-made drip tiles. In a downpour, roof water flows from the drip tiles like a crystal bead curtain. Ming Dynasty scholars recommended listening to the symphony of water hitting the pebbled courtyard, smooth rocks and pond water.

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9. Break for traditional afternoon tea

It's a former British colony, and tea runs in the blood of the locals. Rest your weary legs at the Sutton Place Hotel, where you can choose between an English and a Japanese service. Or wash down éclairs with a glass of bubbly at Bacchus. It's the perfect place to let the afternoon drift seamlessly into cocktail hour.

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10. Bum out on the beach

Slip into your beachwear and climb aboard the Blue Bus system, which runs from downtown along Marine Drive. To admire the local body beautiful brigade get off at Kits beach, where you'll find them playing volleyball or sunning their toned legs. If you prefer to park yourself close to the downtown bars, then lay out your blanket on English Bay and grab a pina colada.

Read more about Vancouver's beaches in our Vancouver area guide

11. Sign up for an escort service

Vancouver is not a big city but the attractions are spread out. For tours with a twist try the North Van Green tour (www.northvangreentours.com) – the vehicles run on vegetable oil and plunge deep into the city's surrounding natural beauty spots such as Seymour Mountain Forest. Or get close to the harbour's resident seal pod with a boat tour from Sewell's Marina Sea Safari (604 921 3474, www.sewellsmarina.com), which also affords some great views of the city.

12. Go on a flower power trip

Downtown may have Stanley Park on the doorstop, but the West Side boasts the highest concentration of spectacular public gardens in Canada. The VanDusen Botanical Gardens is rated one of the best in the world, and its rhododendron walk and Sino-Himalayan garden are stand-outs. Tucked amidst the hillocks and pocket lakes there's an Elizabethan maze and a rose garden.

See all parks & gardens in Vancouver

13. Get the local look in Gastown

The once-seedy neighbourhood – named after 'Gassy' Jack Deighton, the British seaman who opened the first saloon here – has undergone a retail renaissance, with an array of pretty, independent boutiques now peddling a mix of clothing and decor by local and international designers.

See all shops in Vancouver

14. Go on a liquid diet in Yaletown

Knock back southern hemisphere cocktails in the George Ultralounge, a room lit by a glowing glass sea anemone and filled with Vancouver's Pretty Young Things. The George is Vancouver's best incarnation of a smart London bar and one of a line of martini bars and clubs that now flourish along Yaletown's waterfront.

See all bars & pubs in Vancouver

15. Hunt for fashion one-offs in SoMa

A few antiques stores continue to ply their wares here but design-forward boutiques are busily taking over on South Main, SoMa as it's locally known, now branded the city's fashion district. The chunk between 19th and 23rd Avenues is best for local independent fashion and Canadian chic.

See all designer fashion shops in Vancouver

16. Have a gallery day

The Catriona Jeffries Gallery is the only commercial art space worth visiting in Canada, according to dealers. It sits in splendid isolation on the eastern side of Vancouver. Once inside, it's easy to see what the hype is about. The list of artists reads like a 'Who's Who?' of the local scene and visits from the world's most important art curators are common.

See all art galleries & museums in Vancouver

17. Try on some odd shoes

The home-grown shoe retailer John Fluevog, known for quirky designs and splashes of colour, is a tourist attraction in its own right. The massive modern store is a glassed-in space between two heritage buildings and is now home to some of the funkiest footwear you'll ever have the pleasure of standing on.

18. Use your noodles in Chinatown

Outside China and Hong Kong, Vancouver probably has the finest Chinese food in the world. Cantonese cuisine, with its emphasis on clean flavours and fresh ingredients, is the dominant culinary style and Dim sum lunches are favoured for variety and family-friendliness. The Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant hosts a famous crab festival, Afterwards, explore the sights of Chinatown and in summer try to catch the Friday Chinatown Night Market.

See all Chinese restaurants in Vancouver

19. Dance the night away

It’s an underground and cyber world out there and no one seems to know it more than DJs and club kids. The best dance happenings don’t take place in clubs and they’re not promoted in mainstream media – you have to be ‘on the list’ to find out about them. But the most exciting roving-venue dance producers on the planet might just be the city’s Lighta! Sound crew – and most of their dub, jungle, grime events are posted at www.myspace.com/lightasound.

That said, Vancouver’s dance club scene is well worth a look; this is where house heavyweights Luke McKeehan and Tyler Stadius earned their international reputations and some of the city’s top talents take weekly residencies. Vancouver also regularly attracts touring DJs; the most popular take over the Commodore Ballroom or pack out the Plaza.

See all clubs in Vancouver

20. Style up on Robson Street

Flagship stores of international brands line the city's premiere shopping street. Walk around if you want to window shop, blow out your wallet or just stare at Van's most stylish people. If you're after something higher-end than the likes of Zara and Gap, take a turn north on Burrard and walk a couple of blocks to Alberni. 'Affluent Alley', as this strip is dubbed, is where Hermès, Agent Provocateur, Tiffany & Co and the like reside, the new upmarket Holt Renfrew store.

See all fashion shops and fashion accessories shops in Vancouver

Our listings

While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.

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