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Get ready for orcas and more in vivacious Vancouver
Photograph: / Shutterstock.comThe aluminium sculpture Digital Orca of a Orca whale by the artist Douglas Coupland, installed next to Convention Centre in Vancouver.

The 21 best things to do in Vancouver

The best things do in Vancouver are all about the magic of the natural world, with stunning mountains all around

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
Johanna Read

Here we go, the time for beating around the bush is done. These are the best things to do in Vancouver, the very best that one of the world’s most liveable cities has to offer. Canada’s western metropolis ticks box after box, the end result of a form of urban architecture built on the foundations of town. Vancouver’s best attractions are informed by its history as much as its future, with futuristic museums nestled next to iconic districts and mountains as far as the eye can see. Parks, beaches, restaurants, bars, spas, the list goes on and on, but that’s just what we’ve come to expect from Vancouver. 

Best things to do in Vancouver

What is it: This must-see park is a whopping 1,000 acres and contains beaches, an aquarium, playgrounds, a pool and splash park, botanical gardens, a golf course, 17 tennis courts, and much more.

Why go: With all the park has to offer, you could easily spend a day within its perimeter. Try biking the exterior Seawall or venture inside to get lost amongst ferns and centuries-old cedars on 40 miles of trails. Keep an eye out for beavers, raccoons, great blue herons, bald eagles, coyotes, and sometimes even whales. In the fall, ride the popular Ghost Train for a spooky Halloween experience.

What is it: Overhauled in the 70s, this former waterfront industrial site (technically a peninsula rather than an island) is home to a public market, food shops, restaurants, artist studios and galleries, shopping and inviting green space.

Why go: Take a cute little Aquabus to spend an afternoon on the island. The vast public market features everything from confections to cheeses to bread to meats. Pick up a few items and picnic next to False Creek, or indulge in the market’s food court, filled with delicious local eats and treats.


What is it: Known as the Peak of Vancouver, locals and tourists flock to this mountain for outdoor activities whatever the season.

Why go: From hiking and ziplining in the summer to ice skating and snowshoeing in the winter—plus lumberjack shows and grizzly bear visits in between—Grouse Mountain is a year-round destination. Up for a challenge? Try the Grouse Grind, a 1.8-mile trail featuring 2,830 stairs that takes you 2,800 feet up the mountain. Or just take the gondola up for amazing views of the city and the ocean.

What is it: This nearly 2,500-square-foot gallery space features art, jewelry, and other handmade crafts from more than 40 artists from Vancouver and around British Columbia.

Why go: Browse talented local artists and bring home a unique souvenir. You’ll find paintings, ceramics, jewelry, woodcarving, fiber arts, and products like handmade candles and teas. The colourful space is packed with art for every taste and budget. Artists change regularly, so it’s worth visiting again and again.


What is it: This tranquil garden at the edge of Chinatown is the first Chinese garden or “scholars garden” built outside of China.

Why go: Designed and built by specialists from Suzhou (where the Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s gardens that inspired this one are located) using rare trees, prized rocks, and the principles of balance and harmony, the Chinese Garden is an oasis of tranquillity. Stroll the free park, then enter the gardens by paid admission. Learn the symbolism behind the placement of each plant, structure, and path, or just enjoy the peace, quiet, and beauty.

What is it: Open weekends and holiday evenings from May to October, this is the largest night market in North America.

Why go: The Richmond Night Market will give you a taste of Asia’s famed night markets. Sample foods like grilled squid, pho fries, gyozas, roti mac and cheese and nitrogen ice cream at the food stalls, then shop for gifts and accessories at the retail stalls. There are games, live music and entertainment, and always great people-watching.


What is it: British Columbia has a wealth of marine life, including orcas, humpbacks, seals, dolphins, and more. A conservation-minded whale watch tour, like Vancouver Whale Watch, offers an up-close look at the stunning creatures and an educational experience.

Why go: Learn about whale biology and migration, marine conservation, and more as you witness the beauty of Vancouver’s waters.

What is it: Located on the traditional territory of the Musqueam people, the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) features art by indigenous peoples from Canada and around the world.

Why go: One of Canada’s largest teaching museums, MOA is home to hundreds of thousands of ethnographic objects, artifacts and works of art, including textiles, ceramics, massive totem poles, masks, and more. The iconic building was designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson.


What is it: This popular food truck serves indigenous cuisine using fresh, local ingredients and traditional cooking methods like smoking and stone baking.

Why go: British Columbia’s First Nations people know all about the richness and nutrition of the land and sea and how to harvest products sustainably. Mr. Bannock is named after the traditional unleavened bread, which is served alongside salmon, wild meats, juniper berries and local mushrooms.

What is it: Home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team (that Stanley Cup has to come eventually, surely), Rogers Arena hosts major concerts and events throughout the year.

Why go: During hockey season, checking out a Canucks game is a must. Canadians love hockey, and Vancouver adores their Canucks, no matter how wonderful or frustrating they may be. Catch the spirit from October to April, May or June, depending on how the team’s doing.


What is it: The original downtown core of Vancouver, Gastown is now a vibrant, trendy neighbourhood with unique shopping, dining, art galleries, and more.

Why go: Densely-packed but stylish, you’ll find cobblestone streets and beautifully refurbished buildings. After browsing the boutiques and galleries, grab a cocktail or dinner and make it a night out. This is also where you'll find the famous Gastown Steam Clock, one of only a few working steam clocks in the world. Every quarter-hour, the clock shoots steam from its five whistles, and on the hour, it gives off a toot from each whistle.

What is it: Open throughout the year, this ten-minute gondola ride takes you up almost 2,800 feet past Shannon Falls.

Why go: Drive the stunning Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish and gaze out the gondola window for even more spectacular views of Howe Sound and the mountains surrounding Vancouver. Hike the trails, try the Via Ferrata, cross the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, dine at the Summit Lodge and, during the winter, ski the backcountry.


What is it: Capilano Suspension Bridge is 230 feet high and 450 feet across the Capilano River through the temperate rainforest on Vancouver’s North Shore.

Why go: Test your mettle as you walk the bridge and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the rainforest. The park also features a cliff walk, nature tours, a treetop adventure, and a Living Forest exhibit.

What is it: Stretching along for 4.8 miles, Wreck Beach is impressive in both size and beauty. It’s also North America’s largest naturist (i.e. clothing optional) beach.

Why go: One of Vancouver’s best beaches, the views here are spectacular. There’s also a real sense of community, as represented by the active Wreck Beach Preservation Society. Keep an eye out for events like Skinny Dip Day, Bare Buns Run, and spa/pool nights.


What is it: The 17.5-mile paved pathway starts at the Vancouver Convention Centre and then winds around Stanley Park to English Bay, False Creek, Olympic Village, Granville Island, Kitsilano Beach and the beaches of Spanish Banks.

Why go: The 5.5-mile section in Stanley Park is the most popular, but tackling the whole seawall will give you an excellent (and active) tour of Vancouver. It’s the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path, and you’ll see mountains, sculptures, the skyline, and beaches.

What is it: A Stanley Park highlight, the aquarium focuses on sustainability and conservation. The staff rescues marine animals and aims to educate the public in everything they do. The Vancouver Aquarium originated the Ocean Wise sustainable seafood and ocean protection initiative.

Why go: Giggle at the antics of the otters and penguins, zen out watching the jellyfish and gain a greater appreciation of the importance of protecting the world’s oceans.


What is it: Located in the West End of the city, English Bay is a bustling neighbourhood of beaches, shopping, and dining and is host to annual events like the Celebration of Light fireworks competition and the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim.

Why go: In the summer, English Bay Beach draws throngs for sunbathing and swimming. But the whole neighbourhood is a top destination year-round for shopping, dining, waterfront strolling, beautiful scenery, and art (don’t miss the Laughing Man statues or the Inukshuk monument). Head to Sunset Beach for, you guessed it, beautiful sunset views.

What is it: Packed with towering trees and other perennials, these botanical gardens are a great spot to unwind or take a few nature selfies.

Why go: VanDusen Botanical Garden is 55 acres of green and splashes of colour, with 7,500 plant species from all over the world. There is a picturesque lake and a hedge maze made from 3,000 cedars.


What is it: If you’d rather not hit the beach in your birthday suit, Jericho Beach offers a more typical waterside experience.

Why go: With its calm surf, Jericho is a top spot for watersports like kayaking, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and sailing. Equipment is available for rent, and lessons and tours are offered for a good bit of the year.

False Creek
Photograph: Flickr/eyesplash

20. False Creek

What is it: This short inlet cuts through the heart of Vancouver, separating Downtown from the rest of the city. It is popular for walking and boating activities.

Why go: There are three waterfront walks along False Creek—North, South, and Olympic Village. Walkthrough reinvigorated industrial areas and the neighbourhood revitalized by the 2010 Olympics. For watersports lovers, False Creek is a prime spot to rent a kayak to paddle past the likes of Yaletown and Granville Island, stopping for a drink or a bite along the way.

Pam Rocks
Photograph: Flickr/Elaine

21. Pam Rocks

What is it: The curious seals in the colony at Pam Rocks in Howe Sound often interrupt their sunny snoozes to dive in and swim over to see what the kayakers and snorkelers are doing.

Why go: Enjoy a day on the water, learn about protecting Vancouver’s marine environment, see the seals and maybe catch a glimpse of some bald eagles and other wildlife too.

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