Vancouver is a really fantastic city that is truly beautiful. It’s a rare combination of a bustling metropolitan core with fantastic outdoor excursions and activities that are super close to the city. The views from the city are something special with the mountains as the city’s backdrop and the ocean surrounding Vancouver Island and the surrounding areas. It is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Similar to Toronto and you can see our review of the top 20 things to do in Toronto here, Vancouver is an extremely multi-cultural city so there is always something unique and fun to do. From the great food scene to the outdoor activities there is always something going on. This list is an overview of the top 20 things to do in Vancouver.
1. Avail of an afternoon or late-night happy hour
Vancouver has a great nightlife and social scene and it a very affordable to eat and drink out in the city. This is epitomized by Happy hour culture. Happy hour in Vancouver generally applies to both drinks and food and there are some serious deals to be had. The happy hours typically run between 3-6 pm and offer a range of deals on drinks and food. At the moment according to the “Ultimate Happy Hours” website, there are over 100 different places that are running happy hours throughout the city.
Some bars and restaurants also offer an additional late-night happy hour that typically runs from 9 pm – 11 pm. There are a number of websites and apps that detail the happy hours on offer and the menu items that are on special so be sure to check them out. We suggest using Ultimate Happy Hours as their information is regularly updated.
2. Take a cycle around Stanley Park
This is the most popular thing to do when in Vancouver according to Tripadvisor users and we wholeheartedly agree. Stanley Park is stunning and is located directly in the city. It’s North America’s 3rd largest park and you can get great views of the city skyline and the surrounding areas from the park. There are also loads of activities that can be done in the park from exploring the beauty of the forest to taking in a round of pitch and putt. The park has a huge amount on offer.
Renting a bike is definitely the best way to get around the park. There is a cycling track that goes around the edge of the peninsula park known as the Sea wall, so you’re taking in the ocean views as you cycle around the park. The sea wall goes in one direction and about 10km in the distance so it may not be ideal if you have younger kids with you, but is a fantastic cycle none the less.
There are some unique places you can stop along the cycle such as the Totem poles at the beginning of the sea wall and the girl in the wetsuit statue that is located just off Stanley park in the water.
3. Visit the Aquarium
The aquarium is located in Stanley Park and is a great day out for both adults and kids. With over 60,000 fish there’s a huge variety of aquatic creatures to see. The exhibits are both indoors and outdoors and it’s the perfect spot to visit no matter what the season. The seals, dolphins, and penguins in the outdoor exhibit are well worth seeing. As always the dolphins steal the show with impressive aerial acrobatics.
It takes around 2 hours to go through the whole experience and general admission is priced at $40. This is a sight that we’d suggest going to too early as it can get pretty crowded in the summer months.
4. Jump on a Ferry to Granville Island
This shopping and food hub is one of the best places to sample local cuisine and to have a wander around.
Originally just a sandbar. In 1915 the city of Vancouver decided to reclaim the land in this area with the goal of creating more industrial space in the city. By the 1950’s they decided to extend that area and Granville Island became a peninsula. Although still referred to as Granville Island this little gem is packed full of history and things to do.
The best way to get there from downtown Vancouver is by ferry. To call these boats, ferries is probably an overstatement, but these tug boats take you on the short jaunt across the pond in a relaxing way. The public market is a great spot to wander around, there are stalls and stalls of food vendors serving up some delicious baked goods, fresh produce, and some of the freshest seafood you can get. It’s a perfect place to grab some breakfast or lunch on the go and sit outside and watch the day go by.
One of the most famous and delicious stalls in the Public market is Lee’s Donuts. The specialty honey dip donut is the one to get. You will not be disappointed.
There are also a number of shops on the island to peruse and there are always art + culture events that are going on most weeks. So, you will never be stuck for something to do in this food lovers paradise.
5. Take a Hike in Deep Cove
Located a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver or an hour by public transport, Deep Cove is an idyllic spot for a hike and kayak. As you would expect with any seaside town there are a number of cute shops and restaurants that would belong on any postcard.
Deep Cove is probably best known for being a great hiking spot with a number of trails that cater to all levels. We highly recommend using the hiking app “AllTrails”. This handy app provides routes, difficultness, and a wealth of information about hikes and trails in the local area.
The most popular hike is the Quarry rock trail. This trail is a 3.8km round trip and has an elevation of 100 meters. It’s categorized as an easy hike and at the summit, there are some stunning panoramic views of the Deep Cove and the surrounding areas.
So once you’ve done your physical exertion for the day, be sure to take a stroll around the village and grab a bite to eat. We especially recommend popping into Honey Doughnuts and Goodies where there is a great selection of delicious treats on offer. Freshly baked each morning the doughnuts are on point. The honey-glazed doughnut is what they’re most famous for, but if you’re feeling extra special why not try the maple bacon doughnut. You could not get more Canadian with that choice.
Like most places in BC, the stunning views can be best appreciated by Kayak, so we highly recommend renting a kayak for a few hours to take in the beautiful scenery as well.
6. Visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Located in North Vancouver and a 12 min drive from downtown (depending on traffic). The Capilano suspension bridge is a sight to be seen. The suspension bridge crosses the Capilano River and is suspended 250 feet in the air. The bridge spans for 700 feet and provides a panoramic view of the forest and canyon below. This attraction is definitely not for people with a fear of heights, but if you can deal with that aspect it’s definitely worth a visit.
The bridge isn’t the only attraction at the park with a number of activities such as the treetop adventure that puts you in the squirrel’s eyes view. With a series of suspension bridges crossing around a network of 8 mature 30-ton trees.
Another thing to do here is the cliff walk which literally takes you to the edge. There are a series of suspended walkways at the edge of a number of cliff faces. Again, this is not for the faint-hearted.
If you’re visiting during the winter then you’re in luck. The Canyon lights festival illuminates all of the attractions for an impressive visual spectacle. So, bring your raincoat and layer up as it’s worth a visit, even in the winter months.
7. Visit the Vancouver Police Museum
This is a unique museum and not something that is widely called out as a must-visit when you are in Vancouver, but this is definitely a bit of a hidden gem when we’re talking about things to do in Vancouver.
The museum is nothing fancy, but it’s packed with history and some really unique pieces. The museum is located in an old Vancouver Mortuary. One of the most popular exhibits is the Coroner’s Court morgue which has been used as a TV set for multiple shows such as Law & Order.
If you have any interest in true crime or detective dramas, this is the place for you. There’s even a newly opened true crime exhibit that details some of Vancouver’s most infamous crimes.
8. Take a culinary tour around the world
Vancouver is known as being a hugely diverse and progressive city. With the great levels of diversity comes little snippets of the cultures that have immigrated to Vancouver looking to start a new life. This has resulted in fantastic food culture in the city and as Vancouver is a coastal city it has some of the freshest seafood on offer.
If you’re looking for an organized tour we highly recommend Vancouver foodie tours. They offer a range of different tours such as the Granville island food tour and the gastronomic Gastown tour. Each of these walking tours focuses on a specific area of Vancouver that is known for its culinary delights. Tours last between 2- 3 hours and you’ll chow down in 4- 8 restaurants depending on the tour you pick.
If you like to explore Vancouver’s food scene without the guidance of a tour guide then there are a number of areas that you should focus on. Chinatown has an array of delicious Asian cuisines from Japanese to Cantonese. There will be something here to please everyone. Some of our favorite spots are The Ramen Butcher on 223 East Georgia Street which serves up some top-quality ramen. Chinatown BBQ is a traditional Chinese BBQ restaurant that serves authentic dishes such as BBQ pork and Poached Chicken with ginger to name a few of their offerings.
For tea, lovers make sure you order the Wong Lo Kat Herbal Tea with your meal. You won’t be disappointed. The other main area for Asian cuisine is Richmond which is located near Vancouver international airport. There is a large Asian population living in Richmond, so that means there are some great restaurants in this area.
Gastown is in very close proximity to Chinatown and is another area where there is a thriving food scene. Located in the heart of Gastown is L’abattoir restaurant it is a Pacific Northwest restaurant with a sprinkle of France. What is the Pacific Northwest style of food you may be asking, its typical cuisine that includes the freshest local fish and game and locally sourced vegetables and herbs. L’abattoir is definitely on the pricier side but if you’re looking to treat yourself, it’s a lovely experience. Regardless of your budget, there’s a huge variety of restaurants to choose from in Gastown.
9. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Escape to the west at these classical Chinese gardens. This urban oasis whisks you from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver and adds a bit of serenity to your life as you wander through the gardens.
Modeled after gardens in Suzhou, China the Gardens are well worth a visit. There are tours of the garden that are run three times a day and if you manage to catch a tour you will receive a complimentary tasting of some traditional Chinese tea.
These gardens have serious photo potential, so make sure to capture the beauty while perusing the gardens.
10. See the iconic Steam Clock in Gastown
As we mentioned early, Gastown is a must-see when you’re visiting Vancouver the place is packed full of history with its cobbled streets and the famous steam clock… It’s one of Vancouver’s oldest neighborhoods and has countless boutique shops, bars, and restaurants. The architecture in this area is stunning with the main style being victorian. It’s a perfect place to grab a coffee and a croissant and stroll around the streets.
While you’re in Gastown make sure you see the Steam Clock. This iconic piece is one of the few working steam clocks remaining in the world. Every quarter-hour the steam clock lets out a whistle and steam billows from its 5 whistles, so make sure you don’t miss that.
Although Gastown has historically not had a thriving nightlife the area has transformed in recent years and has a growing nightlife. While you won’t find a huge amount of nightclubs there are loads of bars to choose from. So no matter what you tipple, you will find a bustling bar to hang out for the night.
11. Take in the views at the Sea to Sky Gondola
Stunning views in Vancouver are plentiful, but at the Sea to Sky Gondola are picture-perfect and cannot be missed. Located in Squamish about a 50-minute drive from downtown Vancouver is the Sea to Sky experience. At the peak, there are panoramic views of Howe Sound and the breathtaking coastal forest.
Once at the peak, there are a number of trails that range in difficulty from easy to intermediate. The panorama trail is our favorite option that is perfect for all age groups and has a number of viewing platforms throughout the trail to take in the scenic views.
Every Friday and Sunday throughout the Summer the opening hours are extended. This allows visitors to experience the sunset from atop the mountain. Tickets for the gondola are also reduced by 40% during these hours, so it’s the perfect time to catch the sunset and save some money
12. Head out for the night
There are a number of spots in Vancouver that are worth heading to. Historically, Granville street is the nightlife district of Vancouver. While the number of nightclubs in this area is lowering due to change in the way that people party. This is still a great spot to party the night away with a wide choice of late bars and nightclubs.
Alternatively, Yaletown has become a very trendy spot. It’s also within walking distance of Granville street so if you can’t find a seat at the bar you were planning on going to. No worries, take a stroll to nearby Granville street. The bars and clubs in Yaletown can get pretty busy, so if you prefer a bit more of a relaxed night we suggest going to Warehouse or Doolins on Granville street.
13. Get a workout in with the Grouse Grind
Let’s start off by saying this hike is no walk in the park. This is definitely an activity for people with a reasonable level of fitness. The trail itself isn’t necessarily that long at 2.9km to the top, but as it’s aptly referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” so be prepared to feel that burn.
Not to completely scare you off it, buts it’s categorized as a “difficult” trail by Vancouver trails and has an elevation of 853 meters. The view from the top really is spectacular, so if you are willing to grind through it there is a great pay off at the end.
For those of you that prefer a more leisurely journey. There is a cable car that can bring you to the top in a matter of minutes and do the hike in the first place you need to pay a $15 admission fee which includes a trip back down in the gondola.
14. Take a day trip to Whistler
Whistler is an iconic location. More recently known as a key location for the 2010 winter Olympics and it’s a great location to visit year-round. In the winter months, skiing is the headliner with 8,100 acres of snow-covered slopes to be enjoyed. Whistler Blackcomb has an endless array of slopes that will cater to skiers of all abilities.
The peak 2 peak gondola connects the mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb. The Ski season runs from November until May so the season runs long.