A city surrounded by water and mountains, Vancouver really is beautiful. As you drive around, it’s hard not to fall in love with the giant trees and green spaces, the awesome cafes and restaurants and the unique buzz of energy in the air. Giant street art murals and hipster spots are nestled next to historic buildings on cobblestone streets in Gastown and in North Vancouver, suspension bridges wrapped around ancient trees make for the perfect big-kid playground. It’s a fascinating mix of new-age culture and old-world beauty, offering visitors a whole world of fun and food to explore. To help you plan an amazing trip, here are our tips on 31 awesome things you absolutely must do in Vancouver, BC!
But first, watch this…
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1. Capilano Suspension Bridge
Head to North Vancouver and visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s a popular spot so expect to see lots of other visitors there but that shouldn’t deter you, it’s a beautiful spot to visit. You can wander along all seven suspension bridges, learn about First Nations culture and the history of the area. Take a guided tour, check out the cliff walk and wander through the forest. We drove to the attraction, parking in a paid lot right across the road. You could also catch the shuttle, bus or an Uber if you prefer. Just on a personal note, I get social anxiety and had a slight panic attack at the number of people on the major suspension bridge with me. If you’re the same, you can definitely still visit you’ll just need to time your walk along the bridge or try to visit during quieter times.
2. La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop
I LOVE tacos! They’re seriously one of my all-time favourite foods and I was determined to find really good tacos in Vancouver. La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop was so good we ended up eating there three or four times. The food was delicious, full of flavour and so fresh with loads of options for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Best of all, it was actually really affordable! If you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for their specials and if you’re a taco addict like me, be sure to visit.
3. Sea to Sky Gondola
Our visit to the Sea to Sky Gondola ended up being one of the surprising experiences of our trip! I thought it would be average but it turned out to be awesome! Located in Squamish, around 50 minutes drive north of Vancouver, you’ll take a 10-minute gondola ride 885 metres above sea level. At the top, the views are absolutely incredible. You can wander along different paths, scamper across the suspension bridge, grab a bite to eat, chill out in hammocks underneath huge trees and loiter around the ‘dog parking’ area like a creep (me). The views really are incredible and it’s just a really nice way to spend a few hours. We visited in the afternoon on a weekday and it was significantly less crowded than spots like the Capilano Suspension Bridge and if I had to choose between one or the other, I’d go with the Sea to Sky Gondola. You can grab a bite to eat up there or, if you’re on a budget, pack your own picnic lunch – there are some awesome lookout spots to eat it!
4. Visit Granville Island
No trip to Vancouver is complete with a visit to Granville Island. We visited on a beautiful sunny day and made the most of it by spending a few hours on an eating tour of the Granville Island Public Market. Go with an empty belly and full wallet because you can sink your fangs into delicious local treats like perogies, freshly baked bread, donuts, chocolates, French crepes, fresh juice, pizzas and so much more! We also stopped in at the Granville Island Brewing Company for a maple cream ale. If you want to take things to the next level you can do a guided foodie tour and I’d recommend stocking up on food for later and having yourself a nice sunset picnic somewhere. In addition to great food, there are loads of boutiques and stores to explore too as well as buskers, live music and more.
5. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
If you love a good garden be sure to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. We spent about an hour here and loved walking through the beautiful, perfectly manicured gardens and the gorgeous buildings too. The best way to experience it is to join a guided tour where you’ll gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for each element within the garden from roof tiles to trees. There are also a few special events and festivals which pop-up throughout the year so keep your eye out for those.
6. Stanley Park
Another great outdoors spot you really should visit is Stanley Park. We only had a little bit of time but made sure to check out the very best views of Lions Gate Bridge from side-on and below. We also wandered down to the seawall which was just awesome! It’s probably best seen on bikes but you can do what we did and just walk a small section of it if you’re tight on time. There are loads of great things to see and do at Stanley Park including beautiful gardens, walking trails, a lagoon and a lake, beaches the aquarium and artworks. There are also some good restaurants and cafes to check out too!
7. Vancouver Aquarium
The incredible Vancouver Aquarium is home to over 50,000 animals from across the world so there’s no shortage of beautiful and interesting creatures to see. There are walruses, sea lions, dolphins, sharks, frogs, jellyfish, penguins and, of course, a LOT of fish! The aquarium also has a huge focus on education, conservation and science, making sure they do their part to protect and conserve animals as well as teach people how they can do their part too.
8. Check out High View Lookout
For fantastic views of Vancouver that are totally free, head to High View Lookout on Cypress Bowl Road. Be sure to go up there on a clear day for the very best views and you’ll be treated to a great photo spot and uninterrupted access to Vancouver’s skyline. On the way back down we took a turn onto Chippendale Road and drove past some of Vancouver’s very fancy and expensive homes with kick-ass views. It was a cool way to see a different side of Vancouver and see how the rich locals kick it!
9. Grab a great coffee (Prado, Revolver or Birds & Beets)
Coffee culture is alive and well in Vancouver and there are loads of great places to choose from. We took the time to visit Prado, which has a few locations across Vancouver and serves delicious coffee and baked goodies. I’ve also heard good things about Revolver and Birds & The Beets but, really, you shouldn’t be too hard-pressed to find great coffee around town.
10. Bicycle Tour
A guided or DIY bicycle tour is a great way to see Vancouver and there are a few different places you can go through. Cycle City Tours run awesome guided tours that cover spots like Granville Island, Stanley Park, Gastown and Chinatown, they also run a craft beer tour (yass!) You can hire a bike at Stanley Park through Spokes Bicycle Rentals and take yourself on a ride along the seawall or join a guided tour with the fantastic team at Yes Cycle.
11. Grouse Mountain
There’s so much to see and do at Grouse Mountain you’ll easily be able to spend a whole or half day making the most of it all and, best of all, it’s only 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. You can take a ride on top of the Super Skyride, North America’s largest aerial tramway system, and enjoy epic views of Vancouver. There are also zip lines, a wildlife refuge, lumberjack shows, an aerial ropes course, paragliding, heli-tours, scenic mountain bike riding, restaurants or you can tackle the Grouse Grind, a favourite trail among locals.
12. Richmond Night Market
For an epic food experience, make sure you visit the Richmond Night Market. Again, this is a spot where you want to show up with an empty tummy and a full wallet because there is an insane amount of good food to try. Sink your teeth into everything from ramen, crab claws, takoyaki, dim sum, chicken steaks, ice cream sandwiches, Sakura raindrop cakes, churros, mac ‘n’ cheese roti, grilled cheese and so much more. Seriously, it’s not your regular food market, it’s one where you can find some very special dishes to try that you probably haven’t tried before (as well as your favourites!)
13. Try Poutine
If you haven’t tried it before, be sure to make the effort to try poutine at least once while you’re in Vancouver. Though, I highly doubt once will be enough! If you haven’t heard of it before, poutine is pretty much Canada’s national dish and is the unbelievably good combination of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Of course, there are loads of other toppings that can be added too! A few great spots to get poutine in Vancouver include Mean Poutine (they have a vegetarian gravy), La Belle Patate, Fritz European Fry House, Smoke’s Poutinerie and MeeT (perfect for vegans).
14. Whale Watching
Go whale watching with the team at Prince of Whales Whale Watching! They have quite a few different tours you can choose from depending on how much time you have and your budget. Join in their half-day ocean magic adventure, ultimate day tour to Victoria or splash out with a whale watching/scenic flight combination! You’ll have the chance to spot several different species of whales and other marine life while also learning a lot about whales and local insight.
15. Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief
Be sure to make the time to visit Shannon Falls, one of my favourite spots north of Vancouver. You’ll probably need a car to get there as it’s around 50 minutes drive from the heart of Vancouver, though I’m sure you could find alternate means of transport. With a 335 metre drop, Shannon Falls is the third tallest in BC and when you’re standing at the base of the falls, it’s really an impressive sight. We didn’t do them but there are some rock climbs and trails you can enjoy or simply follow the path to check out the falls and enjoy a bite to eat afterwards. While you’re there, make sure you drive the few seconds up the road to take in the incredible Stawamus Chief!
16. Guided Food or History Tour
Joining a guided tour is a great way to experience a new destination on a deeper level. With an expert with you, you tend to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the place and see things you just wouldn’t have seen otherwise! In Vancouver, you can join a guided food or history tour with a few different companies. You might want to check out Ghostly Vancouver Tours for something a lil spooky or A Wok Around tours to experience the food and history of Chinatown or Granville Island. You can also arrange a private guided tour with Vancouver Private Tours.
17. Queen Elizabeth Park
If you love to visit gardens when you travel (me!) you might want to make time to visit Queen Elizabeth Park. Spend a few hours wandering around the beautiful gardens, checking out some absolutely gorgeous, big trees and exploring the indoor tropical gardens at the Bloedel Conservatory. There is also a gorgeously landscaped quarry garden, rose garden, painters corner and the arboretum with its collection of exotic and native trees and sculptures including one by internationally renowned artist Henry Moore.
18. Lighthouse Park
If you’ve got the time and want to visit somewhere a little different that offers some great photo opportunities, check out Lighthouse Park. There are quite a few trails throughout Lighthouse Park so if you’re a keen hiker be sure to bring your kit so you can make the most. Otherwise, you want to head to Lighthouse Viewpoint and check out the Point Atkinson Lighthouse, which dates back to 1912 but has a far longer history.
19. Kayak or SUP
Make the most of great summer weather by hiring a kayak or stand up paddleboard and heading out for a few hours of fun on the water. There are a few places you can arrange hire including through Vancouver Water Adventures who offer kayak and SUP hire as well as seadoos and boat tours! If a DIY kayak or SUP adventure sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry, they also offer guided tours so you’ll have an expert guide pointing things out and dropping some local knowledge on you. Alternatively, if you want to buy rather than hire, check out the latest paddleboards for beginners here.
20. Go to Tim Hortons
Don’t even think about visiting Canada and not going to Tim Hortons! If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s basically a donut and coffee shop but so much more – it’s the heart and soul of Canada. If you’re like Matt and I you’ll find yourself making a visit to Timmy’s part of your daily ritual. It’s all very basic so don’t go in there expecting it to be a deconstructed donut/hazelnut latte extravaganza but, I tell ya, for a few bucks you can get a decent cup of coffee and a delicious donut. My personal favourite is a box of honey-dip tim-bits!
Take some time to stroll around Chinatown where you can visit a few spots all at once. You want to check out the Millennium Gate, Shanghai Alley, Canton Alley and the Sam Kee Building (the shallowest commercial building in the world!) While you’re there, make the most of Chinatown’s delicious food scene and grab a bite to eat at a local spot like Sai Woo, Bao Bei, New Town Bakery & Restaurant, Juke Fried Chicken or Phnom Penh.
22. Snorkel with Seals
You can get up close and personal with beautiful seals in their natural environment by doing a snorkel and kayak tour with Sea Dragon Charters. The trip departs from Horseshoe Bay taking you to the nearby seal colony of Pam Rocks in scenic Howe Sound and it suitable for all ages and abilities. If you love to scuba you can do a dive with the Sea Dragon as well and there are some awesome dive sites to explore.
Be sure to check out Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown! The major attraction has to be the famous Steam Clock but stroll along the cobblestone streets and you’ll have no trouble spotting old buildings, vintage lampposts and a slew of boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants to choose from too. The area grew from a single tavern founded by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton way back in 1867 so it’s definitely a big part of Vancouver’s history and worth taking a stroll around.
24. Take a Ferry Ride
If you like to explore a new destination from all angles, you may just be keen for a ferry ride with False Creek Ferries. It’s actually a really good way to get from place to place and could be your ideal mode of transport for a day’s activities and sightseeing around Vancouver.
25. Visit a few Museums and Galleries
For those who love to explore museums, Vancouver has you covered with loads of world-class museums and fantastic galleries to fill your itinerary. You may want to take a peek at the Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Vancouver, Roedde House Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Beaty Biodiversity Museum or even Science World.
26. Vancouver Lookout
Take in 360 degrees, panoramic views of Vancouver from the top of the Vancouver Lookout! The observation deck is a 40-second elevator ride, 168.80 metres above Vancouver so you know the views are incredible. For the best visit possible, make sure you take the weather into consideration and aim for a clear day, where possible.
27. UBC Botanical Garden & Greenheart TreeWalk
Head to the University of British Columbia and spend some time exploring the stunning botanical gardens. The Nitobe Memorial Garden is considered to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America and there are year-round activities and events to check out too. Be sure to do the Greenheart TreeWalk which takes you along suspended walkways and tree platforms high above the forest ﬂoor, navigating ancient Douglas firs, cedars and grand firs.
28. Check out Commercial Drive
Also known as ‘The Drive,’ Commercial Drive in East Vancouver is a vibrant mix of food, music, bars and more. Head directly to Little Italy to get your hands on amazing pizza and pasta then wander along the streets ducking into cool boutiques, speciality food stores and bakeries. As the day wears on, you may want to make the most of the live music and awesome bars around the area. For great food be sure to check out Arriva, Café Deux Soleil (vegetarian and vegan-friendly), Famoso Pizza and Federico’s Supper Club.
29. Lonsdale Quay Market
Home to over 80 speciality shops and services, the Lonsdale Quay Market is a great spot to visit for food and shopping. Try fantastic wines at the Artisan Wine Shop, dig into a piece of cake at Butter Lane Bake Shop or enjoy a burger from Dex Gourmet Burger Bar. Afterwards, pick up a few gifts or mementoes from local shops and enjoy those water views! It’s a great way to support local, small business owners and savour the best of Vancouver.
30. Kitsilano Beach
Beach lovers ought to put a trip to Kitsilano Beach on their Vancouver itinerary. It’s one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver and it’s easy to see why. A great place for an afternoon swim with gorgeous mountains and sparkling blue water as the backdrop, it’s also home to the longest swimming pool in Canada! Pack your swimmers, a hat, something to eat, a towel and plenty of sunscreen and enjoy a few hours at a beautiful Vancouver beach.
31. CRAFT Beer Market
Those keen to enjoy a local drop will love the Craft Beer Market in False Creek. Here, there are over 100 local and international beers available so you can be sure to find something you haven’t tried before and something you love! It’s a great way to experience something uniquely local and have a delicious meal in the process. It’s the ideal spot to spend a warm, sunny, summer afternoon or just lose track of time altogether. Be sure to drink responsibly and arrange an Uber if there’s no designated driver! I care about you!!
Where to stay on a budget
If you’re visiting Vancouver on a tight budget, like we were, you may be a tad put off by the cost of staying at a hotel. To keep costs down we spent two nights at an Airbnb in North Vancouver. We loved the location and convenience and the control it gave us to come and go as we please, cook our own meals when we wanted to and do our laundry. We were doing a budget camping road trip from Vancouver to Calgary so we also spent two nights camping at Porteau Cove, which was close enough to Vancouver we could drive in each day and do more activities but far enough away it was affordable to stay there!