Planning a trip to Vancouver, Canada?
It is a famous travel destination in Canada – and rightly so as it has a lot to offer to its visitors.
Discover the best things to do in Vancouver – top Vancouver attractions, best things to see, and more – along with useful tips for visiting Vancouver from this article.
This ultimate guide to visiting Vancouver, Canada is written by a local, Karen from Forever Karen, and it is packed with useful information that will allow you to plan a great trip and have a great time in Vancouver!
The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver, British Columbia, is a world-class Canadian city nestled between the mountains to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the United States to the south.
Having lived here most of my life, I have come to love everything about this incredible city. Also, Vancouver has just about the best climate of any Canadian city.
Whether you come for a day, a weekend, a week, or much longer, there’s so much to see and do, you will be longing to come back and visit again.
Since Vancouver is just north of Washington State, over three million visitors drive north from places like Seattle, Portland, and other towns in the Pacific Northwest.
Don’t forget, Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, and our skiing is also world-class. It also hosted the World Expo in 1986. While the summer is one of my favourite seasons in Vancouver, there are incredible things to see and do any time of the year.
In the spring, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is the official reminder to me that winter is done, and the city comes alive with beautiful colour that’s truly a photographer’s dream.
Today, it continues to be repeatedly ranked as one of the world’s best cities to live, work, and play. Vancouver is an expensive city, so all these beautiful features can be pricey if you are on a limited budget. While you can’t see everything in a week, it’s best to plan an itinerary around these favourite Vancouver attractions.
Things to do in Vancouver
Often referred to as the ‘jewel of Vancouver,’ Stanley Park was once voted as the best urban park globally, and with good reason! Smack in the middle of downtown, its 1,000 acres of rainforest are a welcome addition to the concrete city.
With walking trails, flower gardens, and a large pond, there is something for everybody.
Stanley Park also features a wonderfully scenic drive which makes it one of the best places to visit in Vancouver. The one-way drive has lots of pullouts and places to enjoy the views. Two hot spots include the Prospect Point Lookout and the totem poles at Brockton Point.
Its famous seawall, which surrounds the park, attracts thousands of locals and visitors, who happily walk, bike, and rollerblade its waterfront pathway.
Several beaches provide a quiet escape, a waterpark keeps the little ones happy, and the centrally located aquarium features marine mammals, an Amazon jungle, and a magnificent jellyfish exhibit.
Should you be visiting Vancouver without a vehicle, you can enjoy the sites of Stanley Park by a horse-drawn carriage. Alternatively, consider renting a bike at nearby rental shops and enjoy the vistas on two wheels. If you want to turn the excursion into a romantic adventure, rent a tandem bike instead.
Located on a peninsula just south of downtown, Granville Island is a bustling place seven days a week and one of the top Vancouver attractions. A favourite among locals, its market features the freshest seafood, gourmet ingredients, and delicious baked goods.
Once an industrial area, the city converted the warehouses into artisan studios and interesting boutiques. Where else can you buy a handmade broom, watch a weaver on a loom, or purchase one-of-a-kind silk scarves?
Throughout Granville Island, waterfront restaurants with patio heaters offer culinary delights from casual dining to upscale venues. It’s the perfect place to grab lunch or enjoy a craft beer from one of the local breweries. As you explore the peninsula, buskers provide entertainment with songs, music, and magic tricks.
At the Ocean Concrete facility, the six colourful painted silos add smiles to passers-by. Since Granville Island is on False Creek, why not take an Aquabus tour of the waterfront? For a mere CAD 17, you can enjoy the sites of Vancouver from a colourful boat.
The historic neighbourhood of Gastown is known for its trendy restaurants, cobblestone streets, but most of all, its CLOCK! Built in 1977, the world-famous steam clock attracts crowds to hear its whistles and watch the steam rise every 15 minutes. This is one of the best things to see in Vancouver.
Built over Victorian steam vents that once heated the city, the clock serves two purposes. First, to prevent the homeless from sleeping on the vents, and second, to create a tourist attraction in the area. Today, it’s one of the last surviving operational steam clocks in the world.
After viewing the clock, browse the art galleries, tourist boutiques, and stop at a café for a much-needed latte.
At the western end of Gastown, the Harbor Centre houses the Vancouver Lookout. On a clear day, climb aboard the glass elevator for an exhilarating 40-second ride to the top. Like most circular towers, the Vancouver Lookout features an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.
If you’ve been to Toronto’s CN Tower or the Seattle Space Needle, the experience is the same. However, the views are different!
You’ll enjoy 360-degree vistas of the Vancouver skyline, Stanley Park, the North Shore mountains, and False Creek from the observation deck. Informational plaques below the observation windows tell the history of each building and the surrounding area.
Your ticket for the lookout lasts all day. So, enjoy some of the best Vancouver views by day and come back later to watch the sunset and see the city’s twinkling lights.
Head over to Canada Place, a short walk from the Lookout. You can’t miss the spectacular white-sailed structure overlooking the beautiful waters of Burrard Inlet.
Canada Place houses a convention centre, the Vancouver cruise port, a world-class hotel, and Vancouver’s popular attraction, FlyOver Canada.
FlyOver Canada allows visitors to enjoy all the best views of Canada on a 4D ride. From the comfort of a movable seat, you’ll enjoy a simulated flight over the Saskatchewan wheat fields, feel the mist of Niagara Falls, and soar over the peaks of the majestic Rocky Mountains. You’ll experience the best of Canada without leaving Vancouver.
Should you be visiting Vancouver in the rain, the Canada Place ride makes for a great indoor activity. Sometimes, FlyOver Canada features limited edition flights, like FlyOver Iceland and FlyOver Hawaii. During Christmas, the multi-dimensional ride allows film-goers to fly in a sleigh from coast to coast, ending with a visit to the North Pole.
Located on beautiful False Creek, visitors can easily recognize Science World by its larger-than-life iconic golf ball structure. When staying downtown, travellers can reach Science World by way of the Aquabus ferry system or Skytrain.
Inside the domed building, children and adults can immerse themselves in the interactive fun and engaging displays. You’ll learn how things work, do some puzzle solving, and play with water.
The building houses a permanent display, a rotating exhibit, and a giant OMNIMAX Theatre. The theatre show requires an additional fee, but the films are always amazing.
Vancouver Olympic Cauldron
One block west of Canada Place is the Jack Poole Plaza. It offers stunning views of the waterfront, Stanley Park, but also the Olympic Cauldron.
Erected for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the ten-metre-high metal and glass structure stands prominent against the north shore mountains.
While only lit during special occasions, a visit to the cauldron allows you to see a part of Vancouver’s Olympic history. If you watched the Olympic Games, you may remember Wayne Gretzky, a hockey legend, lighting the Vancouver cauldron.
Nearby, the Digital Orca allows for some fun selfies. The artwork, which was constructed in 2009, features black and white stacked blocks in the shape of a killer whale.
While the artist intended the installation to resemble computer pixels, I thought they looked like giant Lego bricks! What do you think?
From Jack Poole Plaza, you have the option to walk the waterfront or enjoy a coffee at a local café. Also, consider taking to the skies on a seaplane. Located by the plaza, floatplane flights offer stunning views of the Vancouver skyline that you can’t get anywhere else.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
On the north shore, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver’s top tourist attractions. However, don’t let its popularity dissuade you from visiting. Visitors can reach the park by way of a free shuttle bus from downtown Vancouver.
While the main attraction is the incredible suspension bridge swaying over the Capilano River, visitors can spend a few hours exploring the rainforest on numerous pathways. The Treetop Adventures has a series of smaller suspension bridges, 30 metres high in the treetops. It provides the perfect adventure for families.
Also, not for the faint of heart, the Cliffwalk is a semi-circular catwalk that hangs out over the canyon. Should you be daring enough to walk the Cliffwalk, the narrow pathway continues along the granite cliffs, offering spectacular views of the river and canyon below.
During the summer months, visitors can see a selection of Raptor birds. The birds of prey vary from owls and falcons to hawks and vultures.
In winter, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park comes alive with thousands of twinkling lights during ‘Canyon Lights.’ The Park attracts thousands of locals who come to enjoy the Christmas illuminations after the sun goes down.
Alternatively, travellers on a budget can forego the hefty entrance fee and visit Lynn Canyon instead. Ten kilometres east, Lynn Canyon Park features a much smaller suspension bridge, numerous hiking trails, and an Ecology Centre.
A little further north, Grouse Mountain provides spectacular views of Vancouver and attractions to keep you busy all day. After a picturesque gondola ride to the top, visitors can opt for some extra excursions.
Choose from ziplining, a helicopter tour, paragliding, or seeing the area from the top of the ‘Eye of the Wind.’ Alternatively, you can enjoy the peaks on one of many hiking trails.
For me, the highlight of Grouse Mountain is the local residents, Coola and Grinder. These two orphaned grizzly bears would not have survived in the wild, so the mountaintop became their permanent home.
Coola and Grinder hibernate in winter like bears in the wilderness, and locals can see their winter activity on the winter bear cams.
Another hit with tourists, the birds in motion show demonstrates the hunting skills of birds of prey. You can witness the fastest animal, the Peregrine Falcon, flying above the crowd during the show.
For locals and fitness fiends, Grouse Mountain offers a challenging hike to the top, called the ‘Grouse Grind.’ The grueling climb consists of a one-way switchback trail to the top. While I can’t do the climb, my husband, Brian, does it regularly.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Since Vancouver has a large ethnic Chinese community, it’s no surprise it has the bigger Chinatown in Canada. Within Chinatown, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens offers a classical Chinese garden laid out using the rules of Feng shui.
All the materials and plants used to create this garden came from China, making it an authentic space and one fo the best things to see in Vancouver.
The urban garden is simple in design and uses a lot of rocks, ponds, and evergreens that exude a tranquil oasis. The arches and intricate latticework provide for beautiful photos.
Queen Elizabeth Park
Located on the highest land elevation in Vancouver’s city, Queen Elizabeth Park wows visitors with its stunning gardens and city views. The city planted its lush manicured gardens in several old quarries, and in the spring, visitors can admire the flower beds in full bloom.
While visitors can visit Queen Elizabeth Park for free, there’s an option to see inside the Bloedel Observatory for a small fee. Inside the large dome, visitors can enjoy a tropical ecosystem containing exotic plants and 120 colourful birds.
Queen Elizabeth Park features a fairly new addition called ‘Love in the Rain.’ The art installation showcases four wired couple structures embracing under umbrellas. The installation invites couples to attach a love lock in declaration of love.
Located in the park, the Seasons in the Park restaurant offers fantastic food with spectacular views of Vancouver.
Museum Of Anthropology
Located on the University of British Columbia (UBC) grounds, the Museum of Anthropology exhibits art and archaeological objects from around the world. However, it contains many artefacts from BC’s First Nations.
Housed in a stunning building designed by local architect Arthur Erickson, the museum exhibits weavings, totem poles, carvings, ceramics, and an impressive collection of Bill Reid’s artwork. A detailed explanation of the object accompanies each piece.
Nearby, the Nitobe Memorial Garden 2-1/2-acre garden allows visitors to enjoy a small but authentic Japanese garden without travelling to Japan.
The Japanese memorial garden is part of the UBC gardens which also includes the Greenheart TreeWalk. Like the Treetop Adventures at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, adventure seekers can enjoy a walk high in the trees on a series of suspension bridges.
Tips On Visiting Vancouver
Next on this Vanocuver visiting guide are useful tips for visiting Vancouver.
These are insider recommendations and things to know before visiting Vancouver so make sure you read them all so that you have a great trip to Vancouver or an amazing Vancouver vacation!
Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada, so don’t expect bargain prices at hotels.
If staying in the downtown area, visitors don’t need a vehicle to get around. In fact, Vancouver is easily accessible from the airport by using the rapid transit system called ‘Skytrain.’ Should you rent a vehicle, expect to pay to park anywhere downtown. Alternatively, Vancouver has Uber should tourists need transportation.
Although the Canadian dollar is the official currency, some businesses accept the American dollar.
For foodies, Vancouver offers a wide range of ethnic choices, including Persian, Japanese, Italian, Greek, and Chinese. Vancouver’s food trucks are also top-rated for budget-minded travelers, with highly recommended Japa Dog leading the way.
Because Vancouver is nestled at the foot of a mountain range, it experiences a lot of rain. Should you visit off-season, it’s advisable to bring a light rain jacket and an umbrella.
While summer attracts the most significant number of travellers, the mountains also bring visitors in winter. With an abundance of snow, snow bunnies can easily reach the peaks of the slopes, all while staying downtown. A few hours north of the city, Whistler provides world-class skiing with its Olympic ski runs.
In shoulder season, you can golf and ski in Vancouver on the same day.
Vancouver has a busy cruise terminal at Canada Place. In the summer, the cruise port brings millions of people who visit Vancouver before heading north on an Alaska cruise. When visiting Vancouver during the summer, you can see the cruise ships in the port.
Depending on how long you visit Vancouver, consider exploring areas further north and east. Whistler, just 2-1/2 hours north on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, provides world-class skiing in winter and offers terrific hiking in the summer months.
Further east, Harrison Hot Springs offers a great weekend getaway. Travel a few more hours, and you’re into wine country filled with picturesque lakes and a warmer summer climate.
Happy travels ~ Karen
About the author
Karen is a traveler and cruiser at ForeverKaren. Born in Singapore to a British Military family, she grew up traveling the world and never lost her desire to spread her wings. An avid cruiser with her husband Brian, she continues to explore the oceans and far away lands. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.