The Best Things to Do in Vancouver
This lively, cosmopolitan city in British Columbia is cradled by extreme natural beauty. It’s also home to Canada’s mildest climate, making it a destination for outdoor fun like skiing Grouse Mountain and watching the world’s rarest orcas. Whether you choose adventures extreme—crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge—or far more gentle—touring the Vancouver Aquarium, you’ll find your place in the city.
6393 NW Marine Dr, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada
Part of the University of British Columbia, this museum houses one of the finest collections of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art, including bentwood boxes, feast dishes, totem poles, and canoes from the Haida and Coast Salish people. Some of these artifacts are displayed in a soaring grand hall with views of the Point Grey cliffs. Visitors can also look forward to a respectable European ceramics collection, with earthenware and stoneware from the 16th to 19th centuries, and a rotunda with works from Haida artist Bill Reid, including the massive Raven and the First Men, made out of laminated yellow cedar.
2212 Main Mall
The first of its kind in this country, this family-friendly museum focuses on the evolution of biodiversity and why it’s worth conserving. Opened in 2010, it showcases more than two million natural history specimens, from fossils, shells, fungi, and plants to insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. The Beaty also boasts Canada’s third-largest fish collection, all preserved in jars. Don’t miss the star attraction, a spectacular 82-foot skeleton of a blue whale, artfully suspended in the atrium. Hungry for more science? Hit the Pacific Museum of Earth across the street for geological gems like a duck-billed dinosaur fossil, or take the fantastic Greenheart TreeWalk canopy tour of UBC’s botanical gardens.
750 Hornby St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7, Canada
Western Canada’s largest public art museum weighs in at almost 12,000 works. The collection here is strong on Emily Carr, a modernist compatriot of the Group of Seven (Canadian landscape painters from the 1920s who were deeply influenced by European Impressionism). Don’t miss her lush, moody depictions of the Pacific Northwest coast, especially its temperate rain forests and totemic carvings of indigenous peoples. Also worth seeing are the exhibits of cutting-edge contemporary masters like Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas. Housed in an old courthouse, the museum hopes to move into fresh digs designed by the Pritzker Prize–winning Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron by 2021. Admission is by donation on Tuesday evenings.
3735 Capilano Rd, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4J1, Canada
This 27-acre attraction in North Vancouver gets the heart racing with a suspension bridge that bounces 230 feet above a forested river gorge. Even more spectacular, however, is the Cliffwalk, a labyrinth of walkways along the granite flank of the valley. Get a bird’s-eye view of the area during the Treetops Adventure, a canopy expedition through the upper tiers of 250-year-old Douglas firs. The experience doesn’t come cheap at $46.95 per adult, but it does include free shuttle service from downtown and mini-tours that cover the flora, fauna, and First Nations involvement in the park. From late November to late January, Capilano strings holiday lights around the canyon and decorates the world’s tallest living Christmas tree.
6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4K9, Canada
Part of the North Shore mountain range, this 4,039-foot peak offers jaw-dropping views of the city. It’s busiest in the winter, when four chairlifts service 33 ski runs, but remains popular in the summer thanks to the steep, 1.8-mile Grouse Grind hiking trail. Those wishing to skip the sweat can ride the gondola to the summit—the ticket price includes access to lumberjack shows, the grizzly refuge, and guided eco-walks. Pay extra to zip-line, throw axes, or ascend Eye of the Wind, the world’s first and only wind turbine with a viewing pod. Afterward, hit one of the eateries like the self-service Lupins or The Observatory, which serves upscale West Coast cuisine.
578 Carrall St, Vancouver, BC V6B 5K2, Canada
Amid the bustle of Chinatown stands this lovely 15th-century-style garden, named for the father of modern China. Even though it was built in 1986, artisans from Suzhou constructed the entire property without nails, screws, or power tools. The price of entry includes a 45-minute guided tour, which explains how the rocks, water, plants, and architecture illustrate Taoist principles of balance and harmony. Afterward, wander among the fishponds, moon gates, gnarled pines, and graceful winding pathways, then stop for oolong tea. Regular events at the garden include yoga, concerts, and tai chi lessons, along with the Moon Festival in mid-autumn and the lavish Chinese New Year Temple Fair in winter.
648 Hornby St, Vancouver, BC V6C 2G2, Canada
Wide paths and a laid-back cycling culture make bikes a great way to explore Vancouver. Rent one from Cycle City Tours, which offers self-guided maps as well as outings run by expert storytellers. One tour takes a 5- to 7.5-mile spin through Stanley Park, cruising along Vancouver’s seawall and venturing onto its trails. All throughout, guides explain the biodiversity of the temperate rain forest and the history of the coastal First Nations people. For something livelier, hop on the rolling Craft Beer Tour, which visits three breweries and the excellent Belgard Kitchen. If you’re keen to keep going, you can extend your riding time until the end of the day for another $10.
1668 Duranleau Street
Vancouver’s serene waters serve as the perfect playground for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders. Newbies can book two-hour “tasters” at Ecomarine’s Granville Island or Jericho Beach locations, while more adventurous paddlers—of any level—can jump right into tours, like the summer sunset excursion along the scenic shores of False Creek (a protected inlet) and English Bay (part of the Strait of Georgia). While most tours last a half or whole day, Ecomarine also offers more hard-core expeditions, like the weeklong trip to Haida Gwaii. This craggy, rain-forested archipelago is often referred to as Canada’s Galápagos for its vast number of endemic species. It also has a wealth of First Nations heritage sites just waiting to be explored.
121 Lower Ganges Rd, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2T4, Canada
Downshift on this groovy Gulf Island, just a 35-minute seaplane ride from the city. Here, artist studios abound, as do makers of artisanal food and beverages. Classic stops include the summertime Saturday Market, the Blue Horse Folk Art Gallery, and the farmstead tasting room at Salt Spring Island Cheese. Hikers can get their fix at Ruckle, a lovely provincial park with 4.3 miles of coves, tide pools, and rocky headlands, while scuba divers can drift offshore, admiring octopuses and lacy fields of plumose anemones. No car? No problem. The islands have a designated hitchhiking program; just wait for a pickup at the “Car Stop” signs.
Go full monty at North America’s largest nude stretch of sand. Adjacent to the University of British Columbia, Wreck Beach sits on traditional Musqueam land, wrapping around the western edge of the Point Grey headland in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. In high season, this unspoiled spot averages 12,000 to 14,000 visitors daily, making it Canada’s busiest beach. With almost five miles of coastline, however, there’s usually plenty of room to spread out. Everyone’s welcome, clothed or not, as long as they’re accepting of naturism and respectful. Watch for eagles, kingfishers, and Vancouver’s largest heronry, then swing by Vendors Row (below Trail Six) for snacks and crafts.
845 Avison Way, Vancouver, BC V6G 3E2, Canada
Presiding over Stanley Park, Canada’s largest aquarium houses more than 50,000 creatures, from penguins to sea otters to three-toed sloths. Don’t miss the star turns from the rescued Steller sea lions Izzy and Rogue, who swoop gracefully under the water and bask on sun-warmed rocks. Afterward, be sure to visit the theater, which goes beyond 3-D with mist, scents, wind, and even lightning. Adding substance to style, the aquarium is also the headquarters of Ocean Wise, a global conservation initiative dedicated to increasing the understanding, wonder, and appreciation of our seas.
2340 River Rd, Richmond, BC V7C 1A1, Canada
This innovative park offers families a chance to burn off energy in Richmond, among wetlands and old farm fields. The structures here are made from rope, BC yellow cedar and other sustainable, local elements that blend into nature. And what structures they are! Ziplines! Stainless steel slides! A treehouse with four platforms! But Terra Nova isn’t all big, challenging fun. Toddlers can tackle a meadow maze and rolling hill. Want to make a day of it? Follow the Canada Line Bikeway onto No 3. Road and then the Middle Arm Dyke Trail! Watch for owls, eagles and at-risk herons overhead.
9160 Steveston Highway
Modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City, this stunning complex blends tranquil gardens with intricate stonework, golden tiles, symbolic carvings, and ceramic murals. Critics consider it the country’s most exquisite example of traditional Chinese architecture. Also called the Guan Yin Temple, it sits on Steveston Highway in Richmond, 13 miles south of Vancouver’s core. Highlights include North America’s largest Buddha Sakyamuni statue—a 35-foot masterpiece of camphor wood and gold leaf—and the Siddhartha Gautama Pool, where nine white dragon sculptures spout water toward the sky. At the temple’s Taste of Zen restaurant (open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), you can enjoy delicious vegetarian cuisine in exchange for a minimum $18 donation.
4760 Inglis Drive
Floatplanes have long flourished on the sheltered waters of the Inside Passage and the mountain lakes of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s major carrier, Harbour Air, docks right beside Canada Place and the Convention Centre. Swoon over a sightseeing jaunt (starting at $95), or soar to places like Victoria, Whistler, and Salt Spring Island on de Havilland Otter and Beaver planes. Note: For an extra $10, eager photographers can reserve a window seat. Harbour Air also offers charters and deals that bundle flights with ground tours like the Fly ’n Dine excursion to Bowen Island, which includes a BC Ferries ride back to the mainland and a limo transfer to downtown Vancouver for $275.
When the warmer months arrive, Grouse Mountain opens the roof of its cable car gondolas, which run 5,282 feet (1,610m) up the city’s iconic peak. The ride feels daring, despite the helmets, safety lines and thick railings that comfort visitors nervous about heights. Photographers, in particular, are drawn to the shifting vistas of the Coast Mountains, Burrard Inlet and the Lower Mainland—not to mention the city skyline—unfettered by glass. A Skyride Surf Adventure guide points out landmarks, as the tram glides over evergreen forests. Guests must be at least eight years of age and be wearing closed-toe shoes (no heels).
Public Market, 1689 Johnston St, Vancouver, BC V6H 3R9, Canada
This former industrial site is a one-stop shopping spot for last-minute souvenirs. Weave in and out of the countless alleys and stalls; among the art galleries, toy shops, crafts stores, farmers market and waterfront restaurants, you’re likely to find something tasty to sample or so unique that you have to bring it home.
Vancouver, BC V6G 1Z4, Canada
Vancouver’s most famous urban space, the thousand-acre Stanley Park, epitomizes everything that locals here love about the outdoors, and visitors have many ways to explore the expansive grounds. Hiking trails weave around totem poles and hemlock trees, while at the beaches, you can swim, people-watch and picnic. Rent a bike or a pair of in-line skates for a scenic ride along the Seawall, or wander through the many gardens where rhododendrons, azaleas and roses bloom.