Vancouver’s Top Attractions
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 adventures like skiing Olympic slopes and watching the world’s rarest orcas.
4151 Hazelbridge Way, Richmond, BC V6X 4J7, Canada
More than 160 stores pack this Asian mall, which is anchored by a Daiso (a ubiquitous Japanese dollar store). Shoppers can stock up on trendy Korean skin-care products at Aritaum, Tony Moly, and Nature Republic, or browse everything from herbal remedies to wash-and-dry toilets to Kigurumi animal onesies elsewhere in the complex. The Aberdeen Centre also has eight full-service restaurants and an 800-seat food court on the top floor. In 2016, the mall even gained a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for displaying the largest ever PEZ dispenser sculpture—a seven-foot-tall, accurately scaled replica of London’s Big Ben. Note: Most of its vendors only accept cash.
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.
54 E 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 1E8, Canada
Today, the area around Mount Pleasant houses a growing concentration of craft breweries. It all began in 1888, when Charles Doering dammed the waterway to drive a grain mill and launched Vancouver’s second brewery. Prohibition set the suds scene back for decades, however, and it only truly blossomed after liquor laws were revamped in 2013. Within a year, 30 new breweries launched and their numbers only continue to soar. Visit Brewery Creek for great options like Brassneck, 33 Acres, and Main Street Brewing. Thirsty for more local flavor? In nearby “Yeast Van,” nine breweries are livening up the largely industrial Grandview-Woodland neighborhood. The terrific Vancouver Brewery Tours offers guided jaunts in both districts, including walking options from April to September.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Okanagan-Similkameen, BC, Canada
More than 130 wineries cluster in this valley 240 miles east of Vancouver. Here, Okanagan Lake moistens a semi-arid, shrub-steppe landscape, creating the ideal environment for growing world-class grapes. Microclimates produce 60-plus varietals, including pinot, chardonnay, and even syrah in the more desert-like Ossoyoos region. Explore the area with one of the novel wine tours on offer, a few of which travel by kayak or electric bike. Just be sure to save time for a destination winery like Mission Hill, which features a 12-story bell tower, a Marc Chagall tapestry, and 40 specially commissioned sculptures. Other highlights of the region include the First Nations’ Nk’Mip winery, Miradoro restaurant amid the trellised vineyards of Tinhorn Creek, and the biodynamic bubbles at eclectic Summerhill Pyramid.
8341-8351 River Road
From mid-May through early October, an Asian-inspired street market springs up in the Lower Mainland on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights—and holiday Mondays, too. Just steps from the Canada Line’s Bridgeport station, the market also offers more than 1,000 free parking spots. Adventurous eaters can graze from 100-plus food stalls, serving everything from poutine and spiral-cut “potato tornado” on a stick to creamy octopus takoyaki (a circular-shaped Japanese snack). Finish with Mango Yummy’s shaved ice desserts or a box of Dragon Beard candy—similar to floss halva and spun sugar—to take home. Then, shop over 200 retail stalls or hit the carnival rides and live entertainment.
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.
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.
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.
1155 Comox St
This laid-back event takes over Vancouver’s bustling West End on Saturdays from late May to late October. Expect the usual array of crafts, artisanal delicacies, sustainable seafood, and local seasonal products like summer’s sweet, fat blueberries. Hungry shoppers should swing by Nidhi’s Cuisine for meat-free samosas and flatbreads, or the Chouchou food truck for authentic Brittany crêpes. Also worth a stop are BC Wine Studio and French Made Baking for macarons. Overlooking Nelson Park and the community gardens, the market takes place on Comox Street between Bute and Thurlow from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parking is quite limited, but the market is an easy walk from most downtown hotels.
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.
4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC V0N 1B4, Canada
Whistler Blackcomb receives lots of press about its big-mountain features, but the resort offers plenty of terrain for every family member and skill level. The Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, among the best in North America, is great for both seasoned skiers and kids as young as toddlers. Even tweens and teens can enjoy small-group lessons, which offer equal parts socializing and instruction in the terrain parks and beyond. Welcome on the Whistler and Peak 2 Peak gondolas, non-skiers will have the village to themselves during the day. When back with their group, they can hang at one of the more than 25 on-mountain restaurants.
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).
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.