Explorable neighborhoods, drink-and-dine delights and memorable cultural and outdoor activities framed by striking natural vistas – there's a superfluity of reasons to fall for this ocean-fringed metropolis.
Don't tell the rest of the country but Vancouver is Canada’s dine-out capital. Abandon your diet and dive right into North America's best Asian cuisine, from chatty Chinese restaurants to Vietnamese banh mi sandwich joints, or unleash your appetite on a rich smorgasbord of fresh-caught local seafood, including seasonal spot prawns and succulent wild salmon. The farm-to-table movement has also reinvigorated West Coast cuisine here – anyone for Fraser Valley lamb with a side of foraged morels? And we haven't even started on Vancouver’s thirst-slaking craft-beer scene, pouring the nation’s finest IPAs, sours and more.
Downtown is just the start of Vancouver. Walk or hop public transit and within minutes you'll be hanging with the locals in one of the city's diverse and distinctive mini-districts. Whether discovering the independent boutiques of Main St or the coffee shops of Commercial Dr, the redbrick bars of Gastown or the heritage-house beachfronts of Kitsilano, you'll find this city ideal for easy-access urban exploration. Just be sure to chat to the locals wherever you go: they might seem shy or aloof at first, but Vancouverites love talking up their town and regaling you with their personal recommendations.
There's a multi-textured canvas of creativity to pore over in this city. Dig deeply and you'll find an eclectically diverse grassroots scene that operates like a locavore movement for culture fans. Mingle with the regulars at indie festivals, sparkling theatrical events, toe-tapping live music, waterfront Shakespeare shows and a camera-ready menagerie of eye-popping public art. There’s also a savor-worthy menu of independent galleries, a large public gallery that’s about to break-ground on a grand new building, and a huge, party-like open-house art crawl that lures locals and visitors every November.
Those snow-capped giants peeking at you from between downtown's glass towers? They're less than 30 minutes away by car. Vancouverites really can ski in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon – although it's far more relaxing to chill out and take your time. The city's North Shore nature doorstep offers snow sports, mountain biking and rainforest hiking trails, while the city itself is studded with sandy shorelines, kayaking routes, verdant gardens and Canada's urban green-space jewel, the mighty and highly beloved Stanley Park.
Add visiting these must-see local hot spots and culture centers to your next travel itinerary.
Check out these fun-filled activities that the entire family can enjoy.
Plan a day trip full of local flavor and get back in time with these same-day options.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Vancouver.
One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, Stanley Park is revered for its dramatic forest-and-mountain oceanfront views. But there’s more to this 400-hectare woodland than looks. The park is studded with nature-hugging trails, family-friendly attractions, sunset-loving beaches and tasty places to eat. Why you should go Built in stages between 1917 and 1980, the park's 8.8km seawall trail is Vancouver 's favorite outdoor hangout. Encircling the park, it offers spectacular waterfront vistas on one side and dense forest on the other. You can walk the whole thing in roughly three hours or rent a bike to cover the route far faster. Keep in mind: cyclists and in-line skaters must travel counterclockwise on the seawall, so there's no going back once you start (unless you walk). Also consider following the 25km of trails that crisscross the park's interior, including Siwash Rock Trail, Rawlings Trail and the popular Beaver Lake Trail (some routes are for pedestrians only). The Beaver Lake route is especially recommended; a family of beavers resides there and you'll likely spot them swimming around their large den. The seawall also delivers you to some of the park's top highlights. About 1.5km from the W Georgia St entrance, you'll come to the ever-popular totem poles. Remnants of an abandoned 1930s plan to create a First Nations 'theme village,' the bright-painted poles were joined by some exquisitely carved Coast Salish welcome arches a few years back. For the full First Nations story, consider a fascinating guided park walk with Talaysay Tours. Continue on to the nearby Nine O’Clock Gun (it fires at 9pm nightly) and Lumberman's Arch, which is a good spot to see Alaska cruise ships sliding past. From here, you can cut into the park to the popular Vancouver Aquarium or continue around the seawall; it gets wilder and more scenic as you pass under the Lions Gate Bridge and face down the Pacific Ocean. Wildlife in Stanley Park Stanley Park is studded with appeal for wildlife fans. Neat the W Georgia St entrance lies Lost Lagoon, which is a bird-beloved nature sanctuary – keep your eyes peeled for blue herons. Its perimeter pathway is also a favored stroll for wildlife nuts. Plunging deeper into the park's more secluded trails, you'll also likely spot wrens, hummingbirds and chittering little Douglas squirrels. For an introduction to the area's flora and fauna, start at the Stanley Park Nature House. You'll find friendly volunteers and exhibits on wildlife, history and ecology – ask about their well-priced guided walks. While they mostly give humans a wide berth, you might also come across a coyote or two; aggressive incidents with coyotes are rare. However, be cautious and treat them with respect and give them a wide berth as well. Beaches in Stanley Park Second Beach is a family-friendly area on the park's western side, with a grassy playground, an ice-cream-serving concession and a huge outdoor swimming pool. It's also close to Ceperley Meadows, where Fresh Air Cinema offers popular free outdoor movie screenings in summer. For a little more tranquility, try Third Beach. A sandy expanse with plenty of logs to sit against, this is a favored summer-evening destination for Vancouverites. Opening hours and other practicalities The park is free to enter and open 24 hours a day. The park can be reached by taking bus 19 from downtown. There are additional fees for bike rentals and attractions in the park, like the Vancouver Aquarium. In summer, the seawall is packed with visitors; arrive early morning or early evening if tranquil nature-communing is your bag. There are often summertime queues to enter the aquarium; try to make it one of your first stops when you arrive at the park. Hotels near Stanley Park Buchan Hotel Times Square Suites Hotel Sylvia Hotel
As you inch gingerly across one of the world's longest (140m) and highest (70m) pedestrian suspension bridges, swaying gently over roiling Capilano Canyon, remember that its thick steel cables are firmly embedded in concrete. That should steady your feet – unless there are teenagers stamping across. Added park attractions include a glass-bottomed cliffside walkway and an elevated canopy trail through the trees.
Under Vancouver's favorite geodesic dome (OK, it's only one), this ever-popular science showcase has tonnes of hands-on galleries and a cool outdoor park crammed with rugged fun (yes, you can lift 2028kg). Inside, there are two floors of brilliant educational play, from plasma balls to whisper dishes. Check out the live critters in the Sara Stern Gallery, the bodily functions exhibits in the BodyWorks area, then fly over a city on the virtual-reality Birdly ride ($8 extra).
Built between 1917 and 1980, the 8.8km seawall trail is Vancouver's favorite outdoor hangout. Encircling the whole of Stanley Park, it offers spectacular waterfront, mountain-fringed vistas on one side and dense forest canopy on the other. You can walk the whole thing in around three blister-triggering hours or rent a bike from the Denman St operators near the park entrance to cover the route faster. But what's the rush? Slow down and slide into the natural side of life instead.
For a glimpse of what the West End looked like before the apartment blocks, visit this handsome 1893 Queen Anne–style mansion, now a lovingly preserved museum. Designed by infamous architect Francis Rattenbury, the yesteryear, antique-studded rooms have a lived-in feel while its guided tour (included with admission) tells you all about its middle-class Roedde family residents. Look out for the cylinder record player, 250-year-old grandfather clock and the taxidermied deer heads that were hunted in Stanley Park in 1906.
This highly popular green-thumbed oasis is a 22-hectare, 255,000-plant idyll that offers a strollable web of pathways weaving through specialized garden areas: the Rhododendron Walk blazes with color in spring, while the Korean Pavilion is a focal point for a fascinating Asian collection. Save time to get lost in the hedge maze and look out for the herons, owls and turtles that call the park and its ponds home. Informative guided tours are also offered here daily from April to October.
Illuminating Vancouver's crime-and-vice-addled history, this quirky museum has had a recent makeover, uncovering the former coroner's courtroom (spot the elaborate cross-hatched ceiling) and sprucing up exhibits including a spine-chilling gallery of real-life cases (weapons included). The star attraction is the old autopsy room, complete with preserved slivers of human tissue; bullet-damaged brain slices are among them. Add a Sins of the City area walking tour to learn all about Vancouver's salacious olden days; tours include museum entry.
Vancouver's best museum is studded with spectacular indigenous totem poles and breathtaking carvings – but it's also teeming with artifacts from cultures around the world, from intricate Swedish lace to bright Sri Lankan folk masks. Take one of the free daily tours (check ahead for times) for some context, but give yourself at least a couple of hours to explore on your own; it's easy to immerse yourself here. On a budget? Thursday evening entry is $10 (after 5pm).
Cresting the hill in Queen Elizabeth Park, this domed conservatory is a delightful rainy-day warm-up. At Vancouver's best-value paid attraction, you'll find tropical trees and plants bristling with hundreds of free-flying, bright-plumaged birds. Listen for the noisy resident parrots but also keep your eyes peeled for rainbow-hued Gouldian finches, shimmering African superb starlings and maybe even a dramatic Lady Amherst pheasant, snaking through the undergrowth. Ask nicely and the attendants might even let you feed the smaller birds from a bowl.
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