Looking for some of the top things to do in Vancouver? This travel guide has everything you need to know for your next trip to Vancouver, including what to see, where to eat, and tips on how to explore this beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest.
Vancouver: Canada’s Urban Paradise
Vancouver is where majestic nature meets bustling urban life. This densely populated city in British Columbia offers West Coast beauty and a vibrant cultural scene, with neighbourhoods for every type of traveller, not to mention a ton of hot summer events and festivals. With the ocean on one side and mountains on the other, you can feel surrounded by nature even in the middle of the bustling downtown area. Vancouver is set in a continental rainforest, with a cooler rainy season and a warm summer season which offers lots of sunny days.
Vancouver’s Main Attractions
First-timers looking for some top things to do in Vancouver should begin their tour at Canada Place. This Vancouver attraction is a landmark building on the waterfront that’s famous for its distinctive architecture, with white sail-like structures on its roof. It’s also the location of the biggest Canada Day celebration in the country after Ottawa. Canada Place is complete with a restaurant, hotel, and a famous flight simulator called FlyOver Canada, and is a great place to hang out to watch the seaplane action in the Vancouver Harbour.
Best Vancouver Museums
The Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest art gallery in Western Canada and always features cutting edge art that makes an impact. If you’re looking for cultural experiences during your trip, this is one of the top things to do in Vancouver. The museum’s permanent collection contains international artworks, local indigenous work, and the largest collection of Emily Carr’s paintings of any other institution. Get in by donation on Tuesday evenings after 5 p.m.
The Museum of Vancouver or MOV, is an award-winning museum and the largest civic museum in Canada. This Vancouver attraction is filled with treasures from all over the world, including archaeological finds, important historical pieces, and more. The museum features permanent exhibitions that showcase local history and the feature exhibits address the current climate and social issues.
The history galleries at the Museum of Vancouver allow you to travel through time, exploring the early colonial days of the city, through to the 60’s – 70’s when Vancouver was the hippie capital of Canada. Don’t miss their current feature exhibition “There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Day Schools“. These rare surviving works of art are on display until January 2020.
One of the best things to do in Vancouver is to pay a visit to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia campus and its extensive ethnological collections should also be on your list of things to see in Vancouver. The MOA represents different histories and cultural communities through the respectful display of tools, artwork, and other artefacts for educational purposes. With over 50,000 objects in their collections, there is plenty to see and learn. You can save $8 off the regular price of admission on Thursday nights between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Natural Attractions in Vancouver
Looking to get lost in the forest in Vancouver? The wild isn’t very far away when you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Head north from downtown Vancouver and you’ll find yourself in the nearby North Shore mountains. The densely-forested mountains form a dramatic backdrop to the city and can be seen from quite a distance. Adventure and outdoor enthusiasts will find great skiing and hiking there, and there’s something to do here at this Vancouver attraction any time of year.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a must if you’re looking for the top things to do in Vancouver outdoors. The bridge, which is 140 metres long and 70 metres high, was constructed in 1889 and offers impressive views of the Capilano River far, far below. If you’re brave you can cross the bridge, and you can also try the Cliffwalk, which consists of suspended walkways along cliffsides. Certain sections of the Cliffwalk only have glass between you and the deep canyon, so definitely skip this one if you’re squeamish about heights.
Experience the best of Vancouver’s forests with the Treetops Adventure – a series of seven suspension bridges that extend from the many large Douglas Firs in the area, 34 metres above the ground. It’s also a great place to see totem poles and learn about British Columbia’s First Nations people. Tickets can be purchased online here.
If you don’t want to leave the city, don’t worry; there’s plenty of nature to see in the downtown area. One of the best things to do in Vancouver is to spend the day at Stanley Park, the city’s largest urban park. The incredible 1,001-acre park is home to several Vancouver attractions such as the Vancouver Aquarium, the collection of totem poles at Brockton Point, Beaver Lake, beautiful beaches, and more.
Looking for more green spaces near Vancouver? Here are a few options:
Queen Elizabeth Park is a 130-acre park in Vancouver that’s complete with an outdoor arboretum.
Nearby Queen Elizabeth Park is VanDusen Botanical Garden in Shaughnessy. With over 7,500 plant varieties from all over the world here at this beautiful Vancouver green space, you’ll be sure to find some you like!
If you’re seeking some alone time in a meditative green area, then find your Zen at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden. It’s the first Classical Chinese garden to be built outside of China. Located in the heart of Chinatown in downtown Vancouver on Carrall Street.
Things to Do with Kids in Vancouver
Science World at TELUS World of Science is a fun thing to do in Vancouver with the kids as it’s a great place for children to learn about science in an interactive way. Tickets give visitors access to several galleries, shows, and the feature exhibition. Highlights include the BodyWorks gallery, where you can familiarize yourself with the human body and the hands-on exhibits in the Eureka Gallery.
The Vancouver Aquarium, located inside Stanley Park is another kid-friendly spot in Vancouver. Their focus is conservation and they pride themselves on educating folks about marine life and sustainability. A great place to see some amazing ocean species (even penguins!) and learn plenty along the way.
An hour drive from Vancouver is the Greater Vancouver Zoo, and you’ll find some unique things to do in Vancouver here with the kids. On July 13th, July 27th, August 10th, and August 24th of this year the zoo will host a fun event called Night in the Wild, where you can bring your kids for a sleepover at the zoo to experience the fun of the Greater Vancouver Zoo under the stars! You’ll need to book this two weeks ahead, for more info check their website.
Where to Eat in Vancouver
The food scene is rich and diverse in Vancouver, and it’s definitely a city for foodies. The Birds & The Beets in Vancouver’s trendy Gastown district is everyone’s go-to spot for a tasty and affordable breakfast, snacks, sandwiches and great coffee in a low-key setting. Vegetarians and non-veggies welcome! If you’re looking for cheap late-night eats in Gastown, Gringo is a popular go-to option with some of the best tacos in town.
If you want Chinese food you can head to Chinatown, but if you want to venture a little out of the Vancouver core, head over to nearby Richmond. The large Chinese population here have opened establishments serving some real authentic Chinese food. One of the best options here is the Golden Paramount Seafood Restaurant, serving homemade dim sum selections, deep-fried wontons, and more.
Where to eat at Vancouver’s Canada Place
If you’re in the looking for upscale fine dining in Vancouver’s Canada Place, then check out the Botanist restaurant. Savour the flavours of the Pacific Northwest with their menu of sustainable seafood, fresh produce, and locally sourced ingredients. The food menu, wine and cocktails at Botanist all celebrate the natural abundance that lives here in Vancouver. Their offerings seem to be more like works of art than meals, as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate.
For some of the best views of Vancouver, sit on a sprawling patio while enjoying the view at Tap & Barrel Pub at the Convention Centre in Canada Place. They aim to showcase the best of BC with local artisanal ingredients, beer, and wines on tap. The menu features typical pub favourites with a local twist. Several of their local beer selections are small-batch beers made exclusively for them, so there’s a good case to try one of those while you can.
If you’re looking for a different and affordable place to eat, try Anatolia Express. A modest counter-serve location in the West Building at Canada Place, this Vancouver restaurant offers traditional Turkish fare as well as fish & chips, with great service and good portions of delicious food. The place is small and wouldn’t be ideal to accommodate a group – but you can always take your food to go and eat by the ocean instead.
Things to Do in Vancouver this Weekend
Best bars and clubs
There are plenty of bars and clubs if you’re looking for a fun night out in Vancouver. Each neighbourhood offers something unique, so you will have plenty of options. Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown, is the place to go for pubs and bars such as the well-known Irish Heather or The Diamond on Powell Street. The Roxy Nightclub is among the best-known clubs in Vancouver.
Yaletown is another neighbourhood with vibrant nightlife in Vancouver. If you’re looking to party at the best gay clubs, then head to the village and you’ll find some on Davie Street. For craft beer enthusiasts, there are some real gems to be found in Vancouver’s industrial neighbourhoods. For details, have a look at our article on Vancouver’s craft beer scene.
If you’re looking for a different thing to do in Vancouver at night, then head to the Richmond Night Market. It is open on weekends through the summer and also at Christmas. It’s the biggest night market in North America and features plenty to do with the kids, as a couple, or solo. Come hungry and decisive, as you’ll have 120 different food vendors to choose from! If you’re feeling lucky then you can head over to the river rock casino nearby when you’re done at the market.
For up-to-date info on what’s happening this weekend in Vancouver, check out this website.
Public transit in Vancouver is relatively abundant, accessible, and makes an effort to showcase the city’s natural beauty. The SkyTrain consists of three rapid transit rail routes: the Expo Line, the Millennium Line, and the Canada Line.
You can get from Downtown to North Vancouver in 12 minutes with the SeaBus-a passenger-only ferry with scenic views of the ocean and mountains. West Coast Express connects Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver to Mission and has several stops along the way. You can also use taxis or rent a car in Vancouver.
Weather in Vancouver
Vancouver is spared from the weather extremes felt in the rest of Canada, with a comparably mild temperature that is welcoming to visitors all year round. Vancouver enjoys a moderate oceanic climate, which makes it one of the warmest cities in Canada, though winters (December to February) are cold, with temperatures of 1 to 8 degrees Celsius. March is the windiest month, while January and December are the months with the largest amount of rain.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to travel to Vancouver is during the summer (June to August) when the daytime temperatures are between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. July and August are the hottest and the driest months, but still relatively comfortable. Summer in Vancouver means plenty of outdoor festivals, so make sure you plan your trip around at least one!
If you’re trying to escape a neverending winter elsewhere, you might also consider visiting Vancouver during the spring when you will find temperatures around 12-15 degrees Celsius. Although it’s not the sunniest time of year, lots of flowers are in bloom and the smell of spring fills the air. Spring weather usually starts in February for this continental rainforest, and it’s a great time to be outside hiking and enjoying the air at its freshest. Regardless of when you visit, book your hotel in advance to get the best deals.
Flying to Vancouver
There are cheap flights to Vancouver from all over the world, all year long. The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is conveniently connected to the Canada Line – part of Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit system. Thanks to this you can hop on the metro without even stepping foot outside (which is especially great during the rainy season) and quickly access any part of the city. You can also step outside and grab one of the taxis-in-waiting, or rent a car. The airport is roughly a 30-minute drive away from downtown Vancouver.
Where to Stay
On a budget? C&N Backpackers Hostel Vancouver on Main Street is less than a kilometre away from Gastown, and an easy walk from the World of Science and other popular Vancouver attractions. The hostel is complete with a kitchen, WiFi, and laundry services. A great option if your travel group is on a budget or your travelling solo in Vancouver!
Ponderosa Studios in Vancouver by UBC campus is a stylish mid-range option, located near Jericho Beach. This affordable 2-star option features free parking and WiFi.
For a luxurious experience then you can consider the Opus Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Vancouver. It features a gym and a spa/wellness centre. Use the search engine below to get access to a ton of hotel deals for your trip to Vancouver. The hotels by price, stars, and guest rating so you can choose one that’s right for you.