Visiting Vancouver? Here are the Definitive 21 Must-Dos
Visiting Vancouver or just fancy being a tourist for the day? Check out the definitive 21 must-dos!
1. Visit Granville Island
Granville Island is a foodie mecca! With a public market stuffed full of amazing artisan vendors and fascinating industrial history, you'll want to spend a few hours exploring. TIP for you: join a Vancouver Foodie Tours "Granville Island Market Tour" - in two hours a local tour guide will have provided tastings of the best food in the market whilst sharing the history and pointing out things you might not have noticed. It takes a visit to Granville Island to the next level! Beyond the food, Granville Island also has shops, theatres, improv comedy, breweries, buskers and great views of the city. It's my #1 Vancouver must-do!
2. Cycle the Seawall
The Vancouver Seawall is the longest uninterrupted seawall in the world! It's 28km from the Vancouver Convention Centre, circling Stanley Park, past English Bay and all the way around the False Creek, along to Kits and finishing at Spanish Banks beach. You can happily spend a day cycling a section; stopping for coffee, treats, breweries, beaches, parks, Granville Island, Olympic Village, Science World! It's the highlight of Vancouver and a must-do for any visitor or local alike.
3. Visit Stanley Park
While the seawall is a must, deviating from the path and getting inside Stanley Park is also worth doing! Vancouver's largest park is also its most famous with beaches, lakes, totem poles, concerts at the Malkin Bowl, fine dining, rose gardens, the Aquarium, miniature railway and 27km of forest trails. Stanley Park is full of history and stories and also provides some of the best viewpoints in the city.
4. Get lost in Gastown
Gastown is full of character and charm and whilst the famous Steam Clock is a bit of a tourist trap - it does make for some beautiful photographs. Spend some time exploring the cobbled streets, wandering down alleyways and allowing yourself to get lost in the architecture. You'll also find yourself indulging in great coffee at Timbertrain, too many treats at Purebread (trust me, one is never enough) and exploring the independent shops, restaurants and bars which make up some of the best in the city.
5. See The Celebration of Light
If you're visiting Vancouver in the summer, try to make sure you catch the Honda Celebration of Light. It typically takes place over 3 weeks in July and August and is a global firework competition. Each week a different country puts on a firework display offshore within English Bay. Tickets can be purchased for festivals, prime seating, dining, boat trips and more but it can also be enjoyed for free! TIP: best free viewing spots are English Bay, Second Beach and Kits Beach! If you're not near speakers, make sure to tune in to the radio coverage as each display has an accompanying soundtrack.
6. Ski the North Shore Mountains
Not only is Vancouver just a short 2 hour drive from world-famous Whistler Blackcomb, but it also boasts three mountains on the north shore. Grouse, Cypress and Mount Seymour can be seen from the city and their twinkling snow-capped peaks tempt skiers, snowboarders and snow-shoers during the winter months. Each is about a 30 minute drive from downtown (Grouse is accessible by bus) and all three offer night skiing for midweek fun! Not many cities offer post-work skiing with unbelievable views of the city and sea below!
7. Hike the North Shore Mountains
When the snow melts, the mountain trails open up. Mountain biking is also an option for the less faint hearted! Hiking the Grouse Grind is one of the city's 'musts' - although I should stress; if you hate exercise, take the gondola! The Grind is an intense, sweat-inducing, uphill slog, typically taking about an hour for adults of moderate fitness. Cypress and Seymour also offer fabulous hiking options such as Eagle Bluffs or the Baden Powell trail. Information about length, difficulty etc. can be found on the Vancouver trails website.
8. Go up the Vancouver Lookout Tower
The Vancouver Lookout Tower in the Harbour Centre offers 360° views over the city. There is also a revolving restaurant above the viewing gallery. Each viewpoint has an information panel below, letting you know just what you're looking at plus a bit of history about each landmark. It is a great way to get to know the city and to get your bearings. Mount Baker in Washington, USA is visible on a clear day and the tower can provide one of the best viewing spots for the Canada Day fireworks! TIP for you: your ticket is valid all day so be sure to return in the evening to see the city at night.
9. Catch a movie at Canada Place
In the summer, the North Point at Canada Place puts on a free waterfront movie series! Get there early to nab a good spot and enjoy the beautiful sunset before the movie starts. TIP: unlike watching a movie in Stanley Park on the GRASS, Canada Place's concrete base is not quite so comfy on just a humble picnic blanket. Camping chairs will definitely heighten the experience. Plus lots of snacks, hell I'd say a full-on picnic, and blankets for when the temp. drops!
10. Take a Flight on a Seaplane
Vancouver is home to one of the busiest seaplane terminals in the world! With commuter flights to Vancouver Island and other parts of BC, plus scenic flights, there are several reasons to incorporate a seaplane trip into your itinerary! Few cities can rival the beauty of Vancouver's mountains and shoreline and seeing this from above, really is an out-of-this-world experience.
11. Check out the Breweries
Vancouver's craft beer scene is pretty exciting! And this is coming from a former non-beer drinker! The volume of breweries and interesting beers coming out of them is pretty impressive for a city Vancouver's size. From 33Acres, Main St Brewery, Brassneck, Bomber, Postmark, Faculty - to name a few - Vancouver's breweries are numerous and delicious. Definitely worth spending some time indulging in a bit of a brewery crawl!
12. Give Improv Comedy a try
Vancouver has a pretty great comedy selection with stand-up nights like the Comedy Mix or YukYuks but it also has improv comedy - think 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' but more random, improvised and hilarious! The Sunday Service is a weekly improv night at Fox Caberet on Main where the group almost have a cult following in Vancouver. Tickets are $7 on the door. Or check out the many different comedy nights from the Vancouver TheatreSports League at the Improv Center on Granville Island, Tue-Sundays weekly.
13. Go Whale Watching
One of the best things you can do in Vancouver is take the chance to watch orcas in the wild. With transient and resident orcas regularly spotted in the Georgia Strait, chances of sightings from May to November are pretty high. Spotting eagles, seals, humpback whales, porpoises are also often part and parcel of a whale watching tour! If you're lucky, you'll get to see the main event and if not *TIP* - check your company offer a 'no whales guarantee', whereby if you don't find any, you're given a free ticket to come back again!
14. Drive to the Cypress Mountain Lookout
If you have access to a car (and if you don't - be sure to check out Evo), take a trip to the Cypress Mountain Lookout. It offers amazing views over the city, the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park. Head up for sunset, bring a camera and big jumper and watch the city change to a dusky pink. Beautiful! Pack a picnic for the ultimate date-night.
15. Watch a game at BC Place
I always think it's fun to go to a local sporting event when I travel! In Vancouver, you'll find it hard to miss BC Place. The huge 54,500 seater arena is the home of the Vancouver Whitecaps football/soccer team (depending on which side of the pond you're from), the BC Lions Canadian football team and Rugby Sevens. There's also the BC Sports Hall of Fame if you want to learn more about Vancouver's sporting history.
16. Support the Vancouver Canucks
For a quintessential Canadian experience, check out an ice hockey game! Rogers Arena is home to the Vancouver Canucks and is nextdoor to BC Place. Brushing up on some of the rules beforehand might help if you're completely new to ice hockey - if that fails, beer is the answer! Buy a foam finger, sit in the gods and scream at the players like you have a clue what's going on.
17. Have a stroll around Coal Harbour
Vancouver is an extremely walkable city. In no time at all you can find yourself at Coal Harbour, Vancouver's waterfront with fabulous views of North Vancouver and plenty to keep you occupied. Watch the seaplanes take off, the cruise ships depart and experience all of Canada on an 8 minute flying ride before a 20m spherical screen with FlyOver Canada (it has to be seen to be believed)! After building up an appetite, indulge in Vancouver's best sushi at Miku and top it off with worldclass gelato at Bella Gelateria.
18. Explore the neighbourhoods
If you're staying in a hotel downtown, be sure to check out some of Vancouver's neighbourhoods. Each one is brimming with its own character, best restaurants and charms. Mount Pleasant features some of Vancouver's best breweries, diners, shopping on Main and comedy. I can happily while away a few hours snacking my way down Main! Kitsilano offers a chilled out beach vibe. Commercial Drive has funky bars and restaurants and gigs at the Rio. The West End sees Vancouver's LGBTQ community at home on Davie St and excellent dining options on Denman. Each neighbourhood offers something different so be sure to explore while you visit the city.
19. Experience the Sea to Sky Gondola
Just one hour north of Vancouver is the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish. Ride 885m above sea level for breathtaking views of the Howe Sound below. If you're feeling athletic, you can hike up the Sea to Summit trail or the neighbouring Chief hike. The gondola is also a great option if you want to reach the elevation without the climb; offering plenty of trails, a suspension bridge, viewing platforms, restaurants - its got something for everyone.
20. Hunt out the best murals
Vancouver is full of street art which is often political, provocative or just downright pretty! It also hosts the annual Vancouver Mural Festival which creates permanent large-scale murals each year, mostly around Main Street. Be sure to peak down alleyways or look above eye level as you explore Vancouver - you never know what you might see!
21. Relax on the beach
Not many of the world's major cities offer the chance to hit the beach post-work. Vancouver offers just that! Jericho, Spanish Banks, Kits, English Bay, Second Beach, Third Beach, Wreck Beach, Locarno, Sunset Beach Park - all within a max 20min drive of downtown Vancouver! All you need is the weather. Although even in winter, seaside strolls are always a delight! Just maybe leave the bikini at home ...
Voted one of the most liveable cities in the world; for me, a lot of what makes Vancouver such a great city isn't always the tourist attractions. Not that I'm knocking them, I just think getting inside a city's character and venturing outside of the downtown core really helps you connect with a city on a deeper level. Vancouver has it all: mountains, beaches, world-class cuisine, vibrant communities and a bustling downtown core. Visiting Vancouver itself should be a priority and hopefully the definitive 21 must-dos have given you plenty of ideas for a jam-packed trip!