As some of you know, I was recently invited to take part in all that Vancouver has to offer its tourists (along with everyone else in Vancouver who also works in the tourism industry – so let’s not pretend I’m special!). Most of these things I probably wouldn’t have done on my own, or would never have got around to doing. Some of them were on my list; others I’d never heard of; and they were spread all over the city, so I had the chance to explore new places, too.
So, as it’s Canada Day tomorrow, and as a celebration of Vancouver being one of the best cities in the world, here’s a rundown of my top 10 things for tourists to do on their visit.
This is most people’s number one attraction in Vancouver, which is great for a city that’s in touch with its nature! My favourite way to get around is by bike, and there are absolutely loads of rental shops just outside the park, around W Georgia Street and Denman Street. You can ride the entire seawall around the park counter-clockwise (it runs a one way system for bikes!) and stop off at the best stops like the totem poles, Lions Gate Bridge and the beaches. The whole perimeter is around 10km so bikes really are the best way to see it, although I did walk it the other day and it took me about two and a half hours!
You can also drive into Stanley Park (the main road connects downtown to North Vancouver via the Lions Gate Bridge, and there is plenty of parking around the park) and there are tours such as the horse-drawn carriages and the Stanley Park railway.
If you’re lucky, you might see seals, raccoons and possibly even beavers! (Tip: the raccoons are normally hanging out around Lost Lagoon! Yay raccoons!)
Granville Island is FOOD HEAVEN. You can reach it by bus or by boat from downtown (the boat is much more fun but a little more expensive at $3.50!). There are several markets and restaurants on the island, including a kids marketplace, but the expansive produce market is where it’s at. You’ll find everything here, from fresh fruit & veg to cupcakes to pizza to coffee to cheese to meat to maple syrup to chocolate to– you get the idea.
Richmond Night Market is a fantastic place to catch dinner too, although it’s a bit of a trek out of the city – you’d need to take the SkyTrain past the airport to Richmond.
Nestled in Stanley Park, Vancouver Aquarium has been voted one of the top 10 aquariums in the world. It’s home to the famous sea otters (if you’ve seen the photos circulating of the otters holding hands, this is where you can see them!) as well as turtles, penguins, octopus, jellyfish and even a sloth. There’s also a fun 4D movie with a few surprises; at the moment, it’s about sharks and it’s well worth going to.
What I really loved about the aquarium though, is its real focus on conservation and plastic waste. In fact, when I visited there was an entire exhibition dedicated to plastic in our oceans, and they run an #OceanWise campaign to encourage visitors around the world to pledge their support. They also encourage ethical sourcing; they approve the seafood in local restaurants as ocean-friendly and you’ll see the logo on menus all over Vancouver.
Museum Of Anthropology
I visited quite a few of the museums as part of the tourism challenge, but this was by far my favourite (I really enjoyed the Museum Of Vancouver, too)! Located about half an hour outside of downtown Vancouver, the museum sits on the edge of BC’s biggest university, UBC, and explores the history and traditions of not only First Nations communities in Canada, but tribes all over the world. The totem poles and boats are immediately eye-catching as you walk in, but the rooms dedicated to artifacts from Papua New Guinea to Samoa, from Uganda to Vanuatu, are mind-blowing in their collections. In fact, MOA prides itself on having 50,000 items on display. That’s a lot to look at!
Find out more about the museum and its exhibits here!
I was really surprised to read that this is being touted as the number one rated thing to do in Vancouver, so it would be criminal not to include it. That said, it is also one of the pricier things to do in the city at a mighty $30. Located conveniently on the harbour front atop Canada Place, this 15 minute ride gives you the sensation of flying over some of Canada’s most jaw-dropping scenery. It’s pretty breathtaking, and the feeling of wind on your face as you soar over mountains and water as you touch waterfalls makes it feel like it’s actually happening!
It actually surprised me how much I enjoyed this; I’m thinking of going back on it with Ash!
Capilano Suspension Bridge
One of the top things to do in Vancouver, almost every tourist comes here. Except me, because $42 seemed really expensive for a bridge.
I will tell you now that it’s much more than just a bridge. The bridge leads to a really nice nature reserve and there’s an awesome tree top walk on the other side, which is almost more fun than the bridge itself! There’s also a really picturesque cliff walk. I enjoyed Capilano WAY more than I expected, so I definitely recommend it. Plus you can get a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver, which runs every ten minutes!
The alternative to this is the free Lynn Canyon suspension bridge, which is really cool although admittedly nowhere near as big. There’s a lovely walk you can take around the park, including a beautiful bright green pool!
You’ll see as soon as you arrive in Vancouver that it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains. The most famous of these, Grouse Mountain, is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike and you can even get a free bus there. You can then take the gondola up to the top, but… it feels really touristy, and it’s expensive. Lots of people take the Grouse Grind instead, a – very steep – trail that takes you to the top in about an hour and a half. You can then get the gondola back down for $15, but it means you can experience all there is at the top without paying the astronomical $56.
There is also a nature reserve for two bears, Coola and Grinder, who were rescued in 2001 and given a safe haven on the mountain. This is probably the safest way you’ll ever see bears in the “wild”! Grouse Mountain also hosts various shows such as a lumberjack show which is a lot of fun although totally silly.
Ultimately, Grouse Mountain is touristy, but if you’re short on time and transport options, then it’s a fantastic way to get out of the city and into the magnificent scenery that surrounds it.
There are plenty of other far less touristy hikes in the area too – like the hike up Black Mountain I did with my new friends here – and for a ton more ideas for walks in the area, check out Josy’s blog which has all the details!
If you want a better gondola experience, I highly recommend the Sea To Sky highway in Squamish, less than an hour from downtown Vancouver. The gondola is still pricey at almost $50, but the views are astounding and the alternative hike is upwards of 4 hours, so it’s definitely worth taking the gondola if you don’t want a massive hike!
Science World is probably best experienced with kids, but after all I am a massive big kid, so I loved it here! My main draw was actually their current exhibition, The Science Behind Pixar, which runs until January 2019 (I will be going back when Ash flies out to Vancouver!).
The exhibition is so good, and actually aimed far more towards adults! Most of the kids were walking around aimlessly while their parents played around with rendering and lighting! You can design sets, create faces (do you know how difficult it was to make Jessie from Toy Story look normal?!?) and see how they created scenes, characters, and effects like hair blowing in the wind and ripples in the water. Did you know it takes 24 hours to render a second of animation? I did, because one of my friends works in VFX, in Vancouver funnily enough! But this is just one of many things you learn in the exhibition – and of course, one of the highlights is meeting Buzz!
There are loads of interactive things around Science World itself, and I found myself spending way too much time in the Eureka! room, which I suspect is really aimed more at kids…
Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens
It’s so easy to get into nature in Vancouver, but this is one really nice respite from city life in the heart of Chinatown. Part of the garden is free, although you can pay to get into the rest, as well as the galleries, and a guided tour is included with entry. I have to admit I haven’t done the tour, but it’s a really lovely place to come and sit in peace away from the crowds.
When we first came to Vancouver in 2016, we had our hearts set on one “big expense”: a whale watching tour. There are several tour companies operating out of Richmond, and we actually booked it last minute and our preferred options were sold out. We ended up going with Steveston’s Seabreeze Adventures who pulled out all the stops and not only did we see a pod of orcas, but they also went out of their way to take us to some humpback whales that had been spotted while we were on our way back. It meant we were late back from the tour, while the people on the other tours were already blissfully back in the city! Hmmm, I wonder which one I’d rather have been on!
Of course, like anything to do with nature and wildlife, there are no guarantees that you’ll see anything. But the companies are really good at helping each other out and finding out where the whales have been spotted and where they’re travelling to.
If you’re back in Richmond in time, you could always grab dinner from the Richmond night market, too!
BONUS: Sunset at English Bay
Alright, so I struggled to stick to ten, but in my defence, this isn’t really a tourist attraction. This is just the best way to end any day in Vancouver. My favourite thing to do is sit on a beach and watch the sunset, and my favourite beach is English Bay. (Kits Beach, Jericho Beach, Second Beach & Third Beach are all worthy contenders for sunset viewing, though! Isn’t it ironic that I didn’t include Sunset Beach?)
There’s loads more to do in Van City; I haven’t even mentioned the steam-powered clock in Gastown, which is probably one of the most photographed icons of Vancouver. There’s the Police Museum, and a ton more hikes. You can get fantastic views over the city from Queen Elizabeth Park, or get lost in the hedge maze at Van Dusen Gardens. There’s an art gallery in the city centre housed in a beautiful building, or you can get great views in all directions of the city and beyond from downtown from the Vancouver Lookout.
And then there’s simply sitting at the harbour, gazing out at the mountains and watching the seaplanes with your Tim Horton’s.
I think it’s safe to say I love Vancouver. Have you been, or is this somewhere you’d love to visit?!
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