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Top 10 Things to do in Vancouver

by Travelbag on 16 January 2020, 15:01PM

Vancouver

Canada’s third-largest metropolis, after Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver’s consistently ranked among the world’s most liveable cities. And it’s fairly easy to see why. Besides having thriving arts and food scenes, this coastal city still retains a laidback charm. It also boasts one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world. Fringed by the ocean on one side and mountains on the other, it’s a fantastic holiday destination for outdoor adventures.

Nearby Vancouver Island is equally as appealing. With scenic coastal walks, bear-filled forests and lots of wild whales, this large isle has plenty to offer. And its allure certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. If you’re thinking about following in their footsteps and visiting Canada’s west coast, here are 10 of the best things to do in Vancouver.

 

1. Explore historic Gastown

Charming Gastown, with its cobblestone streets and Victorian buildings, is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. The area's named after ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton, a retired steamboat captain who opened the first bar here in 1867. While you’re in the area, visit the bronze statue of him that still stands in Maple Tree Square. Some of the city’s trendiest shops, bars and restaurants line Gastown’s main thoroughfare, Water Street. And there’s also a tonne of artists’ studios and independent galleries. But the neighbourhood’s most famous landmark is the Gastown Steam Clock. Built in 1977, it’s one of very few functioning steam-powered clocks in the world.

2. Spend a day in Stanley Park

This sprawling green space on the edge of Downtown is the city’s crowning glory. Largely surrounded by water, it combines formal gardens, temperate rainforest and marshland, and offers many of the best things to do in Vancouver. Within Stanley Park’s 1,000 acres, you’ll find three beaches – English Bay, Second Beach and Third Beach – a golf course, 17 tennis courts, and two lakes, called Beaver Lake and the Lost Lagoon. Enjoy spectacular views by walking or cycling the 8.8-kilometre seawall. Along the way, you'll spot the Lions Gate Bridge and Girl in a Wetsuit – a life-size bronze statue by Elek Imredy.

Stanley Park

3. Pass a rainy day at Vancouver Art Gallery

Located in the heart of Downtown, Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest art gallery in western Canada. It’s also widely regarded as one of North America’s most innovative visual arts institutions. Home to over 9,000 artworks, it’s one of the best things to do in Vancouver if you’re an art lover. A particular highlight is its collection of paintings by Emily Carr – a famous Canadian artist and writer inspired by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. In addition to the permanent collection, Vancouver Art Gallery also puts on a number of temporary exhibitions every year, showcasing works from around the world.

4. Eat your way around Granville Island

Once an active ironworks and shipbuilding centre, Granville Island – which is technically a peninsula, not an island – was overhauled in the Seventies. It’s now one of Vancouver’s most thriving and dynamic destinations. With an abundance of studios and galleries, it’s considered the city’s premier artistic hub. It also hosts numerous performing arts and cultural festivals year-round. The highlight, though, is definitely the Granville Island Public Market. If you’re a foodie, this should be top of your list of things to do in Vancouver. A smorgasbord of delis, lunch counters, restaurants and stalls, it sells everything from cheese, meat and bread to confectionary, fresh produce, noodles and pizza. Head out into the courtyard and you can enjoy your culinary delights while listening to the buskers who often congregate there.

Granville Island

5. Stroll around Chinatown

You can easily while away a whole morning in Vancouver’s colourful Chinatown. It’s the largest Chinatown in Canada, and the third biggest in North America. The shops and markets are a great place to pick up souvenirs, and you can enjoy authentic Chinese food in one of the many dim sum restaurants. On the corner of Carrall and Pender streets you’ll find the Sam Kee Building. At just six feet wide it is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s narrowest building. Across the road is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – a tranquil oasis that offers respite from the neighbourhood’s hustle and bustle. It was built in 1986, as part of the Expo ‘86 celebrations, and at the time was the first full-scale Classical Chinese Garden of its kind outside Asia.

6. Take a dip in Kitsilano

In the Sixties, Kitsilano was Vancouver’s hippie hangout, and today it attracts an artsy crowd, yummy mummies and health-conscious yoga types. While the streets are packed with organic markets and farm-to-table restaurants, the beach offers epic views of the city skyline and the mountains beyond. With this spectacular vista, Kitsilano Beach – or Kits Beach as locals call it – is one of the best urban beaches around. There’s ample space to sunbathe or toss a frisbee, and there are permanent volleyball nets set up on the sand.

On a warm day, you can cool down with a dip in the Pacific Ocean. Or, if you’re a more serious swimmer, you might prefer the Kitsilano Pool. Open all summer, the giant, heated, saltwater pool is nearly three times the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

Kitsilano Beach

7. Spot marine life at the Vancouver Aquarium

In addition to everything else, Stanley Park is home to the Vancouver Aquarium. Ranked among North America’s very best attractions, it houses over 50,000 animals, including penguins, sea lions, otters and turtles. The focus at the Vancouver Aquarium is very much on sustainability and conservation. The aquarium is part of the Ocean Wise initiative, which aims to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Vancouver Aquarium also runs Canada's only dedicated marine mammal rescue facility. The team here rescue, rehabilitate and release over 150 marine mammals each year.

8. Hit the slopes at Grouse Mountain

Vancouver’s long proved popular with skiers and snowboarders because of its proximity to Whistler. Although only a couple of hours away – virtually nothing by Canadian standards – it’s a little far for a day trip. If you’re short on time but skiing’s still on your list of things to do in Vancouver, Grouse Mountain – just 15 minutes from Downtown – is a great alternative. With 33 runs, six terrain parks and a whole host of snowshoe trails, this is Vancouver’s outdoor playground. You can access the peak via the Skyride gondola. Or, if you’re visiting in summer, you won't be able to ski but you might want to hike the Grouse Grind – a 2.9-kilometre trail up the face of Grouse Mountain, commonly known as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.’

Grouse Mountain

9. Test your mettle at Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver’s oldest and most popular landmarks. Located in North Vancouver – not far from Grouse Mountain – it’s been attracting visitors since 1889. It’s 230 feet high and stretches 450 feet across the Capilano River and the surrounding evergreen forest.

Also in the 27-acre park are seven suspended footbridges and a heart-stopping cliff walk. This is one of the best things to do in Vancouver if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush. Following a granite precipice along the Capilano River, it takes you through the Douglas firs on a labyrinth-like series of narrow cantilevered bridges, platforms and stairways. The more faint-hearted can stick to the forest floor on a guided nature walk. Alternatively, immerse yourself in First Nations’ culture at Kia’palano and learn about the totem poles dotted around the park.

10. Catch the ferry to Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is one of Canada’s top tourist hotspots. It takes about four hours to get there from Downtown Vancouver if you go by car and ferry – or bus and ferry – or just over half an hour if you fly. Stretching almost 500 kilometres from north to south, it’s the largest of North America’s west-coast islands – so not really suitable for a day trip. Instead you should allow a good few days to explore the island’s quaint fishing villages, independent communities and rugged wilderness.

The biggest settlement on Vancouver Island is Victoria, which is also the provincial capital of British Columbia. Although most of the island’s population is concentrated in this area, Victoria retains something of a small-town feel. Its 19th-century architecture and pretty waterfront make it aesthetically appealing, and there are also some great restaurants, craft breweries and the superb Royal BC Museum.

Further afield, tiny Tofino is notable for its near-perfect beaches and excellent surfing. It’s also a top spot for whale watching. Orcas, humpback whales and gray whales all reside off the coast of Vancouver Island. In Telegraph Cove, on the northeast of the island, you can even go kayaking with these gentle giants. Away from the water, there are ample hiking trails all over the island. If you’re up for a challenge, the West Coast Trail is a 75-kilometre trail which runs through the Pacific Rim National Park and takes five to seven days to complete.

Tofino, Vancouver Island

Ready to book your trip? Take a closer look at our holidays to Canada.

And if you’re a wildlife enthusiast, read about one writer’s experience tracking grizzly bears in British Columbia.


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