Vancouver is a city for all seasons with surprises around every corner. Whether it’s a long lunch in a fine restaurant or an invigorating mountain hike, there are lots of cool things to do in Vancouver for everyone.
Vancouver has plenty of amazing restaurants, bars and shops. If you need time out in nature, between drinks (yes, Vancouver is one of the top party cities in Canada), there’s lots to do outdoors too.
- 43 Things To Do in Vancouver
- Things To Do In Vancouver This Weekend
- 1- Shop And Eat In Gastown
- 2- Go On A Cruise
- 3- Explore The Museum of Anthropology
- 4- Go On A Food And Drink Tour
- 5- Explore Little India
- 6- Shop At Granville Island’s Market
- 7- Walk Across Capilano Suspension Bridge
- 8- Visit The Grouse Mountain Bears
- 9- Hunt For Something Delicious To Eat
- 10- Drink Coffee
- 11- Relax In A Spa
- 12- Go Shopping On Robson Street
- 13- Explore Vancouver’s Multicultural Precincts
- 14- Ride The Vancouver Trolley To The Lookout
- 15- Have a nightcap at The Fairmont Hotel
- Things To Do In Vancouver With Kids
- 16- Get an adrenaline rush on Sea Vancouver’s Zodiac
- 17- Board the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish
- 18- International Children’s Festival
- 19- Explore Science World
- 20- Visit The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
- 21- Step Back Into History At Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada
- 22- Take The Hop On Hop Off Bus
- Things to do in Vancouver – Festivals
- 23- Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival
- 24- No Pants Skytrain Ride
- 25- Talking Stick Festival
- 26- Coastal First Nations Dance Festival
- 27- Vancouver International Burlesque Festival
- 28- Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration
- 29- Vancouver Draw Down
- 30- Dragon Boat Festival
- 31- Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films
- 32- World Naked Bike Ride
- 33- Caribbean Days Festival
- 34- Golden Dumpling Cook-off and Derby
- 35- Vancouver Zombie Walk, September
- 39- Winter Solstice Lantern Festival, December
- Things To Do In Vancouver For Free
- Things To Do In Vancouver This Weekend
43 Things To Do in Vancouver
Things To Do In Vancouver This Weekend
First time in Vancouver? Visiting for a quick weekend or passing through for a few days? Here are the first three things to do in Vancouver to hit the ground running.
1- Shop And Eat In Gastown
Gastown is the oldest neighbourhood, in Vancouver and walking around its cobbled streets is a great way to spend your first few hours.
The shops, boutiques and bars of Gastown grew from the original tavern owned by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton in 1867.
Admire Victorian architecture while shopping for cutting-edge fashion or delight in the artistic creations in Gastown’s galleries.
From boutiques to bars, you’ll easily spend a couple of days soaking up the culture and culinary delights of Vancouver’s most charming neighbourhood.
Try these Gastown tours:
- 2.5-hour Food Walking Tour of Gastown
- 3-hour Gastronomic Tour of Gastown
- Food and Craft Beer Tour of Gastown
- Secrets of Vancouver Tour
2- Go On A Cruise
Explore Vancouver by water on a boat trip. There are several to choose from and relaxing on the water is a great way to acquaint yourself while resting your feet.
- Take an electric boat cruise of Coal Harbor
- Go on a one-hour harbour sightseeing cruise
- Combine a cruise along Indian Arm fjord with lunch.
- For more action, Sea Vancouver offers a 90-minute zip around the harbour on a Zodiac.
- Looking for a wildlife cruise? try Sewell’s Marina Sea Safari or go on a whale watching cruise from Vancouver to see Orcas and humpback whales.
3- Explore The Museum of Anthropology
If you only have time to visit one Vancouver museum, put the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia at the top of your list.
On display are massive sculptures and totems that you may not see anywhere else, such as the Raven and the First Men sculpture by Bill Reid.
Spending time in the museum will give you a real feel for the culture of the First Nations people.
The MOA is at 6393 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver.
For more attractions in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island read:
4- Go On A Food And Drink Tour
Joining a food tour is a great way to meet other travellers and to discover restaurants, bars and breweries you may not have chosen yourself.
It’s also a good way to discover hidden gems and eat like a local.
From eating dumplings in Chinatown to discovering the best places to eat and drink in Gastown, treat yourself to a private local tour with a Vancouver foodie who will customise your evening to suit your taste.
5- Explore Little India
Or at least Vancouver’s version. Vancouver is a culturally diverse city with many Indian residents.
While Indians have lived and worked in Vancouver for more than a century, in the 1970s they reached critical mass and the Punjabi Market was born.
This neighbourhood occupies six blocks of Main Street in South Vancouver.
Marvel at gold bangles and silks, smell the curry and pretend you’re 10,880 km away.
6- Shop At Granville Island’s Market
Buckets of blueberries, wood chips of apple, and salmon the shade of a burnt sunset – Vancouver’s most famous markets at Granville Island are a kaleidoscope of colour.
Those chasing a smart latte flock here for their mid-morning caffeine fix, local chefs forage for ingredients and nosey tourists partake in that ancient art-form of people watching.
Struggling artists straddle quaint shop fronts subsidised by a city devoted to elaborate blown glass, intricate hand-made jewellery and printed scarves which are all created on-site.
But parents beware – the kid’s market is a treasure trove of toys and games and not only will it drive you a little crazy – you’ll no doubt leave feeling a few looney ($1 Canadian) and tooney ($2 Canadian) lighter.
7- Walk Across Capilano Suspension Bridge
Local first nations people once called Capilano suspension bridge over Vancouver’s North Shore, the “laughing bridge” because of the noise it made when the wind blew through the canyon.
The wooden slats strung like a hammock over the deep canyon below are groaning under the weight of hoards of holidaymakers and it sways like a hula dancer.
If you do manage to unfurl those knuckles and tip-toe across to the other side, there’s a platform among the 3000-year-old west coast rainforest treetops.
Who needs pretentious oxygen therapy when the air is the scent of cedar? Take this self-guided tour of the suspension bridge for an experience you won’t forget.
8- Visit The Grouse Mountain Bears
There’s almost 200 metres of cable bridges suspended between the towering evergreens.
In the mid-summer afternoon sunshine, the bears on Grouse Mountain are a little grizzly.
OK – so they may be in captivity but I’m reliably informed it’s the best-case scenario when it comes to encountering these beasts.
Locals reckon the herbivorous black bears sometimes knock on the doors of unsuspecting North Shore residents.
But it’s the Grizzlies you really don’t want to meet in the wild.
The Grouse Mountain bear carer informs me humans are not the first choice of entrée.
There’s a 1250 metre cable car ride up to the top of the mountain and once there, you can even have breakfast with the bears.
For another thrill, take the mountain zip line which soars up to 80 km/h over the valleys below.
Nearby, also check out Capilano River Regional Park for stunning views of The Lions or go hiking The Lions for a good workout. Skip the queue and book your Grouse Mountain ticket here.
9- Hunt For Something Delicious To Eat
Vancouver has no shortage of fine restaurants, cafes and bakeries. If you love chocolate, check out these artisan chocolate makers.
Chambar (586 Beatty Street) touts itself as “civilised debauchery” with a “carbon neutral” twist.
It’s all about an “unpretentious fling with fine dining” at this establishment.
Sporting a Parisian-style interior and open for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and dessert, this French-inspired menu will literally roll off your tongue with delicious dishes such as mussels done three ways, as well as an impressive tapas offering.
The cocktail list is also fun and fruity and includes a wide variety of newcomers.
10- Drink Coffee
If you’re looking for a good coffee, there’s no shortage of cool cafes in Vancouver. Vancouver’s cat cafe is also a popular stop for cat lovers.
A light shower has forced the latte set inside at Caffe Artigiano – which opened its first store in downtown Vancouver’s Hornby Street in 2000.
This Italian-inspired concept – where the best beans are sourced from around the world and specially roasted by the coffee artisans – has since blossomed to a total of six locations around the city.
Today’s coffee is from Rwanda while the music is laced with a distinct Middle-Eastern flavour.
A conga line of patrons await their morning frappes and the artiste is busy at work.
11- Relax In A Spa
Pick a luxury hotel in Vancouver and you’ll find a spa as many of these Vancouver hotels have spas you’ll love.
They call this personal training without lifting a finger.
Vancouver’s Skoah Spa specialises in a facial menu that will combat the effects of too many vodkas.
Try the oh-so-delicious “facialiscious” – a “workout” for your skin which includes deep cleansing, exfoliating, extractions (pimple-popping), detoxifying, a stimulating masque and soothing massage.
The flagship store is cocooned in the trendy warehouse district in Yaletown and you’ll emerge, one hour later, with what locals call the Skoah glow-ah.
12- Go Shopping On Robson Street
Ask any local where to shop in Vancouver and the answer is invariably Robson Street.
Robson Street is to Vancouver what Oxford Street is to London, boasting three blocks of boutiques including Guess, GAP, Banana Republic and Steve Madden.
And when your feet get too tired from trying on all those eclectic shoes, there are plenty of places to grab a quick bite, or something more substantial.
For more things to do in British Columbia see:
13- Explore Vancouver’s Multicultural Precincts
For great silk, wander down to Main Street and India Town where you can buy enough fabric to make drapes or purchase an exotic shirt.
For a good coffee, head to “little Italy” along Commercial Drive where all of the great original Italian cappuccino bars started in Vancouver.
People watchers will appreciate Havanna for lunch.
Amble through Chinatown and the Dr Sun Yet Sing Gardens which were specially built for Vancouver’s 1986 Expo.
The Tour Guys have been giving free walking tours of Vancouver for five years now.
Tour options include Chinatown, downtown and the waterfront, Granville Street, Gastown and other places to visit in Vancouver.
Daily in the summer, less frequently in the off-season.
The only drawback?
The tour is free but your guide is really, really hoping for a tip.
14- Ride The Vancouver Trolley To The Lookout
The fire-engine red Vancouver Trolley company tour is the best way to navigate around the city sights.
Start at the last stop – the Lookout – from where time-poor travellers can view all the city sights in a swoop.
The Lookout is to Vancouver what Centrepoint is to Sydney (and that’s not the only similarity between these two cities) and the glass lift ride to the top is exhilarating in itself.
Peer down on all the Trolley stops – there’s 34 all up – and spy a luxury cruise liner in the Vancouver Harbour.
15- Have a nightcap at The Fairmont Hotel
A sultry songstress tickles the ivories at the dimly-lit piano bar and the waiter shrugs in mock concern at the half-empty lounge chairs.
Vancouver’s Grand Dame – the Fairmont Hotel – is a patient mistress and come dusk she knows the masses will come home for a nightcap. While in Canada, be sure to try a Ceaser Cocktail.
One unexpected guest, you may encounter is the Lady in Red, the hotel’s resident friendly spirit.
Rumour has it this high society gal, who once graced the halls in her elegant red dress, had such a blast she forgot to check out and can be seen exiting empty elevator shafts.
Originally opened in 1887, the hotel has undergone several reincarnations – in 1916 and again in 1939.
The Queen has stayed in the hotel with its handcrafted gargoyles which guard the exterior. But it’s the hotel’s underbelly that holds all the secrets.
Things To Do In Vancouver With Kids
16- Get an adrenaline rush on Sea Vancouver’s Zodiac
Shake off jet lag and perk yourself up with an adrenalin rush and hop onboard Sea Vancouver’s high-speed zodiac sightseeing tour.
Cruise in and around downtown Vancouver past Stanley Park and English Bay.
Keep an eye out for an array of wildlife, including bald eagles and seals.
Book your Sea Vancouver cruise here.
17- Board the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish
The Sea to Sky gondola ascends 885m to sweeping views of the Howe Sound fjord, coastal rainforest and surrounding mountains.
At the top, you can wander around two interpretive trails with cantilevered viewing platforms, traverse the Sky Pilot suspension bridge, hike and rock climb to enjoy stunning views.
You can make a day trip of it and continue further to explore Brandywine Falls and Whistler Village, which is a charming place to wander around.
A relaxing way to explore is to join this day tour to take it all in or if you’re after an adrenalin rush, Scenic Rush offers driving experiences along the Sea to Sky Highway where you can experience the thrill of driving four luxury cars, including a Ferrari and Lamborghini, with stops along the way for stunning photo opportunities.
18- International Children’s Festival
Looking for a Vancouver festival your kids will love?
Of all the Vancouver festivals, this one was made just for them.
Expect international musicians, circus acts and theatre companies during this week-long event.
There’s even a Francophone day.
19- Explore Science World
Science World is an eye-catching science centre in a building shaped like a ball.
It was built in 1986 for the World Fair and is filled with displays, live educational science shows and activities that will capture young minds.
The BodyWorks gallery showcases facts about the human body, including a cool program that allows you to visualise what you might look like when you’re older.
Another popular exhibit is Eureka, a hands-on area focusing on light and sound.
Science World is at 1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 3Z7.
20- Visit The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
Discover the secrets of the universe while visiting Vancouver’s H.R. MacMillan Space Centre.
Learn about rocket science and explore space exhibits and games while learning amazing facts about space exploration.
Highlights include a J-2 rocket engine and a replica of the International Space Station.
Book into watch an astronomy show at the Planetarium Star Theatre or visit on Saturday evenings to peer through the half-metre Cassegrain telescope.
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver, BC V6J 3J9
21- Step Back Into History At Fort Langley National Historic Site of Canada
In 1827, Fort Langley was a fur trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
It sits on the banks of the Fraser River and was once an important part of the trade route between the British and First Nations people.
Visiting the historic precinct is like stepping through a time portal, where demonstrations of traditional crafts, such as blacksmithing and barrel-making, transport visitors into a past era.
It’s an excellent place for kids, with a great Children’s Play Area and activities such as dressing up and participating in the Xplorers program.
Fort Langley is at 23433 Mavis Avenue, Fort Langley, BC V1M 2R5
22- Take The Hop On Hop Off Bus
The open-air bus is a great way to explore Vancouver.
With 29 stops, there’s bound to be plenty of places to suit the whole family, such as Science World, Stanley Park, Coal Harbour, English Bay Beach and Chinatown.
You can hop off whenever you feel like it and explore as long as you want, then hop back on again to continue to the next exciting destination.
Book your hop on hop off bus pass here.
Things to do in Vancouver – Festivals
By Teresa Bergen
Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city that likes to celebrate every occasion.
From the Vancouver International Jazz Festival to the brand new downtown New Year’s Eve Festival, residents and visitors join in the fun.
But some festivals are a little more unusual than others, and may even need a bit of explanation, so here are some cool Vancouver festivals to put on your list.
If you’re not in Vancouver when there’s a festival, don’t worry, Vancouver is possibly the best party city in Canada for a fun time.
23- Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival
Do you like hibiscus in your hot chocolate? Or perhaps whiskey-infused marshmallows?
Over 25 cafes participate in the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival, offering 57 special concoctions around town for 27 days.
That means you need to drink more than two cups of cocoa a day to try all the flavours.
24- No Pants Skytrain Ride
Part of a larger No Pants Subway movement that started in New York in 2002, riders-in-the-know surprise their peers by suddenly removing their pants on Vancouver’s Skytrain at a designated time.
Outside of a hot yoga studio, this is probably the barest legs you’ll see in Vancouver in the dead of winter. And perhaps one of the quirkiest of the Vancouver festivals.
25- Talking Stick Festival
If you want to know what’s going on in contemporary First Nations culture, you’ll find everything from aboriginal cabaret to powwows and storytelling.
Full Circle First Nations Performance created this festival in 2002.
26- Coastal First Nations Dance Festival
When this Vancouver festival started in 1967, it helped revive a long-oppressed native arts scene.
This is your chance to experience songs, dances and stories performed in full First Nations regalia.
Expect authentic dancing, colourful feathers and symbolic handmade animal masks.
27- Vancouver International Burlesque Festival
Vancouver has a wide variety of burlesque performers – sub-genres range from gore-lesque to strip hop – and they’ll all be on display during this three-day celebration.
Get in on one of the most fun things to do at the Vancouver festival by joining a workshop.
Don’t miss the international headliners either.
For more about Canada read:
28- Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration
North America’s largest bhangra festival celebrates this joyous type of Punjabi-folk-meets-western-pop music.
There’s no way you can stay still to the beats during these 10 days of fun.
29- Vancouver Draw Down
Nobody cares if you’re not a professional artist during the annual Vancouver Draw Down.
Everybody draws anyway, no matter their age or ability.
Take a workshop at one of 18 arts organizations throughout Vancouver.
30- Dragon Boat Festival
This event is about athleticism, speed and culture.
The festival starts out with a blessing of the dragon boats by Taoist priests.
Then the racing begins. People come from all over the world to compete.
There’s also food, music and beer at this colourful and free festival.
31- Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films
It seems like every city has a film festival these days. But how many devote a whole film fest to the ocean?
In keeping with its geography, Vancouver celebrates the marine world while raising interest and awareness of the oceans as places for sustainable commerce and recreation.
Of all the Vancouver festivals you could choose, this one is great for eco-warriors.
Net profits go to the Georgia Strait Alliance, whose goal is to protect and restore the local marine environment.
32- World Naked Bike Ride
You can wear as little as you want to Vancouver’s World Naked Bike Ride.
Unlike the sissies down in Portland, Oregon, USA, Vancouver’s nude cyclists wind through the city streets during the light of day. Body painting is available beforehand.
33- Caribbean Days Festival
The Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Society of BC puts on a huge Caribbean party every year at North Vancouver’s Waterfront Park.
Expect tropical food, music, culture and a general spirit of Carnival.
Tens of thousands attend, making Caribbean Days one of Vancouver’s largest cultural events and a Vancouver festival to remember.
34- Golden Dumpling Cook-off and Derby
Vancouver chefs, from traditional Chinese restaurants to trendy new spots, try to outdo each other by creatively filling that culinary art form, the dumpling.
Judges carefully sample to see who is truly worthy of the trophy shaped like a giant golden dumpling.
The Dumpling Derby is about consumption as competitive eaters battle it out.
This fun event raises money for a good cause, The Chinese Elders Community Kitchen, which brings isolated seniors together to cook and eat meals.
35- Vancouver Zombie Walk, September
Who doesn’t occasionally get an urge to shamble out in search of grey matter to snack on?
There’s no shame in this compulsion at the Vancouver Zombie Walk.
Join other disintegrating people for a slow-motion romp around the city.
It may seem silly but it’s definitely one of the most fun Vancouver festivals.
39- Winter Solstice Lantern Festival, December
The Secret Lantern Society organizes an event that lights up Yaletown, Chinatown, Strathcona and Granville Island.
Lanterns, music, dancing, singing and drumming enliven the longest and darkest night of the year.
If you’re going to be in Vancouver for the Winter Solstice, drag yourself out of your shelter and marvel at the lights.
Things To Do In Vancouver For Free
Vancouver has plenty of cultural and recreational attractions to lure visitors from around the world. But what about travellers on a budget?
Here are some places to visit in Vancouver for free that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
From admiring stunning snowcapped mountains and hiking in nature to wandering around the city and soaking up the culture, Vancouver’s free attractions will keep you busy.
36- Explore Stanley Park
Of all the obvious places to visit in Vancouver, Stanley Park is one of the best spots that won’t cost you anything.
The 400ha city park provides views of the bay and Lions Gate Bridge, swimming beaches, wooded trails, and, my favourite, a gorgeous collection of totem poles.
Visitors can read the accompanying plaques that explain the meaning of each pole and tell you a little about the artist.
There’s even one completed in 1955 by Ellen Keel and her uncle, Mungo Martin. Keel was the first female Northwest Coast carver.
By the time you read all the plaques, you’ll be able to tell a raven from a thunderbird.
37- Explore Vancouver’s Cathedrals
Looking for tranquil places to visit in Vancouver?
Downtown Vancouver has some gorgeous cathedrals. Holy Rosary Catholic Church, a Gothic cathedral, opened in 1900.
Of the cathedral’s 21 significant stained glass windows, five were created by Guido Nincheri, Canada’s most prolific religious artist of the 20th century.
Just a few blocks away, check out Christ Church Cathedral.
This Anglican cathedral, also built in a Gothic style, was dedicated in 1895.
It features cedar planking and a floor made from old-growth Douglas fir.
38- Discover Boundary Bay
Cars have highways. Birds have flyways.
The Pacific Flyway passes right over Vancouver, so visitors can see black oystercatchers, great blue herons, western grebes and many other species.
Stanley Park is one of the best places to visit in Vancouver for bird watching.
Or, if you have a car, drive 30km south to Boundary Bay, a notable flyway rest stop.
39- Visit The Ammolite Museum
Scattered around downtown are jewellery stores with large selections of ammolite.
This rare gemstone comes from the ancient inland seas of Alberta and is considered a Canadian national treasure.
This means it can’t be taken out of the country without government approval.
Ammolite shines like a rainbow opal and comes from fossils that look like giant snails.
I wandered into the Ammolite Museum in Gastown.
It’s really a jewellery store but has fossil displays and a knowledgeable clerk who explained how time and geologic pressure formed the different colours in the stone.
40- Wander Around Vancouver’s Galleries
First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest have a distinctive style of art.
Much of it honours important local animals, such as killer whales, bears, wolves, frogs and ravens.
You’ll see many galleries around Vancouver that display the masks, paintings and sculptures of First Nations artists.
My favourite is the Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery.
Created as a social enterprise by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, it provides a place for Aboriginal artists to show their work and helps fund affordable housing for these artists.
41- Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum
This international public art sculpture event brings art from around the world to Vancouver for a two-year stint. It’s a great opportunity to check out the outdoor art installations around Vancouver.
The event has been going for 20 years and is a showing of thought-provoking and creative public art that is accessible and includes various forms of media such as film, music, performance, digital art and sculpture.
Take a self-guided tour through Vancouver, Squamish, Richmond, New Westminster and North Vancouver.
You can plan your tour by consulting the website or you might come upon the pieces by accident.
If you arrive in Vancouver on the train, Canadian artist Ivan Eyre’s “Bird Wrap” will be waiting to greet you.
42- Hike Grouse Mountain
No, it’s not a new dance. The Grouse Grind is a short, narrow hike up a steep mountain 12km north of Vancouver.
You’ll climb 2,830 steps in 2.9km, for an elevation gain of 853m. The reward? A serious cardio workout and an excellent view.
The average time is 90 minutes. The record, 23 minutes and 48 seconds. Hiking up is free. However, you’ll need $10 to get back down on the gondola.
43- Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
Walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the cool things to do in Vancouver.
It’s a wonder to walk across the footbridges high above the forest floor and there’s also the new Cliffwalk along the Capilano River.
But Capilano Suspension Bridge isn’t free.
So if you’re looking for similar places to visit in Vancouver while on a budget head to Lynn Canyon’s bridge, which is free, 40m long, 50m above Lynn Creek and plenty jiggly to thrill daredevils.
Built in 1912, it’s barely wide enough for two people to pass each other.
The bridge is located in a public park and is open year-round. If you visit during the summer, rangers will be around to answer your questions.