My grandpa lives in Bellingham, Washington which is about a 30 minute drive from the U.S/ Canadian border. This past summer my mother and I went up to Washington to visit him and one day she and I decided to drive into Vancouver, as it is the closest big city in Canada to where we were. Once we crossed the border, the first thing I noticed was the farmland we were driving through on the way to the city. There were flat plains as far as the eye could see, and then out of nowhere rose this giant city.
Initially, the similarities between there and the U.S. were evident. Although it makes sense, considering the two countries are so close so fashion is similar and all the signs were of course in English so it didn’t feel as though we were in a different country. However over time, the differences in traffic patterns, green spaces and transportation became evident and it was clear I wasn’t at home. But that’s what makes traveling so fun! We explored a lot during our time there, so I have compiled a list of the top things to do in Vancouver to help you on your Vancouver vacation.
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Best Things To Do In Vancouver: Places To Visit In Vancouver
Queen Elizabeth Park
This is one of the first Vancouver attractions my mom and I stopped at while sightseeing. The park overlooks the city from a vantage point of 410 ft above sea level and spans over 130 acres. It’s huge. The attention and care that go into maintaining these gardens becomes extremely evident after just a few moments on their grounds.
Due to the longitude of Vancouver, tropical rainforests are not one of the biomes that they boast. Or so we thought. This large dome shaped building at the entrance atop the hill in Queen Elizabeth Park is like stepping into a lush tropical paradise. Here, more than 500 exotic species of plants and 100 birds will transport you into a different world. When I went with my mother, we agreed it was one of the most memorable things to do in Vancouver.
Some birds that I loved seeing were the African parrots and the dwarf Macaws. The parrots are so chatty that even if you explored the conservatory by yourself, you would never feel alone. All the different kinds of birds can be overwhelming at first however. That’s why there are bird guides and children’s games that are available to make the experience more interactive. When I visited, I really appreciated having the bird guide with me so that I was able to identify each bird when I saw them.
The conservatory always opens at 10am and its closing hour depends on the time of the year, but it only varies by an hour or two. Tickets for adults are a little more than $7 but they’re discounted for seniors, youth, and children. Tickets can be purchased here.
Right next to the conservatory are some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Winding paths lead you on a goose chase throughout the brilliant oranges, pinks, purples and greens of the grounds. The trees tower over you and keep watch over your visit as you peer around bends and cross bridges to explore. Hidden ponds with lily pads and elusive fish that swim around in the water keep visitors engaged in their underwater world.
My mother and I spent hours aimlessly walking around the paradise and it felt as though we were there for just a few minutes. While there were other visitors walking around at the same time as us, it didn’t feel crowded. The area is large enough that if we ran into anyone else, it was brief. The solitude nature of the experience is what added to the charm and feeling of wanderlust. If you are able to visit Vancouver, this is definitely a spot you need to prioritize.
For those that are looking for a family friendly activity to spend the day, Stanley Park is the perfect place. The park which spans almost 1000 acres consists of many different activities to keep you occupied. For children, there are playgrounds, swimming pools, water parks and picnic areas to play at. For adults, there are golf courses, hiking and biking trails, beaches and the famous seawalls.
As the park is so big, there are many different options for tours. Bus tours, train rides and even horse drawn carriages are able to take you and your party around the grounds to receive a more thorough view. Depending on the time of the year that you go, there are special options for train rides. For example, during Christmas time there is a night train, and for Halloween there is a ghost train where sets and costumes vary every year to create a new spooky experience.
Whether it’s summer or winter, Grouse mountain is the place to be for all of your outdoor activities. While I’ve only been in the summer, I have heard that winter is the best time to go because the entire landscape transforms into a winter wonderland. For those that love a thrill, there is skiing and snowboarding available. Just a heads up though – if you have never been snowboarding before, I highly recommend that you bring someone with you that knows what they’re doing or that you pay for a guide. When I have gone in the past, I had no idea what I was doing and I ended up falling many many times and taking a couple breaks to cry.
If you want something that is less dangerous however, there are opportunities to strap on some snowshoes and hike amongst the white coated evergreen trees. If you want an idea for a fun family activity or for a romantic date, there is an ice pond where you can skate. The pond is 8,000 square feet and it is the only outdoor skating pond in the area. You can either bring your own skates or rent them. Tickets are available for purchase or you can receive free access if you bought a Mountain Admission Ticket or if you are an annual pass holder.
This peninsula in British Columbia is host to a large shopping district. Here, you will find everything from restaurants to shops to an adventure zone and charters. To get here from downtown Vancouver, it’s just a short drive across the bridge over False Creek. With so much to do, you could easily spend a couple days here. However it’s more common to spend between a couple hours and a day.
For a unique activity, you and your party are able to take a boat out and go whale watching, fishing, or just cruising around. Depending on your preference, there are fishing boats, speed boats, and zodiacs for rent or with a tour. I suggest taking a tour around to optimize your chances of seeing marine animals. If you want a less intense experience, there are also paddle boards and kayaks to rent.
Rainy Day Blues?
Raining during your visit? No problem! The public market and neighboring shops on Granville Island is the ideal way to spend a rainy day. You will be able to peruse a plethora of stalls with fruits, vegetables, art and clothes for purchase. This was one of my favorite things to do in Vancouver because it gave me the opportunity to chat with locals. It enhanced my experience tremendously to chat with people who have such a deep connection to the area– and they gave me great recommendations of things to do as well!
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
While there is so much to do in this park rather than just the suspension bridges, obviously those are going to be the highlight. I mean, a bridge floating above dense green forest? Yes please! The main Capilano Suspension Bridge is 450 ft long and takes you over a running river. While this might sound scary, and trust me, when you’re on it it feels a little scary too, the bridge is a lot sturdier than it appears. While it’s wobbly, the bridge is said to be able to hold the weight of a 747 jet.
In addition to the main attraction of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, there is an adventure park that consists of seven other suspension bridges. If you have young kids, this is guaranteed to be one of their favorite things to do in Vancouver. It is a great way to explore the park while not overexerting yourself. While you are walking, you can be confident that the bridge is not doing any damage to the Douglas firs as the ropes holding up the pathway were specifically designed to apply minimal pressure to the tree bark.
Carson Books And Records
Not everyone is super keen on the outdoors, and that’s okay. Vancouver is more than equipped to accommodate people with different interests. Carson Books and Records is a hidden gem in this great city that I cannot recommend enough. I definitely consider myself a book nerd so to me, this place was heaven on earth.
The interior is everything you would expect and want out of a used book store. The shelves are bursting with character as well loved spines of all colors cram together. There’s so many options that in addition to the book cases, the aisles are lined with boxes of novels, just waiting to be explored. Stacks of classic vinyl records sit on tables and coax music enthusiasts to find the perfect sound for them.
Best Things To Do In Vancouver: Where To Wine And Dine
Being from California, I have friends with varying preferences when it comes to food. Some of my friends’ diets consist mainly of meat, while others won’t touch anything that comes from an animal. This can make eating out together rather challenging, as most places that cater to one group, don’t have many, if any, options for the other. That’s why I loved going to Slim’s during my visit to Vancouver.
They have options for vegans, vegetarians, and meat lovers! And their food is SO GOOD. While I’m not personally vegan or vegetarian, sometimes I like to mix it up a bit. So when I went I tried their buttermilk fried cauliflower wings. And let me just say, those paired with their creamy house ranch were honestly to die for.
Whenever my mother and I go to a new city, we love to just eat our way through. And Vancouver did not disappoint in the slightest in this regard. We stumbled upon this bakery as they were doing pizza night. As the name of the bakery suggests, they specialize in their flour, which is made in house, using grain sourced from local farmers. So the pizza crust was out of this world.
All of their options are vegetarian, and they cater to vegan customers as well. My mom got the margherita pizza and I felt adventurous so I ordered the squash and kale one. I’m normally a pretty slow eater, and when our pizzas were brought to us, each was 14- inches (their standard size) so I figured I would have a couple slices and take the rest to go. Boy was I wrong. I want to say it took me about 15 minutes to devour the whole thing. A new record for me. And I savored every bite.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we first arrived in Vancouver. Like I mentioned before, we decided to make the trek for the sole reason that it was an easy drive from my grandpa’s and we wanted a change of scenery. I was happily surprised to discover what the city had to offer. With so many things to do in Vancouver, I told my mom that visiting had to become a new tradition for us. She of course enthusiastically agreed.
Yes! While there are parts of Canada where French is the predominant language, in Vancouver they speak English.
Honestly, the weather in Vancouver is not bad. The coldest month is January, which sees an average temperature of around 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
To put it simply, Vancouver is not cheap. It is one of the most costly cities in both Canada and the world. However many sites offer suggestions for how to keep costs down during your stay. So do some research before you go and you should be fine.