Just north of us across the Canadian border is one of the best cities in the whole world! I’ve previously talked about the best things to do in Seattle and now it’s time to give our neighbor a turn in the spotlight. Vancouver makes a wonderful day trip or weekend trip from Seattle at any time of year and there is so much to explore. In this list of the best things to do in Vancouver, I’ll focus on activities IN the city of Vancouver, not outside the city or in the area more generally. These are places to go on day or weekend without a car (Bolt Bus or Amtrak are good ways to get to Vancouver car free). Vancouver is a wonderful place to be car free. It is an expensive city so this list will include free or nearly free things to do in Vancouver, with a couple of splurges. The list is in order of cost, with free things at the top!
If you only do one thing in Vancouver, make it a visit to Stanley Park! The best thing about Stanley Park is that it’s completely free! You can take the bus there, or even just walk there if you’re staying downtown. The park features a 6 mile flat waterfront trail called the Seawall for walking and biking (I highly recommend renting a bike from one of the bike shops next to the park and biking around the entire trail). The Seawall has views of the city, the water and the Lion’s gate bridge. In addition to this popular trail, trails within the park pass ancient old growth trees. The park also features an impressive collection of totem poles.
Granville Island includes the wildly popular Granville public market, with food, produce and local art, similar to Seattle’s Pike Place Market. There’s also a brewery and many restaurants on the island and often live music. Don’t miss the Roger’s Chocolate shop! The aquabus is a fun and hassle free way to get to Granville Island from downtown. Arrive hungry and get an affordable sampling of the incredible food Vancouver has to offer! The market itself is free, but I suggest eating while you’re there.
One of the largest Chinatown’s in the world, Vancouver’s Chinatown was registered a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011. Located next to downtown between Gastown and Science World, the highly photogenic millenium gate on West Pender Street welcomes you to this neighborhood of shops and delicious restuarants. Walking around is free but this is another place (like Granville Island) where you want to EAT.
English Beach-Especially at Sunset
Vancouver has several wonderful beaches! English Beach is a classic beach scene in the middle of the city and another terrific free thing to do. It connects to the Stanley Park Seawall so it’s a good place to relax and take in the beach after walking or biking the park. Of course, summer is the best time for the sunbathing beach scene, but it’s a good place to go year round, just bring a coat! Sunsets from this location are spectacular and there are many restaurants nearby.
Queen Elizabeth Park
Vancouver has so many incredible parks! Queen Elizabeth Park is a little further from downtown but still an easy car free trip on the Canada Line skytrain from the Vancouver City Centre station and then a short walk. This park has an impressive view of downtown, a beautiful rose garden, a big fountain and more. It’s a wonderful place to catch your breath from the bustling city and get a great view. The park is free, though if you want to enter the Bloedel Conservatory, an enclosed, tropical space with exotic plants you’ll need to pay $3-$7 per person, depending on your age.
University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology
This excellent museum on the campus of UBC has gorgeous First Nations art and is an opportunity to appreciate this art as well as learn about the First Nations people of British Columbia. The museum is $18 for adults and $16 for students (children under 6 free). In addition to permanent exhibits, there are also rotating and visiting exhibits, and outdoor exhibits as well. This is a little farther from downtown but is still easily accessible by bus in 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
Enjoy High Tea
Many people are not aware that Vancouver is an excellent place to take in a traditional high tea. My favorite place to enjoy it is at the Secret Garden Tea Room. You can get there by bus from downtown, and if you’re also going to Queen Elizabeth park, you might want to combine that trip as they are fairly close together. A traditional high tea, which consists of small sandwiches (with the crust cut off, of course!), pastries and other treats as well as a pot of tea. At the Secret Garden, this spread costs $37 per person.
The Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park, so it makes sense to combine a visit to the aquarium with your time at the park. The aquarium features the marine creatures of the Salish Sea and the northwest coast as well as some marine animals from other places. This is a great place for kids and anyone who loves the creatures of the ocean! Don’t miss the sea otters and if you’re lucky you’ll be there at feeding time. Admission is $38 for adults, $21 for kids and $30 for teens and seniors.
At $59 for adults and $32 for kids, this is the most expensive activity on this list, but it’s a really fabulous place and if you’re going to splurge on activity, this would be a good choice! Grouse Mountain is a gondola that goes up rhw mountain and there are trails, food, a bear sanctuary, and in the winter there is skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, The view is absolutely incredible (I’d save this outing for a clear day). If you want to save some serious money and you’re up for a tough hike, in the summer you can hike up Grouse Mountain and ride down the gondola for only $10! It’s a steep, hard hike with 2800 feet of elevation gain in less than two miles (!). To get to Grouse Mountain, take the seabus from the Waterfront station downtown and then the bus from the North Vancouver station to Grouse Mountain.
Other things to know about Vancouver
A few other things that are helpful for visitors to know about Vancouver:
- As of this writing, Vancouver does NOT have Uber or Lyft. The public transit system of skytrain, bus and seabus is excellent and you don’t need a car!
- Vancouver is in Canada and therefore uses Canadian dollars. The amounts above are Canadian dollars so check the exchange rate before your trip
- Car theft and break in is a huge issue in Vancouver like it is in Seattle. If you bring a car with you, make sure to not leave any items visible in your car
- Vancouver has a similar climate to Seattle, so be ready for rain any time of year!