Impressive Views, Endless ActivitiesVancouver has won many accolades as one of the top cities in the Americas, and for very good reasons. Set against a backdrop of majestic snowcapped mountains, the city lies on a peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. This spectacular setting allows for a plethora of outdoor adventures, including skiing, sailing, hiking, scuba diving, fishing and more.
Explore Vancouver's diverse neighborhoods, ranging from trendy Yaletown to dynamic Gastown to Granville Island with its farmer's market, where more than 150 vendors vie for your attention with sourdough baguettes, homemade goat cheese, spicy sausages and crisp apples. If you're in the mood for fine dining, indulge in fresh regional seafood, a Vancouver specialty, at one of the city's first-rate local restaurants.
Must-sees include Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain. Stanley Park is a veritable oasis with its beaches, gardens, trails and splendid views of the waterfront, while the view from a gondola atop Grouse Mountain will leave you breathless. For a memento of your trip, shop for some indigenous art at local galleries. With all that Vancouver has to offer, your most difficult task will be choosing what fun things to do during your visit.
A Diverse LandscapeYou're hiking along a wide, bark-mulched trail through an old-growth forest of towering Western red cedar, Douglas fir and Western hemlock trees. Salmonberry, huckleberry and Alaskan blueberries grow together in luxurious tangles. A raccoon ambles by, giving you an inquisitive look. A goose honks in the distance. You stop and ask, “Wait—am I really in a city?” That question is answered when you emerge from Stanley Park to the bustling Georgia Street.
There's no denying the beauty of Vancouver's natural setting. Vistas of green coastal mountains and the shimmering waters of the Strait of Georgia were tailor-made to grace a travel postcard. And downtown is a marvel: skyscrapers, human hubbub and quiet, tree-lined residential streets all coexist harmoniously in one tightly packed cityscape.
No doubt the southwestern British Columbia wilderness impressed Capt. George Vancouver. An officer in the British Royal Navy, he sailed into Burrard Inlet on June 13, 1792, while searching for the Northwest Passage. Vancouver named the inlet after his friend Sir Harry Burrard, a member of Parliament, but lent his own moniker to the city and the large island that lies between the mainland and the Pacific.
Vancouver was incorporated in 1886, quite a young city given its present status. A Canadian Pacific Railway passenger train arrived in 1887, showering spectators with soot and cinders. By the 1890s transpacific shipping inaugurated the city as a major world port.
That era produced colorful characters like John Deighton, aka “Gassy Jack,” a saloon owner who set up shop in Gastown, the oldest section of the city. The name is a reference to Deighton's reputation for storytelling and tall-tales. His status of his likeness stands at the circle where Water, Alexander, Powell and Carrall streets converge.
Mandarin and Cantonese are the mother tongues in almost a third of Vancouver's homes; only San Francisco's and New York's Chinatowns are bigger. The Millennium Gate at Pender and Taylor streets is a symbolic entryway that incorporates both eastern and western symbols. Between 1890 and 1920 Asian immigrants settled on back streets like Shanghai Alley off Pender Street; wall panels tell the story of their lives. Holding out your arms is almost enough to embrace the Sam Kee Building at 8 Pender St., which is only 6 feet wide.
Vancouverites represent a melting pot of nationalities. The original inhabitants of coastal British Columbia were the Northwestern peoples, and their descendants live in urban areas and in reserve communities within ancestral territories. Diversity is the keynote, whether preserved in street names like Barclay and Granville, or in neighborhoods like Little Italy or the East Indian community.
Not bad for a former lumber town, eh?
By CarHwy. 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) and hwys. 1A and 7 are the major east-west routes to Vancouver. To reach downtown on the Trans-Canada Highway, use the First Avenue exit or continue to Hastings Street.
Hwy. 99 to S.W. Marine West becomes the major downtown artery, Granville Street. Before becoming a city street, Hwy. 99 begins its journey as I-5 at the Mexican border and crosses through California and the Pacific Northwest; beyond Vancouver it continues beyond Whistler to meet Hwy. 97, the main north-south route.
Street SystemAll streets and avenues in downtown Vancouver are named; many are one-way. Outside the business section, east-west avenues are numbered beginning with First Avenue, and north-south streets are named. Addresses begin at Ontario-Carrall streets for all east-west numbering and at Powell-Dundas streets for all north-south numbering.
The downtown peninsula is connected to western Vancouver by the Burrard, Granville and Cambie bridges and to North Vancouver and West Vancouver by the Lions Gate and the Iron Workers Memorial (Second Narrows) bridges.
Rush hours are 6-9:30 a.m. and 3-6:30 p.m. Right turns on red are permitted after a stop, unless otherwise posted; drivers must yield to pedestrians and vehicles in the intersection and to city buses pulling into traffic.
Some intersections in the metropolitan area have a blinking green light. This is used when there is a stop sign, not a signal, on the cross street and allows pedestrians or bicyclists to turn the main street's light red so they can go through the intersection safely. When driving on a cross street, you must wait for a gap in traffic before you proceed.
ParkingOn-street parking, controlled by meter, is restricted on many thoroughfares during rush hours; violators' cars will be towed. When parking at a meter, you can pay by credit card, coins or even by phone if you download the PayByPhone mobile app; phone (604) 909-7275 for information. Off-street parking is available in lots and garages at rates ranging from $1.25 per half-hour to $11 or more per day. Parking in a school zone between 8 and 5 on any school day is strictly prohibited unless otherwise posted.
Public TransportationTransLink, Metro Vancouver's regional transportation authority, offers an integrated system utilizing bus, rail, SeaBus, cycling paths and roads to points throughout Vancouver and all suburban areas. Conventional buses and electric buses link tourist destinations, transit exchanges and SkyTrain stations.
SeaBus is a passenger-only ferry that crosses Burrard Inlet, connecting downtown Vancouver with the North Shore, a destination popular with those in search of adventure travel. The downtown Waterfront terminal connects with buses and the SkyTrain. The Lonsdale Quay terminal connects with an extensive North Shore bus network.
SkyTrain, Vancouver's light rail rapid transit system, runs from Waterfront Station through downtown Vancouver to the suburbs of Burnaby and New Westminster and across the Fraser River to the suburb of Surrey. SkyTrain is one of the longest and oldest automated, driverless light rapid transit systems in the world and has three lines. The 19-kilometre (12-mi.) Canada Line connects downtown with Richmond and Vancouver International Airport and has 16 stations, including stops at Vancouver City Centre, Olympic Village, Broadway-City Hall, Marine Drive, Vancouver International Airport and four Richmond locations. The train ride from downtown to the airport takes 26 minutes. The Expo Line and Millennium Line connect downtown with the cities of Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey.
Trains operate every 7 to 15 minutes Mon.-Fri. 5:22 a.m.-1:16 a.m., Sat. 6:50 a.m.-12:30 a.m., Sun. 7:16 a.m.-12:16 p.m. Fares are the same for any TransLink service and a single fare covers travel for up to 90 minutes across Metro Vancouver. A 1-zone fare Monday through Friday until 6:30 p.m. is $2.95, a 2-zone fare is $4.20 and a 3-zone fare is $5.70; for ages 5-13, students ages 14-19 with a valid GoCard and ages 65+ a 1-zone fare is $1.90, a 2-zone fare is $2.90 and a 3-zone fare is $3.90. The fare for weekdays after 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and holidays for all zones is $2.95; for ages 5-13, students ages 14-19 with a valid GoCard and ages 65+ the fare for all zones is $1.90. A trip from the airport to any destination adds an additional $5.
Every SkyTrain station has information panels. A 1-day pass, available from SkyTrain and SeaBus ticket machines, Safeway food stores and 7-11 stores, costs $10.25 and covers all zones; for ages 5-13, students ages 14-19 with a valid GoCard and ages 65+ the cost is $8. If you pay by cash on buses, exact change is required. Phone (604) 953-3333 daily 6:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. for more information.
The little blue False Creek Ferries provide service from the West End of downtown to Granville Island, with stops at fun places to go like Yaletown, Plaza of Nations, The Village (Science World), Spyglass Place, Stamps Landing, David Lam Park, Granville Island, the Aquatic Centre and the Maritime Museum, departing between every two minutes and every 15 minutes, depending on the route and time of day. Tickets cost $3.50-$11 one-way, $9-$17 round-trip, and $16 for a day pass, with discounts for ages 4-12 and ages 65+.
Aquabus Ltd., (604) 689-5858, provides ferry service with departures every five minutes between Hornby Street, Granville Island, David Lam Park, Stamps Landing, Spyglass Place, Yaletown, Plaza of Nations and The Village daily 7:07 a.m.-9:07 p.m. Times vary according to destination. Fare ranges from $3.50-$6 one-way or $25 for 20 tickets, $15 for a day pass, and $60 for a monthly pass, with discounts for ages 4-12 and ages 65+. Aquabuses are equipped to carry wheelchairs and bicycles.
Daily bus service between Vancouver International Airport and Whistler is provided by Pacific Coach's YVR Whistler SkyLynx. Passengers can be picked up and dropped off at major Vancouver and Whistler lodgings; reservations are required. Phone (604) 662-7575 or (800) 661-1725 for information or ask your AAA travel agent about vacation packages. To reach the airport from Vancouver by public transit, take Bus 90 B-line from Burrard station to Richmond Centre, then transfer to bus 424 to the airport.
Elevation3 m/10 ft.
Sales TaxBritish Columbia has a 5 percent goods and services tax (GST) and a 7 percent provincial sales tax (PST). Hotel accommodations with more than four rooms are subject to a PST of 8 percent and an additional Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) of up to 3 percent. The PST for alcohol is 10 percent. Restaurants and admission fees are exempt from the 7 percent PST. Car rental sales tax is $1.50 per day for rental periods of more than 8 hours, up to 27 consecutive days.
Police (non-emergency)(604) 717-3321
Time and Temperature(604) 664-9010
HospitalsMount Saint Joseph Hospital, (604) 874-1141; St. Paul's Hospital, (604) 682-2344; Vancouver General Hospital, (604) 875-4111.
NewspapersThe two major daily newspapers, both published in the morning, are the Province and the Vancouver Sun.
RadioVancouver radio stations CBU/CBC-AM (690); CBU-FM (105.7); CHQM-FM (103.5); CKCL-FM (104.9); CKLG-FM (96.9); CKNW-FM (980); and CKWX News-AM (1130) have news and weather reports.
Visitor InformationVancouver Tourist InfoCentre 200 Burrard St. VANCOUVER, BC V6C 3L6. Phone:(604)683-2000
Air TravelVancouver International Airport (YVR), in Richmond, is reached via Granville Street and the Arthur Lang Bridge, then Sea Island Way, which leads into Grant McConachie Way. Check travel sites and with your AAA travel agency for cheap airline flights, cheap plane tickets and the best deals on international flights. Taxi rates are fixed on flat rates according to a zoning system. The trip to downtown/Kitsilano is $31; Canada Place is $35. TransLink's Canada Line rapid transit operates rail service every 7 to 15 minutes, from approximately 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., between Vancouver International Airport and downtown. One-way fare is $9.10; phone (604) 953-3333.
Rental CarsHertz, with one location at Vancouver International Airport and three locations downtown at 1270 Granville St., 1038 Canada Place and 1150 Station St., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (604) 606-3785 for airport location or (800) 654-3080.
Rail ServiceThe Via Rail passenger train terminal is at 1150 Station St.; phone (888) 842-7245 in Canada or in the United States.
BusesThe Greyhound bus terminal is at 1150 Station St.; phone (604) 683-8133.
TaxisTaxi fares start at $3.05-$3.30 for the first kilometre (.6 mi.), plus $1.73-$1.89 for each additional kilometre. Companies include Black Top & Checker Cabs, (604) 731-1111; MacLure's, (604) 831-1111; Yellow Cab, (604) 681-1111; and Vancouver Taxi, (604) 871-1111.
Public TransportationTransLink offers bus service as well as SeaBus and SkyTrain service. See Public Transportation for details.
BoatsBC Ferries links Vancouver and other points on the mainland with Vancouver Island and 47 ports of call. Nanaimo and Sunshine Coast ferries leave from Horseshoe Bay, 21 kilometres (13 mi.) west of the city in West Vancouver. From Tsawwassen south of Vancouver automobile/passenger ferries make frequent trips to the southern Gulf Islands, Nanaimo and Swartz Bay, near the town of Sidney north of Victoria. A 1.5-hour ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria departs daily from Tsawwassen and returns from Swartz Bay; phone (888) 223-3779 for reservations.
For schedules phone the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA), (604) 268-5555; BC Ferries Information Centre, (250) 386-3431 outside British Columbia; (888) 223-3779 in British Columbia; or Tourism Vancouver, (604) 683-2000.
What to Do in VancouverOne of the world's great food markets, Granville Island Public Market (1689 Johnston St.) is the destination for a slice of Vancouver life as well as the freshest fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, candy, baked goods and flowers.
Enjoy fabulous waterside views while strolling, bicycling or in-line skating around the perimeter sea wall of Stanley Park (main entrance at west end of Georgia St.). Walking the Seawall is one of the most fun things to do with friends and among the best things for couples to do. Or tour the park in a horse-powered trolley provided by Stanley Park Horse-drawn Tours (735 Stanley Park Dr.). The 405-hectare (1,000-acre) park also has a pool, a golf course, woodland trails, playgrounds, totem poles, a miniature steam train, beaches and gardens.
Adorable dolphins steal the show at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (845 Avison Way) in Stanley Park; competing for attention are the center's thousands of marine animals including sea lions, sharks and walruses as well as rain forest creatures such as iguanas and crocodiles. Go behind the scenes in close encounters with sea turtles, penguins, Steller sea lions and sea otters.
Downtown's Robson Street (between Burrard and Jervis streets) beckons shoppers with its trendy designer boutiques, shoe stores, jewelry shops and more. When you need a break, grab a seat and a cappuccino at a bistro or coffee shop and watch the world go by.
On a clear day, you can't beat the scenery at Grouse Mountain (6400 Nancy Greene Way) in North Vancouver; the Skyride, an aerial cable car, presents a breathtaking view of Vancouver and the harbor on its trip up the mountain. Spend the day here without running out of things to do: Go skiing, zipline above an alpine rain forest, go paragliding or go on a sleigh ride, strap on snowshoes for a wintry hike, watch lumberjacks show off their axe and log-rolling skills, visit grizzly bears and get a 360-degree view of Vancouver from the top of a 20-story-high wind turbine. After you've worked up an appetite, feast on fine cuisine at places to eat like The Observatory or Altitudes Bistro.
Spot pods of orcas and other sea creatures on a scenic whale-watching cruise. Both Steveston Seabreeze Adventures (12551 #1 Rd., Bldg. 43) and Vancouver Whale Watch (210-12240 Second Ave.) in Richmond offer the opportunity to hear whales vocalize through hydrophones, see marine animals like sea lions and porpoises and travel through the Fraser River Delta, Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands.
Dine in restaurants that rival New York's; an array of multicultural cuisines is available from local restaurants, but don't leave town without savoring mouth-watering Pacific Northwest and Asian cuisine featuring freshly caught seafood. If you're wondering where to eat, try such favorites as CinCin (1154 Robson St.) and Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (777 Thurlow St.).
Discover one of Vancouver's trendiest neighborhoods; Yaletown (bordered by Homer and Robson streets) has earned comparisons to New York's SoHo, and rightfully so. Once a warehouse district, the area now attracts the young and hip with its of-the-moment shops, galleries, loft apartments, pubs and outdoor cafés.
Confront your fear of heights with a walk through the tops of evergreens at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (3735 Capilano Rd.) in North Vancouver; the 137-metre (450-foot) bridge sways 70 metres (230 ft.) above the Capilano River Canyon and is a top pick for adventure travel. View the Totem Park and learn about the area's indigenous culture through storytelling, weaving and beadwork demonstrations.
Take in VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak St.), which takes full advantage of the local climate. Wander the meandering paths of the 22-hectare (5-acre) paradise to find 40 themed gardens. A highlight is a hedge maze made of 3,000 pyramidal cedars.
Vancouver Travel with Kids
Things to Do With Kids Under 13Granville Island (1689 Johnston St.) lures adults to its markets and shops, but it also has fun things to do and specialty shops that appeal directly to youngsters. Under a rainbow-colored sign, the Granville Island Kids Market (1496 Cartwright St.) is a miniature mall that's the perfect destination for little ones. From the moment they step through the diminutive door, kids can eyeball goodies in 23 shops that cater to their every whim, cavort in the arcade and make a splash in the water park (open in summer months).
What kid doesn’t enjoy face painting, storytelling, jugglers, stilt-walkers, puppet shows, dance and music? Find all this and more during May’s weeklong Vancouver International Children's Festival , also on Granville Island.
When it’s time to quiet growling tummies, longtime favorite White Spot is one of the kid-friendly local restaurants; it has several locations throughout the city. Small fries can get a burger, grilled cheese sandwich or spaghetti in a ship-shaped Pirate Pak, complete with a chocolate coin.
Things to Do With TeensThe flight simulator ride at FlyOver Canada (201-999 Canada Pl.) will elicit screams and gasps of delight as it sweeps and soars from east to west over icebergs, Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains and other unforgettable landmarks of the Canadian countryside.
Go on a full-day adventure with Prince of Whales Whale Watching (1601 Bayshore Dr.). Your family will have a whale of a time as they gaze in awe at pods of glistening orcas and grey humpbacks leaping out of the Georgia Strait. The trip also includes a stop in Victoria and a visit to Butchart Gardens.
For adventure and nature lovers (and those who aren’t afraid of heights), travel to Grouse Mountain (6400 Nancy Greene Way) in North Vancouver . Ascend to the peak in an enclosed gondola, skimming over treetops on the way up. Brave souls can ride to the top of a wind turbine for views that go on for miles.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (3735 Capilano Rd.), also in North Vancouver , yields more adventure for those in search of adventurous things to do on vacation. Tread slowly along a swaying 137-metre-long (450-ft.) footbridge above the treetops and the Capilano River, which spans 70 metres deep (230 feet). But don’t fear, Mom and Dad: The bridge is reinforced with steel cables and concrete, so it’s perfectly safe. After you cross the bridge, head for Cliffwalk, a 650-foot cliffside walkway with bridges and viewing platforms suspended from Douglas fir trees with a stunning canyon view.
What to Do for All AgesCombining manicured gardens with West Coast rainforests, beaches, forest trails and surrounded on three sides by water, Stanley Park (main entrance at west end of Georgia St.) offers amazing views of the mountains, the city and English Bay. Rent a bike and pedal along the 9-kilometre (5.6-mi.) seawall. The park has totem poles, a miniature train, playgrounds, a pool, a water park and other fun places to go.
Need a break from walking? Hop on a trolley on Stanley Park Horse-drawn Tours (735 Stanley Park Dr.) and see the 400-hectare (1,000-acre) park at a leisurely pace.
Meet the most adorable sea creatures at Stanley Park’s Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (845 Avison Way). Ogle rascally otters, pudgy sea lions and spotted harbor seals are just some of the marine animals that call the aquarium home. Get super close at animal encounters, where you can feed and help train sea lions, otters and penguins.
From the moment they set eyes on Science World at TELUS World of Science (1455 Quebec St.), kids will be psyched; housed in a huge geodesic dome, the science center is even cooler inside. There’s something for every age group. Tykes under age 7 can learn about water, color, light and movement in the Kidspace Gallery, and the entire family will enjoy live shows, hands-on exhibits and IMAX films that bring out their inner scientist. Check their calendar for a list of things to do today.
Shopping in VancouverStylish Finds in Yaletown
Yaletown, reached via Davie Street, is the fashionable downtown residential address for successful young professionals (just look at all those glass-walled condo towers). This former 19th-century rail yard district has morphed into an uber-stylish urban enclave; the industrial brick warehouses of yore are now hip clothing boutiques, designer furniture outlets and local restaurants and bars that draw a crowd.
Art galleries are concentrated along Homer and Mainland streets. Yaletown's many dog owners shop for trendy canine accessories at barking babies (1188 Homer St.); phone (604) 647-2275. Keep your head stylishly warm and dry with a fedora, derby or baseball cap from Goorin Bros. (1188 Hamilton St.), a cool hat shop that may remind you of your grandfather's living room, complete with Victrola and leather sofa; phone (604) 683-1895. For a lovely vacation souvenir that doesn't feature a maple leaf, pick up a flowery Royal Albert teapot or some Cristal D'Arques stemware at The Cross Decor & Design (1198 Homer St.); phone (604) 689-2900.
Shop the Day Away on Robson Street
Robson Street, however, is downtown’s shopping central. Stand at the intersection of Robson and Burrard on any given day and it’s a sea of shopping bag-toting humanity. From Burrard up to Jervis Street Robson offers an uninterrupted stretch of window gazing: men’s and women’s fashions and accessories, shoes, jewelry, eyewear, gifts, chocolates, cosmetics, luggage and travel gear, plus more places to eat than you can shake a stick at. For high-quality clothing and outerwear go to Roots, a popular Canadian chain. There are two locations, one for adults (1001 Robson St.), phone (604) 683-4305, and one for kids (1153 Robson St.), phone (604) 684-8801. Founded in Vancouver in 1998, lululemon (970 Robson St.) is now is a global brand selling athletic apparel for yoga, running and dance; phone (604) 681-3118.
Explore the Historic Districts
Very touristy but always enjoyable Gastown, the oldest section of the city, runs for several blocks along Water Street. The atmosphere is turn-of-the-20th-century renovated, with handsome brick buildings and white-globed lamp posts decorated with flowers in hanging baskets. There are lots of art galleries, antique shops, fashion boutiques and souvenir shops. But Gastown isn’t all about maple candy or a moose in a can; trendy home furnishings stores sell sleek, contemporary furniture by well-known Canadian and international designers.
Standout shops and fun places to go in Gastown include cutting-edge John Fluevog Shoes (65 Water St.) which combines a vintage vibe with Dr Marten-esque cool, and Dream (45 Water St., Suite 145), where local fashionistas shop for locally designed apparel and jewelry; phone (604) 688-6228 and (604) 683-7326, respectively. Stop in at Kit and Ace (151 Water St.) and pick up a couple of their affordable, comfy and machine-washable cashmere-blend T-shirts; phone (844) 548-6223.
There’s a Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery here as well (332 Water St.); phone (604) 684-9222. Gallery Gachet (88 E. Cordova St.) is a non-profit artist-run center with exhibitions; phone (604) 687-2468. There also are specialty shops like Button Button (318 Homer St.); phone (604) 687-0067, with buttons in all shapes and sizes from around the world, and Jade Mine (4-375 Water St.), which stocks a big selection of sculptures and jewelry carved from jade mined in northern British Columbia. Phone (604) 687-5233. Pet lovers will want to make the trip to EZ Dog (56 Powell St.), packed with goodies for your “best friend”; phone (604) 559-5606.
Walk a few blocks down Carrall Street into Chinatown, another neighborhood destination made for sidewalk exploration. You’ll probably look rather than buy, since most of the businesses are where residents do their shopping. The produce and food markets lining Keefer and Main streets are fascinating, with unusual vegetables and bins full of dried fish, mushrooms and other foodstuffs. You’ll also find a couple of jewelry shops selling bead necklaces and various trinkets.
Note: While exploring the main thoroughfares in Gastown and Chinatown are fun things to do in Vancouver during the day, use big-city common sense regarding any encounters with panhandlers and street people, and avoid wandering around side streets after dark.
More Shopping Across English Bay
Downtown certainly isn’t the only place to shop and find things to do. In Kitsilano, along the south shore of English Bay, the blocks of West 4th Avenue between Fir and Larch streets are filled with gift shops, wine shops and stores selling fashions, athleisure attire and sports gear from bikes to skis to snowboards.
The 10-block stretch of Granville Street between 6th and 16th avenues—dubbed South Granville—is where old-money families do their shopping; think expensive clothing boutiques, upscale furniture retailers and a plethora of home accessories stores like 18Karat (3039 Granville St. at 14th Avenue W.); phone (706) 323-2339. Urbanity (2412 Granville St.) sells beautiful knit sweaters, coats and blankets, most bought direct from Scandinavian designers; phone (604) 801-6262.
Locally Owned Shops on Commercial Drive
Much more down to earth is Commercial Drive, east of Main Street from Venables Street to East Broadway, one of Vancouver’s funkiest shopping experiences. Most of the shops, businesses and nearby restaurants are owner-operated; chains are few, which means that it’s really fun to explore. Hit “the Drive” on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The heart of Commercial Drive is between Venables Street and 6th Avenue E. Books, CDs, vintage clothing and unusual gifts are all good bets.
Granville Island's Offerings
If you're looking for things to do this weekend, you could easily spend an entire day doing Granville Island, but shoppers and foodies should focus on the Granville Island Public Market. The big building is crammed with vendors: produce, meat, seafood, baked goods, coffee and a head-spinning array of specialty foods. Take advantage of fresh BC salmon, artisanal cheeses and ripe, regionally grown fruit. Have lunch here, too; fast food counters offer Asian, Mexican, Indian, sushi, pizza and just about everything else as takeout. Phone (604) 666-6655.
There also are plenty of shops outside the market selling regionally produced art, food, jewelry, clothing, kids’ toys and the like. And don’t drive—it’s much easier to take the False Creek Ferry. It’s a 10-minute ride to Granville Island from the Aquatic Centre dock just off Beach Drive in the West End (ferries also depart from the dock at the foot of Davie Street in Yaletown).
North Vancouver Destinations
Another popular shopping destination is the Lonsdale Quay Market, 123 Carrie Cates Ct. at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver; phone (604) 985-6261. The lower level is a fresh market with vendors selling produce, seafood, baked goods and delicatessen items; specialty boutiques are on the upper level. Get a crab roll, fish and chips or a panini sandwich from one of the numerous stands at the international food bar and enjoy it outside on the dock, which has a great view of downtown and the harbor (don’t feed the seagulls; they’ll snitch a bite at any opportunity). There’s a parkade for market customers—enter your car license plate number at one of the machines (2 hours of free parking, $3 per additional hour, free after 6 p.m. and on weekends), but it often fills up; you also can take the SeaBus, which shuttles between the downtown and North Vancouver terminals every 15 minutes. Conveniently, the SeaBus terminal is just a few minutes' walk from the market.
More Malls Mean More Great Finds
Malls? Vancouver has several, if that’s your shopping thing. Downtown, upscale Pacific Centre (corner of Georgia and Howe streets) is anchored by tony Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom's flagship store. The center's 60-plus other stores offer men’s and ladies’ wear, casual clothing, fashion accessories, shoes, electronics, sporting goods, handbags and cosmetics; shops include American Eagle Outfitters, Club Monaco, Ermenegildo Zegna, H&M, lululemon, Michael Kors and Ted Baker London; phone (604) 688-7235.
On the North Shore in West Vancouver, the city's second largest mall, Park Royal (on either side of Marine Drive, just west of Taylor Way and the Lions Gate Bridge) consists of two enclosed malls with anchor Simons plus more than 200 stores and restaurants as well as The Village, specialty shops and cafés in an open-air setting. It is open Mon.-Tues. 10-7, Wed.-Fri. 10-9, Sat. 9:30-6, Sun and holidays 11-6; phone (604) 922-3211. Park Royal's expanded and modernized south section is now open, while the north section is nearing completion of its renovations; in the south section are such stores as Anthropologie, Bath & Body Works, Free People, J. Crew, Sephora and Zara, among many others.
McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Mall is next to Vancouver International Airport in Richmond (1000-7899 Templeton Station Rd.) and the Canada Line station; the European-style, open-air mall has more than 60 stores with a focus on designer brands such as Armani, Coach, Cole Haan and Polo Ralph Lauren; hours are Mon.-Sat. 10-9, Sun. and statutory holidays 10-10. The mall also has flight arrival and departure screens for those who are shopping pre-flight. From downtown Vancouver, take the Canada Line to Templeton Station; from there, it's a 3-minute walk. Phone (604) 231-5525.
For a true mega-mall experience, head to Burnaby and Metropolis at Metrotown, 4700 Kingsway (Hwy. 1A/99A) between Willingdon and Royal Oak avenues; phone (604) 438-4700. It’s the province’s largest shopping center, with Hudson's Bay (outfitters for the Canadian Olympic team) and more than 350 other stores on three sprawling levels. Expect the usual chains and specialty outlets—everything from American Eagle Outfitters to Zara—plus a food court and the latest box-office biggies at SilverCity. The mall is open Mon.-Sat. 10-9, Sun. and certain holidays 11-7, although a few stores may vary. Parking (plenty of it) is free.
Built in 1959, Oakridge Centre, 650 W. 41st Ave. at Cambie Street, is Vancouver's oldest mall, but that doesn't mean it's not packed with popular mall retailers. Au contraire, it has about 75 stores, including perennial favorites Apple, Banana Republic, Coach, Crate & Barrel, lululemon, MAC Cosmetics, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co.; Hudson's Bay is its anchor. The center is open Mon.-Tues. and Sat. 9:30-7, Wed.-Fri. 9:30-9, Sun. 11-6 (holiday hours may vary). Future plans for the mall include a $1.5-billion expansion, part of a massive area redevelopment that will enhance the shopping experience and also include residential and office buildings and green spaces. Phone (604) 261-2511.
Vancouver NightlifeCool Hotel Bars and Lounges
Hip, cosmopolitan Vancouver has a buzzing nightlife, with plenty of spots where locals and visitors congregate after dark. Several sophisticated hotel lounges offer a space to relax over drinks in a quiet, elegant atmosphere. Downtown is a prime spot for these given its assortment of business-class hotels. The bar inside YEW Seafood + Bar , the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver (downtown at 791 W. Georgia St.) is a lovely place to enjoy a drink after a busy day of travel or vacation. A 12-metre-high (40-ft.) ceiling makes this a breathtakingly lofty space, warmed by wood-paneled walls and a big sandstone fireplace. The bar is open until midnight Sun.-Thurs., 1 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; phone (604) 692-4939.
Bacchus Lounge, in The Wedgewood Hotel & Spa (downtown at 845 Hornby St.), is an equally elegant spot to enjoy a glass of B.C. wine or a martini in surroundings that just ooze luxury—subdued lighting, antique furniture and vases of fresh flowers, with a softly tinkling piano in the background. There’s live entertainment here nightly, which makes it an ideal destination if you're looking for things for couples to do. It's recommended to dress to impress. Phone (604) 608-5319.
You'll find a lively vibe at Shark Club Sports Bar & Grill in the Sandman Hotel Vancouver City Centre (180 W. Georgia St.). This stylishly renovated sports bar has two massive TVs and a weekday happy hour, and it's just a 5-minute walk from BC Place. If you're wondering where to eat before or after a concert or Canucks game, Shark Club is a safe bet; phone (604) 687-4275.
Opus Bar, in the boutique Opus Hotel (322 Davie St.), is a cool, sleek lounge in trendy Yaletown. DJs spin dance music for a fashionably dressed, upwardly mobile crowd on weekends, and there’s live music every Wednesday; phone (604) 642-6787.
Another hip spot is Yaletown Brewing Company (1111 Mainland St.), where suit-and-ties gather after business hours to shoot some pool and sip on microbrews and burgers; sit by the fireplace or out on the spacious patio, depending on the weather; phone (604) 681-2739.
Great Nightlife on Granville
Granville Street is hopping with nightclubs, all with reasonable cover charges. The Roxy (932 Granville St.) draws a young, ready-to-party crowd with house bands pumping out rock and Top 40 and bartenders who put on their own show. If you don’t feel like dancing, watch TV or play pool. It’s open 8 p.m.-3 a.m. nightly; phone (604) 331-7999.
The Commodore Ballroom (868 Granville St.) is an old-time dance hall that is the place to see up-and-coming bands as well as established acts that don’t sell out arenas. The dance floor is in front of the stage and table seating is limited; arrive early unless you don’t mind standing in the back of the room. Phone (604) 739-4550.
Gastown's After-Dark Scene
Touristy Gastown pulses with nightspots, local restaurants and fun things to do with friends. The Steamworks Brew Pub (375 Water St.) is named for the Gastown steam line that runs through the premises. The drink of choice here is beer (brewed nearby in Burnaby, B.C.), from signature Lions Gate lager to such concoctions as an oatmeal stout and a sour IPA. The basement looks like a Bavarian-style drinking hall, while upstairs the atmosphere is clubbier, with leather chairs and windows overlooking the harbor; phone (604) 689-2739.
Energetic live bands tear it up at The Revel Room (238 Abbott St.), as they crank out rockabilly, blues, old country, Texas swing, boogie woogie and soul Tues.-Sun. nights beginning at 7 p.m., and there's daily boogie piano during “Sour Hour” (4-6:30 p.m.); phone (604) 687-4088.
You'll literally have to go underground to get to Gastown's Guilt & Co. (1 Alexander St.), as it's down a flight of stairs under a restaurant on Gassy Jack Square. This intimate hangout has the feel of a bunker or an unfinished rec room, but reeks of cool and attracts smartly dressed young professionals. The evening's band plays on a small stage backed by a stone wall, a small dance floor sandwiched between it and round tables holding burning candles. Guilt & Co. serves up expertly mixed cocktails with whimsical names like You Can Dance and Like a Virgin; phone (604) 288-1704.
More Fun in Mount Pleasant and Kitsilano
Baby boomers will feel right at home in The Cascade Room (2616 Main St.), in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. This restaurant and bar is a transplanted bit of British pub culture: Lampshades feature Queen Victoria’s likeness, and a large glass panel advises patrons to “Keep calm and carry on”—a World War II slogan uttered by stiff-upper-lip Brits. Slide into one of the horseshoe-shaped booths for a cocktail, a beer or a pint of lager; phone (604) 709-8650.
If you're in the Kitsilano area and looking for fun things to do, plan to stop at the Shameful Tiki Room (4362 Main St.), a modern-day Trader Vic’s. The room is decked out in Polynesian decor from floor to ceiling in painstaking detail, with a thatched ceiling, carved wood Tiki gods, puffer fish lamps, vintage postcards permanently lacquered onto tables and vintage Tiki memorabilia. Sip a mai tai, snack on small plates, or go for the volcano bowl, a potent blend of liquors served in a huge clamshell meant for sharing with three of your closest friends (the drink is accompanied by thunder, lightning and smoke from the bar’s erupting volcano). Unlike most clubs, the tunes are played at lower decibels here so you can carry on a conversation, and the overall ambience is relaxing yet fun.
If you're into casino games and live bands, lucky you! In addition to the usual slot machines and poker tables, the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver in nearby Coquitlam has three listening rooms: the intimate Asylum Sound Stage, where performers range from local bands to burlesque to comedy; the 100-seat Unlisted Lounge, with DJ'd jazz and electro-groove music and the occasional live act; and The Molson Canadian Theatre, a 1,000-seat venue hosting tribute bands, up-and-coming performers and 1980s heavy metal bands. Phone (604) 523-6888.
And here’s a beautifully simple suggestion for nightlife near downtown Vancouver. On a clear evening, head down to English Bay Beach (just off Beach Avenue at the south end of Denman Street). First, stop and get an ice cream cone (or some takeout from one of the many nearby restaurants), then sit on a beach log or a bench along the seawall promenade and watch the sun set over the bay. In addition to the sunset, you'll have a superb view of the mountains rising beyond the North Shore. It’s just you and nature—plus the company of similar-minded souls.
The Georgia Straight, a news and entertainment weekly that comes out on Thursday, has extensive arts and entertainment listings for things to do in Vancouver.
Vancouver Performing ArtsTheatre, Ballet and Music
The 2,765-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre at the intersection of Hamilton and Georgia streets, (604) 665-3050 or (800) 840-9227, is a top destination for visitors and home to Ballet British Columbia, (604) 732-5003, and the Vancouver Opera, (604) 683-0222 and also hosts touring shows. The adjacent Vancouver Playhouse presents professional theater, dance, recitals, some opera and chamber music; phone (604) 665-3050. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs at the Orpheum Theatre, Smithe and Granville streets, and is among the fun things to do with friends; phone (604) 665-3050 for ticket information.
Other prominent theaters presenting dramatic productions include the Arts Club Theatre, on Johnston Street on Granville Island, (604) 687-1644; the Metro Theatre, 1370 S.W. Marine Dr., (604) 266-7191; Langara College’s Studio 58, 100 W. 49th Ave., (604) 323-5227; and The Cultch, 1895 Venables St., (604) 251-1363.
During the summer, concerts and musicals are presented in Stanley Park's Malkin Bowl. Kitsilano Showboat at Kitsilano Beach presents outdoor variety shows and concerts Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. from early July to late August (weather permitting). For more information phone (604) 734-7332.
Concerts in such genres as classical, country, pop and rock are presented year-round at the 17,500-seat Pacific Coliseum, 100 N. Renfrew St. in Hastings Park, (604) 253-2311, and Rogers Arena, 800 Griffiths Way, (604) 899-7400.
The daily papers carry listings of cultural events and things to do this weekend, as do weekly and monthly magazines. Ticket outlets include Tickets Tonight, 210-200 Burrard St., inside the Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre, and Collector’s Den, a Ticketmaster outlet, in the Metrotown Mall in Burnaby. Plan to make the trip out to one of these outlets, as tickets must be bought in person and sales usually end at 4 p.m.; there's a limit of four tickets per customer.
Check with your AAA travel agent for information about vacation packages, fun places to go and other things to do in Vancouver that are geared toward the performing arts.
Vancouver Sports & RecreationSkiing on Grouse Mountain in the morning, golfing on the banks of the Fraser River in the afternoon, fishing for salmon in Horseshoe Bay at dusk and taking a dip in English Bay, all in one day? It's possible in Vancouver, which offers such a diversity of recreational opportunities that you'll have no trouble finding adventurous things to do and fun places to go while visiting.
Vancouver's park system has tennis courts, swimming pools, putting greens, golf courses, lawn bowling greens, hiking paths and a comprehensive bike route. For information phone the city's Parks and Recreation Department at 311 (within Vancouver).
Bicyclists will have a field day in Vancouver, which is practically a mecca for two-wheeling types. There are about 400 kilometres (249 mi.) of bike paths in the city. The Stanley Park Seawall, 9 kilometres (6 mi.) long, may be the most well-known bike route in the area, and for good reason. There's no shortage of eye candy and things to see—Burrard Inlet, Coal Harbour, rocky beaches, the North Shore mountains, totem poles, downtown Vancouver—for riders or pedestrians while circling Stanley Park. Want more? The seawall is just one section of the 28-kilometre (17-mi.) Seaside Greenway, which begins at the convention center, runs along Coal Harbour, around Stanley Park to Granville Island and Kitsilano Beach, then west along the Point Grey Road Greenway to Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks Beach Park. Note that bike helmets are required by law.
Head for the hills of the North Shore Mountains to practice your extreme mountain biking skills. Burnaby Mountain also comes equipped with structures and a 28-kilometre (17-mi.) network of trails where you can practice stunts. For tamer rides, coast flat trails through heavily wooded forests in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Bicycle rentals (mountain, comfort, cruiser, hybrid and tandem) can be found had at Bayshore Rentals, 745 Denman St.; phone (604) 688-2453. In North Vancouver, rent all-mountain, cross-country, trail and freeride bikes at Endless Biking, 1401 Hunter St.; phone (604) 985-2519 or (604) 836-2517 after hours.
Go swimming in English Bay, which is bordered by beaches from West Point Grey to Stanley Park, most with lifeguards in summer and various amenities. Beaches are easily accessible from Northwest Marine Drive in West Point Grey, Point Grey Road in Vancouver West and from Beach Avenue downtown. In addition to Vancouver’s nine indoor swimming pools, there are outdoor pools at Kitsilano, Maple Grove, New Brighton and Stanley Park’s Second Beach.
White-water rafting is available April through September on the nearby Chilliwack River and a little farther afield on the Fraser and Thompson rivers, including the Devil’s Gorge. Vancouver rafting companies offering day trips as well as multiday trips include REO Rafting Adventure Resort, (604) 941-9777 or (800) 736-7238, and Kumsheen Rafting Resort, (250) 455-2296 or (800) 663-6667. Lotus Land Tours offers sea kayaking trips on Indian Arm, Zodiac tours of Howe Sound and whale-watching tours; phone (604) 684-4922 or (800) 528-3331.
Winter visitors in search of skiing can head for the hills in North Vancouver to tackle the challenging slopes of Grouse Mountain or Mount Seymour Provincial Park (see attraction listings). East of Vancouver are Hemlock Valley and Manning Park ski resorts, offering both downhill and cross-country treks. Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver also has cross-country and downhill skiing. Serious skiers and snowboarders will want to head north of Vancouver to Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
When the waters sparkle from the summer sun, Vancouver becomes a boating paradise. For visitors without a boat, several companies have craft for hourly or daily rental. For fishing charters and boat rentals phone Sewell's Marina, (604) 921-3474, at Horseshoe Bay or Granville Island Boat Rentals, (877) 688-2628.
Vancouver residents love spectator sports, especially football, hockey and soccer. The BC Lions of the Canadian Football League usually play before capacity crowds in BC Place Stadium , 777 Pacific Blvd. S. Fans of Major League Soccer can watch the Vancouver Whitecaps FC get their kicks at the same stadium. The Canucks of the National Hockey League compete in Rogers Arena, 800 Griffiths Way; phone (604) 899-7444 for the event hotline. The Vancouver Giants, a junior hockey team, play at the Pacific Coliseum, 2901 E. Hastings St.; if you can't get tickets for the Canucks, who often sell out, Giants tickets cost less and offer just as many thrills; phone (604) 252-3700. For more football, soccer and hockey ticket information, phone Ticketmaster, (855) 985-5000 or the automated ticket sales line (855) 985-5500.
Baseball is played by the Vancouver Canadians at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, 4601 Ontario St.; phone (604) 872-5232 for schedule and ticket information. Indoor lacrosse can be enjoyed at Bill Copeland Sports Centre, 3676 Kensington Ave. in Burnaby, (604) 297-4521 or the 24-hour info line (604) 298-0533; and at Queens Park Arena at First Street and Third Avenue in New Westminster, (604) 777-5111.
Thoroughbred racing with pari-mutuel betting is held at Hastings Park Race Course on the grounds of the Pacific National Exhibition; phone (604) 254-1631 or (877) 977-7702 .
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
Vancouver SightseeingOpportunities to sightsee and watch bustling harbor activities are available from several vantage points in Vancouver. Seaplanes, barges, tugboats, cargo ships, ferries and the SeaBus can be observed from Granville Square at the foot of Granville Street; from Canada Place at the foot of Howe St.; from Lonsdale Quay at the foot of Lonsdale Ave.; and from Stanley Park. Breathtaking views of the city, sea and mountains are available at Cypress Bowl, Simon Fraser University atop Burnaby Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Queen Elizabeth Park.
Boat ToursHarbour Cruises
Bus and Van Travel ToursWESTCOAST Sightseeing Ltd. features a hop-on, hop-off tour of Vancouver as well as narrated sightseeing trips of the city and its surrounding natural areas. Full-day trips to Victoria and Whistler also are available; phone (604) 451-1600 or (877) 451-1777. Contact your local AAA office or travel agency for information about vacation packages and other things to do at this destination.
Gray Line offers guided tours that include travel to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Grouse Mountain, downtown Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler; phone (604) 451-1600 or (877) 451-1777.
Plane ToursAnother way to see Vancouver and its surroundings on your vacation is by air. Harbour Air offers flights lasting from 35 minutes to 1.25 hours plus day-long packages, including whale-watching or bus tours; departure is from downtown on Coal Harbour Road, one block west of Canada Place. A trip up in a private plane is one of the most romantic things to do for couples. Fares vary, and reservations are required; phone (604) 274-1277 or (800) 655-0212 for reservations.
Train ToursRocky Mountaineer Vacations offers scenic, 2-day, all daylight, narrated rail tours between Vancouver or Whistler, British Columbia, and Banff, Calgary, or Jasper, Alberta. Westbound or eastbound departures are offered mid-April to mid-October, with winter rail trips available in December. Onboard meals and snacks as well as accommodations in Kamloops or Quesnel are included. A 3-hour trip on the Whistler Mountaineer also is available and runs between Vancouver and Whistler May through October. Phone (604) 606-7245 or (877) 460-3200, or (888) 687-7245 for information about Whistler trips.
Walking ToursRockwood Adventures
Vancouver in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your trip to Vancouver.
Day 1: MorningKick off your tour of Vancouver at the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre Tower . A glass elevator zips to the top of this 167-metre-tall (553-ft.) building, where 360-degree views of the skyline, the North Shore Mountains, English Bay, Coal Harbour and Stanley Park will take your breath away.
Catch a bus to your next destination (TransLink offers bus service to points throughout Vancouver). Stanley Park boasts dense forests, beautiful waterfront views, beaches, gardens and totem poles on its 405 hectares (1,000 acres). Watch or join walkers, joggers, cyclists and inline skaters as they follow the park's 9-kilometre-long (5.6-mi.) Seawall promenade. Or explore the park on a leisurely 1-hour carriage ride offered by Stanley Park Horse-drawn Tours .
Day 1: AfternoonStanley Park also is home to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre , where you'll meet penguins, sea lions, otters, sharks and other creatures of the deep.
Venturing out of Stanley Park, travel east on W. Georgia Street, then east on W. Pender Street to North America's second-largest Chinatown , between Carrall and Gore streets. Snap up some souvenirs at colorful emporiums; choose from Chinese décor, crafts, curios, jewelry, foods and fashions as well as bamboo, jade, brass and silk goods. Note the poppy-red street signs accentuated with golden dragons and Chinese lanterns. Looking for nearby restaurants and places to eat? There are plenty of authentic Chinese restaurants to choose from.
Escape the bustling crowds and retreat to Chinatown's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden . Experience peace and harmony as you stroll the paths of this Ming Dynasty-style garden accented with pagodas, plum trees, bamboo and jade-hued ponds.
Day 1: EveningIf you love the nightlife and you've got some surplus energy, Vancouver clubs run the gamut from intimate lounges and swanky cabarets to beery pubs, sports bars and concert venues. You'll find these just about anywhere in the metro area, but some neighborhoods offer clusters of clubs if you prefer to park once and barhop the rest of the night. Downtown's Granville Street is a hotspot for 24-hour nightlife and fun things to do with friends.
Gastown, Kitsilano and Yaletown also are popular with clubgoers. Wondering where to watch some good flamenco dancing in Vancouver? The Kino Café (3456 Cambie St.) is just the place; sip some sangria and clap along to the music.
Finally, Yaletown, home base for the city's young, stylish professionals, is where you'll find hip and trendy hangouts. Bar None on Hamilton Street is a SoHo-style spot with a cigar lounge and martini bar, while Yaletown Brewing Company is popular with the 9-to-5 crowd for microbrews and burgers; it has a homey feel complete with a fireplace and pool tables. Go four blocks east and you'll find a different vibe at Shark Club, a sports bar in the Sandman Hotel Vancouver City Centre on W. Georgia Street; masculine, modern décor, pool tables, big-screen TVs and hockey fans fill the joint. After 10 p.m., live DJs ramp up the energy.
Day 2: MorningTake the False Creek Ferry or Aquabus across False Creek to Granville Island. At Granville Island Public Market, peruse stalls showcasing every type of edible imaginable—all locally produced—and gather a variety of scrumptious goodies for breakfast on the go. A warm, chewy bagel, some sweet strawberries, and a steaming cup of freshly roasted coffee will fuel you for the second day of your Vancouver vacation.
While you're munching, settle on a bench near the market to watch lively street performers, including musicians, jugglers and flamethrowers. Afterwards, make your way to Granville Island's shops and art studios, where you can observe artisans creating jewelry, pottery, glass, textiles, furniture and works of art. Browsing the island is one of the most fun things to do in Vancouver, and an easy option for group travel if you’re wondering what to do.
Day 2: AfternoonFrom Granville Island, hop back on the ferry to Vanier Park, home to the Museum of Vancouver , H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and the Vancouver Maritime Museum . At the Vancouver Maritime Museum, tour a 1960s submarine and a 1940s schooner, the first vessel to circumnavigate North America.
Between museum visits, grab a bite at one of the local restaurants like Vera's Burger Shack, half a kilometre (.3 mi.) south on Cornwall Avenue. Expect a well-worth-it wait; the award-winning hamburgers are so popular they can't make them fast enough.
Stop back at the Museum of Vancouver; its wealth of exhibits focuses on the region's art and history from the days of the original Vancouverites—Coast Salish tribes—to the 20th century. If time permits, engage in some stargazing at the planetarium or travel through space on a full-motion simulator at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre.
Day 2: EveningWhen planning where to eat for dinner, choose from Vancouver's vast selection of fine restaurants, many with picturesque waterfront views. One of the best is The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on Granville Island.
After dinner, catch a hockey game when the Canucks take to the ice at Rogers Arena, 800 Griffiths Way. Alternatively, cap off your day at a high-energy nightclub, an Irish pub or a concert by local or international performers; Vancouver's thriving nightlife caters to all tastes. See Day 1's list for suggestions and fun things to do after dark.
Day 3: MorningBoard the SeaBus downtown at the waterfront to cross Burrard Inlet, then it's on to Lonsdale Quay, where a TransLink bus will take you to Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver . Depending on the season, activities and things to do include skiing, ice-skating, sleigh rides, helicopter tours, a lumberjack show…and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The panorama of downtown Vancouver from the mountain is simply sublime.
About 3 kilometres (1.9 mi.) from Grouse Mountain, the 137-metre-long (450-ft.) Capilano Suspension Bridge Park challenges you to tread 70 metres (230 ft.) above the Capilano River through the rain forest. After you brave the bridge, take in the totem pole park, gardens, native dancers and the precarious Cliffwalk.
Day 3: AfternoonNorth Vancouver has a number of quaint bistros to satisfy a rumbling stomach. The Cactus Club Cafe has casual fare and wild BC salmon.
Head back to downtown Vancouver and explore some of the city's many distinctive neighborhoods. You'll find funky boutiques, bookstores and coffee shops on Kitsilano's West 4th Avenue, while antique shops, art galleries, pubs and street vendors line Gastown's cobblestone streets. Formerly an industrial area, the trendy Yaletown district now houses swank furniture and clothing shops, cafes and hip nightclubs. Robson Street, between Burrard and Jervis streets, has the feel of an outdoor mall with such well-known chains as Banana Republic and BCBG Max Azria as well as a wide selection of popular restaurants and coffeehouses.
Day 3: EveningMarvel at downtown's nighttime skyline ablaze with lights as you tour Vancouver's waters on a dinner cruise provided by Harbour Cruises ; you'll be treated to a tasty West Coast-style buffet and live music. Watch an awe-inspiring sunset over the Pacific Ocean and check out the picture-postcard scenery, including the snow-sprinkled North Shore mountains and West Vancouver's shoreline.
Best Attractions in VancouverIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
A good way to start your vacation is with an eagle's-eye view of Vancouver as seen from Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre Tower . You'll be whisked up 168 metres (553 ft.) via glass elevators to the observation deck, where you'll see sweeping views of the city as well as its shimmering harbor and snow-dusted mountains. In North Vancouver , you can ride an aerial cable car to view Vancouver from a vantage point of 1,100 metres (3,609 ft.) at AAA GEM attraction Grouse Mountain . The view is nothing short of spectacular and there's plenty to do, including helicopter and sleigh rides, guided forest strolls, a lumberjack show and a wildlife refuge. Also in North Vancouver is AAA GEM attraction Capilano Suspension Bridge Park , where you'll cautiously walk 70 metres (230 ft.) above a 300-year-old rain forest and watch as artists carve totem poles at the carving center.
The highest point in Vancouver is the incongruously named Little Mountain at Queen Elizabeth Park . You'll marvel at the 360-degree view of the city's skyline from Little Mountain's lookouts. The park also contains a rose garden and an indoor tropical conservatory with dozens of free-flying exotic birds.
Vancouver's moderate climate and frequent but light rains create the perfect environment for lush gardens throughout the city. Stanley Park , a AAA GEM attraction, boasts elegant manicured gardens and tangles of old-growth forests. The park, surrounded on three sides by water, also features several beaches and is bordered by a 10-kilometre (6.5-mi.) seawall for walkers, joggers and cyclists. Horse-drawn carriage rides are a pleasing way to take to travel through the park and take in this bit of heaven on earth. With one visit you'll see why Stanley Park frequently tops the lists on travel sites of the best things to do in Vancouver.
VanDusen Botanical Garden is another AAA GEM attraction that has taken full advantage of the local climate. You'll find 40 themed gardens with azaleas, roses, Japanese maples and giant sequoias as you wander the meandering paths of this 22-hectare (55-acre) paradise. A highlight is an Elizabethan hedge maze made of 3,000 pyramidal cedars; try to find your way from the entrance to the exit without getting lost. The 28 hectares (69 acres) of UBC Botanical Garden at the University of British Columbia include the Asian Garden, where you can admire the rare blue Himalayan poppy. A native British Columbian rain forest garden, alpine garden and food garden are other treasures you'll unearth at this destination.
While you're on the UBC campus, take some time to explore its notable museums. The UBC Museum of Anthropology showcases the art and culture of British Columbia's aboriginal people; among the masterpieces in its modern galleries are one of the world's finest collections of totem poles as well as aboriginal jewelry and ceremonial masks. The Pacific Museum of the Earth houses an 80-million-year-old Lambeosaurus dinosaur skeleton and a piece of the Acasta Gneiss, said to be the oldest rock in the world at more than 4 billion years old.
Neighboring Richmond is home to another AAA GEM attraction, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site . Take a tour of the restored 1894 salmon cannery and learn about the “fishtory” of one of Vancouver's key industries.
Vancouver's Vanier Park is home to a trio of popular attractions: H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, Museum of Vancouver and Vancouver Maritime Museum. H.R. MacMillan Space Centre will take you straight to the moon as well as any other planet of your choosing via a virtual voyage on a 30-passenger spaceship, laser shows set to contemporary music and original planetarium shows. Museum of Vancouver features innovative exhibits covering the region's history, art and culture. Galleries are filled with aboriginal art, an Egyptian mummy, Pacific Rim artifacts and a collection of neon signs from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. At the Vancouver Maritime Museum , climb aboard the restored St. Roch; in 1944 it became the first ship to sail back and forth across the Northwest Passage. Children will love the museum's discovery center, where they can pilot a deep-sea robot or navigate a tugboat.
Marine animals are the main attraction at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre , a AAA GEM attraction. Dolphins, seals and otters share the aquarium with rain forest creatures such as piranhas, sloths and crocodiles, while a tropical zone houses sharks, moray eels and brilliantly colored warm-water fish. Investigate scientific phenomena at AAA GEM attraction Science World at TELUS World of Science ; kids of all ages will find fun things to do—from skiing on a simulated race course to playing music using just your feet and beams of light—in this center that makes science just plain fun.
Lest you think that science and history are the only subjects of Vancouver's many museums, visits to the following will banish that thought. Vancouver Art Gallery is the place to go to see works by regional, national and international artists, including native Emily Carr, best known for her modernist landscapes of Vancouver's rain forests and paintings of totem poles. Sports aficionados will feel at home at BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum , which pays homage to British Columbian sports from the 1700s to the present in its 20 galleries.
A trip to Vancouver would not be complete without exploring its Asian heritage. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown provides a respite from the hubbub of the neighborhood's streets. The garden's design is based on the principle of yin and yang, offering peace and tranquility to all who enter. If you're wondering where to eat authentic Asian cuisine, check out local restaurants in Chinatown and along Robson Street in the West End district. Dozens of places offer a chance to try ramen, pho, dumplings, bubble tea and other Asian specialties.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Best Restaurants in VancouverOur favorites include some of this destination's best places to eat—from fine dining to simple fare.
See and Be Seen on Robson Street
On Robson Street, a window-shopper's dream, CinCin (pronounced chin-chin), with its bustling atmosphere, is known as the place to see and be seen. Film stars like to dine at this restaurant, so look around and see if you can spot someone famous. The large open-kitchen concept features a wood-fired brick oven where juicy rotisserie chicken turns slowly, filling the restaurant with a delightful aroma. For meat lovers, fresh seafood and meats are grilled over alderwood, enhancing them with a unique flavor. During warmer weather the heated outdoor terrace is open and overlooks Robson Street below.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is a popular San Francisco-style seafood grill found on one of Vancouver's busiest downtown corners just off Robson Street. Just who is Joe Fortes? Vancouver's beloved turn-of-the-20th-century hero was one of the city's first lifeguards who taught hundreds of local children how to swim. When he died in 1923 a monument was erected in his honor at English Bay which reads simply “Little children loved him.” Today, the classically styled Canadian seafood restaurant and bustling oyster bar named after Joe is one of the city's hidden pleasures. In a typical year more than 300,000 fresh-shucked oysters are served and more than 100 types of just-caught fish are grilled to perfection. Try Joe's signature hand-cut steaks or seafood cioppino. Sunday brunches feature crab and corn fritters, lobster Benedict and live entertainment. One special highlight is a delightful rooftop garden that is a year-round destination.
Fine Dining Downtown
Bacchus Restaurant has been a CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award winner since 1998. This luxurious restaurant is in The Wedgewood Hotel & Spa , a swank boutique hotel in downtown Vancouver. The windows in the piano lounge open after dusk in the balmy summer months, providing diners and lounge patrons a great spot for people watching. The creative menu with a heavy French accent features à la carte menu items and wine pairings from a globe-spanning wine list. Choose from dishes such as seared Alaskan scallops with linguini or grilled Alberta beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms. Afternoon tea and brunch are served on weekends. You might start brunch with a bacon scallop Caesar and progress to such treats as blueberry pancakes with Quebec maple syrup.
Selections from the Sea
At the end of Davie Street adjacent to False Creek, Provence Marinaside serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Named after a small marina nearby, this restaurant's main emphasis is on freshly caught seafood, and lots of it. An extensive antipasti menu includes grilled items such as squid, scallop, lentils and bell pepper. A raw oyster bar presents a sizable selection. If you prefer the fruits of the sea grilled, steamed or seared, wise choices include whole Dungeness crab and wild prawns Provençal. Give yourself plenty of time to peruse the large wine list.
Fresh from the Garden
Make the trip to 22-hectare (55-acre) VanDusen Botanical Garden and dine at Shaughnessy Restaurant at VanDusen Garden , a fine dining establishment serving creative contemporary West Coast cuisine. You'll find fresh ingredients from the garden in many of the lunch and dinner entrées. Try the afternoon tea or the daily specials of homemade soups, or ask about the chicken pot pie, a longtime favorite.
Worth the Reservation
Regularly voted Vancouver's most popular restaurant, advance reservations are the only way in the door at Bishop's , west of downtown in Kitsilano. In business for more than 30 years, the restaurant serves contemporary North American cuisine. It's an intimate, very upscale room on two levels where presentation of food is a painstaking performance. The menu changes weekly but always includes the season's freshest ingredients and local organic produce. Entrées might include Fraser Valley lamb, roasted Cowichan Bay Farm duck breast or Dungeness crab cake. Service is very attentive but sometimes demands a wait. Owner John Bishop is a well-known fixture on the restaurant scene and often caters to a film star crowd. If you can get a reservation, add this stop to your vacation itinerary.
Dine in Stanley Park
Another option if you're wondering where to eat is the Teahouse in Stanley Park . The name is a bit of a misnomer, as brunch, lunch and dinner are also served. The restaurant faces expansive English Bay with the North Shore mountains in the background—it's hard to find a better view in Vancouver, especially at sunset. The menu provides plenty of palate-pleasing dishes, especially for those who have worked up a hearty appetite after spending hours in the evergreen-scented park air. Start your meal with grilled octopus or bison carpaccio, then try coq au vin or wild mushroom ravioli for your main course. The lemon tart and chocolate Milano cake are excellent dessert options and the extensive wine list includes selections from B.C., Australia, California and Europe. Enjoying a meal at the Teahouse is among the most romantic things for couples to do in Vancouver.
West Coast Specialties
Nearby restaurants outside the downtown core offer distinct dining options, too. Across English Bay in West Vancouver, the hilltop Salmon House on the Hill restaurant has been creating some of the best Pacific Rim cuisine for more than 40 years. Dramatic panoramic views of English Bay and the downtown core can be seen from every table. Fish and meats are smoked or flame-grilled and flavored with smoky-sweet green alderwood. Barbecued fresh BC salmon is Salmon House's signature dish along with a wide selection of Pacific Northwest wines. You simply can't beat the views or the food here if you're looking for a truly memorable Vancouver experience.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated local restaurants for this destination.
Vancouver EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your trip.
Vancouver is an energetic city with plenty to celebrate, and its citizens know how to start the year off right. On January 1, more than 1,000 fearless swimmers brave the icy waters of English Bay in the annual Polar Bear Swim . The event includes a 91-metre (100-yd.) race and attracts thousands of spectators, some dressed in wild costumes.
Kung Hay Fat Choy! You'll probably hear this traditional Chinese blessing over and over during Chinese New Year, a Chinese holiday which occurs between late January and mid-February. The Vancouver Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown begins with activities at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden ; have your fortune told, learn calligraphy, watch martial artists and listen to storytellers. A parade winds through the streets of Chinatown in the afternoon.
Welcome Spring with Fun and Festivals
Celebrate the return of spring in April with the Vancouver Sun Run , reputedly the second largest 10K run in North America. Cheer on tens of thousands of participants as they sprint or stroll through downtown, enjoying views of English Bay and Stanley Park with live music played along the route. For active travelers, the Sun Run is a great excuse to book a vacation in Vancouver.
In May, the Vancouver International Children's Festival is a weeklong party for kids on Granville Island. Entertainers from around the world put on plays and puppet shows as well as dance and musical performances. Fun things to do include face painting, kite flying and playing in clay; jugglers, stilt-walkers, clowns and wandering minstrels create a carnival-like atmosphere.
Get Outside in Summer
You'll fall in love with Shakespeare at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival from early June through late September. Watch tragedies and comedies staged in front of the mountains and English Bay in Vanier Park. Select performances include a salmon Bard-B-Q during intermission and fireworks after the show. The festival is one of the best things for couples to do in summer.
Cultural entertainment sails into False Creek with the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in mid-June. Also held in June is the Vancouver International Jazz Festival , which features legendary jazz musicians and vocalists playing at various jazz joints, parks and public places. Past performers include Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente and Diana Krall.
Has all that jazz put you in the mood for more music? The Vancouver Folk Music Festival at Jericho Beach Park draws fans from as far away as Los Angeles for concerts during mid-July. Book your travel packages and vacation packages early or contact your AAA travel agency to plan your trip.
Celebration of Light features 3 nights of fireworks displays and is held at English Bay the last week of July and the first week in August.
In late August, your childhood memories of the county fair will come rushing back at The Fair at Pacific National Exhibition . Ride the merry-go-round, root for your favorite swine at a pig race, bite into a crisp candy apple and try your luck on the midway. You'll also find live music, agricultural exhibits, a beer garden, talent contests and much more.
For 11 days in September, step outside of the norm at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival . Uncensored theatrical shows by about 100 international groups and performers defy the rules of conventional theater. Most of the shows take place on Granville Island. If you're looking for fun things to do with friends, this is it.
Celebrate the Holidays in Vancouver
Interested in things to do during the holidays? December brings several holiday-themed events to the city. During the Carol Ships Parade of Lights , vessels adorned with Christmas lights and decorations sail in Vancouver Harbor almost every night, passing many Vancouver neighborhoods. Landlubbers celebrate with live music, craft workshops, bonfires and hot chocolate.
Bright Nights in Stanley Park , a holiday tradition of more than 30 years, turns the forest and the train into a wonderland with more than 2 million lights and animated displays.
More than a million shimmering lights greet you at VanDusen Botanical Garden during the Festival of Lights . Dancing lights on Livingstone Lake twinkle in time to holiday music, and a water terrace is turned into a “magic marsh” complete with fiber-optic lights and whimsical creatures. Choral music and a storytelling Santa add to the magic.
Commemorate the beginning of winter at the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival , held on a late-December evening. Join a procession of lantern-holding revelers accompanied by drummers, beginning at either Science World at TELUS World of Science or Strathcona Community Centre and ending at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, where you'll enjoy ethereal music and enchanting lighted gardens.
See all the AAA recommended things to do in Vancouver and events for this destination.
A Trip Through Stanley ParkStanley Park is the crown jewel in a city uncommonly blessed with scenic attributes. It is not only a paradise for walkers, hikers, cyclists and adventure travel enthusiasts, but also a truly delightful wooded retreat that's all the more special for being only a stone's throw away from downtown Vancouver's skyscrapers. It's frequently at the top of the list of the best things to do in Vancouver, and one of the best ways to experience the park is to walk the seawall promenade around its perimeter, a distance totaling a bit more than 9 kilometres (5.6 mi.) that you can take at a leisurely or vigorous pace. Discover what to do in Stanley Park and fun places to go with this guide.
Start at English Bay Beach
A good starting point for a trip into Stanley Park is English Bay Beach in the West End neighborhood; just follow the paved seawall path. (There is a designated lane for walkers and a separate one for cyclists and roller bladers.) One of the best things about this walk is that it offers an uninterrupted series of scenic water views. To your left, keep an eye out for the stacked stone sculptures that people construct when the rocky beach is accessible during low tide; some of them are quite elaborate.
Once past the swimming pool and facilities at Second Beach, you'll leave many of the casual strollers behind. Between Second Beach and Third Beach the waters of English Bay sparkle in the sun as the seawall runs along sandstone cliffs and conifer-covered hillsides. Third Beach is a good destination for beachcombing at low tide, when the receding waters reveal barnacle-encrusted rocks and pieces of driftwood.
Must-See: Siwash Rock
Siwash Rock is a distinctive landmark you can't miss. This sea stack—a geologic feature formed when volcanic action caused a portion of rock to break free from the park foundation—is between 15 and 18 metres (50 and 60 ft.) tall. A small Douglas fir stands at its summit. Past Siwash Rock the seawall rounds the northern end of the park. At Prospect Point you'll be treated to outstanding views of the Lions Gate Bridge and mountains rising from the opposite North Shore.
On the other side of Prospect Point the seawall runs along Burrard Inlet. Stands of Douglas fir, western hemlock and western red cedar are in full view on this stretch of the walk. The fierce-looking green dragon arching toward the water is the Empress of Japan Figurehead, a replica of a prow ornament that once graced the RMS Empress of Japan ocean liner. Just beyond the dragon is “Girl in Wet Suit,” a sculpture of a woman sitting on top of a rock about 9 metres (30 ft.) offshore. Although at first glance you might think she’s a mermaid, this girl is wearing flippers and has a scuba mask on her head.
Before reaching Brockton Point you'll see Stanley Park's totem poles standing in a clearing to your right. Interpretive plaques explain the significance of each pole's symbolic figures. Beyond the totems sits the squat Brockton Point Lighthouse. The 9 O'Clock Gun is an old cannon near the tip of Brockton Point; it used to be fired at 6 p.m. to signal the end of the fishing day. Although it goes off electronically these days, the sound is still loud enough to make you jump.
Back to the West End
After curving around Brockton Point the seawall runs along the shore of Coal Harbour. There are superb views of the downtown skyline and the yachts and other pleasure craft docked at the harbor. Keep following the paved walkway until you reach the Georgia Avenue park entrance, which will take you back to the West End. Relaxing at one of the cafes or casual places to eat along Denman Street is a perfect way to end this Stanley Park jaunt. You've earned it.
Exploring Granville IslandWandering the shops, galleries and market vendors on Granville Island is often cited as one of the most fun things to do with friends in Vancouver, especially on a vacation, but do you know the history of Granville Island?
The 14-hectare (35-acre) Granville Island was created in 1915 by using material dredged from False Creek, a large tidal basin; factories producing all sorts of industrial machinery quickly sprang up to serve the construction boom in Vancouver. By World War II, the island became deserted as the boom ended and manufacturers moved to suburban areas.
In the early 1970s, city planners began to visualize the island as a place where Vancouverites and out-of-towners could shop in an outdoor market, enjoy theater groups and street performers, imbibe an espresso, dine in local restaurants and cafés and watch artisans create works of art and handicrafts. The planners' dream was realized with the 1979 opening of Granville Island. Technically Granville Island is not even an island; it's actually a peninsula jutting out into English Bay. But Granville Island definitely has the flavor of an island, and much of that flavor comes from its main attraction, the Granville Island Public Market.
Much to See at the Market
The once-abandoned warehouses, foundries and machine shops made of corrugated tin now contain market stalls where you'll find butchers, bakers, fishmongers, florists and green grocers hawking fresh fruit and vegetables. You'll also discover candy makers, ice cream stands, cheese purveyors, tea merchants and British Columbian wine sellers. Or you may choose from a selection of freshly prepared foods from many international cuisines, including Indian, Greek and Chinese food as well as sushi, tamales and fruit-filled crepes. If you're wondering where to eat and sample local cuisine, this is it.
Purchase a picnic of incredible edibles, which may include a crusty sourdough baguette, artisanal cheese, a crisp apple, warm currant scones and chamomile tea, and nosh on them while watching buskers perform on the street for (almost) free (a tip is always appreciated). After you're full, go for a stroll among the island's cobbled alleys and watch weavers, guitar makers, potters and glass blowers create beautiful pieces out of raw materials, or attend a play at one of the local theaters. Children will have fun at the Kids Market, a 23-shop complex geared expressly to the little ones; they'll have a blast at the market's arcade, play area and adjacent water park, too.
Tips and Tricks
Don't drive to Granville Island; parking is almost impossible. Instead, take the bus, hail a cab or cross the inlet in a small ferry (False Creek Ferry and Aquabus are the two private ferry companies). Walking is the best and most popular mode of transportation on the island so wear comfortable shoes. To avoid the inevitable crowds, visit during the week; Tuesday is the quietest day. Any day of the week, you'll find whatever you're looking for on Granville Island, from fresh vegetables and seafood to one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs.
Places in Vicinity