The best part of living near a country border is that we can spontaneously say, “do you want to drive to lunch and I’ll drive to Canada?” In this post I’ll cover 17 awesome things to do in Vancouver, B.C. My husband and I live in Seattle, so Vancouver is an easy 2.5-hour drive North across the border for us! If you’ll be visiting the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out my Washington State archives for a plethora of information on top things to do, hikes, foodie guides, day trips and weekend trips in the beautiful PNW! But for now, let’s dive into Vancouver!
Vancouver B.C. is one of our favorite cities in the world, known for its international diversity (on par with London, New York City and Ireland), amazing foodie scene, and beautiful nature within a 20-minute’s drive from downtown. What we love about Vancouver is that within one block of downtown, you’ll easily hear 15 different languages and accents, and you’ll find a different ethnic cuisine on every corner, usually run by someone who is actually from that country.
Below are 17 awesome things to do in Vancouver, which I’ll elaborate on throughout the post:
- Take a Stroll or Rent a Bike at Stanley Park and Find the “Two Spirits” (giant mysterious heads carved into a tree)
- Take a Walk at Lighthouse Park (West Vancouver)
- Unleash Your Inner Child Spirit with the A-Maze-ing Statues
- Eat Your Heart Out in the West End Neighborhood
- Listen to the Clock Whistle in Gastown
- Take a Scenic Ride on a Seaplane!
- Enjoy the Mountain Views on Sea To Sky Gondola
- Hike Shannon Falls
- Hike Jug Island Trail in Belcarra
- Skip the Hype at Capilano Suspension Bridge and Instead Head to Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
- Hike Grouse Grind
- Visit Granville Island and Public Market
- Enjoy the Quaint Lonsdale Quay (North Vancouver)
- Eat Your Way Through Richmond Summer Night Market (Summers Only)
- Take a Stroll at Queen Elizabeth Park
- Visit the Museum of Anthropology
- Visit the VanDusen Botanical Garden
Before we dive into the things to see and do in Vancouver, let’s not forget where to eat! Vancouver is one of the best foodie cities in North America with a wonderful international influence. Below are some of our favorites.
Where To Eat in Vancouver
Twisted Fork for breakfast in Gastown is a good alternative to Jam Cafe, which always has a long queue. Grab a cup of specialty coffee at Rocanini Coffee Roasters, InBtwen Cafe, or Prototype Coffee. Enjoy fresh baked pastries and sweets from Purebread where you can unleash your inner child like a kid in a candy shop with the endless options.
For lunch or dinner, be greeted by the sweetheart owner at the small and humble Ofra’s Kitchen (Israeli), enjoy a taste of Italy with Napolitano style pizza at Pizzeria Grano (East Vancouver), Grub for a classic taste of the PNW, or The Acorn for vegetarians (serving a uniquely curated menu based on what is currently in season). For more of a flavor-packed punch, head over to Modern Handi (Indian cuisine).
Take a Stroll or Rent a Bike at Stanley Park
This 8.8 kilometer (5.5-mile) seawall loops around Stanley Park along the waterfront with delightful surprises at every curve, including swings, a giant kids play pool with waterslides, hidden trails, and outdoor workout stations. Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s most visited areas by both tourists and locals alike. During winter, bundle up and stroll along the beach front for sunset.
We were surprised to see that electric scooters are not available in this area, which is likely due to the preservation of all the bike shops that surround the park to prevent them from going out of business. During summer, rent bikes from any of the many shops that line the West End (bike rentals start at $5 per hour). However, be mindful that the trail is only one-way and has separate paths for wheels and pedestrians, so don’t go against the grain unless you want to get some “polite dirty looks” (you know you’re in Canada when you hear, “suwry (sorry), but you’re in the bike path!”
While you’re in the park, look for the Two Spirits – two mysterious and enormous heads carved into the side of a tree. To get here, follow these directions:
– Head North on Bridle Trail behind the Second Beach concession stand
– Take the first trail on the left, which is Rawlings Trail
– Head West for a few hundred feet until there is a bit of a clearing (10-minute walk from Second Beach and Ceperley Park)
Talk a Walk at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver
Just a 20-minute drive from Stanley Park is an easy, mellow forested walk to the Lighthouse. Great for families, dogs and children, this easy out and back flat hike rewards you with beautiful views of the water and the lighthouse.
Unleash Your Inner Child Spirit With the A-Maze-Ing Laughter Statues
This fun maze of 14 bronze statues consists of a shirtless man laughing hysterically in different poses. It was installed in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale and is now one of the most photographed places in B.C. How can you not smile looking at these?
Eat Your Heart Out in the West End Neighborhood
This is one of the many areas of Vancouver where you can hear 15 different languages and accents all within one block. Rest your feet with a Chinese Foot Reflexology Massage at Big Feet (Robson Street), enjoy Israeli food at Ofra’s Kitchen, or get your caffeine fix at Little Cafe on Robson. If you’re more of a tea person, try the Malaysian-influenced Karak Milk Tea at PappaRoti (Robson Street) – black tea with cinnamon, spices and condensed milk. Looking for more of an Asian flare? Not to worry, you’ll find dumplings and boba tea on nearly every corner.
Listen To The Clock Whistle in Gastown
Gastown is known for its whistling steam clock (yes, it really sings!), trendy eateries, talented bartenders, and happening nightlife. Perfect for a romantic walkabout with your partner or a night out with friends, Gastown is sure to please any palate! The only bummer about this area is the homeless population, which can feel a bit sketchy, especially at night.
Where to Eat in Gastown
A cozy place for a delicious breakfast.
MeeT (multiple locations)
This play on words vegetarian eatery is a place to meet up with friends but not eat meat. Their vegan poutine is excellent.
Take a Scenic Ride on a Seaplane!
Vancouver is arguably one of the best places in the world to take a seaplane ride. Harbour Air runs several tours per day, and you can select from a 25-minute taster or a longer one-hour scenic ride. Prices start around $130 USD per person.
Enjoy the Mountain Views on Sea To Sky Gondola
Sea to Sky is Vancouver’s hottest attraction, located just 50 minutes by car outside of downtown Vancouver. For those of you who aren’t avid hikers or aren’t keen to scale the side of a mountain just to see those stunning Pacific Northwest views, this is the perfect activity for you, and kid-friendly, too! Prices are around $60 USD per adult for a round-trip ticket on the gondola, but you can also opt to pay for one way and hike on the way down (or the opposite – hike up and take the gondola down!) The views are stunning and there’s even a suspension bridge and some food trucks at the top!
Just next door to the Sea To Sky Gondola is Shannon Falls, so you can visit both in one go. You’ll even see the falls from the gondola ride!
Hike Jug Island Trail in Belcarra
Another excellent hike in the area is Jug Island, located just on the other side of Quarry Rock.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite after all this hiking. Well, your timing is perfect! Head on down to Bluhouse Market & Cafe located in the quaint small town of Deep Cove, just a five-minute walk from the Quarry Rock trailhead. This adorable vegetarian, local, organic cafe will welcome you warmly.
I was so excited by their delicious menu of smoothies and protein bowls along with their plethora of raw and baked homemade goods, including my favorite Canadian dessert…the NANAIMO BAR!!!
What is a Nanaimo Bar, you ask? Well, besides the most delicious dessert you will find in Canada (wildly biased and subjective opinion), it is a dessert that requires no baking. It consists of a chocolate and crumb crust base, layered with custard-flavored butter icing and topped with melted chocolate. Are you drooling yet?
We ordered the Raw Power Protein Smoothie, the Buddha Bowl, and of course, a Nanaimo Bar!
After your vegetarian foodie delight, if you’re still up for more hiking, head on over just a 20-minute drive to Lynn Canyon and test your balance walking across the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.
Or do the splits over the rail edges…
Or pretend like you’re a ballerina…
Capilano Suspension Bridge gets all the hype, and while it’s great (I did this on a previous trip to Vancouver), in my opinion it wasn’t worth the $50 admission fee per person! So skip the tourist crowds, keep that $50 in your pocket for dinner later, and hike around Lynn Canyon Park instead. The suspension bridge is quite small, but still stunning as it overlooks waterfalls and dense forest. So much green!
Once you cross over to the other side, there are plenty of hiking options for short or long day hikes. The greenery and mist reminded me of Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic Peninsula on the Western coast of Washington.
Hike Grouse Mountain
Grouse Grind is also known as “nature’s stair master”. This challenging all-uphill hike has quarter-mile markers so that you know how far you have to go. It’s definitely not the most pleasant hike in the area, but the views from the top are quite rewarding after an elevation gain of 2,800′ (855 meters) in just under two miles. You can take the tram back down for a nominal fee rather than hiking both ways. Disclaimer: this hike is NOT for folks who are out of shape or looking for an easy stroll. Please be sure to bring essential gear and wear proper clothing and shoes when hiking in the Pacific Northwest so that you are adequately prepared. During the winter season, this turns into Vancouver’s closest ski resort.
Explore Granville Island
Take a water taxi to Granville Island Public Market, or drive there with your car. Parking is available for a fee.
This is a touristy spot, but has some great options for gifts and souvenirs, such as tea!
There are almost always live musicians performing outside in the open area during all seasons. We were lucky enough to catch a guy playing guitar and singing romantic songs in French. It was the perfect opportunity to dance under the moonlight. Be sure to show your appreciation by giving them a tip, as they are not paid by Granville Island Public Market.
On a nice long summer evening, you can also rent bikes and pedal from Stanley Park to Granville Island (around 5 kilometers (3 miles), or 20 minutes.) There’s a nice bike path along the waterfront the whole way with giant colorful bean statues in the park, like you’d see in Chicago.
Visit Lonsdale Quay
Pronounced “Lawns-dale-key”, this cute area is located in North Vancouver (or NorthVan as the locals call it) Just a quick hop over Lionsgate Bridge, Lonsdale is a quaint small neighborhood on the way to nature and some of Vancouver’s best hikes. Stop by the waterfront market for some beautiful views across the water looking towards downtown.
Eat at Buddha-Full for raw, organic vegan smoothies, bowls and sweets.
Eat Your Way Through Richmond Summer Night Market (Summers Only)
Transport yourself to Asia with this happening night market where you can taste anything from Korean fried chicken to ramen to boba tea! A true feast for the senses!
Driving Back to Seattle
If you have Global Entry, be sure to go online before visiting Canada and check the box that includes country border crossings. Coming from Canada back into Seattle with your global entry card, you can hop into the far right lane that says Nexus, which is the expedited lane. Unfortunately you cannot use this card to get into Canada, as it only works to get back into the U.S. And don’t forget your passport!
Seattle –> Canada: 143 miles / 230 kilometers
Drive time: Approximately 2.5 – 3 hours depending on traffic and country border crossing wait times