One of the biggest surprises on our trip to Canada was how much we absolutely loved Vancouver. We hadn’t really given it much thought when we we planning, but this sunny seaside city was actually one of the highlights of our trip.
We even extended our trip to stay for an extra day!
There’s just so much to do in Vancouver. From incredible whale watching opportunities, to historical city streets and one of the most beautiful parks we’ve ever visited, Vancouver should definitely be on your must visit list for Canada.
Here are ten of our favourite highlights from our time in Vancouver.
In this post:
1. Visit Stanley Park
One of the top highlights of Vancouver is the sprawling Stanley Park. Right in the middle of the city the park is absolutely huge, with all kinds of attractions lying within it’s grounds.
Stanley Park is more than 400 hectares in size and is actually a natural rainforest. It’s the perfect place to head if you want to get out of the city without going to far, with beautiful gardens, beaches, local wildlife and restaurants scattered around the park.
You can drive all around the park, with one main one-way road looping around the outside of the park and then a direct two-way road cutting directly through the middle of the park as well. There are heaps of places to park your car throughout the park, which means you can stop all over the place to explore.
Some of the top places to stop and explore around Stanley Park include –
- Prospect Point
- Beaver Lake
- First Nations Totem Poles
- Stanley Park Rose Garden
- Lost Lagoon and the Jubilee Fountain
- Shakespeare Garden
- Siwash Rock and the Hollow Tree
- Brockton Point Lighthouse
- Malkin Bowl Performances
- Stanley Park Pavilion
- The water park at Lumbermen’s Arch
- Second Beach
- Stanley Park Train Rides
2. Check out the views from Prospect Point
Head to Prospect Point for stunning views of the Lions Gate Bridge, North Shore Mountains and Burrard Inlet. The lookout point is multi-level offering you views from all different points and you can always find a spot by yourself for that perfect photo.
The Prospect Point Cafe & Gift Shop is a lovely place to stop while you’re exploring the park. It has some great big outdoor tables for you to sit down and take a breather during the day and the gift shop is full of unique souvenirs and gifts from Canada. The cafe is open from 10am to 8pm each day.
Right next door to the cafe there’s also a cute ice-cream stand serving locally made Rocky Point ice-cream that’s open from 11am to 7pm each day. There are so many great local flavours to try here! Some of the favourites include salted caramel, earl grey and honey and maple walnut.
Book your rental car to explore the best of Stanley Park
3. Go Whale Watching
Take advantage of Vancouver’s waterfront location and jump on-board one of the local whale watching tours. These tours see whales every single day and some of them even guarantee your whale sightings or you can come back for free. The Vancouver whale watching season is between April and October, and is definitely a can’t miss experience if you’re visiting during this time.
We chose Vancouver Whale Watch for our whale watching experience and we had a fantastic time. The tours go for 3 to 5 hours, depending on where the whales are on the day of your trip, and the boat offers lots of open air space so that you can get some great unobstructed photos of the whales in their natural environment.
During our tour we followed a pod of orca whales for about an hour or so as they were swimming. They were moving pretty fast while we followed them, which our guide said meant that they were travelling at the time and could move at that pace for a few days in a row.
The orcas all have their own unique markings around their fin, making it easy for the guides to identify the different whales and keep track of where they travel throughout the years. Some of the orcas in the areas have been coming back to visit for more than 25 years.
Check out all the different whale watching tours available in Vancouver
4. Meet the Sea Otters at Vancouver Aquarium
Sea otters are just plain adorable. The way they play with each other, the way they swim on their backs, the way they always look like they’re smiling! It can be hard to spot an otter in their natural habitats because they tend to disappear once the sun comes up, but at the Vancouver Aquarium you can see them all year round!
The sea otters at the aquarium exhibit were actually rescued when they were just babies. In fact, they were so young that they didn’t know how to eat by themselves or groom themselves yet. They’ve been bottle-fed and hand-reared at the aquarium and they love their little home there.
Make sure you check out the Spotlight on Otters feeding and live show during your visit to the aquarium, to learn more about the lives of these playful little guys. To get up close and personal with them you can even choose a behind the scenes sea otter encounter for an even better insight into their environment and lifestyles.
Vancouver Aquarium || 845 Avison Way, Vancouver || Open 9:30am to 6pm daily
5. Check out Granville Island
Once an industrial wasteland, Granville Island has transformed itself into one of the best public spaces in Vancouver. These days it’s known as an artistic and cultural hub, with a great waterfront location and millions of visitors coming to explore the area each year.
One of the main highlights of Granville Island is the famous Public Market, a huge indoor market offering all kinds of food from around the world, as well as handmade products, gifts and souvenirs. There are some absolutely delicious things to try here, so make sure you do a full lap of the market before you settle on what you want to eat!
The streets of Granville Island and super bright and colourful, with all kinds of shops to explore and local produce to try. If you have the time make sure you check out the GI Brewing Co., GI Tea Company, A Bread Affair, Liberty Distillery and GI Gelato and Coffee House to try some of the local made produce right from the source. Some of the favourite stores around the island include the Kids Market, GI Pet Treatery and The Crystal Ark.
The Granville Island Public Market is open from 9am to 7pm.
6. Catch an ice-hockey game
Ice-hockey is not just a sport in Canada, it’s almost a religion. Vancouver is definitely home to some of the most passionate and excited hockey fans around Canada, as well as being home to the iconic Vancouver Canucks hockey team.
If you’re visiting during the ice-hockey season this is a sport you won’t want to miss out on. It seems very violent, aggressive and a little bit bloody at times, but also extremely entertaining, even if you’re just watching how wild the crowd gets!
The National Hockey League (NHL) is made up of teams from both Canada and USA, with games being played in both countries. The ice-hockey regular season generally runs from the beginning of October through to early April each year, with playoffs running until the middle of June.
7. Step back in time in Gastown
Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown, grew from a single tavern back in 1867 to become on of the main areas in British Columbia. These days the area has retained it’s historical charm and it is a mix of vintage throw backs mixed with a heap of unique stores and restaurants.
Set just a street back from the water front, Gastown is full of old-style buildings, cobblestone streets and vintage lampposts. On the corner of Water Street you can find the iconic Gastown Steam Clock, which is one of only 6 left in the world. The clock is steam-powered and will whistle out and shoot steam every 15 minutes. On the hour there is a chime from each of the whistles.
Check out some of the bars and restaurants in the area for some delicious cocktails, foodie dishes and views over the harbour.
8. Take a day trip out to Whistler
No matter when you’re visiting Vancouver, a trip out to Whistler is always a good idea. One of the iconic and most loved ski mountains in Canada, Whistler has actually proved to be a year round destination with golf courses, amazing shopping, hiking trails, restaurants and bars, scenic gondolas and of course the epic ski runs.
Whistler is just under a two hour drive from Vancouver and is very easily accessible by car. There are also a few different companies that offer regular shuttle buses between Vancouver Airport, Downtown Vancouver and Whistler, so you don’t need to rent a car if you don’t want to.
9. Visit the First Nations Totem Poles
The most visited attraction in Vancouver is the First National Totem Poles. Found at Brockton Point within the grounds of the epic Stanley Park, the totem poles were carved as early as the 1880s and most of them came from Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Unique to the west coast of British Columbia and lower Alaska, the totem poles were carved out of western red cedar and each carving tells the story of a real or mythical event.
The whale represents the lordship of the sea, the eagle represents the kingdom of the air, the wolf represents the genius of the land and the from represents the transitional link between the land and the sea.
The collection of totem poles can be found at Brockton Point, just off Stanley Park Drive within the grounds of Stanley Park. There is parking right next to the monument so it’s super easy to access.
10. Walk along the Capilano Suspension Bridge
Get back to nature by visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge, crossing across the rainforest 110 feet above the forest floor. In addition to the suspension bridge, there are lots of different adventures you can have in the forest including the cliff walk, tree top adventure, and cliff house restaurant.
The Capilano Suspension Bridges are open from 8am to 8pm right now, however their opening hours do change seasonally so make sure you check before you get there. There is also a free shuttle that you can jump on to get out there that picks up in several different places around downtown Vancouver.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Vancouver?
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