We get a lot of visitors to Vancouver and for many excellent reasons. We're an international city nestled between the mountains and ocean. We're a major cruise ship port for the Alaskan run and have a thriving tourism industry offering everything from a glamorous urban experience to a rugged wilderness adventure.
The Greater Vancouver metropolitan area includes the surrounding suburbs out to the Fraser Valley. This blog will offer links to previous in-depth posts as well as other suggestions. So grab a cup of coffee and your planning journal, and settle in.
To start, check out Trish's Guide to Vancouver. It covers places to visit, how to get around, and restaurant suggestions amongst many other practical details. Beyond the places already covered in Trish's blog, here are some of my favourite haunts outside of the downtown core.
UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA CAMPUS
Vancouver is home to the University of British Columbia campus. This stunning campus is perched atop the cliffs of Point Grey and makes an easy and budget day trip. You can spend time walking the trails of the Pacific Spirit Regional Park and the UBC Endowment Lands. Our local clothing-optional beach, Wreck beach, can be found by walking down one of the cliff trails to the secluded beach below.
The Botanical Gardens include a tree top canopy walk, extensive gardens of native plants and farm research as well as the traditional Japanese garden, Nitobe Memorial Garden. While you are near the Gardens, make sure you check out the Museum of Anthropology and their comprehensive exhibit of West Coast Indigenous history and culture, including relocated buildings, totems, and art.
There are varying entrance fees depending upon what you want to see and do. Nitobe Gardens is only $5CAD, the botanical gardens will cost $10, and the canopy walk will set you back $23. There are various combination tickets offered as well. An adult entry to the Museum of Anthropology is $15.
Since you are on campus, you can find many places to grab something to eat but the new student union building, The Nest, includes lots of meeting rooms, various food outlets and student stores.
QUEEN ELIZABETH PARK
Queen Elizabeth Park is a favourite park for many locals, including a stunning quarry garden, trails, a glass-dome conservatory, and some of the best views of Vancouver. There's plenty of room to get some exercise or let the kids blow off some steam.
The Quarry Garden is at its best in summer and late spring but is a delight throughout the year. It costs nothing to wander around the park and enjoy the blooms. Perfect for budget travellers!
The Bloedel Conservatory is a humid environment showcasing tropical plants, birds, and insects. Take some time to chat to the parrots. If they are in the right mood, it's possible they will have something to share. Entrance fees are very reasonable ($5-$7CAD)
I like Queen Elizabeth Park for those days when the weather is unsettled. If the rain comes, I can always duck into the Conservatory.
VAN DUSEN GARDENS
If you are a garden enthusiast and haven't yet got your fill at UBC and Queen Elizabeth Park, then put Van Dusen Gardens on your list. Located along one of main road from the airport to downtown, This 55-acre site is considered to be amongst the top ten in North America. It offers many special events throughout the year, so definitely check out their web site before choosing your dates. It will cost you between $6 (seniors in winter season) and $13 (adults in high season).
The "Drive" is a culturally rich and authentic neighbourhood that lines Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. It is an area filled with some of the most colourful shopping, dining and nightlife found in the city. An eight block section of the Drive is known as "Little Italy" to locals and is where authentic Italian restaurants, bakeries, and pizza joints can be found.
The entire Drive is 22 blocks of unique merchants, including quaint boutiques, an eclectic collection of restaurants, a vibrant live music and bar scene, dinner with dancing, theatres, coffee houses, specialty food stores and bakeries. It's truly a taste of the spirit and culture of East Vancouver.
STANLEY PARK AND VANCOUVER AQUARIUM
Locals are extremely proud of Stanley Park, a magnificent 400+ hectare park located on the north part of the downtown peninsula. The park is surrounded by Burrard Inlet and English Bay and is an easy walk from anywhere in the downtown core. The park is surrounded by a 10km Sea Wall which attracts walkers, runners, bikers, and bladers. To try to manage the large numbers of people who use the seawall path, the route is a one-way path. There's no surer way to prove you are a visitor than walking the wrong way. The pathway is divided into cycling and walking pathways. BE CAREFUL, bikers move at quite a pace in some sections and are not always able to move safely around you, if you wander into their path. Stay on the pedestrian side and you'll be fine.
While Stanley Park is amazing all year round, it can really shine in the summer. The Rose Garden is in full bloom and the Tea House Restaurant (spendy!) is busy. Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) performances take place every night in the outdoor theatre in Malkin Bowl. Cricket and rugby matches will be taking place at several different locations. Children will be splashing in the water play area or climbing on playground equipment. The trails through the forest will be cool and fresh... and the action around the RCMP stables comes outdoors. Rowers and yachting types will be heading out for the day and tourists will be posing for photos in front of totems.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a facility deeply committed to marine animal research and rehabilitation and ocean conservation. It has undergone some financial challenges and was closed for almost a year during Covid. It has since re-opened under new ownership with new attractions and exhibits. It's pricey, a regular ticket will put you back $42CAD.
North Vancouver is known for hiking and skiing trails on the North Shore mountains and the bustling Lonsdale Quay full of shops, restaurants, and fabulous people-watching. Take the Seabus across from downtown that will take you straight to the quay.
LYNN CANYON SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge has been a local favourite since 1912. It's a free self-guided adventure through the trails and ravines of the North Shore Mountains. There's an interpretation centre, a waterfall, and a suspension bridge.
CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE Another park with a longer suspension bridge can be found in the Capilano Canyon. This bridge was built in 1889 and has been rebuilt several times over the years. This site includes a tree top walk, cliff walk, a story center, a First Nations area, a restaurant, as well as many trails.
Unlike Lynn Canyon, it will cost you plenty to visit. A regular ticket costs $59.95, so plan to spend the whole day to get your money's worth. Personally, I would go to Lynn Canyon instead.
There is public transportation available. Take the SeaBus from Waterfront Station in Vancouver over to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay. From there, Translink offers regular service to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park via the “#236 – Grouse Mountain” bus.
GROUSE MOUNTAIN Rising above Vancouver only 15 minutes from downtown, is Grouse Mountain. Visitors ride to the peak in the iconic gondolas giving visitors and locals alike the opportunity to see the jaw-dropping majestic views of the Vancouver area unfold through the glass windows during 8 minute ride from the Valley Station at the bottom to Grouse's summit.
It's a ski hill with full amenities and rentals during the winter season but continues throughout the year with hiking, biking, summer events, wildlife refuge and display.
In the summer, a popular but challenging hike is the famous Grouse Grind aka "Mother Nature's Staircase". It's a 3 km hike up the face of the mountain. Proper hiking shoes and water are essential. This is not a hike for the feint-hearted or casual hiker, although there are some crazy people that actually run up! Make a note of the time you leave the bottom. There are major bragging rights to be earned, if you can do it in less than an hour but plan to take longer, especially if you will need to take some breaks when you hit the rougher sections. The first 1/2 might lull you into a false sense of security, the path soon becomes steep and rocky. Celebrate making it to the top with a nice cold beverage and purchase a gondola ticket back to the parking lot.
LIGHTHOUSE PARK An absolute jewel of a park, Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver is a rugged, forested natural area bordered by Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound. It's an excellent example of coastal old growth forest and a superb place to watch a sunset. The old lighthouse and surrounding light station grounds at Point Atkinson are a National Historic site. Visitors cannot enter this area but the lighthouse is one of the most photographed sights in the area.
A previous day trip blog features my hometown of Richmond BC. We have a vibrant Asian community and vibe in the downtown core, with amazing restaurants and shopping, fishing and boat building history in Steveston and Finn Slough, beautiful dike trails and a renowned weekend Night Market. Come to Richmond to catch whale-watching cruises.
The oldest city in Western Canada, New Westminster was the original capital of the colony of British Columbia. The Royal Engineers arrived from England in 1859 to build in this site chosen both for its beauty and its strategic location on the Fraser River. New Westminster is on the Skytrain Expo line.
WESTMINSTER PIER PARK Westminster Pier Park is uniquely built with equal parts built on land and water. when combined with the Waterfront Esplanade Boardwalk creates a magnificent waterfront park, including a boardwalk, festival lawn, concession, elevated viewpoints, picnic tables, a basketball court and a play area, with plenty of benches to sit and enjoy.
Within a short walk of the park is the Samson V Maritime Museum , the Fraser River Discovery Center, the Waterfront Esplanade, Antique Alley (a cool store specializing in antiques and movie props), and historic Columbia Street.
Fraser River paddle wheel cruises depart from Westminster Quay, offering scenic, lunch, dinner, and sightseeing cruises. FORT LANGLEY
Situated beside the Fraser River, Fort Langley is part of the larger City of Langley. It's home to a delightful variety of cafés, galleries, vintage and unique stores, breweries, and many restaurants and several golf courses. The highlight of the area is the reconstructed Hudson's Bay fur trading post National Historic site where visitors can explore life during the early colonial days of British Columbia. Visitors to the fort can watch a blacksmith in the workshop or try their hand at gold panning.
Admission is free for youth under 17 years and $8.50 for adults. For a special experience, it is possible to camp on site in one of the 5 oTENTik structures on site. An oTENTik is described as "is a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent mounted on a raised wooden floor." (Parks Canada)
It's a little further away, so public transportation will require a bit more planning, use the translink planner for your best routing options. If you are driving, take the 66 exit from Hwy 1 (232nd Street, north). At Glover road, turn right and drive through the village. Turn right at the Mavis Avenue. The national historic site is at the end of the street.
Ladner is a small community, made up of numerous islands, that is part of the larger municipality of Delta, located south of Vancouver and Richmond. It was originally a fishing and farming community at the mouth of the Fraser River. One of these islands, Westham Island hosts a large migratory bird sanctuary dedicated to protecting and preserving the numerous bird species found in the area, especially bald eagles, various owl species, and a myriad of shore birds.
REIFEL MIGRATORY BIRD SANCTUARY
The George C Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, on Westham Island hosts a large migratory bird sanctuary dedicated to protecting and preserving the numerous bird species found in the area, especially bald eagles, various owl species, and a myriad of shore birds. It is truly a treat for bird nerds.
There is no public transportation to the sanctuary. For drivers, Ladner is west of the intersection of Highways 10 and 17A. From Ladner, follow Ladner Trunk Road (Highway 10) west to 47A Avenue and on to River Road. Follow River Road westward and cross the one-lane wooden bridge on your right onto Westham Island. Follow the main road to where it ends at the entrance gates of the Sanctuary.
More Than A Day Trip
These next three places are probably more than a day trip. I recommend spending several days in each to truly appreciate the areas.
British Columbia's capital city, Victoria, is located on Vancouver Island, a ferry ride from Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. With it's old-world charm and beautiful location, it is a very walkable and pretty little city. Please see Trish's Guide to Victoria for some practical tips.
I'm sure that everyone has heard of Whistler, our world-class skiing destination, with two outstanding ski hills and a whole village of restaurants, bars, clubs, and fun activities. What many may not know is that Whistler is an outstanding summer destination too. The entire area is beautiful with lakes, hiking and mountain bike trails. During the summer, there are many biking events.
The Sea to Sky highway stretching from the North Shore to Whistler is a mountain highway passing through some small communities and numerous scenic stops and things to do along your way. Check out this earlier post for more details of things to do along the Sea to Sky Highway
Harrison Hot Springs
HHarrison Hot Springs is a tiny little village on Harrison Lake, with a hot spring. The waters are piped into a community pool and into the pools at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort. My full report can be found in this post.
Even though there is a lot of information in this post, I have barely scratched the surface of all the fabulous day trips (or longer) available when visiting Vancouver. Who knows? I may have to do another post with all the great stuff I've missed! This really is an area with something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're looking for luxury or something more modest. After you've explored the city, branch out and check out the action in the suburbs to get the real local experience.