Things to do in Vancouver

Must-see Vancouver sights

If Canada’s calling and you’re planning a big trip to British Columbia, Vancouver is the place you’ll touch down – and may well want to stay for longer than you planned.

  1. Explore Vancouver’s green heart
  2. Dive into Vancouver Aquarium
  3. Encounter old Vancouver in Gastown
  4. Get a head for heights in Capilano River Regional Park
  5. An authentic kind of Chinatown
  6. Get a taste for tinned salmon
  7. Brush up on history at the Museum of Anthropology

One of the world’s great scenic cities, Vancouver’s water-fronted and mountain-ringed setting rivals those of Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. Beyond its Downtown district along a peninsula, Vancouver abounds with outdoor playgrounds; wide beaches and magnificent parkland a perfect contrast to its glass-fronted skyscrapers and its bustling harbour.

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1. Explore Vancouver’s green heart

Anyone planning what to do in Vancouver should take in its wild side… and we don’t mean the fantastic nightlife. This dazzling city might be bursting with flashy skyscrapers, but it still offers a taste of the British Columbia’s natural beauty. Stanley Park is of the world’s great urban spaces and Vancouver’s green heart. A semi-wilderness of ancient forest, sweeping beaches and peaceful trails, at nearly 4 sq km it’s one of the largest urban parks in North America. If you’ve overdosed on maple syrup pancakes, hop on a bike and head for the Seawall cycleway, an uninterrupted 28km pathway that wraps around Downtown and through the park. Come at sunset for the best ocean view.

Tip: Look out for the Girl in a Wetsuit statue, a sporty update of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

2. Dive into Vancouver Aquarium

From sea otters to sea cucumbers, this aquarium in Stanley Park has it all – it’s ranked among North America’s best attractions of its kind. The best part is coming face-to-face with friendly belugas through the glass, as part of the Arctic section, which is all about the fragile world of the Canadian North. Even more local critters pop up in the Wild Coast habitat, with its otters, harbour porpoises and other animals of the waters of the abundant BC. As well experiencing underwater worlds, you’ll encounter creatures of the steamy Amazon rainforests, too. Marmosets and sloths clock highly on the cuteness radar. Just watch your head in the open enclosure with flying macaws!

Tip: To avoid being crammed in like a sardine, visit on a weekday or during morning hours.

3. Encounter old Vancouver in Gastown

The original core of Vancouver is now where the cool kids go. This piece of city rejuvenation is distinguished by cobblestone streets, twentieth-century brick buildings, stylish shops, and Vancouver’s hippest cafés, restaurants and cocktail bars. It’s a Gastown rite of passage to snap photos with the Steam Clock, on the corner of Cambie and Water streets. Easily identified by the fog emanating from its frame, the two-tonne landmark sounds a whistle every 15 minutes and was the first of its kind when built in 1977.

Tip: Stick around for dinner, Gastown is tip-top for European cuisine with farm-to-table flair.

4. Get a head for heights in Capilano River Regional Park

Wobble your way over 70m high and 137m long Capilano suspension bridge, above the vertiginous Capilano Gorge. Try not to look down! The bridge lies within another of Vancouver’s gorgeous green spaces, Capilano River Regional Park, with its towering Douglas fir and western red cedar trees. Once you’ve got a taste for the high-life, head for Treetops Adventure, a boardwalk suspended 30m off the ground of a coastal temperate rainforest. One of the trees, dubbed “Big Doug”, is 1300 years old, 63m tall and 6m wide. Back on the other side of the bridge, be sure to traverse the heart-thumping Cliffwalk, an elevated glass walkway attached to a granite cliff with sheer drops down to the Capilano River.

Tip: Walk upstream to the salmon hatchery; it’s mesmerizing watching the coho and chinook flow through their underwater chambers.

5. An authentic kind of Chinatown

The Far East meets the Pacific Northwest just 25 minutes from Downtown Vancouver in Richmond, home to North America’s largest Buddhist temple and most acclaimed Asian dining scene. Even the street signs and advertisements are in Chinese characters. Part of what makes Vancouver holidays special is the diversity of food. You certainly won’t go hungry in Richmond. Dubbed the “Asian food capital of North America”, its Food Street (the nickname for Alexandra Road), makes up three blocks of some 200 dining options, from Cantonese to Korean to Thai.

Tip: head to the Night Market and try the more unusual Asian snacks, such as takoyaki (octopus-stuffed creamy dough balls).

6. Get a taste for tinned salmon

What’s a “slimer”, exactly? Answer: Female employees responsible for salmon cleaning. As one of the quirkier things to do in Vancouver, you probably never realised you were so interested in this specific trade. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery is a historic site that preserves what was Canada’s largest manufacturer of tinned salmon, in the early 1900s. Thanks to quick-fingered employees, the factory produced an astounding 178 cans of salmon a minute. Now a museum, the creaky property houses a mechanical canning line and displays about the building’s history. As well as slimers, you’ll learn about the butchers whose “singing knives” processed 15,000 fish per ten-hour shift.

Tip: Check out the website for special events, including a festival called Pull of the Net.

7. Brush up on history at the Museum of Anthropology

Before Vancouver became Canada’s third biggest metropolis, it was home to indigenous Canadians – in particular the Haida. There’s no better place than this to get to know those First Nations folk. The museum is one of the best things to do in Vancouver, as Canada’s leading collection of First Nations art and artefacts. The Great Hall, inspired by Aboriginal cedar houses, makes a perfect indoor setting for its thirty-odd totem poles. Huge windows look out to more poles and Haida houses, which you’re free to wander around, backed by views of Burrard Inlet and the distant mountains.

Tip: Look out for The Raven and the First Men, a 4.5-tonne wooden sculpture designed by Haida artist Bill Reid

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