There are a select band of cities where you can ski in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon – and Vancouver is counted among them. The coastal seaport city in British Columbia is studded with natural beauty, including snow-dusted mountains, sandy beaches, forest trails, kayaking routes and green spaces.
But the people, too, are at the heart of what makes Vancouver such a special place. There is a creative and entrepreneurial spirit here, evidenced in a thriving local art scene and craft-beer industry that rivals the best in the world. They kick back in style too, with snow sports, mountain biking and rainforest exploration daily pastimes that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Nocturnal attractions are also aplenty, with bustling bars and pubs dotted across the city and an impressive culinary scene.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that downtown Vancouver is where the attractions start and end. Walk or jump on some public transport and within minutes you’ll be hanging with the locals in one of the city’s distinctive suburbs. To whet your appetite, we’ve condensed the city into twelve unique and diverse attractions.
1. Food Tour
It is often said that to truly understand a country, you must eat its food. While it would be overstating things to say this is also true of cities, there is no doubt that sampling local delicacies and cooking techniques can enrich your experience of visiting unfamiliar places. In Vancouver, the food scene can be explored as part of a number of organised tours, taking you on a journey across the city’s gastronomic landscape. One company offering such culinary excursions is Vancouver Foodie Tours, who offer a variety of choices, including tours of Vancouver’s renowned Chinese and gourmet eateries, the hugely popular tourist attraction of Granville Island with its array of independent food producers, and the city’s vibrant food truck scene. All tours are on foot, so you can walk off your calories as quickly as you pile them on!
2. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
In recent years, Vancouver’s Chinese population has grown at a rate of knots, and most of these arrivals will have quickly become familiar with the city’s Classical Chinese Garden – the first of its kind outside China and named in honour of the founder of the Republic of China. To many visitors it is a somewhat lesser known treasure, but certainly worth a visit. Nestled within the city’s Chinatown district, it was built in 1986 to enhance the bridge of understanding between Chinese and Western culture. Dotted with covered walkways, tiny courtyards and pretty pavilions, its design and layout are modelled on the private gardens developed in the city of Suzhou during the Ming Dynasty. At first, it can seem a maze of walls within walls, but once you’ve got your bearings it is a serene, relaxing and beautiful place to explore.
3. Brewery Tour
Craft beer has become one of Vancouver’s most vibrant cottage industries in recent years, with a vast number of small, independent breweries creating their own products to distribute around the city and beyond. Whereas traditionally brewery tours have involved traipsing around large-scale manufacturing plants, in Vancouver it is a more local and immersive experience. One of the best companies to offer such excursions is Vancouver Brewery Tours, who offer trips that take in the city’s craft beer hotspots. The tours are held at a leisurely pace and with plenty of samples to taste along the way.
4. H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
When you take the kids on vacation it can sometimes be a challenge to think of ways to keep them entertained – especially on bad weather days. In Vancouver, one of the best options is the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, which provides a an action-packed day out for the family. Whatever your age, there’ll be something for you to enjoy, and as an educational experience it’s not just for kids either as you’re sure to come away with a wealth of new-found knowledge about the mysteries of space. Some of the stand-out features include a planetarium and a theatre that puts on shows and live demonstrations throughout the day.
5. Wreck Beach
If there’s ever going to be a time when you summon the courage to take your clothes off in public, it’s on a naturist beach in a far-away location where there’s little chance of bumping into Maureen from the post office. In Vancouver, such a place exists and it’s called Wreck Beach. North America’s largest Naturist beach, the internationally-acclaimed 7.8 kilometres stretch of golden sand has a clothes-optional policy, so if you’re with others who prefer to retain their modesty, that’s fine too. But a word of caution: in the summer months it becomes the busiest beach in Canada, averaging up to 14,000 visitors daily.
6. VaDusen Botanical Gardens
Stretching over 22 hectares, VaDusen Botanical Gardens is a converted golf course that was created in 1975 to highlight some of the world’s finest flora. With the mild Vancouver climate, the gardens are able to display a collection of over 11,000 different plant species from across the world. There are organised tours and activities held within the park, and it is also possible to wander solo, or make use of the sitting areas that are set against the vibrant colours of the gardens.
7. Capilano Suspension Bridge & Park
Fixed above the Capilano River, the suspension bridge gives visitors a chance to walk among the cedar treetops over the fast-moving waters of the river below. Built in 1888, the suspension bridge and surrounding park have become a popular way to experience Vancouver’s forestry. As well as the 450-metre long suspension bridge, the park also offers a cliff walk, where cliff-face walking paths and a network of footbridges afford stunning views of the river and the park’s cedar trees from high above the rainforest floor.
8. Lonsdale Quay Market
Unveiled a decade ago to mark Vancouver’s centennial as part of Expo 86, this carnival-style marketplace, which has remained a popular attraction within the city’s north-shore district ever since. Exemplifying the area’s transformation from an industrial hub to something more cosmopolitan, the market displays wares from a wide range of local artists, as well as several food vendors. If visitors are looking for what is new and exciting in Vancouver’s culinary and artistic world, they are likely to find it here.
9. Granville Island
Making use of its industrial heritage, this island peninsula in Vancouver’s main shopping district has made use of old buildings and factories to create a vibrant marketplace and cultural hub. Granville island features an eclectic mix of cultural attractions and artisans, such as sake makers and pottery studios. As part of its strong focus on sustainability, the island has implemented a zero-waste policy, so dining out on the exotic flavours from the butchers, fishmongers or food stalls can be enjoyed while doing your bit for the environment.
10. Hot Air Ballooning
While walking through Vancouver, visitors will see the beauty of its greenery and surrounding mountains, but the best way to take in all of the city’s natural splendor is from above. As part of either a private excursion or group trip, a hot air balloon ride is an impressive way to see it all. A tranquil glide through the Vancouver’s dramatic scenery offers a chance to capture all of the city’s natural elements in a truly unique way.
11. Catriona Jeffries Gallery
A string of Canada’s most prominent contemporary artists have emerged from Vancouver over the years and the pre-eminent space for contemporary art within the city is the Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Its owner, Catriona Jeffries, converted a large auto parts warehouse into an art gallery in 1994 and it now exhibits works from many of Vancouver’s world-famous contemporary artists. The gallery’s open spaces and large network of artists enable it to regularly put on themed exhibitions displaying the newest and most striking works from across the city’s modern art scene.
12. Maplewood Farm
Boasting more than 200 social farm animals and birds, Maplewood Farm offers an authentic rural experience, only 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Vancouver. The converted dairy farm is home to horses, cows, goats, sheep, birds, rabbits and pigs, ensuring it brings a distinct country feel to the hustle and bustle of city life. Designed to be educational, the farm is highly family-friendly, offering visitors the chance to feed the animals, learn about animal husbandry and ride horses.