There’s something about being surrounded by dazzling wilderness that makes you want to dive right in and explore, and Vancouver offers plenty of opportunities to indulge yourself. Join its local sportsmen running, climbing, biking and paddling in the city’s parks, mountains and waters, just minutes from downtown, to see why Vancouver so often tops any poll of the most livable city.
Within that compact hub is also a treasure trove of art and culture to explore; though a young city, Vancouver has a historic past and, thanks to the indigenous peoples of the Musquem, Tsleil-Watuth and Squamish First Nations, a fascinating cultural depth.
Below, our insider shares her recommendations for the best attractions in Vancouver. For more inspiration, check out our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants and bars, plus how to spend a weekend in Vancouver. If you plan a longer trip, plan the ultimate itinerary on Canada’s west coast with our expert guide.
Learn the secrets of the forest with a First Nations guide
Join one of the Talaysay Cultural Ambassadors to discover the rich heritage and living culture of the Coast Salish First Nation. Learn how the plants and trees provided everything from medicine and food to clothing, shelter and transportation – the myriad uses of the cedar alone is astounding. Taste wild salmonberries (that don’t taste like fish) and listen to traditional songs and maybe learn a few words of Squamish.
Expert Advice: Book a Talaysay tour early in your stay in Vancouver to gain a deeper understanding of the Skwxu7mesh Uxwumixw – Coast Salish People and their traditional unceded territory, where Vancouver is now. More than just a city tour, the Talaysay Experience shines a fascinating light on an element of the Indigenous experience in Canada.
Dive into marine life at the aquarium
In addition to being one of the city’s most popular attractions, conveniently located in the heart of Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium operates as a center for marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation. The perfect rainy day activity, it is home to over 50,000 animals spanning 30 exhibits from the tropics to the arctic. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a photo of an artistic silhouette near the jellyfish wall. Timed admission tickets are sold online due to capacity limitations.
Expert Advice: Children eight and younger can enjoy Clownfish Cove’s interactive learning area, which features an animal rescue center, underwater tunnels, a touch table, and a reading nook.
Ride the longest uninterrupted water course in the world
There may be few iconic experiences in Vancouver than pedaling Stanley Park along its five-and-a-half mile paved and pleasantly flat Seawall. Pack a camera and bottle of water and expect glorious panoramic views – the Lion’s Gate Bridge, Elek Imredy’s life-size bronze sculpture Girl in a Wetsuit and the intricately carved totem poles at Brockton Point are the highlights, but it’s the wilderness that amazes from the north From the coastal mountains to sandy beaches and the cool shade of cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees.
Expert Advice: Throughout spring and summer, the park takes pride in a riot of colorful flowers, the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Gardens being particularly beautiful; take a stroll through the narrow lane off the main cycle path. Bicycles can be rented at the outlets along Denman Street at the park entrance. Try Rays.
Contact: vancouver. ca
Price: Free (unless you rent a bike)
Pack a picnic and people watch
Vancouver is filled with eagerly enticing neighborhoods, but the West End – with its beaches, Stanley Park, summer celebrations of the Festival of Lights fireworks and Pride festival, and affordable pan-global cuisine smörgåsbord – easily takes the biscuit. Choose barbecue from Buckstop (fried pickles and brisket falling apart are life changing), Five Spice Pork Belly Banh Mi from Café Phin and Pho, or sushi from Yummy to Go and head to English Bay to people watch, lean to a log as the sun slowly sets.
Expert Advice: Drinking alcohol in Vancouver’s many parks and beaches is only permitted in designated zones. To avoid a $230 fine (and your booze confiscated!) be sure to only pop those caps and cans within the marked boundaries; statute officials are extremely zealous in enforcing this law.
Admire the glittering skyline from False Creek
It’s worth taking a paddle out on False Creek to see Vancouver’s gleaming skyscrapers and soaring mountains from a different perspective. Vancouver Water Adventures rents out stand-up paddleboards, jet skis, and kayaks, but it’s fun (and probably safer for first-timers) to join a guided tour from their location on Granville Island to take in the sights (hopefully including seals, herons and eagles) and hear stories of the city.
Expert Advice: Treat yourself to dinner with a difference and book a guided Seadoo (jet ski) tour to nearby Bowen Island, dive across English Bay and Howe Sound, snap photos of the seal colony and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before cruising back as the sun sets.
Stop for a cultural break in the heart of the city
Architecture buffs will love the FM Rattenbury-designed Vancouver Art Gallery, which was originally the Vancouver Courthouse; the elegant staircase is a work of art in itself. The gallery is an easily manageable dip into culture, spread across three relatively compact floors (there are plans to move to a larger space in 2026). Start with the permanent collection of Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, before exploring what’s new in the visiting collections.
Expert Advice: Throughout the summer the gallery can get quite busy, especially at peak times, so avoid waiting in line and buy a skip-the-line ticket. Admission on Saturdays and Sundays also includes a free guided tour of selected exhibitions. Check the schedule to participate.
Nearest Metro: Downtown Vancouver
Sip tea in a classic Chinese garden
Vancouver has one of the highest concentrations of overseas Chinese in North America and a long history of Chinese Canadians. Constructed of hand-fired tiles, carved wood, lattice windows and precious limestone rocks from Lake Tai, Dr Sun Yat Sen Garden was the first authentic Chinese garden built outside of China. Take a tour and enjoy a tea ceremony and learn about the Tao principles of yin and yang; the more you understand, the more meaning this tranquil garden reveals.
Expert Advice: One of the most remarkable facts about this beautiful place is that it was entirely built in the dougong style without using any glue, nails or screws. Timed tickets are available online.
See a world-famous statue up close
Though a little out of the way on the UBC campus, it’s worth visiting the Museum of Anthropology to see “The Raven and the First Men,” Bill Reid’s large, bright yellow cedar sculpture showcasing the Haida legend of when Raven found the first human in a shell on the beach. Home to the largest collection of First Nations artwork in the Pacific Northwest, this is a rare opportunity to explore this captivating style.
Expert Advice: Wander over to nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden, a lovely Japanese garden cultivated to delight the senses year-round but especially beautiful in spring and fall with cherry blossoms and maple leaves.
Party at the PNE
From big-name live music performances to farmers markets, and the annual fun festival that is the summer fair, the Pacific National Exhibition – or PNE – just 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver is where people local goes to relax. The summer fair is not to be missed if you are in town; Running from late August to early September, it showcases outrageously caloric North American-style fair food at its best from double donut fried chicken burgers and rainbow-hued grilled cheese sandwiches to lava whip soft serve; attractions include the impeccably trained Superdogs troupe and roller coasters and adrenaline-pumping rides. Retro live acts like Culture Club and Pointer Sisters play nightly. The fair returns for Fright Night around Hallowe’en for spooky-themed thrills and chills with elaborate haunted houses and rides.
Expert Advice: If the Smoke & Bones barbecue stall is open to the public, loosen your belt, grab a stack of napkins, and dive into one of their sauce-covered brisket and rib platters for the ultimate in carnivorous gluttony.
Fly over the city
You can easily spend the entire day on Grouse Mountain exploring the trails, zipping up and down the ski lifts, learning more about the flora and fauna in a talk from one of the knowledgeable rangers, or watching movies in the high definition theater in the sky. But frankly, it’s worth just the admission for the Skyride tram, which climbs 1,100m (3,700ft) in 12 minutes, with spectacular views of the spruce Douglas firs, the Pacific Ocean and the glittering beauty of Vancouver.
Expert Advice: Embrace Canadiana peak and chew on a beavertail (a deep-fried flat donut dipped in maple sugar) while enjoying the vaudeville humor and impressive feats of the free Lumberjack show.
Contact: grousemountain. com