15 best things to do in Vancouver

15 best things to do in Vancouver




I recently got to know my own city, Vancouver, a whoooole lot better than I ever thought I would when, thanks to the pandemic, I did a staycation. And you know what I discovered as a tourist in my own town? I live in an absolutely gorgeous part of the world where there are a ton of things to see and do.

I've listed my top 15 things to do in Vancouver and area, along with how much time you'll need to see them. If you're here for a few days prior to a cruise, this list is for you. If you've planned a week-long stay here, this list will work for you as well. Whatever your time here, just cut and paste and slot the attractions in a way that makes sense for the time you have.

If you just want to walk around downtown, you should be able to easily. To see some of the attractions I've listed here, however, you really need a car or an Uber. Enjoy Vancouver!


VANCOUVER


1. English Bay
When you've been go-go-go and you need some down time, there's no better place in Vancouver than here for a stroll along a picturesque beach and to get some of that energy back. This is truly one of the best spots for people-watching. Make sure you walk up Denman Street to window-shop or even shop for real; the local merchants will love that. And don't forget to pose with the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, or "the laughing guys," as we locals call them. (More on the art in Vancouver below.) Afterwards, park yourself down at a restaurant for drinks or a meal. One of my favourites is Cactus Club, which is right on the water and has killer views. 
Time: At least 2 hours, and longer if you're stopping for a bite.





2. Museum of Anthropology at UBC
The spectacular Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver is one the city’s most underrated treasures. Put this on your list particularly if you have an interest in the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. The design of the striking Great Hall shown here, with its 15-metre-high (50 feet) glass walls, was inspired by the post-and-beam architecture of the northern Northwest Coast First Nations people. ⁣
Time: 1-2 hours.




3. Spanish Banks
I think Vancouver has some of the prettiest beaches in the world. This is Spanish Banks, right by the University of British Columbia, and it's very easy to spend a few hours here. The water will be cooler because we're so far north, but it'll be amazing on those melty kind of days. Don't forget, this is Pacific Ocean water so it will be salty; I know that's always a shock to some people. Pack a lunch or buy one at one of the concession stands. 
Time: Up to you.





4. UBC Botanical Garden and Treewalk
I've lived in Vancouver for most of my life and actually went to school at UBC and yet had never been to its botanical garden. When I finally went during my staycation, I couldn't understand why I'd waited so long. The gardens are big and lush and I think if you visit in springtime, there must be flowering blooms. The marquee attraction for me, though, is its Treewalk, a series of bridges suspended between trees. It's not all that high off the ground, but wow, do those bridges ever wobble and shake! I loved it and found this to be my favourite of all the suspended bridges that I visited — and Vancouver has a lot of them! Another plus is how cheap it is to visit. Don't miss this one. 
Time: About 2-3 hours.




5. Granville Island
Granville Island was once an industrial manufacturing area but in the 1970s, a local politician floated the idea of building an entertainment district on the little bit of land under the Granville Street Bridge, and the notion took hold. Today you’ll find restaurants and breweries, performing arts theatres, artisan shops and a public farmers market here. Make sure you watch Vancouver paddle by on False Creek, and don't miss having a gawk at the houseboats that are moored here. If you have the time, hop on one of the Aquabuses. It’s a great way for people living in the condos across False Creek to hop over to Granville Island, buy some items at the farmers market for supper and then ferry on home. But these fabulous vessels, most of which can accommodate bikes and wheelchairs, actually make eight stops. Its last stop puts you about a 10-minute walk to downtown Vancouver and about a 25-minute walk to Stanley Park. If you just want to go from A to B, a return Aquabus ticket is $8. But for $16, the price of an all-day ticket, you can make unlimited stops and there’s something to see at every point. Granville Island is one of the city’s most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike.⁣ 
Time: At least 3-4 hours, longer with meals or an Aquabus ride.




6. Vancouver Biennale art
Vancouver is blessed with a lot of public art thanks to the Vancouver Biennale, which has brought some amazing work from artists all over the world to the city. After each Biennale has concluded, some of the art has remained permanently. I have so many favourites but A-Maze-ing Laughter by Beijing-based artist Yue Minjun is tops on my list just because of the joy on the faces of "the laughing guys," as many of us locals refer to these sculptures. You can find a list of all of the artwork throughout the city at vancouverbiennale.com. It's all contemporary art and it's all public and accessible 24/7. It might be difficult to see all of the art while on a tight sightseeing schedule but it's worth it to check the site to see whether one of the artworks might be close to where you're going to be. 
Time: Varies.




7. Whale-watching tour
When I booked a whale-watching tour, I have to admit I felt a bit like I might have reached peak tourist. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my staycation planning. I went with the Prince of Whales and that's a company I can recommend wholeheartedly for its professionalism, its enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and just an all-around great experience. In addition to whales, I also saw sea lions and a bald eagle, and the catamaran I was on was new and spotless. It was an amazing day on the water. The company guarantees you'll see whales and if you don't, they'll book you on another tour at no cost. I sadly didn't get a good shot of a whale but here's one of adorable sea lions.
Time: 3-5 hours.




8. Coal Harbour
My favourite way to wind down my day is to have supper or drinks or both in Coal Harbour. There are a lot of restaurant choices but my top picks are patios of Cactus Club Coal Harbour or the Tap & Barrel for the best views of Vancouver harbour and of Stanley Park. Right here on these patios is also where you'll find the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, a massive and impressive artwork that's a permanent memento of the 2010 Winter Games that were held in Vancouver. And don't forget to get a photo of Digital Orca, a nearly eight-metre-tall (25 feet) sculpture of a killer whale which you'll see next to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Digital Orca is a powder-coated aluminum sculpture on a stainless steel frame, but I think it looks like it was made from Lego blocks.
Time: 2-3 hours.




Stanley Park is Vancouver's crown jewel, 1,001 acres (405 hectares) of nature right in the heart of the city. There's so much to see here, starting with these totem poles at Brockton Point that are the province's most visited tourist attraction. But there's so much more! Take a walk along the Seawall, explore 27 km of forest trails, visit the Rose Garden, ride the miniature train, have a swim at the heated Second Beach Pool. Then, for the best views and photo ops, head to Prospect Point. There's also a cafe here to grab a quick bite or an ice cream cone. The best way to see the park is either by car or by bike rental, because there's a lot of physical space between the park sights. 
Time: Varies but allow the better part of the day to see Stanley Park properly.





This ice cream parlour is one of Vancouver's best-kept secrets, loved by locals but not often on the radar of tourists. But I'm sharing the secret: If you love ice cream, this pink east Vancouver building holds within it pure bliss in the form of over 100 ice cream flavours. Besides the usual flavours and some fun combos, make sure you try some of the more unusual flavours such as durian, rice and corn. 
Time: 30 minutes.




11. Queen Elizabeth Park
Queen Elizabeth Park is the highest point in Vancouver proper. It’s a prime spot for taking pictures set against the backdrop of the city and also where photos for calendars are often shot. The quarry gardens are not big but they're among the prettiest I've seen, and they're free to visit. And on't miss the statues called The Photo Session for a fun photo op.
Supper tip: If you're a fan of Italian food, check out the fabulous Savio Volpe, which is about a 15-minute drive away.
Time: 90 minutes minimum.




It had been a while since I’d been to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library and I’d forgotten how stunning it is until I visited while on staycation. This building is remarkable because it's Vancouver's only building designed by the amazing Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, who's now 82. You may have seen Safdie's work elsewhere around the world. His debut project was Habitat 67 in Montreal, which he conceived of for his Master's thesis, and he hasn't stopped since. His latest is Singapore's fascinating Jewel Changi Airport, which features the world's largest indoor waterfall. 
Time: Drop by if you're in the area, or if you're an architecture lover.



NORTH VANCOUVER



One thing I learned while on staycation was that we have a lot of suspension bridges and tree walks here! Makes sense, I guess, as we have so many trees. One of the best is the Cliffwalk, an attraction that’s included when you visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The suspension bridge is fun but for me, Cliffwalk is the star at this attraction. It's a series of cantilevered bridges and stairs with only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure. It’s a bit freaky, to be honest, but definitely a must-see.
Lunch tip:
Dine at a restaurant on Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and get the best views of Vancouver. My favourite is the Tap & Barrel patio.
Time: 3-4 hours at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
 

SQUAMISH



13. Shannon Falls
Gorgeous Shannon Falls is near Squamish, about an hour's drive north of Vancouver. The waterfall rises 335 metres (1,100 feet) above ground. It’s the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and the easiest to get to from Vancouver. ⁣
Time: A scenic one-hour drive from Vancouver, and 30 minutes at the falls for photos.




14. Sea to Sky Gondola
This is the amazing view of Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, which is about an hour's drive from Vancouver. The gondola is the next exit after Shannon Falls up Highway 99. It's an attraction that I'd always slotted into the "too touristy" category but you know what? It's fabulous! The gondola ride is 10 minutes long and it goes nearly 900 metres (3,000 feet) above sea level. At the top there are lookouts, restaurants, hiking trails and a fantastic suspension bridge. 
Lunch/supper tip: Watershed Grill in nearby Squamish. 
Time: 2-3 hours, not including lunch.


CHILLIWACK



If you love waterfalls and feel like taking a bit of a drive, one of the prettiest I've seen is Bridal Veil Falls, so named because the falls look like a bridal veil. The falls are located in Chilliwack, about two hours east of Vancouver.
Time: About 30-60 minutes at the falls.


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STAYCATION NOTES:

I highly recommend being a tourist in your own town! You could stay in a hotel locally, I guess, but we decided to stay at home and we loved having all the comforts of home and sleeping in our own bed every night. Here's how we did it.

➤ We slept in every day and never left the house before 12-1 p.m.

➤ We ate out for every meal, just like on a real vacation. After a first experience where we just booked a reservation and then discovered the staff was not wearing masks, we started calling first. It limited our options to only eat at restaurants where the staff was wearing masks, but we felt OK about that.

➤ We had house issues that needed addressing but we didn't deal with a single one of them during the whole staycation.

➤ I wore the same favourite capris every day because I was able to wash them every night.

➤ Blunder: I didn't plan my grocery ordering as well as I could have, given that every meal was eaten out, and so unfortunately there was waste.


Virgin River Season 2 on Netflix:
A visit to Jack’s Bar

Virgin River Season 2 on Netflix:
A visit to Jack’s Bar




Is everyone going a little crazy waiting for Season 2 of the Netflix hit series Virgin River?

Luckily for me, I live in Vancouver where Virgin River is filmed and, over time, have been slowly visiting a few of the filming sites. A few weeks ago I had lunch at the restaurant that doubles as Jack’s Bar; here are some photos from that visit.


These photographs belong to, and have been copyrighted by, Juanita Ng. They cannot be used without my written permission.



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Jack’s Bar is really the Watershed Grill, a wonderful restaurant in the picturesque town of Squamish about an hour’s drive north of Vancouver.




Here is another view of the restaurant.




This is the real interior of Jack’s Bar. There’s another room with seating to the right of this one, and a covered patio to the left. The bar in the show is a set.




Heres the covered patio at the restaurant, with the tables socially distanced. This is the part that can sometimes be seen in the show as people enter the bar.




The scenic Squamish River that’s at the front of the restaurant.




Here’s the side of the restaurant that faces the street (actually a secondary highway).




I had an amazing beer-battered fish and chips. Even the chips were beer-battered.




My husband loved his bacon cheeseburger.




Want more Virgin River? See photos of Doc's House.