21 best things to do in
Vancouver before your cruise

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

Ahoy there, cruisers! Vancouver is the perfect destination to explore before or after your Alaska cruise. 

Of course, this list will also be helpful to people who are visiting Vancouver, who are not on a cruise. The city has so much to offer, from towering mountains to stunning beaches and everything in between. Here are some sightseeing tips, from a local ... Check out my top spots to add to your itinerary.

If you have lots of time before or after your cruise, enjoy!

If you only have a few hours to spare before your flight departs, you'll be especially interested in the first 12 options, which are either walkable from the cruise ship dock or can be reached fairly easily by transit/shuttle/taxi.

If you're trying to figure out how to get to Vancouver airport from the cruise dock, click here

If you're trying to figure out what to do with your luggage while you tour the city, click here.

Now, let's start sightseeing!

1. Bus tour: Westcoast Sightseeing offers a Hop-On Hop-Off tour of Vancouver that covers over 20 stops, including Granville Island (main photo above), Stanley Park and Gastown. The tour includes live commentary from a guide and is available in multiple languages. Prices range from CAD $65 for a 24-hour adult ticket to CAD $80 for a 48-hour adult ticket.

2. FlyOver Canada: FlyOver Canada is a unique, immersive experience that takes you on a virtual flight across Canada. You'll soar over glaciers, mountains and cities, all while sitting in a suspended chair. The experience is enhanced by special effects like wind, mist and scents. It's a ton of fun, and located just steps from the Canada Place cruise ship dock. 

3. Vancouver Lookout: The Vancouver Lookout is an observation deck that offers 360-degree views of the city. It's located on the 55th floor of the Harbour Centre building, and it's accessible by glass elevator. The views are particularly stunning at sunset, when the city is bathed in golden light. The observation deck is a couple of blocks east of the cruise ship dock, on Hastings Street just before you reach Gastown. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

4. Gastown: Gastown is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, and it's packed with history and character. The cobblestone streets, Victorian architecture and gas streetlamps give it a charming, old-world feel. Check out the Steam Clock, grab a coffee at a cozy cafe or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. The neighbourhood is a few blocks east of the cruise ship dock. 

5. Robson Street: Robson Street is Vancouver's premier shopping district. It's home to a wide range of shops, from high-end boutiques to popular chain stores. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes, as well as street performers and musicians. The area is about a 20-minute walk south of the cruise ship dock. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

6. Capilano Suspension Bridge: This is a must-visit for thrill-seekers. The Capilano Suspension Bridge spans 140 metres (460 feet) across the Capilano River and hangs 70 metres (230 feet) above the canyon floor. Cross the bridge for breathtaking views of the surrounding forest, or try the Cliffwalk for an even more adventurous experience. For me, the Cliffwalk (shown above) is as big a star as the suspension bridge. Cliffwalk comprises a series of cantilevered bridges and stairs with only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure. It’s a bit freaky, but definitely a must-see.

** There is a free shuttle year-round from Canada Place, where cruises end, to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and back, so this is a wonderful option for people who have a few hours before their flights depart. 

Pro tip: If you have a vehicle, dine at a restaurant on Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and get the best views of the Vancouver skyline. My favourite is the Tap & Barrel patio.

7. Grouse Mountain: If you're up for a challenge, hike up Grouse Mountain for panoramic views of the city and the surrounding nature. Alternatively, take the gondola to the top and enjoy skiing or snowboarding in the winter, or ziplining and hiking in the summer. You can also visit the resident grizzly bears at the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife. 

** There is a free shuttle during the summer from Canada Place, where cruises end, to Grouse Mountain so this is a great option for cruisers who have a few hours before their flights depart. The shuttle runs daily during the summer season. The shuttle operates on a first-come, first-served basis with the purchase of a round-trip Mountain Admission ticket. 

8. Stanley Park: Covering over 1,000 acres, Stanley Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. It's home to beaches, lakes and scenic views of Vancouver's skyline. Take a stroll along the seawall, rent a bike or rollerblades, or explore 27 km (17 miles) of forested trails. Don't forget to stop by the Totem Poles to see the impressive carvings created by First Nations artists. 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. 

9. Vancouver Aquarium: The Vancouver Aquarium is a world-class facility that's home to over 50,000 animals from around the world. It's an excellent opportunity to learn about marine life and conservation efforts. Highlights include the Pacific Canada Pavilion, the Amazon Gallery and the Arctic Canada exhibit. The aquarium is located in Stanley Park. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

10. Granville Island: Granville Island is a vibrant, bustling spot in Vancouver. It's a hub of artistic activity, with galleries, studios and the famous Granville Island Public Market, where you can find everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts. Take a boat tour or hop on the Aquabus ferry for a scenic ride around False Creek. 

Pro tip: The Aquabus is a great way to get around. It makes eight stops and the last stop actually puts you about a 10-minute walk to downtown Vancouver and about a 25-minute walk to Stanley Park. An all-day ticket costs $17 and there's something to see at every stop. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

11. Whale-Watching: Vancouver is a prime location for whale-watching, with several tour operators offering daily excursions. You can spot orcas, humpback whales and even dolphins as you sail through the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands. Many of the tours offer experienced guides who can provide information about the marine life and the local ecosystem, making it a fun and educational experience for the whole family. Many tours depart from Granville Island. I've been on two whale-watching trips, both from Prince of Whales, and have enjoyed both very much. 

12. Science World: Science World is a fun, interactive museum that's perfect for kids and adults alike. It's located in a striking geodesic dome and has exhibits on everything from physics and chemistry to biology and ecology. The Omnimax Theatre is also a must-see, with a five-storey-high screen that immerses you in the action. It's easy to hop on the SkyTrain from Waterfront Station; just get off at the Main Street-Science World Station. 

13. English Bay: English Bay beach is one of the most popular in Vancouver, and it's easy to see why. The sandy shores are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and playing beach volleyball. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby (one of my favourites is Cactus Club, which is right on the water and has killer views), as well as the iconic Inukshuk statue. There's fun touristy shopping on Denman Street too. And don't forget to pose with the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, or "the laughing guys," as we locals call them. (See post about Vancouver Biennale below.)

14. Richmond Night Market: If you're visiting Vancouver during the summer months, you won't want to miss the Richmond Night Market. This Asian-style night market features more than 250 food vendors, as well as games, rides, and live entertainment. The market is open on weekends in the evenings between May and October and is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Richmond Night Market is just one block from the SkyTrain Canada Line's Bridgeport Station and next to the River Rock Casino. Check the website for hours and admission prices. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

15. Queen Elizabeth Park: Queen Elizabeth Park is another beautiful green space in Vancouver. It's located on a hill and offers stunning views of the city. The park has walking paths, gardens and an arboretum. The quarry gardens are not big but they're among the prettiest I've seen, and they're free to visit. Don't miss the Bloedel Conservatory, a domed conservatory that's home to exotic birds and plants. 

Pro tip: If you're a fan of Italian food, check out the fabulous Savio Volpe, which is about a 15-minute drive away.

16. VanDusen Botanical Garden: This is a stunning, 55-acre garden that's home to over 7,500 plant species from around the world. It's a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city, with walking paths, ponds and greenhouses. Highlights include the Elizabethan Maze, the Sino-Himalayan Garden and the Mediterranean Garden. 

17. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: This garden is a tranquil oasis in the heart of Chinatown. It's a traditional Chinese garden, with winding paths, rocks and water features. The garden is designed to promote harmony and balance, and it's an excellent place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

18. UBC Botanical Garden: Located on the University of British Columbia campus, the UBC Botanical Garden is a must-visit for nature lovers. The garden spans 110 acres and features more than 8,000 different plants from around the world. Highlights include the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a traditional Japanese garden and the Greenheart TreeWalk, a suspension bridge that takes you through the treetops. The TreeWalk isn't that high off the ground, but wow, do these bridges ever wobble and shake! Vancouver has a lot of suspended-bridge attractions and this one is my absolute favourite. Another bonus: This site is extremely cheap to visit. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

19. Museum of Anthropology: The Museum of Anthropology is a fascinating destination that showcases the history and culture of British Columbia's Indigenous peoples. It has a vast collection of artifacts and artworks, including totem poles, masks, and carvings. The design of the striking Great Hall, 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. The museum is located on the University of British Columbia's campus, which is a beautiful spot in its own right.
UPDATE: The MOA is temporarily closed for seismic upgrades. 

20. Shannon Falls: Just a scenic one-hour drive from Vancouver, Shannon Falls is one of the province's most beautiful waterfalls, and the third-highest. The falls drop 335 metres (1,100 feet) and are surrounded by lush forest. There's a well-maintained trail that takes you to the base of the falls, where you can feel the mist on your face and take some breathtaking photos. 

The best things to do in Vancouver before or after your Alaska cruise

21. The Sea-to-Sky Gondola: Located a scenic hour's drive north of Vancouver in Squamish, the Sea-to-Sky Gondola is a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts. The gondola is the next exit after Shannon Falls north on Highway 99. The 10-minute gondola ride takes you up 885 metres (2,900 feet) to the summit of the mountain, where you'll see breathtaking views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. Once you're at the top, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore, as well as a suspension bridge, viewing platforms and a restaurant serving up delicious local cuisine. It's a perfect day trip from Vancouver for those looking for adventure and scenic beauty. 

Pro tip: If you have time and a vehicle, and you're a fan of the Netflix series Virgin River, you must stop at the Watershed Grill in nearby Squamish. This restaurant is the setting for Jack's Bar in Virgin River and it's so fun to have a meal here. Be prepared for lineups though. 

EXTRA, EXTRA: For art lovers, Vancouver offers an exciting opportunity to explore the city's vibrant public art scene. The Vancouver Biennale is a public art exhibition that features large-scale sculptures and installations throughout the city. The artworks are created by artists from around the world and are placed in public spaces, making art accessible to everyone. 

Pro tip: One of the most popular installations at English Bay beach is A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun. The installation features 14 bronze sculptures of a laughing figure with exaggerated features, creating a playful and interactive experience for visitors. 

>> Have a question? Post it in the comments and I'll do my best to find the answer.

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Find more travel inspiration on my Instagram, @JuanitaNg.