*Experiences mentioned in this post were provided by Tourism Vancouver. As always opinions are all my own*
You like the city, he likes the mountains. You want to lounge on the beach. He wants to go ziplining. You want to sip fine wine. He wants to go hiking.
If Vancouver is not on your bucket list then you are missing out.
Approximately 10 million people a year visit Vancouver. Most on their way to board one of the many cruise ships that will whisk them away to Alaska.
Whether you find yourself in Vancouver for a day or two or three this guide will help you plan the perfect trip that will keep everyone in the family happy.
Did I mention Vancouver is perfect for any budget? (Don't worry. I am not going to leave you hanging like that).
After spending a total of three days in Vancouver (both pre and post-cruise) I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do. Three days was hardly enough to do it all but it is was a great introduction to how amazing Vancouver truly is.
Now while this guide is geared mostly towards summer travel there is plenty that you can also do in the Winter as well. And let's not forget all the winter sports that are available just 30 minutes out of the city.
I did my best to share with you things to do as well as Free and Cheap alternatives so you can decide where to save and where to splurge.
So let's get started.
Getting to Vancouver
There are a number of options for getting to Vancouver however the most common is by Air.
If you are flying into Vancouver you will most likely be flying into Vancouver International Airport. The Airport is conveniently located about 25 minutes outside of the city and is easily accessible via taxi or mass transit.
Getting to Vancouver from Vancouver Airport.
The cheapest way to get to Vancouver from the airport is to take the Sky Train. The cost is $9 and it takes less than 30 minutes to get to the city. If you are heading to the cruise dock you can take the Sky Train directly to Canada Place making it convenient for anyone going straight to their cruise.
Taxi's to and from the airport is also a good option if you are arriving early or late. The taxi ride was under $40 and took just about 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver.
What is the Best Month to Visit Vancouver?
We visited Vancouver at the end of August, beginning of September so I vote this is the best time of year to visit. The weather was comfortable. Not too hot, Not too cold. And it was sunny the whole time we were there.
However, the best time of year to visit Vancouver would be anytime from Late Spring (April) through the Fall (October).
Things to do in Vancouver
With so many things to do in Vancouver, we have split up this guide into a three-day itinerary. If you are only in Vancouver for a Day start with Day 1 and go from there. I have also included additional things for you to do if you want to switch things up. We spent three days in Vancouver and never felt rushed. Feel free to take things as slow or fast as you like but make sure to take a moment to enjoy what Vancouver truly has to offer.
Getting Around Vancouver
You have a few options to get around Vancouver. But the best part is that you do not need to have a car to get around and it is recommended as traffic and parking can put a real damper on your trip.
Vancouver Hop On Hop Off Bus
Gray Line West Coast Sightseeing has a hop on hop off with 29 stops. The best part is that most of the places mentioned in this itinerary are covered by the hop on hop off bus, therefore, you will be set with the two-day ticket. If you are short on time then just jump on this tour to get a nice sampler of the city.
Biking in Vancouver
When the weather is nice, Biking is a great way to get around. There is a number of places where you can rent bikes around Vancouver. Some places to consider with great rates are as follows:
MassTransit in Vancouver
Buses are a great way to get around Vancouver. Fares start at $3 or you can get a day pass for $10.50.
Google maps is a great resource while in Vancouver. Type in your destination and take a look at your options. Google maps will share with you a number of options including transit and walking directions. We found many times that jumping on the bus was an easy and convenient way to get to where we needed to go.
The SkyTrain is another great way to get around. It is an easy and cheap way to get to and from the airport. It is likewise convenient to get around the city.
Check out the Translink website for more information for routes.
What Can You Do in Vancouver for a Day?
If you only have a day to spend in Vancouver before your cruise to Alaska there is still plenty that you can do not too far from port. Even if you are not jumping on a cruise and are planning on spending a few extra days starting with the top attractions is the best way to get a feel for this amazing city.
What are the top attractions to visit in Vancouver
If you are only in Vancouver for a day or if it is your first time in Vancouver then you should definitely start with the top attractions of course.
Stanley Park (Free)
If you ask anyone What Should I Do In Vancouver, the first thing they are going to recommend is Stanley Park. Stanley Park is to Vancouver what Central Park is to NYC. At the risk of losing my New Yorker card, I would venture to say it might be better than Central Park. SHHHH don't tell anyone.
But seriously. You can spend three days here. The best part. IT'S FREE!!
Some of our favorite activities in the park.
Rent a bike and cycle around Stanley Park. There are miles of bike trails. So you can run, walk and bike all day long. However one of the most recommended rides is along the SeaWall. At 6 km (3.7 miles) it is an easy ride with plenty of photos ops along the way.
In the summer after a morning of biking layout at Second Beach or take a dip in the heated pool. Oh yeah. And don't forget to pack a picnic. With over 1,000 acres you are sure to find the perfect spot to enjoy a nice lunch.
The Vancouver Aquarium
Take a trip around the world from the Tropics to the Artic. Vancouver Aquarium makes everyone's must-do list. And there is no wonder why. The Aquarium is home to over 50,000 animals and with 30 unique exhibits there is plenty to keep you occupied.
Admission to the aquarium is $38
Queen Elizabeth Park
If you're an art lover that is loving for an outdoor treat then venture over to Queen Elizabeth Park. Located on the highest point in Vancouver you will be delighted by the gardens and outdoor sculptures in this park.
There are a number of gardens to explore including the Quarry Garden and Rose Garden. Don't forget to take a walk through the Arboretum which is home to over 1500 trees including Redwoods.
Admission to Queen Elizabeth Park is free, however before you head out though don't forget to check out the tropical paradise known as Bloedel Conservatory, located right in Queen Elizabeth Park. Admission to this tropical paradise is $6.75 for adults (way cheaper than a roundtrip ticket). You will be surrounded by over 200 birds that call the Conservatory home as you're transport from a Tropical Rainforest through to the Desert Zone. It is an amazing escape right in the city of Vancouver.
VanDusen Botanical Garden
After visiting Queen Elizabeth Park make your way over to VanDusen Botanical Garden. While you can easily spend a whole day here exploring the 55 acres. The gardens are home to over 7500 plant species. You will feel transported and forget that you are in the city.
Admission is $11.25 in the spring/summer (April -September) and $8 all other times of year. Be sure to check out the VanDusen Botanical Garden site for additional information regarding opening hours as they vary by month.
Museum of Anthropology
The Museum of Anthropology is home to both traditional and contemporary Indigenous Art from around the world. Located on the land of the World.
Admission to the museum is $18 for adults.
Budget Tip: Visit on Thursday Evenings from 5pm-9pm and get discounted admission of $10.
Vancouver is home to Canada's largest Chinatown and it is definitely a must-visit. Wander the streets and feel as if you have been transported to another country. While you're there make sure you indulge in the cuisine like Chinese barbecue pork or tarts from the Chinese bakery If you visit in the morning make sure you get some DimSum.
Or go on a walking tour with Wok Around Chinatown. This was by far one of our favorite tours.
It started at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden. This is a beautiful place to start your time in Chinatown. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous. And it is a great place to learn more about the history of Chinatown.
And ended with a tea ceremony at The Chinese Tea Shop. It was absolutely amazing.
Canada Place is where the cruise ships dock so if you are heading out on a cruise this is a great place to start or end your day.
There are a number of things to do in Canada Place including a concert venue and hotel however be sure to check out their site for events going on.
Located right in CanadaPlace, FlyOver Canada will take you on a simulated flight journey right over Canada spanning from the east coast to the west coast.
Your flight experience will take you to 18 different locations where you will get to fly over Icebergs, Waterfalls and even experience the Northern Lights.
Admission for adults starts at $27 when purchased online.
Budget Tip: Tickets may be slightly higher when purchased on site so it is best to plan ahead if you want to save a few bucks.
What is there to do in Vancouver at Night?
Gastown is the place to be after a long day of sightseeing. It is home to some of the trendiest restaurants and bars in Vancouver. It also has a nice diverse collection of food and drink so you will be sure to find something for everyone. The main attraction in Gastown though is the steam clock.
History Lesson: Gastown is named for “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area's first saloon.
Gas Town Steam Clock
So what's up with the steam clock?
Why is everyone talking about and what is the big deal? Why do I need to see it?
Well. Because Google said so.
But in all seriousness, it is pretty cool.
The steam clock in Gastown was built in 1977. And it is powered by steam, hence the name steam clock. According to google the steam clock was built to deter people from sleeping on the grates in the street that released steam and were, therefore, a great spot to stay cozy in the winter.
Today it is definitely a must-visit. I have to be honest. It is pretty cool. And while it looks like something that has been there since the 1800s it is quite fascinating that it is less than 50 years old.
If you're the touring type then you should definitely check out Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tour. It starts at the Christ Church Cathedral. The Cathedral is the oldest in Vancouver so it is definitely a must-visit. If you have time make sure to take a peek inside. What is also amazing about this church is its motto. Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds. The idea is that everyone is welcome to worship. It is truly beautiful.
The Forbidden Vancouver tour takes you through Vancouver going through Chinatown and it ends at the Steam Clock in Vancouver. It is a great way to learn more about Vancouver's history and more interesting its prohibition history. Something that a lot of people never even knew existed in Canada.
Richmond Night Market
Are you hungry yet? Well, I have a treat for you. It is called the Richmond Night Market. And it is a must.
Now before you get all excited the night market is only open in from May to October. So if you are visiting in the winter months, unfortunately, you will miss it. Don't worry. There are plenty of places to eat in drink in Vancouver. You will be quite ok.
But if you are in town between May and October you definitely want to make the trip to check this place out.
Visiting the night market is foodie heaven. There is a plethora of options to choose from ranging from places across the globe. It is definitely a treat and a must for those that love to try different cuisines.
Admission to the Night Market is $4.75 and it is quite popular so plan ahead for waits. However, you will not be disappointed.
How Can I spend Two Days in Vancouver?
Now that you got to spend the day discovering all of what Vancouver has to offer it is time to get active. Today is all about getting your blood flowing. Don't worry. If you're not the active type that's ok. I would still recommend you visit these spots. There are some non-active things to see and do too.
What are the Best Outdoor Activities in Vancouver
If you have extra time you can take a number of day trips to places like Squamish or Whistler however if you only have a couple of days in Vancouver then here are some options that are bit closer to the city, easily accessible and will satisfy your itch for some outdoor adventures.
If you are more of the adventure and outdoors type then a trip to Grouse Mountain is a must. In the summer free shuttles leave from Canada Place and in under 30 minutes you will be transported to an outdoor paradise. In the winter the city bus can also get you there in no time.
Admission to the mountain is $59 for adults and $32 for children. Or you can get a family pass for $159 which includes admission for two adults and two children.
The Admission ticket includes a number of activities so while it may seem pricey you get a lot.
Some things the admission ticket includes:
Year-Round Activities at Grouse Mountain
- Wildlife Refuge
Summer Activities at Grouse Mountain
- Peak Chairlift
- Birds in Motion Demonstration
- Lumberjack Show
- Guided Eco-Walks
- Grizzly Bear Habitat
- Disc Golf
- Mountaintop Hiking
Winter Activities at Grouse Mountain
- Skiing and Snowboarding
- Ice Skating
- Light Walk (Evenings)
Budget Tip: Want to get out but don't want to splurge. Skip the pricey ticket and opt to check out the Grouse Grind. The Grouse Grind is a 1.8 mile hike up Grouse Mountain. With over 2800 steps it is truly a grind. Keep in mind it is a one way hike up. It is free to hike but then you will have to pay $15 for a one way ticket back down the mountain on the skyride.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
One of the most instagrammable places in Vancouver the Capilano Suspension Bridge is a must visit. Located less than 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver (and about 1o minutes from Grouse Mountain) it makes for a great combo trip with Grouse Mountain.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was built in 1889. It is 450 feet long and was built 230 feet above the Capilano River. I would highly recommend making this your first stop of the day as the tour buses and crowds start to show up about 30 minutes to an hour after opening. If you can be there when the park first opens you will only be sharing the bridge with a couple of other early birds.
Don't just leave after checking out the bridge. Be sure to check out the cliff walk and the treetops adventures (my fave) which is actually made up of 7 suspension bridges.
During the holidays visit in the evening to experience the Canyon Lights where the park is decorated and lit up for the holidays. It is breathtaking.
Admission for adults is $53.95 and hours varies depending on the time of year so be sure to check out the CapBridge website for more info.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge (Free)
* At the current moment, Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is closed for construction and is expected to reopen in early 2020. Visit Lynn Canyon Park for more details and updates*
If you're on a budget but still want to experience a pretty cool suspension bridge then check out Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is located in Lynn Canyon Park. The bridge itself is 154 feet long and offers amazing views of the Canyon 164 feet below.
If you have time check out some of the other amazing things that Lynn Canyon Park has to offer. The 30 foot pool is a great place to cool off in the summer or get your heart pumping on one of the many hikes available in the park.
After spending your morning it is time to head back to the city.
Kayaking False Creek
If you are looking for a little bit more activity then head on over to False Creek for some kayaking or other watersports. False Creek is a small inlet right in the middle of Vancouver and a favorite for anyone that wants to try their hand at some watersports.
If you are interested in Kayaking or Paddleboarding, check out Vancouver Water Adventures. They also offer Zodiac Boat tours which is another great way to experience Vancouver.
Sunset English Bay
If you are done with the outdoor activities another great way to get outside without breaking a sweat is to head on over to English Bay for the Sunset.
This has to be one of the best places to catch a sunset in Vancouver. You will be blown away. This is probably one of the more popular spots in the summer however it is definitely worth checking out year round.
Poor In A Private Plane Tip: Skip going out for dinner and pack a pinic that you can enjoy on the beach while watching the sunset.
If time permits take in the views from 553 feet above at the Vancouver LookOut. Tickets are valid for the whole day so you can start your day here and end your day here. (There are fewer crowds if you go after dinner and about an hour before closing).
We went in the evening and the is was amazing to see Vancouver sparkling in the night. It was also very quiet as by that time people were either at dinner, out or in bed. I would definitely recommend taking full advantage of the full-day ticket and going both in the morning and the evening to see amazing views of the city.
Admission is $18.25 for adults and is open from 9:00 am—9:00 pm and until 10:30 pm in the summer.
Granville Island (Free)
If you didn't make it to Granville Island yesterday you can try to make time to go today. While there are plenty of restaurants open in the even and you will get great views of downtown Vancouver it is recommended to go during the day when the Granville Market is open.
Easily accessible by bus, car and even water taxi, Granville Island is a must-visit. The Public Market, with a wide variety of vendors to choose from, is a great place to grab lunch. After lunch stroll around the many shops with features arts and crafts made right on Granville Island and the great Vancouver area.
The best part of Granville Island has to be sunsets. After you had your fill of shopping, eating (and possibly drinking) take in the view of Vancouver and False Creek as the sunsets over Vancouver. A quick ride on the Aquabus (5 minutes to be exact) will get you back over to Vancouver where you can continue to explore.
How Can I Spend Three Days in Vancouver?
If you have three days you may want to consider taking a day trip to Whistler.
Whistler is located approximately 75 miles outside of Vancouver. The drive is amazing and if you have time a must-do. While most people may choose to spend a weekend in Whistler it is easy to do a day trip.
I will warn you it may be a long day however we did a day in Whistler and it was well worth it.
Getting to Whistler from Vancouver
There are few ways to get to Whistler. The one thing I would say when deciding how to make your way up to Whistler is to enjoy the ride along the Sea to Sky Highway. It had to be one of the most beautiful drives I have been on.
Driving to Whistler from Vancouver
Driving to Whister from Vancouver is super simple. Just take Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) North. That's it. The drive is approximately 90 minutes
Taking the Bus from Vancouver to Whistler
There are several options for transportation between Vancouver and Whistler including Shuttle buses from Vancouver International Airport.
Epic Rides offers an express bus from Vancouver to Whistler. The ride is just under 2 hours and the price is $35 for a roundtrip ticket.
Whistler Shuttle offers service from Vancouver International Airport to Whistler. The price for a roundtrip to Vancouver International is $148.
YVR Skylinx offers several scheduled shuttles from different stops in Vancouver (including the airport) to Whistler. Prices start at $30 for a roundtrip from Downtown Vancouver to Whistler
Things to do in Whistler
There is a ton of things to do in Whistler depending on the time of the year. In the winter you can take your pick from a number of winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.
In the summer, however, you can do anything from hiking to ziplining. We decided to go the adrenaline pumping route.
We started our morning with an RZR Off-Roading Tour, with The Adventure Group.
This was an absolute blast. There are many tours to pick from however I would highly suggest going on the first tour of the day. It is a great way to start your day exploring all that Whistler has to offer.
After spending a few hours getting dusty while off-roading it is time to take a break for some lunch. There are a ton of great places to eat in Whistler Village which makes it very convenient for those that arrived by bus.
We opted for a hearty meal at Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub. Try their Rose Sangria. Soooo good.
After lunch, we were ready to go. Our activity of choice was ZipLining with ZipTrek EcoTours. I have to admit I was AFRAID!!!! As in I didn't want to do it. But I promised myself that I would not chicken out so I literally took the leap.
By the end of the tour, I was hanging upside down. No I mean really. I was hanging upside down.
The staff at ZipTrek make it a point to put safety first and they make you feel so comfortable (while having a blast … I laughed so hard) that you forget you're afraid of heights like me.
Activities in Whistler
If you have more time in Whistler here are some other things to consider.
In the summer you can go hiking and mountain biking. In the winter there is of course skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing just to name a few things.
Looking for more weekend getaway ideas. Head to the East Coast with our weekend guide to Montreal.
Where to Stay in Vancouver?
If you're going to a cruise I recommend you stay close to Canada Place. We opted for the Hyatt Regency Vancouver which was walking distance to the cruise port.
We opted for a balcony room which gave us a great place to hang out after a long day sightseeing. The hotel also has a pool, hot tub and gym.
There is plenty to do without leaving the hotel including a bar, restaurant and a Starbucks right in the lobby for your morning fix.
If you are looking for additional options in and around Vancouver here are some that come recommended via Booking.com.
Where to Eat in Vancouver?
Vancouver is a Foodie Heaven.
Here are some spots you definitely need to check out.
But first I need to share something about the Vancouver food scene that I never knew about. SUSHI!!!
All the Sushi
Go to Vancouver They Said. Eat Sushi They Said.
Wait!! Why would I eat Sushi in Vancouver?
Trust me on this. EAT THE SUSHI. Here are some spots worth checking out.
Minami-Located in Yaletown this is the perfect spot to get your Japanese fix.
Miku-Located on the waterfront a sister restaurant to Minami, this is a must-visit for any sushi lover.
Hoshi Sushi-If you are looking for great sushi on a budget this place is perfect.
I didn't really mean to have categories for everything else. But here are some more amazing places you must check out.
TacoFinos FishBar– With locations all over Vancouver including several food trucks this is a must if you are looking for some west coast inspired eats. Try one of their burritos. They are delicious.
33 Acres Brewing Company– Great spot if you want to try some brews however definitely make a point to check out their Brunch. You will not be disappointed.
Smokes Poutinerie– So you probably did not come to Vancouver for poutine however if you need a poutine fix (like me) this spot come highly recommended.
Phonm Phen-South East Asia in Vancouver? You're speaking my language. Be sure to try the Garlic Wings. Several people have recommended them.
The Best Eats in Vancouver
The list goes on and on and I obviously did not have time to eat everything in only three days. However here are some additional recommendations I received. I didn't get to these however I still wanted to share.
JapaDog– I messed up by not getting here early. They tend to sell out some of their faves so if you find one make sure to jump at the opportunity.
Meet on Main-For great Vegetarian and GF options
Peaceful for Chinese
Wooo. That was a lot. But we packed a lot in three days. Whoever said you needed a week to go anywhere hasn't met us yet.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. If you have any questions feel free to reach out!! Always happy to help.