Having grown up near Vancouver, and having spent a few years living in Downtown Vancouver, we are excited to share our favorite things to do in Downtown Vancouver. These are all the must do things in Downtown Vancouver which you cannot miss and our top tips on how to make the most out of your visit to one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
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Vancouver Travel Blog Fast Facts
Vancouver is one Canada’s best cities, and each year, it is in fact often cited as one of the top cities in the world to live. Here are some fast facts about the city you may not know yet!
The Weather Is Very Mild
The city is located in the very southwestern corner of Canada, and while many people may believe that Canadians live in igloos and it snows everywhere north of the United States, Vancouver has a very mild, temperate climate similar to Seattle. It rains a lot, which you get used to…kind off, but doesn’t get too hot or too cold.
Vancouver Is Called ‘Hollywood North‘
When you visit, don’t be surprised if you recognize a lot of locations from TV or movies. Vancouver is also known as “Hollywood North” and the city comes second in North America after Los Angeles for TV production and third in North America after Los Angeles and New York for feature film production. More often than not, Vancouver stands in for a major U.S. city in TV and film, rather than the production being set here. Even if you haven’t already been to Vancouver, you’ve definitely seen it on TV and in movies.
The Architecture Is Very Modern
The city isn’t overly old, so the downtown core is mainly filled with shimmering glass skyscrapers rather than the big concrete structures in some older North American cities. It makes for an incredible skyline, especially given the location being right on the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by mountains.
Vancouver Has the Highest Real Estate Prices in Canada
Vancouver has the highest real estate prices in Canada, but wages don’t necessary keep up with those sky-high prices, making it one of the top three least affordable real estate markets in the world. There is good reason for those high real estate prices, because everyone wants to live here!
What is Vancouver Best Known For?
Vancouver is probably best known for it’s stunning location. Downtown Vancouver, with its glimmering glass-covered skyscrapers, is set out on a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, with the North Shore Mountains forming a distinctive backdrop over the city. It doesn’t get much better than this for a location for a city.
Outside of its location, Vancouver is well-known for a diverse and thriving food scene, with predominant influences from many Asian countries. That lovely California Roll that you love so much? Yep, that’s not actually from California, but originally from Vancouver. Sushi is big, as is ramen, pho, hot pot, dim sum, and everything in between. There is also a lot of Canadian ‘west coast fare’ restaurants focusing on seafood, salads, and locally sourced ingredients.
On the other side of the coin, Vancouver is well known for its dreary, rainy weather. If you’re familiar with weather in Seattle then you know what to expect in Vancouver. It’s not uncommon for it to rain a week straight or more through the end of fall to mid-spring, and the weather reports will have more ways to describe rain than you ever thought possible.
Top 10 Must Do Things in Downtown Vancouver
The city of Vancouver is not overly large, but there are a number of neighborhoods that have different vibes and are worth checking out, as are nearby cities such as Richmond, for even more delicious food, and North Vancouver for its mountains, hiking trails and the nearby ski hills of Cypress Mountain, Seymour Mountain, and Grouse Mountain. Further afield, you have the Gulf Islands, Squamish, Whistler, and Vancouver Island.
That’s a lot to cover in one Vancouver travel blog post, so we’re just going to focus on the 10 best must do things in Downtown Vancouver here. We have a slightly liberal definition of ‘downtown’ as these are not all technically in downtown, but they are all close enough to easily walk or bike to.
Bike the Seawall and Breathe the Fresh Air
Starting off with what is hands down our favorite must do activity in Vancouver (other than eating!). If you’re visiting Vancouver you should do everything you can to rent a bike and spend a day biking along the Seawall. The Seawall stretches from Canada Place in Downtown Vancouver and wraps its way along the edge of the city to Stanley Park, completing a full loop of the park, before circling all of False Creek and out towards Kitsilano.
When riding your bike along the Seawall, you will pass by almost all of the famous sights in Vancouver, many of which are on this list! It’s about 17 miles (28 km) to ride the full pathway, which will take at least a full day for someone visiting the city. There are so many photo spots, places to eat, and places to visit along the way that while you could just ride it all at once without stopping, we wouldn’t recommend it!
It’s mostly flat, and easily bikeable by people of all skill levels with dedicated biking and walking paths in most areas. Because a large portion of the Seawall path borders Downtown Vancouver, you can easily make your trip as short or long as you would like and complete it over multiple days.
Mobi Bike Share
If you’re visiting Vancouver, you probably didn’t bring your own bike, so you will most likely need to rent! The most common plan for tourists is using the Mobi bike share program. You can purchase a 24 hour pass (which includes unlimited 30 minute rides) for $12 CAD ($9.50 USD). The program works just like bike share programs in any other large city, which is great for short trips, but not as useful if you are trying to bike the whole Seawall in a day as you are limited to each ride being only 30 minutes long.
An alternative option is to rent a bike from a bike rental company. Read the section below under Stanley Park bike rental for a list of great bike rental companies near Stanley Park.
Get Outside at Stanley Park
Visiting the Stanley Park Seawall is a must do activity, but there is more to Stanley Park than just riding the path around the outside. There are a number of trails that crisscross through the 1,001 acre park through dense forests, along lakes, and by towering totem poles. Stanley Park is a great place to go walking or biking and to just get lost in the maze of pathways in the park. You can only get so lost as the park is surrounded by water on 3 sides and Downtown Vancouver on the other!
One great thing about Stanley Park is that the Seawall at Stanley Park is completely car free and if you want to see the famous Seawall, you can chose between biking, inline skating, skate-boarding, walking, or any other unmotorized mode of transportation.
In the middle of Stanley Park is the Vancouver Aquarium, both Canada’s largest and first public aquarium. The aquarium is also a center for marine research, conservation, and marine animal rehabilitation.
Stanley Park Bike Rental
If you’re visiting Vancouver, you probably didn’t bring your own bike, so you will most likely need to rent! For short rides, the Mobi Bike Share (mentioned above) is probably the best option, however for a bike ride of a couple hours you will want to rent a bike somewhere else.
The Stanley Park Bike Rental shops are not actually in Stanley Park, but just a few blocks away on Denman Street, close to the entrance to Stanley Park from Downtown Vancouver. The most popular one is Spokes – bikes start at about $10 CAD ($7.80 USD) per hour and you can rent for as many hours as you would like. An alternative option is Yes Cycle, which starts at a similar rate, but offers discounts the longer that you rent.
The below map shows our recommended biking trail and includes the most beautiful viewpoints along the Seawall.
Relax at the English Bay Beaches
As you bike along the Stanley Park Seawall and head towards False Creek, you will pass by English Bay and its beautiful beaches. These are city beaches, and not never-ending stretches of beautiful white sand, but they are a great place to spend some time on a hot summer day. English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach are popular places to watch the sunset over the water, a perfect ending to a day spent adventuring in Vancouver.
In the middle of the two beaches is one of the iconic Inukshuk’s that was built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which is an excellent place for a photo.
Discover Granville Island
Granville Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vancouver, and for good reason! Granville Island is located near False Creek under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge, just outside of Downtown Vancouver. It is easily accessed from the Seawall, and is a great stop for lunch or a snack along the way! If you are in downtown, you can walk south along the Granville Street Bridge and then walk down the stairs to Granville Island, or take the Aquabus for a short trip across.
Once you’ve arrived at Granville Island, the best place to start is the public market. Here you can purchase all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, and meats and seafood, but you can also find a large number of restaurants serving up delicious food. We recommend picking up some food here at the public market and making your way outside to sit and enjoy the view – just watch out for the seagulls as they are known for stealing food!
Outside of the public market there is a large collection of performing arts theatres, art galleries, and artisan shops to spend the afternoon discovering. If you’re looking for a drink, head to the popular Granville Island Brewing Company to sample some local small batch brews that are brewed right on site.
False Creek and Olympic Village
The area around False Creek and especially around Olympic Village is a great place to spend some time outdoors, taking in the views, and is also a popular place to grab food or drinks. Olympic Village is conveniently located right along the Seawall path, so you can also stop here along your bike ride along the Seawall.
Olympic Village was, perhaps unsurprisingly, used as an Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted in Vancouver. The area was formerly an industrial area, but is now a bustling neighborhood with many apartments, restaurants, and a grocery store, all steps from the beautiful views looking out over False Creek and Downtown Vancouver.
While you are here, one of the main draws is Craft Beer Market, which has a huge selection of beer with 140 taps, and great happy hour specials. It is located in a huge converted factory building.
Once you’ve had your fill you can stroll along the Seawall pathway, either west towards Granville Island or east towards the iconic Science World building. Getting to Olympic Village is also easily done with a quick ride on the Aquabus from Downtown Vancouver.
Canada Place and Flyover Canada
Canada Place is another one of the iconic buildings in Vancouver. The building is primarily a large convention center, cruise ship terminal and hotel, but also includes gift shops, restaurants, and more. Canada Place’s distinctive white sails have a beautiful backdrop with stunning views of the North Shore Mountains.
If you happen to be near Canada Place around lunchtime don’t be surprised to hear some very loud horns. The 12 O’clock Horn, located here, belts out the first four notes of ‘O Canada’ every day at 12:00 PM.
Canada Place is also the home of FlyOver Canada, one of the must do things in Downtown Vancouver. FlyOver Canada is a flying theater attraction which takes you on a virtual ride over Canada, utilizing ride equipment that feels like you really are flying over Canada as you take in the beautiful aerial views on the spherical screen. To make it seem even more real, the attraction uses wind, mist, and scents to enhance the approximately 25-minute experience.
The FlyOver Canada experience is an incredible way to see Canada from the air, and appreciate the beauty of this huge country. FlyOver Canada also showcases additional experiences throughout the year, such as ‘Fly Like Santa,’ ‘FlyOver Iceland’ or ‘Soar Over Taiwan.’
The newest experience is the holiday themed ‘Fly Like Santa’ where you can experience the magic of Christmas, while taking in breathtaking views of Canada, all the way up to the North Pole to see Santa.
Opening Times: FlyOver Canada experiences are generally scheduled every day of the week, but exact timing and experiences on offer change throughout the year. Check out the current experience on their website.
Price: Pricing varies by date, but approximately $30 CAD ($23 USD) per person, you can book your experience and reserve a time online.
Location on Google Maps: FlyOver Canada at Canada Place
What to Bring: Nothing needed!
Disclaimer: Our FlyOver Canada experience was provided by FlyOver Canada and we loved it. As always, all of our opinions on our experience, and the must do things in downtown Vancouver are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!
Visit Historic Gastown
Gastown is a historic neighborhood, and the original settlement of what would become Vancouver. The vibe is similar to other historic districts in large North American cities as it has cobblestone streets and historic brick buildings. Today it is a popular and thriving neighborhood with lots of independent fashion boutiques, galleries, and some of the best drinks and eats in Vancouver.
Gastown is easy to get to and on the eastern edge of Downtown Vancouver, within easy walking distance of the main business district. If you’ve heard about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, it is an area with a lot of social issues with high drug use, homelessness, and poverty. It is not overly dangerous, but it is advisable to not walk alone at night or stray too far from the main streets of Gastown. In reality though, you are pretty safe in every party of the city.
One of the most popular places in Gastown is at the famous steam clock on the corner of Cambie and Water streets. Although the Gastown steam clock is thought to be one of the first built in the world, it’s not actually as old as it looks! The clock was built in 1977 by a Canadian horologist specifically for this location. Be sure to hang around here for a bit as the clock will whistle every 15 minutes to tell the time.
Eat Your Way Through Chinatown
Chinatown is another great neighborhood on the eastern edges of Downtown Vancouver, just south of Gastown. It also easily accessible as it is about a 10-15 minute walk from Gastown. Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest historic Chinatowns in North America, though it is not the largest area of ethnic Chinese in the Vancouver area. If you are looking for more Chinese and Asian inspired shopping malls, stores, and restaurants, head just south of Vancouver to Richmond’s Golden Village. If you are staying in Vancouver for a longer trip, it is well worth the half-hour trip by Skytrain into Richmond – just be sure to go on an empty stomach!
In Chinatown you can explore the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden which has both a freely accessible public park as well as a garden with paid admission.
Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Square
The Vancouver Art Gallery is the hub of the city for large events, gatherings, and protests. The Vancouver Art Gallery, or VAG as it is affectionally known, is the largest art museum in Western Canada. If you’re into art, it’s a great place to spend a rainy day in Vancouver. The permanent collection features many local B.C. and Canadian artists in it’s 165,000 square feet (15,300 sq meters).
The Vancouver Art Gallery sits at one end of the public plaza known as Robson Square. Robson Square hosts not only the Art Gallery, but the B.C. Provincial Courts, the downtown campus of the University of British Columbia, and other government buildings. It’s popular year-round, but especially in the winter when a free outdoor skating rink is created. In summer, you might find free dance classes!
Shop Till You Drop on Robson Street
Robson Street is where you want to go if you are looking for some retail therapy while spending time in Downtown Vancouver. Robson Street has a lot of brand-name fashion from international companies, but also thrives on local brands such as Lululemon and Aritzia. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, the nearby department stores of Hudson’s Bay, Holt Renfrew, and Nordstrom, should allow you to find what you are looking for.
Robson is also home to a large number of ramen and Korean restaurants, so be sure to finish off your shopping trip with a delicious bowl of ramen! Some of our favorites are Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Marutama Ramen, and Jinya Ramen. It’s not uncommon to find long lines at these locations, so you may have to go somewhere else, but with so many great places close by, it’s not a problem to find some great ramen or Korean food.
What Should I Not Miss in Vancouver?
If you are coming to visit Vancouver, there a couple must do activities and things to experience.
- Bike the Seawall
- Visit Stanley Park
- Relax at English Bay Beaches
- Discover Granville Island
- Stroll through False Creek and Olympic Village
- Visit Canada Place and do the Fly Over Canada Experience
- Wander Through Historic Gastown
- Eat Your Way Through Chinatown
- Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Square
- Shop Until You Drop on Robson Street
We believe that these 10 activities are the top 10 must do things in downtown Vancouver, however, if you were to only do one thing when visiting Vancouver, that should be riding the Seawall. You get to experience so much about what makes Vancouver special as the Seawall goes from glistening skyscrapers to dense forests, surrounded by water, with mountain views.
Vancouverites love to exercise so you definitely won’t be out of place heading out for a bike ride, walk, or run. While you are enjoying the best of the must do things in downtown Vancouver activities, you will be working up an appetite, which leads to the next thing that you must experience while in Vancouver. With Vancouver being such a diverse city, and Vancouver being the most Asian city outside of Asia, filling yourself on delectable Asian cuisine is another must do. Whether you are looking for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Filipino, or Thai cuisine, you are sure to find something delicious in Vancouver.
The food scene is competitive, and there are always new places opening, or old standards reinventing themselves. One of our favorites for a special celebratory meal is the Japanese restaurant Miku. If you’re looking for something a little more casual, try Phnom Penh for some delicious Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine, located in the heart of Chinatown. There are so many great places in downtown Vancouver, if you find something that looks interesting just give it a try!
What Can You Do for Free in Vancouver?
The great thing about visiting Vancouver is that while the city would not be described as ‘cheap’, it also doesn’t have to be a budget-bursting trip when spending some time in Downtown Vancouver. Almost all of the top 10 must do things in Downtown Vancouver that are listed above cost nothing at all.
There are only a few top attractions worth spending entrance fees for (listed above) and the rest of the time (and money) can be allocated towards trying delicious new foods and a bike rental to get the most out of the city. The main draw of Vancouver is not for theme parks, tourist attractions, or casinos. To get the most out of Vancouver and see it like a local you need to get outside and enjoying the endless bike paths, hiking trails, and breathtaking views.
Where Should I Stay in Downtown Vancouver?
As Vancouver is so walkable, or bikeable, a car is not needed and a hotel in Downtown Vancouver is a great base so that you can waste no time in heading out and exploring the city. Some of the best high-end hotels in the city are the Fairmont Pacific Rim for a killer location and views, the Loden Hotel for a central location near the shops and great food on Robson, and the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver for its False Creek location, steps from restaurants in Yaletown and Chinatown.
Great mid-range hotels are the iconic Sylvia Hotel with its ivy-covered building and location at English Bay, the Hotel Belmont Vancouver for a very central location and fresh modern design, and the Skwachays Lodge for it’s unique aboriginal Canadian design.
All of the above hotels should put you in a great location to enjoy all of the must do things in downtown Vancouver without having to venture too far. If you’re looking to save a bit more money, it’s possible to stay a little bit further outside of the downtown Vancouver and commute in each day. Look for somewhere that is close to a Skytrain station, so that you will have easy and frequent access to public transportation when you need it.
Are we missing something on our must do things in Downtown Vancouver?
Have you been to Vancouver? And are we missing something on our list of must things to do in Downtown Vancouver? Let us know in the comments. We’re always looking to expand our guides and would love to include your recommendations.
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