For locals and tourists alike, Vancouver’s top attractions provide a diverse range of experiences to get to know our city. From alpine peaks to urban peaks, and aquatic galleries to art galleries, there is much to be seen while spending time in Vancouver. But of all the recommended spots, where should visitors hit, and which ones can they miss?
Vancity Buzz has ranked the most popular tourist attractions in the city based on cost, experience, thrill, food and drink, transportation and crowds. We visited each and every one of these spots in the last few weeks to get a low down on what visitors can expect, then ranked them in each category. To arrive at the top 10, we added up all the categories and those with the most points came out on top.
Without further ado, here are the places to hit and miss while in Vancouver:
Cost: $16.25 for adults, $13.25 for seniors, $11.25 for students and youth, $8.25 for child age 6 to 12, free for child under 5. $41 for two adults and two children.
Unique to Vancouver: Most major cities have lookouts at the top of their foremost skyscrapers, but unfortunately for Vancouver, our tallest buildings are residential towers and not open to the public. The next best thing is the Harbour Tower, a 553 ft. building that offers a 360 degree view of the city. For those looking for a round-about view of Metro Vancouver, the Lookout is pretty much the only option, aside from hopping in a helicopter or float plane. However, at the asking price, there could be more bang for the buck.
Thrill factor: What might make the lookout more thrilling would be an outdoor option so visitors can really sense how high they are, with the wind whipping through their hair and all. Otherwise, this is a nice stop and okay photo-op, but relatively thrill-less.
Food & drink: At the Lookout itself, there are no food and drink options, however take the elevator one more floor up and there is the Revolving Restaurant. Entrees are steeply priced and reviews of the food aren’t all that complimentary.
Transportation: Take any bus, Seabus, SkyTrain or Canada Line to Waterfront Station and walk right across the street. There is also pay parking within the block.
Crowds: Crowds should not be a problem at this attraction. Stays are relatively short and the elevators go up and down all day long.
Cost: $35.50 for anyone over 48” tall, $24.75 for anyone under 48” tall (save a few dollars by purchasing online)
Unique to Vancouver: Unfortunately for PlayLand, the theme park has seen better days. Or perhaps the advent of big and beautiful amusement parks around the world has cast a shadow over this little city attraction. Regardless, there are 19 rides for both young children and brave souls, including the famed Wooden Roller Coaster built in 1958. Maybe it’s because our older bodies couldn’t handle the ride, but even the Coaster felt like a rickety machine about to toss our necks out of alignment. Many of the classic rides visitors will recognize, like the Wild Mouse, Rainbow and Octopus have been permanently removed and others, like Evolution, are brought back for the PNE in August. Long story short, those looking to visit a theme park should probably stick to Disney or Six Flags.
Thrill factor: If nothing else, PlayLand will get the heart racing, especially on some of the “big-kid” rides like the Hellevator, Hell’s Gate and all-new The Beast. The Coaster can also be equally scary for kids and adults. For shear adrenaline, PlayLand is one of the best places to visit in Vancouver.
Food & drink: Food at PlayLand isn’t as good as it could be, but it’s doing okay. The resident Triple O’s location is the main spot for lunch offering the typical burgers, fries and shakes. Visitors must also indulge in a bag of mini-donuts, the quintessential fair food that never disappoints. Some other small vendors can be found with treats like snow cones and cotton candy, but many don’t open until noon.
Transportation: PlayLand is located just on the eastern edge of the city in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood. Access by public transit from downtown is limited to the #14 and #135 buses that stop on East Hastings Street outside the main gates. There are parking lots priced at $10 a day.
Crowds: Our memories made us assume crowds would be a problem, but we either went on a quiet day, or visitor numbers have gone down. Arriving at about 11 a.m. on a sunny Sunday, we walked onto almost every ride for a good hour before line ups started to grow. The longest wait was probably about 15 minutes (aside from the wait for a hamburger at Triple O’s that took about 30 minutes).
Cost: $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, $6 for child 5 and older, free for child under 5. $50 for two adults and four children
Unique to Vancouver: The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is a well-regarded institution in the city, however it might best be appreciated only by true art lovers, not those looking for a glimpse into Vancouver history and culture. For anyone who has travelled to the renowned museums of London, Europe, New York and Washington D.C., the VAG is far from comparable when it comes to the size, scope and notability of its collection. But comparisons aside, the rotating exhibits offer interesting perspectives now and then, however this season the two leading exhibits left some to be desired. Art is so subjective it is difficult to decide how tourists will feel about this gallery.
Thrill factor: The Art Gallery is probably the last place one would go if they were looking for a thrill, but some exhibits are worth visiting just on the ‘cool’ factor alone. The Douglas Coupland show in 2014 comes to mind.
Food & drink: Known to few, the Art Gallery Café is a hidden gem in Downtown. Serving up seriously delicious sandwiches, salads and an amazing selection of desserts and pastries, the Café is the type someone could lounge in for hours. The classy atmosphere is complimented by classical music coming through the speakers, delicate décor and a flat-out gorgeous patio covered in potted plants and comfy seating. The Café is also licensed, so it’s a nice spot to enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate your surroundings.
Transportation: Located right in the middle of Downtown, the Art Gallery can be reached by just about every direction. For those staying nearby, walking is probably the easiest way to get there. Otherwise, the location is sandwiched between the Canada Line and the SkyTrain and sits right on all the Georgia Street bus lines.
Crowds: Like to look at that art real close up? So does everybody else. Even with small crowds, getting a good glimpse at a painting may take some shuffling around, but it can be done. Tuesday evenings feature by-donation admission, so crowds at that time are at their highest.
Cost: $37.95 for adults, $24.95 for youth, $12 for child age 6 to 12, free for child under 6
Unique to Vancouver: While the Suspension Bridge does offer some pretty cool views of some pretty tall trees, you don’t need to pay almost $40 a person to see these in Vancouver. A short drive up the hill from the park to the Cleveland Dam will take you into Capilano Canyon by foot for hours of easy to difficult trails among some of the West Coast’s most majestic sky scrapers. If it’s the bridge experience you’re after, the Suspension Bridge is the longest in the area at 450 ft., and the park also includes the new CLIFFWALK and Treetops Adventure for even more views. For a smaller thrill, however, you can find another free suspension bridge about 15 minutes away at Lynn Canyon park.
Thrill factor: For those afraid of heights, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is sure to give a thrill, but only for the few minutes it takes to cross the bridge. The rest of the park is more of a serene meander through a lightly landscaped forest. Maybe it’s because we’ve crossed the bridge several times, but we don’t quite understand how so many people find it scary…
Food & drink: The park features two casual food and drink outlets, Loggers’ Grill and Capilano Coffee Company, that offer basic but locally inspired grab-and-go snacks and meals.
Transportation: Free shuttle service from Downtown Vancouver or access through 247 bus. Pay parking available.
Crowds: The Suspension Bridge can get very busy in the summer during prime hours, so you might spend a little more time in line ups than one might expect for a woodsy adventure. But don’t worry, the bridge can withstand the weight of about 1,300 people.
Cost: $25 for adults, $21 for seniors and students with id, $21 for youth, $17.75 for child age 3 to 12, free for child under 3
Unique to Vancouver: Science World is a fun adventure, especially for children, but it’s not one of the most iconic Vancouver experiences a visitor should have. While the landmark itself is one for postcards, the attraction does not offer too much that other cities in the world don’t already have. A few things Science World has going for it are unique touring exhibitions (this time it was the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit) that bring world-renowned shows to the city. It’s also a great destination to take the kids to on a rainy day. They could literally spend hours playing and learning with Science World’s many toys and tools.
Thrill factor: For young children, or the young at heart, Science World is a special outing that frankly offers some pretty amazing science. The IMAX shows inside the building’s giant dome are also an exciting way to experience some immersive films about nature. It may not get someone’s heart racing, but the attraction should illicit many “woah!” sounds.
Food & drink: White Spot’s Triple O’s chain holds the mainstay food and drink hub at Science World, offering diner style burgers, fries and milkshakes at prices much higher than your typical fast food. But anyone who has ever eaten at Triple O’s knows their hamburgers have McDonalds’ beat by a landslide. This location also has healthy options like wraps and salads. Elsewhere, there are several food and drink stands offering light fare like smoothies or snacks, but Triple O’s is really the only one worth mentioning.
Transportation: Science World is located just across the street from the Main Street SkyTrain station and conveniently, for pedestrians, right in the middle of the False Creek seawall. Pay parking is also available.
Crowds: We went in the evening (Science World is open this summer until 8 p.m. on Thursdays), so it was almost deserted, but crowds can build on the weekend or when school groups or camps visit. Get there early for the best experience.
Cost: $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors or youth, $14.95 for child 12 and under (a few dollars can be saved by purchasing online)
Unique to Vancouver: FlyOver Canada is not only unique to Vancouver, but one of few attractions of this kind in the world. For visitors who have been to Disneyland before, the ride is best comparable to Soaring Over California in the California Adventure Park. In total, there are only three attractions of this kind in the world, with a fourth in development at the Mall of America. The flying ride is only eight minutes long, however there is also a short pre-show film that screens prior to lift-off. An updated film will be released in 2017.
Thrill factor: For the first-timer, FlyOver can be moderately thrilling due to the movement of the ride and the odd spray of water in the face. Some more dramatic flying and better video quality (the film didn’t appear HD) could boost the experience to new heights. It also feels quite short for the price of admission.
Food & drink: There are some light snacks and drinks, like chocolate bars, ice cream and pop, available at the ticket desk. Otherwise, more food can be found around the Downtown area.
Transportation: Because Canada Place is so centrally located, transportation options to FlyOver are pretty much endless. Take any bus, Seabus, SkyTrain or Canada Line to Waterfront Station and walk westward. Turn right on Howe Street and follow the curve to the street end of Canada Place. Walk about 400m to the FlyOver entrance. Pay parking is also available, but rates are steep in this area.
Crowds: The ride operates anywhere from 30 to 60 times a day in order to push through as many visitors as possible. In summer during prime hours, waits can be as long as one hour, however going in the evening or on a weekday proves less busy. We went on a Thursday afternoon and walked right on.
Cost: $34 for adults, $25 for seniors, youths and students, $20 for child age 4 to 12, free for child under 3
Unique to Vancouver: With the rise in education around animals in captivity, Vancouver Aquarium is one of few aquariums in the world to be a marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation centre on top of entertaining guests. Guests can learn quite a bit about local sea life and wider pacific, arctic and tropical ocean environments from around the world. Highlights for many are the two beluga whales, sea lions, penguins and YouTube-famous sea otters, as well as an impressive Amazon exhibit featuring a sloth.
Thrill factor: While not exactly thrilling, the Aquarium does offer some small doses of excitement, especially in the form of its 4D movies. The films feature stunning 3D visuals, along with smells, sprays and the odd poke in the back of the seat.
Food & drink: The new Waterfall Café is the leading food and beverage stop at the Aquarium and can be accessed both from inside and outside the building. The menu is pretty diverse and includes basics like burgers and hot dogs as well as fresh salads, fish and chips, ice cream cones and wraps. For grown-ups, beer and wine can also be found.
Transportation: The Aquarium can be reached by public transit by taking the #19 into Stanley Park, by walking or cycling, or by vehicle. For those staying in Downtown, the walk along the seawall to get to the Aquarium should be part of the experience.
Crowds: Depending on the time and day, crowds can be a bit of a nuisance when trying to get a good look at some of the species. It is a popular spot for young families, so strollers and toddlers can often get under foot. Go a few hours before closing or right when it opens for the best experience.
Cost: (for the Peak Experience) $47.95 for adults, $38.95 for seniors, $28.95 for youth, $14.95 for child age 5 to 12, free for child under 5
Unique to Vancouver: Grouse has the advantage of being the only mountain resort with dozens of activities geared toward summer visitors, so it’s a must-visit location for those wanting easy access to our beautiful alpine environment. The SkyRide gondola is a stand-out addition to the mountain and something no other hills in the area have. At the top, one can visit grizzly bears, travel up the Peak chairlift, go on numerous hikes, watch a lumberjack show, zipline, visit the top of a wind turbine and more. Easily an entire day can be spent up the mountain. It’s also one of few mountains in the world located in a metropolitan area that provides such unparalleled access to natural adventures.
Thrill factor: Grouse Mountain has several options for those looking for a little adrenaline. First off, the SkyRide gondola offers a little sample of excitement as it travels up the mountain at high speeds. At the top, getting a glimpse of one or more of the grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola, is a one in a lifetime chance, and the zipline (extra cost) that runs over their enclosure at 80 km/hr offers even further excitement. For those really looking to get the heart going, visitors can literally fly off the mountain on a paraglider and land on a field down below. For those willing to dole out even more cash, there are also 15 or 20 minute helicopter tours around the mountains.
Food & drink: Dining options up Grouse are plentiful and include some fine dining and other casual options. The Altitudes Bistro has perhaps the best patio in the city to enjoy a cold one while ogling at the city skyline and ocean down below. Lupins Café serves up cafeteria-style food and the Observatory is a five star restaurant perfect for a romantic evening above the city lights. Another must? Indulge on a sweet Beaver Tail located near the Lumberjack area.
Transportation: Located in North Vancouver, one might think Grouse Mountain is out of the way from downtown, but getting to the base of the mountain is very easy. A free shuttle goes from downtown to the SkyRide and back multiple times per day all summer. Public transit can also take you there by taking the #247 bus from downtown or the #236 from the Lonsdale Quay Seabus terminal. If driving, parking is at a fee.
Crowds: Grouse is Vancouver’s most visited tourist destination, meaning it can get crowded at times. Prepare to wait in lineups to go up and down the SkyRide and for many activities at the top of the mountain.
Unique to Vancouver: Granville Island is a shopping destination unique to Vancouver due to its abundance of artisan, locally-made and hand-crafted products and foods. It is also an arts and culture hub with numerous theatres, galleries and artist shops. The Public Market offers a wide selection of delicious food, including fresh produce, ready-made meals, meats, fish and more. Many water sports can also be arranged from Granville Island, such as boat rentals, paddle boarding and kayaking. Visitors can wander around the “island” and spend hours popping in and out of shops. For dinner, Bridges or Sandbar have great patios and some quality food.
Thrill factor: Granville Island isn’t a place to be thrilled, but it does have a few perks that may excite the adventurous. Try paddle boarding or kayaking at one of the attraction’s rental shops, and if more exploration is in order, a boat rental can take visitors out to Burrard Inlet and around the coast.
Food & drink: Granville Island receives top marks for food and drink as it is one of Vancouver’s premiere destinations for picking up fresh and gourmet ingredients and products. Visitors might notice there aren’t any Starbucks or Tim Hortons here; established chains aren’t too welcome at Granville Island, a place that prides itself on the artisan quality of the available food. Edible Canada is a hot spot for locally-sourced meals, and for a fresh pot of mussels, Sandbar is the place to eat. If visiting in the afternoon or morning, grab a coffee at J.J. Bean and one of the many delicious pastries on hand and head out to the docks.
Transportation: The location is centrally located, but is not the most accessible place to reach on this list. Visitors can take public transit on the #50 from Waterfront Station to West 2nd Avenue and Anderson Street and walk into Granville Island, or hop on a ferry boat from North False Creek to cross the water. This is one of few places in the city where parking is free for a few hours.
Crowds: Because Granville Island is popular with locals, it is busy year round and especially in the summer when the tourists come to visit. Mind the crowds and be patient, especially when inside the Public Market. Peace and quiet can always be found on a dock nearby.
Cost: $37.95 for adults, $35.95 for seniors, $23.95 for youth, $13.95 for child age six to 12, free for child under five. $95.95 for two adults and two child/youth tickets. (about $4 per ticket can be saved by purchasing online)
Unique to Vancouver: While not technically in Vancouver, the one hour drive to Squamish to see the Sea to Sky Gondola is definitely worth the distance, especially if a trip to Whistler is out of the question. The eight-minute gondola ride takes visitors to the top of The Chief mountain where views are incredible from literally every angle. Once at the summit, there are networks of trails for hiking, backcountry access, a suspension bridge and the brand-new Via Ferrata route, an engineered vertical adventure, assisted by metal rungs and a specialized cable system (which we are dying to try). For afterwards, guests can sit on the stunning patio with a cold beer and a meal.
Thrill factor: Hiking up the mountain is probably the best thrill available at this attraction, and there are plenty of trails to discover. Mount Habrich Climbers Trail, Goat Ridge, Skypilot Mountaineer’s Route and Copilot Mountaineer’s Route are all backcountry trails that start and finish at the top of the gondola ride. Other less advanced trails around the summit are also great ways to taste the alpine experience and get the blood flowing. For some extra money, the Via Ferrata looks like a fun way to test someone’s fear of heights.
Food & drink: Food and drink options up the mountain are surprisingly good. First of all, there is a licensed bar and a massive patio overlooking Howe Sound to enjoy a drink (or two). The cafeteria-style restaurant is open for morning and afternoon service and converts into table service for dinners on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. The dinner menu is comparable to a fine dining restaurant with items such as braised lamb shank, Cajun crusted salmon and seafood paella.
Transportation: The Sea to Sky Gondola’s only downfall is transportation. Located on Highway 99 just before Squamish, it takes about an hour to drive from Vancouver. There is no public transit available from the city. The attraction does offer a free shuttle service, but it is steeply priced between $49 and $69 per person. Renting a vehicle in the city is probably the cheapest way to get there if a car isn’t already available. It should also be noted that the entire experience is wheelchair friendly.
Crowds: Because of its gaining popularity among tourists and locals, the Sea to Sky Gondola does get a little crowded at the top, especially due to the many hikers that climb their way up from the base. We went at opening time on a Saturday morning and there was no wait to grab a gondola up the hill.
Unique to Vancouver: Because Stanley Park holds the title as one of the world’s best city parks, its uniqueness to Vancouver is not overrated. With 500,000 trees, an expansive seawall, stunning views, beaches, trails and entertainment, Stanley Park is the best bet for visitors wanting a taste of Vancouver’s beauty. There is nowhere else in the city one could go to enjoy a day at the beach, play a round of golf, catch an evening musical and take a 6 km walk by the water all in one day.
Thrill factor: For someone looking for an exciting thrill, Stanley Park may not be the best place to go. Most of the activities around the park are geared toward a tranquil experience, but that’s not to say they’re not fun. For some out-of-towners, riding a bike along the seawall might just provide that little bit of adrenaline they need.
Food & drink: There are a total of five restaurants in Stanley Park ranging from casual to fine-dining, and a selection of grab-and-go concession stands. The Fish House and the Tea House are Vancouver favourites for more formal eating and the Stanley Park Pavilion is a great place to sit down for a casual lunch before hitting the nearby Rose Garden.
Transportation: Stanley Park is easy to access by the #19 bus, however the bus only stops at one location in the park, leaving a lot of the park out of range for some. Walking into the park is also easy from the Coal Harbour or English Bay sides, and driving in can also provide a scenic route around the Park Drive. Once inside, the Stanley Park Shuttle tours visitors around 15 of the park’s most popular stops, for a fee.
Crowds: Because the park is so big, crowds aren’t often a huge issue here, unless a bike ride around the seawall is in the itinerary. The pathway can get crowded during prime hours, especially with a lot of people who, shall we say, aren’t so skilled on two wheels.