Things to do in Vancouver

I’ve been asked to provide a list of things to do in Vancouver, for the benefit of people visiting. For the critical reason that it is not statistics, I am going to do so now.

The first area to address is the ‘classic touristy stuff’ category. Included within it are both things worth seeing and things better avoided. I would definitely suggest going up Grouse Mountain but, if at all possible, I highly recommend doing so by climbing either the Grouse Grind or the Baden Powell Trail. Both would provide a much more authentic Western Canadian experience. Both are fairly energy intensive trails, but nothing that a young and fit person wouldn’t be able to deal with. A less strenuous option in the same area is to walk up or down Capilano Canyon, either from or to Cleveland Dam.

Also in North Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. My advice: skip it. It’s one of those ‘drive a whole tour bus full of (probably German or Japanese) tourists with digital cameras and expose them to actors in period clothing’ kind of places. If you want to see a suspension bridge, I recommend the one in Lynn Canyon. It’s free and there are a number of nice hikes there. You can walk around Rice Lake (very easy), up to Lynn Headwaters (still easy, but longer), up to Norvan Falls (more of a challenge), or all the way up Hanes Valley, up Crown Pass, and then down Grouse Mountain (a serious day-long trek, with an interesting but difficult to navigate boulder field segment).

Among more urban attractions I would recommend: Granville Island, a kind of cultural conglomeration under the Granville Street Bridge, built on former industrial land. It features a number of good theatres, such as the Arts Club. Check what’s playing. Also located there: a number of good markets and restaurants. A good place for souvenir shopping.

Downtown is worth a bit of a wander, but I would avoid Granville Street. Instead, walk westward along Robson Street towards English Bay. That route passes some of my favourite restaurants in the city. Tropika, not far past the provincial courthouse, is an excellent Thai/Malaysian restaurant which is ideal for going to with a group. Farther along, Hapa Izakaya is one of Vancouver’s funkiest contemporary places, serving modern Japanese food in a unique atmosphere. Farther still, where Robson meets Denman, you will find Kintaro – an authentic Asian noodle house popular with the business crowd, Wild Garlic, a fun little bistro with good drink specials, and Tapas Tree, a safe option for non-adventurous diners that still offers some interesting menu items.

Once you get to Denman, walk southwards along it, possibly stopping for gelato at one of many places nearby or for a coffee at the Delany’s there. Alternatively, ask someone to direct you to the nearby liquor store and watch the sun set while sitting against a log in English bay with a bottle of two of the excellent local Granville Island Breweries beers. I recommend their amber ale and the winter ale, if it’s in season.

North and east of the central area of downtown, you find Gastown, which is probably worth a bit of a look as well. It’s right beside some of the dodgiest areas not only in Vancouver, but in any city I’ve visited, so watch out. The waterfront between the Pan-Pacific Hotel and Coal Harbour (next to Stanley Park) is also a nice walk. For something longer, you can extend it all the way around the sea wall, under the Lions Gate Bridge, and then back around into English Bay. A bit less ambitiously, you can cross the causeway leading to the bridge, walk around one side of Lost Lagoon, and reach English Bay along one of a number of nice paths.

Personally, I would recommend visiting the campus of the University of British Columbia. If you do, don’t miss the fantastic view from the escarpment near Place Vanier (ask some students how to get there). Consider walking down the wooden steps to Wreck Beach: Vancouver’s nude beach and an attractive place to visit any time of year. If you carry on northwards, along the beach, you will pass two spotlight towers installed during the second world war in case of Japanese invasion. Farther still are Jericho and Spanish Banks: really nice beaches to visit in the summer to swim, windsurf, or have a bonfire.

Another nice expedition is to catch the Seabus from its downtown terminal at the base of Seymour Street across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver. It only costs $2 or so and it gives you a nice view of the harbour. The other terminus is at Lonsdale Quay: worth a bit of a look for its own sake. A few blocks up Lonsdale Avenue, you will find Honjin: one of many cheap and excellent sushi restaurants in Vancouver.

If you want to eat on the cheap, the 99 cent pizza downtown can’t be beaten. Avoid Love at First Bite on Granville. Instead, go to either AM or FM classic (on Smithe and Seymour, respectively) or to my favourite, which is located across Seymour Street from A&B sound, near the 7-11.

Another area worth visiting is Commercial Drive. Either catch the 99 bus down Broadway or one of several buses or the Skytrain from downtown. This street features a number of art galleries, fun cafes, and a nice bohemian atmosphere. It is to Vancouver what SoHo is to New York or what Kensington Market is to Toronto.

There are lots of good theatres in Vancouver: the Orpheum downtown, the Stanley out near Broadway, the Firehall theatre near gastown, and the Chan Centre and Freddy Wood theatres on campus at UBC. Grab a copy of The Georgia Strait to see what is happening, in terms of music and live theatre. It’s free and includes the excellent column “Savage Love.” Look for it in boxes around the downtown area.

Dance clubs really don’t interest me, but the ones people seem to go to are mostly on the northern bit of Granville Street, before you reach the bridge. I would recommend The Cellar (the jazz club on Broadway, not the sleazy dance club on Granville) for some live music and a nice atmosphere.

This is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but it should be enough to get started. Vancouver is a really wonderful city: beautiful, easy to get around in by public transit, and large enough to have a good level of culture. While it can definitely get extremely rainy at times, if you find yourself with some nice weather, I strongly recommend one of the walks or hikes I mentioned above, or something else of your own devising outside.

Good day or weekend trips from Vancouver include Whistler, for skiing or snowboarding as well as general mountain exposure, or Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

22 thoughts on “Things to do in Vancouver”

  1. This entry could really do with some photos, maps, and stuff. I guess your knowledge about and passion for the city would make you a pretty good person to write a guidebook: if yet another one is required.

  2. Very true. Uncle Fatih’s (right near the Commercial Skytrain Station) is definitely one of the best pizza places in the city.

  3. How about shopping at MEC for the obligatory gore-tex jacket (25 days of rain and counting) followed by an exotic lunch at the Mongolie Grill or the Naam?

  4. Excellent suggestions also.

    There is a near infinite supply of very cool stuff at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op on Broadway: the best outdoor store I can think of). Their own branded items (jackets, sleeping bags, tents, and much else are particularly good value.

    The Naam is a unique 24-hour all vegetarian restaurant in Kitsilano, well worth a look. Vegetarians might also like Yogi’s on Commercial Drive: a really tasty vegetarian Indian restaurant.

    Vancouver is such a great city.

  5. Well I just got home from work and took off my two MEC jackets and put away my MEC shoulder bag (the one that EVERYONE has). I then promptly changed into some fleece pants (also MEC) because it’s damp and dreary here.

    Additional notes about vancouver:

    ~The aquarium and science world are sort of fun, but not really anything incredibly unique.
    ~I haven’t been to storyeum, and it’s probably quite expensive, but it seems as though it could be interesting.
    ~If something interesting is on or you’re interested in emily carr, you could check out the art gallery, but again, i don’t thik it’s all that unique.
    ~The Museum of Anthropology (on UBC campus) is quite neat though. It think it’s one of the only museums around that has visible storage. Lots of west coast native artifacts and other stuff from around the world.
    ~Thundering Word Heard at Café Montmartre, 4362 Main St. Vancouver, (@ Main & 28th) is a weekly spoken word/slam-poetry/music/open mic night every Sunday. It’s free (a hat is passed) and a lot of fun. Open Mic Artists SIGN UP @ 7:30PM – show at 8:30PM (but get there by 8 if you want to sit).
    ~Various night-time happenings at Cafe Deux Soleil on commercial (not Cafe du Soleil, also on commercial). I wouldn’t really go there for the food/service, but they always have interesting stuff happening at night.
    ~One thing that might possibly make going to the capilano suspension bridge worthwhile is the new treetops adventure. I haven’t been but I hear it’s neat. (If you know someone who lives in the area try and find out if they have a free pass laying around, my family always seems to.) But as far as suspension bridges, the Lynn Valley one is definately scarier/wobbilier even though it’s shorter/lower.
    ~Personally I think grouse mountain is overrated. The only thing worthwhile is the view, and of course hiking if you’d like. But hey, if you wanna hike, hike up instead of paying for the lift.

    ~The foundation, main @7th, vancouver (great atmosphere, interesting food)
    ~Yogi’s (commercial drive)
    ~Deserts (the commercial drive location is the best. It’s super cheap, and very delicious!)
    ~Annapurna, 4th @ Burrard (yummy veggie indian food, small neighbourhood restaurant.)
    ~The Naam (I disagree with others on this one. the only thing that appeals to me about this place are the hours. The food is ok, the service is usually really slow, and there’s often a line. That said it’s not bad, and it’s an awesome throwback to kitsilano’s hippy past.)

    ~Indian Oven (Kitsilano)
    ~Palki’s (North Van)
    ~Mumbai Masala (North Van)

    ~Nobu, in edgemont village, north vancouver. (they make the BEST yam rolls, and Ed and Julia are super nice.)
    ~Krua Thai, Lonsdale between 14th and 15th, North Van. (a little place, super delicious.)
    ~DV8, Davie @ Richards – downtown (It is closed because of a fire, but I’m PRAYING it will reopen, and not go the way of the Buddist Vegetarian.)
    ~Hell’s Kitchen, 4th between maple and arbutus – Kits (really good food, nice atmosphere)
    ~For fast food good alternatives to pizza are falafels/gyros/donairs. I recommend Falafel House on Granville, Falafel King on Denman, and George’s Souvlaki in lonsdale quay market (north van, by seabus station).
    ~For gelato I recomend Mondo Gelato on Denman (if you are there in the summer there will be a line going down the street, even at night, but it’s REALLY good! They have the best soy gelato of anywhere I’ve tried.), La Casa Gelato near Commercial Drive (mostly because they have 488+ flavours!!!!) and Brazza Gelato on lonsdale if you’re on the north shore. If you can visit only one, make it Mondo Gelato.

    There’s LOADs of stuff I’ve forgotten, but I’ll echo Milan in saying that you should pick up a copy of the Georgia Straight. It has lot’s of listings of restaurants, activities, concerts, etc. and it’s quirky and free. Plus Mike Kushnir once had a complaint letter published on the first page.

  6. This post and the subsequent comments are really excellent. I’ll definitely refer to it as the spring break trip I’m planning to Vancouver becomes more definitely planned.

  7. Okay, I’m going to have to supplement the East-Van content here.
    Around the Drive:
    -Just east of Commercial drive, starting at 14th Avenue, is Trout Lake, which is not only the favorite east side picnic spot, complete with ducklings in the right season, but also hosts three festivals that are must-sees if you’re in Vancouver at the right time.
    1. The Parade of Lost Souls – previously held at another spot in the neighbourhood, next year will see the parade resume at Trout Lake. Complete with creepy visuals, throngs of people in costume, music, drumming, fire dancers, and stilt walkers, this is held on the Saturday nearest Halloween (again, check the Georgia Straight, or just about any telephone pole, for details).
    2. Illuminares, held on the closest Saturday to the summer solstice, is a spectacular lantern festival. Huge lantern displays are set up around the lake, alongside fire dancers, dancer-dancers, usually a bonfire of some sort, and of course, people everywhere glowing with the light of their own lanterns. Bring some light with you – a candle lantern, even glow stick and see the sights.
    Note: both of these festivals are very well attended, and occur at night.
    3. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – usually right around May 1st. You know the story of Alice in Wonderland, well, this is the tea party you always wanted to attend. Costumes encouraged. Bring your friends and your picnic and join in.
    All three of these festivals are put on by the Public Dreams Society and really any event or party I’ve been to with their name on it has been impressive.

    On the Drive:
    – Sweet Cherubim’s (around Commercial and Napier) for some of the best chai in the city
    – Grandview park if you want to join in a hackey-sack circle, drum circle, or both (Commercial and Williams)
    – Santa Barbara (Commercial and Kitchener, and especially it’s extensive and affordable deli) for all your picnic supplies
    – Cafe Deux Soleils (Commercial and 5th) for vegetarian brunch, and for Reggae Night on Wednesday and the Vancouver Poetry Slam every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday (a must-see!!)
    – Cafe Calabria (Commercial and 2nd) because this neighbourhood is little Italy, and this is the best authentic Italian cappuccino and cookie combination, with the most interesting interior (I recommend the macaroons)
    – The Latin Quarter (Commercial and Charles) is a great, though not cheap, dinner spot, featuring the best cerviche I’ve ever had here or abroad, and great music.
    – Havana (Commercial and Parker) has great food (especially, for some reason, their soup specials) but above and beyond food, it serves amazing Cuban-style sangria which is best consumed on their patio with one of the tasty cigars they also sell. They also have a great theatre/gallery space in the back that is certainly worth a look.
    – If you’re into comedy, El Cocal (Commercial and Napier) will only charge you $2 for Wednesday night comedy (the night does shift periodically, so check that trusty Georgia Straight) hosted by Graham Clark. Not g-rated, but hilarious and in a cozy spot, so you can’t help but get drawn in.
    – My personal neighbourhood musical plug goes to the CR Avery Band, who often play at Café Deux Soleils (see above), Rime (around Parker…) and the Wise Hall (Adanac, just East of Commercial). Great dancing music, and lyrically fascinating thanks to the Band’s eponymous poet-front man, who is something of a local legend and well worth going to see.
    – While we’re talking Little Italy, let’s talk gelato – La Casa Gelato has something like a trillion flavours, from Pear Gorgonzola, to Maple, Garlic, and a killer selection of classic flavours and sorbetos. The biggest flavour selection in the city (possibly the world) and they encourage you to sample away. If you follow Venables West of Commercial, to just past Clark Drive, you can’t miss the big pink palace on the North side of the street. If the weather is nice, take your ice cream a bit further west along Venables and eat it while wandering through the Strathcona community gardens, which occupy the Southern half of Strathcona Park and are amazing.
    – Once you’re in Strathcona, you’re practically already in Chinatown, where fresh steamed buns pile up in bakery windows, BBQ pork is sold bulk for super cheap, fresh and exotic produce (have you ever tried dragon fruit?) spill out of store fronts, and by the time you’re stuffed and exhausted, you’ve likely found one of the gates to the Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen gardens, which are a tranquil bit of paradise. Also, lots of beautiful Chinese art and jewelry is available in this neighbourhood, for really reasonable prices.

    Okay, I could go on forever. I’ll quit here. You get the point.

  8. another trout lake related item. On sunday and wednesday nights people go and spin fire by the lake. It’s at the end of the lake backing on to 13th(?). It starts when it’s dark enough, although 8-9pm is a pretty safe bet, and goes til people leave/the cops come/11ish. How many people are there depends mostly on the weather. I’ve been when there were four people and I’ve been when there were thirty or more. Very casual and very fun.

  9. Milan

    Very good suggestions which I will keep for when people visit.

    I would also recommend visitng in the summer because so much of what Vancouver has to offer is outside. In the summer the weather is much better the days much longer. The winter days can be short and wet.

    Other possible ways to get around is by bike (many rental places) esp along the waterfronts or the water taxis or even kayaks in False Creek.

    I would also add the beaches to your list, (English Bay as the more public and Spnish Banks for its length.]

    Looking forward to when we share a slice of pizza at your favourite place.


  10. It’s always nice to see a new commenter, especially in such a constructive post.

    The water taxis are definitely a good idea. You can take them from Granville Island to the waterfront near the Aquatic Centre, which has some excellent high diving boards (though I know some people prefer the outdoor pool at Kitsilano).

    I don’t know when that slice of pizza will be, but I look forward to it as well.

  11. Excellent suggestions. But the 99 cent pizza? Shudder!! You don’t want to know where the cheese comes from!

  12. It amuses me that someone found this page by searching for:

    “Pictures of Lonsdale Quay, B.C. to copy”

  13. Getting around Vancouver became easier and more interesting this week. The Canada Line was opened this week and is now running. It is the third line of the Skytrain rapid transit system. It connects Vancouver to the southern suburb of Richmond and the Airport as well as running though a north south corridor of Vancouver. It cost $2.050 billion and was completed before scheduled and under budget. It is expected to have over 300,000 riders a day by 2013. Another landmark for people to see Vancouver and a wonderful way to enter the city from the airport for visitors. Enjoy.

  14. The Skytrain is definitely something I miss about Vancouver. Unlike buses, it didn’t lurch in traffic. Also, the above-ground portions offer quite a nice view. It was pleasant and relaxing to ride it from Granville Station all the way to the end of the line and back.

  15. Another recent addition is the Grouse Mountain wind turbine with a viewing platform from the Peak of the Mountain and above.

    I recommend that that outdoor enthusiasts to get to the top of Grouse Mountain take either the BCMC trail or the Grouse Grind which is a steep trail with about 800 meters elevation gain in an hour plus or minus of a hike. The Grind is closed in the winter.

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