Looking for unique things to do in Vancouver, British Columbia?
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Coast Mountains, Vancouver is sassy, sophisticated and outdoorsy.
Consistently recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities, Vancouver is home to 2 million people who enjoy a mild climate, inspiring scenery, thriving entrepreneurial scene (from craft breweries, tech startups to everything in between) and some of the best Asian inspired cuisine on the continent.
There are plenty of unique things to do in Vancouver: diverse shopping and neighbourhoods, award-winning multicultural cuisine, outdoor adventure and an exciting, constantly refreshed roster of arts, culture, festival and performances.
There’s no doubt after you’ve adventured through YVR for the first time you’ll be chirping to your friends back home, “The West Coast really is the Best Coast!”
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Unique Things To Do in Vancouver On A Weekend
I’ve always loved Vancouver.
It was one of the first destinations I visited as a kid outside of my native Ontario. My parents packed us in a rental car and drove us from Edmonton, Alberta (where I was originally born) all the way to British Columbia’s capital Victoria, on Vancouver Island.
Locals in Vancouver are such a delight. The city is full of Lululemon yoga enthusiasts, craft brewers who hike mountains in their off hours, inspiring sushi restaurants that make even the snobbiest Japanese tourists lick their lips, one of my favourite farmers markets in all of Canada and a treasure trove of luxuries.
It’s a city perfect for those who like to tackle it all when on holiday. Spend your morning strolling through moss adorned forests, skip through the afternoon on a sud-sloshed beer tour and in the eve giggle with glee via world class improv comedy revelry.
Plan a weekend getaway and you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of cool things to do in Vancouver!
1128 W Georgia St, 604-689-1120
Sunlight filters in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, warming the latte tones and golden hues around you. Basking in complete ease, you contemplate your day ahead from the cozy comfort of your room at Shangri-La Vancouver.
Experience the legendary hospitality of the Shangri-La hotel brand at this 119-room luxury hotel situated in the heart of downtown Vancouver. The luxurious hotel occupies the first 15 floors of the city’s tallest building, and features suites decorated in contemporary Asian style, many with views of the mountains and water.
On my last visit to Vancouver I popped by “the Shang,” for a lovely lunch at the hotel’s signature restaurant Market by Jean-Georges. This time around I was delighted to tuck in at one of the city’s poshest pads. All accommodations are decorated in a contemporary yet luxurious style with distinct Asian touches.
Warm tones reminiscent of freshly frothed cream are enriched by golden hues and offset by darker wood panelling and sleek B&B Italian furniture. Floor to ceiling windows provide ample natural light, especially in that jaw dropping white marbled lined bathroom.
Rest and Relax at Chi Spa
1128 W Georgia St, 604-695-2447
If you find yourself suffering from jet lag make sure to book a spa treatment immediately after check-in to ease yourself into that relaxed West Coast sensibility.
CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La draws inspiration from the origins of Shangri-La legend, which describes a place of personal peace, enchantment and well-being. CHI, The Spa is a sanctuary where holistic treatments that are based on time-honoured methods shared by many Asian cultures are practiced.
It made its North American debut at Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver in 2009, offering a “spa within a spa” environment for guests looking to indulge in a bit of rest and relaxation. Each suite comes with its own fireplace, private bath, shower, relaxation lounge, change room and vanity.
The CHI for Men menu offers a handful of treatments tailor-made for the modern man. I spent an hour indulging in the Executive Facial which uses a product line specifically formulated for male skin needs.
Active ingredients such as Liquorice Root Extract help diminish signs of redness, irritation and stressed by shaving; Gingko Biloba aids in protecting the skin from environmental stressors; and avocado and macadamia nut oils help condition, leaving the skin silky smooth.
Unique Things To Do In Vancouver: Restaurant Hopping
Vancouver is famous for its cool Pacific West Coast cuisine, which features local and seasonal ingredients with a strong focus on fresh seafood such as wild caught salmon, dungeness crab, and spot prawns.
If you’re a foodie looking for unique things to do in Vancouver be sure to order some of the region’s most iconic culinary inventions. Did you know Japadog, Nanaimo Bars, California Sushi Rolls, the Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet concept and egg cartons were all invited in British Columbia?
Here are some of our favourite Vancouver restaurants:
- Notch 8 Restaurant at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
- Hawksworth Restaurant
- Maenam Thai Restaurant
- Minami Japanese Restaurant
- Sun Sui Wah Chinese Restaurant
- Chambar Restaurant
- L’Abattoir Restaurant
- Black + Blue Steakhouse
1689 Johnston St, 604-666-6655
If Granville Island is the king of Vancouver destinations, then the Public Market is the jewel in the Island’s crown. The island was historically used by the city’s captains of industry (factories and saw mills). Today visitors can enjoy a stroll through the islands past by noting an absence of curbs and sidewalks, a response to the need for unobstructed passage for trucks, trolleys and forklifts.
The city has embraced the old while celebrating the new, incorporating touches of the modern in one of Vancouver’s most historical hoods. The most photographed space on the island today is a colourful 21-metre outdoor mural, splashed across six Ocean Concrete silo’s by a duo of innovative Brazilian street artists, Os Gemeos, identical twin brothers from San Paolo.
Step in to the Granville Island Public Market and you’ll find a fascinating assortment of colourful stalls, showcasing unique homemade products and the very finest gastronomic delights. All fresh from the ocean, the oven or the field. Celebrating over 30 years of all things fresh straight from the farm, Granville Island Public Market is the most established and oldest of its kind in Vancouver.
I always insist that I stop at the market as soon as I zoom out of the airport. I first visited the market on my family road trip years ago and am still amazed how the experience has been imprinted into my memory. I gawked at pretty pastries, poked my finger at exotic Asian seafood and jaw dropped for the markets infamous berry pyramids, presented perfectly as if fruit could be an art of its own.
We suggest booking this fun Food Walking Tour of Granville Island Public Market.
1494 Old Bridge St, 604-558-1998
If you’re looking to quench your thirst in style pop by the Liberty Distillery to sip through a few craft cocktails.
Liberty Distillery was first established in 2010 with a mission to ferment and distill on site using 100% BC organic grains. The artisanal distilling team create small batches while avoiding the use of neutral grain spirits, additives, preservatives, artificial flavours or GMO’s.
When not in production, visitors are welcome onto the distillery floor where they can view Liberty’s beautiful copper stills, while a knowledgeable guide explains the processes involved in mashing, fermenting and distilling. Feel the milled grain run through your fingers, note the various stages of spirit production and enjoy a complimentary tasting at the conclusion of the tour.
Finish your visit by relaxing on a locally built bar stool from BC reclaimed timber at the Tasting Lounge which features an impressive 110 year old saloon bar which was reassembled after being purchased from a historic hotel in Philadelphia.
If you’re a gin connoisseur I’d suggest whetting your palate with their signature flight tasting or sip through thirst quenching The Encore (endeavour pink gin, raspberries, lavender bitters, lemon, simple, soda) or The Greenheart (endeavour gin, muddled cucumber, lemon, elderflower cordial).
1502 Duranleau St, 604-738-7013
If you’re looking for a late night laugh head back to Granville Island for post dinner drinks and live comedic gold at The Improv Centre.
Founded in 1980, The Improv Centre is Vancouver’s #1 improv comedy company and a well-respected international leader in the art form. Alumni include improv super-stars Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles from Whose Line Is It Anyway. Boasting six International Improv Comedy Awards and having starred in several television specials, The Improv Centre entertains more than 60,000 people per year!
Upon arrival pop up to the Neil Macrae Bar to select a few bevy’s to sip through the show. West Coast favourites include Vancouver’s own Granville Island Brewery’s Honey Lager and One Tree Hard Cider from Spokane Washington.
I arrived to the intimate theatre on a Wednesday night for “Off Leash,” when the ensemble ‘goes where no Improv actor has gone before’ to create daredevil performances of edgy, innovative comedy. What can you expect at Off Leash? Expect the unexpected with a lot of laughs. No two shows or formats are the same. The actors on stage are encouraged to run free with nothing to hold back their comedic creativity.
Fun Fact: book the 7:30pm show and pay only $6 to enjoy the next show.
6393 NW Marine Dr, 604-822-5087
Are you an arts and culture lover looking for unique things to do in Vancouver? If you’re keen to learn about the local history and culture of British Columbia’s indigenous peoples you’ll love strolling through the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver is renowned for its displays of world arts and cultures, in particular works by First Nations of the Pacific Northwest.
As well as being a major tourist destination, MOA is a research and teaching museum, where UBC courses in art, anthropology, archaeology, conservation, and museum studies are given. MOA houses close to 50,000 ethnographic objects, as well as 535,000 archaeological objects in its building alone.
After exploring the museums fabulous indigenous masks and colourful artifacts, stroll outside towards the back of the museum to stare up at fabulous totem poles. You can also take in a beautiful view of downtown Vancouver at the end of the walking path.
1895 Lower Mall, 604-822-6038
Nitobe Memorial Garden is located directly across from the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus so we suggest visiting them both on the same visit.
Nitobe Memorial Garden celebrates the memory of Dr. Inazō Nitobe, a remarkable Japanese figure whose goal was “to become a bridge across the Pacific.” Throughout his life, Dr. Nitobe strove to promote a better understanding of Japanese culture in the West at a time when Japan was inconceivably foreign in the minds of most Westerners.
The traditional Japanese garden offers an oasis in Vancouver for those looking to rest and relax within a natural setting. You’ll find an easy-to-walk footpath that meanders around a pretty pond, over a babbling brook and through gorgeous gardens.
There’s also an authentic tea house where you can enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It’s a cool thing to do in Vancouver on a hot or rainy day.
845 Avison Way, 778-655-9554
Looking for cool and unique things to do in Vancouver for kids and animal lovers?
The Vancouver Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Stanley Park. In addition to being a major tourist attraction for Vancouver, the aquarium is a centre for marine research, ocean literacy education, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation.
The Vancouver Aquarium was one of the first facilities in the world to incorporate professional naturalists into the galleries to interpret animal behaviours.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a great educational experience for kids, which offers a spotlight on local marine life and ecosystems. Beyond beautiful frogs, fish and snakes you’ll also find hilarious seals and playful otters.
We suggest booking this fun Private Vancouver Aquarium and Bloedel Conservatory Tour.
2198 W 4th Ave, 604-420-4901
Known colloquially as “Kits,” the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano is named after Squamish chief August Jack Khatsahlano. It is located on Vancouver’s West Side along the south shore of English Bay and in the summer is best known for its beach, popular with tan fans and those keen to dig their feet into the sand.
One of the city’s most popular cafe’s is located a short stroll from the shore. 49th Parallel Coffee is a popular haunt for local java junkies where foamy lattes and a selection of creative and quirky Lucky Doughnuts (highlights include apple bacon fritter, french cruller and chocolate hazelnut) offer a perfect pick me up.
Ideally situated on a peninsula at the northwestern edge of downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park is one of the city’s top tourist destinations, attracting over 8 million visitors each year.
Featuring lovely beaches, miles of well-maintained paved and dirt trails, Canada’s largest aquarium and jaw dropping rose garden, this 1,000 acre haven is recognized as one of the greatest urban parks in the world.
As Vancouver’s first park, with its ever-blooming gardens, pristine coastal areas and roughly 500,000 cedar, fir and hemlock trees, Stanley Park has continued to live up to its “green space” designation for almost 130 years.
Since Vancouver is well known for embracing the rain year round there’s no better way to see Stanley Park while keeping dry then by hopping on a Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tour. The one hour adventure allows guests to step aboard an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage to enjoy a fully narrated tour of the park.
Highlights include Deadman’s Island, Vancouver Harbour, Lions Gate Bridge, Totem Poles, S.S. Empress Japan Figurehead and the Rose Garden.
Cool Things To Do In Vancouver For Craft Beer Lovers
A record number of craft breweries are popping up on the west coast’s capital of cool, so much so that Vancouver is now the largest producer of craft beer in Canada.
Circa 1900, “Brewery Creek” was the moniker for a stretch of stream in what is today Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Centred on what’s now known as Main Street, the trickling water supply powered water wheels for nearby beer and soda producers. After decades of urban development, the stream closed and the consequent Prohibition years led to a shutdown of the breweries – until now.
Thanks to the city’s change in liquor laws, a new crop of breweries are popping up in Mount Pleasant and the area is reclaiming its rightful name, Brewery Creek. Each year Vancouver has surpassed the previous record of craft brewery openings.
By the end of 2016, if all anticipated openings go ahead as planned, there will be upwards of 130 breweries in British Columbia, proving once again that the West Coast is indeed the Best Coast.
I strapped on a pair of comfy walking shoes and enjoyed a sud-sloshed self guided tour of Vancouver’s revitalized historic brewery district. Plan your own adventure by reading my Vancouver Craft Beer Guide.
We suggest booking this fun Vancouver Craft Brewery Tour.
750 Hornby St, 604-662-4700
Housing a permanent collection of more than 10,000 artworks, the Vancouver Art Gallery continues to build on the collection’s historical and contemporary strengths through the acquisition of work by local and international artists.
One of the collection’s principal strengths is the abundance of works by artists of this region, a strength that reflects the Gallery’s commitment to preserve and present works by British Columbia’s finest artists. The gallery is a great place to wander downtown on a rainy day. Find inspiration in jaw dropping Pacific landscapes and indigenous totems while skipping through the special exhibit of the moment.
I was mesmerized by MashUp: The Birth of Modern Culture, an exhibit which took 3 years to produce via 30 curators who selected 371 artworks by 156 artists. Taking over all four floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the groundbreaking exhibition offers an international survey of mashup culture, documenting the emergence and evolution of a mode of creativity that has grown to become the dominant form of cultural production in the early 21st century. Highlights include Andy Warhol, Hito Steyerl, Keith Haring and Pablo Picasso.
639 Hornby St, 604-682-3455
If you’re in the mood to gallery hop you can easily jump across the street to wander through the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coastal Art. The museum is named after the acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid (1920-1998) who was a master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, broadcaster and spokesperson.
Gallery Highlights include Reid’s gold and silver jewelry, monumental sculptures in bronze and stone, indigenous fashions and a full-scale totem pole.
578 Carrall St, 604-662-3207
Step out of the busy city and into a relaxing urban oasis by journeying back to 15th century China. An inspiring stroll through Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden is a must when visiting Vancouver’s colourful Chinatown.
The garden was originally built in 1985 using the time honoured principles and techniques of the original Ming dynasty garden. Fifty-two master craftsmen from Suzhou China worked with Canadian counterparts to complete the landscape masterpiece within a year.
Ranked as the World’s Top City Garden by National Geographic, Vancouver’s most beloved garden features not to be missed highlights, which include a formal reception hall, Main Courtyard reflecting Daoist philosophy of ying and yang and Jade Water Pavilion prettied with beautiful lattice-framed windows and two wooden screens with patterns of plums, orchids, bamboo and chrysanthemums.
The Garden is characteristic of the private spaces within a Ming scholar’s residence. With its asymmetrical arrangement of rocks and plants, its winding paths and corridors, and the vistas that overlook its courtyards, the Garden emulates the rhythms of nature. Ming dynasty scholars, the elite of their time, lived and worked in their garden, sharing these enchanting spaces with friends and family of all ages. Like any home, a scholar’s garden was filled with energy, but also offered quiet moments for contemplation.
Established the same year that Canada became a nation, Gastown grew into Canada’s third largest city and one of its most cosmopolitan. Today Vancouver’s Gastown district retains its historic charm, independent spirit and distinctiveness while offering visitors a slew of boutique shops and eateries worth skipping through.
If you’re a handsome gent looking to refresh your style sensibility pop into Neighbour for lewks by Acne Studios, Comme des Garcons, Maison Balzac, Meo Fusciuni, Waka Waka and Y-3.
Down the street at Litchfield you’ll find a curious shop which reflects founder Jonathan Litchfield’s family aesthetic for living. The shop’s revolving collection features pieces built with quality and craftsmanship.
Highlights include Compartes Chocolate Bars, Adele Carbon Series Headphones, Aogami Folding Knife, Marshmallow Crossbow, Black Hasami Porcelain and a wild and wonderful collection of soaps, scents and stationary.
We suggest booking this fun Historic Walking Food Tour of Gastown.
999 Canada Pl #201, 1-855-463-4822
FlyOver Canada is one of our favourite attractions in Vancouver for families with kids and adults that have an adventurous streak!
FlyOver is a flying theater attraction. The first FlyOver attraction, FlyOver Canada, opened in 2013 at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver.
The ride takes guests on a virtual flight across Canada, utilizing ride equipment that launches up to 61 people at a time into a 62 foot diameter spherical screen and employs wind, mist, and scents to enhance the experience.
3735 Capilano Rd, 604-985-7474
Native Vancouverite Nancy Stibbard purchased Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in 1983 and spearheaded the attraction’s development and phenomenal success throughout the past 30 years.
The world-renowned bridge borrows its title from a First Nations name belonging to the Squamish Nation and was originally spelled Kia’palano, meaning “beautiful river”. Kia’palano was the name of a great Squamish chief who lived in this area in the early part of the 1800s. Overtime “Kia’palano” was anglicized into “Capilano”: a word that has become the namesake of the bridge and park as well as the river and surrounding area.
Originally built in 1889, Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River. Follow in the footsteps of the millions of visitors who have crossed the teetering bridge since 1889. Voices from Vancouver’s past mingle with the sounds of nature, beautiful gardens skirt time-worn British Columbia First Nations totem poles and Capilano Suspension Bridge takes you to the serenity of a West Coast rainforest.
Guests, and squirrels, will enjoy an even higher perspective of the West Coast rainforest at Treetops Adventure, a series of seven suspension bridges attached to eight 30 ton, 250 year old Douglas-firs, has been raised 10 feet to take guests up to 110 feet above the forest floor.
Built in 2004, the award winning Treetops Adventure was designed to accommodate the continuous growth of the trees. The viewing platforms are attached to an innovative tree collar system that is adjustable and moveable and has no nails or bolts penetrating into the Douglas-firs. It is unlike any canopy walk in the world. Over the past 10 years the trees have grown in circumference and it is time to loosen the collars and move them up. This means we will also be raising the platforms and bridges ten feet, creating an even more thrilling view.
The Cliffwalk is the newest of the activities at Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Opened on June 3, 2011, this heart-stopping cliffside journey takes you through rainforest vegetation on a series of unobtrusive cantilevered and suspended walkways jutting out from the granite cliff face above Capilano River to previously unexplored areas of the park. Not for the faint of heart, it is high and narrow and, in some sections, glass (very strong glass) is all that separates guests from the canyon far below.
Crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the most unique things to do in Vancouver and a must for nature lovers and families with kids.
6400 Nancy Greene Way, 604-980-9311
Looking for unique things to do in Vancouver for ski and snowboard fans?
If you don’t want to make the long trek to Whistler, Grouse Mountain is the closest alpine resort to downtown Vancouver. It’s located a short drive from Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver.
During the ski and snowboard season visitors can hop on the gondola and then enjoy a day of soft powder on slopes that offer beautiful views over downtown Vancouver and its bustling harbour.
Don’t fret can access Grouse Mountain year round! During the warmer months many athletes like to hike the Grouse Grind, a 2.5 km trail that is commonly referred to as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster by locals.
If you’re attempting the Grouse Grind prepare to sweat and get a serious workout. The trail to hike up is free and the views up top are well worth the effort. There’s a restaurant at the top beside the gondola where you can enjoy a hearty feast and cold beer with a view.
55 Dunlevy Ave, 604-566-9463
Vino fans visiting Vancouver who can’t find the time to adventure outside of the city for a rural wine country romp should beeline it to the Vancouver Urban Winery.
Vancouver’s boutique urban winery produces an exclusive 700 cases of wine per year under the Vancouver Urban Winery brand.
The tasting room boasts 36 wine taps where you can taste in house blends as well as a selection of top notch wines produced by other wineries all over British Columbia.
Plop yourself down on a cozy couch across from a vintage fireplace and sip through one of the sommelier’s favourite flights. Highlights from my slow sipping soiree include Vancouver Urban Winery’s Pinot Gris, Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse, Quail’s Gate Rose and Road 13 Honest John’s Red.
Hike Scenic Trails in Vancouver
Vancouver is well known for its obsession with health, wellness and fitness. The famous Lululemon athleisure brand calls Vancouver home so you get this very west coast “everyone just got home from yoga” vibe when walking through the city’s streets.
Serious hikers and those who enjoy spending a few hours exploring lakes, mountains and streams have endless options when it comes to hiking in Vancouver.
The city is full of scenic trails or you can drive to famous hiking spots like Quarry Rock in Deep Cove to get a truly magical panoramic view.
We suggest booking this fun Vancouver Biking and Hiking Tour. It includes lunch!
Does a vigorous hike sound exhausting to you? There are plenty of places to enjoy a gentle, low-impact stroll with beautiful views in downtown Vancouver.
Our favourite place to go for a scenic walk is along the seawall at False Creek South. The popular walking route takes you through a unique neighbourhood, which has served as the benchmark for the redevelopment of False Creek.
The area has a distinct and charming character, offering delightful views and fantastic recreation space. This walking route is 2.17 km or approximately 3,582 steps and travels along the seawall from the Cambie Street Bridge toward the Granville Street Bridge.
For many years the False Creek and Fairview Slopes neighbourhoods were covered by huge fir trees, and the Squamish Nation fished from the rugged shoreline. A shift came after 1887, when the CPR relocated its Pacific yards to the north side of the Creek. The forests were replaced by shipbuilding yards, sawmills, shingle mills, and various woodworking plants.
Today, traveling along the seawall to Granville Island you are sure to enjoy the amazing sights and witness the distinct character of this beautiful area.
Vancouver Gay Bars
As one of Canada’s most cosmopolitan cities it’s no wonder that Vancouver is known around the world for its vibrant and friendly gaybourhood. I’ll never forget attending my first Pride Parade in Vancouver way back in 2005, mesmerized by the city’s joyous support for the rainbow flag and its followers.
Whether you’re a drag queen lover or keen to go clubbing all night, Vancouver’s queer nightlife has a bit of something for everyone.
Local gay icon Nicola Peragine suggests a visit to 1181 for a chic evening out. “The Junction is probably the best for drag shows, as well as Numbers. Pumpjack is a daddy bar that has fun dancing on weekends. Fountainhead is the best bet if you’re looking for a casual pub vibe,” said Peragine.
We suggest booking this fun Really Gay History Tour in Vancouver!
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