88 Best Sights in Vancouver, British Columbia

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

Fodor's choice

Named after one of British Columbia's preeminent artists, Bill Reid (1920–98), this small aboriginal gallery is as much a legacy of Reid's works as it is a showcase of current First Nations artists. Displays include wood carvings, jewelry, print, and sculpture, and programs often feature artist talks and themed exhibitions such as basket weaving. Reid is best known for his bronze statue The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe—measuring 12 feet by 20 feet. It is displayed at the Vancouver International Airport, and its image was on the back of Canadian $20 bills issued between 2004 and 2012. More Bill Reid pieces can be found at the Museum of Anthropology. 

Canada Place

Fodor's choice

Extending four city blocks north into Burrard Inlet, this complex mimics the style and size of a luxury ocean liner, complete with exterior esplanades and a landmark roofline that resembles five sails (it was made with NASA-invented material: a Teflon-coated fiberglass once used in astronaut space suits). Home to Vancouver's cruise-ship terminal, Canada Place can accommodate up to four liners at once. Altogether, the giant building is definitely worth a look. And the FlyOver Canada ( 604/620–8455 www.flyovercanada.com) attraction, a simulated flight that takes you on a soaring and swooping virtual voyage across the country, is an excellent reason to go inside. If this dramatic journey above Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains, and the vast Arctic sparks your curiosity about other parts of Canada, follow the Canadian Trail on the west side of the building, which has displays about the country's provinces and territories. Use your smartphone or tablet to access multimedia content along the way. (There's free Wi-Fi). Canada Place is also home to the posh Pan Pacific Hotel and the east wing of the Vancouver Convention Centre. On its western side stands the newer and much larger convention center—its plaza stages the 2010 Olympic cauldron and the Digital Orca sculpture by Canadian artist Douglas Coupland. A waterfront promenade from Canada Place winds all the way to (and around) Stanley Park, with spectacular vantage points where you can view Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains. Plaques posted along the way include historical information about the city and its waterfront. At the Port of Vancouver Discovery Centre at Canada Place, at the north end of the Canada Place complex, you can take in a history wall with artifacts, imagery, and interactive displays.

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Cypress Provincial Park

Fodor's choice

This 3,012-hectare (7,443-acre) park sprawls above Howe Sound, embracing Strachan, Black, and Hollyburn Mountains. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Baker (in Washington State) and Vancouver Island. Although the park includes a commercial ski area, much of the terrain is a public hiking paradise (bikes are permitted on roadways but not trails). Popular hikes include the route to Eagle Bluff, cross-country routes near Hollyburn Lodge, and the first part of the Howe Sound Crest Trail (as far as Saint Mark's Summit). This is backcountry, though, and only experienced hikers should attempt the more remote routes, including the multiday Baden Powell and Howe Sound Crest trails. During the summer months, BC Parks runs a bus from Downtown Vancouver to Cypress Provincial Park.

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Deep Cove

Fodor's choice

This charming seaside village, on the shore of a fjord off Burrard Inlet, is just a few minutes' drive from North Vancouver's other sights. You can paddle in the fjord with a guide from the Deep Cove Kayak Centre, or head out on the Quarry Rock Hike. This 4-km (2½-mile) trip offers sweeping ocean views but can get very busy on sunny weekends (choose a weekday, or start early). Honey Doughnuts & Goodies is where locals relax and refuel.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Fodor's choice

The first authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden outside China, this small garden was built in 1986 by 52 Chinese artisans from Suzhou. No power tools, screws, or nails were used in the construction. It incorporates design elements and traditional materials from several of Suzhou's centuries-old private gardens. Guided tours (45 minutes long), included in the ticket price, are conducted at 11 am and 2 pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; these are valuable for understanding the philosophy and symbolism that are central to the garden's design. Covered walkways make this a good rainy-day choice. A concert series, including classical, Asian, world, jazz, and sacred music, plays on Thursday evenings in July and August. The free public park next door is a pleasant place to sit, but lacks the context that you get with a tour of the Sun Yat-Sen garden.

Granville Island Public Market

Fodor's choice

The dozens of stalls in this world-renowned market sell locally grown fruits and vegetables direct from the farm and beyond. Other stalls stock crafts, chocolates, artisanal cheeses, pastas, fish, meat, flowers, and exotic foods. On Thursday in the summer (July to October), farmers sell fruit and vegetables from trucks outside. At the north end of the market, you can pick up a snack, lunch, or coffee from one of the many prepared-food vendors. The Public Market Courtyard, on the waterside, has great views of the city and is also a good place to catch street entertainers. Be prepared to get roped into the action, if only to check the padlocks of an escape artist's gear. Weekends can get very busy.

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Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

Fodor's choice

Located at the mouth of the Fraser River in the historic fishing village of Steveston, this cannery grew from a single salmon canning line in 1894 to British Columbia's biggest salmon cannery—with 2.5 million cans packed annually until the 1930s. Through the years, production was impacted by the landslide at Hells Gate, the onset of the Depression, and World War II, when much of its activities turned to canning herring for wartime consumption by troops and civilians. Designated a Federal Heritage site in 1987, the cannery now operates as a west coast fishing industry museum with ongoing interpretive programs and tours. You can check out the canning line, learn more about BC's fishing industry, and explore the heritage of the various ethnic groups who worked on-site. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery is a 35- to 40-minute drive from Downtown Vancouver. By public transit, take the Canada Line to Brighouse Station, then change to Bus 401, 402, or 407.

Kitsilano Beach

Fodor's choice

West of the southern end of the Burrard Bridge, Kits Beach is the city's busiest beach—Frisbee tossers, beach volleyball players, and sleek young people are always present. Facilities include a playground, restaurant, concession stand, and tennis courts. Kitsilano Pool is here. At 137.5 meters (451 feet), it's the longest pool in Canada and one of the few heated saltwater pools in the world (open May to September). Just steps from the sand, the Boathouse on Kits Beach serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch inside and on its big ocean-view deck. There's also a take-out concession at the same site. Inland from the pool, the Kitsilano Showboat, an outdoor amphitheater, hosts music and dance performances during the summer. Amenities: food and drink, lifeguards, parking (for a fee), toilets, and water sports. Best for: sunset, swimming, and walking.

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Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge

Fodor's choice

With a steep canyon landscape, a temperate rainforest complete with waterfalls, and a suspension bridge (circa 1912) 50 meters (166½ feet) above raging Lynn Creek, this 617-acre park provides thrills to go with its scenic views. The park has many hiking trails, including a short walk to a popular swimming hole, and another trail leading to a double waterfall. Longer walks in the park link to trail networks in nearby Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. The park's on-site Ecology Centre distributes trail maps, as well as information about the local flora and fauna. There's also a gift shop and a café. To get to the park, take the Lions Gate Bridge and Capilano Road, go east on Highway 1, take Exit 19, the Lynn Valley Road exit, and turn right on Peters Road. From Downtown Vancouver, you can take the SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay, then Bus 228 or 229 from the quay; both stop about a 15-minute walk from the park.

The suspension bridge here is shorter than the Capilano Suspension Bridge (47 meters/157 feet versus 137 meters/450 feet at Capilano) so the experience is less thrilling, but also less touristy—and it's free.

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Museum of Anthropology

Fodor's choice

Part of the University of British Columbia, the MOA has one of the world's leading collections of Northwest Coast First Nations art. The Great Hall has dramatic cedar poles, bentwood boxes, and canoes adorned with traditional Northwest Coast-painted designs. On clear days, the gallery's 15-meter-tall (50 foot) windows reveal a striking backdrop of mountains and sea. Another highlight is the work of the late Bill Reid, one of Canada's most respected Haida artists. In The Raven and the First Men (1980), carved in yellow cedar, he tells a Haida story of creation. Reid's gold-and-silver jewelry work is also on display, as are exquisite carvings of gold, silver, and argillite (a black shale found on Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) by other First Nations artists. The museum's visible storage section displays, in drawers and cases, contain thousands of examples of tools, textiles, masks, and other artifacts from around the world. The Koerner Ceramics Gallery contains 600 pieces from 15th- to 19th-century Europe. Behind the museum are two Haida houses, set on the cliff over the water. Free guided tours—given several times daily (call or check the website for times)—are immensely informative. The MOA also has an excellent book and fine art shop, as well as a café. To reach the museum by transit, take any UBC-bound bus from Granville Street Downtown to the university bus loop, a 15-minute walk, or connect to a shuttle that scoots around the campus and will drop you off opposite the MOA at the Rose Garden. Pay parking is available in the Rose Garden parking lot, across Marine Drive from the museum. If you're planning to visit several attractions at UBC, a UBC Attractions Pass will save you money. Note that the museum is currently closed for renovations. 

6393 N.W. Marine Dr., Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2, Canada
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Rate Includes: C$18; Thurs. 5–9 pm C$10, Closed Mon. mid-Oct.–mid-May

Richmond Night Market

Fodor's choice

Now a flagship summer event and an experience unmatched anywhere else in Canada, the bustling Richmond Night Market has grown to include more than 100 Asian street food stalls, 250 retail booths, carnival rides, children's amusement area, and family-friendly entertainment. Just steps from the Canada Line's Bridgeport Station beside the River Rock Casino, the market is open nightly Friday to Sunday and holiday Mondays from end of April through mid-October. For those driving, there are more than 1,000 free parking spots available.

Stanley Park Beaches

Fodor's choice

There are two fine beaches accessed from Stanley Park, with other unnamed sandy spots dotted along the seawall. The most popular with families is Second Beach, which has a playground and large heated pool with slides. Third Beach is a little more removed than the other central beaches. It has a larger stretch of sand, fairly warm water, and unbeatable sunset views. It's a popular evening picnic spot. Amenities: food and drink, lifeguards, parking (for a fee), and toilets. Best for: sunsets, swimming, and walking. 

Stanley Park Seawall

Fodor's choice

Vancouver's seawall path includes a 9-km (5½-mile) paved shoreline section within Stanley Park. It's one of several car-free zones in the park, and it's popular with walkers and cyclists. If you have the time (about a half of a day) and the energy, strolling the entire seawall is an exhilarating experience. It extends an additional mile east past the marinas, cafés, and waterfront condominiums of Coal Harbour to Canada Place in Downtown, so you could start your walk or ride from there. From the south side of the park, the seawall continues for another 28 km (17 miles) along Vancouver's waterfront to the University of British Columbia, making it the longest shoreside path in the world, and allowing for a pleasant, if ambitious, day's bike ride. Along the seawall, cyclists must wear helmets and stay on their side of the path. Within Stanley Park, cyclists must ride in a counterclockwise direction. The seawall can get crowded on summer weekends, but inside the park is a 27-km (16-mile) network of peaceful walking and cycling paths through old- and second-growth forest. The wheelchair-accessible Beaver Lake Interpretive Trail is a good choice if you're interested in park ecology. Take a map—they're available at the park information booth and many of the concession stands—and don't go into the woods alone or after dusk. 

Vancouver Aquarium

Fodor's choice

Massive floor-to-ceiling windows let you get face-to-face with sea otters, sea lions, and harbor seals at this award-winning research and educational facility. In the Amazon Gallery, you walk through a rain forest populated with piranhas, caimans, and tropical birds. In summer, hundreds of free-flying butterflies add to the mix. The Tropic Zone is home to exotic freshwater and saltwater life, including clown fish, moray eels, and black-tip reef sharks. Other displays, many with hands-on features for kids, show the underwater life of coastal British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic. Dive shows (where divers swim with aquatic life, including sharks) are held daily. Be sure to check out the stingray touch pool, as well as the "4-D" film experience (it's a multisensory show that puts mist, smell, and wind into the 3-D equation). There's also a café and a gift shop. Be prepared for lines on weekends and school holidays. Reserve ahead for timed admission and savings.

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VanDusen Botanical Garden

Fodor's choice

An Elizabethan maze, a formal rose garden, a meditation garden, and a collection of Canadian heritage plants are among the many displays at this 55-acre site. The collections include flora from every continent and many rare and endangered species. The Phyllis Bentall Garden area features hybrid water lilies and carnivorous plants (a hit with kids). From mid-May to early June, the Laburnum Walk forms a canopy of gold. In August and September, the wildflower meadow is in bloom. The garden is also home to five lakes, a garden shop, a library, and The Garden Café (serving breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea) and Shaughnessy Restaurant. Special events throughout the year include the spectacular Christmas-theme Festival of Lights every December. From Downtown, catch the Oak Bus 17 directly to the garden entrance. Alternatively, ride the Canada Line to Oakridge/41st Street, then take the UBC Bus 41 to Oak Street, and walk four blocks north to the garden. Queen Elizabeth Park is a 1-km (½-mile) walk away, along West 37th Avenue. Because this was once a golf course, pathways make this garden extremely wheelchair accessible.

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Ambleside Park and Beach

Just off Marine Drive at the foot of 13th Street, this long stretch of sand is West Vancouver's most popular beach. There are tennis courts, volleyball nets, and a water park in the summer, as well as superb views of Stanley Park from all along the seawall. There's also a pitch and putt course and a huge off-leash area for dogs. Just west of the park, the historic Ferry Building is now a small art gallery. A half-hour walk west along the seawall path takes you to another beach at Dundarave. West Vancouver's Marine Drive continues west to several quiet little beaches, including (from east to west) West Bay, Sandy Cove, Caulfeild Park, and Kew Beach. Amenities: food and drink, parking, showers, and toilets. Best for: sunrises, swimming and walking.  

BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum

Inside the BC Place Stadium complex, this museum celebrates the province's sports achievers in a series of historical displays. One gallery commemorates the 2010 Winter Olympics that were held in Vancouver; another honors the province's aboriginal athletes. You can test your sprinting, climbing, and throwing abilities in the high-tech participation gallery. As you leave the museum, the Terry Fox Memorial is to your left. Created by artist Douglas Coupland, this series of four statues, each larger than the next, was built in honor of Terry Fox (1958–81), a local student whose cross-Canada run—after he lost his leg to cancer—raised millions of dollars for cancer research. Although Fox succumbed to the disease before he could complete his "Marathon of Hope," a memorial fund-raising run is now held annually in cities across Canada and around the world.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

If you can imagine a vast underground library, but instead of books, the stacks are filled with bones, fossils, and preserved lizards, then you can begin to imagine this modern museum on the UBC campus that exhibits more than 2 million specimens from the university’s natural history collections. The most striking attraction hangs in the entrance atrium: a 25-meter-long (82-foot-long) skeleton of a blue whale—the largest on view in Canada (the blue whale in New York’s American Museum of Natural History is 94 feet long). On the lower level, you’ll find animal skulls, taxidermied birds, and other creatures displayed through glass windows (many of which are at kids’ eye level). In the interactive Discovery Lab, you can play scientist yourself. You might compare the claws of different birds or examine animal poop under a microscope. There’s also a family space stocked with books, art supplies, and kid-size furniture. To find the museum from the university bus loop, walk west to the Main Mall and turn left; the museum is just south of University Boulevard. If you’re planning to visit several attractions at UBC, an Attractions Pass will save you money.

Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site

Linked to Steveston's historic waterfront, this 8-acre (3.7-hectare) park offers a rare glimpse of life within a once-thriving mix of canneries, boatyards, residences, and stores. Britannia Heritage Shipyard dates back to 1885 and is the oldest remaining shipyard structure on the Fraser River. Weathered to a silver-gray color by a century of exposure, many of the buildings are the last examples of their type on the entire coast. Several buildings have been restored. These include Murakami House, once the three-room home of the 11-member Murakami family; boatworks buildings; shipyard residences; stilt houses; the last surviving Chinese bunkhouse on the west coast; and a board-and-batten First Nations House similar to traditional 19th-century Coast Salish longhouses. Year-round programs include the restoration of wooden boats. 

Byrnes Block

After the 1886 Great Fire, which wiped out most of the fledgling settlement of Vancouver, George Byrnes built what is now Vancouver's oldest brick building. It now houses shops and offices. But for awhile, this two-story building was Vancouver's top luxury hotel, the Alhambra Hotel, charging a dollar a night. The site of Deighton's original saloon, east of the Byrnes Block, is the starting point from which all Vancouver street addresses begin.

Capilano River Regional Park

This small, but spectacular, park is where you'll find old-growth Douglas fir trees approaching 61 meters (200 feet). There are 26 km (16 miles) of hiking trails and footbridges over the Capilano River, which cuts through a dramatic gorge. At the park's Capilano River Hatchery (4500 Capilano Park Rd., 604/666–1790), viewing areas and exhibits illustrate the life cycle of the salmon. The best time to see the salmon run is between July and November. The Cleveland Dam (Capilano Rd., about 1½ km [1 mile] past main park entrance) is at the north end of the park. Built in 1954, it dams the Capilano River to create the 5½-km-long (3½-mile-long) Capilano Reservoir. A hundred yards from the parking lot, you can walk across the top of the dam to enjoy striking views of the reservoir and mountains behind it. The two sharp peaks to the west are the Lions, for which the Lions Gate Bridge is named. The park is off Capilano Road in North Vancouver, just north of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

At Vancouver's oldest tourist attraction (the original bridge was built in 1889), you can get a taste of rainforest scenery, and test your mettle on the swaying, 137-meter (450-foot), cedar-plank suspension bridge that hangs 70 meters (230 feet) above the rushing Capilano River. Across the bridge is the Treetops Adventure, where you can walk along 198 meters (650 feet) of cable bridges suspended among the trees. If you're even braver, you can follow the Cliffwalk, a series of narrow cantilevered bridges and walkways hanging out over the edge of the canyon. Without crossing the bridge, you can enjoy the site's viewing decks, nature trails, and totem park, as well as history and forestry exhibits. There's also a massive gift shop in the original 1911 teahouse, and a restaurant. May through October, guides conduct free tours on themes related to history, nature, or ecology, while fiddle bands, and other entertainers keep things lively. In December, more than 1.5 million lights illuminate the canyon during the Canyon Lights winter celebration. Catch the attraction's free shuttle service from Canada Place; it also stops at hotels along Burrard and Robson Streets.

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3735 Capilano Rd., Vancouver, British Columbia, V7R 4J1, Canada
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Rate Includes: C$66; Parking: $8

Cathedral Place

One of Vancouver's most handsome postmodern buildings, the 23-story Shaw Tower at Cathedral Place has a faux-copper roof that mimics that of the nearby Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The three large sculptures of nurses at the building's corners are replicas of the statues that adorned the Georgia Medical-Dental Building, the art deco structure that previously occupied this site. Step into the lobby to see another interesting sculpture: Robert Studer's Navigational Device, suspended high up on the north wall. The small garden courtyard, which also leads to the entrance of the Bill Reid Gallery, is an unexpected respite from Downtown's bustle.

Chinatown Storytelling Centre

Chinatown Storytelling Centre, a cultural center on Pender Street, celebrates the Chinese-Canadian community's contributions to Vancouver and Canada with photos, artifacts, videos, and more. Highlights include a phone booth where you can dial a number to listen to personal stories in Cantonese and English, as well as the Yucho Chow photo studio, where you can take a free picture as a memento of your experience. There's also a fantastic gift shop, Foo Hung Curios, filled with stationery, candles, prints, and more.

Chinese Cultural Centre Museum & Archives

Chinese people have a rich, grueling, and enduring history in British Columbia, and it's well represented in this Ming Dynasty-style facility. The art gallery upstairs hosts traveling exhibits by Chinese and Canadian artists, and an on-site military museum recalls the role of Chinese Canadians in the two world wars. Across the street is the Chinatown Memorial Monument, commemorating the Chinese-Canadian community's contribution to the city, province, and country. The monument, shaped in the Chinese character "zhong," symbolizing moderation and harmony, is flanked by bronze statues of a railroad worker and a World War II soldier.

555 Columbia St., Vancouver, British Columbia, V6A 4H5, Canada
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Rate Includes: Donations welcome, Closed Mon.

Christ Church Cathedral

Built between 1889 and 1895, this is the oldest church in Vancouver. Constructed in the Gothic style, the Anglican church looks like the parish church of an English village from the outside, though underneath the sandstone-clad exterior it's made of Douglas fir from what is now south Vancouver. The 32 stained-glass windows depict Old and New Testament scenes, often set against Vancouver landmarks (St. Nicholas presiding over the Lions Gate Bridge, for example). The building's excellent acoustics enhance the choral evensong, and it hosts many concerts. Gregorian chants are performed every Sunday evening at 8 pm. The cathedral's Labyrinth makes for a meditative walk that's hard to find anywhere else in the city's core.

Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery

The collection of First Nations jewelry, ceremonial masks, prints, and carvings at this gallery is impressive. If you're looking for more affordable souvenirs, check out the gorgeous books and art cards.

Contemporary Art Gallery

On the lobby level of a modern apartment tower, this small nonprofit public gallery has regularly changing exhibits of contemporary local and international visual art. Events include artists' talks, lectures, and tours.

555 Nelson St., Vancouver, British Columbia, V6B 6R5, Canada
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Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.

English Bay Beach

The city's best-known beach, English Bay, lies just to the east of Stanley Park's southern entrance. A long stretch of golden sand, a waterslide, volleyball courts, kayak rentals, and food trucks keep things interesting all summer. Known locally for being gay-friendly, it draws a diverse crowd. Special events include summer Celebration of Light fireworks and a New Year's Day "Polar Bear" swim. The oversized A-maze-ing Laughter sculptures will make you smile. Amenities: food and drink, lifeguards, parking (for a fee), toilets, and water sports. Best for: sunset, swimming, and walking.

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Gaoler's Mews

Once the site of the city's first civic buildings—the constable's cabin and customs house, and a two-cell log jail—this atmospheric brick-paved courtyard is now home to cafés and offices.