Vancouver, the bustling coastal city in western Canada, is known for its natural beauty, cultural diversity, and thriving urban scene. It’s a big city, Canada’s third largest, with a densely packed metropolitan area.
Frankly, the size makes it a little overwhelming. Fortunately, many of the best things to do in Vancouver for first-time visitors are conveniently located in Downtown Vancouver. And getting around to see all the attractions is easy thanks to hop-on-hop-off busses and water taxis.
Vancouver Hotels Downtown
Auberge Vancouver Hotel
The Auberge Vancouver Hotel is a luxurious hotel located in the heart of Downtown Vancouver, practically next door to the cruise port, and close to popular attractions. The hotel offers stunning views of the city skyline and the harbor. And visitors embarking on an Alaskan cruise can even see their ship arriving at the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal.
Guest rooms and suites are spacious and sumptuously decorated, equipped with modern decor and luxurious bedding. The hotel also features a full range of amenities for guests to enjoy, including a fitness center, a sauna, and a rooftop terrace with a hot tub.
Wedgewood Hotel & Spa
The Wedgewood Hotel and Spa is a luxurious, award-winning hotel. It’s known for its European-style elegance and exceptional service.
The hotel features beautifully appointed guest rooms and suites, each with unique décor and luxurious amenities such as Egyptian cotton bedding. Many of the rooms also feature stunning views of the city skyline or the hotel’s tranquil courtyard garden.
One of the highlights of the Wedgewood Hotel and Spa is its world-class dining experience. The hotel is home to Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge, which offers a menu of classic French cuisine and an extensive wine list. The restaurant has received numerous awards and is considered one of the best in Vancouver.
Things To Do In Downtown Vancouver
Hop Aboard False Creek Ferries
Vancouver’s False Creek Ferries‘ sightseeing cruises offer a unique and enjoyable way to explore the city’s waterfront and landmarks. And with the hop-on hop-off day pass, visitors can board and disembark the ferry at any of the 9 stops along the route, allowing them to check out the area at their own pace.
Another option, the colorful Aquabus is a fun and convenient way to explore Vancouver’s scenic waterfront. Its fleet of eco-friendly water taxis provides transportation to various destinations along False Creek, including Granville Island, Yaletown, Science World, and more.
Do A Little Windowshopping In Gastown
Historic Gastown is known for its cobblestone streets, Victorian architecture, and iconic steam clock.
The neighborhood is filled with trendy shops, restaurants, and bars, offering a unique blend of old-world charm and modern flair. Visitors to Gastown can explore the area’s many art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops, as well as sample some of Vancouver’s best cuisine and craft cocktails.
One of the highlights of Gastown is the famous steam clock, which was built in 1977 and is powered by steam from underground pipes. The clock is a popular attraction and draws large crowds of tourists who gather around to watch it chime every 15 minutes.
Gastown is also home to several museums and cultural institutions, such as the Vancouver Police Museum, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history of law enforcement, and the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, which showcases the culture and heritage of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Vanier Park is a beautiful waterfront park that’s tailormade for smooches with a view of the city skyline and surrounding mountains. But the park is home to several attractions, including the Museum of Vancouver, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, and the Vancouver Maritime Museum.
There are also several beaches and picnic areas in the park, as well as walking and cycling paths. In the summer, Vanier Park is a hub of activity, with festivals, concerts, and other events taking place throughout the season.
Vancouver Art Gallery: A Hub of Contemporary Art
The Vancouver Art Gallery showcases contemporary art by local and international artists. With a range of exhibitions, events, and programs, the gallery offers a dynamic and engaging experience for art lovers.
Although it’s already one of the largest art museums in Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery is in the midst of a multi-year plan to build a new facility in Downtown Vancouver that’s slated to open in 2027.
As the museum holds one of the finest collections of beloved Canadian painter, Emily Carr, works, it is anticipated that there will soon be even more reason to celebrate the visual representation of the Canadian spirit.
Science World: A Fun and Interactive Museum
Science World is a fun and interactive museum that offers a range of exhibits and activities for all ages. With hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, and immersive experiences, Science World is a must-visit for anyone interested in science and technology.
Vancouver Aquarium: A Marine Wonderland
The Vancouver Aquarium is a fun spot even if you’re not obsessed with learning about marine life. Located in Stanley Park, the aquarium offers a range of exhibits and activities that showcase the diversity and beauty of the ocean. Visitors can see sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other aquatic creatures, learn about marine conservation, and even participate in a behind-the-scenes tour.
Vancouver’s Chinatown is a vibrant and culturally rich neighborhood located in the heart of the city. It’s one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and is home to a large number of Chinese Canadians.
The neighborhood is filled with colorful storefronts, busy markets, and delicious Chinese restaurants. Visitors can explore the many shops and boutiques selling everything from traditional Chinese medicine to handmade crafts and souvenirs.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: A Serene Oasis
Located in the heart of Chinatown, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a serene oasis that transports visitors to another time and place. With its winding paths, tranquil ponds, and ornate pavilions, the garden offers a peaceful escape from the bustling city.
Get Your Kicks On Granville Street
Granville Street, the entertainment district of Downtown Vancouver, runs from Pacific Center Mall to Waterfront Station. This is where to head for a fun night out, with lots of live music venues, bars, and restaurants to choose from, there’s something for you, whatever your vibe.
Pacific Centre Mall: Retail Therapy At Its Best
Pacific Centre Mall is a shopper’s paradise. With over 100 stores, including flagship locations for international brands, Pacific Centre Mall has whatever you’re looking for, and plenty you didn’t know you wanted.
Waterfront Station: A Historic Landmark
Waterfront Station is a historic landmark in Downtown Vancouver, serving as the city’s main transportation hub for over a century. Visitors can admire the station’s grand architecture, take a guided tour, or catch a train or ferry to nearby destinations.
Robson Street: A Shopper’s Paradise
Robson Street is Vancouver’s premier shopping destination, featuring an array of high-end boutiques, department stores, and trendy cafes. From designer fashion to artisanal souvenirs, you’ll find it all on this bustling street.
Granville Island: A Cultural Hub with a Flair
Do make time to check out Granville Island. With a public market, art galleries, theatres, and outdoor spaces, Granville Island is a cultural hub that attracts visitors from all over the world. We spotted artists working on emerging totem poles, as well as a variety of crafts. But there’s also a good selection of artisanal shopping and waterfront dining.
Coal Harbour is a charming waterfront neighborhood situated between Stanley Park and the central business district. The harbor is surrounded by high-end condos, luxury hotels, and a marina filled with yachts and sailboats.
One of the most popular attractions in Coal Harbour is the Vancouver Seawall, a scenic pathway that spans over 28 kilometers and winds its way around the harbor and Stanley Park. It’s perfect for walking, cycling, and rollerblading.
Stanley Park: A Natural Oasis
Stanley Park is a 405-hectare urban park that’s considered one of the city’s most beloved landmarks, offering a range of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re looking to hike, bike, or simply relax in a natural oasis, Stanley Park is an excellent choice.
Day Trips Near Downtown Vancouver
Capilano Suspension Bridge: A Thrilling Adventure
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a thrilling adventure that offers stunning views of the Capilano River and the surrounding wilderness. Visitors can cross the 140-meter-long suspension bridge, walk through the Treetops Adventure, and explore the Cliffwalk, a series of narrow walkways that cling to the cliffs above the canyon.
Sea to Sky Highway: A Scenic Drive
The Sea to Sky Highway is a 120-kilometer stretch of road that connects Vancouver to the resort town of Whistler. It is considered one of Canada’s most scenic drives, offering stunning views of the coast, mountains, and forests. Along the way, visitors can stop at charming seaside towns, provincial parks, and other points of interest.
University of British Columbia: A Hub of Learning and Innovation
One of the best places to see an incredible display of massive totem poles and other First Nation artwork is the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
It’s hard to visualize the sheer size of the totem poles, a number of which were used to hold up humongous multi-family homes, unless you are standing directly below, dwarfed by comparison.
But I was even more impressed by the feast bowls used at potlatches, the ceremonial gatherings of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. These fierce hand-carved wooden bowls are man-sized, one actually looks like it holds two people, and it’s not hard to imagine them being utilized for gatherings of 300 to 4000.
NOTE- The Museum of Anthropology is currently closed for a seismic upgrade, expected to reopen in late 2023.
Takaya Canoe Tour
The practice and cultural values of the potlatches is fascinating, but for a dark period in Canadian history, they were banned. Yet as we learned on a Takaya Canoe Tour, First Nations peoples were not so easily marginalized.
For many years, when indigenous peoples were banned from gathering, canoe races gave them an opportunity to get around these restrictions. As a result, coastal peoples developed a rich tradition of canoe races that exists to this day.
Not that we were racing, ours was more of a leisurely canoe ride with many breaks to listen to our guide, Laura Leigh Paul, share the legends and songs of the Tsleil-Waututh (“slay-wah-tuth“) peoples of the Wolf Clan.
The stories were both magical and cautionary, and the act of canoeing in tandem was a vivid reminder of the necessity of maintaining balance and respecting and caring for our natural world.
Downtown Vancouver Restaurants
Brunch At The Acorn
The Acorn is considered one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world. It’s known for its creative and innovative vegetarian and vegan dishes, made with locally sourced ingredients. Weekend brunch is especially delicious and subject to seasonal changes.
The brunch menu at the Acorn includes a range of sweet and savory dishes, such as the “Oyster” Mushroom Benny, which features poached eggs, smoked tofu, and vegan hollandaise sauce, served on a house-made English muffin.
In addition to its delicious food, the Acorn also offers a cozy and welcoming atmosphere, with plenty of natural light and greenery. The restaurant has a laid-back, bohemian vibe and is a popular destination for brunch-goers looking for a unique and healthy dining experience.
Taste The Famous Japadog
JapaDog operates one of the most popular food stands in Vancouver, specializing in hot dogs with a Japanese twist. The menu features a variety of unique hot dog creations, such as the Terimayo, which is topped with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, and seaweed, and the Okonomi, which is topped with bonito flakes, Japanese mayo, and okonomi sauce.
JapaDog started as a small food stand in downtown Vancouver and has since expanded to multiple locations throughout the city, including a popular storefront in the West End. The food stand has gained a cult following among locals and visitors alike and has been featured in numerous food and travel publications.
Fanny Bay Oyster Bar and Shellfish Market – Dungeness Crab
If you don’t try anything else, do sample the Dungeness crab, native to the Pacific Northwest, in Vancouver. Typically served boiled or steamed, accompanied by melted butter and lemon wedges, the meat is delicate, sweet, and slightly nutty in flavor. It’s excellent in crab cakes, and one of the best places to order them is at the Fanny Bay Oyster Bar and Shellfish Market.
But don’t stop at the crab cakes. The restaurant’s menu features a variety of seafood dishes, including oysters on the half-shell, clam chowder, mussels, crab cakes, and fish and chips. And they also offer a selection of non-seafood dishes, such as salads and sandwiches.
Rileys Fish & Steak
Cozy and welcoming, with warm lighting and classic decor, Riley’s Fish & Steak is a great destination for a romantic dinner or special occasion. Both steak and seafood are outstanding, and we particularly like what they do with sablefish.
Frequently Asked Questions About Downtown Vancouver
How To Get From The Vancouver Airport To Downtown Vancouver?
Vancouver International Airport is located approximately 8 miles from Downtown Vancouver, and travelers can take the Canada Line Skytrain, taxis, or shuttle buses to get to their destination.
Where Is Vancouver?
Vancouver is a coastal city located in the province of British Columbia in western Canada, bordering the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Coast Mountains to the north.
How to Drive From The United State To Vancouver
To drive from the US to Vancouver, one can take Interstate 5 North from Seattle to the US-Canada border, pass through the border checkpoint, and then follow British Columbia Highway 99 North to Vancouver, which is approximately a 2.5 to 3-hour drive depending on traffic and border wait times.
Downtown Vancouver Map
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