Enjoy the Sights, Sea to Sky: Sightseeing in Vancouver
By Natasha John
Vancouver Local Expert
Pack your walking shoes and charge up that camera — Vancouver is going to keep you busy. It doesn't matter what time of year you visit, any of these attractions can still be enjoyed. The mild winters and warm summers make Vancouver incredibly versatile.
The city is known for its breathtaking views of the ocean and mountains and there's no better place to enjoy those views than from one of Vancouver's 8 beaches. Located downtown, English Bay Beach is a convenient choice. Pack a picnic and you've got al fresco dining at its finest.
No visit to Vancouver is complete without a stop through Stanley Park. Once there, the world is your oyster. There you can hop on a horse-drawn tour of the park, ride along the Seawall, take a stroll through the perfectly manicured gardens, cool down in the ocean and explore marine life in the Vancouver Aquarium.
If you enjoy culture and cutting edge architecture, head to the Museum of Anthropology. This architectural masterpiece houses a number of important First Nations pieces, including 38,000 ethnographic and 535,000 archaeological objects and quite a few other beautiful carvings and Totem poles.
Peace and tranquility can be found in Chinatown's Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The intricate designs and beautiful garden create a soothing atmosphere that will help you find your inner zen.
10 Vancouver Aquarium
Jacques Cousteau has said that Vancouver has some of the best underwater wildlife in the world, the only problem is that the waters off the coast can be rather chilly. Not interested in putting on a dry suit and submerging yourself under the frigid waters? No problem, the Vancouver Aquarium has solved that problem and brought some of British Columbia's most interesting sea creatures inside to inspire and educate visitors. The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit organization and they partake in worldwide marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation projects. When inside the aquarium, step into the rainforest exhibition, where you will be greeted by sleep Sloths, tropical birds, crocodiles, snakes and fish. Also, don't miss the display of fish that call British Columbia home. Make sure that you go outside and watch the Sea Otters goof around and catch one of the many shows that include dolphins, Beluga whales and Sea Lions. (604-659-3474)
9 Sea to Sky Gondola
The Sea to Sky Gondola takes you on a 10-minute ride up the mountain to the Summit Lodge. Once at the top, this magnificent piece of nature is yours to explore. There are hiking trails, a suspension bridge, viewing platforms, mountain biking trails, walking paths, rock climbing, a lodge and more. For the experienced hiker, there are an abundant number of trails that will challenge and inspire. Those who are less experienced, there are two walking trails that have been carved out and are great for all ages. The Panorama trail and Spirit trail are pretty flat, making them very easy to navigate. They offer guided tours every day at 11am and 2pm. If you're unfamiliar with the area, or worried about getting lost, these guided tours are awesome and take out the guess work for you. Hungry? There's a fully licensed restaurant and bar at the top. ((604) 898-4667)
8 Lighthouse Park
This rugged, forested park, which is located along West Vancouver's Marine Drive and 20 minutes from downtown, features several trails that lead to tidal pools. In order to keep impact on the environment to a minimum (and to avoid getting lost, a not uncommon occurrence), you'll want to stick to the designated paths. The trail from the parking lot to the lighthouse viewpoint is steep wear your hiking boots and be prepared for a strenuous return back up to your car. If you don't have a car, you can hop on a bus from downtown Vancouver and it will take you directly to a bus stop that's right by the park's entrance. When you're ready to go home, simply go to the other side of the street that you caught the bus and another one should will come by to pick you up. It doesn't hurt to look at Translink's (Vancouver and the Lower Mainland's public transport service) website for schedules. (604-925-7000, 604-925-7275)
7 Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain is open all year long for outdoorsmen and women to enjoy and it's conveniently located right across the water from downtown Vancouver. Hike the Grind, or ride up the Gondola to reach the top, and once there, the scene of the city and ocean in front of you will captivate you, leaving you speechless and in awe. "The Grind", as locals call it, is not for the unfit and is a 2.9-kilometer steep trek up the mountain. Catering to all fitness levels, there are more relaxing walks on the mountain. If you're visiting Vancouver in the winter, you've come at the perfect time to take advantage of the mountain's skiing conditions, without having to leave Vancouver.
6 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Constructed in an authentic Ming Dynasty-style, the garden is renowned as being the first of its type built since the late 15th century. Traditional materials from Suzhou, the Garden City of the People's Republic, were used in the construction. It was built with only carefully arranged rocks, wood, plants and water, all without using screws, nails or power tools. The principles of yin and yang opposites, such as light and dark and rough and smooth, are a strong element in this garden's design. Located in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a stone's throw from many traditional eateries. (604-662-3207)
5 Museum of Anthropology
In 1976, the famed museum was completed and open to University of British Columbia's students, and the public. The inspiration behind Arthur Erickson's MOA, as locals call it, was architecture of Northwest Coast First Nations people, specifically post-and-beam. Today, there's something a little different that wasn't there when Mr. Erickson designed the beautiful building and that is the reflecting pool that was built in 2010. Though it's a new addition, it certainly compliments the original concept. After you take in the architectural beauty, step inside and admire the 36,000 ethnographic and 535,000 archaeological objects inside of the MOA. (604-827-5932, 604-822-3825)
4 Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery is the fifth largest art gallery in all of Canada. The VAG has rotating exhibitions, along with its permanent collection that boasts over 9,100 items. Art junkies will be impressed by the 200 major works by the Group of Seven, Emily Carr and Mark Chagall, which are all housed in the VAG. In 1931, when the VAG was founded, it started out at a different location. In 1983 it was moved to its current address, the old provincial courthouse on Robson St. and Hornby St. The Art Gallery Cafe is the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon, grab a bite, sip on a glass of wine or tea and listen to the Classical music that surrounds the umbrella scattered patio. (604-662-4719)
3 Stanley Park
Located in Downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park offers a green oasis to city dwellers, stretching over 1,000 acres of land. Lord Stanley of Preston opened the park in 1888; at the time it was a haven for gathering various material and food. Today, Stanley Park is home to half a million trees, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Malkin Bowl, carved totem poles, monuments, beaches, a lighthouse, and plenty of trails to take in the fresh air. During the summer months, the Malkin Bowl hosts a series of concerts that are the perfect way to spend a warm evening in the park. If hiking through forests isn't your thing, take advantage of the Seawall where you can run, walk, cycle or Rollerblade the 5.5 miles around Stanley Park. The lush greenery is a welcome escape from the busy city and though it's right downtown, you will feel miles away. (604-257-8400, 604-646-4660)
Stretching 5.5-miles (8.8km) around Stanley Park, this lovely jaunt is perfect on a sunny day to bike, walk, run and blade around. There are ideal spots to stop for a rest, or enjoy a packed picnic and you can choose your view of the North Shore or the vast Pacific Ocean and choose weather you would like to sit on grass, a picnic table or a sandy beach. There's also a few beaches and a water park along the way, so pack your bathing suit and enjoy the cool waters on a hot summer day. No matter what your skill level is, the Seawall is enjoyable for all ages and athletic abilities. (604-873-7000)
1 English Bay Beach
This popular West End beach is a favorite of swimmers and sunbathers. An international fireworks exhibit, Symphony of Fire, is held each summer, and the park hosts the Polar Bear Swim on New Year's Day. On Sunday afternoons when the weather is fair, a band plays in the gingerbread-style bandstand. Located right at the end of Davie and Denman streets, English Bay Beach is easily accessible by bus, foot and Seawall. Driving may prove to be slightly challenging on really busy days because it may be difficult to find a parking spot. The Seawall is a great way to get to and from English Bay Beach and you can walk, run, Rollerblade and ride your bike to get to the beach. Packing a picnic is one of the best ways to enjoy lunch at the beach, but if you don't have the time or resources, there are a number of cafes, take out restaurants and food stands either on or close to the beach. (604-873-7000)
About Natasha John
Natasha is not born and raised in Vancouver, but calls this beautiful city home. After jumping around Canada, Texas, Arkansas and the UK, she has her feet firmly planted in Vancouver's beaches. Majoring in English Lit, writing has always been something that she has enjoyed. Curious by nature, education has not finished for this aspiring Third Party Mediator, and she is on the road to completing her certificate at the JIBC.
Not one to take things for granted, the awe-inspiring mountains paralyzes her gaze on a daily basis. The Seawall is a magnetic tease that eventually wins over on summer days.
Read more about Natasha John here.