Things to Do in Vancouver
Located in Jack Poole Plaza in front of the Vancouver Convention Center, the Olympic Cauldron was built to commemorate the city's 2010 hosting of the Winter Olympic Games. The 33-foot-tall cauldron was constructed with steel and glass and was first lit as the Olympic torch made it's final run on the relay to B.C. Place Stadium for the opening ceremony of the games. Across the plaza from the cauldron is the Vancouver Convention Center, which was host to the media during the Winter Games and a key cog to the operations of the event. It's a fitting placement to commemorate the amount of work put into the event by the city of Vancouver. Today, the cauldron, which is back-dropped by stunning view of mountains and sea, has become a tourist destination in the heart of downtown Vancouver. However, the cauldron is only lit on days of special importance such as Remembrance Day or Canada Day.
The Bloedel Floral Conservatory, or simply Bloedel Conservatory, is an indoor tropical garden and aviary in Queen Elizabeth Park. The space is divided into three climate zones and imitates the natural habitat and ecosystem of each. The tropical rainforest habitat showcases the deep jungle, where one hectare of forest contains more tree species than the country of Canada as a whole. The less humid climate of the subtropical rainforest habitat on the other hand is perfectly suited for fig trees, gnarly banyans and colorful orchids, and in the desert zone, succulents and cacti mesmerize the visitors with their prickly shapes. Nature and green spaces already have a relaxing effect on the body, but for those looking to lower their stress levels an extra notch, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory also offers a healing garden. Visitors are encouraged to touch the bark of the trees, smell flowers and use all their senses to feel the energizing effect intended.
Stanley Park's biggest draw, the aquarium is home to 9,000 water-loving creatures - including sharks, dolphins, Amazonian caimans, and a somewhat shy octopus. There's also a small, walk-through rainforest area full of birds, butterflies, and turtles. Check out the iridescent jellyfish tank and the two sea otters that eat the way everyone should: lying on their backs using their chests as plates.
Beluga whales whistle and blow water at onlookers in the icy-blue Arctic Canada exhibit, while in the Amazon rainforest, an hourly rainstorm falls in an atrium filled with three-toed sloths, stunning blue and green poison tree frogs, and even piranhas. For a local perspective, check out the Pacific Canada exhibit, where you can see Pacific salmon, giant Pacific Octopus, Stellar see lions, and a Pacific white-sided dolphin.
The Museum of Anthropology is located on the University of British Columbia campus and contains First Nation art and artifacts of the Pacific Northwest. It is also known for its great views, as the site overlooks mountains and the ocean. Only 20 minutes outside downtown Vancouver, time should be allotted to wander around the grounds.
Volunteers lead free tours of MOA throughout the day, which serve as a great way for visitors to learn about the museum’s collections and exhibitions. The tours last just under an hour, giving folks plenty of time to explore on their own as well.
No fine-weather visit to Vancouver is complete without a walk around Stanley Park’s seawall, and starting or finishing a seawall stroll from the Lost Lagoon Nature House just makes sense. Known for its photo-worthy views, large fountain, and sometimes even a few swans, Lost Lagoon is Stanley Park’s largest body of water and one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. At the edge of the lagoon, tucked away in a former boathouse, is the Lost Lagoon Nature House. Operated by the Stanley Park Ecological Society, it is packed with interesting things to do and see.
From beavers to bats, interpretive displays of every species found in Stanley Park help make the learning at the Lost Lagoon Nature House fun and interactive. Whether you want to know about a particular bird species that lives in Stanley Park or you’d like to learn more about the park’s multiple restoration projects, the friendly staff members are almost always on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Popular with packs of enthusiastic school kids, this high-tech science center illuminates the eye-opening world of space. There's plenty of fun to be had battling aliens, designing a spacecraft, or strapping yourself in for a simulator ride to Mars, and there are also movie presentations on all manner of spacey themes.
The H.R. MacMillan Space Center in Vancouver is big on interactive displays. You can travel to Mars on the Virtual Voyages Simulator, or punch a button to watch a video of the Apollo 17 manned-satellite engine that stands in front of you. Or maybe design a spacecraft or maneuver a lunar robot in the Cosmic Courtyard. The planetarium hosts shows that veer from the traditional journey-through-the-stars experiences to interpretations of the skies from an indigenous First Nation point of view. Budding young astronomers can venture to the StarTheatre, which show child-friendly movies on an overhead dome.
Brockton Point is the easternmost peninsula of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and is best known for the good views it offers of the downtown area with its skyscrapers, and the Burrard Inlet ranging from North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge to Coal Harbour. Since there are also several important shipping lanes passing through the inlet, Brockton Point is a favorite among ship spotters for watching big freight vessels heading to and from the port with goods piled high.
The peninsula encompasses several of the park’s well-known landmarks, such as the 9 O’Clock Gun, an old naval cannon that fires a shot every evening at nine; a colorful totem pole display, British Columbia’s most-visited tourist attraction; and a century-old lighthouse. The Brockton Point Lighthouse features a prominent red and white tower, which was built in 1914 after numerous shipwrecks on the treacherous shores of Stanley Park and, in more recent years, has become a favorite among photographers.
More Things to Do in Vancouver
Stretching out over an entire city block (and centered of course, around the city library,) Library Square is one of the most visually interesting areas in Vancouver. The iconic circular structure slightly resembles the Coliseum of Rome, with inventive design that seamlessly integrates the interior and exterior. The rooftop garden designed by a local landscape architect furthers this aesthetic.
Library Square consists of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, a high-rise office building, and various shops and restaurants on the ground level. Perhaps its most unique design element is the free-standing colonnaded elliptical wall, reached by bridges from its pavilion. The area contains several public reading and study sections flooded with natural light, alongside nine floors and over one million books and other reference materials. The entire square is a bustling public landmark and community gathering spot beloved by locals and visitors alike.
To take in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Vancouver area, climb aboard the Rocky Mountaineer Train for a one-day rail trip to Whistler, home of North America’s largest ski resort. The “Whistler Sea to Sky Climb” train travels 74 miles (120 kilometers) along the shore overlooking Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains as you eat breakfast, enjoy entertainment on board and soak up the views. You’ll pull into Whistler three-and-a-half hours later, just in time to have lunch and briefly explore the village. The return train departs from Whistler mid-afternoon. Alternatively, you can stay overnight in Whistler, so you have more time to experience the mountain town, and catch the return train the next afternoon.
If you have more time, head for the Rocky Mountains. In two days, you can make the scenic journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer to Banff, Lake Louise, or Jasper.
The centrepiece of Vancouver's gleaming downtown waterfront is made of graceful white "sails," which create a translucent pavilion above the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal, gateway to the majestic glacier-carved fjords of the northern Pacific Coast. The city itself is stunning, a sparkling metropolis of glass spires and lush city parks atop the Burrard Peninsula, cradled in the snow-capped North Shore Mountains, just visible in the distance.
More than half a million happy passengers cruise through Vancouver Port each year, headed to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and Alaska, some of the most fantastic coastal scenery in the world. Yet many of these intrepid travellers soon realize, after spending only a day or two here in Vancouver, that this charming Canadian city is the place to which they most want to return.
As you walk gingerly out on to the world's longest (140m/460ft) and highest (70m/230ft) suspension bridge, swaying gently over the roiling waters of tree-lined Capilano Canyon, remember that the thick steel cables you are gripping are safely embedded in huge concrete blocks on either side. That should steady your feet - unless the teenagers are stamping across to scare the oldsters...
The region's most popular attraction - hence the summertime crowds and relentless tour buses - the grounds here also include rainforest walks, totem poles, and a swinging network of smaller bridges strung between the trees, called Treetops Adventure. This series of open-ended suspension bridges link eight towering Douglass fir trees. At heights of up to 25m/80ft above the forest floor, the bridges have viewing platforms where Capilano’s naturalist hold court on the area’s ecological attributes.
Get a bird’s-eye view of everything British Columbia, from mountains forests to oceans and rivers, aboard the Sea to Sky Gondola. The 10-minute ride takes up to eight passengers at a time just over 2,900 feet (885 meters) above sea level, all in a gondola with floor-to-ceiling glass windows for the very best views. Upon arrival at the top, there are a number of outdoor activities to choose from, including the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge and various hiking trails.
There are three easily accessible main viewing platforms to take in views of the coastal mountains and fjord, and the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the closest to the gondola’s unloading station. It’s attached to Summit Lodge, which has a restaurant and bar.
The Capilano Salmon Hatchery is a fish farm that was established in 1971 to save the strongly declining salmon stocks in the Capilano River, which was then threatened by the construction of the Cleveland Dam. Today, the hatchery not only breeds Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout, but has also introduced Chinook salmon into the system to provide for the ceremonial as well as food fishery of the Squamish First Nation. The facility is also open to the public and invites people to learn more about Canada’s most popular fish.
Visitors are guided around the hatchery largely via a self-guided tour and witness the fascinating and tragic life cycle of the salmon, beginning with their development from eggs to their release into the river in spring and their heroic efforts as adults to reach their spawning grounds upriver, after which they promptly die. Displays and exhibits explain the whole fascinating process as well as inform about the hatchery’s operations.
Grizzly bears, a grey wolf, birds of prey and hummingbirds all live and play at the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife. The refuge has plenty of interpretive programs, too, which allow visitors to learn about these exciting species and their habitats.
The main attractions, undoubtedly, are the two gfrizzly bears, Grinder and Coola. Both were orphaned in 2011; Grinder was found along a logging road in BC’s Kootenay Mountains, while Coola was scooped up off the roadside near Bella Coola. At the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, both bears coexist despite their unique personalities. A variety of interpretive programs, from the Bear Discovery tour to Breakfast with the Bears, help teach visitors all about these enormous animals. Alpha, the only grey wolf at Grouse Mountain, is often spotted right from the parking lot as he explores his personal protected habitat.
Just outside British Columbia’s largest city lies a tall-sided glacial fjord, carved into the landscape during the last Ice Age. Because road access is limited, Indian Arm provides some of the most dramatic mountain scenery and wildlife in the region. The calm, salty waters are surrounded by steeply rising granite cliffs and heavily wooded hillsides. There are also dozens of waterfalls and creeks, which can freeze in entirety during the winter season. The largest accessible waterfall is Granite Falls, on the eastern side.
A rough hiking trail extends around the perimeter of Indian Arm, with the possibility of viewing local wildlife such as bald eagles, seals, black bears, and salmon. Many choose to take in the natural beauty from the water, with a variety of boat trips offered through the fjord. You may even pass by one of the area’s many islands or secluded beaches.
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is the hub for western Canada’s growing wine industry, with nearly 200 vineyards and wineries dotting its sun-baked hills. Kelowna, the region’s largest city, sprawls along the shores of Okanagan Lake and offers all the services you need for a wine-touring holiday.
In downtown Kelowna, a good place to start your explorations is at the Laurel Packinghouse Building, which houses two museums. At the British Columbia Wine Museum – part exhibition space and part wine store – you can learn about the Okanagan wineries and the types of wines you’ll sample as you visit local producers. The Okanagan has long been BC’s main fruit-growing region, too, a history that’s on view at the British Columbia Orchard Industry Museum. The Kelowna Art Gallery, a small contemporary art museum nearby, is also worth a visit.
While the biggest reason for a visitor to head out to Horseshoe Bay might be the ferry terminal, the picturesque community of just 1,000 year-round residents is worth a trip all on its own. In addition to being the West Coast ferry terminus for BC Ferries going to Vancouver Island, Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast, the little village located at the entrance to Howe Sound is also the starting point of the Sea to Sky highway, one of British Columbia’s most notable attractions. The coastal highway winds along the coast through Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, offering world-class views of the region’s unique evergreen islands and tall mountains.
Although Horseshoe Bay is mainly a bedroom community for nature-loving Vancouverites, it does offer a variety of unique shops, bistros, and a pub. The marina is home to boats big and small, and with the ocean at your feet and the North Shore mountains at your back, the outdoor opportunities are boundless.
Home of the beloved Nanaimo Bar and the typically splendid panoramas of British Columbia, Nanaimo has become a must-visit destination over the past couple of years. Whether it’s outdoor recreation (biking, zip lining, scuba diving at the artificial reefs, boating on the protected scenic waters, paddling the historical harbor, fishing for crab or salmon or trout, hiking to the summit of Mount Benson, snorkeling and exploring the sea life of the Georgia Strait), festival hopping (Maple Sugar Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Nanaimo Bar None, Summertime Blues and more) or getting art-ed out (Cedar Yellow Point artisan trail, art galleries and Gabriola Arts Council), Nanaimo has plenty of activities to keep visitors busy and entertained. Not to mention the topnotch dining, the Cowichan Valley wineries and the legendary nightlife – Nanaimo has, after all, gained the nicknamed of Pub City because of the numerous watering holes found in the city.
In the 1800s, fur traders were at the forefront of the ever advancing British Empire and Fort Langley was one of the trading posts built by the powerful Hudson’s Bay Company, which back then functioned as a de facto government in the Pacific Northwest. Originally, the fort was established due to the British interest in sea otter pelts and to once and for all assert control over the Columbia District in the face of American competition, but soon the site’s purpose shifted to a more supportive one. What is today known as the Fort Langley National Historic Site moved on to influence history in profound ways, helped establish the international border with the United States and due to its strategic location, became the birthplace of British Columbia. Visitors can step back in time at the restored and reconstructed Fort Langley to interact with costumed fur traders or dress up themselves, get introduced to blacksmithing in a working forge.
Things to do near Vancouver
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