Going to Vancouver on a cruise? You might want to get there a few days early because this enchanting city has a lot to offer.
Here are some great ideas for activities and things you can do in Vancouver before or after your cruise. Some of these excursions will differ depending on the season.
Vancouver is an exciting city for all ages and interests. It is both pedestrian- and bike-friendly as well as easy to navigate.
The area we now call Vancouver was originally inhabited by the Coast Salish people from 16,000 to 11,000 B.C. The Spanish claimed the area, however, in 1792, British sea Captain George Vancouver visited the area for exactly one day. Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post in 1827 and was followed by fur traders, lumber workers, gold miners, and the railroad.
The original town was called Gastown and was built up around a bar that Gassy Jack started in 1867. In 1870, Gastown became incorporated as the town of Granville and became formally known as Vancouver in 1886. The population grew to over 1,000 – and hasn’t stopped growing!
Vancouver has been consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world. More than 35 percent of the 2.3 million Vancouver inhabitants are foreign-born and the city was host to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
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Vancouver General Information
It is easy to get around in Vancouver. There is an elevated light-rail system called the Skytrain and an extensive bus network. The currency used is the Canadian Dollar, though US dollars are widely accepted.
Canada Place Cruise Terminal
The Canada Place Cruise Terminal is the only cruise terminal in Vancouver. Ballantyne Pier was located to the east, but it was retired as a cruise terminal in 2015. Vancouver is a vibrant city where you can enjoy the west coast mountains, shorelines, cuisine, nightlife, and many attractions.
Vancouver is the only cruise ship port which offers one-way and round-trip itineraries to Alaska
through the Inside Passage. The Inside Passage lets you experience stunning scenic coastlines and shortens your travel time to Alaska – meaning you can enjoy more time at your Alaska stops. In addition to Alaska, Canada Place cruise ships travel to California, Hawaii, the Panama Canal, the South Pacific, and Asia.
Canada Place Cruise Terminal is conveniently located in downtown Vancouver and is easily accessible to restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and attractions on the downtown peninsula. It is only 30 minutes from the Vancouver International Airport.
If you are looking to extend your cruise vacation, either before or after the cruise, choose from one of these wonderful hotels near the Canada Place port:
- Rosewood Hotel Georgia
- Pan Pacific Vancouver
- Loden Vancouver
- Fairmont Pacific Rim
- Delta Hotels by Marriott
- EXchange Hotel
- Fairmont Waterfront
- Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront
- Days Inn by Wyndham
- Hotel Le Soleil
Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city and one of the world’s top destinations for outdoor adventure activities. Explore all you can do in Vancouver in the summer!
Vancouver is one of the world’s best locations for whale watching. Thousands of whales migrate through the waters of Vancouver from March through October. Choose from a variety of whale-watching expedition marine vehicles:
- High-speed zodiac
- Cruising boat
Vancouver’s northern waterways teem with orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales. Observe additional marine animals such as sea lions, otters, dolphins, and seabirds.
Jump off the ledge of a trestle bridge and enjoy the incredible views over the Nanaimo River. Experience a 150-foot plunge toward the cool river, boulders, and rocks with only a bungee cord and a harness. Try a classic swan dive or test your courage with more intricate dives.
Fly like a bird on this aerial adventure. Soar above the treetops to view Vancouver’s mountains, harbour, and skyline. Learn about the construction of the glider, basic meteorology, and launch technique before gliding off on an elevation drop of 3,300 feet. Feel the turns and pitch control as an Instructor guides you through the approach and landing techniques. Truly experience the feeling of flying during a solo or tandem paragliding flight.
Explore Vancouver’s thousands of inlets and coves on a sea kayak. All skill levels will be able to enjoy this watery expedition. Some of the most popular destinations include False Creek and Indian Arm – a glacial fjord that is 11 miles long with lush forests and loads of marine life! Marvel at the waterfront views of the city, soaring seagulls, lazy seals, and incredible sunsets.
Glide across the water on a wide, long board as you use a long paddle to propel yourself forward. This popular sport gets you out on the water and lets you enjoy Vancouver’s waterfront. It’s more difficult than it looks, but a great workout for your core! Some of the best places to paddle:
- Jericho Beach is easy to access and the water is relatively flat. This is one of the best areas to get an amazing view of the city.
- Kitsilano Beach has quick water access and allows you to tour English Bay for an impressive view of Vancouver, Stanley Park, and the many boats moored in the harbor.
- Tiddley Cove is in West Vancouver and is best enjoyed at high tide. At low tide, the water is shallow and muddy. The water is very smooth and a perfect place for beginners.
- Lighthouse Park is a great place to go for a picturesque view of the lighthouse. Beginners should not go further out as the open water can become quite choppy on a windy day.
- Sandy Cove Beach has warm water and abundant marine life. Perfect for beginners.
- False Creek has flat water that is perfect for beginners, especially if you like to look at boats. You can also step off your board anytime at any of the docks.
- Deep Cove is the prettiest area and boasts the best access to Indian Arm. The untouched scenery and calm waters make this a perfect place to paddle.
- For the adventurous, try Yoga on the Water where you do yoga on stand-up paddle boards.
British Columbia is one of the best salmon-fishing regions in the world, but it’s also good for trout, steelhead, and halibut fishing. There are also deep-sea options and secluded river fishing spots. Fish any style: fly, bait, or spin; or cast a line for a specific fish: salmon, halibut, cod, or trout. There’s something for every fisherman in the Vancouver area.
British Columbia has 12,500 miles of coastline, more than 25,000 lakes, and seemingly limitless rivers and streams. Additionally, there are both saltwater and freshwater fishing opportunities. The adventurous can take a floatplane or helicopter to some of the region’s most pristine fishing spots.
Embark on your flyfishing trip right from Vancouver. You will be wading rivers for salmon within an hour of the city in sparkling wild rivers. Salmon fishing charters also leave from downtown Vancouver and you can fish for a half- or full-day.
Experience the thrill of sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River which is an easy driving distance from Vancouver. All skill levels will enjoy this uniquely British Columbia experience. Discover the biggest sturgeon in the river in a remote area of the Fraser River.
Choose where you would like to fish and what type of fish you prefer:
- Fraser River – Fish for salmon, sturgeon, trout, and steelhead
- Campbell River – Three hours north of Victoria , it is known as the “salmon capital of the world”
- Haida Gwaii – Take a floatplane to this remote archipelago where salmon migrate toward streams. Also, halibut, red snapper, and rockfish.
- Victoria – British colonial city on Vancouver Island offering winter fishing for Chinook. Summer fishing brings large halibut, sockeye, trout, salmon, and shellfish.
British Colombia Wine Country
British Columbia has dozens of microclimates which ensures that there is a variety in local wine types, such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, pinot blanc, Ortega, Riesling, and gewürztraminer.
There are a number of wineries located within a 30-minute drive south from downtown Vancouver. These wineries source grapes from the Okanagan Valley. Vancouver Island has more than three dozen vineyards on the Saanich Peninsula or the Cowichan Valley and is home to four percent of British Columbia’s vineyards.
Discover beaches for every occasion in Vancouver. If you want to read a book, have a picnic, or spike a volleyball – there’s a beach for you. Choose one of the great Vancouver beaches:
- Kitsilano Beach, or Kits Beach, is like Venice Beach, with buff bodies, joggers, families, and sun worshippers. Enjoy the tennis courts and world-famous volleyball. There is also a gigantic, outdoor, heated salt-water pool with a panoramic view of the city, mountains, and ocean.
- Jericho Beach has a long stretch of sand with outstanding views of the North Shore Mountains and downtown. It is also popular for sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, and beach volleyball.
- Spanish Banks was named by the British in 1792 to commemorate the area’s discovery by Spanish explorers. This quiet retreat is the least crowded of Vancouver’s beaches and perfect for skim boarding.
- West End Beaches – English Bay and Sunset Beach – are a 30-miute walk from most downtown hotels and are undeveloped. There is a floating slide and they are great for rollerblading adventures.
- Second and Third Beaches are just north of Stanley Park. Second Beach also has an enormous, heated outdoor pool. These beaches are popular with the locals for summer barbecues.
- Wreck Beach is Canada’s first, legal, clothing-optional beach. This 4.8-mile long, secluded beach attracts up to 14,000 visitors on summer weekends.
- Ambleside Beach is a family-favorite beach with a playground and a strollable seawall with amazing views of Stanley Park and the city’s skyline.
Vancouver has an abundant bird population due to habitats which includes a temperate rainforest, waterways, and alpine mountains. It is also located along the Pacific Flyway, a significant migration and wintering location. There have been more than 370 bird species recorded in the region. Choose one of the best Vancouver locations for birders:
- Stanley Park is home to one of the largest Pacific Great Blue Heron colonies in North America. The herons return every February to set up their nests and lay their eggs.
- George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is an amazing spot to observe migratory bird species as they rest on their journey north or south. Almost 300 species have been recorded at the sanctuary wand there is an annual flock of around 75,000 snow geese.
- Brackendale is north of Vancouver and hosts an annual Winter Eagle Festival and Count. In 2016, over 400 eagles were counted as they ate chum. Stanley Park has at least two nests and there are approximately 18 nests located in the City of Vancouver.
- Boundary Bay is by the US/Canada border with a system of dykes and waterfront trails that make it ideal to observe migrating waterfowl and eagles.
Vancouver has many attractions that are not completely dependent on the weather.
Stanley Park is a green oasis in the middle of Vancouver that is surrounded by a 6-mile seawall. It is used by cyclists, joggers, and families. Enjoy scenic water views, mountains, and imposing trees. The park has trails, beaches, wildlife, and historical landmarks and offers a wide variety of experiences for all ages.
Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood with historic charm and an independent spirit. The Victorian architecture is home to a successful fashion scene, vibrant shopping district, distinctive art galleries, and delicious culinary fare. The area is adorned with a Steam Clock, vintage gaslight lampposts, and charming cobblestones.
Grouse Mountain rises 4,100 feet above Vancouver and is 15 minutes from downtown. Ride the eight-minute Skyride up Grouse Mountain and marvel at the neighboring peaks, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf Islands. Choose from a diverse array of activities at this four-season destination:
Eye of the Wind
The Eye of the Wind is a large wind turbine with an elevator that accesses an observation area suspended directly below the massive 125-foot long blades and hangs 20 stories in the air. The area is encased in glass, including the floor which gives an observer the sensation of flying. The sights are spectacular with a 360-degree view of the city, harbor, and Coast Mountains.
The Refuge for Endangered Wildlife
Explore the research, education, and conservation center where endangered animals can play while being protected and secure. It is a five-acre habitat that is home to two orphaned grizzly bears and other wildlife habitats.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was built in 1889 and has been replaced a number of times. It stretches 450-feet and rises 230-feet above the Capilano River. Capilano is a Squamish Nation name meaning beautiful river.
The Cliffwalk is a series of cantilevered bridges, stairs and platforms that trails along a granite precipice with 16 anchor points in the granite to support the structure. The Cliffwalk is environmentally sensitive and an exhilarating experience.
Treetops Adventure puts you 100-feet into the tree canopy where you can observe the coastal rainforest midway up the trunk of 1,300-year-old Douglas fir trees. The viewing platforms and seven suspension bridges are secured to the trees using an innovative compression system.
The Vancouver Lookout is an observation platform in the middle of downtown which boasts a 360-degree view of Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, and, in clear weather, Vancouver Island off the Pacific Coast. Soar more than 553-feet above Vancouver in an exterior glass elevator. Thrill at this must-see attraction!
Flyover Canada is a multimedia show that uses advanced technology to make you feel like you’re flying. Hang suspended in front of a 60-foot screen on an exhilarating, 8-minute, virtual expedition across Canada. Experience special effects like mist, wind, and scents that combine with the ride’s movement for an unforgettable experience.
Ziplining and Winter Ziplining
Fly through the air across the peaks of Grouse Mountain and Dam Mountain at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Get your adrenaline pumping and gain a unique perspective of British Columbia’s old-growth forests. Guides provide safety instructions and share information about the local area. Zip down the lines and enjoy every second of the spectacular scenery.
In the summer, zip down five lines and watch as you speed above the breathtaking forest.
In the winter, zip above snow-covered evergreen trees, into vertigo-causing canyons, and over icy peaks. Grouse Mountain is only 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver
The North Shore of Vancouver is widely-considered to be the birthplace of freestyle mountain biking. Mountain bikers, cyclists, and adrenaline-junkies of all skill levels will enjoy the numerous bike trails and extensive city routes available in Vancouver.
Vancouver offers a range of scenic hiking trails along seaside pathways and mountainous tracks. Hiking options are available for every skill level. Beginners will enjoy the waterfront trails at Lighthouse Park and seasoned trailblazers can challenge themselves on the Grouse Grind.
Snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing winter sports and Vancouver’s mountainous terrain offers many opportunities for both novices and seasoned professionals. Grouse Mountain has over 6 miles of scenic trails. Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour also boast many miles of beautiful trails. Beginners will feel like pros in no time as snowshoeing is easy to learn and fun for all ages.
Glide gracefully over the ice in the heart of the city and skate away the afternoon. The rink is partially-covered by a dome and popular with both tourists and locals. Ride the Skyride gondola up to discover a charming skating pond among fir and hemlock trees.
Cross-country, or Nordic, skiing is very popular, and Vancouver’s mountainous terrain is a paradise for cross-country skiing. Cypress Mountain has more than 12 miles of groomed, cross-country trails that bring you through thick, old growth forests.
Vancouver has some incredible ski slopes, but the best runs on the mountain are only accessible with a helicopter. A helicopter flies you to the top of Whistler’s snow-covered mountains where you can enjoy the pristine, powdery mountain without the hassle of lift lines or the congestion of other skiers.
Dining and Shopping
The Pacific Centre Mall and Robson Street are the areas where most downtown shopping is located. Granville Island and False Creek have public markets and many restaurants.
Local favorite restaurants downtown include:
- Cardero’s in Coal Harbour
- Bridge’s Patio on Granville Island
- Cactus Club at various locations
- Dinesty on Robson
There are also gourmet food carts and stands like Meat and Bread, Japadog, and Bella Gellateria.
The unofficial national dish of Canada is poutine which consists of fries with gravy and cheese curds. There are a number of stands in the city where you can savor this delightful dish.
Whistler Mountain and Village
If you are longing to experience alpine activities, then take the two-hour trip north to Whistler in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. Whistler has activities for skiers and non-skiers and is a vibrant year-round destination. There are two mountains – Whistler and Blackcomb – a lively base village, hiking, mountain biking, golf courses, shopping, and of course, the phenomenal skiing and snowboarding. There are hotels for every budget and a lively nightlife. There are limitless year-round activities and attractions at Whistler, as well as a family-friendly atmosphere, an energetic cultural scene, and a variety of exciting events.
How about you? What have you done in Vancouver that you would recommend to our readers? Let us know in the comment section below.