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Vancouver Bucket List: What To Do In Downtown Vancouver

Canada is the place to go if you love being outdoors. This first section about my Canadian road trip is all about Vancouver; the best things to do in the city and its surrounding areas.

While the surrounding Vancouver hikes are a treat for any outdoor enthusiast, there are also plenty of Vancouver attractions to see in the city.

I’d suggest spending a day exploring the Downtown streets, wandering from landmark to landmark. And definitely try out some of the mouthwatering food.

This Vancouver bucket list offers a list of things to do in Downtown Vancouver, as well as tips on where to eat, where to stay, and how to get around the city. 

Enjoying the view over Vancouver at dusk

Enjoying the view over Vancouver at dusk

About Vancouver

Vancouver is a bustling city in the South-West region of Canada, in British Columbia. Vancouver consistently ranks in the top five cities worldwide for liveability and quality of life.

Having experienced the Vancouver lifestyle, even if only for a week, I can see why. It’s a modern city, where you can still see traces of its industrial past in areas like Granville Island and Gastown.

This gives the city a beautiful balance between a feeling of modernity and old fashion. It is also a city surrounded by forests and mountains, which you can easily explore from Vancouver.

Exploring Downtown Vancouver

Exploring Downtown Vancouver

Top things to do in Downtown Vancouver

Considering the long journey we had; after being awake for 24 hours, a 10-hour flight and a 4-hour train, we woke up on the first day still feeling a little out of it.

So we started our Vancouver itinerary with a relaxing day exploring the downtown area and the main attractions and points of interest.

Luckily for us, there were plenty of things to do in Downtown Vancouver, so we were occupied from the get-go. Here’s a list of the top things to do in Vancouver Downtown district – these are also free to do.

Enjoying the views from Stanley Park in Vancouver

Enjoying the views from Stanley Park in Vancouver

Granville Island

First thing, we headed to Granville Island to explore the shops and have lunch at the food market. Granville Island has a clear industrial past, with cranes and rail tracks still around.

Over time, it was remodelled by the influx of artists and musicians, which gives it a timeless and old fashioned feeling.

It’s located along the river, and is a departure point for ferries that cross over to Downtown, or the whale watching tours.

The market at Granville Island was one of my favourite areas of Vancouver, the food was amazing and it had some really chill vibes.

We got food from one of the market stalls and then sat along the river to eat it; a great way to start our first day in Vancouver. Even if you only have one day in Vancouver, it’s a must-visit lunch spot.

The Vancouver city skyline and beach - Photo by Shaylen Anita on Scopio

The Vancouver city skyline and beach – Photo by Shaylen Anita on Scopio

Canada Place

We then drove to Canada Place, an iconic landmark located in the heart of Vancouver’s waterfront. This is also where the seaplanes for Vancouver Island and Victoria depart from.

I got way more excited than I should have about seaplanes (my friends refused to get one as they have issues with seasickness… I think I need better friends).

The seaplanes in Vancouver, Canada

The seaplanes in Vancouver

Stanley Park

From there we then went on to Stanley Park. This is a park that is almost entirely surrounded by water, located close to Downtown Vancouver.

One of the popular Vancouver activities to do here is to cycle around the park and island. However, since the weather wasn’t the best, we decided to drive around it instead, stopping at the main landmarks and viewpoints.

Here’s an e-bike tour you can join that leaves from Stanley park. It’s one of the best spots to visit also if you’re travelling to Vancouver with kids.

Click here to book your e-bike tour of Stanley Park!

Bridge views from Stanley Park

Bridge views from Stanley Park

VanDusen Botanical Gardens

Another great place to visit while in Downtown Vancouver are the splendid botanical gardens.

Take a walk through the gardens and discover all the beauty inside. There’s a maze, a stone garden, and a stunning pond to admire.

You’ll find an abundance of plantlife, as well as birds, bees, and other small wild animals. There are also group tours that you can join to learn more about the gardens.

Vancouver Lookout

Want to fit in all the best things to see in Vancouver at once? Head up to the Lookout. Standing at 147 metres high, this tower on top of an office building offers 360-degree views of the city below.

To reach the top you’ll take a trip in a glass elevator – taking in the scenes as you get higher up. Book your entrance ticket to the Lookout online and avoid queues when you arrive.

Click here your fast track entry to Vancouver Lookout!

Capilano Suspension Bridge

For those not afraid of heights, this is one of the most spectacular things to do in Vancouver. The suspension bridge crosses the Capilano River and offers breathtaking scenes of the treetops below.

The bridge is located in the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which offers a range of fun activities as well, including a new cliffwalk and a visit to the birds of prey centre.

You can book an entrance ticket and round trip shuttle online to enjoy a self-guided tour of the park.

Click here to book your entrance and transfer to Capilano Suspension Bridge!

Exploring the suspension bridges in Vancouver

Exploring the suspension bridges in Vancouver

Where to eat in Vancouver

Food is all part of the Vancouver experience. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafes to satisfy any craving, but be sure to look out for one (or all) of the following before you leave.

Waffles at Medina Cafe

This may be more of a dessert than breakfast, especially if you pair any of Medina’s scrumptious waffles with their innovative and delicious dips.

White chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry caramel are just a few of the divine dipping flavours. They also have savoury food for those who aren’t such big sweet-waffle fans.

Hotdogs at Japadog

Japanese-inspired hotdogs, sold at multiple street carts throughout the city, Japadog is a must for lunchtime in Vancouver. These hotdogs are no ordinary hotdogs.

There’s an assortment of sausages and a treasure trove of toppings, including fried mash potato and even seaweed. You can also grab fries and a drink with your meal, making it filling and delicious.

All-day Breakfast at Jam Cafe

If you’re a breakfast fan, you’re going to fit in really well at Jam Cafe. Try their extravagant french toast, or dig into the raspberry lemon pancakes.

If you’re in need of a bit of a wind-down drink, try out a coffee with a kick paired with your breakfast meal.

Some absolutely incredible cinnamon rolls we had in Vancouver!

Some absolutely incredible cinnamon rolls we had in Vancouver!

Where to stay in Vancouver Downtown

We were very lucky that we have a friend that lives in Vancouver who could host us for the week, as accommodation like everything else in Canada, can be quite expensive..

We were staying close to the University of British Columbia campus as that is where our friend studies. While we thought the area was great fun, it is not ideally located to explore Vancouver.

As obvious as it may sound, you are better off getting a place in the downtown area. So that you can be central for the nightlife but also have easy access to the roads to go hiking outside Vancouver.

Being one of the more vibrant places to stay in Vancouver, Downtown is perfect for those who like to get out and about not only during the day, but at night as well.

There are some superb accommodation options in the area that will cater to your every need.

EXchange Vancouver Hotel

EXchange Vancouver Hotel is one of the fancier hotels in Downtown Vancouver. It’s perfect for those looking for a little luxury to spice up their holiday.

It’s located a mere 200-metres from the Waterfront Centre Mall and each room is adorned with beautiful views over the city.

The on-site restaurant serves delicious meals, leaving you with one less thing to stress about during your travels.

Click here to book your stay at EXchange Vancouver Hotel!

One of the killer whales we saw during our whale watching tour in Vancouver

One of the killer whales we saw during our whale watching tour in Vancouver

Best Western Plus Sands

The Best Western Plus Sands is located in the heart of Downtown Vancouver just a 4-minute walk from English Bay Beach.

The on-site Park restaurant specialises in fresh seafood and the Bayside Lounge offers views over English Bay and serves delicious cocktails.

The hotel offers a gym facility for those looking to keep fit during their holiday, and each room has WiFi, a flatscreen TV, and a coffee machine.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability at Best Western Plus Sands!

View of the Lighthouse and sea at Lighthouse Park in Vancouver

View of the Lighthouse and sea at Lighthouse Park in Vancouver

GEC Granville Suites Downtown

GEC Granville Suites Downtown is located in the entertainment district of Downtown Vancouver. The hotel provides its occupants with a gym, sauna, and rooftop deck, as well as an on-site restaurant serving American cuisine.

Each room has access to WiFi, an iPod docking station, fridge, microwave, and coffee and tea making facilities. This is the perfect hotel for those who want to stay thoroughly entertained in the evenings without going out.

Click here to book your stay at GEC Granville Suites Downtown!

O Canada House Bed & Breakfast

O Canada House Bed & Breakfast is the perfect accommodation option for those looking for a home away from home. The rooms are elegantly decorated and have stunning views of the city.

Breakfast is served each morning, and guests have 24-hour access to the stocked pantry. This means you’ll never be left feeling peckish.

The garden terrace is a beautiful place to relax in a natural setting before heading out for a day of adventure.

Check out the latest prices and availability at O Canada House Bed & Breakfast!

Exploring the hikes in and around Vancouver

Exploring the hikes in and around Vancouver

Getting around Downtown Vancouver

Vancouver is a very compact city. In fact, it often amazes people how tiny it really is. This means making your way around the city is not only easy but fairly affordable.

If you’re planning to go beyond Vancouver, for example on a road trip on the Sea to Sky Highway or even just to some of the surrounding hikes and waterfalls in this Vancouver bucket list, you will most likely need to rent a car.

With all the public transport options available in the city, you might not need to use your car within Vancouver. The city is small, the roads are narrow and there aren’t many available parking spots.

However it’s still good to have one if you want to go beyond Vancouver. There are also other ways to get around Vancouver.

Uber

Uber took its sweet time getting to the city of Vancouver but in 2020 it finally arrived. While it may not be the cheapest way to get around, it’s very convenient and a great option for those who have a little cash to spend.

Uber might be the most popular rideshare app, but it’s not the only option. Be sure to compare prices with apps like Lyft too.

Enjoying the sunset from Spanish Banks Beach in Vancouver

Enjoying the sunset from Spanish Banks Beach in Vancouver

Walking

For short trips, walking is a great way to get around. It’s a very safe city, even at night. Obviously, it’s always a good idea to exercise caution as petty theft happens in every city. But in general, you should feel very safe.

Walking around the city gives you the chance to take in all the sights and smells, and explore hidden gems around Vancouver.

Cycling

There are plenty of bike trails around Vancouver, and even better, a whole host of places you can rent them. Rent a bicycle for your entire stay, or just a day to explore the city and get a little exercise while doing it.

Be sure to carry a bike lock around with you to keep the rental bike safe at all times. Here are a few of the bicycle trails around the city worth exploring:

  • Stanley Park
  • Sunset Beach – Kitsilano Beach
  • Central Valley Greenway
  • Queen Elizabeth Park – VanDusen Botanical Gardens
  • Jericho Beach – UBC – Pacific Spirit Regional Park
Exploring the woods in Deep Cove, on the outskirts of Vancouver

Exploring the woods in Deep Cove, on the outskirts of Vancouver

Public Transit

The public transit system in Vancouver is safe, reliable, and convenient. You’ll pay $2.95 Canadian Dollars to travel one zone.

The SkyTrain directly connects the airport and Downtown Vancouver. It’s a direct trip that is often a lot faster and cheaper than taking a taxi or a shuttle.

Buses run often and have bike racks for convenience. There’s also the seabuses which travel between Downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver.

And the West Coast Express which offers many stops between Downtown Vancouver and Mission.

Another extension of Vancouver’s public transit is HandyDART, a door-to-door rideshare service that operates throughout the city.

If you plan on using public transit on a regular basis during your stay, then consider getting a Compass Card.

This allows you to prepay for your rides so you don’t have to carry cash around with you. You also get a discounted rate if you use the Compass Card.

Views in Downtown Vancouver

Views in Downtown Vancouver

Wrapping up Vancouver Downtown things to do

In this article, I tried to give you a summary of all the fun things to do in Vancouver. But there are definitely more to discover!

Both the city and the surrounding natural wonders offer plenty of adventure and experience.

If you’re an outdoors lover you will want to check out these epic waterfalls near Vancouver and our awesome road trip to Whistler.

Have you been to Vancouver? What did you think of it? The only way to truly see what the fuss is all about is to visit this epic city yourself.

Let me know in the comments below! If there are other activities that would rank high in your Vancouver highlights I’d love to hear what they are!

Can’t get enough of Vancouver? Check out this top 10 things to do in Vancouver list.

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Collage of Vancouver skyline photos with text overlay saying "The ultimate Vancouver bucket list"

Collage of Vancouver skyline photos with text overlay saying "The ultimate Vancouver bucket list"

Collage of the Vancouver skyline with text overlay saying "Downtown Vancouver - the ultimate guide"