Explore Vancouver: 10 Must-Do Things for First-Time Visitors

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13 Min Read
May 7, 2023

Vancouver is a vibrant and diverse city, with a thriving arts and culture scene, world-renowned dining, and breathtaking natural beauty. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, there are countless must-do things to experience in Vancouver. From exploring the city's historic neighborhoods to taking in the panoramic views from atop its many mountains, Vancouver offers something for everyone.

In this ultimate guide, we've compiled a list of the top must-do things in Vancouver, so you can make the most of your trip and create unforgettable memories.

From popular attractions like Stanley Park and Granville Island to hidden gems, we'll take you on a journey through Vancouver's must-see sights and experiences. Get ready to discover the best of Vancouver and make your next trip one to remember!

1. Experience Breathtaking Views on the Sea to Sky Gondola

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For first-time visitors to Vancouver, the Sea to Sky Gondola is an unforgettable adventure that should not be missed. This incredible attraction, located just outside of downtown Vancouver in the heart of Squamish, takes you on a journey high above the majestic Howe Sound, offering awe-inspiring views of the surrounding landscape.

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As you board the gondola, prepare to be whisked away to an elevation of 885 meters (2,903 feet), where you'll find yourself between Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Upon arrival at the top, the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform awaits you, offering a stunning 270-degree panorama of the breathtaking Howe Sound and the Coast Range Mountains.

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The adventure doesn't stop there! Explore the cedar-lined paths that lead to even more scenic viewpoints. One particular highlight is the Summit Lodge Viewing Deck, which is bound to become a popular spot for marriage proposals, thanks to its sweeping vistas. For those seeking a thrilling experience, the 100-meter (328-foot) Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge will undoubtedly get your heart racing.

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Location: Sea to Sky Gondola - Google Maps

2. Wander through the historic Gastown district and snap a photo of the iconic Steam Clock

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One of the most famous landmarks in Gastown is the iconic Steam Clock. Built in 1977, this antique-style clock is not only a marvel of engineering but also a unique piece of art. Powered by steam and whistling to mark the passing hours, it has become a beloved symbol of the neighborhood and a popular spot for visitors to capture a memorable photo.

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Walking through the area offers more than just a glimpse of the city's history. You'll find an array of local boutiques, souvenir shops, and art galleries lining the streets, making it the perfect place to pick up a unique keepsake or indulge in some retail therapy. When hunger strikes, you'll be spoiled for choice with the multitude of restaurants and cafes, serving everything from casual fare to fine dining options.

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Just a short three-minute walk from Canada Place, with its stunning sea views, Gastown provides a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver. The combination of historical charm, fascinating attractions, and diverse dining options make this district a must-visit when exploring Vancouver.

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Location: Gastown Steam Clock - Google Maps

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3. Take a stroll through Stanley Park and visit the Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park

As you meander along the park's winding pathways or cycle the scenic seawall, you'll be treated to stunning views of the city skyline, mountains, and ocean. Stanley Park is home to numerous picturesque spots, from serene lakes to vibrant gardens, providing ample opportunities for relaxation and exploration.

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One must-see attraction within Stanley Park is the renowned Vancouver Aquarium. Since its opening in 1956 as Canada's first public aquarium, this world-class facility has welcomed over 40 million guests from around the globe. The Vancouver Aquarium is dedicated to providing the highest standard of animal care and fostering an engaging, educational experience for all who visit.

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With a diverse collection of thousands of ocean species and fascinating aquatic life, the Vancouver Aquarium offers a unique opportunity to connect with the wonders of the underwater world. From mesmerizing jellyfish displays to playful sea otters, there is something to captivate every age and interest.

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After exploring the aquarium, continue your adventure through Stanley Park by discovering its many other attractions, including the totem poles, the Lost Lagoon, and the picturesque Prospect Point.

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Location: Vancouver Aquarium - Google Maps

4. Experience the unique shopping and dining options on Granville Island

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As you explore Granville Island, you'll discover a diverse selection of local artisans, boutiques, and galleries, showcasing everything from handmade crafts to one-of-a-kind artwork. This lively district is a treasure trove for shoppers seeking unique gifts and mementos or simply wanting to indulge in some retail therapy.

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A visit wouldn't be complete without a trip to its famous Public Market, which is brimming with fresh produce, specialty foods, and delicious treats. With a vast array of vendors offering everything from artisanal cheeses to mouthwatering pastries, the market is a food lover's paradise. Be sure to sample some of the local fare and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this bustling marketplace.

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In addition to the exceptional shopping and culinary delights, they’re also home to numerous restaurants, cafes, and bars, ensuring a diverse dining experience to suit every palate - the island's eateries cater to all tastes and preferences. Plenty of areas and activities for kids and families to spend time together!

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For those looking for an exhilarating water activity, Seadoo Rentals are available on Granville Island. Hop on a high-powered personal watercraft and zip through the surrounding waters, feeling the thrill of the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean on your face. It's a fantastic way to explore the coastline and enjoy a dose of adrenaline.

If you prefer a more relaxed water adventure, consider Renting a Hydrobike. These unique watercraft blend the simplicity of a bicycle with the tranquility of being on the water. Pedal your way through the calm waters around Granville Island, taking in the picturesque views and enjoying a leisurely ride at your own pace.

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For nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers, Granville Island is an ideal starting point for Whale Watching Tours. With experienced guides and specialized vessels, you'll have the opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures up close while learning about their behaviors and conservation efforts.

Location: Granville Island - Google Maps

5. Take a guided tour of the craft breweries and sample some of the best beer in Canada

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Vancouver is renowned for its thriving craft beer scene, which has grown to become an integral part of the city's culture. With a diverse array of innovative breweries dotted throughout the city, there's no better way to explore this booming industry than by embarking on a Guided Brewery Tour.

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These informative and entertaining tours offer an insider's look into the world of craft brewing, providing a unique opportunity to learn about the brewing process, meet the passionate people behind these creations, and, of course, sample some of the finest beers in Canada.

As you journey through Vancouver's brewery scene, you'll have the chance to visit a variety of establishments, ranging from intimate, family-run operations to larger, more established breweries.

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Each stop on the tour showcases its own distinct approach to brewing, with a wide selection of styles and flavors to suit every palate. From crisp, refreshing lagers to bold, hoppy IPAs, there's something for every beer enthusiast to enjoy.

In addition to the delectable beer tastings, many brewery tours also include behind-the-scenes access to the production facilities, offering a fascinating glimpse into the art and science of brewing. You'll gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into every pint of beer.

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6. Take a walk or bike ride along the seawall in False Creek

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A walk or bike ride along the False Creek seawall is an absolute must-do in Vancouver. This picturesque waterfront path, which stretches around the scenic inlet, offers unparalleled views of the city skyline, the surrounding mountains, and the bustling marinas that define this urban oasis.

Must-try experience in Vancouver - Riding a Tandem Bike and discovering the beauty of the city together with your partner!

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Nestled in the heart of Vancouver, separates the Downtown and West End neighborhoods from the rest of the city. As one of the four main bodies of water bordering Vancouver, it is an essential part of the city's landscape and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Granville Island, a beloved shopping and dining hotspot, can be found within the inlet, making it an ideal stop along your seawall adventure.

Touring Vancouver with BikeCycle City Tours is another great option to discover Vancouver on wheels! The tours are led by experienced guides, known for their storytelling prowess, offering deep insights into the local culture and history.

 

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As you meander along the seawall, you'll be captivated by the stunning vistas and lively atmosphere that make this waterfront pathway such a cherished part of Vancouver's urban landscape. The seawall is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the breathtaking views and invigorating fresh air.

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Whether you're strolling hand-in-hand with a loved one, cycling with friends, or simply enjoying a leisurely walk on your own, the False Creek seawall is the perfect setting to unwind and connect with the city's natural beauty.

Location: False Creek - Google Maps

7. Walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge for breathtaking views of the forest

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Iconic Capilano Suspension Bridge is an unforgettable experience that simply can't be missed. Located in the District of North Vancouver, this awe-inspiring bridge spans 140 meters across the Capilano River, offering breathtaking views of the lush forest and rushing waters 70 meters below.

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As you make your way across the bridge, you'll be captivated by the stunning scenery and the exhilarating sensation of walking high above the forest floor. The swaying of the bridge and the crisp, fresh air make for an invigorating and memorable adventure that truly immerses you in the beauty of British Columbia's natural landscape.

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Once you’re done, there are plenty of additional attractions to explore within the park. The Cliffwalk, a cantilevered walkway that clings to the granite cliffside, offers yet another thrilling perspective on the surrounding environment. For a more leisurely experience, take a stroll along the Treetops Adventure, a series of seven suspension bridges that connect towering Douglas firs, providing an incredible bird's-eye view of the forest canopy.

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Location: Capilano Suspension Bridge - Google Maps

8. Take a ride up to the top of Grouse Mountain for stunning views and outdoor activities

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Situated in the District Municipality of North Vancouver, this 1,200-meter mountain is part of the North Shore Mountains of the Pacific Ranges, and offers a plethora of outdoor activities and breathtaking views of Vancouver.

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To reach the summit, hop on the Skyride, an aerial tramway that whisks you up the mountain, providing awe-inspiring panoramas of the city, the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding mountains. As you ascend, you'll be amazed at the dramatic shift in scenery, from bustling urban life to serene alpine landscapes.

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Once you've reached the top, there are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained. In the winter, visitors can enjoy skiing and snowboarding on the mountain's well-groomed slopes, or strap on some snowshoes and explore the tranquil snow-covered trails.

Summertime offers a different array of activities, with Hiking, Ziplining, Mountain Biking and Challenging Rope Courses being popular choices for visitors looking to make the most of the great outdoors.

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No matter the season, Grouse Mountain's stunning views are a constant delight. Be sure to take some time to soak in the panoramas from the various viewpoints, and snap photos to capture the memories of your time on the mountain.

Location: Grouse Mountain - Google Maps

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9. Summer: Explore the stunning Lighthouse Park from a unique perspective on the water

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This picturesque park is a National Historic Site of Canada and is open year-round, drawing tourists and locals alike with its well-maintained grounds and captivating scenery.

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Embarking on a Seadoo excursion allows you to experience the breathtaking views of Lighthouse Park's rugged coastline and lush forests from the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean.

As you zip along the water, you'll be treated to stunning vistas of the historic lighthouse and the surrounding natural beauty, providing a truly memorable and exhilarating experience.

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Once you've explored the park from the water, be sure to venture on land and discover the numerous hiking trails that meander through the park.

With a variety of difficulty levels and scenic viewpoints, there's a trail to suit every hiker's preference. Don't forget to visit the iconic lighthouse itself, which stands as a testament to the area's maritime history and offers a fantastic photo opportunity.

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Location: Lighthouse Park - Google Maps

10. Winter: Spend a day skiing or snowboarding at the world-renowned Whistler Blackcomb resort

Whistler Blackcomb

When the winter months arrive, there's no better place to indulge in some skiing or snowboarding than the world-famous Whistler Blackcomb resort.

Located just a short drive from Vancouver, this premier ski destination boasts an incredible range of slopes, amenities, and activities that cater to both beginners and experienced snow enthusiasts alike.

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Visitors to Whistler Blackcomb can expect an unforgettable ski vacation, complete with exceptional services and amenities. Enjoy FREE Skiing & Snowboarding Tours during the winter season.

The resort offers a wide array of tourist activities to keep you entertained, including grocery store, high-end brand shops, a cinema, coffee shops, breweries, and a diverse selection of dining options.

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As you hit the slopes, you'll be amazed by the variety and quality of the terrain available for skiing and snowboarding. With over 200 marked trails, 8,171 acres of skiable terrain, and a vast array of lifts, there's something for every skill level and preference. The friendly and helpful staff will ensure you have a fantastic time, whether you're a seasoned pro or trying out winter sports for the first time.

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Location: Whistler Blackcomb - Google Maps

To Sum It All Up

Vancouver truly has something for everyone. From exploring historic districts like Gastown to admiring the awe-inspiring views at Grouse Mountain and Lighthouse Park, the city and its surroundings offer a wealth of activities and attractions for first-time visitors to experience.

Embrace the outdoors with a stroll through Stanley Park, a bike ride along the False Creek seawall, or a day of skiing or snowboarding at Whistler Blackcomb. And don't forget to indulge in the city's vibrant culinary and craft brewery scene, or take in the unique shopping and dining options on Granville Island.

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