Vancouver is truly one of the world’s greatest cities with locals and visitors alike loving its combination of city life and outdoor life. A good place to start is with West Coast Sightseeing, which runs a popular hop-on/hop-off bus. You can get on and off as many times as you’d like, or just listen to the narrated tour, as it circles around the city to help you get your bearings. You’ll quickly realize why Vancouver deserves to be on every family’s vacation bucket list.
This Western Canadian gem of a city is highly urban, yet its citizens are passionate about the outdoors and having an active lifestyle.
Located just over a three-hour drive north from Seattle, it’s easier to get to than many families realize.
A nature-lovers haven, there’s a lot to do in and around the city for adventurous families from hiking to kayaking to walking through the treetops. It’s the perfect place for those who love the city and the outdoors. Anywhere you look from downtown, you can see the water and mountains.
You’ll find all kinds of shopping here, from high-end to local artisans. Vancouver is big on promoting home-grown talent. Grab a little ferry boat and head over to the Granville Public Market for treats for the entire family.
This is an excellent place to make your home base while in town. While it’s more of a peninsula than an island, it incorporates the best of both worlds–it’s central to just about everything, yet gives you a break from the endless hustle and bustle (and you won’t have to deal with driving and parking issues in the dense city center). The lovely waterfront Granville Island Hotel has a vibe like a quaint European property and has convenient parking spots reserved for guests. Take a walk over to the Granville Island Market to buy anything from produce to candy to handcrafted gifts. You can grab an easy lunch there, with kid-friendly fare almost everywhere. The entire island has a funky industrial air to it and is full of fun little markets (including a kids’ market), toy stores, restaurants, a design school and more.
This 30,000-acre park is another world located right next to downtown. You can walk it, bike it, or take a horse-drawn carriage through the multitude of paths and trails. Make sure to stop and check out the park’s famous totem poles for a family selfie.
While it’s a bit of a drive north of the city, a visit to this park is worthwhile. In addition to the namesake bridge, there is a lot of exploring to do here, including climbing platforms to the top of the misty forest canopy and then walking from tree to tree via even more wooden suspension bridges. There’s also a great kids’ program here where they can test their knowledge and skills by answering nature questions at multiple stops to earn a reward at the end.
This thrill ride is located at Canada Place, near the convention center on the downtown waterfront. Though it may sound cheesy at first, it’s a wildly fun and breathtaking ride for the whole family. Similar to amusement park ride flight simulators, you’re positioned in front of a giant screen and then moved to and fro in conjunction with the movie. You’ll traverse the multitude of landscapes that comprise Canada and come away with a new appreciation for this majestic and enormous country.
With three locations in town, including the aforementioned Granville Island, these shops will expertly help you get in or on the water. Take stand-up paddleboard lessons right in the harbor or rent single or double kayaks.
Vancouver’s downtown doesn’t have a highway leading into it, as the typical U.S. city does; the city doesn’t want to encourage sprawl. If you’re flying in, check prices into both Vancouver and Seattle, as sometimes the fare difference to Seattle can make it worth your time to rent a car and make the drive northward. The city’s Aquabus is a brilliant water taxi system that can get you to many locations in the central city, including Granville Island. Daily passes are also available.
Paul J. Heney is an award-winning writer and avid world traveler. He has written extensively about family travel, green issues, cruises, and LGBT travel issues. He lives in suburban Cleveland with his partner and two sons, Joshua, 16, and Mathew, 10. Follow him on Twitter at @paulheney or Instagram at @paulheney.