Best Things to do in Vancouver, BC with Kids
Many years ago, returning from a ski trip to the Whistler/Blackcomb area, my husband and I briefly visited the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Scheduled to catch a plane back home to Chicago the next day, we stayed only one night, but we loved the city and promised ourselves we would be back one day to experience more.
When this past winter an opportunity arose for our family to go skiing in Whistler, I eagerly added a few extra days to our itinerary so that we could see more of Vancouver. I’m glad we did and I recommend the same for families who are planning a ski trip to the mountains of British Columbia. Of course, Vancouver is a great place to visit any time of the year, not just in ski season.
As I expected, we had fun touring the city, as well as some of its surrounding areas. It was also exciting to recognize some attractions from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, such as the British Columbia Place (in the picture above), which served as the main stadium for the games.
There is a lot to do and see in Vancouver, the region’s capital, but here are what we would recommend for the best things to do in Vancouver, BC with kids:
Located in city’s beloved Stanley Park, Vancouver Aquarium is considered one of the best aquariums in North America. In addition to being one of Vancouver’s main attractions, it is famous for its marine research and preservation, as well as serving as an animal rehabilitation facility.
Inside, the aquarium houses a number of different exhibits, each focusing on different marine habitats. Some provide a great opportunity for kids to learn about marine life in British Columbia such as the Pacific Canada Pavilion or Canada’s Arctic. Others focus on different parts of the world such as the Tropic Zone, Amazon Rainforest or Frogs. There are usually special, limited time exhibits as well.
Perhaps the most exciting part for its visitors are the aquarium’s outside animal habitats and live shows, which take place several times throughout the day. Check the schedule posted by the entrance, or you can view it on the website before your visit to help you plan.
We loved the playful and clever sea otters and could have watched them for hours. Our favorite part of the visit, however, was seeing the beluga whales show, which was both fun and educational. Our children were lucky and were invited by the staff to feed and interact with these beautiful animals after the show, which made for an extra memorable experience.
Once an industrial area, Granville Island is considered one of Vancouver’s most exciting and hip places today. Home to many local artists and galleries, restaurants, theaters, shops, an amazing food market and more, Granville Island is loved by tourists and locals alike and there is something here for everybody.
Just getting to the island was fun because we had to catch a water taxi to get there, something we don’t do every day in our hometown of Chicago. (The island can also be accessed by car.) We began our visit by exploring the amazing Public Market, located just steps from our water taxi stop. Supplied by local farmers, butchers, fishmongers, bakers, chocolatiers and many other small business owners, it is guaranteed to delight all your senses.
Surrounded with so much amazing food, our family quickly made an impromptu decision to have a picnic dinner in our hotel room that night instead of going out. It was great fun to assemble our meal from freshly baked breads, wonderfully smelling cold cuts and cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables (even in the middle of winter!) and, of course, irresistible deserts.
Because exploring the market is bound to make you hungry, you can make a stop at the adjacent Food Hall to enjoy a delicious lunch and soak in a bit of the local atmosphere as you sit down at the tables among the numerous food stalls. Alternatively, especially if the weather is nice, you can bring your food outside to the docks to enjoy some fresh air and views of the city — just watch for all those sea gulls who will likely want to sample some of your food. Afterwards you can enjoy a performance by one of the many street artists who are usually around or explore the charming art galleries and browse more of Granville Island’s shops.
Your kids will likely appreciate the near-by Kids Market. Filled with many unique and fun stores (toy, book, clothing and more) and a multilevel indoor play jungle, it will make any child happy. The Kids Market was a great place to buy a few unique items that our kids chose for their Vancouver souvenirs. We were told there is also a fun water park around the corner.
Capilano Suspension Bridge and Regional Park
One of Vancouver’s most memorable attractions for our family was Capilano Park, which is roughly a 30-minute drive from the downtown area. Don’t worry if you don’t have a car. The park offers free shuttle buses, which pick up guests at several locations in downtown Vancouver. For more detailed information consult the Capilano Park website.
The park is most famous for its awe-inspiring suspension bridge, originally built in 1889, which stretches 450-feet across the Capilano Canyon, about 230-feet from the ground. Crossing the bridge to get to the other side of the canyon was quite an adventure, but definitely worth it, not only because of the nice dose of adrenalin we got, but also because there are many other exciting activities awaiting on the other side of the canyon!
For those who might be afraid of heights (like our son), let me assure you that while the bridge might look scary, it was less difficult to cross than I anticipated. My biggest advice is to just keep moving along with other visitors, which will minimize the feel of swaying.
Kids will love the Treetops Adventure, a combination of seven suspension bridges strung between mighty tall Douglas-fir trees. There is also a cute tree house at the beginning of this adventure. Less thrilling, but very beautiful are several ponds and trails through the majestic evergreen trees.
Another breathtaking and not to be missed experience is the Cliffwalk. Best described as a unique cliff-side trail, it takes you on an exhilarating walk above the Capilano Canyon alongside its granite cliffs, in some sections even over glass for an unobstructed view.
The park is not just a giant playground, though; there are plenty of educational opportunities. For example, several informational posts, as well as guided tours for visitors will help you learn about the beautiful North Pacific rainforest. The Story Center and the impressive totem pole collection will educate you on the history of the region including mining industry and development of Vancouver.
- Before you leave the park, I highly recommend stopping at the Trading Post, the park’s fantastic gift shop offering the best Canadian-themed souvenirs I have seen anywhere, ranging from food, clothing, household items, sports memorabilia and much more.
- A visit to the Capilano Park is a fun and memorable experience year round; however, it is even more special during the holiday season when the famous Capilano Bridge and other parts of the park are decorated with thousands of lights for an incredible glistening rainforest spectacle. If you happen to be visiting from late November through early January, I suggest scheduling your visit for mid to late afternoon, so that you can explore the park for a while and then witness the lights coming on at dusk. Everybody in our family agreed that it was quite a magical experience.
Hilton Vancouver Metrotown is centrally located to access all of these great attractions on our list of the best things to do in Vancouver, BC with kids.
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