Nestled between the North Shore mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is bestowed with naturally stunning good looks – just like one of its most famous Canadians, Ryan Reynolds.
Frequently listed as one of the world’s most liveable cities, Vancouver is a year-round destination that’s made for the outdoors with plenty of space for kids to run around, plus it’s extremely walkable – even for littlies. The 400ha Stanley Park is right in the city centre and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain are within just 15 minutes’ drive of Downtown Vancouver. There’s also plenty of indoor attractions to check out, cool neighbourhoods to wander around, shops to browse and places to eat.
And with direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to Vancouver, flying Air Canada, it's never been easier to get there. If you’re heading to Vancouver with the family in tow, here’s my tried-and-tested things to do – as recommended by kids – and all doable in three days.
1. Take a ride on FlyOver Canada
First up, orient yourself with the multi-sensory experience at FlyOver Canada on the waterfront at Canada Place. I won’t give away the wow moments, but kids big and small will love soaring over the cities and provinces of Canada on this simulated ride.
2. Play in the snow on Grouse Mountain
Grouse is a winter wonderland right on Vancouver’s doorstep. There’s a heap of things to do all year round but with skiable terrain just 15 minutes’ drive of Downtown, Vancouverites are spoilt for winter activities. We had a blast on the outdoor ice-skating rink, playing with powdery snow, sliding down a slope and riding the gondola, while the older kids rented snow gear to go skiing and snowboarding. So. Much. Fun.
3. Swing by Capilano Suspension Bridge
Fact: The more people there are on the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the more it sways. At 137m long and 70m above the river canyon below, it’s a thrill for sure, but safe for kids (and heights-averse grownups) to cross. Set aside a couple of hours to check out the Rainforest Explorer Program and take the mini naturalist-guided tour to identify the main tree species, figure out your wingspan against native birds learn about the Squamish First Nations history of Kia’Palano (meaning “beautiful river) and keep an eye out for yellow slugs (eeewww!). Afterwards, get a squirrel-eye view along the Treetops Adventure platforms and bridges. There’s a free return shuttle from Canada Place to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
4. Cheer on the Canucks at an ice hockey game
Get yourself to Rogers Arena between October and April to root for the Vancouver Canucks and watch them carve up the ice. The fast-paced game will keep littlies to teens enthralled and while it’s long, the seamless entertainment keeps things moving for a fun night out. Flag down a vendor for a bucket of popcorn, do the wave in the stands with 18, 909 other fans and shout “Go Canucks go!”. Don’t miss the good luck message from the Canucks’ biggest fan, Michael Buble.
5. Hunt down a hotdog at Japadog food truck
These world-famous Japanese-style hotdogs are a Vancouver icon and worth tracking down, plus there’s even a veggie option. Don’t forget to order the butter and shoyo shaked fries and thank me later.
6. Check out the Kids Market at Granville Island
With a play area, toy shops, clothes, souvenirs and more, this is a fun stop for littlies...
7. Wander around Granville Island Public Market
Then head to the Public Market to see the edible offerings from more than 50 local vendors. Vancouver’s most famous food market. You’ll find seasonal produce, bakers (more on that below), pie makers, maple syrup and honey purveyors, and even pickles in the mix.
8. Try a Nainamo bar
A specialty of the city of Nainamo on Vancouver Island, we had to try this iconic sweet slice and where better than at Granville Island Public Market where you can also find dairy-free versions? This decadent slice sandwiches a rich custard-flavoured icing between a coconutty wafer biscuit base and an oozy chocolate ganache. Delish.
9. Sit on a log at Kits Beach
Kitsilano aka Kits is Vancouver’s laidback beachy ‘burb that’s also the home of Lululemon, FYI. After shopping the boutiques on West 4th Avenue, stroll past the colourful house to Kits Beach to sit on a log and contemplate those massive seagulls!
10. Cycle around Stanley Park
Hire bikes and helmets (there’s tandems and bike trailers for kids available too) at Spokes Bicycle Rentals on West Georgia Street across from Stanley Park to cycle the 8.8km-long, mostly flat Seawall path. Note: You can only ride in one direction around the loop and with kids, this will take about two hours. You can do this is all seasons – we rode past big icicles and slushy snow on our ride.
11. Buy winter woollies at Roots Canada
Established in 1973, Roots is one of Canada’s most iconic apparel brands and the stores are a fantastic lifestyle hub. If you’re missing any winter weather gear, this is the spot to stock up for practical reasons and covetable wearable souvenirs.
12. Snap the street art
Thanks to the annual Vancouver Mural Festival, the city’s urban areas have been transformed into outdoor galleries. Check out the mural map and plot your walk around Downtown, Kitsilano and Mt Pleasant ‘hoods for eye-catching backdrops the kids will love posing against.
13. Sip a bubble tea on Robson Street
Robson Street in the West End neighbourhood is home to some 39 different cuisines from Ukrainian pierogis to Taiwanese bubble tea. For the latter, head to the northern end of Robson for a bewildering array of iced tea flavours and toppings. We love Happy Lemon for the cute logo and bubble waffles to go.
14. Read up on kid’s books by local authors at Indigo
Take some time out from all the wandering to visit the two-storey Indigo bookstore on Robson. The children’s section is extensive with a huge array of books by age. We love seeking out local authors and kid’s books about a destination for a souvenir of our trip.
15. Eat local at Edible Canada
A kid-friendly eatery and artisan grocer on Granville Island, Edible Canada serves up Canadian-made meals and wines. The kids’ dinner menu will tempt the fussiest eater with fish and chips, burgers and the array of housemade sodas, such as the perfectly pink hibiscus lemonade, shouldn’t just be for the littlies. Must-eat: vegan creme brulee.
16. Try poutine at Rogue Restaurant + Wetbar
Try the Canadian classic of hot chips smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds at this Gastown spot.
17. Snack on sushi
Vancouver is renowned for its Japanese cuisine offerings so sushi is a must. Tip: cooked tuna is not a thing in Vancouver so if your little one prefers cooked tuna and avocado rolls, get them to try avocado sushi or the delish yam (sweet potato) sushi instead.
18. Get hands-on at Science World
This interactive museum comes highly recommended for all ages. You can’t miss the shiny disco ball dome in False Creek and inside, kids can watch a movie on the world’s largest OMNIMAX dome screen (right now the epic Great Bear Rainforest, narrated by, yep, Ryan Reynolds, is showing), see live science shows, explore their own body and so much more. Set aside a few hours and get among it.
19. Jump on a False Creek Ferry
When little legs get tired of walking, hop on a False Creek Ferry water taxi. These cute crafts putter around the False Creek area to Granville Island or Yaletown for a fun mode of transport.
20. Walk along the Seawall to Sunset Beach
See the sun go down at the aptly named Sunset Beach Park on a stroll along the Seawall, spotting the outdoor sculptures, 217.5 Arc x 13 and the huge Engagement rings, on the way.
21. Gaze at the geese
Canada geese are massive in size and everywhere. Look for gangs of geese in grassy areas such as Sunset Beach Park and English Bay, but don’t get too close.
22. Get into active gear at Ivivva
Did you know cult Vancouver athleisure brand Lululemon makes clothes for girls aged six to 14 years under the Ivivva label? Check out the range for your active girl at Ivivva on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano.
23. Shoot some b-ball at Alley-Oop
Aka ‘Pink Alley’, this striking basketball court and hopscotch public art installation is a pastel ray of sunshine poking out of 439 Seymour Street in Downtown Vancouver. Big fun!
24. Check out the totems at Stanley Park
First Nations people have used totem poles to tell visual stories about their culture and family heritage for thousands of years. Stop off to see the striking examples in Stanley Park.
25. Meet a bear* at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
*Not a real live bear – but probably the closest you should get to one of these amazing wild creatures. Check out those claws!
26. Spy squirrels all over Vancouver
We had heaps of fun watching tiny squirrels scurry, shimmy up trees and drape their fluffy tails all over Vancouver. Try and snap a pic if one stays still long enough!
27. Pat all the dogs (ALL the dogs)
Vancouver is such a dog-friendly city – we saw pups of all shapes, sizes and breeds wandering around parks, streets and frolicking on the beaches. Opus Hotel Vancouver in Yaletown is a pet-friendly hotel and there’s heaps of shops to buy cute gifts for your furry friends back home.
28. Enjoy a hot chocolate in winter
Treat the kids to a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream by the fire. Altitudes Bistro atop Grouse Mountain does an indulgent creamy cocoa with a snowy backdrop of mountain views.
29. Eat all the candy at Opus Hotel Vancouver
Forget chocolates at nightly turndown service. The hip and welcoming Opus Hotel in historic Yaletown surprises and delights with retro candy on your pillow, offering a different nostalgic sweet every night.
30. Check out Canada’s largest Chinatown
You can get every style of dumpling in Vancouver’s Chinatown ‘hood – perfect for slurping. Look for Shanghainese dumplings, Cantonese dim sum staples and xiao long bao, then walk off the deliciousness amid the traditional-meets-modern shopfronts.
31. Follow the rainbow crosswalk at Bute Street
Kids love the colours of Vancouver’s first permanent rainbow crosswalk at Davie Street Village, Van City’s LGBTIQ hub.
All images: Cassandra Laffey