There's no denying that Vancouver is a beautiful city. Sitting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the lush North Shore mountains, it lures visitors from all around the world with its natural beauty and offers lots of fun activities for tourists to enjoy. But what happens if you get bored of Stanley Park, or have no interest in the ultra-touristy attractions like Grouse Mountain or the Capilano Suspension Bridge? What if you want to step off the tourist trail and really experience Vancouver like a local?
The good news is, you can! There is no shortage of fun stuff to do in Vancouver - this city has something to offer everyone. Whether you're in town for a day, a weekend, or a year, here's a guide on how to experience Canada's prettiest city like a local - written by a local!
Take a hike
The mountains and forests around Vancouver are perfect for exploring. Not only is this a great way to stay active, but it can also give you the chance to see Vancouver and its surroundings from spots that most tourists don't go. Vancouver Trails has a some great information on the popular hikes in the Vancouver region (as well as an app that you can take with you!) and Outdoor Vancouver offers trail guides and safety tips.
You can also check out this list from Happiest Outdoors for some great suggestions on unusual hikes that many locals don't even know about!
Check out Vancouver's art scene
Vancouver has a very strong arts community, and it's sadly one of the things a lot of tourists miss. Check out the Georgia Straight's events page, Vandocument and 604 Now to find out about upcoming Arts & Culture events. You can also catch a late-night film screening or live show at the historic Rio Theater, one of Vancouver's most well-known venues.
There are also many arts festivals each year, like the Vancouver International Film Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, the Vancouver Fringe, the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival, Bard on the Beach and the PuSh Performing Arts Festival.
From summertime Shakespeare in the park to burlesque life drawing classes, the city really has something for everyone.
Take a walking tour
Sometimes the best way to see a city is by foot, and Vancouver is the perfect size for walking! You can take an Architectural Walking Tour to see the city from a different perspective, eat your way around the city with Taste Vancouver or learn some of the city’s dark secrets with a Forbidden Vancouver tour. For history lovers, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation offers tours by local historians, or join the Tour Guys on a free tour of Vancouver's Chinatown.
Experience some great craft beer
The craft beer industry in Vancouver has grown tremendously over the past several years and there are now microbreweries all over the Greater Vancouver Area. Craft Beer Vancouver has a great map of the local breweries as well as an overview of each one. There's also Vancouver Craft Beer Week, which is a festival that happens every summer and is definitely worth checking out if you're in town.
Join the locals in a fun event
There are tons of fun and unique Vancouver events, especially during the summer months. You can participate in the annual Zombiewalk, join a VYVE bike rave, jam at a Drum Circle on the beach or check out one of the events hosted by Flashmob Vancouver like the city's largest pillow fight.
There are also more popular events that happen each year, such as the Pride Festival, Chinese New Year, the Polar Bear Swim, Car Free Days, Fright Nights at the PNE, the Santa Clause Parade and the Celebration of Light fireworks competition.
These events are a great way to meet new people while having fun!
Shop at the local markets
There are some great markets around the city where you can pick up some locally-made products or second-hand treasures for unique souvenirs and gifts. Eastside Flea happens every other weekend throughout the year, and there are several Farmers Markets that take place around the city. Portobello West also organizes artisan markets throughout the year at different locations. These are nice alternatives to the expensive and tourist-filled Public Markets at Granville Island and Lonsdale Quay.
There are also some great seasonal markets - from May to October the Richmond Night Market is a fun Asian-style event worth the 20-minute skytrain ride out of the city center (you can check out this awesome guide for more info) and the Vancouver Christmas Market offers European food, crafts and entertainment each year in November/December.
Get some wheels
To really experience Vancouver like a local, grab a rainjacket and rent a bike! There are many rental shops around the city, or you can sign up for Mobi, which is a convenient bike sharing program. The City of Vancouver has created a map of the many bike lanes around the city, and Cycling In Vancouver has a great interactive map that shows washrooms, water fountains, bike racks and Mobi locations. Translink also offers cycling maps for each section of the Metro Vancouver area and the Daily Hive gives some great itineraries for every level of fitness.
Head to some of the less popular attractions
There are some attractions around the city that are really cool, but don't make it onto the "must-see" lists. Like the Vancouver Police Museum, which is located in the old city morgue, and the Bill Reid Gallery which features a beautiful collection of Northwest Indigenous art. If you’re into nature, the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.
Or head to Point Grey to spend the day at the Museum of Anthropology and explore the UBC Botanical Garden, which features a lovely treetop walk. This is also near where you'll find the stairway to the beautiful Wreck Beach, Vancouver's only nude beach.
Cheer for a local hockey team
Watching a hockey game is a truly Canadian experience. It can be difficult to get tickets to see the Vancouver Canucks play (though worth it if you can!) but tickets to the city's WHL team the Vancouver Giants are much easier and cheaper to purchase. The Pacific Junior Hockey League also hosts games around the city.
If you can't get tickets, most of the sports bars will screen big games, or you can always throw on some skates yourself and head to one of the local ice rinks for a public drop-in session!
See the street art
The city has been making an effort to support the local street artists and also make Vancouver more colorful for its residents. If you want to get out and explore the local street art, Vancouver Mural Tours has 4 downloadable maps you can use for a self-guided tour.
The Vancouver Mural Festival also happens every year and features an interactive map of the best spots to see.
Also make sure to check out Pink Alley at 439 Seymour Street and if you're an Instagrammer you'll want to get a photo in front of the the Kits Wings.
Seek out some street food
Vancouver's food truck scene gets better and better every year, and some of the most popular trucks now also have restaurant locations. You can experience one of the best fish tacos in BC at Tacofino, enjoy one of Japadog's world famous Japanese-style hotdogs, cool down on a summer day with an artisinal popsicle from Johnny's Pops, indulge in some guilt-free vegan food at Rolling Cashew or try some fusion Indigenous cuisine at Mr. Bannock. Just download the Vancouver Street Food App on iPhone or Android to find out what's nearby!
Do some good
Many visitors to Vancouver expect to see only a pristine city surrounded by nature and are surprised to discover how much the city struggles with issues such as homelessness and drug addiction. There are many organizations dedicated to helping those in need and many are glad to welcome volunteers.
If you're looking for a rewarding way to spend your time in the city, check out Mission Possible, DTES Women's Center, The Door Is Open, or contact one of the many shelters directly to see if you can use your time and skills to help them out.
If you're more geared towards environmental issues, you can see if there are any Shoreline Cleanup events happening during your stay.
Explore the surrounding neighborhoods
Past the museums of Vanier Park is Kitsilano, a lovely beach community where you can participate in a drop-in yoga class at Semperviva and then undo all your hard work with some delicious Mexican food at Las Margaritas.
The Mount Pleasant area is a hipster’s paradise, featuring places like Neptoon Records, one of the last independent record stores (and a great venue for local events!) and 49th Parallel Roasters with their amazing coffee & doughnuts.
Commercial Drive is two easy skytrain stops away from downtown and is a great place to geek out over drinks & board games at the Storm Crow Tavern, catch a show at the Rio Theater or enjoy the natural beauty of the nearby Trout Lake Park.
Beyond the streets of Gastown is the infamous Downtown Eastside. Widely considered to be the worst neighbourhood in Canada, this gritty district has its own unique charm, and also offers visitors a chance to contribute to businesses that are making a positive change. Grab some bean-to-bar chocolate at East Van Roasters, which helps support recovering drug addicts, enjoy a burger at the popular Save On Meats, which helps feed locals living in extreme poverty, and relax at CRAB Park at Portside, which offers some great views of the city and port.
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