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How to Get Off the Beaten Path in Vancouver

From local haunts to quirky fun, these picks aren’t the usual tourist fare.

Cars drive over one of the main bridges in Vancouver in British Columbia on a snowy day
Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

Perched between mountains and sea, British Columbia’s headline city offers plenty of sophistication and natural grandeur. Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see a colorful patchwork of parks, neighborhoods, and attractions with personalities all their own. To really get a glimpse of Vancouver’s heart, head out past the typical tourist attractions, and you’ll find soaring bridges, historical hauntings, and diverse gourmet offerings that will show you another side of the city.

Visit the waterfront market few tourists know

Stop by the Granville Island Public Market for a selection of local foods.Foto: DeymosHR / Shutterstock

Skip the crowds and browse artisanal products.

The colorful Granville Island Public Market is popular with visitors seeking local foods and other products, but it’s not the only game in town. Head to the working waterfront of North Vancouver, and you’ll find the less famous Lonsdale Quay Public Market, which boasts purveyors selling everything from fresh produce to clothes, jewelry, and artisanal treats. The two-story market is included on some tours of North Vancouver and makes a great stopover on the way to Grouse Mountain and the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Walk across a suspension bridge amid towering evergreens

Hikers walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver.
Capilano Suspension Bridge weaves its way between lush greenery.Foto: Songquan Deng / Shutterstock

Scenic Lynn Canyon is nestled in a beautiful rainforest.

The 459-foot (140-meter) Capilano Suspension Bridge is an impressive site that brings crowds to match. The smaller—but just as beautiful—Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is a lesser-known alternative, and, as a bonus, it sits in the heart of a lush temperate rainforest. To reach the bridge, which hangs 167 feet (50 meters) above the canyon floor, you’ll walk past clear-running waterfalls and pools sitting in groves of western red cedar, Douglas firs, and western hemlock. In the warmer summer months, you can even take a dip in a swimming hole.

Go whale watching in Howe Sound

Tourists see a whale on a whale tour in the waters around Vancouver in BC.
Catch a glimpse of whales in the wild.Foto: Alexey Mhoyan / Shutterstock

It’s never crowded on the water.

The cold, nutrient-rich waters off Vancouver’s coast are home to remarkable marine wildlife, including orcas, sea lions, porpoises, and seals. Options for whale-watching in Vancouver range from breezy jaunts in open-air Zodiac boats to bigger-boat trips that offer more stability (and shelter from the elements). Boat trips not only give you the best chance of spotting wildlife but also offer stunning views of the surrounding seascape. On clear days you can see all the way to Washington State’s San Juan Islands.

Sample the area’s diverse foods

Dim sum being served up in Vancouver's Chinatown, near Gastown.
Sample some dim sum in Vancouver's historic Chinatown.Foto: abhimages / Shutterstock

Neighboring Richmond is known for some of North America’s best Asian dining.

When visitors touch down at Vancouver International Airport, they’re not actually in Vancouver at all—the airport is in Richmond. This vibrant city offers a wealth of renowned Asian eateries, ranging from dim sum palaces to Chinese bakeries to noodle stands. Gourmet walking tours of Richmond are a great way to take in a little bit of everything. If you’re visiting in summer, the open-air Richmond Night Market also includes vendors from the city’s most beloved restaurants. Alternatively, take a walking tour of Vancouver’s own historic Chinatown to sample gourmet offerings such as dim sum and Chinese roast pork.

Take a nighttime ghost tour

The famous clock in Gastown in Vancouver lit up at nighttime.
Take a spooky ghost tour during nighttime in Gastown.Foto: Daniel Avram / Shutterstock

The city’s creepiest stories are best heard in the dark.

Thanks to its gold-rush heritage, Vancouver has more than a few ghosts lingering about. Some walking tours of the cobblestoned Gastown neighborhood delve into the city’s rowdy frontier past and offer an offbeat take on local history. You’ll learn about the chaotic arrival of 19th-century gold prospectors and hear about plagues, devastating fires, and famous unsolved murders. As an added bonus, you’ll see Gastown during the atmospheric nighttime hours, when the neighborhood’s antique-looking steam-powered clock begins to glow.

Cruise to beautiful Bowen Island

A white boat heads out into Howe Sound outside Vancouver in summer.
Take a ferry to Bowen Island to witness offshore life.Foto: Alex533 / Shutterstock

A trip to this pristine Gulf Island feels like stepping back in time.

Scenic and forested Bowen is one of many islands scattered across Howe Sound, and it offers an idyllic glimpse of offshore life. It’s easy to get there on the ferries that leave from Horseshoe Bay, outside North Vancouver. To minimize your travel time, consider arriving at Bowen Island in grand style by booking a trip on a seaplane. Once there, check out marine wildlife on a Zodiac ride, go for a hike, rent a kayak, or simply enjoy sea views from one of the island’s pebbled beaches.

Tour the city on two wheels

Cyclists bike on a sunny day in Stanley Park.
Canada is one the most bike-friendly cities.Foto: Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock

Find out why Vancouver locals love their bicycles.

Considered one of Canada’s most bike-friendly cities, Vancouver is a great place to explore on two wheels. Guided bike tours of Vancouver take advantage of its ample bike lanes and off-road bike paths; many itineraries feature the mostly flat path following the Stanley Park Seawall. E-bike tours let you cover more ground with a bit less effort. If you prefer to explore at your own pace—stopping for snacks and photo opportunities whenever you want—consider an independent bike tour that bundles all the gear, route ideas, and information you need to start pedaling.

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