There’s so much to see and do in Vancouver that you might forget to check out what the surrounding area has to offer.
You shouldn’t. With easy access to the rest of British Columbia, Vancouver is an ideal jumping-off point for day trips for gourmets, history buffs, outdoor adventurers and more.
Here are our top 10 favorite escapes from the city.
1. Raise a glass to the Port Moody beer train
Travel time: 1 hour
It’s no secret that BC’s craft-ale scene has surged in recent years. And while Vancouver is studded with lip-smacking tasting rooms, you can also take an unofficial “beer train” out to the suburbs for an afternoon of quaffing with the locals. Lining the street – sort of like…a row of beer taps – you’ll find several intriguing breweries, each with its own inviting tasting rooms and friendly bars.
How to get to Port Moody from Vancouver: Hop on the SkyTrain transit service from downtown Vancouver to Moody Centre Station (about 45 minutes), then walk across the bridge to Murray St in the heart of historic Port Moody.
2. Cruise in Vancouver Harbour
Travel time: variable
If the water is calling your name, there are dozens of ways to leave the shore and hit the waves that surround Vancouver on three sides. Harbour Cruises’ one-hour tour meanders alongside the city’s waterfront. And its half-day Indian Arm option is a much deeper excursion: as the city shrinks away, you’ll be slowly enveloped in a forested, sheer-cliffed natural wonderland that feels like a Norwegian fjord.
Look out for the community of Deep Cove on your cruise – and consider returning for a kayak or stand-up paddleboarding adventure. Deep Cove Kayak Centre offers tranquility-boosting guided tours from here that make you feel like cities were never invented.
How to get to Vancouver Harbour from Vancouver: There are many ways to hit the water in this port town. Harbour Cruises can be found near Devonian Harbour Park, with more options as you head into Stanley Park.
3. Enjoy food, art and beer in North Vancouver
Travel time: 15 minutes
This ocean-facing city is home to the food stands and artisan boutiques of Lonsdale Quay Public Market, plus a once-gritty shipyard that’s been transformed in recent years with boardwalks, restaurants and boutiques (many of them in restored factory sheds). The highlight is the Polygon Gallery, a dramatic contemporary art space that lures culture fans from around the region. The beer in North Van also entices, with a clutch of microbreweries a 10-minute walk away on East Esplanade. Further inland is one of North Vancouver’s top attractions, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, easily reached by shuttle or bus from downtown.
How to get to North Vancouver from downtown Vancouver: Hop on the 12-minute SeaBus transit ferry from Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay, and you’ll step off in North Van.
4. Explore Bowen Island
Travel time: 1½ hours
Board a ferry and cruise past towering mountains and tree-covered islands to stunning Bowen Island. Step off in Snug Cove to explore wooden boardwalks, bright-painted storefronts and forest-lined trails where sightings of bald eagles and Bowen’s resident deer are common. Need more? Follow the trail to Opa, a gigantic ancient Douglas fir that’s a highlight for many visitors.
How to get to Bowen Island from Vancouver: Perhaps the best boat trip you can take in this region is the BC Ferries’ service from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island. The 250 express bus from downtown Vancouver takes you directly to the ferry dock; from there, it’s a 20-minute hop to Bowen.
5. Taste the world in Richmond
Travel time: 20 minutes
Richmond’s pan-Asian flavor reflects a community where many locals have roots in China, Korea, Vietnam and beyond. It’s also revered as the home of what is perhaps North America’s best Asian dining scene.
Start with lunch at Parker Place, a Hong Kong–style mall with a food court like a hawker market and dishes ranging from juicy pork buns to crispy Vietnamese subs. Then explore the nearby Aberdeen Centre’s culturally immersive stores, which stock everything from Chinese teas to quirky Japanese dollar-store trinkets. (Save time for a Taiwanese shaved-ice treat in the upper-floor food court.)
Take the foodie theme further at the clamorous Richmond Night Market. Running Fridays to Sundays between May and October, it’s lined with over 100 steam-shrouded food stands. Arrive hungry and with a sense of culinary curiosity – and get ready for stinky tofu, dragon’s-beard candy, nori-topped Japanese fries and much, much more.
How to get to Richmond from Vancouver: Richmond is easy to reach from Vancouver on the Canada Line to Bridgeport Station.
6. Ascend a mountain in 10 minutes in Squamish
Travel time: 1 hour
The popular Sea to Sky Gondola is a super-scenic cable-car ride that whisks riders up a forested mountainside. The Squamish area’s other attractions include the family-friendly Britannia Mine Museum – don’t miss the underground train ride – and the Railway Museum of British Columbia, with a delightful vintage-train collection. Also save time for Shannon Falls Provincial Park, home to one of BC’s highest waterfalls.
How to get to Squamish from Vancouver: Rent a car for the one-hour drive north of the city. This dramatic cliffside road is one of BC’s most spectacular routes and also home to several great attractions – mostly near the town of Squamish, less than an hour away. If driving is not an option, shuttles will take you from Vancouver to Squamish, including the BC Connector, Skylynx and the Squamish Connector.
7. Go birding on Iona Beach
Travel time: 45 minutes
If you’ve been meaning to try birding – a pastime that’s surged in popularity in recent years – BC’s Lower Mainland is also a hotbed of easy-access opportunities. Ladner’s Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Delta’s Boundary Bay Regional Park and North Vancouver’s Maplewood Flats Conservation Area are all justifiably popular. But Richmond’s Iona Beach Regional Park may be the best of the bunch.
Stretching along the Fraser River shoreline, this relatively compact green space is typically home to a huge diversity of local and visiting birds. Bring binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for eagles, hawks, red-winged blackbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds and many more. It’s the kind of back-to-nature haven that couldn’t feel further from the bustling streets of downtown Vancouver.
How to get to Iona Beach from Vancouver: Travelers can drive to the park, which is located near Vancouver International Airport, or take the Canada Line Skytrain to the airport and a taxi from there.
8. Dine on fish, chips and history in Steveston
Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This charming fishing village fringes the wide Fraser River. Yet its bobbing-boat-filled harbor isn’t just about wood-sided stores and great fish and chip joints (we recommend Pajo’s): there’s tons of history here, too. Shipbuilding and fish processing made this one of BC’s busiest communities in the late 1800s, and its two National Historic Sites evoke the story perfectly. The Gulf of Georgia Cannery tells you what working as a “slimer” in a fish plant was like, while exhibits at the Britannia Heritage Shipyard illuminate everything from prohibition-era rum-running to the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII.
How to get to Steveston from Vancouver: Take the Canada Line SkyTrain to Richmond-Brighouse Station, then the 407 bus.
9. Visit the “Royal City” in New Westminster
Travel time: 25 minutes
New Westminster – aka the “Royal City” – was the region’s main settlement before Victoria took…the crown in 1866. Start your visit here by window-shopping on historic Columbia St. The landmark Anvil Centre is home to two free-entry attractions: the popular New Westminster Museum and the New Media Gallery, which mounts avant-garde contemporary exhibitions.
A few steps away, cross the train lines to the other side of the tracks and explore a restored linear park that runs alongside the Fraser River like a grass-fringed boardwalk. Look for public art and grand shoreline views here – herons and cormorant sightings included. Hungry? Check out the food stands at the indoor River Market nearby.
How to get to New Westminster from Vancouver: It’s a 25-minute SkyTrain ride from downtown to New West.
10. Tackle the slopes in Whistler
Travel time: 2 hours
An hour past Squamish, the Sea to Sky Highway reaches Whistler. Locals and visiting ski and snowboard fans from around the world flock to this famous winter playground. Yet there are almost as many summer visitors to the area (whose icicle-draped alpine village is beautiful year-round). In town, don’t miss the striking Audain Art Museum – but also save time to plunge into the great outdoors.
Hiking and biking routes (rentals are available) appeal to folks of all abilities and energy levels; activities from zip-lining to river rafting are also on offer. Don’t miss a ride on the eye-poppingly scenic Peak 2 Peak Gondola (glass-bottomed car recommended), then inch across the lofty Cloudraker Skybridge, a steel suspension span with a see-through deck.
How to get to Whistler from Vancouver: As with Squamish, a number of shuttle buses including Epic Rides and Skylynx will get you there. Yet those who rent a car for the nearly two-hour drive will have maximum freedom.