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Best Bet: Top Vancouver Attractions

There are lots of things to do in Vancouver–some free, some for a fee–but not all tourist attractions are created equal. How can you tell the don’t-misses from the don’t-waste-your-times?

Here are my top picks for Vancouver attractions that are worth an investment of time and/or money.

I recommend these because they’re engaging and substantial experiences that will help you see past Vancouver’s pretty face to better understand her complex personality. You could easily do them all in two or three days.

1. Granville Island

Worth it because: This is one of the world’s best examples of urban redevelopment. Once an industrial wasteland, this thriving community under the shadow of the Granville St. Bridge is now a magnet for tourists and locals alike. You could spend an entire day strolling, eating, shopping, people-watching and gallery-gazing. Bonus: you can spend as little or as much as you like.

Good to know: On a map it may look like a long way, but in fact it’s a pleasant 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride from downtown Vancouver to Granville Island. Or take one of the little water taxis that shuttle back and forth across False Creek. Whatever you do, don’t drive: parking is a nightmare, especially on weekends.

2. Stanley Park and the Vancover Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium at Stanley Park

Worth it because: New York has Central Park. Vancouver has Stanley Park–a green jewel in the heart of the urban jungle and beloved backyard of  the entire West End neighbourhood. Walk it, bike it, or just stake out a bench on the seawall and watch the world go by. Especially if you have kids, the Vancouver Aquarium–a showcase of coastal sea life– is well worth an afternoon.

Good to know: Show your public transit receipt and get $2 off your aquarium admission.

3. UBC Museum of Anthropology

Worth it because: Aboriginal culture is an essential part of the Canadian story and this magnificent Arthur Erickson-designed museum at the University of British Columbia is the perfect introduction to the art, artifacts and history of West Coast First Nations.

Good to know: Admission is half-price on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 pm.

4. Grouse Mountain

Worth it because: Mother Nature + mountains = Vancouver. Ride the gondola (for a price) or climb (free) to the top of Grouse and spend a day enjoying the panoramic city view from a restaurant deck chair, watching a tongue-in-cheek lumberjack revue, photographing wildlife, or skiing (winter) or hiking (summer).

Good to know: It’s a mountain which means it’s always a lot cooler at the top than it is at the bottom. In summer, pack a light jacket along no matter how warm it is at the base; in winter, dress for snow and cold. And please, leave the heels at home…

5. Chinatown and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Worth it because: Vancouver has a huge Asian population and Chinatown’s restaurants, bakeries and groceries are as good–and almost as busy–as anything you’d find in Hong Kong. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an oasis of calm, and especially beautiful in springtime.

Good to know: Vancouver’s best Vietnamese meatball subs are just around the corner…

Other Vancouver attractions of note:

Vancouver Maritime Museum

Vancouver Museum

H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (aka the Planetarium)

Vancouver Art Gallery

TELUS World of Science (aka Science World)

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Photo: Tourism Vancouver