Vancouver is often a stopover on the way to ski Whistler and Banff – but this great city should be more than a pitstop. Spend a few days in Vancouver with kids and you will leave wanting more.
Flights from Australia to Vancouver generally arrive early morning. That means you’re going to need coffee.
“My number one suggestion for people who arrive on early flights is to go straight to Granville Island,” Amber Sessions, Tourism Vancouver communication manager says.
Granville Island opens around 9am and it’s packed with coffee shops and restaurants. It will immediately make you feel like you’re in Vancouver. And you will be able to get a decent strong cup of coffee – by Australian standards. Once you have downed the caffeine, Granville has plenty to explore.
“It’s a great great place to go where everybody can stretch their legs, feel like they are in Vancouver, be right by the ocean and also eat,” Amber says.
“The public market sells fruits and vegetables, but they also have a special kids market which sells puppets and games and has a kids arcade.”
Granville Island has playgrounds for the kids to burn off some energy and in summer it has a waterpark.
Amber recommends Edible Canada as your first stop for food. This family-friendly restaurant focusses on food and recipes from Canada.
Try the maple bacon ceasor or Poutine – “a very Canadian dish”.
“It’s french fries, gravy and cheese – what’s not to love about that,” Amber says.
If you love a Bloody Mary or a Virgin Mary – you’ll want to try one on Vancouver. Just take a look at what they do to it…
What to do in Vancouver with kids
Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension bridge at the most well-known family attractions. But Vancouver actually has so many more fun things to do. This city has an emerging craft brewery scene with kid-friendly brewpubs. It has incredible bike paths, sea walls and museums. Here are Amber’s suggestions for Vancouver with kids.
Take the free shuttle bus to Grouse Mountain. In winter this is where the kids can get their first taste of skiing.
In summer, it’s an incredible action-packed mountain-bike and adventure park.
“It has a zip line, it has a refuge for two abandoned grizzly bears, they have an amazing lumberjack show you can do mountain biking up there,” Amber says.
The kids will love riding a gondola up the mountain.
“If you want to splurge you can do the Skyride Surf adventure where you ride on top of the gondola,” Amber says.
Yes – on top of the gondola. Grab a helmet and nerves of steel. This is the most exciting way to get the restaurant at the top.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is a Vancouver must do.
Families can catch a free shuttle bus from Canada Place, which takes about 15 – 20 minutes. Plan to spend three hours here.
Capilano is most well known for the amazing suspension bridge.
“It swings and sways across the Capilano Canyon which is really thrilling,” Amber says.
“It also has a treetops adventure which is like a Robinson Crusoe-style network of small suspension bridges between trees and a really cool treehouse kids can explore.”
If you dare – try the Cliff walk, a suspended walkway on top of a cliff.
Capilano isn’t just thrill-seeking. It will teach the kids about life in Canada.
“They have loads of education boards about trees, how salmon spawning works and the wingspan of an eagle – it’s the kind of place where you learn a lot as you have fun.”
Capilano is best for kids aged 7 and above: “You don’t want to let little ones run off”.
On the waterfront of Vancouver Harbour, Canada place is the home of the Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Olympics.
“It’s not always lit, but it still makes a great photo stop,” Amber says.
Older kids will love FlyOver Canada. The 4WD simulation ride makes you feel like you are flying over Canada in a helicopter from east to west.
“It’s really fun, it makes adults feel like children. I took my seven-year-old niece on it this summer and she thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Amber says.
Kids need to be at least 102cm to ride. The whole ride takes about 30 minutes.
This building looks cool. Kids will be amazed and ask “how did they make that?”
Once inside, you could easily spend a good part of the day at the Science Museum in Vancouver.
“There’s a big outdoor area, an indoor area and a beaver dam you can climb into,” Amber says.
Kids can explore the inner workings of the human body in BodyWorks. In Eureka, kids can launch a parachute, capture their shadow and experiment with light, water and sound. Head outside into Ken Spencer Science Park and you can immerse yourself in sustainability exhibits learning about transportation, energy, water and housing. And that’s not even half of it.
When you need to take a break, The museum’s casual restaurant, Whitespot, is a BC favourite. It serves casual hamburgers.
Vancouver Maritime Museum
This interactive museum lets kids really get a feel for Vancouver’s maritime history.
“It’s the kind of place where kids can touch everything,” Amber says. “They can dress up as a longshoreman or a pirate. They can crawl into an old ship and go into the first ship to go through the Northwest Passage”
Check out the Ben Franklin submarine, learn about how Canada has contributed to the exploration of the oceans and waterways and make sure you check out the chart from Captain Book’s third and fateful voyage.
Details: Vancouver Maritime Museum
Vancouver Space Centre
The H.R. MacMillan Space centre has an incredible planetarium star theatre where kids can lie back and experience the universe.
In the Cosmic Courtyard gallery, kids (and big kids) can have their photo taken in an astronaut suit, attempt to lift a real meteorite (it’s really heavy) and touch one of only five touchable moon rocks in the world. This rock is about 3.75 billion years old.
In the Ground Station, Canada Theatre kids can watch mindblowing live science shows. The 20 minute Avoiding Asteroids show explains what we could do if an asteroid was headed towards earth. The Six Months To Mars show explores what it would take to survive a voyage to Mars and how living in space is different to living on earth.
The Vancouver Museum
Did you know that in the 1950s Vancouver had approximately 19,000 neon signs? That’s more than Las Vegas? During World War 2, Vancouver shipyards produced a ship every two weeks. And in the 196o’s Vancouver was home to “radical youth” and was the birthplace for Greenpeace.
These are just a few of the things you can learn at the Vancouver Museum.
“Kids love it because they have a million artefacts to look at and touch,” Amber says.
The Stanley Park is a Vancouver must-do, no matter what season you travel. The 405-hectare public park borders downtown Vancouver. It’s almost entirely surrounded by waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. You can cycle all the way around the water, or explore the wooded inland.
“A trip to Stanley Park is a really wonderful family activity,” Amber says. “You can take a picnic, there are restaurants you can stop off at and concession stands. It’s a great way for kids to burn off some steam and for everyone to get a bit of exercise.”
“You have three amazing beautiful kids playgrounds and in the summer you have a kids waterpark too.”
A number of Vancouver hotels have complimentary bike use included in the stay. If you want to ensure you have sturdy bikes for the kids, or you need a trailer for little ones you can head to any one of the many bike shops in the city. Amber recommends Spokes bike rental close to Stanley Park.
“For kids, the bike rental companies are more specialised in renting bikes designed for kids,” she says. “They also do kid-carriers and toddler carriers.”
As you ride along the seawall, keep a lookout for Vancouver’s famous mermaid.
Stanley Park is also home to a load of First People’s totem poles.
Stanley Park is home to Vancouver Aquarium. Kids will love watching the Walruses, listening to the rescue stories and checking out jellyfish.
The Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team is based Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Families can watch a NHL League game, visit the stadium and the gift shop.
This season has started well for the Canucks with wins over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the Colorado Avalanche. This year could be big.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) November 7, 2018
Once you have checked out the whistling Steam Clock in Gas town, expect the kids to disappear into any one of the huge souvenir shops. Here you can buy every possible shade and strength of maple syrup and loads of weird on wonderful gifts to take home.
Gastown also has indie art galleries, craft breweries and decor stores in Victorian buildings.
Vancouver is a walkable city for the most part. However, for a truly awesome way to get around, Amber recommends catching the Aquabus.
These nine-passenger boats criss-cross False creek and ferry visitors all over the city.
“From Granville Island, you can get on the Aquabus and go to Science world, you can get off at Yaletown and have ice-cream. You can get another one and go all the way to the Vancouver Maritime Museum,” Amber says.
“You can do a number of different attractions on the aqua bus and it’s fun because you get the boat experience.”
Kids aged under 7 will love the Stanley Park train – an easy way to get around the park when little legs get tired.
“For older kids, the Stanley Park horse-drawn tour is fun as is the Seabus which travels back and forth between downtown and North Vancouver,” Amber says.
Check out the free shuttle buses that leave Canada Place for many of the local attractions.
This is perhaps the best part of Vancouver with kids. Maple bacon. Pancakes. Maple Syrup and some of the best sushi you will taste outside of Japan.
Yes, sushi. Canada has an abundance of seafood, particularly salmon. The snow-covered mountains are also perfect for growing wasabi. Real wasabi. Wasabi is actually a plant, not horse-radish died green. To serve, skilled chefs will grate it fresh onto your plate with a shark-skin grater.
Head to the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s sushi bar for the experience of a lifetime. You will never want horseradish again after this.
Vancouver also has a delicious craft beer scene.
Most of the craft breweries are brew-pubs, a quick google search will bring up a lot of options where kids can go.
Ambers favourites for families are:
Craft Beer Market – a short walk from Science World. This is a large establishment with a brew-pub feel. Kids can run around outside.
St. Augustine’s in the hip Commercial Drive neighbourhood has a very large selection of beers.
33 Acres Brewing Co – a craft brewery that welcomes kids. This place is high on design. Located in the vicinity of lots of other Vancouver breweries like Brassneck and Main Street Brewing Co.
Coming up… The Rugby Sevens
Vancouver is now a host of the Rugby Sevens. The Canada Sevens and is on March 9 and 10 2019 at BC Place Stadium in downtown Vancouver. The Vancouver Sevens is considered to be one of the best in the whole circuit with respect to fan-experience, food in the stadium etc.
Families could combine a ski trip and a city stay in Vancouver with a trip to the Rugby in March.
Amber says March is one of the best months to come to Canada to ski with kids.
“People often think that you need to ski Whistler in January,” she says. “But if you have kids, sometimes spring is better – with kids, it’s just a bit more pleasant.”
Check out this great list of things to do with kids on Tourism Vancouver’s website