Vancouver’s Family Vacation Attractions

The city of Vancouver, Canada attracts families with its rainforest wildlife, maritime history and assortment of intriguing museums and outdoor activities.

I’m at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, mesmerized by the scribbled letters intended for ill-fated Titanic recipients. My kids nearby are dressing up as sailors and deck hands, swaggering at the wheel of a life-like ship re-creation, bunks and everything. The museum is small in size, but boy it bangs a wallop in terms of interest for all ages. And that’s what I find in general about Vancouver. It’s a city of broad appeal with big delights in small places, a city that doesn’t try to awe but draws you and the kids in subtly, enchanting with seemingly quirky attractions that go far beyond the expected.

I run down my list of Vancouver attractions that might interest my family for a compromise between my children—girls aged 8, 6 and 4—and the adults. No small feat, but Vancouver delivers.

From Sea to Space

The Vancouver Aquarium is where we got face-to-face with graceful Beluga whales playfully flipping their stark white tails, and a giant Pacific octopus that looks large enough to eat the entire family. My girls soon insisted on having colorful sea creatures painted on their cheeks, compliments of the Aquarium, which has an arts and crafts area to further enthrall young ones with aquatic wonders.

We found the Maritime Museum, a testament to this port city’s maritime history, particularly enthralling and satisfying for the family. Here, I learned about the first arctic explorers while my children perused pirate life, as previously mentioned; the two types of explorers are not so different I found, in their wandering spirits and misadventures.

Next door is the H.R. Macmillan Space Center. Upon entering, I consider the center somewhat ordinary at first. But once explored, I find many tantalizing bits. I grab my girls, excited at a piece of rock from the moon that we can touch—it dates 3.75 billion years and is one of only a few such artifacts in the world on exhibit. “How cool is that,” I tell my kids, pretty sure that I’m more excited than them, the kids more interested in a station where they can design their own spaceship. But that means mission accomplished—an attraction for the whole family.

Science at Its Finest

The Capilano Suspension Bridge, just 20 minutes from downtown, is especially fun. The swaying bridge teeters over a gorge with river rapids churning below. My family crossed the swaying planks and meandered treetop walkways amidst the British Columbia rain forest until we were all out of breath. Then we shared in the secrets of the living forest exhibit and examined native First Nation totem poles.

On another day, we ventured to the Science World at Telus World of Science, one of the most enjoyable science museums I’ve seen yet with tons of interactive displays for all ages and not to be missed. My girls explored secret treasure boxes filled with artifacts with titles like “What’s your point?” One box held a starfish, horseshoe crab shell and more, and included fun facts about the items. We all laughed at “Who dung it?,” trying to guess from what animal the encased dung samples were from.

For the outdoorsy types, in addition to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, there are whale-watching tours, nearby Grouse Mountain for skiing and skating in winter and its eco-walks and wildlife refuge to enjoy in summer.

And when a busy tourist schedule all gets a bit much, I head for a little ying and yang at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The gardens are inspired by those of 15th century Ming scholars and are an exquisite respite amidst bustling city life. After all my comings and goings with my family out and about in Vancouver, I’m always prepared for yet one more small secret in this city full of so many.

Getting Around

Many attractions in Vancouver are easy to reach via the city’s sky train, which I found to be a fast and accessible option for scooting around the city with my family. Cabs were easy to find from my hotel but not so easy once I wanted to return from an attraction. But in reality, everything’s fairly conveniently located in Vancouver, usually within a 15-minute radius. If you travel by cab to an attraction, consider arranging for your driver to pick you up later at a pre-arranged time, or take the sky train if nearby.

To get a good lay of the land from the outset, consider visiting the Vancouver Lookout, a towering needle in the sky featuring a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and outlying areas with a self-guided tour. It’s a great introduction to the city.

Destinations: Vancouver

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums