Hundreds of cruise ships arrive in Vancouver yearly and passengers have just hours to explore the city’s top attractions while docked at Canada Place.
See our list of recommendations below on what to do while in the city. If you are a cruise ship passenger, we hope you enjoy your visit! And for general information about cruise ships in Vancouver, click Vancouver Cruise Ships.
CRUISE SHIP STATUS UPDATE
Since mid-March 2020, all cruise ship operations in Canada (and most of the world) have been temporarily suspended. As of late October, passenger ships with a capacity of 100 or more people were prohibited from Canadian waters until the beginning of March 2021 at the earliest. At the beginning of February 2021 that ban was extended until the end of February 2022.
Vancouver’s Best Places for Cruise Ship Passengers
Cruise ships usually arrive in the morning in Vancouver and depart in the late afternoon or early evening. Cruise ship passengers don’t have all day to explore the city, so they need to know how best to spend their time.
Best things to do while the ship is in port include bus tours to different places, walks to nearby neighbourhoods and quick trips to some of Vancouver’s best places.
Below are Vancouver’s best places to visit when you’re downtown and only have a few hours to explore on your excursion. Recommendations are organized into categories and based on their ease of access, level of excellence and practicality of visiting in a short period of time.
Bus Tour Sightseeing Packages
Local Bus Tours
A great way to see Vancouver in a short period of time and without lots of walking is to hop on a sightseeing bus. West Coast Sightseeing and the Vancouver Trolley Company are good options, and they conveniently have stops right outside Canada Place at the main cruise ship terminal downtown.
Both offer “hop on, hop off” style buses, provide interesting commentary and pass by key points of interest on their travels around town.
In addition to tours around Vancouver, West Coast Sightseeing also offers trips to the nearby North Shore, to top tourist destinations in nature including the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain (both of which also offer free shuttle service from Canada Place in the summer).
TIP: Give yourself lots of time to get back from these trips as traffic over the Lions Gate Bridge on the way back can sometimes be bad.
Self-Guided Cruise Ship Passenger Excursions
Don’t want to join the cruise ship’s expensive official tours, either because of the cost or you just want to do something specific? And want to do something less organized and regimented than a bus tour? Then check out the following activities that you can do on your own.
Walking Spots Near Canada Place
If you’re a cruise ship passenger docked at Canada Place and just want a nice place for a stroll downtown, then the following destinations are close by and very interesting:
- Coal Harbour – to the west of Canada Place on the other side of the Vancouver Convention Centre is a beautiful walking area that stretches all the way to Stanley Park. Your stroll will include views of marinas and the North Shore Mountains across Burrard Inlet. Walk for as far as you like and then turn back, or go all the way to Stanley Park and catch a taxi when you’re tired.
- Gastown – the historic district of Vancouver can be found a 5-minute walk to the east of Canada Place, just past the giant red brick Waterfront Station building. There, Water Street is lined with original brick buildings that are home to nice restaurants and touristy souvenir stores including BC’s famous Rogers Chocolates and several galleries with First Nations art.
- Granville Street – Vancouver’s main night time entertainment street starts just three or so blocks to the east of Canada Place, halfway between the cruise ship terminal and Gastown. During the day it’s a popular street for shopping, as is Robson Street which intersects Granville half a dozen blocks further up.
Vancouver’s Best Places for Shopping
If you want to do some shopping the following are best places to go.
- Granville Street – described above, it has some nice shops and connects with both Robson Street and the Pacific Centre mall.
- Pacific Centre – if you’re looking for a good indoor shopping mall in the heart of downtown, then Pacific Centre at 701 West Georgia is a good place to go. Stores there include Coach, Fossil, H&M, Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew and Hollister, as well as a wide selection of less high-end stores.
- Robson Street – this is arguably Vancouver’s most famous and fashionable street for shopping, especially for younger crowds. Brand name stores and great restaurants line the street, especially between Granville Street and Denman.
- Gastown – not only is the city’s old quarter a great place to walk to and around, but it’s also a fine place to buy souvenirs including gourmet chocolates, maple syrup, t-shirts and West Coast Indigenous art.
- Lonsdale Quay – if you want to see a public market, this one on the North Shore is fabulous. From Canada Place walk just a couple of blocks around the corner to the east to Waterfront Station. From there take the 15-minute SeaBus trip over to North Vancouver. The market is just steps from the terminal on the other side.
- Granville Island Public Market – this is another of Vancouver’s world-famous year-round markets. It’s not as conveniently accessible by public transit from Canada Place as Lonsdale Quay, but it’s not far and a must see if visiting Granville Island.
- Metrotown – it’s not everyone’s idea of a holiday destination, but it is the largest shopping mall in British Columbia with close to 400 stores. If you’re looking for something specific, chances are you’ll find it here. From Waterfront Station the trip via SkyTrain takes just 20 minutes.
Best Short-Stay Places for History and Culture
Hoping to experience some West Coast culture or learn a bit about the area’s history? Then check out the following:
- Bill Reid Gallery – if you want to see some fine First Nations West Coast art, then this is the place to do it. It’s not a large facility, so it’ll leave time for other activities, and it’s conveniently located right downtown. A short taxi ride or 15-minute walk from Canada Place, it’s just a couple of blocks from both Robson Street and Granville Street.
- Burnaby Village – this outdoor museum showcases a variety of historic buildings. It’s free to visit, but a bit of a trek to get to. It’s about 15 km from Waterfront Station, or 25 minutes by taxi in good traffic.
- Museum of Vancouver – whereas Burnaby Village is a great outdoor museum, the Museum of Vancouver is the best place to learn about the city’s history indoors. It’s less than 4 km from Waterfront Station, and located right next to the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre which has a planetarium and is a good place for young children.
- Vancouver Art Gallery – if it’s art you’re seeking, then this is the place. It’s in a beautiful building about a 15-minute walk from Canada Place and close to both the Pacific Centre mall and Vancouver City Centre SkyTrain Station.
Top Attractions if You Only Have Part of a Day
If you’re a ship passenger, unless you’re in town a few days before or after your cruise, chances are you don’t have a lot of time in Vancouver. Below are the city’s best tourist attractions to visit if you have less than a full day to explore.
- FlyOver Canada – an exciting 30-minute film experience located right at Canada Place itself. If you’re looking for an educational Disneyland-type of experience, this is it. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s convenient and very well done.
- Vancouver Lookout – the 360 degree views from the observation deck make it a top place for photos and admiring the region on sunny days. It’s in the Harbour Centre building at 555 West Hastings Street, just a block up from Waterfront Station by Gastown.
- Other best places to visit close by include Granville Street and Gastown, which are also mentioned above.
Attractions that involve between 15 and 45 minutes of travel in good traffic from Canada Place but are still well worth the trek include the following:
- Capilano Suspension Bridge – one of Metro Vancouver’s most visited tourist attractions. Located in North Vancouver, this is where you can walk across a wobbly cable bridge above the river far below, and stroll along bridges through the trees. Free shuttle service exists between the bridge and Canada Place, with departures every 15 minutes.
- Granville Island – lots of art studios, an indoor public market and theatres make this one of Vancouver’s most popular places to visit.
- Grouse Mountain – the best year-round mountain attraction with its winter skiing, Skyride tram up the hill, movie theatre, restaurants, grizzly bear habitat and summer Lumberjack and Birds in Motion shows. A complementary shuttle service from Canada Place is available from late May until September.
Beautiful Places Just a Short Distance from Downtown
If you’re looking for some of Canada’s world-famous nature, then above-mentioned places like Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain are perfect places to visit. If you’re looking for beautiful places a little closer to downtown, however, then the following are fabulous nearby destinations.
- English Bay – Vancouver’s premier urban beach is a great place to relax by the ocean on the sand, or go for a stroll along the seawall. It’s also close to yet another interesting shopping area – Denman Street.
- False Creek – an exceptional region to walk and cycle along, stretching from English Bay almost all the way around to Kitsilano. Points of interest along False Creek include Science World (which is great for children at the very far eastern end of the waterway) and Granville Island. Don’t expect to cover all of the False Creek Seawall in your day, unless you want to be completely exhausted. Choose the part you’re interested in most, and explore that region, remembering that you can also take the mini harbour ferry boats back and forth to different places along the way.
- For a serious walk, and absolutely stunning nature, head to Stanley Park – one of the largest and most famous public urban parks in the world surrounded by a beautiful 10 km seawall with stunning views. If not the number one best place in Vancouver, it’s certainly one of them. And it’s free!
Things to Do for Young Families on Cruise Ship Holidays
Just in case you’re traveling with children, like on one of the Disney cruises perhaps, then the following attractions will be popular with the younger folk in your party (as will many of the above recommended places as well).
- H.R. MacMillan Space Centre – Vancouver’s planetarium is a good place for families with young children, especially on rainy days when you want to be indoors.
- Playland – this is the city’s summertime amusement park in the summer. It’s definitely not Disneyland, but if you’re looking for carnival-type rides this is where you’ll find them.
- Science World – located in False Creek and home to a giant IMAX Theatre and lots of cool science stuff, this is a great hands-on educational place for young children.
- Vancouver Aquarium – home to sea otters, a million fish and a 4D theatre, this is a great aquarium.
- Other things to do with kids include renting bicycles and going for a ride around Stanley Park, or along the False Creek Seawall. Both destinations are amazing.
At Special Times of the Year in Vancouver
For a list of festivals and other special events taking place at different times of the year, see our calendar of events. If you’re lucky to be in town at the right time, you could get to experience something really amazing.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver Cruise Ship Information
- Vancouver’s Festivals & Events Calendar
- Top 100 Places in Metro Vancouver
- Downtown Vancouver Hotels
- Special Deals with Stayvancouverhotels.com
- Vancouver’s Best Restaurants