Living in Vancouver, I’m never short on things to fill my day. Whatever the weather, this city has you covered. But, aside from the main attractions, there are plenty of unusual things to do in Vancouver that you should check out too.
Having lived in Vancouver for about 10 years, and having worked in tourism for a number of years in Vancouver, I can point you to any activity that will have you joining the hordes of tourists. You’ll have a great time, and see some of the fun things this amazing city has to offer. But the lesser known places that don’t come up on the Vancouver Top 20 list, are the ones I’m going to share with you today.
Finding Unusual Things to do in Vancouver
If you’ve researched Vancouver at all, then you’ll know that Vancouver has plenty of outdoor activities; like cycling the seawall on a warm summer afternoon, or skiing on one of the local mountains on a nice winter day.
I personally love to check out the dozens of museums on rainy days, and Vancouver has unique bars and restaurants for all seasons. But these are 10 of my favourite unusual things to do in Vancouver.
Everyone knows about the Vancouver Art Gallery. Front and center on one of Vancouver’s busiest streets, the Art Gallery is a gorgeous building and definitely worth checking out.
But what you might not know is that just a block away there’s another art gallery that’s just as cool, if not cooler, and definitely more unique.
The Bill Reid Gallery is filled with fantastic Indigenous art. There are pictures, sculptures, clothing and jewellery all made by Northwest Coast artists including Bill Reid, the famous Haida artist.
Local’s tip: If you’re flying out of YVR Airport you can find an original Bill Reid sculpture, the Jade Canoe outside the International departure gate.
Perhaps this isn’t one of the most unusual things to do in Vancouver, but it’s one of best bakeries you’ll visit. Tucked away from the main tourist attractions.
Vancouver’s worst kept secret has to be Granville Island. It’s one of my favorite places to go buy fresh produce, pasta, and best of all cakes. You can read more about some of my go-to places in this post: 7 places to find food on Granville Island and 7 activities to work it off
The problem is, Granville Island is a hive of activity every day in the summer, and weekends are unbearable. You’ll shuffle at a snail’s pace craning your neck to see what’s for sale, constantly ducking out of someone’s future Instagram shot.
Take my advice, don’t leave town without visiting Purebread bakery. They have the biggest selection of sweet treats money can buy. It’s slightly away from the touristy areas and although busy, you’ll be able to pick what you want at your own pace.
My personal suggestions: Try the salted caramel shortbread bar, or the Drunken Apple Blondie.
Vancouver has joined the craft beer movement big time and everyone is now a connoisseur of the world’s favorite alcoholic tipple.
Order a Budweiser, or heaven forbid a House Lager anywhere in the city and locals will be shaking their heads. You’ll be given everyone’s top 5 beers to try on the menu before you’ve even asked.
There are now dozens of craft breweries in this city. But instead of waiting for craft beer to find you, I recommend you visit the breweries themselves.
Vancouver Brewery Tours are the best way to try more than one brewery, and they’ll even take you to some breweries that are further from the beaten path. Also they are your ride, and your tour guide. Usually 3 hours in length and taking in at least 3 breweries you’ll get a dozen samples and the chance to buy your new favorites along the way.
Local’s tip: Take your own growler if you have one and save on purchasing one.
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Hockey is Canada’s national sport, and if you’re visiting Vancouver you should take in a game. You never know, the Canucks might even win for you! But a fun activity and unusual thing to do in Vancouver is check out the horseracing.
Renfrew Street, Hastings Racecourse is easily accessible by driving, bus or taxi, and it’s a fun afternoon out. I went this year for my birthday, and got to bet on the ponies a little bit.
I didn’t have to spend much to have a good time, or really need to know anything about horse racing. Everyone gets involved in cheering on the horses and picking a winner.
Local’s tip: The spectator area is outdoors. Some of it is covered, but it can get chilly if it’s not a sunny day so dress weather appropriate.
Vancouver has its fair share of museums. I love the museums, perfect for the rainy days of which we get quite a lot of here. The Anthropology Museum at UBC is well-known as one of the best museums we have. The Museum of Vancouver is also worth a look as a wonderful introduction to the city of Vancouver.
But the reason why this is one of the unusual things to do in Vancouver, is because most people don’t even know this tiny museum exists. The Roedde House Museum in Vancouver’s West End is a hidden gem. This museum will give you a chance to look inside a uniquely preserved Victorian Heritage Home. Complete with 19thCentury artefacts.
Local’s tip: The museum is only open Tuesday to Friday, and Sunday and only 1pm-4pm each of those days.
Bars are everywhere in Vancouver. Gastown has some older style pubs and gastropubs. Granville Street has more modern popular bars, and Yaletown will mix Fine Dining restaurants with chic cocktail bars. Then there are the hotel bars. They will be a little more expensive, but there are some wonderful lounges to relax in.
I love to visit Prohibition, a hidden bar around the corner of the Hotel Georgia on Howe Street. The only thing that draws your attention to the entrance, is the green light above the door when the bar is open. Walking down the stairs you’ll enter a bar reminiscent of a bygone era, a 20s style Speakeasy. Crafted cocktails and early 20thCentury inspired décor will entice you to stay. As the late afternoon lounge vibes give way to the bustling dancefloor in the evening.
Local’s Tip: Try the Elvis Presley cocktail with peanut and banana flavors, a drink fit for The King.
Another unique museum to Vancouver is the Police Museum. Located towards ‘the questionable part of town’ it might not be first on the list for tourists as it’s not as central.
But it’s an interesting one for sure and worth visiting. It is located in the old City Morgue. Don’t worry it’s no longer used. There are stories of true crimes in Vancouver, and confiscated weapons. You can even spend time looking around the morgue if you want (relax, it’s empty now).
Local’s tip: If you’re really brave they do a Movies in the Morgue night on the second Tuesday of each month. A different movie plays each month, not all scary movies. It’s $10 each and there’s popcorn and soft drinks on sale too.
Located on Commercial Drive at 16thAvenue in East Vancouver you’ll find the Croatian Cultural Centre. This community center is always bustling with folks looking for a bargain each month when they hold an antique fair.
I’m always interested in the vintage cameras, old photos of Vancouver, and First Edition books. But there’s jewelry, antique ornaments and furniture as well as a host of other items for sale.
Held one Sunday a month only, entry is $5 unless you head there for the early bird look around (then you’ll pay $20). You can spend a couple hours and a whole lotta cash there if you’re not careful. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure right?
Occasionally the fair is held in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighborhood across town, but mostly it’s here on Commercial Drive. I love to bargain my way around to collecting some “new” old things for my shelves at home. It’s just another of the unusual things to do in Vancouver.
Local’s tip: Take cash as a lot of the stalls won’t take cards, and the ATM there will charge a fee.
Down near the Eastern end of Robson Street you’ll find Vancouver’s two large sports arenas. But nestled in between coffee shops and a McDonalds is a wonderful little gem of a Mexican restaurant. I’d love to say it’s a hiddengem, but it seems like the secret might be out judging by how busy it always is.
Hands down my favorite restaurant in Vancouver, the food is spectacular. If it’s a game night at the stadium you’ll be lucky to get a seat as it’s a small place, but head for an early dinner mid-week and you should be OK.
Not the cheapest Mexican place in town but you’ll be glad you went. Try the burrito and see if you can finish it. For me it always lasts two meals. There are some great tequila based cocktails too.
If ever you’re looking to learn something new about Vancouver, these walking tours are one of the best unusual things to do in Vancouver. Your guide will be dressed the part to let you in on some secrets to Vancouver’s past.
The Lost Souls of Gastown tour tells stories about Vancouver’s dark past through the oldest part of town. Tales of murder can be swapped for those of prohibition and opium on the Forbidden Tour, mixing Gastown and Chinatown histories. The prohibition tour ends right in the middle of all the amazing pubs Gastown has to offer too.
Local’s tip: Head to the Irish Heather after your tour and walk through to the back, there’s a hidden Whisky room called Shebeen and a full menu to try. It’s only open evenings Tuesday through Saturday though so plan well.
Some Extra’s to Consider
There’s no doubt you’ll find more to do in Vancouver than you can fit in a vacation, but hopefully this will give you some new ideas and unusual things to do in Vancouver.
Like a lot of Vancouverites, I can spend hours in Stanley Park walking the trails. The park is an extension of downtown so really easy to get to.
Check out this article: 5 things to do in Stanley Park
The main sights of Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Vancouver Aquarium and Vancouver Lookout are all worth doing too. They showcase this amazing city and will make you fall in love with it. But try something off the beaten path, away from the tourist hubs while you’re here too. Don’t let the locals have all the fun.
"Travel is my passion, seeing new places, and experiencing new things. Whether you’re looking to pack up your life and make the world your playground, or just planning how to spend your next well earned vacation, I hope I can inspire, inform and excite you about the next trip on your list." Check out Emma's travel blog for her latest posts, Forever Lost in Travel.