As parents, Vancouver is one of our favourite cities in North America. There’s something for kids (and adults) of all ages, every day, year-round, and it usually involves burning off plenty of energy! With two toddlers in tow, we appreciated having tons of activities in relatively close proximity; from fun-filled playgrounds and interactive museums to green parks and sandy beaches. The city is easily walkable and also has fantastic public transport including the skytrain and buses, all of which (thanks to efforts made in the run-up to hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics) is all super accessible – with even the bulkiest of strollers! Here are a few of our top activities to enjoy Vancouver with toddlers:
1. Nothing burns off some energy like a good run around the forest! Capilano Suspension Bridge is a great half-day outdoor activity just 20 minute from downtown Vancouver.
The kids will love exploring under the forest canopy and, as long as they’re not afraid of heights, the suspension bridge and cliff walk are a lot of fun too. There are activity sheets to keep the little ones busy and, once completed, you can pick up certificates on your way out.
Top Tip: We suggest stopping in at the Trading Post for some homemade maple walnut fudge and salted caramel ice cream on your way in so the kids can burn off that sugar as they venture through the forest rather than in the confines of the bus back!
There are free round-trip shuttles from downtown. There was a big queue for the most popular route so we took the less popular vintage bus back down which was a lovely experience and totally worth the additional short walk, bus or train ride to your final destination.
2. The iconic Stanley Park is a must do for all visitors to Van City. You can get around the vast park on foot or rented bicycles (with comfy covered trailers for the toddlers) as well as take a ride on the miniature train.
The playground and free waterpark (open in the summer months) offer hours of fun and, as long as it’s dry, a walk around the seawall is a fantastic way to soak up the fresh air whilst taking in views of the city as well as the tree-covered mountains across the water.
Food options in the park are limited so consider packing a picnic to make it a full day-out!
3. The park is also home to the famous Vancouver Aquarium which, as of last month, no longer displays or puts on shows with captive whales and dolphins – great news if you think these majestic, beautiful and intelligent creatures belong in the ocean and not in a tank! The aquarium has plenty of other attractions and interactive exhibits, so a visit is still worthwhile.
4. In contrast to Capilano and the aquarium, there are also lots of budget-friendly things to do in the city centre. And given how much rain Vancouver gets, the abundance of indoor activities is a saviour.
We have family living next door to Round House Community Centre and ended up going there almost every day for drop-in classes and “gym-time” (free play with bouncy castles, balls and tons of toys!). Our 3-year-old loved the dance and art classes, which were very reasonably priced but also very popular, so be sure to go in early to secure a place. You can view the offerings online and where you see “drop-in $” that class is open to the public.
For train loving tots there is also a free locomotive museum next-door which has a old restored engine the kids can climb up into!
Round House is one of many community centres in Vancouver so wherever you are it’s worth looking up the closest one to you. Another good option for drop-in classes is the Robert Lee YMCA – we loved the Little Chefs class (only $2 per child!)
5. Located right next to Roundhouse, David Lam Park has two lovely waterfront playgrounds. The one next door to roundhouse is located just outside a school and can get very busy during recess and when school is out, but the other playground next to the basketball courts is more secluded and stays quiet throughout the day.
The park also has an Aquabus stop where you can jump on the ferry to Granville Island & Science World. Some of the fleet are accessible with strollers so it’s always worth asking the captain when the next stroller-friendly ferry will be along.
6. Along with San Diego Children’s Museum and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Science World in Vancouver is among our favourite kid-friendly museums anywhere in the world. We must have visited five times over the course of our last month-long stay!
The exhibits are all super interactive and fun for parents as well as children. It recently added a new play area for 0 to 5 year olds, with water play, climbing tree house, and lots of other sensory play.
For the older kids, check out the biggest IMAX dome in the world and frequent science talks and demonstrations in the basement which seem to attract just as many adults as kids!
A word of warning – Science World is just as popular with locals as tourists, so go early and avoid the weekends if you can, as it can get pretty crazy!
Food options aren’t the best but for a quick bite, stop by Triple O’s on the ground floor. If the weather holds up the huge waterfront playground just outside is a great way to end the day and tire out the kids before bed!
7. For little foodies, Granville Island can’t be missed. The public market is full of delicious artisanal treats and souvenirs and the street performers are world-class.
There are also seasonal outdoor markets, special events and exhibitions, and a Kids Market filled with trinkets, toys and an indoor play area. As with Science World, go early and on a weekday to avoid the crowds!
8. Located at the highest point of Vancouver inside Queen Elizabeth Park, Bloedel Conservatory is small but packs a punch. Our girls loved the lush tropical greenery and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the array of colourful birds flying around. If you bring a picnic, this makes for a great half-day activity.
9. Vancouver is a food lover’s paradise and most restaurants are pretty kid-friendly offering high chairs and the flexibility to prepare toddler-friendly items that might not be on the menu.
Our girls are rice addicts, so our favourite spots are Miku and Black Rice Izakya, for the seared aburi-style sushi and lunch sets.
For breakfast, Jam Cafe and Cafe Medina are insanely popular for good reason, so make sure to line up early. We also adore Nuba for delicious & healthy Middle Eastern cuisine, and, although not very child-friendly, we still make a point of dropping into Rodney’s Oyster House in Yaletown for our oyster fix (we even brought two Ikea high chairs once for a big family feed – true story!)
To satisfy your sweet tooth – Earnest Ice Cream is a local institution, also available in select cafes and supermarkets around town. Be sure to grab a few pints of London Fog (made with Earl Grey tea) or Milk Chocolate flavour for the freezer!
Photos are courtesy of Rebecca Jo-Rushdy