Last Updated on August 20, 2023 by Nicole
I have had a few layovers that made me absolutely desperate to leave the airport. However, the location of the airport in relation to anything of interest or the cost of transportation made leaving a nonstarter. The good news is that this is not the case in Vancouver! I have lived in Vancouver for the last 35 years. I have spent a lot of time going backwards and forwards to this airport. I have also raised 4 kids in Vancouver. I can tell you that there are a phenomenal amount of things to do during a layover in Vancouver. They are at a reasonable distance from the Vancouver airport (also known as “YVR”) and for all kinds of budgets.
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Other Things To Do In Vancouver
If you are interested in learning more about Vancouver and its amazing things to do, please check out these articles:
- Stanley Park in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things;
- My 5 Favourite Vancouver Beaches; and
- Granville Island in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things.
Transportation To And From Vancouver Airport
Skytrain Rapid Transit
I have mainly focused on activities that are found along the Canada Line of the Skytrain. The Canada Line is part of the SkyTrain rapid transit line that runs from Vancouver to Richmond, and connects to the YVR airport.
You can reach the center of Vancouver in only 25 minutes, but do not have to go that far in order to find exciting excursions and worthwhile activities. In fact, none of the Vancouver attractions discussed in this article are in downtown Vancouver.
You can purchase day passes or single ride tickets. Children are either free or at a reduced rate, depending on their age.
The simplicity and convenience of the Skytrain from the Vancouver airport in combination with the cost of the tickets makes travel on the Skytrain an attractive choice for a layover at YVR.
Taxis And Ride Sharing
It might make sense to take a taxi, Uber or Lyft depending on your destination and the time that you have available.
Both taxis and ride sharing are available at the airport. Taxis have a flat rate cost depending on the destination. You can easily compare a ride sharing quote with the flat rate cost of the taxi and pick which one is better.
If you choose to return to the airport by taxi, it is no longer a flat rate charge but calculated in the normal way – by its meter.
Vancouver airport is beautiful. US and International departure areas are particularly nice with high ceilings, lots of windows and comfortable seating. The Domestic departure area is a little older with lower ceilings, less glass and less seating, but still very clean and pleasant.
In both, there is free wifi, food courts, lounges, restaurants and shopping available, although compared to other major US and International airports, there is less shopping, lounges or restaurant choices. If you have kids, there are playgrounds and TVs scattered throughout.
On the whole, there is no reason to flee Vancouver airport if you have a long layover. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to explore Vancouver if you have the time. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
How Much Time Do You Need?
This is the $20 million dollar question!
Obviously, the length of your layover will fundamentally effect how far you should go and what you can do. In the list below, I provide, in order, the activities closest to the Vancouver airport and the minimum amount of time that you should have before considering that destination.
WARNING: The amount of time set out below DOES NOT INCLUDE the following:
- Waiting for the Skytrain. Skytrains run more frequently on certain days and times. You should check its schedule before leaving the airport to make sure you have enough time.
- Clearing Canadian customs (if you have arrived from outside Canada) when you exit Vancouver airport.
- Passing through security at the Vancouver airport when you return to your departure gate.
- Passing through US Customs. When you travel from Vancouver to the US, you clear US customs at the Vancouver airport.
Where Should You Go?
Here are 8 fantastic Vancouver destinations for a long layover at YVR.
Discount Outlet Mall at Templeton Station (Minimum 3 hours)
McCarthurGlen Designer Outlet is an outdoor outlet mall just minutes away from YVR. There are many brand name shops with fantastic deals and popular Vancouver cafes for snacks and light meals. Wide open spaces exist between shops and courtyards for kids to run around. There are playgrounds and a water fountain that is kid friendly (you may want to pack a change of clothes??).
There are free luggage lockers available at the mall and it is free to travel on the Canada Line to and from the airport to this destination.
Watch A Movie at Marine Station (Minimum one hour plus time movie ends)
3. Shopping at Oakridge Mall at Oakridge Station – 41st Avenue Station (Minimum 3 hours)
***Still Under Renovation (as of June 2023)
Oakridge Centre is an indoor mall that focuses on high-end fashion. This is a good choice if you want to shop indoors and my favorite mall in Vancouver.
Queen Elizabeth Park At King Edward Station (Minimum 4 hours)
Queen Elizabeth Park is a 52 hectare park that sits 152 metres (500 feet) above sea level with gorgeous views of the city and mountains. It is a 15 minute walk from the King Edward Skytrain station.
It has beautiful public gardens, a pitch and putt course with equipment available to rent (only available in summer), and lots and lots of space to run around.
If you come prepared (no equipment rental), there are also over a dozen free outdoor tennis courts and pickle ball courts, outdoor floor hockey, basketball courts, and frisbee golf.
There are concessions stands for basic fast food and snacks and Seasons In The Park, a gorgeous restaurant with stunning views of Vancouver.
For a few dollars per person, you can also visit Bloedel Conservatory (a good activity if its raining or cold out). There are 120 free-flying birds and 500 exotic plants and flowers within its dome.
If you wish to play a round of pitch and putt, visit the gardens and Bloedel Conservatory, I would allow 5 hours.
Hillcrest Aquatic Centre At King Edward Station (Minimum 3 hours)
Right across from Queen Elizabeth Park and 15 minutes walk from King Edward station is Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. For only a few dollars per person, you can enjoy the large indoor and outdoor water complex.
There are large indoor and outdoor pools with diving boards and lanes for doing laps. In addition, there are shallow pools for young children, and a lazy river and slide for older ones.
Hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, and a fitness centre are also available. You will need to bring your own bathing suits, towels and workout gear.
The outdoor pool also offers sprays and bubble jets for children to enjoy. This is only open in summer. The indoor pool is open year round.
Walk Or Bike Along The Seawall at Olympic Village Station (Minimum 4 hours)
Vancouver has the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. The 17 miles (28 km) path includes the Stanley Park Seawall and extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre in downtown Vancouver to Spanish Banks Park near the University of British Columbia. It is perfect for walking, cycling, or jogging. It is also an exceptional way to explore many different spots in Vancouver.
You can easily connect to the Seawall from Vancouver Airport. It is a 7 minute walk from Olympic Village Station. Then, how far and where you go is completely up to you.
Granville Island from Olympic Village Station (Minimum 4 hours)
Granville Island is a favourite destination for locals and tourists alike. Unlike the other destinations in this article, Granville Island is not directly on the Canada Line. Instead, once you arrive at the Olympic Village Station, you will either have to walk another 25 minutes (or more if you choose to walk along the Seawall), hop on a bus, or take an Uber/Lyft or taxi (depending on your timing and preferences).
Granville Island has a huge market with fantastic items on display and for purchase such as baked goods, fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. In addition, you can taste, nibble, eat and drink delicious food for hours.
There is a separate Kids’ Market with wonderful toy and clothing shops. For a few dollars, kids can go into the Adventure Zone, a multi-level jungle gym designed to burn off energy.
In the summer, there are waterslides, a water park, and playgrounds, all offered for free. You will need to bring your own bathing suit and towel or try to purchase one for your kids at the Kids’ Market.
Multiple artisan shops are scattered throughout the Island where you can purchase some amazing crafts, art or souvenirs. In addition, there are craft breweries where you can do beer tasting, glass blowing demonstrations, and boats to rent.
For more information about what you can do at Granville Island, please refer to Granville Island in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things.
Science World From Olympic Village Station (Minimum 5 hours)
Science World is a 20 minute walk from Olympic Village Station in the opposite direction from Granville Island. Like Granville Island, if you have lots of time, I would recommending walking along the Seawall to Science World. However, if you do, it will take longer than 20 minutes.
You can also access Science World directly by Skytrain but you have to transfer from the Canada Line to the Expo Line in downtown Vancouver. Science World Skytrain station is across from Science World.
Science World is a huge complex of interactive science displays that will keep kids and adults engaged for hours. It is inside and an excellent option for a rainy or cold day. In addition to countless hand-on experiences, there is an OmniMax Theatre and live science demonstrations.
Science World is expensive relative to the other activities included in this article. However, it is definitely worth it if you are looking for something indoors and that will entertain your kids for hours. With my four children, I have likely visited over 100 times.
If you are not keen to explore on your own or are interested in seeing other Vancouver sites not on or near the Canada Line, then consider taking a private tour. You will be picked up and dropped off at the airport by private vehicle, and escorted to many downtown Vancouver highlights, including Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
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