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 for the Vancouver airport! I live in Vancouver and I have spent a lot of time at the airport. I can tell you that there is a phenomenal amount of things to do at a reasonable cost and distance from the Vancouver airport.
In this article, I am going to highlight family oriented activities. I can honestly say that every single one of my suggestions would be appropriate and interesting to adults as well. But, for those of you with children, these will definitely work. Of course, ages and interests of children are diverse so I will leave it to you to figure out whether the particular activity would work for your family.
I have also only focused on activities that are found along the Canada Line of the Skytrain. The skytrain connects Vancouver airport to downtown Vancouver in only 25 minutes, with several interesting stops along the way. You can purchase day passes or single ride tickets. Children are either free or at a reduced rate, depending on their age. The proximity of the skytrain to the Vancouver airport in combination with the cost of tickets makes travel on the skytrain an attractive choice.
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. There is free wifi, food courts, restaurants and shopping available, although compared to other major US and International airports, there is less shopping or restaurant choices. On the whole, there is no reason to flee Vancouver airport if you have a long layover. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to explore this beautiful city if you have the time.
How Much Time?
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 I would recommend having there. The amount of time is EXCLUSIVE of the following:
- waiting for the skytrain. Skytrains run more frequently on certain days and times. You should check the schedule for your anticipated arrival and departure times.
- clearing Canadian customs (if you have arrived from outside Canada) when you exit Vancouver airport.
- clearing security once you arrive back at the Vancouver airport.
In addition, when you travel from Vancouver to the US, you clear US customs at the Vancouver airport. I do not know if that is the case when you are in transit from outside Canada en route to the US. If you are short of time, I would recommend checking out whether you clear US customs in Vancouver or upon arrival in the US.
Where Should We Go?
1. Discount Outlet Mall at Templeton Station – minimum 2 hours
McCarthurGlen Designer Outlet is an outdoor outlet mall just minutes away from Vancouver airport. 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. A playground can also be found at the back.
2. Movie at Marine Station – minimum 30 minutes plus length of movie
3. Shopping at Oakridge Station – minimum 2 hours
***Under Renovation as of January 2020. Many shops are currently closed.
Oakridge Centre is an indoor mall that focuses on high-end fashion. There is a large food court and one family style restaurant. This is a good choice if you want to shop indoors and my personal mall of choice in Vancouver.
4. Queen Elizabeth Park from King Edward Station – minimum 3 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 Skytrain station. It has beautiful public gardens, a pitch and putt course with equipment available to rent, and lots and lots of space to run around. For a few dollars per person, you can also visit Bloedel Conservatory found at the very top. There is 120 free-flying birds and 500 exotic plants and flowers within its dome. If you wish to do everything – play a round of pitch and putt, visit the gardens and Bloedel Conservatory, I would allow 5 hours to enjoy yourself.
5. Hillcrest Aquatic Centre from King Edward Station – minimum 3 hours
Across from Queen Elizabeth Park and 15 minutes away from King Edward station is Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. For only a few dollars per person, you can enjoy the large indoor complex which has shallow pools for young children, and a lazy river and slide for older ones. In warmer weather, there is an outdoor pool with sprays and bubble jets. Hot tubs, saunas and a fitness centre are also available. You will need to bring your own bathing suits and towels.
6. Granville Island from Olympic Village Station – minimum 4 hours
Granville Island is a perennial favourite destination of locals and tourists alike. On the most direct route, it is a 25 minute walk from the Skytrain station. However, if you have lots of time and the weather is good, I would recommend heading to the seawall and walking along it. Granville Island has a huge market with gorgeous 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 prepared 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. Multiple artisan shops are scattered throughout the Island where you can purchase some amazing crafts, art or souvenirs.
For my information about what you can do at Granville Island, please refer to my article: Granville Island in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things.
7. Science World from Olympic Village Station – minimum 4 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 also head to the seawall and walk along it to Science World. Science World is a huge complex of interactive Science displays that will keep kids and adults engaged for hours. It is a good option for a rainy day.
Science World is expensive relative to the other activities that I have recommended. However, it is worth it. With our four children, I have likely visited over 100 times. It is interesting for adults and keeps kids stimulated for hours.
You can also access Science World more directly on the Skytrain by transferring to the Expo Line in downtown Vancouver. Science World Skytrain station is across from Science World. It is up to you whether you want the exercise or to explore the city a bit more.
For other Vancouver recommendations, please see:
- Stanley Park in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things;
- My 5 Favourite Vancouver Beaches;
- Granville Island In Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things.
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