Ask any Vancouverite one thing you should see in Vancouver and you will invariably hear, “Stanley Park”. Vancouver and its citizens are justifiably proud of this beautiful green jewel and the locals like to visit as much as the visitors do.
Stanley Park is a huge 405 hectare (1,001 acre) park right next to downtown Vancouver, BC and surrounded on three sides by the waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay.
It was made into a park in 1886 when Vancouver was incorporated, although it was used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before this happened. The park was named after Lord Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, the governor general at the time. The park is unique in that much of it is not landscaped, but left densely forested. While there is a lot to see and do, as you can see on the map above, there are several things you should not miss if you only have a little time.
The Stanley Park Seawall
The seawall runs around the perimeter of the park to protect erosion of the foreshore and it took 60 years to complete. Happily, it provides a beautiful walk/bikeway for all to use and many park-goers consider the seawall to be the most important feature of the park. It runs for 8.8 kilometres (5.5 miles) around the park itself but extends further into the city for a total of 22 kilometres (14 miles) of waterside views. It is level and divided into walking or jogging and biking paths that show off some great views of the city and the North Shore, including Siwash Rock and the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture.
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to circumnavigate the park on the seawall, try a little walk along the shore of the not-so-aptly-named Lost Lagoon. Easily spotted at the city-side entrance to the park, there is a 1.8 kilometre (just over a mile) walking path all around the lagoon and there’s a lot of bird life to see. I spent many hours here as a kid feeding the swans and ducks.
Before the causeway (the main thoroughfare through the park) was built, the tides used to reach the lagoon and raise and lower the water level, but now it stands as a freshwater pond.
The Vancouver Aquarium at Stanley Park is a conservation and research centre. There are more than 50,000 creatures here from land and sea, from butterflies to walruses. There are informative shows and you can book a close encounter to have a unique experience with some of the most popular residents.
The aquarium rescues and cares for marine mammals which no longer includes keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) deemed non-releasable. Cetaceans will no longer be kept at the facility in keeping with public opinion.
While not the original totem poles, the totems at Brockton Point are lookalike versions that replaced the originals which were removed to preserve them, they are still beautiful and impressive. First Nations culture is an important part of the history of Stanley Park and you can learn a lot about it here.
Horse Drawn Tours and the Miniature Train
The Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours run from February to November and last an hour. Each tram carries 26 passengers and highlights Deadman’s Island, the Lions Gate Bridge, the Totem Poles, and the Rose Garden.
The Stanley Park Miniature Train was built in 1964 and takes you over trestles and through tunnels on a 2 kilometre (1.24 miles) long trip through parts of the park. The train is a replica of Locomotive Engine #374, which pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in the 1880s. It is open during the spring and summer with specialty trains at Halloween, Easter, and Christmas.
There are also several beaches and gardens that visitors can see if they have the time and there are a number of restaurants and cafés if you find yourself a bit peckish. You can take a week to explore everything in the park or hit some of the highlights in an afternoon. There’s something for everyone here.