10 Perfect Vancouver Layover Ideas: Tips For A Layover In Vancouver
Long layovers are a perfect opportunity to explore a new city. Not all airports are located close enough to a city to allow a visit, but sometimes you can get lucky. Vancouver, BC for example, has a train that goes right to the airport. That means if you've got a Vancouver layover, you'll have time for some city adventuring!
As a family, we enjoy using a long layover to squeeze in some city sight-seeing during our trips. We've done stopover experiences in cities like Sacramento, Bangkok, and Tokyo. When we had a layover in Miami, we even had a chance to go to the beach!
While the city of Vancouver doesn't have the beach draw of Miami, it does offer some family-friendly sights and attractions. So rather than having your kids bored out of their minds at the airport terminal waiting for your next flight, why not spend your layover time enjoying the city of Vancouver!
Here are some perfect ideas for what you can do with your family if you have a long Vancouver layover.
This article was originally published on April 15, 2015.
This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. But don't worry, this will not result in any extra costs to you.
3 top picks for a Vancouver layover
Airport hotels for a Vancouver layover
If you have an overnight Vancouver airport layover, and you’re mainly looking for a comfy place to rest, why not book a stay at an airport hotel? Sleeping in an actual bed after a long flight will help you feel refreshed for your next flight. And having your own space for the kids to play without worrying about bothering other people can be such a life-saver!
Take a look at these three airport hotel options for your Vancouver layover that are just minutes away from the airport.
Fairmont Vancouver Airport In-Terminal Hotel
The Fairmont Vancouver airport hotel is the only hotel that’s actually at the airport. It’s located near the United States departures terminal and check-in counters. The hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center, and spa, as well as breakfast (for a fee).
For families, the Fairmont Vancouver offers rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people. Rooms have WiFi (for a fee), air conditioning, and mini fridge. There are day use options too, in case you need a hotel room for just a few hours.
Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport Hotel and Marina
A bit further from Vancouver airport is Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport Hotel and Marina. This hotel is about 7-10 minutes away from the airport by car, situated on the eastern part of Sea Island. Radisson Blu offers free airport shuttles to and from the airport.
Families looking to stay at Radisson Blu during their Vancouver layover can take advantage of the hotel’s indoor heated pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Rooms can accommodate up to 4 people, and come with free WiFi.
The Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport
Even further from the airport, but still within a 10 minute drive, is the Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport. This hotel offers great dining options for your overnight Vancouver layover as it’s located close to a variety of international restaurants and also Aberdeen Centre shopping mall.
Rooms at the Westin Wall Centre can accommodate up to 4 people. They come with free WiFi, and connecting rooms can be available upon request for larger families. The hotel has an indoor pool and a fitness center. Free airport shuttle is available to take you to and from the airport.
What to do during a Vancouver layover
In order to get the most out of your Vancouver layover, you have to make sure you have ample time. Any layovers less than three hours may not give you enough time to explore, considering you'll need to leave time for customs and immigration if you're arriving internationally, as well as time to go through security.
You also want to take into account how much longer things will take if you're spending an airport layover with kids. You'll need to account for potty breaks, stopping for snacks, or even slower walking speeds.
A 4-5 hour layover is the minimum amount of time I recommend to make use of these Vancouver layover ideas. That way you have a chance to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant or play at a park. But if you have at least 6 hours in Vancouver to spend between flights, you’ll have more than enough time to visit the city.
Ready for a change? Take the first step to living a life of full time travel.
In this post, I’ve listed the recommended hours needed to enjoy each of the Vancouver layover activities I suggest. This includes leaving the airport and returning to go through security. You won’t be able to do everything on this list, but you can certainly pick the one that fits your long layover time frame.
1. Fun Vancouver layover activities at the airport
If you don’t want to leave the airport, there are plenty of fun things you can do at Vancouver International Airport during your layover. The airport has 2 spa locations where you can book a massage. Or you can book a visit to the Plaza Premium Lounge, which is available for all passengers (regardless of airline or ticket class) for a fee. Lounges are great if you want a chill place for your family to hang out for a few hours.
For art lovers, you can walk around to look for all of the 8 art pieces of the Vancouver airport. You can also take a self-guided tour to learn more about the airport, its various exhibits and things that make airports function. There’s also a small park at the airport, if you want to go outside during your airport layover.
If you like shopping, the Vancouver airport has a large selection of stores showcasing local goods such as Discover BC, Lattimer Gallery, and St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse.
2. Take in the sights at Vancouver Lookout
If you only have a short time during your Vancouver layover, a visit to the Vancouver Lookout is the perfect way to take in the sights. The tower was built in 1977 and is equivalent to 40 stories tall. A glass elevator takes you up to the observation deck where you can get 360 degree views of the city.
Vancouver Lookout is open every day from 10am to 6pm. The elevator stops taking guests up around 30 minutes before closing. To get to Vancouver Lookout, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Vancouver City Centre station.
Vancouver layover time needed: 5-6 hours
Learn more about the amazing family travel resources we use for worldschooling!
3. Spend a low-key afternoon at David Lam Park
If you want some free low-key park and playground time during your Vancouver layover, head over to David Lam Park. On a nice day, David Lam Park is filled with people enjoying the outdoors. As is true in the rest of the Pacific Northwest, people in Vancouver love to take advantage of the sunshine any chance they get.
David Lam Park has tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, walking/biking trails, and open fields to cover just about any outdoor activity you can think of. To get to David Lam Park, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.
Vancouver layover time needed: 5-6 hours
Curious about other places to explore in North America? Click here!
4. Check out Yaletown and the Vancouver Roundhouse
An alternative to visiting David Lam Park (or as an addition), take a walk through the streets of Yaletown to get to the Yaletown-Roundhouse station. Yaletown is a fun, historic district that has since become one of the more stylish neighborhoods in Vancouver. You can find an abundance of stores, clubs, pubs, and restaurants there.
You can also find the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Center, which houses the historic Vancouver Roundhouse, where Vancouver's steam locomotives would get serviced in the late 19th century and early 20th century. For worldschooling families, this is a great way to sneak in some educational learning into your travels. The Yaletown-Roundhouse station is just a couple of blocks away from David Lam Park, on the corner of Davie Street and Mainland Street.
Vancouver layover time needed: 5-6 hours
5. Stroll through VanDusen Botanical Garden
If the weather is pleasant, and you want some outdoor time during your Vancouver layover, take a visit to VanDusen Botanical Garden. This garden covers more than 55 acres and features over 7,500 plant varieties. There’s also an Elizabethan maze, a stone garden, and a Scottish shelter.
The VanDusen Botanical Garden is open daily. Hours vary depending on the time of year. To get to VanDusen Botanical Garden, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Oakridge-41st Avenue station.
Vancouver layover time needed: 6-7 hours
6. Take a water taxi around Vancouver
Water taxis are a great way to get around downtown Vancouver during your Vancouver layover. They are inexpensive and give you a chance to view the city from the vantage point of the water. The two main companies that operate in Vancouver are False Creek Ferries and Aquabus.
Round trip fares on False Creek Ferries range from C$6.50 to C$18 for adults and C$4.50 to C$16 for kids (ages 4-12). Aquabus fares are similar, ranging from C$7.50 to C$18 for adults, and C$5.50 to C$15 for kids (ages 4-12). Ferries come every 5-15 minutes, and one-way rides range from 15-20 minutes. For a round trip ride, plan for about one hour to take into account wait times.
To get to the water taxis, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to either the Olympic Village Station or the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station. If you have a little more time and want to squeeze in a visit to Science World (an amazing science museum, from what we hear from our Canadian friends!) take the Canada Line to the Vancouver City Centre station, and then transfer over to the Expo Line and take it to the Main Street-Science World station.
Vancouver layover time recommendation: 6-8 hours
Get weekly worldschooling tips sent to your inbox with my Worldschooling Wednesday email series.
7. Hang out at Stanley Park
One of our favorite places to visit in Vancouver is Stanley Park. It’s a large centrally located city park, much like Central Park in New York City. The park covers over 400 hectares in downtown Vancouver. There are paths for walking and biking, as well gardens, monuments, and playgrounds. You can also ride a train around Stanley Park!
Some notable landmarks at Stanley Park are the Lost Lagoon, the Hollow Tree (a 700-800 year old Western Red Cedar tree), and Brockton Point Lighthouse. There are also totem poles at the park, so you can enjoy the art of the Coast Salish people.
If you have more time on your hands, take a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium, located at Stanley Park. The aquarium has thousands of marine animals - mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish - from all parts of the world. Its exhibits provide interesting learning experiences for the kids.
To get to the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park from Vancouver International Airport, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Vancouver City Centre station. From there, walk to the 240, 241, 246, 250, or 19 bus stops to take one of these buses to Stanley Park or the aquarium.
Vancouver layover time needed: 6-9 hours
8. Have a meal at Granville Island
Granville Island is one of our absolute favorite places to visit in Vancouver. It's a huge market where you can buy art, crafts, home goods, and food, as well as enjoy music and entertainment from local buskers. The island used to be a large industrial area, and you can still see remnants of that throughout the area. These days, the island houses a market, hotel, art and design university, restaurants, theaters, and even a brewery.
You can easily spend a whole day at Granville Island, but for this Vancouver layover excursion, you should probably just stick to one or two hours at the market. That's just enough time to get a meal at one of the many food stalls, and enjoy it while listening to live music at one of the outdoor seating areas.
To get to Granville Island, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Olympic Village Station. Then take either the 15 or 50 bus to Granville Island. Alternatively, you can hop on a water taxi from Stamps Landing Ferry Dock, which is about a 7-10 minute walk from the Olympic Village Station. If you have additional time to spare at Granville Island, take a walking tour to learn more about the food culture and the artisans of the market.
Vancouver layover time needed: 6-9 hours
Jump on a Vancouver Hop-on Hop-off bus tour
If you have a little more time to spare during your Vancouver layover, a great way to squeeze in some sightseeing is to take a Vancouver Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. This bus tour takes you through many of the areas around Vancouver, including Robson Street, Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown, and Gastown.
While the whole bus route takes approximately 90 minutes, you can hop off the bus at any of the stops to do some additional sightseeing. Keep in mind, though, if you do hop off at a stop, the next bus won’t come by until at least 80 minutes later.
You can catch the Vancouver Hop-on Hop-off bus at any of the stops listed on the posted route. The quickest way from Vancouver International Airport is to take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to the Vancouver City Centre station and walk over to the Library Square stop.
Vancouver layover time needed: 7-8 hours
10. Do the Skyride at Grouse Mountain
If you’re feeling ambitious, and you have a considerable amount of time during your Vancouver layover, take a trip to Grouse Mountain. This mountain is located just north of Vancouver and is accessible by public transportation. It’s a popular spot for local families looking for a break from city life.
While you probably won’t have time for hiking or skiing during your layover, there is time for a ride on the Skyride. This 8 minute long gondola ride takes you up Grouse Mountain to give you gorgeous views of trees, mountains and Capilano Lake.
To get to Grouse Mountain, take the SkyTrain (Canada Line) to Vancouver City Centre. From there, take the 247 to Grouse Mountain. Keep in mind, a one way ride to Grouse Mountain takes around an hour and a half. So you want to make sure you have ample time during your layover if you want to partake in this activity.
Vancouver layover time needed: 9-10 hours or more
Additional tips for a Vancouver airport layover
To make the most of your Vancouver layover, take some time to research the history of the city, and make use of some of my other travel tips for Vancouver. The area that Vancouver is located is the ancestral and unceded territory of the Coastal Salish people, primarily the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
If you want to learn more about the people of Vancouver, a guidebook is a useful resource to use. Buy one of these before your next layover in Vancouver, BC.
Besides history and culture, here are some additional things to know to make your Vancouver airport layover worthwhile.
Airport, customs, luggage storage, and currency exchange for a Vancouver layover
The first thing you want to do during your Vancouver layover is to get out of the airport. Allot at least an hour to get off the plane, go through customs, drop off your luggage, and get to the train station. You can drop off your carry-on luggage at the luggage storage area in the Vancouver airport (YVR), both in the international terminal as well as the domestic terminal. Rates range from C$5-8.50 per item.
The airport also has several places to exchange currency, through ICE Currency Services in the international, USA, and domestic terminals, and Royal Bank Canada in the domestic terminal. If you don't have money to exchange, you can also get local currency at one of the ATMs in the airport.
Get prepared for any emergency with the insurance made for digital nomads!
Transportation from Vancouver airport to downtown
YVR is only about a thirty minute train ride from downtown Vancouver, making it a great place to spend a layover. The Canada Line has stations at the Arrivals area in both the domestic and international terminals.
There is a C$5 surcharge for rides coming from the airport, and then it's C$2.75 for adults and C$1.75 for children aged 5-13 and seniors 65+.
Coming back: security and airport check-in
After an exciting excursion into the city during your Vancouver layover, remember to allot enough time to get back to the airport, collect your carry-on luggage, get through security, and board the plane. The last thing you want to happen is to miss your plane.
For me, I like to make sure I get back to the airport at least an hour before my flight, two hours if it's an international one. During busy travel days, you also want to be mindful of additional time to go through security.
Check out my other tips on air travel with kids here.
Making the most out of your Vancouver layover
As I mentioned before, I often enjoy long layovers because it gives my family and me a chance to explore a new city. The itinerary above is a great one to follow if you have 5 or more hours to spend in Vancouver.
So the next time you're stuck waiting at YVR, why not catch the train into the city and do some exploring of your own. It's a great way to make the most of your Vancouver layover!
Traveling overseas? Read this post on how to handle jet lag in kids:
Are you hoping to travel through Vancouver as part of a long term overseas adventure? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let's Go Travel! as your guide to planning a family gap year.
Need help thinking through how to budget for a family trip? My Travel Budget Worksheet is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.
Want to connect with me on social media? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. And for those of you who are dedicated to traveling more responsibly, sustainably, and ethically, join over 200 like-minded families on my Facebook group, Responsible Family Travel.