Category Archives: Canada

41+ Things to do in Vancouver at Night (All Year Round)

Kayak at sunset in Vancouver_

Too many guides on things to do in Vancouver at night fob you off with a list of restaurants to dine at, and while Vancouver does have a vibrant cuisine scene we think that’s lame advice when there are so many things going on after sundown.

Here’s our guide to Vancouver at night, for all seasons. Did we leave anything out? Tell us in the comments below. 

Don’t miss our one day in Vancouver itinerary – with lots of options 

What to do in Vancouver at Night 

All Year Round 

1. Vintage Movie House  

Fancy a movie? Although the Rio Theatre was initially built in the 1930s, it has all the mod cons of a 21st-century movie house.  

If you drink, you can purchase alcohol at the Rio and enjoy your movie with a beer, wine, cider or cocktail. “An experience you can’t download” – say it all!

2. Vancouver Nightlife  

Love it or hate it, Granville Street is the main drag for bars and clubs in Vancouver’s city centre.

You can find anything from craft beers to cocktails, Irish bars to games on TV. There are even a few music venues jammed amongst the mayhem. 

Expect busy bars and late-night food shops, great for people watching. 

We were sitting outside having a pub meal one night and across the road from us someone used bear spray on another guy. Not something you forget!  I wouldn’t advise staying on Granville Street. Here’s our guide to the best places to stay.

Granville Street lights Vancouver

3. Live Music in Van

Looking for live music? Check out the lineup at the Commodore Ballroom, Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Imperial

Be careful at night, Vancouver is super friendly but it is a city. Craig was mugged after leaving the Imperial. 

He returned home covered in blood which is not a pleasant experience to wake up to.  Check the above event spaces for updates. I’ve linked to their Facebook pages above.

4. Go Ice Skating  

There are eight ice rinks in Vancouver and some of these are not seasonal. 

Head to Britannia Rink on Napier for all year round skating. You can hire skates there, just remember to wear something warmish. 

5. Watch Football 

Catch or watch a Canadian Football team, BC Lions the BC Place Stadium.

Sport Game BC Place Vancouver_

6. Vancouver Canucks

Come on, it is Canada! 

Support the National Hockey League (NHL), Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. 

7. Freak Me, Shake Me 

What do unicorns, Scottish shortbread and hashtags all have in common? 

They’ve been used in an Off The Grid Waffle freakshake. Open late and looking great.

8. Vancouver Brewery Tour  

Craig fully immersed himself in the craft beer scene in Vancouver. 

I’d go as far as to say his six months of drinking Ruby Tears (Parallel 49) ruined drinking for him back in Scotland, as although the scene is improving, it certainly hasn’t hit every pub, yet. 

Do an independent tour of the craft beer bars up Main Street or take a brewery tour and learn from the experts.  

9. Sunset Sea Activities 

Hire a kayak or paddleboard and drift with the sun going down. Therapeutic! One of the many outdoor activities in Vancouver that are a great de-stresser.

Kayak at sunset in Vancouver_

10. Space Shows at Macmillan Space Centre  

See the stars and learn about Mars at the evening events hosted by the H.R Macmillan Space Centre. 

This is actually where Craig proposed to me!

11. Yoga, For Cheap 

Yoga is a massive part of Vancouver life. At Karma Teachers yoga classes you pay donations as the teachers are in training. One of the cheaper indoor activities in Vancouver. 

I did a morning class in the very light and welcoming studio but there are evening classes if you need to unwind and stretch after a full day. 

12. Vancouver Lookout 

See the city lit up at night from a great height. 553.16ft (168.80m) to be exact.  

On Canada Day (July 1st), you can view the fireworks at night from up there too. 

13. Lost Souls Gastown Tour

Take a walking tour through the Victorian buildings of Gastown and learn some dark stories about intriguing Vancouverites.

14. Pub 340 Pinball Arcade

Play games and drink beer (or not) at Pub 340 Pinball Arcade on Cambie Street.

Pub 340 Pinball Arcade on Cambie Street

15. Do a Team Quiz 

It doesn’t matter what night of the week it is, there is a trivia quiz going down somewhere in Van! Check out this extensive list for more details. 

16. See a Show  

Watch out of the lineup at the Vogue Theatre, Pacific Theatre and Queen Elizabeth Theatre for festive shows including the Nutcracker ballet. 

17. Have a Laugh

Check out the comedy and improv scene at Yuk Yuks, The Improv Centre, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Orpheum Theatre, Massey Theatre and Granville Island. 

18. Waffles and Ice cream at Nero Waffles. 

Mini waffles sprinkled with sugar, cooked with falvour or piled with fruit and cream.

Granville Island Market Sign_

Things to do in Vancouver at Night in Summer 

19. Outdoor Movies at Stanley Park  

If you visit during summer, be sure to check out the Stanley Park outdoor cinema. Pack some chairs, snacks and a top for later. 

Note: it is not advised to go to Stanley Park alone in the dark. 

20. Richmond Night Market 

This is the largest night market in North America and may also be the busiest! 

On weekends during the summer months, Richmonds Night Market is packed with stalls with food from all over the world. There is also entertainment on the stage and games to be played. 

21. Sunset Swims 

Second Beach Swimming Pool in Stanley Park is open until 8:30 pm during the spring and summer months. There’s even heating!

Sunset at beach in Vancouver

22. Swim in Saltwater Pool 

Kitsilano swimming pool, North American’s longest saltwater pool, has just been renovated and is open late during the spring and summer months. 

23. Street Art at Main Street 

One of the free things to do in Vancouver involves taking a stroll along Main Street to check out the street art murals. 

Thanks to Vancouver Mural Festival and local artists there is lots of work to look at. Here’s the map

24. Festival of Lights 

For a full week in July, fireworks take over the skies in Vancouver at the Honda Celebration of Light. 

It is the longest offshore fireworks competition which promises a bang. 

For nearly three decades, countries have been competing for the best light show over English Bay.  

We joined the masses at the bottom of Davie Street as English Bay was too busy. Arrive early to avoid disappointment. 

25. Grouse Mountain

Grouse Mountain is open until 10 pm so you can enjoy nature with fewer crowds. 

Will you do the Grouse Grind or take the Grouse Mountain Skyride?  

During summer there is the Rusty Nail BBQ for dining, as well as other all-season options. 

Grouse Mountain lifts blue skies_

26. Sunset Cruise 

Quite a romantic way to spend an evening in Vancouver! 

Enjoy live music and a Pacific Coast cuisine buffet while you sail by Canada Place, the North Shore Mountains and the West Vancouver skyline after dusk. Check out the 5* reviews here.

27. Enjoy Jazz

One of the biggest summer events in Vancouver is the Vancouver International Jazz Festival

For 12 days, 500,000 jazz fans listen to nearly 2,000 artists over 300 concerts in the city. Headliners have included Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Erykah Badu, and Buddy Guy.

28. Follow the Vancouver Biennale Trail 

Hands up! This is not a summer-specific activity to do in Vancouver but lighter nights give you more freedom to see this public art exhibition. 

The bi-annual Biennale introduces sculptures, new media and performance work to Vancouver’s public parks, beaches and urban plazas. 

Most notably, Giants by OSGEMEOS (Brazil) and A-maze-ing Laughter, Yue Minjun (China). Get amongst the art, take photos and tag @van_biennale. Here’s the map

As mentioned previously, there have been police warnings not to enter Stanley Park alone at night. 

Street art in Vancouver Craig with laughing man_

29. Listen to Folk Music

Head to Jericho Beach for the Vancouver Folk Musical Festival in July to hear local talent and international big names. 

Looking to learn? There are workshops as well as concerts.

Vancouver at Night Activities in Winter 

30. Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge 

From November to January, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park becomes illuminated with hundreds of thousands of lights. 

I do have to warn you that this festive event is really busy and can be unpleasant if you don’t like crowds. 

There are free shuttle buses from Downtown Vancouver. 

31. Go Night Skiing 

It’s not Whistler, but Vancouver does have its mountain called Cypress. 

During winter, the trails are lit up for night skiing. 

32. Snowshoeing at Cypress

Don’t fancy skiing or boarding? Snowshoeing is an easy sport where cramps are attached to your shoes (make sure they are waterproof). 

The last tickets are sold two hours before sunset. 

33. Snow Tubing 

Cypress has all the fun activities in winter! Kids and big kids who love a thrill can fly down Gnarly’s tube park. 

34. Stanley Park Bright Nights Christmas Train 

Three million lights are used to bring the Bright Nights Christmas Train and Park Train Plaza to light!  

35. JFL NorthWest Comedy Festival 

Enjoy 10 days of comedy at Vancouver’s Just For Laughs Festival including stand-up, podcast, improv and sketch performances.  

There’s also a JFL Movies segment for those who want a night in with popular Hollywood comedians. 

36. Light Walk at Grouse Mountain  

Capilano is not the only light show in Vancouver!  

Grouse Mountains gets you to whack on your snowshoes and cleats to discover its enchanting lit up snow alleys and pathways around Blue Grouse Lake.

37. Festival of Lights at the VanDusen Botanical Garden

Choir songs fill the air and the warm glow from the installations light up kids rosy faces, what else says Christmas than the Festival of Lights at the Botanics in December? 

Note: this winter event gets extremely busy. It is advised to use public transport and be prepared to wait in line. 

Here’s our full guide to Vancouver’s best Christmas activities and events.

Christmas Lights Botanic Gardens Vancouver

38. Vancouver Christmas Market 

Gluhwein, goulash and good times are best served at night at Vancouver’s Christmas Market. 

The market is packed with 80 Christmas huts resembling a German Christmas market. Local choirs entertain visitors while they sip on hot drinks in festive mugs. 

The market at Jack Poole Plaza, Canada Place, isn’t too busy as Christmas events go in Vancouver. 

Gemma with Christmas mug at Vancouver Christmas Market_

39. Burnaby Village Museum 

Christmas trees, lights trails and of course, the big man himself, Father Christmas! 

The Burnaby Village Museum cranks Christmas up to another level during the festive period. Visitors can bake in the Farmhouse, listen to live music and ride the indoor carousel.  

One of the most popular festive things to do with kids at night during winter in Vancouver. 

40. Christmas at Hycroft

I have never seen anything like the Christmas experience at Hycroft Manor. 

This Edwardian mansion is dipped in Christmas sparkle like a kid’s artwork is dipped in glitter. 

Looking to do some Christmas shopping? Hycroft has the longest-running fair selling craft from local makers and artisans.  

Hycroft House at Christmas with lights, Vancouver_

41. Coquitlam’s Lights at Lafarge

Walk under the 1.2km light loop around the lake and explore the themed zones with friends and family.

The Lights at Lafarge is free and easily accessed using public transport!

Pin to your Vancouver board for future planning

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Final Words

There are many fun things to do in Vancouver at night which don’t stop when the sun drops.

From indoor activities to free attractions, food good enough to eat as well as take photos of, and sporting activities in the city.

Tell me in the comments below, what did you do in Vancouver at night?

18+ Unique Things to Do in Toronto

Unique Things To Do In Toronto

You’ve smashed the standard Toronto itinerary. You’ve climbed the CN Tower for the views, shopped ‘til you drop at the Eaton Centre and snapped a selfie with the 3D Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square. So what next? This guide will share the best unique things to in Toronto including food, places to see and tours to take.

Never one to settle for the TripAdvisor top ten, we’ve sourced tips on the cool places in Toronto using our good Canadian friend, Maddie, for local tips. So let’s get started. Expedia asked me to create a guide on Toronto, all opinions are my own as usual.

18 Unusual but Cool Things to do in Toronto

1. Kensington Market For International Food & Cool Photos

Kensington Market is where the interesting kids (and their dogs) hang out. The area is awash with quaint print shops, vintage stores, art, tattooists and every type of world cuisine you could imagine.

Want burritos and churros from Mexico – no hay problema! Arepas from Colombia – chevre! Frites from Belgium – Oui! Patties from Jamaica – Irie!

You’ll need some organic beer or hot cider to wash that down.

Join an organised wander with a snack via this 2-hour Kensington Market tour.

A couple of streets over from Kensington Market you’ll find Chinatown. Naturally, you can get cheap dim sum but we actually had the nicest pizza slice (C’mon it’s North America) on Spadina and College (Europeans – this means the crossroads where the two streets meet!)

We made Kensington Market our base and didn’t regret it. You can check out accommodation options for Kensington Market and other areas in the city at Expedia who offer great hotel options in Toronto for everyone.

Kensington Market Toronto

2. Bata Shoe Museum For Shoegazing 

These boots were made for walking so get them stomping down to the pretty extraordinary Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) in Toronto where over 4,500 years of history is told through feet!

That’s a lot of souls shared through soles under the roof of this award-winning building. If you are looking at what to do in Toronto on a rainy day, the BSM is worth a stroll. 

Expect to see everything from Chinese bound-foot shoes to celebrity shoes.

There are often special exhibitions at the BSM such as Manolo Blahnik’s The Art Of Shoes (made famous by those Sex And The City chicks).

  • Address: 327 Bloor St W.

Bata Shoe Museum Toronto

3. Annex For Chats Over Coffee & People Watching 

The Annex area of Toronto (Bloor and Bathurst) is home for many of the University of Toronto students so you can expect coffee shops, discount stores, bars and cafes.

Annex is also where you can rock out at Lee’s Palace, visit Canada’s largest museum, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and catch a film at Hot Doc’s Cinema.

4. Philosopher’s Walk For a Nice Stroll 

South from Bloor (Annex) you’ll find Philosopher’s Walk which is a lovely green space in the city if you want to walk off a coffee high, poutine or a hangover!

Located n the St George campus of the University of Toronto, the scenic footpath is open to all so you don’t need a degree to enjoy the space. 

5. Madison Avenue Pub

What does one do with three Victorian mansions? You open a number of bars and connect them all of course! The Maddy has booths, games, outdoor seating and serves food.

  • Address: 14 Madison Ave.

6. Organic Grocery Store Shopping

Looking for quality produce that you can identify its origins?

Toronto has a number of organic grocery stores with zero waste shopping opportunities for conscious consumers.

This style of grocery shopping is perfect for those booking an apartment during their stay in Toronto or visitors making it a more permanent base.

Shout out to Live Organic Food Bar who hosted us during our stay. We’re sad to hear they have now closed down. 

Live Organic Food Bar Annex Toronto

7. Toronto’s Half House

Rarely do you hear of a city v resident demolishment story fall on the side of the homeowner but in this case, we have a winner!

The Valkos family of 54 ½ St. Patrick Street. won the battle to remain in the 1970s so the developers sliced it in half like a birthday cake.

Toronto’s famous Cube House looks to have lost its plot to a scrapyard so check out the Half House before the other half disappears too.

  • Address: 54 ½ St. Patrick St (thanks for the picture Andrew Stapley!)

8. Graffiti Alley

Obviously cool equates to graffiti in any city! Toronto’s Queen Street West has its own colorful corridor of street art.

Unfortunately, the word is out at the two blocks of graffiti get rammed with visitors so go early for those Instagram worthy shots!

  • Address: Rush Lane.

9. Trinity Bellwoods Park

Grab a few beers from Bellwoods Brewery and head to Trinity Bellwoods Park for a serious people-watching sesh!

  • Address: 790 Queen St W.

10. Hipster Queen + King

Move over Kensington, there’s a hipper kid in town.

Queen West was crowned one of the world’s hippest neighborhoods by Vogue but with notoriety comes price increase.

From Bathurst and Gladstone, over a hundred stores are occupied by studios, shops, galleries and bars. It’s a great place for brunching too.

11. CN Tower Edgewalk

Sure, everyone that visits Toronto heads to the Entertainment District and takes the elevator to the viewing floor of the CN Tower but how many tourists walk the walk?

Leave the comfort of the secured windows and hang handsfree from the circumference of the roof with The Edge urban adventure experience (356m/1,168ft above the ground).

This is probably the most expensive activity going in Toronto but if you are a thrill seeker you might just want to take the plunge, well, hang not plunge.

  • Address: 301 Front St W.

CN Tower Toronto

12. Toronto Island

Unlike Vancouver Island’s proximity to Vancouver, Toronto Island is actually close to Toronto!

The island can be reached by boat and takes about 15 minutes to cross Lake Ontario.

There are three stops – Ward’s Island, Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point. We exited at Ward Island and slowly made our way to Centre Island; I biked, and Helen strolled.

So what’s on offer?

Toronto Island is like a beautiful big park. Ward Island is unique because it’s a small town with a small number of beautiful houses.

These are very sought after.

Rather than paying top dollar to secure a property, hopeful buyers instead have to add their name to a capped list of 500 in the hope of moving their way up to the 100 mark.

When a property is available the top 100 will be offered it at a fixed price.

The ethos is ‘keep it simple.’ With these views of Toronto’s skyline (below), you can see the attraction.

The Island Cafe is a popular family-owned lunch spot. The resident and cafe owners aim to use fresh produce from local farmers and also sell home baking.

Centre Island has a pier, small farm, lighthouse, fairground, maze and a clothing-optional beach.

No one needs to see these fading white bits so I left the towel back on the mainland!

If you prefer for a tour to provide bikes and take you around the island, check this 3.5 hour cycle tour.

» You may also like: the best Toronto getaways

Toronto Island

13. St Lawrence Market Events/Tours

With over 200 years of action, I know what you are thinking – how is St Lawrence Market a unique thing to do in Toronto?

Although one of the popular Toronto attractions, this food and antiques market is special and it is the merchants that make it that way.

With over 120 stores selling everything from shrimp to shortbread, you can easily swallow up an hour or two at the market.

Craig would be happy to see ‘proper bacon’ rolls being served too.

If you are in town for a few days, check out the special events, talks and maybe even a food tour in Toronto, check out this 3 hour tour.

  • Address: 93 Front St E.

Just four minutes from St Lawrence Market you will find the stunning and extremely photogenic French Gothic, Gooderham (Flatiron) Building.

Well worth a snap if you are a keen photographer.

St Lawrence Market Toronto

14. The Distillery District

The red-bricked Victorian-era buildings of the Distillery District now play home to 40 boutique shops including clothes, craft beer and candles.

There is also a variety of restaurants and cafes from ice cream shops to oyster bars. A food market runs every Sunday during summer too.

During winter, the Christmas Market sets up here.

15. Red Heart / Parliament and Gristmill Lane

This red sculpture was created for the Toronto Christmas Market mistletoe to hang come December but stands all year round for lovers to walk through and have a smooch underneath!

Red Heart Toronto Distillery District_

16. Love Lock Sign

Forget Paris, Toronto has a designated sign which spells out ‘love’ for its locks and it makes a great picture for Instagram! We saw two engagement shoots in the area.

Love Locks Toronto Distillery District

Toronto Light Festival

If you happen to visit Toronto in January through to March, don’t miss the annual Light Festival which takes place to force residents outside during the -20 harsh winters. Expect installations, lights and even fire.

  • Address: Distillery District.

17. Ghost Walks in Toronto

90 minutes of gore, graveyards and ghosts sound appealing?

You can take a Toronto haunted walk tour and stroll through the Financial District to the Old Town hearing stories of scary tales. 

18. Nuit Blanche

During the first Saturday night in October, art opens up normally sleepy spots around the city to encourage locals and visitors to go outside and engage with the exhibitions.

Museums stay open late and public art runs throughout the whole night. Expect lots of crowds, I was really impressed with how many citizens were taking advantage of the well prepared annual event.

Nuit Blanche exhibitions include print, projections, light, film, DJs, political and social justice commentary. Some take place outside, others inside. I really liked the large elephants which came in lots of shades!

You may also like our guide to Vancouver

Nuit Blanche Toronto

Toronto Essential Information

Shopping in Toronto

For brand names, the Eaton Centre is not to be missed but remember Toronto whacks a 13% HST (harmonised sales tax) on top of prices so shop with caution!

If vintage is your bag (like me), check out the shops in Kensington Market as well as those scattered along Queens Street and in Annex neighborhood.

You might want to check out our cheap accommodation guide cheap accommodation guide to Toronto too.


Toronto has lots of history, look out for the blue plaques on the side of buildings to find out what they used to be.

We spotted the jail, the old post house and Gooderham Building (that thin one from Pinterest!)

Niagara Falls

No trip to Ontario would be complete without the ninety-minute journey to Niagara.

We hopped aboard a group tour which stopped off at one of Niagara’s vineyards so we could taste the delicious ice wine from the Niagara region before getting wet at Niagara Falls. 

Transport in Toronto

Toronto is a grid system and is really easy to navigate.

Full of beans, we pounded the streets for the first few days (walking from Kensington Market to the Old Town will take about an hour) but by midweek our feet were pleading with us so we used the streetcar and subway system.

You can purchase day tickets, which let you use any mode of transport to get around the city.

How to Get to Toronto From Pearson Airport

  • From Pearson Airport, the quickest but more expensive way to travel is by the Union Pearson Express (UPE). This train takes 25 minutes.
  • The more economical option takes longer, naturally. A 75-minute journey using the public transport system will get you to and from the airport. Take the Airport Rocket (bus 192) to Kipling (approx. 45 minutes) then the green line subway into the city, your stop will depend on where your accommodation is. You may then need a streetcar or the yellow subway line. 
  • A taxi will cost approximately $70. 
  • A private transfer is also an option.

We did option two and I was a little hurried at the airport so leave ample time.

Toronto Packing List (Spring/Summer/Fall)

  • Nice dresses that can be layered with tops
  • 1 x jeans
  • Sunglasses
  • Skip the umbrella, invest in a sturdy but stylish waterproof like my Marmot Precip US / UK
  • Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots – I swear Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
  • Camera and battery
  • Battery pack for your phone – I vouch for Anker’s range US / UK
  • Osprey bag cover US / UK
  • Eco water bottle – we use Tree Tribe US / UK
  • Or Water to Go Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
  • Bamboo cutlery set US / UK
  • Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
  • Pacsafe safety net US / UK
  • Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in some ice wine tasting!

Toronto Packing List (Winter)

  • Merino wool base layers USA / UK
  • Trousers
  • Hats, gloves, scarf
  • Sunglasses
  • 1 x Mountain Equipment Rupal US / UK – extremely waterproof
  • 1 x padded down jacket, I like Rab Alpine USA / UK
  • Hand warmers if waiting around.
  • Osprey bag cover US / UK
  • Tree Tribe US / UK – keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.
  • Battery pack for your phone – I vouch for Anker’s range US / UK
  • Eco water bottle – we use Tree Tribe US / UK
  • Bamboo cutlery set US / UK
  • Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
  • Pacsafe safety net US / UK
  • Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in some ice wine tasting!

My Final Tip for Toronto

The only thing you need a map for is to look lost.

As soon as you take it out, a local will approach you to ask if you need help! It’s a help magnet.

And don’t believe what other Canadians say about Canadian city folk not being friendly, if someone in Edinburgh (Scotland) saw you with a map, they’d cross over the street!

Toronto, Canada, Unique things to do in Toronto, Canada, Toronto food, Toronto travel, What to do in Toronto, Toronto Downtown, Toronto Houses, Distillery District, Kensington Market, CN Tower, Place to visit in Toronto, Toronto itinerary

Please do ask any questions or leave comments below.

Jasper vs Banff: Which Rockies National Park Is Best?

Jasper vs Banff National Parks Rockies Canada

If you’ve seen any pictures of Canada’s nature, chances are they are from either Jasper or Banff National Parks. They are the most visited national parks in Canada. In fact, they are neighbours so many people visit both when coming to the Canadian Rockies. But what if you could only choose one? This guide, by Maya from Travel With The Smile, will detail the differences between the two in our Jasper vs Banff showdown.

Jasper or Banff: Which National Park Is The Best For You?

While I always recommend visiting the Rockies for at least a week, the ideal time would be two weeks, it’s understandable that not everyone has this time available.

The following Jasper versus Banff comparison breaks down similarities and differences between the parks to help you choose which one to visit.

It features things to do in Jasper and Banff National Parks, as well as atmosphere, transportation and accommodation options in mountain towns lying in their hearts and sharing their names, Jasper and Banff.

They are connected with Icefields Parkway, an insanely scenic road, which is often on the list of the most beautiful drives in the world.

» Don’t miss | Our guide to Vancouver

Peyto Lake in Banff Canada

Peyto Lake in Banff Canada

Jasper versus Banff: Geographical Differences and Atmosphere

Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies covering 10,878km2 while Banff National Park is about half the size covering 6,641km2and it’s the oldest national park in Canada.

Because Jasper and Banff National Parks are so close to each other, their climate and weather conditions are typically the same.

Most visitors choose to come in the summer when the weather is most stable, but you should still come prepared with a jacket in case of snow.

In summer 2019, a sudden snowstorm on Icefields Parkway left a lot of drivers stranded.

The highest point on Icefields Parkway is Bow Summit at 2,027 meters above sea level; therefore it can snow any day of the year.

Mountain towns Jasper and Banff are both charming in their own way and both have pros and cons for visiting.

It depends on your preferences and what kind of vacation are you looking for.

Even though Jasper National Park is much bigger than its neighbour Banff, the town of Jasper is smaller with only 5,690 citizens and Banff is almost at 10,000.

During summer, the highest season, Jasper is still a pleasure to walk around and enjoy the surroundings but Banff is a different story.

The traffic often collapses, finding a parking spot might be a miracle and the main downtown street is very crowded with hordes of tourists.

Both towns are surrounded by high mountain peaks.

In Banff, the mountains are much closer to the town and appear to be bigger while in Jasper, the town is situated in a large valley and mountains are a bit further from town.

Banff appears to be busy and crowded most of the year and Jasper is much quieter, especially when the summer ends. A lot of Banff’s year-round visitors are locals from Calgary enjoying a weekend, a vacation or very common bachelorette parties due to Banff’s bustling nightlife. The reason is not only the popularity of each but also the distance from major cities.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

How to Get Around Jasper and Banff

While the closest international airport to Jasper is in Edmonton, 365 km away; the closest airport Banff is in Calgary; only 126 km.

Therefore visiting Banff is incredibly easy; you take Trans-Canada Highway and can drink beer in Banff in two hours.

After driving in the foothills, you will soon enter the Rockies and pass Kananaskis Country and Canmore, another stunning mountain town.

The drive from Edmonton to Jasper is not very scenic and takes around 4 hours. Even if you’d like to visit Jasper, I would still recommend flying to Calgary. You can drive through Banff and the Icefields Parkway in a day; it’s definitely worth it even just for a quick drive-through.

The most important things to consider before visiting the Canadian Rockies are a car or campervan rental and accommodation.

There are some shuttle buses connecting big cities with small mountain towns but it’s always easier and more budget-friendly to rent a car or a small campervan.

Jasper’s tourist attractions and spread around town and take some time to get to. As an example, the popular Maligne Lake is a 48 km drive away. Since there is no public transport available, you need to drive yourself everywhere.

Banff has public transport around town and also to the most popular tourist attractions such as Banff gondola, Lake Minnewanka, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The transport to most of the hiking trails is not available without a car. And public transport along the Icefields Parkway is not available at all unless you join a tour.

Icelands Parkway Rockies Canada
Icelands Parkway Rockies Canada

Accommodation Options in Jasper and Banff

Accommodation can get very pricy in both Jasper and Banff. They both have a lot of hotels and lodges costing around CAD 300 per night during summer, and they are usually booked months in advance.

To save some money, consider staying just outside the national parks. If you’re visiting Jasper, you can stay in Hinton and in the case of Banff, cheaper accommodation can be usually found in Canmore, just 20 minutes away and also accessible by public transport.

Hostels are also an option. You can read Two Scots Abroad’s guide to cheap accommodation in Banff here.

Hands down the most budget-friendly option with yearly increasing popularity is camping.

You can bring or rent a tent, rent a small campervan or bigger RV, you can easily save a lot on accommodation and sleep in campgrounds. There are 11 campgrounds in Jasper National Park and you can find 14 campgrounds in Banff National Park.

This way you are more flexible and can stop in a campground when you’re done with your day. It’s easier to have campgrounds booked in advance, for weekends and summer especially. But if you are not renting an RV and don’t need full hookups, finding a campground shouldn’t be a problem.

Elk Under Rundle Mountain Banff National Park Canada

Elk Under Rundle Mountain Banff National Park Canada

Jasper Versus Banff: Nature and Highlights

Natural wonders and wildlife watching are the reasons people visit the Canadian Rockies. Both national parks offer endless options for hiking, stunning turquoise lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers.
Jasper has more options for easy hikes with almost no elevation.

Banff has more convenient sightseeing options around town without the need to drive. Visitors in Jasper are more spread out through the valleys than in Banff giving the wildlife more space so wildlife watching is better in Jasper. Banff has the most popular lakes with insane shades of blue.

Jasper has fewer yearly visitors while Banff has almost twice as much so you can expect to enjoy the wilderness in Jasper more. Banff is closer to other national parks – Kootenay and Yoho in British Columbia.

As you can see, both Jasper and Banff offer a lot of activities.

Highlights of Jasper National Park:

  • Wilcox Pass Hike for a bird’s eye view of Athabasca Glacier
  • Visiting Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield
  • Hiking the Mount Edith Cavell and Valley of the Five Lakes
  • Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls
  • SkyTram to Whistlers Peak
  • Cruising the Maligne Lake
  • Visiting Pyramid Island and Pyramid Lake
  • Swimming in Lake Annette or Lake Edith
  • Mountain biking around town
  • Wildlife watching

Important Tips About Wildlife

The most common wildlife in the Rockies is elk, deer, black bears, grizzly bears, and moose.

It’s an experience of a lifetime to see mama bear playing with her young cubs or see a herd of elk crossing the river.

Just remember that these animals are wild and they shouldn’t be fed or approached.

They might seem to be enjoying eating the grass but can charge at you within a few seconds.

Parks Canada advises all visitors to carry a bear spray while visiting the Rockies. No matter how popular or remote the hiking trail is, you can spot a bear anytime. Learn when and how to use a bear spray and stay informed about the bear’s behaviour.

Cinnamon Bear Jasper

Highlights of Banff National Park:

  • Swimming in Johnson Lake
  • Cruising on Lake Minnewanka
  • Hiking up the Sulphur Mountain
  • Biking along Vermilion Lakes
  • Hiking to Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots
  • Visiting the popular lakes – Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake
  • Watching a sunrise at Two Jack Lake
  • Canoeing on Bow River
  • Biking the Legacy Trail from Banff to Canmore
  • Taking Lake Louise gondola to see a grizzly bear

Aylmer Lookout Banff Canada

Final Words

No matter which national park you decide to visit, I guarantee you that you will plan a return visit to see more.

Even though it might seem that Banff is easier to visit due to its proximity to Calgary and public transport options, Jasper has many natural wonders as well, and a lot of beautiful places are hidden away from bus stops.

If you drive the Icefields Parkway all the way to Jasper, you will see that both national parks are incredibly picturesque.

If you’d like more amazing mountain sceneries with a mix of ocean views, check out Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

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Read Before Choosing Where To Stay in Vancouver

Where to Stay in Vancouver_

Wondering where to stay in Vancouver? Choosing the right neighbourhood within a reasonable travel budget can be daunting! This guide to hotels in Vancouver details the top attractions in each area and affordable hotels located there. 

You may also like: our Vancouver itinerary

Best Places to Stay in Vancouver

  • Downtown Vancouver: Heart of top attractions
  • English Bay: Waterfront hotels
  • Davie Village: LGBTQ+ community 
  • Granville Island: Foodie destination
  • Kitsilano: By the beach
  • North Vancouver: Lesser-known 

Downtown Vancouver/Gastown

Downtown Vancouver and Gastown are great areas for those looking to roll out of bed and into the city’s best attractions.

The Vancouver Lookout, BC Place, Robson Street shops, and Gastown restaurants are all located in Downtown Vancouver.

This is where you catch the bus to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, set sail from Vancouver Harbour and party the night away at Granville Street 

Stanley Park and Granville Island can be walked in under 40 minutes. Don’t want to walk? Take the Hop On/Off bus or use public transport. 

Hotels in Downtown Vancouver

There is no shortage of hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown. Where to stay very much depends on your budget so let’s consider three different prices ranges.

  • Under 300 CAD: Moda Hotel is bright and modern with comfortable rooms. Excellent location and staff.
  • Under 400 CAD: The Burrard is a hip hotel with a tranquil outdoor space with games. My parents loved this hotel.
  • Under 500 CAD: Auberge Vancouver Hotel guests love the views of the city from their rooms and the indoor swimming pool. Perfection. 

Steam Clock Gas Town

West End Vancouver (English Bay/Davie Village) 

If you are looking for beach views on the doorstep of Stanley Park then Vancouver’s West End’s English Bay is the area for you.

Enjoy the public art, A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun which is part of the city’s Biennale Trail. 

Head to Denman Street and pick up some wheels to get around the Seawall at a nice stress-free pace.

Dine, party and photograph the Rainbow Crosswalk at Davie Village. Check out our guide on things to do in Vancouver at night.

West End Vancouver Hotels 

  • English Bay Hotel: Basic, clean yet affordable hotel just one street away from the beach.
  • Best Western Plus Sands: Spacious, modern rooms and a restaurant onsite selling pub grub.
  • The English Bay Inn: Awesome breakfast, garden and terrace. Mix of modern and quaint rooms. A stay you’ll never forget. 

Street art in Vancouver laughing man_


Yummy mummies, yoga bunnies, beach bods and Lucky’s Doughnuts – welcome to the balanced Kitsilano life.

Kitsilano, or ‘Kits’ for short, is a chilled out area with lots of choice for foodies. 

The main attraction is Kitsilano Beach which makes up part of 28km Vancouver Seawall Here locals picnic, sunbathe and play volleyball during the sunny months.

Lazy afternoons are best walking along the water to Granville Island or into Downtown Vancouver.

There’s also a supervised outdoor saltwater pool which is open from spring through to the end of summer.

Kitsilano is where the HR Macmillan Space Centre is located which holds a very special place in our travel timeline as this is where Craig proposed to me!

Skip Starbucks and enjoy a slow sitdown coffee at Arbutus Coffee (2200 Arbutus St).

Fan of Tea? Make it a high one at Neverland Tea Salon (3066 W Broadway).  

Kitsilano public transport connects you to Downtown, Main Street (hipster district) and the University of British Columbia.

I really love Kits. We lived here for two months during the summer. 

Hotels in Kitsilano

As the area is residential, there are a handful of great apartments.

  • Alma Beach Manor: A self-check-in comfortable heritage manor with great transport links.
  • Maple Beach B&B: Homely rooms and friendly owners. Less than a 10 minutes walk away from Kits Beach 

Kitsilano Beach Vancouver_

Granville Island

Granville Island is a hub of restaurants, art galleries and shops rented by locals makers.

The most popular thing to do at Granville Island is to dine at the market. Pick up some bread, cakes, meat or a hot meal while you people watch.

Hotels at Granville Island 

  • Granville Island Hotel: Repeat custom indicates how adored this gem of a hotel is. Rooms with balconies book up fast. Compare prices at Tripadvisor. 

Granville Island Market Sign_

North Vancouver

Hop aboard the Seabus to Lonsdale Quay, a quieter side of Van with spectacular night views of the skyline. 

Take part in the weekend Shipyards Night Market where locals dine, drink and listen to live music from May until September.

Nestled amongst the mountains, Lynn Valley is a quieter suspension bridge which gives its sister bridge, Capilano, a run for its money because it is free! 

North Vancouver Hotels

Vancouver Airport Hotels/Richmond Hotels

If you are just in Vancouver for a stopover (boo!) or are leaving the city early, the most central hotel at Vancouver Airport is the Fairmont Gold. Top-class amenities, as with all Fairmont hotels, but with a premium price tag.  

A more affordable option is the Royalty B&B: Great host, convenient location with public transport links to Vancouver Airport. 

Granville Street lights Vancouver

Apartments in Vancouver

The average price for an entire apartment is 280 CAD however here are some I’d classify as liveable as low as 100 CAD. Private rooms are cheaper averaging at 130 CAD but going as low as 50 CAD. 

 » » Looking for something more affordable? Here’s our Vancouver hostels guide  « «

Best Area to Stay in Vancouver pin

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Final Words 

Looking back, I wish I had this guide to explain how to choose Vancouver accommodation when I first visited the city. As there are so many areas it is hard to choose I suffer from severe FOMO! Did you find it useful? Tell me in the comments below.

32+ Festive Things to do in Vancouver this Winter

Famous for its sea to sky activities, Vancouver is the perfect winter destination. While snow is not always guaranteed on the streets, there will be more than a sprinkle (and possibly a fabricated dump, Olympics 2010, yikes!) on the mountains. This festive bumper guide on things to do in Vancouver in the winter includes fun sports, warm indoor activities and, of course, top-rated Christmas attractions! 

» Don’t miss our Vancouver itinerary

Note: A decision on the 2020 Vancouver Christmas market has not been made yet.

Things to do in Vancouver at Christmas  

1. Grouse Mountain Light Show

Peep out of the Grouse Mountain Skyride window and watch the snow-capped trees disappear as you reach the peak. 

Once on the mountain, crunch your way through the snow, passed the skiers, to the Light Trail and magical tunnel.

Enjoy a sleigh ride, Rudolph has been replaced by a monster snow eating machine for this trip, through the tree-lined lanes then warm up with a drink at Grouse Grind or BeaverTails. 

2. Vancouver Santa Claus Parade

For one afternoon in December only, streets are blocked off for the impressive Vancouver Santa Claus Parade. Featuring inflatable decorations, Santa’s sleigh and talented dancers from tiny to late teens.

→ Tips: Leave your umbrella at home as it prevents others from seeing and find a sport at the starting point for fewer crowds.

3. Capilano Suspension Bridge

Probably the busiest of all the top things to do in Vancouver in December, Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver gets dressed up with hundreds of thousands of lights for all to see.

Like the world’s biggest Christmas tree, which lives there, the crowds grow bigger each year so plan ahead. 

→ Note: Free shuttle buses run throughout the day and evening from Downtown Vancouver.

4. Festival of Lights at the VanDusen Botanical Garden

Up there with Capilano Bridge as one of the most popular Christmas attractions, the Festival of Lights is an annual event which creates a glitter bomb effect on VanDusen Botanical Garden ( at Shaughnessy).

No space in the garden avoids being draped in lights, decoration or installation. For obvious reasons this is best experienced at night but be warned, the lines are crazy.

Christmas Lights Botanic Gardens Vancouver

 5. Hycroft Manor

One of the most jaw-dropping Christmas events in Vancouver is a visit to Hycroft Manor (Shaughnessy).

The building is dripping in fairy lights, offset against the light grey stone, and looks very Miracle on 34th Street.

During Christmas, it is home to Vancouver’s longest-running fair where local vendors sell their products. I bought Craig a pizza box filled with candy, combining two of his most loved treats, pizza and sweets.  

Hycroft Manor at Christmas with lights, Vancouver_

6. Woodward’s Windows, Canada Place 

Take a look at the throwback winter scene at what once stood Woodward’s Department Store, hence the name. 

Santa’s workshop and The Candlestick Factory from the 1960s are displayed each year at Canada Place.

7. Avenue of Trees

Supporting the Woodward’s Window display is a trail of trees dressed in different themes. Classic, garish, modern and pretty out there, the designers take the brief seriously! 

While you are there enjoy the lit-up night cityscape and Canada Place Sails of Light, where the sails on top change colour. 

8. Yule Duel

Quite possibly the best name for a Christmas choir event, Gastown hosts this carol competition. All singing levels of choirs welcome.

9. Glow Vancouver

Hop aboard the Glow-comotiv, fly on the LED swings and sip seasonal drinks at the bar.

Glow Vancouver is a family-friendly seasonal event running from November to January at Harbour Convention Centre.

10. Vancouver Christmas Market 

The best time to visit the Christmas Market in Vancouver is at night so you can see the lights around the festive huts as you sip on mulled wine.

There are 80 German-style huts packed into Jack Poole Plaza at Canada Place, selling food, drinks and trinkets for gifts.

There is also a series of free live music including Christmas choirs.

Gemma with Christmas mug at Vancouver Christmas Market_

11. St. Paul’s Lights of Hope

The Lights of Hope campaign raises millions of dollars for charity while giving a variety of sites a bit of twinkle, including the most famous spot St. Paul’s Hospital.

Individuals and companies can purchase a star and have their name put on it for everyone to see.

12. Ice Skating 

From mid-November families wrap up and perfect their axles at Robson Square Ice Rink. You can’t miss this igloo-shaped ice rink glowing at Downtown Vancouver.  

13. Robson Christmas Tree

Not only can you ice skate at Robson Square but you can also admire the city Christmas tree.

14. Tree Lighting

At the end of November, locals come together for the official tree lighting at Robson Square.

You can buy a bulb and proceeds go to the Vancouver International Children’s Festival.

There is no pressure to purchase, this family-friendly event to open to everyone and the big man, Santa, will be there.

15. Vancouver: Karaoke Christmas Lights Trolley Tour

O.M.G a karaoke Christmas train. Do I have to say anymore?

For three hours, participants ride on a stolen San Francisco trolley belting out Bing Crosby before stopping off at Vancouver’s Christmas attractions, Bright Nights Display (Stanley Park) and Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Dreams do come true. Reserve your spot.

16. Trinity Street Lights (Unofficial)

Bring your shades, Trinity Street Lights sparkle bright! Unfortunately, the official event had to be put on hold down to safety concerns so if you do plan to visit leave your cars at home. 

You can expect icicles hanging from trees, stars brightening up plant pots and reindeer lazing in gardens, all in light form of course. 

  • Address: 2400 to 2900 blocks of Trinity Street in East Vancouver

16. Christmas Tree Shopping

Pick up your annual tree at Aunt Leah’s Place. For over two decades, locals have been supporting families in need by purchasing their BC/Pacific Northwest sourced trees from this volunteer-run tree lot. You can even volunteer too.

Winter Sports/Outdoor Activities in Vancouver 

17. Snowboarding

Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mt Seymour have just over 100 trails waiting for your waxed boards.

Not as credible as Blackcomb at Whistler but still a local option for those looking for a wee frill. 

18. Skiing in Vancouver

Prefer to ski? No problem. Those pushing their progression should check out the Black on Black run at Cypress or the Unicorn at Mt Seymour.

19. Night Skiing 

14 of Grouse Mountains runs are open until 10 pm. Watch the city lights sparkle as you cut down Heaven’s Sake run. The runs are lit by industrially bright lights. Be cautious of the non-sports visitors who are just visiting for the Light Trail (see above). 

20. Snowshoeing 

If slower-paced winter activities are more your thing, whack on some cramps and try out snowshoeing around Dog Mountain at Mt Seymour (5K).

Next progress onto the Mt Seymour loop (7K). 

Have a car, will travel? Check out Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. Magical! The birds are very social, and I don’t mean the ones of Granville Street.

21. Snow Tubing 

What happens when you put a rubber ring on snow? Speed! Cypress has six chutes for you to fly down at Gnarly’s Tube Park. 

22. Brewski Fest at Cypress

Complimentary beer from craft beer popup tents for season ticket holders Cypress Mountain for Brewski weekend! 

23. Grouse Mountain 24 Hours of Winter

Although March usually signals the end of the ski season for many resorts, Grouse Mountain has decided to celebrate it!

As the name suggests, the resort does not close for 24 hours and DJs play live music to keep the party going.

There are a number of events running throughout the 24 hours such as S’more trails, ice sculpting and torch procession.

24. Santa Shuffle

Make way for the turkey and trimmings! Join the annual Santa shuffle and raise money for the Salvation Army.

The fun run is short at 5K and fancy dress is encouraged. Young elves can join in the 1K race too.  

Indoor Activities in Vancouver  

25. Granville Island 

Grab a gingerbread pastry to fuel your way through the food stalls at one of my fave spots in Vancouver. Bring an empty belly and full purse, there are lovely makers shops around the island too. This is where I bought my second engagement ring… The first was a plastic straw from Cuba, the third was a family heirloom. Only one guy proposed, in Vancouver!

Kids, I spotted Santa in a sidecar at Granville Island and guess who was driving? Rudolph! 

Granville Island Market Sign_

26. See a Show

Vogue Theatre and Queen Elizabeth Theatre promote an array of shows in December from kids classics to ballet.

27. Granville Street Bar Hopping

Granville Street is always a hotbed for partying regardless of the season. Put your sparkly outfits on and heat up at one of the many bars from Irish to Indie. Here’s our guide to more night time activities.

Granville Street lights Vancouver

28. Festive Craft Beer Crawl

There is no short of craft beer breweries in the city. Do a crawl of the East Van brews and sample their Santa inspired winter ranges.

Craig’s fave is Parallel 49, Ruby Tears which isn’t very festive at all.

29. Holiday Wreath Making Classes

Create your own Christmas decorations at Lonsdale Quay Wreath Making Workshop. There is no need to bring material, everything including a teacher is provided.

30. The Four Seasons Hotel Holiday Special

This beautiful hotel is transformed into a Winter Wonderland.

The first and second floors of the Four Seasons is taken over by the Festival of Trees. Visitors can vote on the best-dressed tree. 

Big kids can enjoy Christmas cocktails at the YEW’s lounge. Eggnog in the moose mug appears to be popular! 

» Looking for accommodation in Vancouver? Here’s our advice on hotels and our hostels guide 

31. Make It Vancouver

Make It Vancouver is a 4-day shopping event which gives space to local makers.

Shoppers pay an entrance fee which allows them to shop over the long weekend in December while supporting local craft businesses.

Pick up a unique gift for the hard to buy for at East Hastings.

32. Volunteer 

“Tis the season to give so why not give something back?

During my winter in Vancouver, I volunteered at a local shopping mall. We wrapped gifts for payment which was donated to charity.

I met a new friend named Danika who I hung out with while I lived in Vancouver! Nice way to meet like-minded people.

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Final Words 

Whether you are visiting for the weekend or local to the city, we hope you’ve found something new to add to your Christmas Vancouver itinerary. From skiing to shopping, markets to midnight mountain trails, tell us in the comments what festive fun you get up to.