In Vancouver, finding things to do with kids is easy. When the weather is good, families can spend a free day at one of Vancouver's Top 5 Beaches, play at Queen Elizabeth Park or explore Stanley Park; when the weather is bad, there are the Top 10 Things to Do on a Rainy Day with Kids.
There are also many Vancouver attractions aimed at families and kids, including multiple kids' museums and adventure parks. But how do you know which Vancouver attractions for kids are actually fun, suit young toddlers or curious older kids, or are worth the (sometimes expensive) admission cost?
In this Guide to Vancouver Attractions for Kids, I provide candid reviews of Vancouver's most popular kids' attractions as well as all the information you need to make an informed choice before you plan a visit.
See also: Top 10 Vancouver Attractions
Dedicated to teaching kids about science through interactive exhibits and displays, Science World British Columbia is one of the best Vancouver attractions for kids. Unlike most other Vancouver museums, Science World caters to a wide age-range, providing activities for kids aged 1 - 12. It has a dedicated space for babies and toddlers (Kidspace) and a super-fun physics-oriented gallery called Eureka! that lets kids launch balls, dance on keyboards, and play invisible harp strings.
Pros: Great for toddlers and older kids; lots of activities and play areas. Stroller and wheelchair accessible. Easily accessible by public transit: it's across the street from the Science World SkyTrain Station.
Cons: For a one-off visit, Science World is extremely expensive (though it is free for kids 2 and younger). Try it out, and if your family enjoys it, buy the $140 family membership package--then each visit is a steal!
Worth the cost? Yes, especially for families with very young kids.
Along with Science World British Columbia, the Vancouver Aquarium is the best Vancouver attraction for younger kids. Unlike Science World, it appeals equally to adults and older kids, too. In addition to the fish, visitors to the Aquarium can enjoy multiple live shows (e.g., the Beluga whale show, the dolphin show), as well as the 4D theatre and a designated kid play area (located on the lower level by the frog displays) for toddlers.
Pros: Great for toddlers, kids of all ages and adults; lots of live shows and areas to explore. Stroller and wheelchair accessible.
Cons: It's expensive (over $20 per adult), but it is free for kids 3 and younger.
Worth the cost? Yes! The Vancouver Aquarium is one of the top attractions for all ages in Vancouver.
One of Greater Vancouver's top attractions is North Vancouver's Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, home to the eponymous Capilano Suspension Bridge as well as several other outdoor adventure attractions, including Cliffwalk and Treetops Adventures. Families with kids 5 and older will love exploring the outdoor adventures and crossing the 230-feet high Suspension Bridge, but this isn't a good choice for families with younger kids: most of the attractions require more dexterity than the typical 4-and-under kid has, and babies must be strapped to their parents' bodies in order to access the Suspension Bridge or Cliffwalk.
Pros: Amazing scenery and fun, outdoor exercise for kids 5 and older and mobile adults.
Cons: It's very expensive (almost $30 per adult), though kids 6 and under are free. Not wheelchair or stroller accessible; not for people with mobility issues, babies, toddlers, or anyone afraid of heights.
Worth the cost? Sort of. If you can comfortably afford it, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of the top attractions in Vancouver for its unique setting and outdoor adventures. If money is an issue, try the free (but less "amusement park-like") Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.
One of the top Vancouver attractions for all people is also a great place to take kids: Granville Island is home to the renowned Granville Island Kids Market, the famous Public Market, theatres, live performers, parks, and, during the summer season, the free Granville Island Water Park. The Kids Market is home to both shops and an indoor adventure playground; there's also an outdoor playground for sunny days.
Pros: Lots of activities for kids of all ages in all types of weather. Wheelchair and stroller accessible. Just as fun for adults as it is for kids.
Worth the cost? Yes! Exploring Granville Island is free, and the activities you do need to pay for are cheap, and the whole family will enjoy the trip.
Burnaby Village Museum & Carousel
Located just east of Vancouver, the Burnaby Village Museum & Carousel is one of the most unique Vancouver attractions for kids. An open-air museum that recreates life in British Columbia in the 1920s, this Village Museum has a main street with lots of period "shops" to explore, including a working blacksmith and authentically-stocked general store, plus kids' activities and games, frequent puppet shows, and a restored 1912 carousel that all ages can ride.
Pros: It's cheap (and for summer 2012, gate admission is free). Great for kids 1 - 12, who can explore the Village's buildings and ride the carousel.
Cons: Not a lot to see for adults and older teens, who may feel "done" with the Village after an hour. Not all period buildings are wheelchair or stroller accessible.
Worth the cost? Yes. The Burnaby Village Museum is cheap and fun enough for a family with kids 10 and under.
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre
Sharing its building with the adult-oriented Museum of Vancouver, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre often appears on lists of Vancouver attractions for kids. The Space Centre includes a small exhibit gallery that does include some interactive displays and games, but the technology is a bit outdated--kids must be able to coordinate a rollerball mouse and a separate button to click on icons/play the games (there are no touch screens), so very young kids (like my two year old) may have trouble using them. There is a Planetarium with multiple daily shows, which will appeal to kids old enough to sit through a movie (the shows are about 30 minutes each).
Pros: Located within walking distance of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, so families can visit both museums easily.
Cons: Small, with outdated technology. Won't appeal much to adults and teens.
Worth the cost? Not really. Put the money towards either Science World or the Vancouver Aquarium.
The best Vanier Park museum (which includes the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Museum of Vanocuver) for kids 5 and under, the Vancouver Maritime Museum is small but has lots of interactive displays for play and exploration, including the real RCMP Schooner St. Roch, a replica wheelhouse and a pirate ship interior.
Pros: Lots of interactive displays for kids 2 - 10. General museum is wheelchair and stroller accessible, though the St. Roch schooner is not accessible for people with mobility issues. Often virtually empty, so kids have lots of space to play.
Cons: Small; adults and older teens will be done with the museum in about an hour.
Worth the cost? Yes. Though it's small, the Maritime Museum also costs much less than bigger attractions and, since it is often fairly empty, can provide a couple of hours of imaginative play for toddlers and kids under 10.
Most of the Top Vancouver Gardens (like the Quarry Gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park and the gardens at Stanley Park) are free, so I won't review them here. But the VanDusen Botanical Garden has an entrance fee, so I'll include it. Another of the Top 10 Vancouver Attractions, VanDusen is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon with the kids. Kids and adults will love exploring this picture-perfect sanctuary, with its ponds full of lily pads and winding pathways. Best of all, there's an European-style Hedge Maze that kids will love navigating.
Pros: Beautiful gardens that kids and adults will love. Stroller and wheelchair accessible. Reasonably priced.
Cons: Families will need to plan for a two-hour exploration by bringing water/hats/other necessities; the main building with toilets is somewhat far from several Garden features, like the Hedge Maze.
Worth the cost? Yes!
Vancouver Art Gallery
Along with UBC's Museum of Anthropology, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is one Vancouver museum that is truly "world-class." If your kids are old enough to enjoy looking but not touching (or young enough to still be happy in a stroller), VAG is a must-visit. Families with younger kids can take advantage of VAG's Weekend Family Programs. In general, though, like any art gallery or traditional museum, VAG is best enjoyed by kids old enough to appreciate it.
Pros: A must-visit for kids over 8, teens and adults. Wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Cons: Younger kids' tolerance for this traditional art gallery will vary; may not be a good choice for kids 7 and younger.
Worth the cost? Yes. Older kids, teens and adults can also take advantage of by-donation Tuesdays, where admission is "by donation" after 5pm.
Situated atop Queen Elizabeth Park (which has lots of free things to do for kids), the Bloedel Conservatory is one of the best Vancouver attractions for kids because its fun, cheap, warm, and colourful. Also: Kids will love the close contact with the Conservatory's 100+ exotic birds.
Pros: Cheap and fun for people of all ages, from babies to adults.
Cons: It's small--a visit will last no more than 30 minutes--which is fine if you combine your trip with a visit to Queen Elizabeth Park but isn't worth the trip if it's raining/the Conservatory is your only destination.
Worth the cost? Yes.
Maplewood Farm "Petting Zoo"
The last remaining farm on the North Shore, North Vancouver's Maplewood Farm is the only "petting zoo" left near Vancouver. Young kids will get a kick out of seeing the farm's goats, sheep, cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and ponies, but the whole operation is small, and not all of the animals can be "petted." Kids three to six will enjoy riding the tractor-tricycles around the farm, but that treat is somewhat expensive: the tractor-tricycles cost $4 for 30 minutes.
Pros: The only place for kids to "pet" animals in Vancouver.
Cons: Not a lot for the cost; kids can't "pet" every animal, and some animals are hard for small kids to see/visit.
Worth the cost? Yes, but mainly because it's the only place to pet and get close to farm animals near Vancouver.
Open only on Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays between Victoria Day (mid-May) and Thanksgiving (mid-October), the Burnaby Central Railway is an incredible treat for anyone who loves trains and one of the best things to do with kids in Vancouver who are under five years old. Located in north Burnaby, the Railway lets visitors ride miniature trains over a six-acre park; train engines include working steam engines!
Pros: It's cheap (and free for kids 3 and under), incredibly fun and educational for all ages.
Cons: Sunny days in the summer can be crowded.
Worth the cost? Yes!