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Vancouver is known for its bustling city streets and epic food scene, but there’s also a whole watery world out there just waiting to be explored! Whether you’re a nature lover, outdoor enthusiast, wildlife admirer, or all three, no Vancouver itinerary would be complete without some time out on the big blue.
From a beautiful sunset dinner cruise through the Inner Harbour to a half-day whale watching adventure, there are a bunch of amazing boat tours and cruises on offer here in Vancouver. There are also plenty of tours that take you to more remote areas that you might not normally see, such as the Granite Falls zodiac tour!
Even as a local, I love taking boat tours to get out on the water and see the unique sights – some are relaxing, some are thrilling – but I’ve made some amazing memories from them all! With that said, we’ve summarized 5 of our very favorite boat tours in Vancouver you should check out on your next visit below.
Why Book a Boat Tour in Vancouver?
When you’re in Vancouver, you’ve got some absolutely stunning coastline and diverse sealife right at your fingertips! While you can certainly appreciate the water from land, nothing quite beats heading out on the water in a boat to truly throw yourself right into the action.
From our own experience, taking a boat tour has been the best way to get to parts of Vancouver that are difficult to fully appreciate from the land, like Vancouver Harbor and the Indian Arm.
What’s more, the knowledge of the guides, with their funny, wild, and entertaining stories, make these trips so much more memorable. So, all you have to do is sit back, pull out your camera, and let yourself soak up all the sights.
Whether you’re traveling to Vancouver on your honeymoon, or with the whole family in tow, there really is something for everyone when it comes to arranging a boat tour. From a relaxing cruise soaking in the views to a half-day of adventure spotting whales, there are so many ways to experience Vancouver out at sea!
Our Top Choice
Let’s kick things off with the best of the best – our favorite tour out on the waves of Vancouver has to be this magical sunset cruise!
When Dan and I were looking for something different to do on a quiet Saturday night, we came across this tour online and thought – why not? Boy, are we glad we did!
At around 2 and a half hours long, this cruise really is the perfect end to any busy day, whether you’ve been out whale watching in Vancouver or exploring downtown on some local food tours. With some incredible live music, beautiful views of Vancouver Harbour, and some very delicious West Coast-themed cuisine, what’s not to love?
In fact, we loved this tour so much that we put together this complete guide to the sunset dinner cruise, with plenty of helpful tips to help you have the best time possible!
Related Read: Just an hour’s drive away from Vancouver, we enjoyed some pretty spectacular sunsets over in the town of Whiterock.
The BEST Boat Tours in Vancouver
1. Sunset Dinner Cruise
You didn’t think we’d stop talking about this awesome cruise already, did you?
In fact, we loved this sunset dinner cruise so much the first time we visited, that I actually brought my mom along for a second ride when she came over to stay. It’s safe to say I got some major brownie points from her that day!
The tour begins at 7 pm from the wharf on Denman Street, near Coal Harbour, where you’ll then float down past Canada Place and under the Lions Gate Bridge. Seeing the bridge from the water, with the orange glow of sunset settling in, was just so special.
We took a seat at our reserved table (all guests have a table reserved for them) and got hit with another beautiful sight, a tantalizing dinner buffet that’s loaded with so many options! Roast beef, rice pilaf, and oven-baked salmon were just a few of the gorgeous mains, and we followed that up with a bite of fruity NYC-style cheesecake for dessert – but we really are just scratching the surface here.
Sitting there in all of our food-coma bliss, we had a great time listening to the band which performed live music and had a glass (or three!) of wine. Just note that all alcoholic drinks are a separate cost – we decided to indulge ourselves a little and bought a bottle for the table, it was so worth it!
There’s loads of space on the deck to walk around and take in all the different vantage points. Exploring the boat after dinner was a good way to walk off the meal! There is also plenty of space and the boat doesn’t feel crowded at all.
At 2 hours and 30 minutes long, this dinner cruise blew our expectations way out of the water (pun intended!). With tickets at $209 CAD for adults (12+) and $196 CAD for kids (3-11), it’s a bit on the pricey end, but for a night full of amazing memories with equally great food, it doesn’t get much better than this.
2. Vancouver Harbor and Indian Arm Lunch Cruise
When you think of Van, one of the first things you’ll think of has got to be its beautiful urban coastline, and what better way to experience it than from the water? This relaxing half-day cruise takes you to some of the prettiest outdoor sights the city has to offer, and boy does it deliver!
The tour boards at the launch point near Stanley Park at 10:30 am, which is about half an hour before the launch time at 11:00 am. From there, you’ll set sail with gorgeous views of the Inner Harbour and the Burrard Inlet, which we learned was named after a fellow shipmate of the British navigator George Vancouver, who discovered the inlet way back in 1792.
Making your way up Indian Arm, which is an 18-kilometer (12-mile) glacial fjord, to see the stunning Silver Falls, it’s not uncommon to see some wildlife along the way too. On our trip, we happened to see a couple of bald eagles circling overhead, as well as a bob of seals lounging out on the rocks!
But of course, this is also a lunch cruise. So, not too long into the trip, we traded our cameras for cutlery at the lunch buffet. I personally loved the locally caught salmon, but there are really so many options you can’t go wrong. If you’re a dessert person, be sure to grab a slice of berry cheesecake.
This trip makes for a wonderful, relaxing afternoon full of tasty food, beautiful sights, and plenty of local facts and stories! Lasting approximately 4 hours, tickets for this tour cost $196 CAD. The days of the week that they run the tour do vary, so make sure to check your dates and book your tickets well in advance.
3. Granite Falls Zodiac Tour
While there are a ton of things to do in Vancouver city, there is also plenty to see out on the water too! This 3-hour small-group tour is a great way to get off the beaten path and see a whole new wild side of the city.
We had a blast cruising out on a zodiac boat when we went whale watching in Victoria, so we knew this trip would be so much fun! These smaller boats hold up to 12 people and can get into all the nooks and crannies that the larger boats have a harder time getting to. Talk about feeling like an adventurer!
What I really love about this tour is how much of Vancouver you actually see. Strapped up in your survival suit, you’ll start off on Granville Island and explore False Creek, which is one of the prettiest parts of the city! You’ll then cruise towards the Lions Gate Bridge (it looks a lot bigger from the water!) and the historic Siwash Rock, before stopping for some much-needed photos.
The next leg of the journey will take you out into the Indian Arm, up to the mysterious and breathtaking Deep Cove. With its steep granite cliffs and heavily wooded forest, this is where the zodiac boat shines, zipping in and out of small inlets and runways!
After all of these amazing sights, we didn’t think the tour could get any better, but boy were we wrong! The next step on our tour was the incredible Silver and Granite Falls. Only a few people get a chance to see Granite Falls because of its location, tucked away around the northern end of Crocker Island, so we knew this was a super special moment on the tour.
All along the way, our tour guide was fully of amazing stories and interesting facts to help us get to know the places we were seeing. In fact, I suggest doing this tour on your very first day of visiting Vancouver, it really is the perfect introduction to the city itself!
Tickets for this tour start at $139 CAD per person, with the price discounted to $119 CAD for seniors (65+). So if you’re ready for three hours of action-packed adventure, you can book your tickets here on Viator.
Related Read: The drive from Vancouver to Tofino also has some pretty impressive waterfalls along the way, we loved visiting the Little Qualicum Falls!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
4. Half-Day Whale Watching Adventure
Vancouver is full to the brim with incredible marine life, so don’t miss out on your chance to see some for yourself on this half-day whale watching tour!
Whenever we have friends or family over to visit us in Van, we make sure to take them out to sea, the odds of seeing whales and other sea life are just that high. In fact, many tour groups around here advertise a 95% chance to see whales – where else can you find these kinds of odds?
Setting off from the pier on Granville Island, you’ll board a catamaran (bucket list, check!) at 12 pm for around 5 hours of unmatched sea views. Along the way, you’ll pass by the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, and Howe Sound searching for humpbacks, orcas, and maybe even a gray whale or two!
But whales aren’t the only amazing sealife that live in Vancouver’s waters. We saw lots of sea lions and even a bald eagle while sipping the complimentary coffee and tea, with so many perfect photo opportunities along the way.
The captain and nature guides aboard do a wonderful job describing the marine life, geology, and history of the area. They really are a wealth of information – don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you like!
In our opinion, the best time to book this tour is May through October, as this is when migrating whales mix with residential ones, upping your chances of spotting them. Keep in mind that Vancouver can be cold even in the summer, be sure to dress accordingly!
This unforgettable whale-watching experience can be booked online for $226 CAD per person. This is one of my favorite tours I’ve taken in Vancouver, so I can’t recommend it enough! You can get your tickets for this tour online here.
5. Snorkel, Kayak, and Seal Adventure
If you’re looking for an adventure, we’ve got the perfect tour for you: boating, kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming with seals – all in one day!
Ever photogenic, we grabbed our cameras and took some pictures of the seals sunning themselves on the rocks, dipping in and out of the water. We couldn’t help but add a few pics to our collection of rapidly growing seal photos that started over in Campbell River.
You’ll then get the chance to suit up in a wetsuit and snorkel gear, and dip into the cold water to meet these adorable creatures up close! Your guides will lead the group to keep everyone safe, but chances are the curious seals will want to come to say hello.
We’ve done a lot of snorkeling and kayaking over the years, so we felt right at home dipping into the water. Even so, this tour really is beginner-friendly, so even if you don’t have any experience, the guides will make you comfortable right away.
The other half of the group will be kayaking around this same area, seeing the playful seals bob in the water and swim under the kayaks. You’ll have the chance to do both activities, or if you prefer to simply watch the fun, you can stay in the boat.
I love this tour because it is such a unique experience and great for all kinds of travelers! When will you ever get the chance to snorkel with seals or kayak through glacial fjords?
This excursion includes snacks and drinks, all equipment needed for the day, as well as your awesome guides! Tickets cost $150 CAD if you want to snorkel and kayak, but are $100 CAD if you only want to sightsee. You can check your dates and book your tour online here.
Related Read: Deep Cove Beach is one of our favorite beaches in Vancouver and is also a super popular area for kayaking!
Other Things to do While You’re in Vancouver
Vancouver is a city filled with tons of things to do and see. So while you’re here, be sure not to miss some of the top attractions and activities:
- Ride in a Seaplane – One of our favorite memories in Vancouver was riding in a seaplane. Taking off and landing on the ocean is super exciting, and then the views from the air are breathtaking. This seaplane ride lasts for 20 minutes and costs $160 CAD. It departs and returns to Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver. The best part is that seaplane tours in Vancouver operate all year round, so even if you’re visiting Vancouver in the winter you can take to the sky!
- Eat ALL the food! – Vancouver is a foodie destination. Showcasing cuisine from all around the world in top-rated restaurants, you really need to make an effort to eat out a few times while in Vancouver. For breakfast, Jam Cafe or Medina are our go-to’s. For Asian cuisine, you can’t pass up Minami for sushi or Danbo for Ramen. You can also join this highly-rated food tour that takes you to some of the city’s best restaurants in the area of Gastown.
- Explore Kitsilano – One of our favorite areas in all of Vancouver is Kitsilano. This suburb is super trendy and has many cute stores, cafés, and restaurants that are well worth checking out. On top of that, Kitsilano Beach is one of the best beaches in Vancouver and the perfect place to relax. It’s also our favorite place to watch the sunset.
- Hiking – There are a ton of amazing hikes in and around Vancouver. Challenge yourself with the famous Grouse Grind, wander the trails near the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, or even drive towards Squamish and do The Chief.
Where to Stay in Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver is one of the most popular cities in Canada. The fact is that in the summer and winter the city books up in advance very fast! Booking your hotel or hostel well in advance is the only way to secure the best place to stay for you!
Here are a few great hotels in Van that we love:
The Cambie Hostel Gastown – $
This budget hostel is a great budget choice for backpackers and travelers looking for a place to stay on a budget. It’s located in the heart of Gastown and close to lots of bars and restaurants, and there’s also a great bar attached to the hostel too.
It can always be a bit of a gamble trying out a budget hostel, but from our own experience this one is a real gem! While the bathrooms are a little bit cozy, the rooms are clean, there’s free Wi-Fi and the staff are really happy to help you out with anything you need. Rooms here start at $110 CAD and you can book your stay over on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com!
Times Square Suites – $$
For a beautiful hotel close to Stanley Park you can’t pass over the Times Square Suites. Toeing the line between affordability and comfort, it’s very hard to fault this hotel and its location in Vancouver’s west end is nothing short of perfect!
We stayed in their one-bedroom suite, and I’ve got to say that I had the most restful sleep in that bed than I’ve had in weeks! There’s something about hotel beds after all…
Rooms here start at $224 CAD per night and can be booked over on Booking.com
Hyatt Regency Vancouver – $$$
The Hyatt Regency is situated right between Gastown and Stanley Park, so right in the heart of Van’s action. As you can imagine, this is a luxury hotel stay at a well-known hotel chain, so you know your stay will be top-notch.
With a 42″ flat-screen TV is provided in every room. free Wi-Fi, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows, the views of downtown Van don’t get much better than this. The Mosaic Bar and Grill serves some truly amazing food, and if you fancy something a bit stronger, the Grain Tasting Bar has some awesome signature cocktails – you have to try out the aptly named ‘second wind’!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
No trip to Vancouver is complete without taking in the incredible sights from the water! With so many amazing tours on offer, we hope this guide has inspired you to get onboard and experience the best of what the city has to offer. If you’re feeling really adventurous, why not take a look at booking a seaplane ride in Vancouver?
Let us know in the comments what your plans are in Van, we can’t wait to hear from you! In the meantime check out the rest of our Vancouver blogs, and here are three more blogs we think you’ll love: