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Without a doubt, visiting the Vancouver Aquarium should be on your radar if you’re headed to Vancouver, BC anytime soon. It’s home to around 65,000 animals (yes, that many!) from adorable penguins to fish, seals, turtles, sea lions, and more.
The aquarium itself is located inside the city’s gorgeous urban park, making it one of the best things to do in Stanley Park!
Whether you love animals, want to find a great place to take kids, or are looking for things to do in Vancouver when it rains, the aquarium is the perfect destination.
But in order to make the most out of your visit, there are a few things to know before you go. A bit of planning ahead will help you figure out when you want to come (make sure to be here for one of the animal feedings!) and what you need to know before you do.
We’ve put together the top 15 things to know before you visit the Vancouver Aquarium, so let’s get right to it!
1. About the Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium is a world-renowned marine science center in, you guessed it, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Vancouverites are understandably very proud of their aquarium and it’s widely considered to be one of the best in Canada. In fact, it regularly tops lists of the best aquariums in the world.
The Vancouver Aquarium opened in 1956 and was actually the first public aquarium in Canada. To this day, it remains the largest and most popular. There are over 65,000 animals to be found here, including otters, sea lions, and penguins.
There are lots of interactive exhibits and experiences available where you can learn about different types of marine life not just in Canada, but across the globe. This would definitely be a great place to bring kids, although it’s just as much fun for adults.
However, Vancouver Aquarium is more than just a tourist attraction. It’s also a center for marine research, animal rehabilitation, and environmental conservation. Workers and volunteers from the aquarium also founded the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in 1994, which has since become an international movement.
So yeah, in short, the aquarium’s a pretty big deal. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit!
2. Where is the Vancouver Aquarium?
You’ll find the aquarium located in Stanley Park, which is within walking distance of much of downtown Vancouver.
Stanley Park is a scenic urban park that spans about 1.5 square miles or 4 square kilometers. It’s one of the largest urban parks in Canada and it’s a gorgeous spot for a stroll or picnic. The park is also home to Vancouver’s seawall, along which you’ll see lots of people walking, cycling, and rollerblading.
If you have time, you should definitely spend some time exploring Stanley Park once you’ve finished visiting the aquarium.
3. How much does it cost to visit the Vancouver Aquarium?
Vancouver Aquarium ticket prices vary from day to day, according to the day of the week and the season. Tickets cost more during times of high demand, which usually occur during the summer and on weekends.
When you book online here, you benefit from “plan ahead pricing” so you can be sure that you’ll get the best deal, and won’t be surprised by a price hike when you arrive.
Adult tickets are for anyone aged between 13-64, and usually vary between $38 and $50 CAD.
When you book online, you reserve a date and time slot. Try to arrive on time, because the aquarium can get very busy and you may have to wait in line if you’re late or you could lose your slot altogether.
There are also Vancouver Aquarium discounts for children, seniors, and those with disabilities.
When visitors with a disability buy a full-price ticket, they are permitted to invite one visitor to accompany them for free to assist them. Service dogs are also allowed into the aquarium as long as you have the proper proof of certification, although they can’t enter the Amazon Gallery.
Children under 3 go free, and those aged between 3 and 12 years of age receive a 60% discount when accompanied by a paying adult. This means that their tickets will cost between $23 – $28 CAD, depending on the date and time you choose.
Students and seniors also benefit from a 10% discount on the price of a regular ticket, reducing the price to $34.50 – $41.50 CAD.
There are also Vancouver Aquarium membership options, which offer free or discounted admission all year round. If you’re going to be in the city for an extended period of time, this might be worth considering if you’re something of a marine life enthusiast! It costs around $73.50 CAD for the year and you get unlimited entry as well as priority access to special events.
Related read: While the aquarium is one of the pricier activities, balance out your budget with a few of the best completely free things to do in Vancouver!
4. Do you need to purchase your ticket in advance?
As mentioned, buying your ticket in advance ensures you’ll get the best price available, but it’s also important to make sure that you actually get into the aquarium. As one of the best things to do in Vancouver, it’s super popular and if you haven’t booked, you’ll probably be turned away on a busy day.
The good news is that it’s really easy to book online via the aquarium’s website, and only takes a few minutes.
Do try and be on time for your chosen slot, as the aquarium gets very busy and you may have to queue if you’re late. If you’re really late, you may even be turned away altogether.
5. When is the best time to visit the Vancouver Aquarium?
By now, I think we’ve established that the Vancouver Aquarium is pretty popular, so it’s always going to be busy.
The aquarium is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm every day from April through September, and from 10 am to 5 pm from October to March.
I’d say that it’s best to go as early as possible to try and beat the crowds. That way, you can take your time exploring without feeling too rushed.
All of the aquarium’s feedings and shows take place between 10:30 am and 4 pm, so if you’re keen to catch some of these, I’d say get there early and explore, then stick around for a few of the demonstrations.
6. Facilities at the Vancouver Aquarium
As you’d probably expect from such a popular attraction, the Vancouver Aquarium has plenty of facilities to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
There’s the Courtyard Cafe and Beer Bar, where you can grab a snack or a pint of local ale after marveling at the marine life.
You’ve also got the Upstream Bar + Grill, an environmentally-friendly restaurant that uses fully compostable plates and cutlery. It has even won awards for its sustainable practices!
Finally, there’s the Bicycle Bistro, which stays open until 6 pm every day. It even has a special pet menu and a patio where your furry friends can chill out, or you can buy a picnic to take away and enjoy in Stanley Park.
At the gift shop, you’ll find all the typical aquatic-themed gifts you’d expect from an aquarium, from cuddly plush seals to tacky t-shirts. However, what’s cool about this particular gift shop is that there’s a big focus on sustainability and you’ll also find lots of environmentally-friendly items like bamboo dishware and recycled jewelry.
The shop also stocks a range of products crafted by local artists, so it’s definitely worth browsing even if you don’t plan on buying anything.
There are plenty of toilets throughout the museum, including accessible bathrooms for wheelchair users. In fact, there’s a big focus on accessibility here in general.
There’s an adult change table located in the underground bathroom for the Steller’s Bay sea lion exhibit. It’s also possible to rent wheelchairs or walkers if you find that you need one once you get there. There are also special priority viewing platforms for wheelchair users at many of the exhibits. Plus, there are lots of elevators and ramps so that getting around is no problem.
7. Is there parking at the Vancouver Aquarium?
There’s plenty of parking outside the Vancouver Aquarium, and you have to pay in advance. It’s really easy to lose track of time when you’re enjoying the aquarium, so make sure to buy yourself plenty of time.
From April 1 to September 30, parking costs $3.75 CAD per hour, although this is capped once you reach four hours, so you won’t pay more than $14.25 CAD per day.
From October 1 until March 31, there’s a reduced rate of $2.75 CAD per hour and this is capped at three hours, so you’ll pay a maximum of $7.75 CAD.
There’s plenty of accessible parking available for discounted rates and you can find charging stations for electric cars.
A word of warning: don’t park in front of the fire hydrant. We did that and got fined, which really drove up the cost of our parking fees….
8. How do you get to the Vancouver Aquarium?
If you feel like stretching your legs, it should take you between 15-20 minutes to walk. You can walk along the seawall or Georgia Street. Either way, there should be plenty of signage, so you’re unlikely to get lost.
Vancouver Aquarium is also easily accessible by public transport. If you take the 19 bus to Stanley Park, you’ll find the aquarium a mere five-minute walk from the bus stop.
Or, if you prefer, you can cycle to the aquarium. Vancouver is a very cycling-friendly city, and the Mobi bike share program even has a station right outside the aquarium entrance.
If you have your own bike or are renting one for a longer period of time, there are also plenty of cycle racks in Stanley Park where you can lock up your bike while you enjoy your aquarium visit.
It’s also just a quick drive to the aquarium from downtown. You can park right out front but bear in mind that parking is payable in advance, so make sure you buy enough time. There are also charging bays available for electric cars. Vancouver is nothing if not an environmentally-friendly city!
You could also take an Uber to the aquarium. It costs around $20 CAD for an Uber X from downtown to the aquarium, or $28 CAD for an XL car.
9. Are there tours to the Vancouver Aquarium?
Yes! There are several Vancouver city tours available for the Vancouver Aquarium. Some are for the aquarium only and others will take you around the city. We’ve listed a few of the best options below, so there should be one that suits your budget and travel style.
Vancouver Aquarium with access to self-guided tour
This self-guided tour includes access to the aquarium as well as a self-guided tour around, so you can take things at your own pace and customize your itinerary to your interests. You’ll need to download an app on your smartphone, so make sure that your device is all juiced up, and maybe bring a battery pack with you just in case. For $65 CAD, this is a good budget-friendly option.
Private Vancouver Aquarium and Bloedel Conservatory tour
If you’re a real nature enthusiast, then this private tour is definitely for you. As well as exploring Vancouver Aquarium, you’ll also get to visit Bloedel Conservatory, a stunning domed conservatory full of lush tropical plants.
There will also be plenty of time to explore Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park, two of the city’s most popular green spaces. The price of this tour per person varies according to group size. It’s $399 CAD per person for a group of 2-3 people, or $359 CAD for a group of 4-6.
It’s definitely in the “treat yourself” price range of aquarium tours, but you’ll get a personalized experience and everything will be arranged for you, so there’s zero stress involved!
Vancouver Aquarium private tour with local guide
If you’d like to be shown around the aquarium by a knowledgeable local, then this tour is exactly what you’re looking for. Your guide will pick you up, show you around the aquarium and Stanley Park, and drop you back at your hotel or accommodation when the tour is finished.
Since this is a private experience, you can customize it to your taste and include a particular animal encounter or show, or a point of interest in Stanley Park.
The tour price varies between $400 – $550 CAD, depending on group size and there’s a maximum limit of seven people.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park + Vancouver Aquarium
On this combined self-guided tour, you not only get access to the Vancouver Aquarium and all of its exhibits but you’ll also visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is 70 meters (230 feet) above the Capilano River and has amazing views of the Vancouver skyline and North Vancouver. As well as the bridge, there’s also a treetop adventure and cliff walk to enjoy.
For around $100 CAD, this tour will save you money on buying Vancouver Aquarium tickets and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park tickets separately, so it’s definitely worth considering if you’re interested in both of these activities.
10. How big is the Vancouver Aquarium?
At 8,498 square meters (91,472 square feet) Vancouver Aquarium is pretty sizable. In fact, it’s the largest aquarium in Canada and one of the biggest in the whole of North America. The thousands of creatures here need a lot of space!
I’d definitely recommend wearing comfortable shoes when you visit because you’ll end up doing a lot of walking without even realizing it.
11. What time are the feedings and shows at the Vancouver Aquarium?
The Vancouver Aquarium has a packed schedule of feedings and shows, which are great fun to watch, especially if you’re traveling with kids (or are just a big kid yourself).
The schedule starts with sea lion training at 11 am, where you can see British Columbia’s resident Steller sea lions performing tricks in exchange for fish and other treats. Steller sea lions are much larger than California sea lions, and their bark is a lot louder, too! In fact, I’d describe it as more of a roar.
You can watch the otter feed at 11:30 am or a jellyfish feed at 1 pm – the latter is actually pretty mesmerizing to watch, even if you’re afraid of jellies!
Then, there’s a seal feed at 2 pm and another sea lion training at 2:30 pm. Basically, if you’re at the aquarium during the middle of the day, you’re bound to see something cool. And if not, there are plenty of other interactive exhibits to enjoy!
Hot Tip: Catch one of nature’s greatest shows by taking a whale-watching tour in Vancouver! These creatures are incredible to see in the wild.
12. What are the different displays at the Vancouver Aquarium?
There are a bunch of incredible displays at Vancouver Aquarium, each showcasing different forms of marine life, not just from Canada, but all over the globe!
The Graham Amazon Gallery
One of the aquarium’s coolest sections has to be the Amazon Gallery, where you can learn about the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest, both in and out of the water.
The gallery is home to sloths, scarlet ibises, crocodiles, and so much more. You can even experience a thunderstorm simulation and get a sense of how intense the rainforest weather can be!
Tropical water might not be what Vancouver is known for, but at the Vancouver Aquarium, you can experience it firsthand in The Tropics section.
This section is home to a huge array of rainbow-colored fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, including turtles, sharks, and jellyfish. You’ll get to see coral reefs and mangrove forests as part of this incredible exhibit that transports you far away from British Columbia and much closer to the equator.
Pacific Canada Pavilion
This two-level exhibit offers a unique perspective on Canada’s native marine life. In the downstairs section, you can come face-to-face with rockfish, crabs, and sturgeon, all of which live along the waterfront.
Who doesn’t love penguins? And the South African penguins you’ll see at the Penguin Point section of the aquarium are particularly adorable because they’re so small!
This exhibit was inspired by Boulders Beach in Cape Town, where these cute little guys originally hail from. I will warn you, though, they smell pretty bad,
B.C.’s Wild Coast Exhibit
This might just be my favorite part of the aquarium! You can see some of North America’s cutest marine mammals here, all of whom have been rescued and rehabilitated by the Vancouver Aquarium.
Most of these animals will later be released back into the wild unless this is not possible due to the severity of their injuries. In this case, they’ll spend the rest of their days being safely cared for here.
Some of the animals you’ll see in this exhibit include otters, seals, and sea lions. You can also learn about Vancouver Aquarium’s amazing conservation efforts and what you can do to help protect Vancouver’s coastlines.
YVR Airport Exhibit
Don’t worry, you don’t have to travel all the way to the airport to check out this exhibit – it was just built in partnership with the Vancouver Airport Authority. Here, you’ll see coho salmon, wolf eels, a variety of rockfish, and countless species of coral and marine plants
As an educational center, the aquarium has a wet lab for young learners to take part in hands-on activities. The wet lab is also open to the public when it’s not in use by school groups, and it’s a great chance for kids to get a new perspective on marine life. Who knows, it may even birth the next generation of great marine biologists!
Admittedly, when you see a jellyfish in the ocean, it’s usually not a very welcome sight. But watching them from the safety of the Vancouver Aquarium is a whole different experience.
The Wondrous Jellies exhibit is home to a huge variety of jellyfish from all over the world, and seeing these colorful gelatinous blobs floating around is surprisingly relaxing when you know they can’t sting you!
Frogs are disappearing from the planet fast, and this exhibition is dedicated to their preservation.
You can learn all about the different ways Vancouver Aquarium is working to save these creatures, as well as see some of the frogs that are already being cared for here.
You’ll also discover ways that you can help to make a difference in the fate of the frogs and other amphibians.
This exhibition tells the story of Canada’s arctic land and its animals, from evolutionary history to the present-day threat of climate change.
You’ll also get to see the diverse and beautiful marine life that lives below the barren surface of the arctic and gain a newfound appreciation for this often-ignored part of the world.
4D Theatre Experience
Watch sea mammals leap out of the screen and water splash right at you in this immersive 4D movie experience. The movies change throughout the year, but whatever is showing when you’re there will take you out of your seat and under the sea.
Designed especially for younger children, clownfish cove is a fun and interactive exhibit where kids can learn about the life of clownfish, as well as other tropical fish. They can also touch some of the animals and discover how to care for the creatures around them. This is definitely one for fans of “Finding Nemo”!
If you’ve ever wanted to get your hands on some bright green anemones or squidgy sea cucumbers … well, now’s your chance. This is definitely an interesting sensory experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
13. Is the Vancouver Aquarium stroller friendly?
Yes, it most certainly is. There are plenty of elevators and ramps, and there are even rental strollers available for use during your visit if you don’t want to bring one with you, which is super handy.
It’s definitely a place young kids love, so pack up the stroller and add a stop here even if you only have two days in Vancouver!
14. Is the Vancouver Aquarium ethical?
Overall, the Vancouver Aquarium has a strong reputation as an ethical establishment. It has been accredited by an impressive list of organizations and is a leading institution in marine research, education, and conservation.
The cafes and restaurants on-site have a strong focus on sustainability and the aquarium aims to educate its visitors on the importance of ocean conservation.
Vancouver Aquarium also operates one of the largest rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs in Canada, working closely with other reputable organizations to save the lives of many sea mammals. They only continue to keep them in captivity if they do not have a strong chance of survival in the wild.
On top of this, the aquarium has been responsible for an annual coastal cleanup that has been running since 1994 and removes dozens of tonnes of trash from Vancouver’s shores every year.
However, as with any organization that houses animals, there are always some ethical questions floating overhead. Some animal activists believe that Vancouver Aquarium’s work does not make up for the animals that are being held in captivity, regardless of how well they are treated.
When traveling, it’s completely your decision whether or not to visit organizations such as aquariums and zoos. However, given this particular aquarium’s stellar reputation (and Steller seals), as well as their important conversation work, we decided that it was worth a visit.
It’s certainly not Sea World, that’s for sure.
15. Is visiting the Vancouver Aquarium worth it?
All in all, I’d give a very emphatic YES.
This is one of the best aquariums in the world and an amazing opportunity to discover more about Vancouver’s diverse and beautiful marine life. The Vancouver Aquarium is also a very important institution when it comes to research, education, and conservation efforts. It’s a great organization to support, in addition to a fun day out, so it’s a win-win situation.
We had such a great time at the Vancouver Aquarium, despite that pesky parking fine. Honestly, it was worth it, but do try to avoid the fire hydrant when you visit.
Where to Stay in Vancouver, Canada
With the Vancouver Aquarium and tons of other amazing places to visit in BC nearby, basing yourself here for a while is a great idea. So let’s help you find a great place to stay!
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!
Some great hotels and hostels in Vancouver that we love are:
The Cambie Hostel Gastown – This budget hostel is an overall good budget choice. The location is in the heart of Gastown and close to lots of bars and restaurants and attached to the hostel is a very lively bar too. Rooms are clean but the bathrooms are a little cramped. It’s perfect for backpackers on a budget and is considerably cheaper than others offering comparable quality. Check availability and book a room on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com!
Times Square Suites – For a beautiful hotel close to Stanley Park you can’t go past the Times Square Hotel. It’s very hard to fault this hotel and the location is perfect. It is a good mix between being affordable as well as a very nice hotel.
Hyatt Regency Vancouver – For those wanting the perfect location halfway between Stanley Park and Gastown, the Hyatt Regency is a perfect choice. As you can imagine, it’s a luxury stay in a large hotel chain that is highly reviewed!
For more info on the best areas and hotels, check out my complete guide on where to stay in Vancouver. It breaks down everything you need to know before choosing the right hotel!
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:
- Whale Watching – Without a doubt, the most popular tour in Vancouver is whale watching. Set off from the city on a half-day on the ocean looking for whales. If you’re lucky, you might even see Orcas (also known as Killer Whales.) This whale-watching tour is a ton of fun, and at only about $200 CAD it is good value too!
- 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.
- 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, cafes, 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.
Thanks for reading!
Well, there you have it, a complete guide to one of Vancouver’s top attractions. Whether you’re planning a quick one-day visit to Vancouver or are staying a while, the Vancouver Aquarium is a fun destination you can do any time of year! If you’ve been before, let us know your favorite part.
Make sure to browse around our other blogs if you’re headed to the Vancouver area. We have a ton of Canada road trip ideas and West Coast blogs to make your time in this part of the country memorable.