From beautiful gardens and beaches to an abundance of museums and galleries, there’s really no shortage of fun things to do at UBC.
As an SFU alumnus, I can say that while there are a lot of fun things to do in Burnaby, Surrey, and Downtown Vancouver (all areas where SFU has a campus), there’s something truly special about the mini city-like character of UBC.
With its cool hiking trails, beaches, attractions, museums and concerts, this gorgeous section of Vancouver has a lot more to offer than just a standard university campus, which is why we often bring visitors when they want to see a different side of the city.
So, allow me to share some of our favourite spots! In this post, I’ll be outlining some of the best things to do at UBC’s Vancouver campus, whether you’re procrastinating, visiting or looking to explore a new corner of Vancouver. I promise no studying or lectures are included.
Head to the Museum of Anthropology
One of the best things to do at UBC happens to also be one of Vancouver’s top museums. If you find yourself at UBC, be sure to give their award-winning Museum of Anthropology a visit.
With a mission of “promoting awareness and understanding of culturally diverse ways of knowing the world through challenging and innovative programs and partnerships with Indigenous, local and global communities”, UBC’s MoA is home to a spectacular collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art, along with artifacts and pieces from around the world.
Built in a serene setting seemingly hidden away in the forest, the star of this museum is its Great Hall, home to a stunning collection of totem poles, sculptures, textiles, canoes, and other First Nations artifacts.
Paid tickets are required for entry – click here to learn more.
Smell the roses at UBC Rose Garden
Much like at Stanley Park, one of the prettiest attractions at UBC its its rose garden, home to over a dozen types of roses which fill the garden with vibrant colours from June to September.
This is by far one of the beautiful places on campus, not just for its floral prowess, but for its glorious views of the mountains and ocean.
Best of all? It’s completely free!
Visit Nitobe Memorial Garden
Another gem of a garden at UBC is the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a traditional Japanese stroll garden and tea house that is so authentic that Emperor Akihito once even proclaimed “I am in Japan” as he strolled through it.
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Inazō Nitobe, who dedicated his life to promoting a better understanding of Japanese culture in the West, this garden aims to further his life’s work by providing a space that promotes intercultural understanding and a peek into Japanese culture.
While no doubt a stunning sight in Spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, this beautiful one hectare garden has dreamy offerings in the summer (when the irises bloom) and Fall (when the maple trees are at their most beautiful) as well.
NOTE: Tickets must be purchased to visit the garden during its opening hours. Click here to learn more.
Venture through UBC Botanical Garden
Established in 1916, UBC’s Botanical Garden is the oldest of its kind in the country, with plants from all around the world organized into beautifully arranged gardens.
There’s the David C. Lam Asian Garden for instance which is filled with plants and flowers from Asia, there’s the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden, which has a fine collection of mountainous plants divided into geographical areas, and there’s even an entire garden dedicated to educating doctors and apothecaries (Harold & Frances Holt Physic Garden).
For those seeking a unique adventure, a cool experience located in the garden is the Greenheart TreeWalk, a tree top canopy walkway suspended 23m off the ground from century old trees. Following a 300m course, you walk from platform to platform, admiring the unique flora and fauna that thrive at this height.
Hands down, this is one of the most unique (and underrated) activities you can enjoy at UBC!
Hit the trails at Pacific Spirit Regional Park
Of all the regional parks in Metro Vancouver, Pacific Spirit may well be one of our favourites.
In this sprawling park, you’ll find 55km of walking trails winding around 750 hectares of lush green forest, wetlands, and beaches. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in nature and forget how close you are to all of UBC’s modern on-campus amenities.
One of the most popular trails in this park lead down to the infamous Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s first and largest naturist beach, which can be accessed through a steep 500 step stairway. It’s a bit of a climb on the way back up, but it’s well worth it for the views!
For a map of the park, click here.
Marvel at the art/architecture at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre
Located along UBC’s East Mall, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. With construction dating as far back as 1923, this was one of the first three buildings to be constructed at UBC.
A century later, the Learning Centre has expanded and grown, although its historical heart remains the same. Following extensive additions built around the main library (now known as the ‘Heritage Core’), the Irving K. Barber Centre is an impressive 200,000 square feet building filled with spaces for studying, events, and socializing.
Of particular interest for visitors however is the impressive array of art installations found throughout the building.
From hundreds of colourful blown glass plates adorning a stairwell wall to a series of glass bookcases, there are tons of great hidden gems to be found inside this building, so be sure to stop by for a visit if you’re a fan of art and architecture.
Click here to learn more about the various art installations inside the building.
Visit the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery
Known colloquially as “The Belkin”, the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery is another must-see attraction at UBC for lovers of art.
Originally established as the UBC Fine Arts Gallery in 1948, the Belkin’s current location on Main Mall opened in 1995 with its new name, and a goal “to promote understanding and discussion of contemporary art and contemporary issues in art history, criticism and curating.”
Today, visitors can explore the gallery’s hefty collection of 5000+ artworks through a series of curated exhibitions, all for free, making it one of the best free things you can do at UBC.
Click here to see what exhibitions are currently taking place.
Stop by AHVA Gallery
Another artsy must-do at UBC is a visit to the AHVA Gallery, tucked away in room 1001 of the Audain Art Centre.
This exhibition space is unique in that it is used to showcase the work of UBC students and faculty, with a spotlight cast on “their artistic and curatorial collaborations; from within the department, the university as a whole, and artists and art students outside the university community.”
Curious about what you’ll see? You can check out their virtual exhibitions here.
Stop by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum
Another great museum to visit at UBC is the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, considered the top natural history museum in Vancouver, with over 20,000 square feet and 500+ exhibits to explore.
With a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions, visitors can choose from a broad spectrum of topics, from marine invertebrates to preventing extinctions.
Of course, while all those exhibits sound great, the starring attraction here is no doubt the 26m long skeleton of a blue whale that is suspended in the museum atrium. This larger than life sight is truly something you must see for yourself!
Visit the Pacific Museum of Earth
Another great UBC museum to visit is practically right next door – the Pacific Museum of Earth, located at the Earth & Ocean Sciences Main Building.
This mini natural history museum has a small but mighty selection of exhibits perfect for those curious about the diverse wonders of the Earth, from a 75 million year old dinosaur to literal hidden gems, thanks to the museum’s extensive mineral collection.
Probably best enjoyed with young ones in tow, this museum is definitely one to add to your list when visiting UBC, especially since admission is by donation!
Seek out Indigenous Public Art
While many parts of Metro Vancouver are known for their public art (Coal Harbour and Mount Pleasant for instance), UBC is unique for its high density of Indigenous Public Art, from intricate wooden sculptures and poles to giant canoes.
Click here for a map of all the Indigenous public art on campus.
Bare it all at Wreck Beach
Vancouver doesn’t have too many nude beaches, so when you ask any local where to bare it all, the legendary Wreck Beach inevitably comes up.
Stretching almost 7km long, Wreck Beach is the largest naturist beach in North America.
Although it wasn’t officially declared a legal nudist beach until 1991, there are photos of eager naturists enjoying this beach as far back as the 70s.
Over the years, supporters of the beach have helped to halt various redevelopment efforts in the area, preserving the beach for everyone to enjoy.
NOTE: As a clothing optional beach, you are of course allowed to keep your clothing on as well, but if you’d prefer a non-naturist vibe, then you can head over to Acadia Beach or Spanish Banks, which offer similar views minus the nudity.
Watch some opera
And if you’re looking for cultural things to do at UBC, be sure to add cheap opera to your list!
Established in 1995, the UBC Opera Ensemble is considered one of the top student opera companies in the country. Throughout the year, they host performances at a variety of venues across campus, with affordable tickets as cheap as $20.
NOTE: If you can, try to score a ticket for a performance at the Chan Centre. This intimate on-campus venue is quite beautiful on the inside, with a unique 22.7-tonne chandelier in the main concert hall.
Check out events and tickets here.
Catch a concert
Not an opera fan? Another surprising activity you can enjoy at UBC is attending a concert from your favourite artist!
Despite its highly sportsy sounding name, the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre is actually a popular Vancouver venue for small concerts, with tons of artists big and small coming through on tour.
Curious about who might be coming through next? Check out the schedule on their official website.
Look for famous filming locations
Last but not least, if you’re looking for geeky activities around UBC, one fun one we can suggest is going hunting for famous filming locations.
Given Vancouver’s reputation aa Hollywood North, the chances are pretty good that you’ve seen UBC on screen at least once or twice, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.
Many productions have filmed at UBC over the years, including…
- Legends of Tomorrow (2016 – 2022)
- Supernatural (2005 – 2020)
- The Age of Adaline (2015)
- Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
- Prison Break (2005 – 2017)
- Psych (2006 – 2014)
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
- Night at the Museum (2006)
- Smallville (2001 – 2011)
So, if you’re looking for a fun and unique way to explore the area, why not use some filming locations to guide you? Here’s a great self-guided walking tour that takes you to many popular filming spots.
Did we miss any of your favourite things to do at UBC?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more recommendations to our list!