T he coastal seaport city of Vancouver is always worth a visit. It is not only the most popular city within British Columbia, but is also consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. And it is pretty easy to see why. With its natural charms, dramatic vistas, sunset-framed beaches, culinary highlights and a modern and vivid city centre Vancouver offers almost endless possibilities to enjoy yourself. On top the city is the perfect starting point to head out on an epic road trip towards the Canadian Rockies or to hop on a ferry and explore beautiful Vancouver Island.
How to get there?
If you are arriving by air, you will most likely be flying into Vancouver International Airport (just 25 minutes from downtown). If you are flying to Vancouver from a domestic destination, you might also be able to take scheduled floatplane or helicopter services. By land you can easily cross borders from the USA by car or ship. Good train and bus connections are also available.
For us Vancouver itself was already a highlight. We absolutely love cities that have lots of water surrounding it. No matter if it is a river, a harbour, a lake or access to the sea – being able to relax close to the water is such a privilege. On top Vancouver is also surrounded by green forests and nice mountain scenery. So what do you need more? For us there were a couple of places and activites that made the whole experience complete. Let us start with famous Granville Island. This peninsula, located close to Downtown Vancouver, once was an industrial manufacturing area, but today it is more a hotspot for tourism and entertainment. Here you will not only find an extensive marina, a boutique hotel, lots of art galleries, but also theatres, shops and (our favorite!) a large public market. The choices of fresh produces and delicious meals or snacks on this market are amazing. So make sure to arrive hungry! Next on the list is Stanley Park, a real oasis in the urban landscape of Vancouver. Stanley Park can keep you busy for quite a while, so make sure to check out this list of what to do in the park to pick your favorites. We decided to skip renting bikes and explore part of the 400 hectares by foot. A good choice to do so is the so-called Seawall Walk. It is a 10 km loop around the park, which always leaves you the choice to take a turn and explore the “inside” of the park. It is also a good loop for some good excercise. Make sure to not miss the beaches, especially Third Beach for watching amazing sunsets.
How long to stay?
We actually stayed in Vancouver twice, for a total of 7 nights. In between we left the city to visit nearby Victoria on Vancouver Island. Having a week to explore the buzzing, modern and diverse city of Vancouver was awesome. There is just so much to see and do, and activities are not limited to the city itself, but you will also find amazing fun stuff in the surrounding areas. So renting a car to explore more definitely is an option. And staying longer of course too. We would recommend to have at least a solid 3 nights stay in Vancouver so you can see the most important sights and places.
Where to stay?
The Vancouver region has more than 25,000 guest rooms, with about 13,000 alone downtown, so from economical to boutique, Vancouver accommodations are sure to suit any traveller’s budget and tastes. As we were traveling on a budget we decided to skip fancy hotels and book an Airbnb instead. There are plenty available, and as always: The earlier you book, the more and better choice you have. As mentioned we stayed in Vancouver twice and both times we ended up in a clean and reasonable, but rather unpersonal accommodation. We were used to stay in someone’s home, to meet locals and get some advice, but we actually never got to see the owners at all. But we can still highly recommend our second Airbnb close to Nanaimo Skytrain station on the Expo Line in East Vancouver.
Ride the train Why not make the journey part of the adventure? Taking the train to or from Vancouver offers sightseeing at its finest, allowing you to watch the beauty of British Columbia from the comfort of the observation lounge or dining car. VIA Rail offers transcontinental services running from Vancouver to Toronto, via Jasper, several times per week, year-round. Or choose to take in the best of British Columbia and Alberta with a Rocky Mountaineer two-day rail tour, offered from April through October. And just in case you want to travel to Vancouver from the U.S., consider the Amtrak Cascades route between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, via Portland and Seattle. Vancouver Island The Vancouver Island region is a large, sparsely populated area, encompassing Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, as well as a portion of the mainland. It has one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems: Rainforests, marshes, meadows, beaches, mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes create habitats for multitudes of wildlife species. In fact, the region is one of the world’s premier locations for whale watching, birding, as well as salmon and trout fishing. And even surfing. Much of the island is protected parkland. When in Vancouver, you should not miss the beauty and tranquility of this region. It is pretty easy to get to Vancouver Island by public transportation. Just take a bus to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and then take a ferry to Swartz Bay. You can check the ferry schedule online at www.bcferries.com. We really enjoyed the ferry ride and if you are lucky you might even get the chance to spot some whales. Just in case you are short on time, you can also fly to Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island. Gastown Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood and once grew from a single tavern founded by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton back in 1867. Today, the district retains its historic charm and independent spirit. Victorian architecture houses a thriving fashion scene, impeccably curated décor boutiques, one-of-a-kind galleries and some of the best culinary fare in Vancouver. It is a gathering place for stylish locals and an ideal neighbourhood to explore on foot. Gastown lies along the north of the downtown Vancouver peninsula, from Richards east to Main Street, and south to Hastings Street. Grouse Mountain Rising 1,250 metres above Vancouver and just 15 minutes from the city’s downtown core, is the vast alpine year-round outdoor playground of Grouse Mountain. The Skyride will whisk you high above the city to a mountaintop of adventure including hiking trails, ziplining, helicopter tours, paragliding, live entertainment, lumberjack shows, a wildlife refuge, The Eye of the Wind – Vancouver’s iconic wind turbine and much more. And the adventure is not only limited to summer season, in winter you can enjoy snowshoeing, outdoor mountaintop ice skating, sleigh rides and probably some of the best in local skiing and snowboarding. Ideally situated overlooking the city, Grouse Mountain’s restaurants showcase some of the best of Bristish Columbia, from fine dining at The Observatory to flavourful après in Altitudes Bistro. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vancouver. Within the park you can appreciate nature from three breathtaking perspectives by exploring the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Treetops Adventure and the exciting Cliffwalk. For most visitors the highlight definitely is the 137m long, 70m high Capilano Suspension Bridge. While the wobbly bridge and stunning location can be considered a Vancouver landmark, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers an all-encompassing British Columbia experience. History, culture and nature are presented in unique and thrilling ways with knowledgeable staff and interpretive signage providing as much, or as little, information as guests want. Lynn Canyon Park If you are traveling on a budget and a trip to Grouse Mountain or the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is too expensive, make sure to check out Lynn Canyon Park. This park, located in North Vancouver, is home to several beautiful hiking trails that are suitable for any hiking level. No matter if you are looking for a leisurely stroll through the forest, a brisk climb up hill, a nice spot for a picnic or a place to relax, Lynn Canyon has lots to choose from. Maps are available at the Ecology Centre or can be downloaded here. And do not forget to traverse the free Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge for a stunning view of the canyon below. Sounds of the city It is easy to be enchanted by the city’s sights but be sure to also listen for its iconic urban time signals: Wait for the signature whistles (and steam) of Gastown’s celebrated Steam Clock (every 15 minutes). At noon you can hear the airhorns atop Canada Place sound the first four bars of “O Canada”. And at 9 pm you can listen to the boom (and see the blast) of the Nine O’clock Gun on the Stanley Park seawall. Craft Beer With dozens of new craft and microbreweries popping up in recent years, Vancouver’s craft beer scene has lots to offer. Most of the breweries have a tasting room that seem more like comfy neighborhood bars, which we found quite comfy. For a map off all Vancouver craft breweries click here. Short on time? No worries, you can still experience a wealth of Vancouver’s icons on foot. Start with a stroll downtown to Canada Place’s iconic five sails with cruise ships anchored in front. Look for the Olympic Cauldron on the plaza outside the Vancouver Convention Centre and spot the circular observation deck of Vancouver Lookout perched above Harbour Centre, which offers sweeping views of city, mountains and sea. And just in case you have some time left, maybe stop for a bite at the Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant and take in the 360-degree panorama.