Vancouver is one of my favourite holiday destinations. The immense harbour, the towering trees of Stanley Park and the breathtaking mountains just a short drive away form a spectacular backdrop for Vancouver’s gleaming skyscrapers. Vancouver’s location, hemmed in by its magnificent harbour, Stanley Park and the majestic Coastal Mountain range, is truly spectacular. When strolling through the city’s leafy streets – one of the best things to do in Vancouver – a view of the harbour or the mountains in the background is never far away. In addition, the city’s cosmopolitan mix ensures a multitude of cuisines available in eateries that suit all sorts of budgets. Vancouver’s oceanside location also means that seafood is extremely fresh and the city’s restaurants often feature fresh seafood prepared in innovative, mouthwatering ways. Here are ten of my favourite things to do in Vancouver:
Ten things to do in Vancouver
1. See Vancouver from the air
If you’re flying into Vancouver, get a window seat! On a clear day, the vistas from your window seat are just staggering.
Another great way to see the city from the air is to catch a seaplane flight to Victoria on Vancouver Island – there are frequent flights from Coal Harbour. There are also seaplane tours which depart from Coal Harbour; these are short flights that provide visitors with stunning vistas of the city.
2. Admire the harbour view
Whenever I’m in Vancouver, I always take some time to head to the Convention Centre/Cruise Terminal at the harbour front for great views of Coal Harbour, Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain.
It’s also fun to just watch the crew preparing cruise ships for its next voyage or to wave people off as the ship leaves the terminal. 🙂
3. Walk, hire a bicycle or rollerblades
A great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the city is simply to walk or rent a bicycle (or roller blades) and walk/cycle/skate along the sea wall from False Creek, along English Bay to Stanley Park, then around the entire perimeter of the park (a total distance of about 20 kilometers). This is a very popular route for both locals and tourists alike especially in the summer. Another route that I love is the path that winds its way along False Creek from the Olympic Village to Granville Island.
4. Explore Stanley Park
One of my favourite places in Vancouver is Stanley Park, a massive 400 hectare park that encompasses woodlands, beaches, lakes and flower gardens, all connected by a wide network of trails. My favourite route is the sea wall trail that winds around the park – this trail takes you past the marinas (with a panoramic view of Vancouver’s skyline and Coal Harbour), Lion’s Gate Bridge, the Little Mermaid (yes, there’s one here too…just as little as the original!), virgin woodlands, a spectacular rocky coast and the various beaches. The Vancouver Aquarium, a must-visit, is also located within the park. The biggest attractions here are the orcas and the playful beluga whales.
5. Head up to Grouse Mountain
Located just a short drive from downtown Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is one of the best places for panoramic views of Vancouver and across to Vancouver Island.
At 1,231 meters, the mountain is also the closest ski resort to downtown Vancouver, offering day and night skiing in the winter months. To get there, cross the Lion Gate’s Bridge and drive up Capilano Road. Along the way, you can stop at the stunning Capilano Suspension Bridge. Built in the late 19th century, the 150 meter long suspension bridge is for pedestrians only and hangs more than 70 meters above the Capilano River. The thrilling walk across the bridge allows visitors to enjoy the view of the canyon and the surrounding fir forests. While you’re here, check out the interesting Capilano Salmon Hatchery as well. The base of Grouse Mountain is located at the end of Capilano Road. From here, you can take the Skyride (cable-car) to the Peak Chalet where a magnificent view awaits you. It’s easy to visit the Capilano Bridge/Salmon Hatchery and Grouse Mountain on your own (using public transport) but you can also opt for a guided tour. For the hard-core hikers out there, there’s an alternative way to ascend the mountain: the Grouse Grind. It is an extremely steep, gruelling mountain trail that ascends more than 850 meters over a distance of 2.9 kilometers.
6. Go on a walking tour
Downtown Vancouver is very compact, making it easy to visit the city’s major sights on foot. To get an idea of the history of the city and an insight into the city’s architectural heritage, I can recommend a Heritage Walking tour. There are various tours: some routes go through the quaint cobbled streets of Gastown (don’t forget to stop by the Steam Clock), Chinatown or the suburb of Shaughnessy (one of the city’s more affluent neighbourhoods with stunning heritage mansions). One other tour I can recommend is of the city’s many craft breweries.
7. Take the False Creek Ferry to Granville Island
Another of my favourite spots is Granville Island. Located just a short hop across False Creek from downtown (on the wonderfully cute and efficient False Creek Ferry), Granville Island boasts a variety of handicraft and art shops, as well as the famous Granville Island Market. Take some time to stroll around this fascinating market and marvel at the freshness of the produce and the huge variety of seafood. If you love beer, I also recommend checking out the Granville Island Brewery. My favourites are the pale ale and hefeweizen.
8. Go on a day trip to Whistler
Whistler Blackcomb is one of Canada’s premier ski destinations. If you’re not a skier, it’s still more than worthwhile to drive or take the train up to Whistler for the stunning views.
The drive along the Sea-To-Sky Highway is absolutely breathtaking. On the way, you’ll pass the magnificent Howe Sound, with its tranquil waters (often shrouded in mist), forested banks and imposing snow-capped peaks. Don’t forget to stop at the Shannon Falls, at 335 meters, one of Canada’s highest waterfalls.
If you’re in Whistler for the day, I recommend a stroll around the village (there are loads of good restaurants and boutiques). If you’re not afraid of heights, take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, a thrilling 4.4 kilometer journey spanning the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Suspended several hundred meters above the valley floor, the views from the gondola are simply unforgettable!
9. Visit Vancouver Island
This can be planned as a day trip or for as long as your schedule permits. Vancouver Island, at 32,134 square kilometers (or roughly the size of Belgium), is the largest island on the North American west coast and boasts a spectacular nature. From towering snow-capped peaks and glistening glaciers to the thundering roar of the Pacific Ocean on its western shores and the serene Gulf Islands along its southeastern coast, Vancouver Island is truly stunning. I suggest spending at least a few days here to really appreciate the splendour of the island. You could for instance take the ferry that leaves from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay near Victoria. The journey on the ferry is gorgeous, especially when it slowly winds its way around the scenic Gulf Islands.
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a beautiful harbourside city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Interesting sights include the Empress Hotel, the British Columbia Legislature buildings and just north of the city, the charming Butchart Gardens. Victoria is also a great place from which to embark on a whale-watching trip (in the spring/summer months). Various companies operate from the Victoria waterfront and take visitors out for an exhilarating speedboat trip to view orcas (or killer whales). There are also various excellent restaurants in Victoria – don’t forget to try the superb salmon and trout which are caught in the island’s surrounds.
You can also visit Victoria as a day trip from Vancouver by taking the bus to Tsawwassen and the ferry to Swartz Bay/Victoria, and returning to Vancouver by the seaplane from Victoria’s harbour. Read my post about things to do in Victoria.
10. Try some of the freshest seafood in the world!
There is a multitude of quality restaurants, bistros and cafés in Vancouver. Tasting the fresh seafood is one of the best things to do in Vancouver! Most restaurants have a sizeable seafood section on their menus featuring wild salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, scallops and crab.
Or you can visit one of the many Japanese restaurants/ bistros for melt-in-your mouth sashimi (raw tuna) or some of the freshest sushi around. Check out my recommendations for some of the best restaurants in downtown Vancouver.
Read about my stay at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver.
Read about my stay at the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver.