Vancouver is a stunning city on the West Coast of Canada with a multicultural population that gives the city an exotic feel. With snowcapped peaks to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West, Vancouver is one of the most densely populated cities in North America, with prices to match New York and San Francisco.
Vancouver is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, which landed the city a hosting gig for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Proximity to the ocean keeps winter temperatures moderate, albeit with gray skies, and winter sports nearby. Summer brings blue skies and boating season. Any time of year is a great time to visit Vancouver, and here are a few ideas to help you start building your Vancouver vacation itinerary.
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Stanley Park deserves a post of it’s own. This urban park sits on a peninsula in Vancouver Harbor and is a wonderful place to spend the day. The Stanley Park seawall has excellent views of Vancouver, and you can rent a bike or just stroll along and enjoy the view. Canada’s largest aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium, is also located in Stanley Park.
There are nearly 30 kilometers of hiking trails in Stanley Park, a free children’s waterpark, a heated freshwater pool, and two beaches. Throughout the park, you will find monuments and sculptures, including a collection of First Nation’s totem poles. Of course, there are also many places to grab a bite to eat, such as Stanley Park Bar & Grill with an extensive beer and wine list. Just what you need after a day of exploring!
Granville Island is another fun place to spend a day in Vancouver. The public market here opened in 1979 and has since expanded to include many shops and restaurants. Parking here can be a challenge, so it’s recommended to take a water taxi over. The market offers produce, seafood, baked goods and gourmet food, as well as many other craft goods such as hand-made soap and accessories.
Outside of the market, Granville Island hosts many interesting boutique stores, several theaters, art galleries and waterfront dining. If you are feeling adventurous, this is a great place to join a kayaking tour, or rent a stand-up paddle board. To get the full feel of the market, you might look into taking a food tour and sampling some of the delicious offerings.
Kitsilano is both a beach and a neighborhood in Vancouver. Kits Beach was initially a hippie enclave in the 70’s and 80’s, and is where Greenpeace was founded. Today, the hippie spirit remains, in a decidedly upwardly mobile fashion.
Lululemon started here in 1998 and the neighborhood now houses organic groceries and hip restaurants. The beach itself is very popular, especially in the summer, thanks in part due to splendid mountain views. It’s also home to Canada’s longest pool and Vancouver’s only heated saltwater pool.
There is no hippie atmosphere in Yaletown, one of Vancouver’s most popular neighborhoods. Yaletown is stylish and cosmopolitan, with trendy restaurants and cocktail lounges, as well as stylish boutique shopping. The hippest hotels can be found in Yaletown, which is convenient as this is where you’ll want to end your night. The water taxis stop in Yaletown, making it easy to travel between Granville Island and Yaletown.
Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood is Victorian Gastown, this area is best explored on a walking tour that can dive into the history of the area, starting with the whistling steam clock. Like Yaletown, Gastown has a diverse assortment of trendy restaurants to choose from within a growing foodie scene, as well as some of Vancouver’s best cocktail bars. Gastown is also a design hub for furniture and men’s fashion, with many designers and boutiques residing here.
Queen Elizabeth Park
After Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park is one of the most popular parks in Vancouver. Covering 130 acres, the park has manicured English gardens, a rose garden and an arboretum. For an entrance fee, you can visit the Bloedel Conservatory, with more than 100 exotic birds and 500 tropical plants. Situated on a hillside, the park offers excellent views of the city of Vancouver, with a mountainous backdrop, making it a popular spot for photographers.
Museum of Anthropology
Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology is located at the University of British Columbia just 20 minutes from downtown, and is renowned for its extensive collection of First Nations cultural work. Artwork includes weaving, carving, and the building itself is a masterpiece. On the museum grounds, visitors will see Haida houses, totem poles and other architectural examples from Northwest Coast tribes.
Science World is another worthwhile Vancouver destination. With interactive displays, live science demonstrations, rotating exhibitions and the OmniMax theater, there is something here for Vancouver visitors of all ages. The museum is housed in a waterfront geodesic dome that adds a unique look to the landscape here. The museum is closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly!
Just 12 kilometers from downtown Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is a premier mountain resort, with unique adventure offerings in every season. Visitors can take the gondola up to an Alpine Station, with breathtaking views along the way. Once at the top, you can visit an observation in a wind turbine, check out the grizzly bear and other rescued animals at the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, watch a wildlife movie at the Theatre in the Sky, take a zipline tour or enjoy one of several dining options, from casual to fine dining.
There is also hiking, disc golf and paragliding in spring, summer and fall, while winter is all about skiing and snowboarding. Night skiing and the easy access from downtown make Grouse Mountain a great destination for all ability levels. There’s also an 8,000 square foot ice skating pond on Grouse Mountain.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
This bridge is one of the most visited spots in Vancouver. With a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver, and direct bus service, it’s easy to reach the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The bridge has humble beginnings as a hemp rope bridge in the late 1800’s. Visitors can walk across the suspension bridge and also explore other adventures within the park such as the Treetops Adventure, a Cliffwalk, a Raptor center. Winter visitors can come for Canyon Lights, when the bridge and surrounding forest is lit up with holiday lights, and special activities are scheduled.
An exciting Vancouver activity is to go on a whale watching cruise. The season runs from April 1 to October 31 and in addition to spotting Killer Whales and Humpback Whales, you’re likely to see tons of other wildlife like seals, sea lions, bald eagles and maybe even a bear along the shoreline. Vancouver Whale Watch has professional wildlife guides on board, who can identify each whale pod according to markings on their fins.
If a whale watching excursion isn’t in your budget, you can take your chances on a BC Ferries ride, which traverse the waters around Vancouver and make regular stops at destinations around the sound. If you can snag a good spot along the deck, you may have a chance at spotting some wildlife along the way!
One of the side trips from Vancouver is a visit to Vancouver Island and the British Columbian capital city of Victoria. It is about 4 hours each way by car or ferry, or you can take a seaplane in about 30 minutes. Victoria is best known for the Butchart Gardens and the Parliament Buildings. It is a quaint town, and a quiet escape from the business of Vancouver. To maximize your visit, an overnight trip to Vancouver Island is your best option, and a stay at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is the best way to experience Canadian hospitality and luxury.
For a shorter day trip from Vancouver, consider Steveston, which is just 20 kilometers from downtown, and is technically part of the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. There’s nothing suburban about it, though, as you’ll appreciate the historic fishing village in stark contrast to cosmopolitan Vancouver. Steveston sits at the mouth of the Fraser River, home of the largest salmon run in North America.
If you have cooking facilities where you are staying, Steveston port is a great place to buy the freshest seafood in town. If you opt for a whale watching excursion, it’s likely you will be departing from Steveston’s harbor, so you may have a chance to stroll around this quaint village a bit before returning to Vancouver.
If you have a car during your Vancouver vacation, the 1 hour trip to Squamish is highly recommended. You’ll drive along the stunning Sea to Sky Highway, with amazing ocean views, and you will have many stops along the way to check out waterfalls, hiking trails, biking trails, the Britannia Mine Museum, and the Sea to Sky Gondola. The town of Squamish has a cute downtown area with coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants. If you have even more time, the world-famous ski town of Whistler is only another 45 minutes from Squamish, easily done in a day trip from Vancouver.
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