I definitely think Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to!
I’ve just got back from a 2 week trip which included 12 days skiing in Whistler followed by 4 days in Vancouver BC, and I’m so glad we had plenty of time to explore the city. It was actually my second visit – my family went once before when I was a kid, but while I remember some parts of it my memory was a little hazy.
Visiting at the beginning of February meant it was quite cold and wintery for most of the time we were there, but there was still plenty for us to do and explore even in the ‘mizzle’! I’d definitely love to go back during Spring or Summer, when you’d be able to do a lot more outdoors and wilderness activities in the surrounding areas too.
I just love how open and natural it feels, surrounded by the sea, with mountains pretty much visible from most streets in the city. As someone who lives by the coast and struggles with feeling too closed in and claustrophobic in cities, I feel like Vancouver was made for me.
Below are some of the things we did and loved, mixed with a few things we were recommended but didn’t quite have time to do:
1. Cycle around Stanley Park
Stanley Park is a huge 1000 acre park with lots of woodlands, gardens and attractions to explore. The whole park is bordered by the sea wall, which means you can walk all the way around it and take in the beautiful scenery from there. Or, even better, grab a bike and cycle around it!
Vancouver has its own city bike scheme (Mobi by Shaw Go – similar to the ‘Boris’ bikes in London!), however if you can get to a bike shop (a lot were closed when we went) you can hire a bike for the day for much cheaper. There are lots dotted around the edges of the park!
2. Visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge
This attraction is known for being one of the top things to do in Vancouver, even though it’s technically a little outside the city. It’s not a problem though, as your entrance ticket also includes a free shuttle service which runs every 15-30 minutes from the centre of town! We got it from Vancouver Downtown and it took about 20-30 minutes to get to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park from there, and was very efficient.
The tickets were around $60 per adult, which might seem expensive but you can see how it must cost a lot to maintain when you get there. The suspension bridge itself is amazing and looks out over the stunning forest and river below (Capilano literally means ‘beautiful river’ in the indigenous Squamish language), but there are plenty of other fun treetop and cliffside bridges and walkways that are both breathtaking and thrilling.
3. Grab a coffee at Tim Hortons and walk along the sea wall
Alex always goes on about how he used to be obsessed with Tim Hortons coffee when he lived in Canada, so we naturally had to try it during our visit. Apparently there are loads in the UK now too, but we live in the ‘outback’ of Cornwall so those are at least a good 4-5 hours away!
Anyway it is super tasty coffee (and incredible donuts!) but the best thing about it is the price. We found Vancouver to be pretty expensive in terms of food and drink on the whole, so Tim Hortons was a breath of fresh air and is definitely great value.
I’m sure there are tonnes of great independent coffee shops to try in Vancouver too, but either way, grab yourself a cup and take time to explore around the city via the sea wall, which as I say borders all of Stanley Park, but also extends all around the city as well.
4. Try breakfast at Cora
Cora is a chain in Canada but again another one that Alex was obsessed with when he lived there so we had to try it out. Known for their HUGE breakfasts with tonnes of different options, and again they tend to be really good value.
The menu offers all the best options from savoury eggs, bacon, sausages, fried potatoes etc., to sweets such as crepes, french toast, pancakes, fruit, waffles and more. OR have a combination of both! I had a ‘Louis the Undecided’ plate which included all the savoury deliciousness PLUS a crepe filled with banana and chocolate. Literally my ideal breakfast!
The lighting was bad so I didn’t take any pics but check out the website to see what I mean!
5. Wander around Gastown
The neighbourhood of Gastown in Vancouver is the oldest in the city, and is known for its industrial, ‘steampunk’ vibes with the famous Gastown Steam Clock being an actual working remnant of the Victorian era steam system here.
It’s cool to see but the neighbourhood is also full of cool and quirky independent cafes and shops to explore too – it definitely has a hipster vibe going on!
6. Drink craft beer at Stanley Park Brewing
The Stanley Park Brewing restaurant & brewpub is located just at the south west edge of Stanley Park, next to the sea wall, making it the perfect place to stop for refreshments during your walk or cycle.
The brand brews their own beers, so try a flight with your meal or just enjoy the delicious food. We ordered lots off the menu and it all tasted great – especially my ‘Braised Beef Dip’; a tender beef roll with gravy to dip into. YUM!
7. Visit the Vancouver Aquarium
We didn’t actually do this during our trip but I went to the Vancouver Aquarium when I was a kid and remember it being great! It’s inside Stanley Park (though you don’t have to walk or cycle there; there’s roads in the park so you can easily get transport instead!) and as well as sealife and fish you’ll also be able to see seals and sea otters (I love sea otters!) here too.
I also have a really vivid memory of the jellyfish exhibition being really cool too, as the colours are just mesmerising.
8. Take a ferry boat to Granville Island (and feast on streetfood and/or seafood!)
After a few days of fog, we were very happy to see the sun make an appearance on our last full day in Vancouver, so walked along the West End sea wall down to one of the ferry stops (we went to the David Lam Park dock, but there are several others dotted along this area!).
These ferries (False Creek Ferries and Aquabus are the main ones) are pretty much like little sea buses; you can pre-book a ticket in busy times but for off-season you definitely don’t need to. You literally just walk to the end of the dock, hop on a ferry that’s going in the right direction, and sort the ticket out with the captain. It’s so easy!
Depending on where you get on, the ferry doesn’t take long at all, and costs about $6 per adult for a return trip. Even though it’s quick it’s definitely worth it just for the experience of being on the water.
Granville Island itself is a small peninsula within the city that’s home to amazing food markets and independent craft shops to explore, most of which are built out of colourful shipping containers. Despite it being the middle of winter, there was still a good buzz on the island with buskers playing tunes as you walked around.
We ended up walking out of the market and stumbling across The Lobster Man, selling delicious lobster rolls for lunch so we had to get some!
9. Get high!
I probably shouldn’t be advocating this, but non-medical cannabis is actually legal in British Columbia, and there are shops you can buy it from (all highly regulated of course) all through the high streets.
Obviously age limits apply. You should always seek advice and purchase from regulated, trusted supplier as well. We really liked the ‘Dutch Love’ shops as they felt really safe and non-intimidating, and the staff were really friendly and helpful.
10. Take a tour on a sea plane
Our hotel was based by the docks, so we had a great view of the sea planes taking off and landing throughout our trip. We didn’t end up doing a tour this time, but this is something we did when I visited as a kid.
11. …Or do the ‘Flyover’ iMax experience instead
As a cheaper alternative, there is also an iMax experience that takes you on a virtual flight over Vancouver and other areas of Canada. It sounded great and we almost booked this but decided against it as these 4D cinema type things tend to give me really bad motion sickness, and we ended up just not having time. But it did come highly recommended!
12. Enjoy an incredible Japanese tasting menu at Miku
I’ve always been told that Canada is famous for having really great quality sushi and Japanese restaurants, and the rumours were not wrong!
We booked a table at Miku for one of the evenings and I’m so glad we did. This gourmet Japanese restaurant offers the most incredible tasting menu, with sashimi, steak, sushi and much more.
13. Discover the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden
Again this isn’t something we did during this trip, but we did visit when I was younger. If you’re a fan of Asian culture and the relaxing effects of these beautiful gardens, this is definitely a must-visit if you’re in Vancouver.
14. Try one of Canada’s top-rated fine-dining restaurants in a building designed to feel like a cruise ship
If you’re a foodie like me, then the Five Sails restaurant definitely has to be on your list of top places to eat in Vancouver. It’s inside the Canada Place building in Vancouver downtown; an iconic landmark on the waterfront of the city, designed to look like you’re on a cruise ship when you’re inside!
Five Sails itself has been voted one of Canada’s best fine dining restaurants, and the food was definitely amazing. My favourite dish was the lobster bisque, which was just so flavourful and I’m starting to drool just thinking about it…
15. Visit nearby Shannon Falls or explore the Sea to Sky Highway
Between Vancouver and Whistler National Park is the famous ‘sea to sky highway’ – also known as Route 99. This road is known for being extremely picturesque, scenic drive, which loads of interesting places to stop along the way.
Being winter, a lot of the mountains and recommended places to visit were snowy or rainy during our visit, and we were also in a rush to get from Whistler back to Vancouver due to one of our party being hospital (like I said, another story!), but we did manage to have a quick stop off at the beautiful Shannon Falls.
There are plenty of websites online that suggest various routes and stop off locations, and itineraries if you want to take a couple of days to do this drive, so definitely leave some time to dedicate to this if you’re travelling in the warmer months!
16. Head to Grouse Mountain or even Whistler for skiing or hiking
Grouse Mountain is super close and accessible from the city, and the slopes/lifts can even be seen from when you’re walking around the Vancouver sea wall! They get lit up at night and you can actually go and ski or snowboard there when it’s dark too.
Alternatively, if you’ve got a couple of days spare, why not head up the sea to sky highway to Whistler for some skiing? We recently spent 12 days here and had an amazing time! It’s about 2 hours from Vancouver centre, but worth it for the incredible views – and even if you don’t ski, it looks like an amazing place to visit without the snow too. I’ve shared some tips for visiting Whistler in a recent blog post.
Have you ever been to Vancouver? Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!