I’m not a city-girl but I love Vancouver!
Located in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver is a seaport city with a relaxed atmosphere, scenic backdrop and an ethically diverse culture.
It’s also a popular filming location, having been used for Supernatural, Arrow, The Flash, Deadpool & Lucifer amongst many more.
Check out Tourism Vancouver for a bit more about this!
During my time working in the Travel industry, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Canada twice – once in August 2017 to stay at Farewell Harbour Lodge to view bears and again in April 2019 to travel on the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff (read a bit more about my trip and what Rocky Mountaineer offer here).
Having spent a bit of time in Vancouver on both occasions, I wanted to tell you how I filled my days and where you can visit, even if you do only have a day in the city. To really be able to enjoy and make the most of it though, I’d recommend at least 3 days.
So, starting off, try to book a hotel in the downtown area. Public transport is fairly cheap but it helps to be closer to the attractions and sights if you’ve got limited time.
Depending on your budget, I would recommend The Rosedale on Robson on the corner of Robson Street – I always sold this property as a good 3* option.
If you want to upgrade a bit, the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre & Sutton Place Hotel are both 4* and are really nice. I stayed at the Sutton Place on my first visit and at the Sheraton the second. The Westin Bayshore is also lovely and was where I booked mum & dad into during their stay. It’s down at the waterfront and so has great views out over Coal Harbour. You can specifically book Harbour-view rooms for a supplement.
Splashing out a bit more will get you the likes of the Fairmont hotels (there are various Fairmonts in the downtown area) and the Shangri-La – very swanky!
Everything you’d want to see is either in downtown or just outside.
Right on your doorstep you have the following:
This is a simulated 8-minute experience located at Canada Place cruise terminal. I’ve done this each time I’ve been to Vancouver and it’s amazing. It takes you on a ‘flight’ across Canada from east to west with special effects such as mist and wind and it really does make you believe that you’re doing it. I booked this for mum & dad too and they loved it as well. The videography and the seamless presentation of the whole thing make it a visually beautiful experience.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Located just outside downtown Vancouver, across the Lions Gate Bridge is the Suspension Bridge Park. You can either drive or there’s a complimentary shuttle bus which leaves from Canada Place. All you have to do is hop on and pay your admission when you arrive at the gate. Do be aware though that it’s a very popular attraction and it does get busy so you many not be able to get on the first shuttle bus you come to and you may have to queue to get in. For this reason, I would advise trying to get there as close to opening time as possible. The opening times for the seasons are on the web link above.
Once you’re there, there’s an abundance of things to do and we spent a good few hours in the Park. Naturally, there’s the Capilano Suspension Bridge itself which is 450ft (137m) long, suspended 230ft (70m) above the Capilano River. It’s secured with cables so it does sway slightly in the wind and it bounces in time with footfall of people crossing the bridge. If you’re not a fan of heights, this maybe isn’t for you but the views in either direction are great.
The Treetops Adventure is a series of 7 suspension bridges running between 8 huge Douglas fir trees. It gives a completely unique birds-eye perspective of the forest and has been designed to accommodate the continuous growth the trees – the viewing platforms around each tree are attached to ‘collars’ rather than being bolted into the trunk. This means that they can be moved and adjusted whilst not causing any damage.
The Cliffwalk is the newest of the experiences in the park, having opened in 2011. It’s made up of suspended walkways and stairs secured into the face of the cliff, leading to the semi-circular viewing platform above the canyon. It’s high, narrow and not for the faint-hearted but again, the views are amazing.
Canadian’s are very proud of their First Nation heritage so within the park you’ll also find Totem Poles and the Kia’Palano education centre focusing on the First Nation culture.
There are also history and nature talks, as well as ‘Raptors Ridge’ raptor & wildlife conservation program.
If you’re looking for traditional, ethical souvenirs then The Trading Post is where you need to go. I spent at least 30 minutes in here and had to resist the urge to buy anything I couldn’t carry home with me. The Trading Post offers First Nation designs, jewellery, homeware, clothing and speciality food products amongst many other things.
Vancouver has plenty of coffee shops and deli’s where you can pick up breakfast but if you want a great view to accompany your coffee, head to 6 Degrees Eatery at Coal Harbour Quay (not far from the Westin Bayshore Hotel). They focus on breakfast and brunch and their menu includes a ‘jazzed up’ version of all your favourites.
I managed to get a bar-style seat by the window so I could enjoy the view out over the harbour and across to North Shore to go along with my coffee and waffles.
As well as breakfast and coffee, they also do cocktails and baked goods. They were running a promo offer when I was in which I got myself a free cookie solely for tagging them in an Instagram post showing off my breakfast! Who says advertising is expensive?!
Next up is Gastown. This is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, dating back 1867 when John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton founded a tavern in what is now Maple Leaf Square where you’ll find his statue today.
Gastown is a lovely mix of old and new as it’s kept its’ traditional elements – cobblestone streets, vintage lamp posts and the famous Gastown Steam Clock. The neighbourhood is now well known for its array of high-class boutiques, one-of-a-kind galleries and restaurants.
I knew I wanted to get cowboy boots when I was Canada and so on a recommendation from mum & dad, I went to the OK Boot Corral just off Maple Leaf Square, right behind the Gassy Jack statue. The shop inhabits the oldest stone building in the city; the original tavern.
This is a ’boutique’ shop specialising in mens, womens and kids cowboy boots and there’s nowhere else in Vancouver that I would go to buy them.
Walking in here is like taking a step right into a Western movie. As well as boots, there’s also hats, bolo ties, belt buckles…
The staff know everything there is to know about boots and can offer a range of slightly more exotic options which you maybe wouldn’t find anywhere else. Their boots are also some of the best available worldwide.
Since Gastown has some of the best restaurants in the city, it would be shame not to eat here.
Just around the corner from the Gassy Jack statue is The Old Spaghetti Factory. This is an Italian-style chain found in the USA & Canada. If you’ve eaten in one of these before, you’ll know you’re in for great food and usually a unique restaurant too – Vancouver’s Old Spaghetti Factory is no different. Located in one of Gastown’s old-style buildings, it has a traditional red trolley bus right in the middle of the main dining area.
They offer a great choice of family favourites and it’s really not expensive either.
We had an evening buffet and get-together planned for back at the hotel so minestrone soup, a sandwich and a glass of wine sorted me out for lunch.
From Gastown, it’s only a short walk to the Vancouver Lookout where you’ll be able to see the city and its’ surrounding mountains from the 360 degree aerial viewing platform 553ft (168m) above the street.
A great way to see the city if you’re a bit pushed for time is by using the Hop On/Hop Off bus. Tickets are valid for 48 hours and there are 2 different routes that you can choose from. You can ‘hop on’ at any of the stops though this will determine which route you do. The best way to choose your route and buy your tickets is by going to the booth at Canada Place.
The buses are a great mode of transport just to get you from A-B. Vancouver is walkable but you don’t to spend half the day just getting to places!
I find it best to stay on the bus for a full loop so that you can work out where you are in relation to everything else and it gives you the opportunity to decide what you want to see. There’s a live commentary onboard in multiple languages so you don’t miss a thing.
The first time I was in Vancouver we only had one morning and one afternoon free so it didn’t give us a lot of time. For this reason, we did the Hop On/Hop Off bus and I used it again in April 2019 on my second visit. I visited Granville Island Public Market on both occasions but the first time round it was only a quick look around the market itself and then into one of the local restaurants for lunch. Second time round, I had more of a chance to look around.
Before the 1970s, Granville Island was nothing more than wasteland but in the years since, it’s developed into one of Vancouver’s cultural hubs, showcasing the best in local art, design and produce right on the waterfront and hosts around 300 businesses.
The Market is an experience in itself with countless stalls and stands of artisanal cheese, meats, breads, fresh fruit & veg, flowers and cakes as well as arts & crafts. Out-with the main market building you’ll find plenty of small art shops, galleries, traditional First Nation jewellers, gift & souvenir shops and restaurants. There are a couple of First Nation sculptures on display around the market area too.
Granville Island is one of the stops on the Hop On/Off route so getting here is easy. If you don’t opt for taking the bus though, just look for Granville Street downtown and head for either Granville or Burrard Bridge. You can take a water taxi over to the Island as well. Once you see the ‘Giants’ painted on the silos behind the Market, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
The ‘green’ route that I opted for also took us through Stanley Park, Chinatown and Kitsilano but I chose not to ‘hop off’ at any of these stops. I already knew where I wanted to visit and spend more time.
Stanley Park is a 405-hectare public park with great views and is one of the most popular areas of the city for locals and tourists alike. There are so many different areas located within it. You can walk along the seawall, through the park itself to the Aquarium, see the Totem Poles, hire bikes and cycle around for the day, visit English Bay beach…
Perhaps I’ll see Stanley Park next time I go to Vancouver!
One of the concerns that many of my clients had when I mentioned Vancouver is that they weren’t a fan of big cities and were worried about spending time there. I always tell them that my dad was exactly the same.
When I booked mum and dad their trip to Canada it was the first time they’d been. I insisted that they see Vancouver and wanted to include at least 3 days for them. Dad, like many of my clients, wasn’t so keen on the idea of spending so much time in a city. We ended up compromising and putting Vancouver at the beginning of the itinerary so that if they didn’t like it (which I knew wouldn’t be the case) it would be over and done with, rather than being at the end and putting a dampener on the holiday.
Within a day or so of them arriving, I was getting messages and photos telling me what they’d been up to, how much they’d already seen and how much they were enjoying it! There’s so much to see that they actually want to go back and catch up on what they missed out on.
Vancouver isn’t like New York or other major cities where all you see are skyscrapers and people. It’s a laidback city right on the waterfront and surrounded by incredible mountain scenery. The buildings aren’t super high-rise either and actually purposely designed to blend in with the beautiful area that they’re built in.
If you’re planning to see the Canadian west coast, make sure that you put Vancouver on your itinerary – there’s something for everyone and it’s really too good to miss.