Are you looking for tips on what to do in Vancouver?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Cameron and Nicole Wears who have lived together in Vancouver over the past 8 years.
Together they share with us their tips and insider knowledge on what to do in Vancouver for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, explore, and hangout.
Take it away guys.
Why visit Vancouver?
There is good reason why Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities.
We’ve visited over two hundred cities and have yet to find a city that competes with Vancouver for awesomeness. It’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a chilled out West Coast attitude that’s all about health, the outdoors and enjoying the simple things in life.
Within 20 minutes of downtown Vancouver, visitors can:
- ski and snowboard on three local mountains
- swim and sunbathe at over a dozen beaches
- cycle around endless waterfront seawall
- hike through temperate rain forests
- kayak through pristine wilderness
- dine at five-star restaurants
- and hit the Granville entertainment strip that has over 25 bars and clubs.
Are you sold yet? I can keep going…
Best things to do in Vancouver?
The list of what to do in Vancouver is endless. As a new visitor, some of the top attractions are:
- Walk or cycle around the picturesque Stanley Park seawall.
- Visit Granville Island Market to sample a variety of cuisine and shop for arts and crafts.
- Catch some sunshine and play beach volleyball at Kits Beach or Spanish Banks.
- Wander the cobblestone streets of historical Gastown and check out the iconic Steam Clock.
- See beluga and orca whales at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park.
- Take the tram to Grouse Mountain, the peak of Vancouver (or hike the Grouse Grind if you’re the adventurous type).
- Catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game at Rogers Arena (season is from October to April).
- Eat dim sum and shop for exotic treats in Vancouver’s lively Chinatown.
- Shop for designer clothes on Robson Street, one of the world’s most famous shopping districts.
If you want to step outside the typical tourist hotspots, here are a few recommendations from a local’s perspective.
Best neighbourhoods to explore?
Vancouver has a lot of neighbourhoods worth visiting, each with its own distinct vibe. If you’ve got the time, we recommend visiting:
- Commercial Drive in East Vancouver – dozens of eclectic restaurants, bars and cafes. Known for its trendy stores and character homes
- Kitsilano in Vancouver’s West Side – Vancouver’s sexiest beach with kilometers of waterfront trails for walking, running and cycling. Lots of shopping and restaurants on popular 4th Avenue
- Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver – visit Lonsdale Quay Market for a variety of shops, restaurants and fantastic views of Vancouver’s city skyline.
- South Main in East Van – trendy and bohemian neighbourhood with great cafes and restaurants.
- Deep Cove in North Vancouver – rent a kayak or hike the Baden Powell trail, then treat yourself to fresh honey donuts and coffee on the peaceful beach.
- Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver –small marina surrounded by picturesque mountains. Rent a motor boat and explore Howe Sound, then enjoy fresh seafood and oyster burgers on a patio while you watch the passing BC Ferries.
Where to eat in Vancouver
Vancouver is a very multicultural city, so there are hundreds of options for all budget types.
Known for its fantastic sushi and Japanese cuisine – you can find a sushi restaurant on virtually every street in Vancouver.
- For fine dining, head to Yaletown and/or Robson Street.
- For lively sports bars and pubs, head to the Granville Street.
- For a variety of budget options, head to Denman Street and Davie Street.
Where to drink in Vancouver
For a night of drinking, everyone should head to Granville Street.
The district is sectioned off for pedestrian traffic and it’s where you will find a variety of restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs. It’s definitely the place to be on Friday and Saturday night.
For a more upscale experience, Yaletown has several fine dining restaurants, classy lounges and stylish patio venues that attract Vancouver’s elite.
Where to stay in Vancouver
Most of the high-end hotels and budget hostels are found in downtown Vancouver. The downtown core isn’t very big, geographically speaking, and it’s mostly surrounded by water so it’s easy to navigate.
Budget hostels are found on Granville Street and in the older Downtown Eastside (though the eastside is known for being the sketchy part of town).
There’s a new rapid transit line that takes 25 minutes to get from the airport to downtown Vancouver. It was built for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and has made it convenient for visitors to stay in Richmond, a suburb located near the airport that has several familiar hotel chains with decent prices (ideal for the mid-range traveler and family travel).
If you want to stay close to the mountains and outdoors, there are several budget motels near the Lions Gate Bridge in North Vancouver. This is an ideal spot if you have a vehicle.
Vancouver is very walkable and it’s easy to navigate. Most of the downtown core is surrounded by water with a fantastic seawall that’s great for roller-blading, running, skateboarding and biking.
Here are some photos of the False Creek Seawall in Vancouver.
Transit is very good. The Seabus is a 12-minute ferry that connects Vancouver with North Vancouver (where the mountains and provincial parks are located).
And the SkyTrain/Canada Line connects downtown Vancouver with the suburbs. Buses are also good, but often very full during peak hours.
If you want to explore outside the city, it’s best to rent a vehicle.
Markets & Shopping
Absolutely! For shopping, head to Robson Street in Downtown Vancouver. The Robson area has lots of designer stores and there is an underground mall called Pacific Centre.
Granville Island is the most popular market in Vancouver but you can also visit the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and the Summer Night Market in Richmond.
Take a look at some of the mouth-water food that can be found at the Richmond Summer Night Market
Vancouver is very WiFi friendly. Almost every coffee shop offers free Wifi and you can probably jump on a signal wherever you are in downtown Vancouver.
Favourite side trip?
Without question, the best day trip is Whistler. You can take the bus from downtown Vancouver but we recommend you rent a vehicle so that you can stop and take pictures along the way.
The trip takes 1.5 to 2 hours and the Sea-to-Sky Highway is arguably the most beautiful stretch of highway in the world.
Whistler Village is a cute, pedestrian only alpine village surrounded by snow-capped peaks and fresh water lakes.
If you’re the adventurous type, spend a couple nights in Whistler and take advantage of its endless outdoor activities – skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, zip-trekking, hiking, snowmobiling, boating, heli-tours, whitewater rafting, kayaking/canoeing, golfing, etc.
Here are photos from snowboarding Whistler Mountain, our favourite day trip that we make at least five times a year.
Wine regions & breweries?
The Fraser Valley has a few wineries that have a good reputation, but we recommend you visit the world-class wineries of the Okanagan Valley, about a 4-hour drive east of Vancouver.
There are hundreds of wineries to choose from, so it’s best to stay a few nights and join a wine tour so that you don’t have to drive.
Vancouver’s beer scene has exploded over the past few years with several very good breweries and Brewpubs scattered throughout the city.
The most popular brewery is the Granville Island Brewery located on Granville Island. It offers daily brewery tours and beer samplers.
Best time to visit?
Vancouver is a year-round destination with benefits for visiting each season.
- In the winter you have world-class ski hills and winter activities.
- In the spring you have cherry blossoms and fantastic hikes through temperate rainforests.
- In the summer you have beaches, patio restaurants and water sports.
- In the fall you have perfect temperatures, colourful trees and beautiful sunsets.
There really isn’t a bad time to visit Vancouver, but if we had to recommend the best time of year we would guide you to the summer-autumn months between June and September.
Getting there and away?
Air travel around Canada is not cheap but it’s the most convenient way to travel between major cities.
There are only a few domestic airlines in Canada – WestJet and Air Canada are the leaders with the most competitive prices. We use Air Canada because it’s a member of the Star Alliance and offers air miles that can be used on other airlines around the world.
Vancouver is the major Canadian hub on the west coast, so most flights will arrive/depart from Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Abbotsford also has an international airport but it’s about an hour drive outside of Vancouver and it’s not convenient unless you have a vehicle.
Seattle, Washington is about a 3 hour drive south of Vancouver. Flights to US and Central American destinations are much cheaper from Seattle and there are typically more options.
Best “insiders” tip?
The best insider tip we can give is to visit Victoria, Vancouver Island and/or the Southern Gulf Islands. The ferry passage alone is worth the trip!
To visit Victoria properly, plan to spend 2-3 nights on the island. We often meet travelers that only plan to do a day trip to Victoria – this is a BIG mistake.
There are so many things to do in Victoria and each direction takes about 4 hours, making it a very long day trip that will feel rushed. Trust us – you want more than one day in Victoria!
Some other lesser known destinations that are worth visiting are Bowen Island, Deep Cove, the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and Harrison Hot Springs.
I love Vancouver because?
“of its ability to consistently surprise us with its never-ending supply of natural beauty and adventure”. We published a post about it – Why we love living in British Columbia .
Plan Your Trip to Vancouver
We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:
- Booking.com has 130+ hotels, apartments and hostels in Vancouver. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.[/ybox]
BIO – Nicole and Cameron Wears are a married couple living in Vancouver but have traveled to over 50 countries together in the past 7 years, fulfilling many of their life goals and dreams along the way. Their personal travel blog Traveling Canucks highlights their travel stories, tips, and photographs. You can also follow their adventures on Facebook and Twitter.