With the exception of year-round sunshine, Vancouver really does seem to have it all: A cosmopolitan feel, the Pacific Ocean, sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains and coastal rainforests — all within a 30-minute reach from the downtown core.
If you find yourself in this beautiful city, I hope my list of 10 things to do gives you some suggestions for experiencing the best the city has to offer.
1. Stanley Park
Every city should have a green space – and it should look like Stanley Park. Situated just north of the downtown core and surrounded by the Pacific ocean, this 1,000-acre Canadian National Historic Site is an urban treasure. I walk the seawall past the landmarks and beaches, but you can also ride the paved pathway devoted to cyclists and rollerbladers. Enjoy the scenic views; hike the trails around the lakes amidst the 500,000 cedar, hemlock and fir trees; or admire the Native-themed artwork at Brockton Point.
If your preference is to stay indoors, dine in one of the park’s restaurants or visit the Vancouver Aquarium.
2. Granville Island
There’s a lot to love about this cultural enclave of local artists, theatres and unique shops that give Granville Island its distinct, colourful character. The biggest draw though is the public market, where you’ll be tempted by crafts, fresh produce and seafood vendors. Make sure you take your appetite – it’s a perfect location for snacking and a quick lunch.
If the market doesn’t appeal to you, go to Granville Island for the cocktails or dining. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, the Dockside Restaurant offers gorgeous views of False Creek and, during warmer temperatures, a patio with a heated cabana and outdoor fireplace.
3. Vancouver Lookout
This 593-foot viewing structure has one one of the best observation decks. It offers a splendid, 360º aerial view of Vancouver.
Bonus: Admission is good for an entire day, so I suggest visiting during daylight, then returning in the evening for a twilight and night-time experience. I must have circled the deck six times as I watched the city fall into darkness.
If the cobble-stoned streets, heritage buildings and lamp posts of this neighborhood make you feel like you’re walking through history, that’s because you are. Once filled with merchandisers and saloons, Gastown is the birthplace of Vancouver but, today, it’s the revitalized epicentre for style, dining and nightlife. Just don’t be fooled by the antique appearance of the steam-powered clock, the focal point of the district. Not only does it partially run on electricity, it’s less than 40 years old.
5. Tour With the Vancouver Trolley Company
Instead of public transit, how about a hop-on, hop-off tour through the city on a classic, San Francisco-style trolley? With 32 stops (six in Stanley Park alone), the Vancouver Trolley tour was a convenient and easy-to-use mode of transportation that allowed you to visit the city’s top attractions at your own pace.
6. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Both visitors and locals come here to explore the coastal rainforest with trees over 1,000 years old — and it’s only 10 minutes away from downtown Vancouver.
But the real star of the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is, of course, the 450-foot suspension bridge and its newest addition: The Cliffwalk, a narrow walkway that jets out from the cliff face to give those brave enough to walk it panoramic views of the Capilano River Canyon.
Tips: Consider using their free shuttle service from Canada Place, and be the first to arrive at the park to avoid the crowds and groups of school children. An alternative to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is the nearby Lynn Canyon Park, with hiking trails, waterfalls and its own smaller suspension bridge. Not only is it free, it’s quieter – but it doesn’t boast anything that resembles Capilano’s Cliffwalk.
7. Grouse Mountain
What an adventure centre. There really is something for everyone at the most visited attraction in Vancouver. Ears will pop on the way up as you travel 3,700 feet over snow-covered forests on the Skyride, the largest aerial tramway system in North America. At the summit, visitors enjoy spectacular views of the city – but only on a clear day. In the winter: Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, sleigh riding and skating. In the summer: Ziplining, paragliding and the Grouse Grind (a.k.a. “Nature’s Stairmaster”), the popular but challenging hike over steep mountainous terrain.
Year-round, visitors can say hello to the wolves and grizzly bears in the wildlife sanctuary. And, of course, you can always eat in one of the three restaurants, no matter the season.
8. Vancouver Urban Winery
Now here’s a perfect rainy-day activity: Sip glasses of wine, but do it in a 7,700-square-foot heritage building surrounded by wine tanks, oak barrels and wood beams. Located in the heart of historic Railtown, the Vancouver Urban Winery offers tasting of B.C. wines and food pairings. And, if you have yet to sample wine on tap, this is the place to do it.
9. FlyOver Canada
Vancouver’s newest attraction geared towards tourists but I would love to take the flight anytime even though I have done it many times. The actual flight simulation ride at FlyOver Canada is only eight minutes long … wow. This 4D virtual journey had my seat moving, feet dangling and hands clutched to the arm rests. After you inhale the fresh scent of the forests, feel the mist over Niagara Falls and experience the thrill of soaring over Canada’s most spectacular scenery, I’ll let you be the judge.
10. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
In Chinatown you’ll find this oasis of tranquility designed by Chinese artisans and craftsmen using traditional techniques and materials from China. Based on the four main elements of plant, rock, water and architecture, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a carefully thought out sanctuary of balance and harmony where visitors can reflect amongst winding pathways and jade-green ponds. For the full experience, sip a cup of tea and join one of the free, 45-minute guided tours.
I hope you have the opportunity to visit this beautiful city I live in and enjoy any of the 10 activities listed above. Happy Travels….