Editor’s Note: Viator recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. For 60 days, these teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to read more about their Vancouver adventures!
Vancouver’s stunning vistas and laidback lifestyles won hoards of new admirers back in 2010, when the Olympic Winter Games descended on the city and turned the world’s spotlight onto the mountain-lined port town. Constantly topping the ranks as one of the world’s cleanest, most livable cities with a high quality of life, Vancouver’s blend of beachside parks, modern urban landscapes and alpine backdrops certainly make a tranquil setting. Nestled at the foot of the North Shore Mountains, the surrounding countryside and inner city parks offer plenty of outdoor activities, and the cosmopolitan mix of lively cafés, gourmet eateries and vibrant nightlife offer a range of urban entertainment.
What to See and Do
With its impressive mountain-backdrop, flower-lined sidewalks and striking beaches, it’s unsurprising that most of Vancouver’s tourist attractions center around the city’s natural assets. Of the city’s many gardens, the vast Stanley Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks at almost 405 hectares, is the most frequented and offers stunning coastal views of the city skyline from its location at the tip of the peninsula. If the numerous walking and cycling tracks (including the famous seawall walk), kayaking tours from the several beaches and the nearby Vancouver Aquarium aren’t enough to keep you entertained, the neighboring West End is on hand with an abundance of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants (Robson, Denman and Davie Streets are the best places to start).
Not far from here, Gastown and Chinatown form the boundaries of the old city and retain a distinct old-age charm with cobblestone streets, the old Gastown Steam Clock (sadly now powered by electricity) and some of the city’s oldest buildings. If you can make it past the souvenir-touting tourist stores and tour buses that now overrun Gastown, neighboring Chinatown offers a lively night market in the summer and the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The area is also home to the quirky Vancouver Police Museum and Guinness world record holding Sam Kee Building – the world’s narrowest commercial building measuring a mere 1.5 m at its base.
A trip to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is a must for those interested in the city’s First Nations history but make sure you pay a trip to nearby Granville Island too, an artistic neighborhood brimming with shops, waterfront bistros and galleries. Stroll through the colorful public market where you can pick up plenty of unique handmade souvenirs, gawp at the varied buskers and street entertainers dotted around the area or even catch a show at one the island’s many theatres before riding the mini-ferry back across False Creek.
Much of Vancouver’s appeal lies in its outdoor lifestyle and the city has an abundance of options for active types. In the city, head to the Kitsilano Pool for a swim, rent a kayak on False Creek or hire some rollerblades for a whiz around Stanley Park. Escaping the city for Grouse Mountain is another popular option, where the spectacular 3km ‘Grouse Grind’ hiking trail affords some incredible views. The only slightly lengthier but equally rewarding BCMC Trail makes a great alternative for those hoping to dodge the crowds. At the top of the mountain the Endangered Wildlife Refuge is home to a gnarly grizzly bear population and you can even opt to take the skyride back downhill.
A little further affield, the resort town of Whistler is reachable by the famed Sea-to-Sky highway, a destination in itself with incredible views of region; climbers will be keen to scale the all-natural granite monolith, Stawamus Chief, the world’s second largest, and Squamish offers all types of outdoorsy fun – hiking, windsurfing, mountain biking, horseback riding and golf are all available.
Eating and Drinking
Exploring Vancouver’s culinary delights is a journey in itself, with the multi-ethnic city offering a multitude of choice eateries and, thanks to its Oceanside location, some excellent fresh seafood. Asian food is a particular specialty, with a profusion of all-you-can-eat sushi joints and bubble tea (a Taiwanese iced tea drink sprinkled with tapioca balls) becoming a firm favorite among the city’s youth (pick up a cup at the popular Dragon Ball Tea House on King Edward Ave). Chinese food makes many an appearance thanks to the city’s large Chinese population and its near-impossible to eat in the city without coming across one of the many dim sum restaurants – Floata in Chinatown makes a good choice, as does the highly reputed Sun Sui Wah. A little further out, Richmond’s sizeable Asian population and raucous street bazaar makes a great place to sample some more creative Asian flavors at street food prices. Head there on the weekend and you’ll find everything from basic noodle dishes to more adventurous grilled octopus and scrumptious Barbeque Pork Buns amongst the mish-mash of clothing and handicraft stores. Look out for the city’s yearly food festivals too – EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival runs every May, preceded by the Dine Out Vancouver Festival, a 17-day food and drink festival featuring daily food-themed events and parties, as well as tones of restaurant deals and tastings.
When you’ve stuffed your face in the city’s many restaurants, it’s time to uncover the city’s drinking haunts. The downtown and Gastown areas are packed with trendy bars, pubs and clubs, but if you’re after something homegrown, opt to experience the city’s microbreweries instead. The Granville Island Brewery is one of the best known, where you can take a tour of the small-batch brewery and sample a range of on-tap beers, or enjoy the selection of Northwestern brews at the Yaletown Brewing Company or the Alibi Room, in Gastown.
Best money saving tip: Get cycling. Those preferring to avoid public transport will find Vancouver to be a very bicycle-friendly city and there’s a great network of cycle routes, including the popular seawall route, the waterfront False Creek trail and at least 9km of seaside pathways. Numerous outlets all over the city offer bikes for rent by the hour, day or week, and will furnish you with a free cycle route map too.
If you only have one day in the city: Get a unique viewpoint of the region from above. One of the world’s longest and highest suspension bridges at 450 ft long and 230 ft high, the Capilano Bridge is one of the city’s most popular sights, offering some impressive panoramic views over the vast Capilano Canyon below. Alternatively, head to the equally striking and free of charge Lynn Canyon suspension bridge then take a dip in the park’s swimming hole. If it’s a city view you’re after the Vancouver Lookout and Cloud 9 at the Empire Landmark Hotel offer incredible vistas, or walk out to the centre of the Lion’s Gate Bridge where on a clear day you can see right out to Mount Baker and Vancouver Island in the distance.
An often-overlooked place you love: Hop on the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island for a change of pace – a 90-minute scenic sojourn from port to port, winding through the picturesque gulf islands. A relaxed city, with abundant greenery and streets crammed shopping boutiques and art galleries, Victoria makes for a pleasant place to spend a day or even a weekend. Visitors can explore the city’s rich First Nations history at the Royal BC Museum, wander the harbor boat yards or walk the mysterious Fan Tan Alley in the city’s vibrant and sizable Chinatown. The over 100 year old Butchart Gardens are another highlight – 55 acres of floral wonders including a traditional English rose garden and a stunning Japanese garden, linked together by tree-lined pathways and gurgling streams.
There are are plenty of links to the city’s British heritage (the city was settled by the Brits back in 1841 and is named after Queen Victoria) in the distinctly English architecture and narrow, winding streets, but if you needed more proof head to the grand Empress Hotel or the traditional Murchie’s Teahouse for English-style afternoon tea.
The best thing to eat in the city: Vancouver’s myriad of food stuffs make it impossible to pinpoint a favorite, but there is one place where you can sample it all – the Granville Island Farmer’s Market. Held on the island every Thursday during the summer and autumn months, it boasts a vibrant display of gastronomic creations and is a one-stop-shop for sampling the city’s homegrown goods. Visiting the market is an experience, with colorful stalls, crowds of locals and plenty of free samples on offer. Buy still-warm organic breads, freshly squeezed lemonade and juices and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, or you can load up on continental European delights like biscotti and Parisian macaroons. If you can’t make it to the weekly market, the daily Public Market also sells a variety of seafood, baked goods and homemade delicacies.