Vancouver is a hip, bustling city surrounded by limitless options for outdoor activities. With moderate temperatures all year long, there is no wrong time to visit (though its winters can be wet). Recently, I spent 36 hours discovering the city and left wishing I had more time. There is so much that this exciting city has to offer.
No visit to Vancouver would be complete without a visit (or two) to Stanley Park. So, that’s where I headed first. At over 1,000 acres, it’s easy to spend an entire day in the park. The easiest and most scenic option is to walk the seawall (or rent a bike in town). This flat, paved trail goes around the entire park with views of the downtown skyline, North Vancouver and the mountains beyond, and the harbor. Along the way, there are sculptures, totem poles, and lighthouses to take in. It’s a wonderful stroll that requires no massive physical effort.
But don’t stay on the seawall. The interior of the park has tons of trails through thickly forested areas. Hiking up the Bridle Path to Prospect Point, I was constantly stopping to take in massive trees covered in moss or marvel at bizarre root formations. Prospect Point offers views of the harbor and North Vancouver, as well as Lions Gate Bridge. But, if you walk up the road past the gift shop, there’s a better spot for viewing the bridge. From there, it’s a short hike to take in the iconic Siwash Rock from above the seawall.
A lovely spot to walk around is the Lost Lagoon, where you can watch all sorts of water fowl for hours. On the nicer days, you can play in the sand at one of the several beaches. The world-famous Vancouver Aquarium also calls the park home.
It’s possible to drive through the park with paid parking available near many of the main attractions. Restrooms are located throughout the park. It’s an easy 25-minute walk to the start of the park from the Vancouver City Center Metro stop on Georgia Street. And, Vancouver was made for walking.
Heading back into the city, strolling along the continuation of the seawall past Coal Harbor, it’s entertaining to watch the seaplanes take off and land (what a noise they make!) by the new convention center. Right next store is the iconic Canada Place with its tented tops.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
At Canada Place, near the information kiosk, I boarded the free bus to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, the #1 attraction in Vancouver. The bus makes four downtown stops before heading to the park (a 30- minute trip). Depending on the weather and time of the year, the bus can get crowded. If you opt to board at the 3rd or 4th stop, you may end up waiting 30 minutes for the next bus. If you plan on taking the bus back into the city, you’ll need to show the stamp on your hand from entering the park. So, don’t wash it off until afterwards.
As I purchased my ticket in advance online, I was able to avoid the long queue at the ticket counter and go straight into the park. Even on this rainy day, the park was already full of people, many wearing the park’s free green ponchos. The first stop for every visitor is the 420 ft. long bridge, suspended 230 ft. above the Capilano River. Upon your first step onto it, you feel the jostle and bounce of the bridge. The more people on it, the more pronounced the bounce becomes. Thankfully, the railing is high. Though venturing across the bridge is fun, the views are what I enjoyed the most. The river disappearing around a bend. Waterfalls tumbling out from the dense forest. The fog swirling around the treetops. Magical.
Beyond the bridge is the Nature Walk and Treetops Adventure. Weaving to and from the canyon face, the Nature Walk highlights the beauty of the forest. It also provides some great views of the bridge (even walking underneath it!). For a different perspective of the forest, the Treetops Adventure lets you walk among the trees, from tree to tree, on small, suspended bridges.
Bouncing back over the bridge, the last attraction is the Cliffwalk. Jetting out from the cliff face, a narrow plank walkway dares you to brave any fear of heights you may have. Unlike the suspension bridge, this walkway is firmly bolted in place. No bouncing here. An adventure awaits guests. But don’t expect to find solitude at the park.
Getting off the bus at the Robson Street stop, it was a nice walk across town heading toward Sunset Beach. My next destination – Granville Island, a misnomer as it’s a peninsula rather than an island. But, the quickest way to get to the island from downtown is a 3-minute boat ride (I took False Creek Ferry, which accepts cash & credit on board and the wait time is less than 5 minutes).
The Granville Island Public Market is industrial in looks but full of creativity and artistry inside. Ceramics, handmade jewelry, paintings, home goods, clothing, ironworks, brewing houses, and even brooms are all found here. In the public market building, there are stalls upon stalls for fresh produce, freshly prepared Italian cuisine, donuts, artisan bread, and every type of baked good you can imagine. You never know what you’ll stumble upon as you make your way around the island.
Don’t miss the massive mural on the silos from the creative minds of OSGEMEOS. Though part of an active industrial site, the gigantic art installation brings vibrant color and humor to the area.
The main downtown area of Vancouver is a shopaholics dream. With malls and every name brand having a store, one could spend a day popping in and out of stores. Interspersed with the shops and theatres and concert halls galore. And, you’ll find yourself tripping over options for food. If you’re craving something sweet, a must stop is Nero Belgium Waffle Bar. The Banella will leave you wanting to lick the plate clean with its caramelized bananas and combination of vanilla ice cream and Nutella mousse.
The city is divided into neighborhoods, and my favorite was Gastown. As you approach Water Street, you feel as if you’ve entered a different city (or even a different era). Cobblestone streets, ornate light fixtures, and brick facades invite you to venture further into the district. The main attraction is the steam clock, so called from the steam constantly coming from the top. Time your visit for on the hour for a whimsical treat.
If you find you have more time to spend in Vancouver, other things you can do include:
Hike up Grouse Mountain Immerse yourself in the culture of the First Nations at the Museum of Anthropology
Admire the works on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Stroll through Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Hop on a sea plane to Vancouver Island
The main airport is the Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The easiest way to get downtown is by taking the metro. It’s only a 25-minute ride from YVR to downtown on the Canada Line. Ticket machines are at all stations an accept both cash and cards. Keep your Compass card handy as you need it to tap in and out.