When I tell people I’m Canadian they usually try to guess what city I’m from. Vancouver is the number one guess.
I’m not from Vancouver, I’m from Ottawa. In fact, until recently I’d never even been to Vancouver (I know, it’s in my own country but Canada is MASSIVE guys!). However, now that I have been, I understand why this coastal city is everyone’s first guess. I understand that when people tell me they want to visit Canada; Vancouver is one of the first places they list off. I understand why some of my friends have gone for a vacation and never come back.
Vancouver is incredible.
I spent about a week using the city as a base to explore and catch up with some of those friends that abandoned me a couple years ago. There’s so much to see and do, both in the city and in the surrounding area.
However, most people aren’t lucky enough to get a whole week in this awesome city, so I’ve picked the best bits (based on my experience) to create a more reasonable guide. So for anyone heading to western Canada, here is the best of Vancouver in 3 Days.
You can arrive in Vancouver by almost any means. Cruise ship, car, bus, train, plane. Maybe even by foot if you are particularly adventurous. Whatever method you choose, arriving in Vancouver is pretty easy.
By Plane: Vancouver has a large international airport located about 30 minutes outside of the city centre. The easiest way to get downtown from the airport is to take the Skytrain’s Canada Line, which has several stops along the way and ends at Vancouver Waterfront. It runs frequently and will get you to the Waterfront in 25 minutes.
From the airport, follow the signs for the train. You can purchase your ticket from one of the machines at the platform; cost depends on which ‘zone’ you are going to. Don’t worry, there’s a big map with everything listed to make it easy. The machines will take cash or a credit card.
By Train or Bus: Vancover’s main train station is the Pacific Central Station. It acts as the terminal for Via Rail and Amtrack along with Greyhound busses. Pacific Central Station isn’t quite downtown, but it’s not too far. There is a nearby Skytrain station where you can take the westbound line to get to the waterfront.
By Cruise ship: Cruise ship might be the easiest way to get in; you land at Canada Place which is on the Vancouver waterfront. The Skytrain’s waterfront station is right there! If your hotel is more towards the centre of town, hop on the appropriate train line, bus, or grab a taxi.
Downtown Vancouver is incredibly walkable, and pretty small. Popular areas like Gastown, the Waterfront, and even Stanley Park can easily be done by foot. However, if you are interested in exploring other neighbourhoods such as North Vancouver or Kitsilano, then you will definitely need to use public transportation.
The Skytrain is a great way to get around, but Vancouver also has a pretty handy local bus service as well. It’s really friendly too, everyone yells ‘thanks’ to the driver when they get off.
If you think you will be using the public transportation a fair amount, do yourself a favour and pick up a compass card. It works on both the Skytrain and the city busses and can be purchased from a variety of vendors in the city, including at the Skytrain stations and at many London Drugs drugstores.
Where to Stay
If you are visiting Vancouver to sight-see, your best bet is to stay downtown. Not only will you save yourself a bit of money by not having to travel in and out of downtown every day, but you will also save yourself a lot of time. Traffic in Vancouver, especially during rush hour, can get a bit crazy.
Even though accommodation downtown might be more expensive than it the outlying areas, there are still options for every budget.
Or, you can also check out the local Airbnbs.
Day 1: Stanley Park
If you are a secret tree hugger who loves walking trails, beaches, nature, and of course, giant trees, Stanley Park will seem like a little slice of heaven. It’s an absolute must-see in Vancouver and, considering that the park is over 1000 acres, it’s easy to spend an entire day here exploring.
Start your day early at the Vancouver Aquarium; you’ll beat the crowds if you go for opening time (10am). The Aquarium has lots of rescue and rehabilitation programs and many of the star residents, including two dolphins, were injured and rescued themselves.
After the Aquarium it’s time to hit the trails; there are dozens to choose from. Consider downloading a map on your phone ahead of time to keep track of where you are going. Some of the paths are quiet with few people, while others are a bit busier. Wander where you will but at some time in the day you should make sure to find the Totem Poles, Beaver Lake, the Lost Lagoon, Prospect Point (for great views), and the Rose Garden. The Hollow Tree is another popular spot to visit, however Stanley park has dozens of cool trees that make for great photos, so just keep an eye out for one.
While I definitely recommend wandering though the centre of the park, don’t forget to spend at least a bit of time on the Seawall for some of the best views. It’s a busier path, with plenty of walkers, runners, and cyclists, but you can’t beat those views. Especially if you luck in and get a clear day. Then, as the day draws to an end, take in the sunset from Third Beach.
* There are a couple of places to eat in Stanley Park including at the aquarium or the famous Teahouse Restaurant, however it tends to be a bit expensive and the Teahouse usually requires reservations. If you are on a budget, consider packing a lunch and bringing it with you and having a later dinner back in the city center.
Day 2: Vancouver Neighbourhoods
Your second day in Vancouver should be dedicated to exploring the downtown core of the city. It may be small, but there is a lot to see.
If your feet are a bit sore from your day at Stanley Park, or you are interested in learning a bit more about the city, consider doing a hop on hop off tour. There are two tour providers in Vancouver, WESTCOAST Sightseeing or the Vancouver Trolley Company. Both offer very similar (if not the same) routes and a variety of stops including Gastown, Waterfront, Chinatown, Yaletown, and Granville Island. The tour takes a couple of hours to do the complete circuit. Be sure to visit the following:
Waterfront/ Canada Place: Chances are you will have been here already, but if not it’s a great spot to take photos. On a clear day you can see across the water to Vancouver’s many mountains.
Gastown: Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood with boutique shops, great restaurants, bars, and beautiful Victorian architecture. Make sure to stop by the famous steam clock, the only one of its kind in the world. If you plan on doing some shopping and picking up souvenirs, this is a great spot to do it, especially if you are interested in any traditional First Nations artwork or designs. Also in the neighbourhood is the Vancouver Lookout which offers a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area. Definitely worth doing if you have a clear day!
Granville Island: A must for everyone, but definitely for foodies. Granville Island is home to an incredible (and massive) Public Market where you can get just about everything to eat there, or go. Fresh produce, pasta, meats, and seafood if you are cooking on your own. If you are eating while you are there, Italian dishes, sandwiches, coffee and iced teas, ice cream, pastries, French macarons, sausages, polish pierogis… the list goes on and on. It’s the perfect place to stop for lunch and, if you head outside, you’ll probably be able to find some entertainment while you eat.
Granville island is also home to the Granville Island Brewing Co. as well as several galleries and boutique shops. It’s a great place to explore and one of the coolest areas in Vancouver.
ChinaTown: Vancouver is home to Canada’s largest Chinatown which was established back in 1890. If you are in the mood for authentic Asian cuisine, this is the place to come. It’s also a fun place to shop for souvenirs and home to the peaceful Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese gardens.
Davie Village: Rainbow flags and décor cover the buildings and streets in Davie village which is known for its gay and lesbian community. It’s a fun, chilled out place to wander during the day and has a vibrant nightlife.
Yaletown: Yaletown is one of the chicest areas of Vancouver. Urban coffee shops, boutique shopping, outdoor patios, and plenty of dining options can all be found here.
Kitsilano: While not included on the hop on hop off tours, Kitsilano is a trendy neighbourhood about a 15-minute bus ride from the downtown core. Kits Beach is a great place to spend some time on a warm, sunny day; there are SUPs to rent, volleyball nets, and tons of big logs perfect for sitting and watching the sunset. Like so many other Vancouver neighbourhoods, there are plenty of cool shops, great restaurants, and some cool street art here as well.
Day 3: Explore the Nearby Outdoors
Sure, Vancouver is a fun city with lots to do. But part of the draw and charm of this coastal city is its proximity to mountains, trails, the ocean, and so much more. How you spend your day will depend on your interests and whether or not you have access to a vehicle or need to rely on public transportation, but here are a three awesome ideas:
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain
Both these places are two of Vancouver’s biggest attractions. They are relatively close to town, and great for anyone travelling with children. They are also quite close to each other, making it easy to combine to two in a single day trip.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park hangs 70m above the Capilano River and stretches 140m long. While it remains the biggest attraction, there are several other paths and trails though the area including the treetops adventure and cliffwalk.
Grouse Mountain offers stunning views via a cable car ride up the mountain. At the top, visitors can take in the Lumberjack Show, birds in motion demonstration, and get to see the mountain’s resident Grizzley bears, Grinder and Coola who were both orphaned cubs. There are various shows throughout the day to make sure to check the schedule ahead of time. Also on the mountain for an extra fee; helicopter rides, ziplining, tandem paragliding and more!
*If you are feeling up for a challenge, get up early and try the Grouse Grind, aka ‘Mother Nature’s stairmaster’.
There are free shuttles to both the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain. The shuttles leave from outside of Canada Place and operate on a first come first serve basis. Both areas are also accessible by public transit.
Whale Watching or Snorkeling/Kayaking with Seals
Being on the ocean, Vancouver has plenty of amazing sea life right at its doorstep. Perhaps the most popular activity is whale watching, where you can join a boat tour and head out into Howe Sound and the surrounding area looking for orcas. It’s not a guaranteed sighting, but your chances are pretty good.
Another awesome activity is to go snorkeling and kayaking with seals. Seadragon Charters offers this incredible experience to visitors to Vancouver, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is amazing. There are a couple of places where the seals congregate and we explored three of them. Two spots were for snorkeling (don’t worry, wetsuits are provided, and the third spot you can kayak or snorkel). The seals are curious creatures and, if you are quiet enough, will allow you to get quite close. During my visit in August, I was lucky enough to see a couple seal pups as well. An incredible experience that I highly recommend.
Both the whale watching and seal tours can book up quickly, so if it’s something you want to do make sure to book well in advance.
Road Trip to Vancouver via the Sea to Sky Highway
You really shouldn’t visit Vancouver without checking out Whistler as well. Less than two hours away by car, it’s a stunning and scenic drive with some great stops along the way. The sea to sky highway follows along the water and the mountains offering stunning views for the length of the trip.
Take a break in Squamish and take the Sea to Sky Gondola. The top of the mountain offers panoramic views, hiking trails, and a suspension bridge. It’s easy to spend a couple hours here.
Whistler is a cute ski village with plenty of shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities. The peak to peak gondola is probably the highlight here, though check the hours ahead of time because it shut down at 5pm when I visited in August.
If you have the time along the way, stop to check out Shannon Galls (just before Squamish) Brandywine Falls (closer to Whistler), and Lighthouse Park (Vancouver).
Food and Drink
Vancouver is an awesome city for foodies; you can get just about anything and everything you want. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice, whether you are more interested in grilled with or fresh sushi, you won’t be disappointed. There are a million and one food suggestions for this city, but these were my favourite finds.
Granville Island’s Public Market: I know I already mentioned it above, but the public market is an absolute must! Everything looked amazing but I can personally vouch for the pierogis. So good.
The Boathouse: Great seafood options ranging from fish and chips to salmon burgers to maple glazed salmon. There are two locations, one at Kitsilano Beach and another at English Bay. The Kits Beach location is a great sunset spot. Bonus: go during happy hour and try the Bellinis- they are delicious.
Trees Organic Coffee: This coffee shop piqued my interest when they advertised the best cheesecake in Vancouver. Needless to say, I needed to try, and it did not disappoint. It’s a pricey treat, but well worth it. Try the white chocolate raspberry.
*Note: When eating seafood try to stick to restaurants with the Ocean Wise labels. This means that the seafood served here is ethically caught from healthy fish populations.
Whether you are looking for a cool place to grab a drink with your friends, dance the night away, or go out for a laugh, Vancouver has a ton of options.
I’ll admit I’m not big into clubbing anymore, but if you want to check out the clubs, Yaletown, Davie Street, and Gastown will be the best areas to check out.
For a fun night out with friends, head to Craft Beer Market which has Canada’s largest selection of draft beer on tap; over 100.
If you’re out for a laugh, head to Granville Island’s TheatreSports League with nightly improve shows.
Or, if you’re up for something spooky, try one of the ghost tours. Vancouver has some creepy stories, so if you are brave enough, check them out with Ghostly Vancouver Tours.
Vancouver is an amazing city with so much to see and do both within the city itself and in the surrounding area. Three days won’t be enough to see and do it all, but it will give you a great taste of what this awesome Canadian city has to offer.
Huge thank you to Tourism Vancouver who provided me with a media pass during my stay.