Visited: January 2015
Nestled between gorgeous mountain ranges and sea, home to some of the best ethnic food in North America, where dense green forests and snowy mountains can both visited on the same day; Vancouver, British Columbia is much more than a place to stop over.
The city is bursting with immigrant communities, each with their own unique history to explore. You can enjoy a limitless array of shops, restaurants, and bars before taking advantage of the countless outdoor options. Vancouver is fun, outgoing and romantic. Whether travelling alone or with a partner, Vancouver is a memorable destination.
Know Before You Go:
It is Easy to Get Around: On foot or using the bus. Day tickets or a re-loadable compass card can be bought from the stations.
Navigating: The city of Vancouver is divided into many neighborhoods. North/East Vancouver, Chinatown, Gastown, Downtown, Westend…knowing where these neighborhoods are will help you navigate better if you get directions from a local.
Pack: An umbrella (just in case!), comfortable shoes for wet weather as well as hiking trails. Dress comfortably and warm- this is a seaside and mountain range city. We visited in the off season, the rainy season, so we ended up buying umbrellas, but they’ve been great souvenirs all these years!
Where We Stayed
We stayed outside the city center to save money as hotels in Downtown are ridiculously high. The Days Inn is conveniently located near a major road and 3 bus routes, so getting around the city was wonderfully easy. It is also walking distance to many local Asian Restaurants, a pharmacy, and dollar stores were all right next door for emergencies.
The room was cozy and clean with a beautiful garden to enjoy in the center. There is a nice breakfast eating room with the standard continental breakfast fair. Nothing fancy.
Our one negative takeaway was the “free” WiFi. On our second night, we decided to stream videos on our iPad and the hotel cut our WiFi off after 2 hours. We went to ask and they said that we were using up all the bandwidth and if we wanted it back on, we would have to pay a high energy fee for the next 24 hrs. We did not.
What We Saw:
Stanley Park and the Sea Wall
Stanley Park, one of the world’s largest urban parks is located in between Coal Harbor and Sunset Beach. Walking along the seawall is easily one of the top things to do in Vancouver for nearly a century. If you walk around the outer edge, it’s around 9km from one end to the other, walking past beaches and you might see seals or even grey whales!
There are also many inland walking routes through the park, appearing out onto rose gardens, lakes and monuments. If it’s a rainy day, you can go to the Vancouver Aquarium located in the park.
I highly recommend you go very early. Grab your coffee and take a walk through the park pathways. We LOVED Beaver Lake early morning with the mist and ducks just enjoying the quiet. Then, head to the parks perimeter and walk along the seawall for awhile taking snapshots and looking for sea-life; then back inside the park to the Aquarium. Or make your way to the end of the park to the tea house for lunch.
Stanley Park is a must do in Vancouver to spend a whole day, a few hours or even just a drive through. It really is a beautiful, special place.
The one stop I was looking forward to the most is a visit to Jericho Beach. I heard that if you take the walking path all the way towards Jericho Pier – next to the Jericho Sailing Centre – and the Jericho Beach concession stand you will find a bunny burrow!
I LOVE rabbits and this was the highlight of my day. The rabbits, while officially considered wild, are docile and friendly, they will come right up to you for pets. While you are not allowed to feed them, we saw a few people come with scraps from their kitchen to the delight of the bunnies.
A natural pedestrian mall, this part of the city looks and feels entirely different. The cobblestone roads, brick buildings, and tree lined streets are worth the visit alone. However, Gastown boasts some of the cities most fantastic bars, coffee shops and, restaurants. Spend an evening walking along Water Street and end the day with a fantastic meal at one of the restaurants or grab a nightcap at a piano bar.
You will find that Gastown is touristy and local at the same time, everyone enjoys this neighborhood so don’t avoid it if you are looking for an authentic Canadian experience. There is a small, not very old steam clock and you’ll see hoards of people taking it’s picture. It’s really not that exciting but it’s somehow become a Vancouver landmark and is kind of fun to see it spout steam.
Something new about Vancouver that I learned was it’s rich history with Chinese immigrants. Even today, Vancouver is home to North America’s third largest Chinatown. Walk through the colorful area and you’ll see street signs and shop names in Chinese, shops bursting with all sorts of lanterns and knik-knacks, elaborate street lamps, and an abundance of foods for sale in sidewalk stalls.
There are several things you should do when visiting Chinatown.
- Try a steamed bun at one of many Chinese bakeries.
- Take a walk down Shanghai Alley to learn about how Chinese communities developed, struggled, and then thrived.
- Spend some time in Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first garden of its kind to be built outside of China! The garden was built using traditional techniques and materials.
West Vancouver & Lighthouse Park
Just over Lion’s Gate Bridge in West Vancouver is Lighthouse Park. This park offers some nice trails to hike to up to four viewpoints. Here you can enjoy magnificent views looking back at Vancouver, seeing coastal islands, boats, birds, the sunset, and maybe even some whales! The trails from point to point are through the forest but easy.
Things to Know: There is a restroom at the end of Beacon Lane. Some points are blocked off and you can no longer go down to the lighthouse.
Across the water in North Vancouver is a treasure trove of activities, fabulous hiking spots and glorious views. We spent our day hiking around Lynn Canyon as it less touristy than the Capilano suspension bridge; plus Lynn Canyon’s suspension bridge is free, unlike the other that charges $32 just to cross+ $5 to park!
The park is a beautiful lush green all year long with boarded walkways and stairways that lead you through the park. This is one of the things I love about Vancouver, it’s easy to go from the downtown city one minute to what feels like the middle of nowhere the next.
There is an Ecology center nearby the entrance. It has an informative display of flora and fauna and a Kid’s Exploratorium. Rest up, use the restroom and learn more about Lynn Canyon.
Where We Ate
The Crab Shop
Based on a few reviews we tried The Crab Shop since we were going to be be North Vancouver all day. We were not mistaken. It is possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had besides the ones I had in Scotland. It’s a lovely hole-in-the-wall set up where they sell seafood wholesale as well as their crab shack delights. The place is nothing fancy with nice men running the shop. While you eat you can watch the water or the live sea animals in their tanks.
I know, it is a chain store like Starbucks, but it’s a Canadian staple and I have never been there before. Lines out the door also can’t be wrong.
Plus, Hortons is cheap! Our two coffees, a cinnamon-raisin bagel, and oatmeal was all under $8. Not a bad way to start to our day.
New Town Bakery & Restaurant
In Chinatown we stopped at New Town Bakery & Restaurant for a snack. They had so many steamed buns and full meals to choose from. I LOVED the dim sum.
Canra Sri-Lankan Plus
Located in the International Village Mall, we stumbled upon this place looking for lunch after a long day. While I do not recommend the mall itself, it is widely empty except for the food court. If you love Indian or Sri Lanken food, this place is very good! Serving curries, roti, dosas, and a variety of biryani, fill up your tummy with warm and spicy foods after a long day outside.
Another chain, but also highly recommended by some local Canadians. If you want fast, made to order, and fresh, then the Pita Pit is just the right. For the right price too. After a very long day driving and playing in the show visiting Whistler, we just wanted to relax in the hotel and crash.
Someone recommended the Pita Pit as healthy and fast which is exactly what we needed after a few days of fried fish and heavy Indian dishes. Now, we recommend it!
View all destinations on my Pacific Northwest Road trip