I only got to spend 2 days in Vancouver, but they were two of my favourite days of the year! I love city breaks, beach days and getting back to nature – and Vancouver gave me the opportunity to do all 3 in one. Here’s how I would spend a perfect day in Vancouver, BC.
9am: Take a tour of Granville Island
Granville Island, to the South West of Vancouver, is a great place to start the day: it’s vibrant and friendly atmosphere is incredibly welcoming and the island can be less crowded than the city itself (especially early in the morning). Aside from the great brewery, and lots of boat rental opportunities – the main draw of the island is the Granville Island Public Market. Selling everything from so-fresh-it’s-practically-still-alive seafood, to hand-crafted ceramics, to some of the best jams and preserves you will ever eat; Granville market is a haven for anyone who loves good food or good art. It’s hardly the cheapest option (and I could never afford to do my weekly grocery shop here) but the quality is amazing and because of a rotating schedule of vendors there is always something unexpected and new to find inside.
10:30am: Get on your bike in Stanley Park
One of my favourite things about Vancouver is how bike-friendly it is. In fact, it’s rare to see a road that doesn’t have a cycle path alongside it, so really there is no better way to see the city! We took a fairly long route on our bikes: starting in Yaletown and travelling most of the way around Vancouver Island. Along the way we passed English Bay Beach, cut through Stanley Park, visited Coal Harbour and the Lost Lagoon and went as far as the convention centre before heading back. Because the whole city is so bike accessible you can really make your ride as long or short as you like. Whichever route you take, make sure to visit the First Nation totem poles at Brockton Point, as well as the ‘girl in a wetsuit’ sculpture just out in the water at the North of the park.
1:30pm: Carboload at Smoke’s Poutinerie
I thought Philadelphian’s were argumentative about the best cheesesteak, but Canadian opinions on where to get the best poutine are something else entirely. If you haven’t tried poutine yet: where have you been? It’s the classic Northern combo of chips, cheese and gravy on steroids; made with creamy cheese curds, rich salty gravy and perfectly cooked, crispy fries. In my opinion, it is the best way to refuel after any form of exercise, but especially after a lengthy beachfront bike ride. I only got to try poutine from one place, so I am hardly an expert, but I thought Smoke’s was absolutely delicious. Although you can’t go wrong with a classic, Smoke’s also offers a wide range of toppings. Why not add bacon, mushrooms or pulled pork to make your poutine extra unhealthy and extra delicious!
3:00pm: Face your fears at the Capilano Suspension Bridge
Maybe an adrenaline rush isn’t the best idea right after a massive box of poutine, but the Capilano suspension bridge (although a little on the pricey side) is a really cool and unique Vancouver attraction. Dangling 70m above the Capilano river, this simple suspension bridge offers incredible views over the trees and the river below and let’s you feel very close to nature. Also included in the admission price is the new ‘cliff walk’ attraction, plus the park offers a unique view into the First Nation history of the area: you can even see authentic First Nation performances involving song, dance and storytelling in traditional regalia.
4:30pm: Get some culture at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Ready for something a little more relaxing and laidback? Then make your next stop a slow stroll around the Vancouver Art Gallery, and get ready soak up a little more culture. Built in a former provincial courthouse, the VAG (yes, that’s really how it known) is home to more than 11,000 works of art including an amazing photography collection spanning decades. The European collection is also worth a visit, as are the ever-changing exhibitions. At the time of writing, current exhibitions include Pacific Crossings; focussing on the thousands of Hong Kong natives who emigrated to Canada in the lead-up to Hong Kong being handed from UK sovereignity to mainland China.
6:30pm: Watch the sunset at English Bay Beach
I still maintain the opinion that the Pacific North West has some of the best sunsets in history, and Vancouver only strengthened that argument. Check sunset times on your weather app, head down to English Bay Beach and settle in to watch the sunset with some D’Oro gelato. Pro-tip: get three mini scoops for the price of one big scoop if you can’t decide on a flavour – I went for apple, pistacho and Ferrero Rocher. Delicious!
8:00pm: Fill your boots at the Alibi Room
You really can’t visit Vancouver without going to Gastown: the home of Vancouver’s first saloon now plays host to the steam clock, streets lined with old-fashioned gas lamps, hundreds of fairy lights, and some of British Columbia’s best bars and restaurants. Gastown was one of my favourite neighbourhoods to visit and my top recommendation would have to be the Alibi Room on Alexander Street. They have an eclectic food menu selling a range of fresh and tasty dishes (try the pork belly and kimchi ‘samwich’) and a beer menu long enough to baffle any novice drinkers. Don’t worry, the staff are incredibly knowledgeable: tell them what kind of beer you like and they will bring you a flight of small beers for you to try so you can decide which you like. My favourite was the Brassneck ‘hibiscus wit’ beer, which I would definitely buy again!
10:00pm: Keep the drinks flowing at the Union
Now, I have drank a fair amount of cocktails in my time, but the ones at the Union have to be some of the best I have ever tasted. This tiny industrial restaurant sells some incredible pan-Asian food, but it’s the drinks menu that is really unmissable. Try the bangas (from the Filipino word for jar) which come in 5 varieties: #4 is definitely my favourite but they are all delicious. All of the bangas cocktails have a really complex blend of sweet, sour, savoury, salty and spicy that just works and is a nice change from bars throwing fruit juice and vodka in a glass and calling it a cocktail. Banga #4 – a refreshing mix of cardamom cahaça, pineapple, cilantro, chilli water and lime – is the perfect way to cap off an amazing but exhausting day.
Did I miss anything important? Let me know your favourite Vancouver destinations in the comments!