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One of the first big overseas trips that I paid for myself and embarked on without family was my trip to Vancouver, Whistler and the Canadian Rockies. This was almost 15 years ago, and to this day remains one of my most memorable holidays and most highly recommended destinations. With its natural beauty, friendly and helpful locals, delicious food and amazingly fresh seafood, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t love Vancouver and indeed Canada as a whole. Here are some of the great things you can expect to enjoy on your trip to Vancouver and its surrounds.
As mentioned above, the seafood in this part of the world is extremely fresh and tasty. Add to that the cosmopolitan nature of the city, and you’ll soon realise that you’re spoilt for choice here with regards to the range of cuisines available. I especially enjoyed the Japanese food here. Dining recommendations (and these come from a good friend of mine who lived in Vancouver for some time!) include:
–Bluewater Cafe for delicious fresh seafood and impeccable service (I know because my friend had her wedding reception here); 1095 Hamilton Street (@ Helmcken), Yaletown, phone: 604 688 8078
–West for beautifully presented contemporary fine dining sourced from regional and seasonal produce; 2881 Granville Street (@ 13th), Vancouver, phone: 604 738 8938
–Japadog for (you guessed it!) Japanese-inspired hot dogs including flavours such as tonkatsu, terimayo and the enigmatically named “Love Meat”; 530 Robson Street, Vancouver (the original!), phone: 604 569 1158
–Tojo’s for Japanese fine dining; 1133 West Broadway, Vancouver, phone: 604 872 8050
–Vij’s for tasty and innovative Indian cuisine; 3106 Cambie Street, Vancouver, phone: 604 736 6664
–Cactus Club Cafe if you’re after a child-friendly cafe with an extensive menu to suit all tastes; 588 Burrard St, Vancouver (one of several venues), phone: 604 682 6175
2. Maple everything
In a similar vein to above, you’re in Canada, so be sure to indulge in maple syrup in all its forms and guises. Not only can you get it poured over pancakes or waffles, there’s also maple syrup ice-cream, maple cookies, maple syrup candy, maple fudge, maple chocolate, maple syrup hot chocolate, and more! Here are some places to taste and stock up on Canada’s liquid gold:
–Delices Erable et Cie, 385 Water St, Vancouver, phone: 604 682 6175
–Pappa Roti for their signature bun infused with maple syrup; 1505 Robson Street, Vancouver, phone: 604 336 2867
–Bella Gelateria – enjoy with a drizzle of maple syrup; 1001 West Cordova Street, Vancouver, phone: 604 569 1010
3. Conquer the Grouse Grind
Hike the 2830 stairs up Grouse Mountain, enjoy the lumberjack show and birds of prey demonstration at the peak, then savour the views over Vancouver as you take the chairlift back down. This is an at least half day excursion, with the climb itself taking anywhere between about 30-120 minutes depending on your fitness level. For those short of time, you can also the chairlift up…but where’s the fun in that, seriously?
Read more about the Grouse Grind here.
4. Take a walk on the wild side at Capilano Suspension Bridge
After 2 visits to Vancouver, this is still on my to-do list. This 140m long bridge is suspended 70m above the Capilano River north of Vancouver, on the way to Grouse Mountain. In fact, Grouse Mountain is just a 3.6km drive further north than the bridge, which means that you could tick both of these attractions off in one day if you have your own set of wheels and if you take the chairlift both up and down Grouse Mountain.
Aside from the thrill of walking across the longest and highest suspension footbridge in the world, the park also offers a treetop boardwalk and a cliff walk. Tamer activities include observing local carvers, beaders and weavers at work, listening to stories by costumed guides, and watching traditional song and dance performances.
3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver, phone: 604 985 7474
Opening hours variable throughout the year, but generally 9am-dusk , closed 25 December, check the website for specific opening hours
Admission includes all park attractions and costs $42.95 for adults 18-64, $38.95 for seniors 65+, $33.95 for students 17+ with valid ID, $26.95 for youth 13-16, $14.95 for children 6-12, and free for kids <6
Good to know:
-There is a free shuttle service from several locations in downtown Vancouver
-Strollers and wheelchairs are not permitted on the attractions, however visitors in wheelchairs or crutches receive complimentary admission to the park
-Drones and selfie sticks are also not permitted
-There is free WiFi in the park!
-More information is available at the official website.
5. Visit Vancouver Island
This is a fun day trip that you could do on your own by driving your own set of wheels onto the B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, or just join a coach tour like this one. Either way, make sure you:
-Take a stroll or a horse and carriage ride around Victoria Harbour
-Stop to admire the Parliament Buildings, the totem poles outside the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the ivy clad facade of the Empress Hotel
-If time permits, visit the museum or take afternoon tea at the hotel
-Visit the world famous Butchart Garden
-If you’re there for a few days, you might like to rent a car and explore more of the island, which I hear is stunning in its rugged natural beauty, but have yet had the pleasure of experiencing myself as I’ve only been to Vancouver Island on day trips
6. Relax in Stanley Park
Stanley Park holds a special place in my heart because this is where one of my best friends got married, and I was privileged to be a part of her special day. Whether you’re there for a special occasion, or just for some fresh air, there’s something for everyone here, from waterfront strolls with spectacular views towards the city, forest walks (look out for squirrels!), a rose garden, children’s water park, the Vancouver Aquarium, and several fine dining establishments.
7. Learn more about First Nations culture at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology
When I visited this museum the first time I went to Vancouver, it was winter, cold and dense with fog. However, this only added to the otherworldly beauty of the natural surroundings in which the museum is set, as well as heightening the air of mystery around the tales of local folklore that you will read about there. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the giant sculpture depicting the Raven enticing the First Men to leave the giant clamshell and come out into the world.
6393 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, phone: 604 822 5087 (24hrs, recorded message) or 604 827 5932 (Monday-Friday, reception)
Opening hours 10am-5pm daily, to 9pm Thursdays, closed Mondays from Oct 15-May 15
Admission costs $19 for adults 18-64, $16 for students and seniors 65+, $47 for a family of 2 adults and 1-4 children 18 and under, $10 Thursday evenings 5-9pm, and free for kids 6 and under
Good to know:
-It’s situated about 20 minutes by car from downtown Vancouver, and 30-35 minutes by bus
-From Vancouver City Centre, take a bus to the UBC Exchange, and from there, either take the C18 (faster) or C20 (scenic) campus shuttle bus, or walk 10 minutes north to the museum – check the translink website to plan your journey
-If driving, parking is available in front of the museum and costs $3.50/hour
-There is a cafe that’s open 10am-4.30pm daily, 10.30am-2.30pm Mondays
8. Go skiing
If you’re there in the winter and short of time, Grouse Mountain is just 20 minutes by car from downtown Vancouver.
If you have more time up your sleeves, head to Whistler for a few days. It’s just 1.5 hours away by car or 2.5 hours by Greyhound bus, with return fares from as low as $54. The drive there is an adventure in itself, as the scenery is spectacular. Once you get there, you have a choice between staying at either Whistler or Blackcomb Mountain. Whichever peak you choose to stay at, you can ski and/or snowboard at both. Other fun winter activities include dog sledding, snow shoeing and snowmobiling. I learned to ski over 3 days at Whistler, and it was fantastic as they limit the group lessons to no more than 4 people per instructor.
9. Gateway to the Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies are stunning, regardless of whether you choose to visit in the summer or winter. Having experienced both seasons, my personal pick would be winter. If you ask me, there’s something magical about being surrounded by a soft white powdery blanket and walking on frozen over Lake Louise. If you have around a week to spare, I highly recommend making this side trip, for which you have several options. For example, the first time (winter) I travelled by Greyhound bus from Vancouver to Kelowna, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, and back to Vancouver. The second time (summer), I travelled in reverse, taking the scenic overnight sleeper train from Vancouver to Jasper, from where we picked up a rental car and drove on to Lake Louise, Banff, Whistler, and back to Vancouver.
Read more about visiting the Canadian Rockies in winter here.
10. Go to market at Granville Island
The little rainbow coloured boat that takes you to Granville Island is super cute, and if the bright colours aren’t enough to get you in a good mood, there’s always a brewery, beautiful produce and gourmet food items at the Granville Island Public Market, unique souvenir shops, and a Kids Market with clowns, magicians and fun toy stores!
Good to know:
-The Aquabus costs from $3.50-5.50 one way for adults (pay as your board), and runs every 5-15 minutes from 7am-10.30pm in the summer, to 8.30pm in the winter – check the website for specific schedules and costs
-The Public Market is open 9am-7pm daily
-The Kids Market is open 10am-6pm daily
-Check out the Granville Island website’s awesome trip planner!
11. Check the time at Gastown
Cobblestoned Gastown, with its Victorian architecture and vintage lamp posts, is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. Head there for souvenir shops, trendy boutiques featuring local designers, art galleries, a buzzing food scene, and of course, the famous Steam Clock that puffs every hour.
12. Educational fun at Science World
I haven’t been to Science World myself, but have included it in this list because my brother is heading to Vancouver soon and I know that they’ll be looking for kid-friendly activities for my nieces. Featuring an optical illusions gallery, an exhibit about the human body, a hands-on area exploring scientific themes such as air and motion, and a life-size cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex, I know that the girls will be kept suitably entertained.
1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver, phone: 604 443 7440
Opening hours variable throughout the year, but generally 10am-5pm weekdays and to 6pm weekends, check the website for specific opening hours
Admission costs $26.75 for adults 10+, $22 for students, youth 13-18 and seniors 65+, $18.75 for children 3-12, and free for kids under 3
Over to you. What are you favourite things to see, do and eat in and around Vancouver? In particular, what kid -friendly suggestions can you share?
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Going on a trip and are unsure what to see? Check out my detailed practical travel guides which include transport, things to do and main attractions!
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