Almost unexpectedly, Vancouver stole my heart. While I tend to enjoy pretty much everywhere I visit, my expectations for this glittering Canadian city were almost non-existent; yet I was immediately drawn in by its jaw-dropping scenery, its smiling, friendly locals, and the strange sense of familiarity that you feel, despite having never stepped foot in the country before. Vancouver is modern, vast, yet intimate, with its mountainous backdrop making you feel constantly as if you’re on a film set. Oh, and they’re big on coffee, too.
Although you could easily spend more than 6 days in the city, my trip to Vancouver was short but oh-so-sweet. From the best poutine spots to the most breath-taking views across BC (British Columbia), here is my complete, jam-packed itinerary to help you make the most of your time in Vancouver. And remember to pack trainers: you’re in for a whole lot of walking.
Special mention to my BFF and ex-Vancouver resident Gerard for helping me create this guide, and for showing me his Vancouver.
It goes without saying that Vancouver is pretty big. While Downtown Vancouver itself is actually fairly compact, and easily accessible by foot, you’ll find that the best way to get around is by bus or SkyTrain (their subway). When you land at Vancouver International Airport, your best bet is to jump on the Canada Line of their SkyTrain – make sure to buy a Compass Card at the ticket office! This pass will give you access to all public transport in the city, and can be loaded online. Say goodbye to pockets jingling with long-forgotten coins!
AREAS TO STAY
Vancouver is a mish-mash of different areas, each with their own quirks and communities. When searching for accommodation in the city, this can be overwhelming. How do you know which one to choose?! Here is my list of the top spots to stay in, and what you can expect to gain from each one.
West Point Grey
This would probably be considered a fairly niche place to stay, as it’s not within walking distance from the city centre. However, what it lacks in metropolitan buzz, West Point Grey makes up for in natural charm. Much of the area borders the Pacific Spirit Regional Park: a beautiful expanse of greenery that separates the university campus from the rest of Vancouver. The area itself is an embodiment of the Canadian Dream, with large, detached houses framing idyllic tree-lined streets.
Right next to West Point Grey is the slightly more cosmopolitan area of Kitsilano. Residential, yet also full of life, this area was one of my all-time-favourite spots in the city. From its picturesque beach to its endless stream of sushi bars, Kitsilano is the perfect hideaway from the inner-city madness of Downtown Vancouver. The bus links are also frequent and well-connected, meaning that the city centre is only a 25-minute journey away.
Yaletown & West End
Also known as Downtown Vancouver, this is the most popular spot for hotels and Airbnbs in the city – but is also the most expensive. If you love to find yourself in the heart of the action, then aim your search towards these two neighbouring areas, which are bursting at the seams with bars, clubs, and things to see. Think New York-esque yellow taxis and looming skyscrapers, made unique by the mountains which frame them.
Granville Island & Granville Public Market
Where better to kick off your week in Vancouver than with its most unique neighbourhood: Granville Island? Nestled just underneath Downtown Vancouver, this island is an old industrial port, which began its transformation in the 1970s. Today, the island is home to the city’s largest market, which is open 7 days a week, from 9am to 7pm. A creative’s paradise, Granville Island’s colourful buildings are decorated with street art, the buildings themselves housing exhibitions, comedy shows and live music.
For a perfect view of the city, head to the Ron Basford Park, or over to the Ferry Dock.
Get a boat from Granville Island to the David Lam Park
The Granville Island Ferry follows a number of different routes, leading passengers from the island over to the heart of the city. Each route is as beautiful as the last, and makes the perfect introduction into Downtown Vancouver. A single ticket from Granville Island to the David Lam Park is only $3.50, and is well worth the short trip.
Stroll through Yaletown
With its sky-high buildings and crisp, metallic architecture, Yaletown is often considered to be the centre of Vancouver. What makes Yaletown differ from many other North American cities, however, is the greenery: lush green parks can be found around every corner, with trees often lining the streets and avenues. Its proximity to the water makes a stroll through this neighbourhood relaxing and, impossibly, even more beautiful.
Stop off for coffee & cake @ Small Victory Bakery
1088 Homer St, Vancouver, BC, V6B 2W9
Vancouver is known, amongst many other things, for its love of coffee. Walking through almost any area of the city, your nostrils will be hit by the unmistakeable aroma of craft coffee and baked goods. Small Victory Bakery is the perfect place to rest your weary feet after a day of exploring Downtown Vancouver. With two coffee stores in the city, this small chain prides themselves on their freshly-baked bread and their artisan coffee.
Go for a boogie at Junction Pub
1138 Davie St, Vancouver, BC, V6E 4L7
One of the city’s liveliest gay bars, Junction Pub is the perfect place to end your first day in Vancouver. With its drag shows, DJ sets and pub quizzes, there is something for everyone at this bar; especially if all you’re looking for is a quick bop to some cheesy pop.
Wander down West 4th Avenue, Kitsilano
Away from the bustling crowds of Downtown Vancouver is West 4th Avenue: a wide, open street which runs through the heart of Kitsilano. Known primarily for its shopping and its coffee, West 4th is the perfect place to spend a lazy morning in the city. And with events like their Self-Care Day, their sense of community is palpable. It doesn’t take long to feel at home in this lively residential neighbourhood.
Grab a coffee @ Jitters Caffé
1966 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5
With its simplistic yet artsy interior, and its street-side outdoor decking, Jitters Caffé is the ideal place to take a mid-morning break from exploring. With their retro-style milkshakes and loaded toasties, you won’t go hungry, either. Once you’ve finished your coffee, make sure to sign your name on their wall: people from all over the world have come to enjoy a quick meal here, and left their mark! The friendly owner, Sam, makes the experience a truly local one.
Browse through the discs at Zulu Records
1972 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6J 1M5
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go far for your next stop in this itinerary; vintage record store Zulu Records is right next to Jitters, and boasts a huge collection of music from every genre you could imagine. Spread across two floors, it would take you hours to rummage through the organised chaos of Zulu’s displays. The store doubles also as a Community Centre, hosting live music events and other gatherings within the Kitsilano community.
Kitsilano Pool & Beach Park
Hanging just above the beach itself, Kitsilano Public Pool boasts one of the most unique views of the city. From the beach, to the mountains, to the iconic Downtown skyline, this is possibly the most picturesque public pool ever. If you don’t fancy braving the icy Canadian sea, this heated saltwater pool is ideal, even in the cooler summer weather that Canada is known for. Fun fact: it also happens to be Canada’s longest pool. Who knew? The pool is open from April to mid-September.
If you’re more of a beach bum, then Kitsilano Beach (or “Kits Beach” to locals) is just a stone’s throw away. With its nearby tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, this beach is popular with anyone who loves to be active.
Have dinner @ The Eatery
3431 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6R 2B4
Funky, fantastical, and downright weird, The Eatery was one of my favourite spots in the city. An Asian fusion/sushi bar, with wacky cocktails and even wackier décor, this restaurant also has an outdoor seating area spilling out onto the street. If you choose to sit inside, expect to be attacked by the many bits and bobs suspended from the walls and ceiling as you eat. Because where else could you be stared at by a one-eyed teddy bear as you tuck into your ura-maki?
Order brunch @ The Famous Warehouse
989 Granville St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L3
As the name suggests, this cosy, retro-style restaurant and bar is one of the most well-known places in the city for a hefty, hearty brunch. Its reasonable prices and generous portions make this spot a favourite with locals and tourists alike; it is also the perfect place for you to sample the infamous Canadian dish poutine. Not for the faint-hearted, poutine is a hot plate of fries coated in pepper, maple bacon, cheese curds and gravy. You might need a few hours to let it settle in your stomach before trekking your way across the city again; but it’s so worth it, I promise.
Warehouse is a Canada-wide chain. Take a look at their full list of locations here.
Vancouver Public Library
Only a ten-minute walk from The Famous Warehouse is the Vancouver Public Library. Recognised for its famously rounded architecture, and founded in 1869, this library is a must-see for any visiting bookworms. Hosting a range of events, classes, workshops and reading groups, the library acts also – like many spots in Vancouver – as a community hub.
Take a walk into Gastown
Another ten-minute walk from the library is Gastown: a unique little neighbourhood known for its whistling Steam Clock. Gastown is the oldest part of the city, and is recognised for its unusually-cobbled streets and Victorian architecture. Gastown is also quickly becoming the ‘stylish’ neighbourhood in the city, with tiny bars and boutiques popping up on every corner. For the fashion-conscious, this area is the best place to stumble across new looks and designers, or to take those essential ‘Insta-worthy’ pictures.
Take in the sights and sounds of Chinatown
Vancouver’s Asian influence is prominent throughout the entire city; but it is especially notable, of course, in its Chinatown. Only a five-minute walk south of Gastown, this bustling area transports you right into the heart of some of the most traditional Asian cities, with its endless trails of supermarkets, restaurants, and decorative architecture. In fact, Vancouver’s Chinatown is the third-biggest in North America, after New York and San Fransisco.
The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden is a haven amongst the madness, with trickling waterfalls and wild greenery. Make sure to stop off and enjoy its nature, whatever the weather! The garden is open seasonally, and costs $14 per person.
Stop off @ Matchstick Coffee Roasters
213 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6A 0B1
With its light wood panelling and its minimalistic décor, the focus of Matchstick Coffee Roasters is definitely on its artisan coffee. Offering also a huge selection of freshly-baked pastries, cakes and bread, you can often find students and freelancers here, soaking up the productive atmosphere. As explained by the founders themselves, Matchstick aims to “take an ordinary, commonplace moment, like getting your morning coffee, and a turn it into something that feels like more than just an errand.” And they’ve definitely achieved that goal!
Matchstick Coffee Roasters also boasts 4 other locations across Vancouver, which you can find here.
Dinner and drinks @ The Cambie Bar & Grill
300 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2N3
One of my favourite locations in the city, I was saddened to learn that The Cambie, Vancouver’s oldest bar, will actually be closing on 30th November 2019. On the bright side, if your trip happens to fall ahead of this extremely sad day, then make sure you spend at least one evening in The Cambie. With a hostel sitting just above the restaurant and bar, the place is filled with life and interesting people. Once you’ve finished eating in the outside space, make sure to stick around for a boogie; their dancefloor is renowned across the entire city.
Go hiking in Deep Cove
Canada is known for its stunning mountains and vast, shimmering lakes; although Vancouver is a city, the surrounding areas are known for their well-trodden hiking trails. North Vancouver is home to Deep Cove: a panoramic lakeside town which acts as a popular starting point for a range of hiking trails. We opted for the beginners’ path to Quarry Rock, following the Baden Powell trail – and the views were unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
Before setting off on your expedition, I would recommend hunting down a Stong’s Market (Vancouver’s answer to Tesco) and grabbing one of their ENORMOUS, well-stuffed sandwiches. It’ll keep you motivated during the uphill part of your hike, then keep you energised for the way back down.
The portside town of Deep Cove is worth a wander, also. Before you start your hike, check out Panorama Park: a waterside green space with a view across the mountains. From there, it’s only a short walk to the Baden Powell Trail Head.
For anyone who, like me, is not exactly a seasoned trekker, then have no fear: the trails are clearly marked the whole way through, and can be done wearing trainers, leggings, and a plain old T-shirt. No expensive hiking gear required. Whilst the beginning of the trail is fairy-tale-like, with tall trees, dappled sunlight, and babbling brooks, Quarry Rock itself is a breath of fresh air. With a stunningly clear view across Cosy Cove and all the way over to Downtown Vancouver, it’s hard to beat. Make sure to bring your camera!
Getting to Deep Cove is surprisingly uncomplicated, despite its distance from the city centre. From Downtown Vancouver, the journey takes just over an hour by bus, with a change-over at Phibbs Exchange. Starting from West Pender Street, bus number 210 will get you halfway, before jumping onto either the 211 or the 212 for the second leg of your journey.
Make sure to set aside an entire day for this hike. Trust me: you’ll be too shattered to do anything else!
Visit the Queen Elizabeth Park
The Queen Elizabeth Park is one of the most highly-visited spots in the city. A huge expanse of well-manicured gardens and floral displays, the park is home also to a Pitch & Putt, a range of sculptures from internationally-acclaimed artists, and a covered tropical garden.
This indoor garden is the Bloedel Conservatory, and contains a bright, colourful collection of more than 120 breeds of exotic bird and over 500 types of tropical trees and plants. While entry into the park itself is free, a ticket to the conservatory costs only $6.75.
When you step outside this indoor garden, you are greeted with yet another incredible view across Downtown Vancouver. Spend a while wandering around this viewing platform and taking in the beauty that the city has to offer.
Go thrift shopping at Value Village
1820 E Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V5L 1T2
A North American concept that still remains a total novelty to us in Europe is thrift shopping. While we have our tiny, maze-like vintage stores and flea markets, Europe has never experienced anything like Value Village. A superstore of second-hand clothes, you’re likely to find pretty much anything you’re looking for. Set aside a good few hours to rummage through their enormous selection of clothes; ice hockey sweatshirts are plentiful, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.
From the Queen Elizabeth Park, Value Village is a 10-minute journey on the SkyTrain’s Canada Line to Waterfront Station, then a short bus journey along East Hastings Street. Easy!
Take in the view at Creekside Park
If you haven’t yet had enough of the ridiculously beautiful views that Vancouver has to offer, then make sure to spend an evening wandering around Creekside Park. A waterside green space just South-East of Downtown, this park looks out onto the city, and is a well-known meeting point for runners, skateboarders and families. The child-friendly park has recently opened a new playground, making it an ideal spot for families to unwind after a day of exploring.
The park is also home to Science World: a museum with an in-built cinema and multiple exhibitions, whose unique glass dome protrudes into the bay. Ticket prices differ depending on the date and season. See the full calendar here.
Eat some more sushi @ Wild Sushi
4288 Dunbar St, Vancouver, BC V6S 2G1
A trip out to Wild Sushi in West Point Grey is the perfect spot for a relaxed, inexpensive lunch. This tiny, traditional sushi bar offers a huge list of noodles and sushi rice bowls, too. Their lunchtime menu also allows you to choose any two dishes for the measly price of $6.50, and is available from 11:30am to 2pm.
Stroll through the University of British Columbia campus
A short 20-minute bus journey will drop you in the heart of the UBC campus: one of the top-rated universities in Canada, and the oldest university in British Columbia. The campus itself is, as expected, extremely green, modern and clean, and is worth seeing in itself. The campus is situated on the coast, and is nestled into the heart of the Pacific Spirit Regional Park, making it a peaceful place to wander around.
Spend the afternoon at Wreck Beach
Be warned: while this beach is natural, wild, and downright beautiful, it is also a proudly-proclaimed ‘clothing optional’ beach. So if nudism makes you a little uncomfortable, then feel free to skip this particular activity – although you’d be missing out!
With a precariously steep set of steps leading down to the sand, through the thick forest of the National Park, Wreck Beach is well worth the clamber. A huge expanse of raw sand, dotted with driftwood, stretches along this West-facing shore, with a view out to the mysterious peaks of Vancouver Island. A hippie heaven, this beach is laid-back, entirely natural (in all senses!), and totally unspoilt by tourism.
Sample award-winning gelato @ Bella Gelateria
1001 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC V6C 0B7
Back in the city centre, no trip to Vancouver would be complete without a visit to Bella Gelateria. Ice cream for dinner is fine, right? Internationally recognised to be one of the best gelaterias in the world, a queue often snakes out from this old-fashioned, traditional ice cream shop. But don’t be fazed by the wait! With a rotating menu of flavours such as Chocolate Belgian Brownie and Organic Matcha Green Tea (amongst other, more traditional tastes), Bella Gelateria will have you coming back again and again. Its location right along the coastline makes this a perfect place to grab your ice cream to-go!
Check out the entire list of flavours here.
Watch the sunset from Canada Place
Where better to spend your final evening in the city than Canada Place? The pier is an iconic landmark which juts out into the sea, giving you a perfect view back across the Downtown skyline. Used originally as a harbour for cruise ships and other commercial boats, the unusual architecture of this museum-slash-convention centre makes the perfect backdrop for you to sit back and watch the sun go down.
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