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Vancouver main min

Vancouver travel guide: What to do, where to go and what to eat in Canadian city

Author: Nicole Carmichael

Published on:

Vancouver really is a breath of fresh air, from its picture-perfect vistas and snowcapped mountains to its lush forests and the ocean on its doorstep.

Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, is British Columbia’s biggest city. It's the gateway to the glaciers of Alaska, the stunning landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and the famous ski slopes of Whistler.

Named after British naval officer George Vancouver, who charted the region in the 1790s, the city began as a humble logging outpost.

But life really got going in the 1860s, when a garrulous Yorkshire-born sailor known as ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton made a bargain with local sawmill workers: if they built him a bar, he’d repay them with all the whisky they could drink in one sitting. The job was done and the local population quickly grew (the nearest alternative drinking den being 25 miles away).

Today’s Vancouver, with its combination of urban buzz and green space, a Pacific coastline and a mountain backdrop, is regularly voted the world’s most desirable city to live in.

And there’s a host of delights waiting for cruise visitors, too. In terms of what you can see and do there, Vancouver feels like the best bits of New York, Chicago and San Francisco rolled into one very accessible city. May to September is the best time to visit – unless you like to ski – with the later months being particularly beautiful for autumn colour.

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What to do in Vancouver

Stanley Park

If you have time to visit just one place in Vancouver, hire a bike from Downtown or stroll along the pathway that runs by the sea wall to this gorgeous green oasis.

Here you can lose yourself among more than 100 acres of rainforest, marshland and beaches, and test your mettle on the Capilano suspension bridge – a slender steel walkway, strung high in the air across a 70-metre drop. The Treetops Adventure trail and cliff walk will also test any bridge-phobics to the absolute limit.

For a more grounded experience, there’s the hugely popular Vancouver Aquarium, a golf course, tennis courts, botanical gardens and seemingly limitless places for wildlife-watching and Insta-posting. You can also discover the stories of Vancouver’s indigenous people through the park’s striking collection of totem poles.

Stanley Park min
Vancouver: At Stanley Park you can lose yourself among more than 100 acres of rainforest, marshland and beaches.

Gastown

Home of the famous Steam Clock that marks every quarter-hour with a blast of vapour – as well as a quirky statue of ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, the legendary 19th-century barkeeper after whom the area is named – Gastown is a hive of things to see and do.

Not unlike London’s Covent Garden, this buzzy neighbourhood is a national historic site and a magnet for visitors. Chock-full of restaurants, chic independent boutiques and galleries, it’s a great place to mosey around and enjoy perhaps the best flat white in the world (coffee is almost a religion here).

There are record shops for vinyl fans, no end of bookshops to browse in, and many examples of curiously wedge-shaped architecture to rival the more famous Flatiron building in New York.

Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Vancouver has a huge Asian population, and Chinatown – designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2010 – is a major part of the city. The jewel in its crown is the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first of its kind to be created outside China.

Opened in the 1980s and built in the style of a Ming dynasty scholar’s garden, it incorporates all that you would expect to see, and so much more – including a beautiful pagoda, bonsai trees, lotus leaf ponds and the most exquisite classical planting.

Gastwon clock min
Vancouver: Gastown is home of the famous Steam Clock

What to see in Vancouver

Vancouver Lookout

Part of the Harbor Centre complex, this 551ft tower offers a stunning 360-degree panorama, accessed via a glass elevator ride. Smack in the middle of the CBD, the Lookout is easy to reach if you’re on a tight schedule.

But it’s not the highest view of the city – that honour goes to Queen Elizabeth Park on Little Mountain, an area of former gravel pits now reclaimed as beautiful gardens. Alternatively, the viewing pod at the Eye of the Wind on Grouse Mountain offers an all-round view of the city from a landmark wind turbine.

Lions Gate Bridge

Opened in 1938, this graceful suspension bridge – not unlike San Francisco’s Golden Gate – was built by the Guinness brewing family to connect the city of Vancouver with the North Shore, a distance of more than a mile.

Named after nearby twin mountain peaks and guarded by a pair of sculpted lions, the bridge has a separate pedestrian deck, so those with a taste for great views (and a head for heights) can stroll across in safety.

Granville market min
Vancouver: Granville Market majors on maple syrup, with sublime doughnuts, pastries and even maple-candied smoked salmon.

What to eat in Vancouver

Granville Market

Vancouver is Canada’s culinary capital, and there’s no better way to savour the flavour than by riding the ferry across to Granville Island. A fixture on the foodie map, Granville Market majors on maple syrup, with sublime doughnuts, pastries and even maple-candied smoked salmon.

You’ll also find artisan chocolate, locally roasted coffee beans and craft beers, plus superb sushi. Vancouver is renowned for its seafood, and the place to try it is Bridges Bistro on the island’s western tip (the views are pretty sensational too). granvilleisland.com bridgesrestaurant.com

Botanist

If you really want to push the boat out, head for this critically acclaimed restaurant at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

Listed by the gastro website World’s 50 Best, Botanist is not cheap – but then Vancouver, on the whole, is on the pricey side, and whether you’re dropping in for a sophisticated brunch ($68 for three courses) or the ‘We’ll Take it From Here’ tasting menu ($118 per person without wine), you can be confident that you’re enjoying the cream of Canadian cuisine. botanistrestaurant.com

The Botanist Restaurant in Vancouver Canada by Ste Marie Yellowtrace 01 min
Vancouver: Botanist is a critically acclaimed restaurant but isn't cheap!

What to buy in Vancouver

Lululemon

If you’re a keen gym bunny, you’ll already be familiar with this ultra-chic sportswear brand. But did you know that Vancouver is the home of lululemon?

While you’re here, you might like to jog along to the original downtown shop, opened in 2000, for the latest looks in everything from golf to yoga wear – including, of course, every colour and style of the company’s legendary leggings. After all, if you’re going to hike through the Treetop trails in Stanley Park or join the locals on the Seawall path, you’ll want to look the part.

Old Faithful

Housed in a landmark building in Gastown, renowned home shop Old Faithful is a pleasure just to walk around. But if you’re into great design, you’ll want to buy absolutely everything, as there isn’t a single item that isn’t beautifully made and carefully chosen – from hand-crafted Swedish utility wear to the most stylish electric kettles you’ve ever seen.

Puzzled by the name? The company’s ethos is that everything they sell will become a treasured possession that you’ll want to keep forever.

Old faithful shop min
Vancouver: Old Faithful is a renowned home shop that's a pleasure just to walk around.

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