The fresh mountain air, the stunning waterfront location, and the wide variety of Asian food makes Vancouver one of my favorite cities hands down. I’m a huge fan of neighboring Pacific Northwest cities like Seattle and Portland, but there’s something extra magical about Vancouver. Our first morning we were walking back to our car from breakfast and I looked down the street, and could see snow-capped mountains rising up in the distance. There’s definitely something alluring about the city that makes it easy to fall in love with it. Here’s a complete 2-day Vancouver itinerary that will give you a solid introduction to this stunning city.
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Getting around Vancouver
Public transportation is easy and extensive in Vancouver. The Translink system includes the SkyTrain (light rail) that you can take from the airport to downtown and other central locations within the city. There are also buses, SeaBus ferries that run until the early morning. Day passes are available for the entire public transportation system and start at $10.25 (7.85 USD). The layout of Vancouver is pretty straight-forward since it’s on a grid, so navigating shouldn’t be too hard if you decide to rent a car, but the traffic can be a pain. In terms of ride share companies like Uber and Lyft, they don’t exist as of now, but there are plentiful taxis around town.
Best time to visit Vancouver
Vancouver impresses any time of the year, but there is something extra special about summer in the Pacific Northwest. The mild weather is ideal to enjoying outdoor activities without having to battle the cold and the rain. Though don’t expect it to reach above 70 degrees F in the summer, and bring a raincoat since it can drizzle during the warmer months. Winter in Vancouver has it own highlights, especially if you’re looking to hit the slopes. Vancouver has top-notch resorts near the city, including Grouse Mountain, which is only 20 minutes from downtown. There are also plenty of winter activities in the city itself, including a free ice skating rink at Robson Square.
Where To Stay In Vancouver
Staying in downtown Vancouver makes a great central jumping off point to see the city. Here are some mid-range to luxury options that put you right in the heart of the action.
A reasonably priced choice that serves as a quiet retreat in the middle of the city. The location is heard to beat, being on Granville Street, with plentiful dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Amenities include an on-site restaurant/bar, newly renovated rooms, and balconies with scenic views of the downtown area.
This 1950s motor motel-turned-retro boutique hotel is the perfect basecamp for exploring the city. Amenities include pet-friendly rooms, free cruiser bike rentals, and a relaxing courtyard for lounging or playing a game of ping pong. Dining options on the property include a cafe as well as a separate full-service restaurant.
A centrally located art deco hotel that doesn’t skimp on the amenities, from a full-service spa including an indoor pool to a restaurant and bar/lounge. Popular sights like the Granville Island Public Market and Canada Place are both just over a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
Starting your day out with a bike ride around this expansive city park is a great introduction to the city. We rented a bike from nearby Denman Street (we got inexpensive bike rentals from Owl Bike). At the end of the street, there’s English Bay Beach, where you can enter the seawall and spend a few hours zipping around this popular path, inhaling the waterfront views and pinching yourselves in disbelief. There are many worthwhile stopping points along the seawall loop, including Brockton Point Totem Pole, Second Beach and Third Beach, and if it’s a warm day make sure to pack your suit for an obligatory dip at one of the beaches.
Spend the afternoon walking around this bustling, revitalized industrial area, where you can browse produce booths, buy vacuum-sealed salmon, and get lunch at the Public Market. Afterward, wander around the side streets and check out the galleries and shops. The island has a large art community, and there are independent galleries everywhere, so be sure to check those out as well. Granville Island is a great rainy day activity, since the market and shops are all indoors. For a scenic ride across the water, take the Aquabus to the island.
Head to this hidden beach located next to the University of British Columbia (UBC) an hour or so before sunset and witness one of the best show’s nature has to offer. There is a steep wooden staircase that leads down to the beach, so it’s a bit of a hike. It’s a well-known nude beach, but don’t let that deter you, because the views are worth it. Plus there’s room for everyone. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience one of the famous drum circles.
Lynn Cannon Park
Capistrano Suspension Bridge is a landmark of Vancouver, but I found the Lynn Cannon suspension bridge a satisfying free alternative. It is located in a park in North Vancouver, literally right next to a residential neighborhood, and is very easy to access. The bridge is a bit smaller than its more famous counterpart, but still made my knees fell like jelly. Once you cross the bridge, the park itself has many scenic hiking trails that are worth checking out. A huge bonus is that there are usually not as many tourists on the bridge itself in comparison to its more well-known counterpart.
Spend the afternoon wandering around downtown, including Canada Place, an iconic building with panoramic waterfront views of the city. Head next door to check out the Digital Orca, and get front row seating to watch the seaplanes take off and land near the Dockside Cafe. Continue on to the Seawall Water Walk, a swath of green near the water that allows for spectacular views and serves as a peaceful respite from the bustle of the city. If you have a thing for libraries, the beautiful Vancouver Public Library (Central Branch) that is modeled after the Roman Coliseum, is worth checking out if you are in the area. Make sure not to miss the public rooftop garden on the 9th floor that offers some of downtown’s best views.
For your last evening, walk around one of the city’s prettiest streets, which is the oldest commercial neighborhood and is known for its Victorian homes and cobblestone streets. This lively area offers restaurants, coffee shops, and shops selling every souvenir you could imagine . If you want to stock up on all things maple, make sure to stop by the Hudson House Trading Company for sweet treats, and other reasonably priced memorabilia. Make sure to stop by the iconic whistling Steam Clock, which is electric-powered, but blows steam and whistles every 15-minutes.
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