Vancouver is an incredible city. Glassy, modern skyscrapers dominate its dense downtown, yet the many distinct neighborhoods retain their charm. Surrounded by water, you are never too far away from a salty breeze or a nice stretch of beach. Vancouver also boasts the largest urban park in North America, giving it a wonderful outdoorsy feel. While you would need a lot longer than two days to really get a feel for the place, these are some ideas to make the most of your time.
With 2.5 million people in the metro area, Vancouver is the most densely populated city in Canada and the 4th in North America. Despite all those people, it remains a very walkable place. Lovely paths line the coast, including the 14 mile Stanley Park Seawall. To enhance your experience, I always recommend going on a guided walking tour. In Vancouver, there are numerous companies that offer both paid and free tours all over town. I would highly recommend Tour Guys. They offer 4 different options… I personally went on the Granville Island and Gastown tours.
You can make reservations or simply show up at the meeting point.
Formerly an industrial manufacturing area, Granville Island has been transformed into one of the city’s hottest spots. The peninsula, no it is not an actual island, hosts an awesome public market, scores of restaurants, lots of shopping, various art galleries, and even a boutique hotel. Can’t miss spots include the silos of Ocean Concrete, which have been colorfully painted, as well as the floating houses of The Sea Village. When you’re thirsty, head over to Granville Island Brewing Co. Among their tasty brews are a maple syrup flavored cream ale… yummy!
This is the go-to area of town for a night out. Packed with tons of great restaurants, bars, and night clubs, Gastown caters to tourists and locals alike. Cobblestone streets and old red-bricked buildings transport you to a different era, as does the old Gastown Steam Clock. Though not truly steam-powered, every hour the clock toots its whistles to the delight of crowds of tourists. Further down Water Street, a statue dedicated to “Gassy” Jack gives a reminder of the neighborhood’s origins, when Jack founded the first saloon next to the Hastings Sawmill.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Named after the father of modern China, the gardens were the first of its kind outside of China. Regular guided tours run several times a day and are a must to fully appreciate the details that went into creating this space. Many principles of Eastern philosophy are employed throughout the garden, including the ideas of yin and yang and Feng shui. The goal is harmony of the four main elements: rock, water, plants, and architecture. Strolling the grounds, we marveled at the intricate designs and amazing Bonsai trees. At the end of our tour, we sipped tea and learned the art of Mahjong.
Pronounced, Pu-Teen, this simple dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy is practically Canada’s National dish. Served in national chains as well as upscale poutineries across the country, it’s as Canadian as maple syrup. There are a million variations of poutine with every kind of topping imaginable, including classics like chicken, bacon, and sausage up to fancier options like foie gras and caviar. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but for one of the best classics head to The Cambie. If you want options, try La Belle Patate as they have a version for everyone.
From playgrounds to sports courts, gardens to monuments, beaches to totem poles; Stanley Park has something for everyone. Larger than New York’s Central Park, the park encompasses 1,000 acres of old growth forest. Easily the highlight of the park is the 6 plus miles of the Seawall trail that clings to the edge of the peninsula. Popular with bicyclists, rollerblading, and joggers, this is a scenic way to see the park and get in some exercise. The Vancouver Aquarium is located in the eastern half of the park, as is the century old Nine O’Clock Gun and Brockton Point Lighthouse. A group of intricately carved totem poles provides evidence of the indigenous tribes who made their homes here long before it was colonized by the British.
Located in Morton Park, this set of bronze sculptures is a true delight. Scattered about in a ring are 14 statues, each 9 feet high, depicting the artist in his own image in different states of hysterical laughter. It is sure to bring laughter of your own, as you walk among the exhibit. The piece is part of Vancouver’s open-air art walk, with other pieces scattered around town. Not part of the exhibit, but definitely worth your while is the large Inukshuk located just south of Morton Park. Similar to a cairn, it is a stack of stones built by the Inuit and native cultures of Canada and the Arctic.