Updated: 11/2/18 | November 2nd, 2018
Located in British Columbia, Vancouver is the largest city in Western Canada and the third-largest in all of Canada. It is known for its natural beauty, as it is nestled between the mountains and the ocean. Vancouver is one of my top ten favorite cities in the world.
Vancouver’s proximity to the ocean and the mountains make it an excellent location: within minutes, you can get from downtown to the mountains or the beach. Vancouver is a dream for city-dwellers who need some fresh air but can’t quite move into a rural area.
Vancouver is just over 100 years old, and its namesake, Captain George Vancouver, sailed through the First Narrows in 1792. The first settlement on the downtown peninsula was Granville, located on the spot of today’s Gastown. Its location and harbor made it an excellent spot for a port, and Vancouver soon became the biggest port in the region. Today, it is still Canada’s main western port and the launching ground for most cruises up the Inside Passage.
Vancouver is perhaps best known for its scenic beauty and the opportunities afforded by its natural environment. Surrounded by water on three sides and crowned by the North Shore mountains, Vancouver is a great starting point for discovering the area’s many outdoor activities. In less than an hour, I went from downtown to the mountains, exploring the Capilano area, overcoming my fear of heights on the Capilano bridge, hiking across rivers, and ending up in random seaports because I forgot what bus stop I needed to get off at.
Vancouver’s true appeal comes from this blend of nature and man — from city to mountain and back all in one day.
Vancouver’s main park is a gem among city parks worldwide. Stanley Park is second to none. Perched on the edge of the city, this park is an oasis of calm in an already relaxed city. The park has an aquarium, beaches, and miles of trails that let you dissolve into nature while still being a stone’s throw away from the city. It makes for a great mid-day break location, a place to walk or hike, or a spot to just relax. In the park, you hear none of the sounds of the city. It’s easy to relax here, without the crowds you see in Central Park or Hyde Park.
For foodies, Vancouver represents a delight for those who love Asian cuisine. As Canada’s major western port, immigrants from the Asia have long called Vancouver home. This has led to a city with a high Asian population and Asian food on every corner. Sushi, Chinese, and some amazing Korean food can all be found here. Vancouver is home to the second-largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco.
Vancouver is a hip city — it reminds me a lot of Seattle and a cross between Melbourne and Sydney. Walking around, everyone is relaxed, friendly, and very “cool.” The buildings are ultra-modern, and there are cafes everywhere and outdoor restaurants when the weather is nice.
Things to See and Do in Vancouver
1. Take a free walking tour
One of the first things I do when I get to a new city is take a walking tour. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city, see the main sights, and learn about the history and culture. Plus, you get access to a local expert who you can ask all your questions — which is an invaluable resource! One of my favorite free walking tour companies is Strawberry Tours. Just make sure to tip your guide!
2. Visit Grouse Mountain
If you’re a fan of the outdoors, this will probably be your number one attraction. In the winter you can take the SkyRide gondola up the mountain where you can take in the view before going skiing or snowboarding. During the summer, go for a hike along one of the forest trails.
6400 Nancy Greene Way, +1-604-980-9311, grousemountain.com. Open daily from 9am-10pm. Admission is 56 CAD for adults, which includes your gondola and chairlifts. Discounts are available for children, seniors, and students.
3. Check out Granville Island
Granville offers a full day of shopping and eating and is also home to a market for buying delicious and fresh groceries. You’ll also find the province’s oldest brewery on the island, Granville Island Brewing Company. Between the food, the drinks, and the street performers you’ll easily be able to spend a full day here. The market is open daily from 9am-7pm.
4. Go to Stanley Park
Stanley Park is located in the city center. It’s a huge park and offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown. There are some beautiful trails and a path along the waterfront for hiking and biking. While you’re here, you probably won’t even notice that you’re in a city! It’s my favorite park in Vancouver.
5. Capilano Suspension Bridge
This bridge stretches 440-ft over the Capilano River. It’s a huge drop, so if you’re afraid of heights you may want to skip this one. The bridge is located just outside the city, and there are plenty of trails and nature nearby, making this a great way to spend a day outside of the city itself.
3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver, +1-604-985-7474, capbridge.com. Open daily from a 9am (8am in the summer) and closing between 5pm and 8pm, depending on the season. Adult tickets are 46.95 CAD for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, and kids.
6. Go whale watching
If you’re not on a tight budget, whale watching is a great way to get out of the city and into nature. There are a lot of whales in the area, including orcas, so you’ll have a good chance of seeing some. Sightings are so common, in fact, that most companies will give you a discount or voucher for another trip if you don’t. Prices will vary but expect to pay around 175 CAD.
7. Get naked at Wreck Beach
Located near the university campus, this is the only nude beach left in the city. Wreck Beach has something of a community vibe, so if you’re comfortable getting naked then it’s a fun place to hang out, sunbathe, swim, and relax. This is one of the last remaining places to embrace the free-spiritedness that Vancouver was famous for in the seventies.
8. Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery
Founded in 1931, the Vancouver Art Gallery has an impressive collection of national and international contemporary artwork. Spending an entire afternoon here is well worth it. Check the website for information on any ongoing or upcoming exhibitions.
750 Hornby St, +1-604-662-4700,vanartgallery.bc.ca. Open daily from 10am-5pm (9pm on Tuesdays). Admission is 24 CAD for adults, with discounts available for students, seniors, kids, and families.
9. Take in a game
Canada is known for many things, and one of those things is hockey. The Vancouver Canucks are one of only 7 Canadian NHL teams, and their games are a huge draw. Tickets aren’t cheap, but if you’re in the city between October and April then this is a great way to spend an evening and enjoy this stereotypical Canadian pastime.
Rogers Arena (800 Griffiths Way), 1 604-899-7400, tickets.canucks.com. Tickets start around 50 CAD (though expect to pay closer to double that). Check the website for the most up-to-date schedule.
I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Vancouver, and I suspect I probably never will. With so much to like here — from its food to its atmosphere to its location — there’s little bad you can really say.
How to Get to Vancouver
Located on the west coast, Vancouver has one of the best airports in the world and it’s just outside of town. If you’re flying from Toronto, expect to pay at least 200 CAD for the 4-hour flight, though prices are usually at least double that. If you’re flying from Edmonton, expect to pay between 200-300 CAD for a round-trip ticket.
VIA Rail, Canada’s train company, offers cross-country tickets if you’re looking to go on a longer, scenic journey. The ride covers over 4,000km and takes 4 days, leaving from Toronto. Prices will vary but expect to pay at least 500 CAD for a one-way trip.
Book Your Trip to Vancouver: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time. Here are suggested places to stay in Vancouver:
- HI Vancouver Downtown – Free breakfast and free WiFi (as well as extra computers if you need one) make staying here a no brainer if your on a budget.
- Samesun – This hostel is in a great location, with newly renovated bathrooms and even some super cozy pod beds!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!
Looking for more information on visiting Vancouver?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to Vancouver with more tips on what to see, do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!