In the age of the micro-break holiday, the idea of using lots of your annual leave to take a long haul flight to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada seems like a huge commitment. But it is well worth it.
My sister has lived in the city for years so I like to think I know my way around it: the hidden gems and the tourist traps. And despite the distance (and the eight hour time difference) every opportunity I get I want to go back to get more of the unbeatable landscapes, beaches, food and museums.
And if you don’t want to take my word for it then take a look at the host of awards it has won in the last few years: in 2018 Conde Nast Traveler voted it one of the best cities in the world and it even won an award for its airport.
Feeling convinced? Here are 10 things that should top your schedule when planning a trip.
1. Ride A Bicycle In Stanley Park.
Stanley Park is by no means a well-kept secret but it is an essential bucket list item when visiting Vancouver – much like Central Park is to New York.
The 405 hectares of city greenery has great views back over the city but also makes you feel a million miles away from the grey tower blocks. For the best way to see the park, hire a bike and hit the trails. Don’t miss a photo at the totem poles.
2. Have Brunch And A Brew At Nemesis Coffee.
Most cities have a coffee shop on every corner and with the home of Starbucks just over the US border in Seattle, Vancouver could have fallen victim to the chain mentality. Instead independent stores such as Nemesis Coffee are fighting back with their own coffee culture: delicious and freshly brewed in front of customer’s eyes. They even make their own nut mylk in-house.
Find it here: 302 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2N4
3. Take A Selfie At The Gastown Steam Clock.
Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown, grew from a single tavern founded by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton back in 1867. Now it is still a drinking hub, alongside restaurants, shopping, indie galleries and plenty of AirBnBs. It is a great place to hang out and admire the Victorian architecture and cobbled streets as well as listen to the whistling steam clock.
Find it here: 305 Water St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1B9.
4. Take A Boat To Granville Island Market.
Open seven days a week between 9am and 7pm, the Granville Island public market is an old industrial warehouse on an island in downtown Vancouver. A foodie’s paradise there are stalls where you can buy fresh produce, as well as meals and baked goods, you can spend hours just wandering around trying samples. And if the weather is good, sit outside watching the water (and avoid the seagulls who will try to steal your food).
5. Dip Your Toes In The Pacific At Kitsilano Beach.
Kitsilano Beach, known by the locals as ‘Kits’ beach, is located on Cornwall Ave where the seawall hugs the coast. For tourists coming from downtown, it’s an ideal activity to combine with a trip to Granville market, as the same boat services both locations.
Although it’s a great place to just sit and admire the dramatic landscape (mountains on mountains) there is also a volleyball court, tennis courts and play areas if you fancy getting a little more active.
6. Eat Tacos And Drink Cocktails At Tacofino.
Tacofino is a Vancouver institution: started in a truck in the village of Tofino on Vancouver Island, the Mexican food was so popular with local surfers that it eventually made its way over to the mainland. Now there are ten sites in the Vancouver metropolitan area, each serving up an extensive menu including fish tacos, beef barbacoa, kale and portobello mushrooms with pumpkin slaw, and all number of other delicious things. Wash down with a margarita (or two).
Find it here: 15 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1C8.
7. Try Craft Beer At The Brassneck Brewery.
Brassneck brewery opened in October 2013 as a neighbourhood brewery with a small tasting room to help customers make their choice. Today it has exploded in popularity and is a great drinking destination. The atmosphere is relaxed - think chalk board with the day’s beers and the occasional food truck that turns up outside to keep people fed. But stock up while you’re there, as the beers aren’t available to buy elsewhere - distribution is still limited to customers turning up with kegs to fill on-site. Old school.
Find it here: 2148 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3C5.
8. Watch The Vancouver Canucks Play Ice Hockey.
It’s true that ice hockey is not a particularly popular sport in the UK, so we can be forgiven for not knowing all the rules. But is there anything better than getting involved in a bit of local sport with a giant foam finger and a hot dog?
The Canuck’s home stadium is the Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver (near the Science Museum) so it’s easy to find. But be warned, the season only runs from October to April so make sure you can get tickets for during your trip.
9. Get Away From It All On Vancouver Island.
Had enough of the city? Organise to spend a couple of days on beautiful Vancouver Island - you can easily use public transport to get there by taking a bus to Horseshoe Bay in west Van and board a ferry to Nanaimo. Buses also run from Nanaimo to locations on the west side of the island, such as Tofino.
The breathtaking landscapes of Tofino are popular with nature lovers, surfers and photographers alike. And who can blame then when you can see killer whales, golden eagles and black bears all in one place?
10. Take A Road Trip To Whistler.
Who could make a visit to Vancouver without being tempted to visit the nearby Whistler Blackcomb mountains? The large resort was made famous in the 2010 winter Olympics but fear not, this isn’t just an option for skiers or snowboarders, anyone can take a gondola to the top of the mountain (you’ll want to wear waterproof shoes to take advantage of all the best viewpoints).
At only a 90-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, it’s easy to do in a day if you don’t have anymore time to spare or can’t afford the expensive accommodation.