If I had to pick just one city in Canada that everyone should visit at least once, it would be Vancouver. Conveniently situated on the Pacific coast, Vancouver is free from the harsh Canadian winter yet enjoys easy access to the Coast Mountains for some of the best skiing in North America, and the abundance of green space within the city centre makes it a summer hotspot, too. Here’s how you can make the most of a weekend in Vancouver, rain or shine.
One thing you must know about Vancouver before visiting is that it will cost you. The city is one of the most expensive in Canada, but its attractions are well worth the often hefty price tag. My advice is if you’re looking to do Vancouver on a budget, eat cheaper and shell out the money for adventure activities and attractions. They’re well worth it and make for great memories.
Vancouver’s transit system is among the best in Canada. You can count on buses, trains, and ferries to get you where you need to go right on time. Purchase a day pass for $9.75 to get you from the airport to your hotel, and take advantage of it to explore downtown and get your bearings. The city centre is easily walkable, so you likely won’t need a pass for the rest of your stay unless the weather is very poor. (In any event, do bring a rain jacket, umbrella, and water-resistant footwear to ensure the rain doesn’t hold you back.)
Once you’ve had a taste of downtown Vancouver, head to its most charming neighbourhood, Granville Island. Bus #50 to False Creek will take you within walking distance, or you can hop on a ferry for a quick ride across the inlet to this island escape. When you arrive, you’ll find a plentiful market of fresh produce, meat & cheese, sweets, and other locally made products. Grab lunch at the market, then head onto the deck to enjoy your meal with a gorgeous view of the marina. Be sure to check out the many boutiques on the island for unique souvenirs you won’t find elsewhere.
Take a ferry back downtown and walk west along the waterfront. English Bay Beach is a popular place to soak up the sun.
Walk or take transit to Gastown, a National Historic Site and downtown Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. Get your camera out, because you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the 19th century! The area is full of tourists and locals alike. Do some shopping, grab a coffee, or simply enjoy the vintage feel of Gastown. Stop at Nuba, an authentic Lebanese restaurant, for a gluten-free or vegan-friendly dinner. Le Petit Feast – hummus, baba ghanooj, taboulleh and pickles – is perfect for sharing!
If you’re into the party scene, end your first day in Vancouver at The Roxy, a nightclub situated in the heart of the entertainment district. The live music and diverse group of partygoers makes for a great time.
It’s practically inevitable that you’ll run into some rain in Vancouver. Usually it’ll just be a drizzle, but in the off chance it pours rain, don’t worry! There’s still plenty to do when the weather’s not on your side.
You’d almost think you were in Paris with the number of crêpe places in Vancouver’s city centre. Grab one to go for breakfast or take a seat inside and dry off. Try a crêpe with maple syrup for a fusion of French and Canadian food culture.
Now, there are two possibilities for spending a rainy day in Vancouver as a tourist, depending on your style and budget: a) shopping or b) visiting indoor attractions. If you’re a shameless shopaholic, Vancouver will not disappoint. Be sure to check out Alberni Street for upscale shopping and Pacific Centre for an eclectic selection of stores. The Lululemon on Robson Street is a must for anyone looking to get his or her hands on some high-quality athletic gear from a local brand.
If route b) is more up your alley, pay a visit to the Museum of Vancouver. You can get there via False Creek Ferry or bus #22, #2, or #32. The museum features exhibitions on the history of Vancouver, including the relationship between the area’s first peoples and its settlers. If you’re travelling with children, Science World will keep the whole family entertained. Walk or take the SkyTrain to Main Street-Science World Station.
No trip to Vancouver would be complete without trying the sushi. With a large Japanese population and abundant fresh fish and seafood, Vancouver boasts an incredible sushi scene. While there are infinite sushi restaurants that will leave you satisfied, Jako Sushi is conveniently located on Davie & Granville and features several combos of 22 pieces for only $6.95. You can’t go wrong. The veggie options are delicious, too.
Work off the sushi with some more shopping or museum-going. Frankie’s Italian Kitchen & Bar in Yaletown is the perfect place for some warm comfort food after a dreary day. It’s also just around the corner from Vancouver’s sports district. Depending on the season, try to snag a ticket to a Canucks (hockey), Lions (football) or Whitecaps (soccer) game. The stadium has a retractable roof to keep you dry. Concerts at these venues are quite common throughout the year, too.
You can thank Vancouver’s large East Asian population for bringing the newest dessert trend to town: ice-fried yogurt. This delectable treat is basically frozen yogurt turned spread into a sheet on a pan much like those used to cook crêpes, only at freezing temperatures, then scraped into cylinders. Pick from one of On Yogurt’s menu items or create your own masterpiece by mixing in whichever toppings you fancy.
Spend your last day in Vancouver relishing in the beauty of the great outdoors within the big city. Grab a fresh pastry and a hot cup of coffee at Breka Bakery & Café, then make your way to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. A free shuttle will pick you up from one of several stops within the downtown core. Many hotels will offer a coupon, shaving about $3 off the $40 admission fee. Plan to spend about 2-3 hours walking across the suspension bridge, traversing the treetops, and taking a stroll on the cliffwalk. Each of these activities makes for a great photo op!
Take the shuttle back downtown and get off at Westin Bayshore, the stop nearest Stanley Park. (Ask the driver if he can drop you off even closer.) Take a walk through Stanley Park, the largest urban park in North America. If you’d rather explore by bike, there are loads of bike rental shops in the area. You should be able to snag one for about $30/day. Walk or bike along the seawall, observe the diverse ecosystems, and take some photos at landmarks like Hollow Tree and Siwash Rock. Don’t miss the totem poles at Brockton Point! There are lots of places within the park to have lunch, too. Try the Teahouse for a spectacular view of English Bay.
Also in Stanley Park is the well-loved Vancouver Aquarium. Dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life, the Vancouver Aquarium features a wide variety of fish, mammals, and amphibians, including dolphins, otters, sharks, frogs and jellyfish. In each exhibit you’ll find the walls covered in valuable information about the species, including the dangers they face as a result of human contact and what you can do to help. Ask the staff any questions you may have – they are extremely knowledgeable! Plan to spend about 1.5-2 hours at the aquarium, and purchase your tickets ahead of time to beat the line.
Finally, before making your way to the airport, enjoy a meal at Cactus Club Café in Coal Harbour. This local restaurant chain has grown astronomically in the last few years, and it’s no surprise why. Excellent service, a menu designed by celebrated Canadian chef Rob Feenie, and a relaxed atmosphere make Cactus Club a local favourite. The flagship location in Coal Harbour features a stunning waterfront view (the featured image of this post!) Try the famous peach Bellini and yam fries with dinner.
Vancouver has something for everyone: the outdoorsman, the history buff, the hippie. The city can be explored alone or as a family, on a budget or as a luxury vacation. While it is impossible to experience absolutely everything that Vancouver has to offer in just one weekend, the few days you spend there will have you itching to come back for more.