Vancouver City Guide
Year on year Vancouver is voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world, with one of the best qualities of life. Surrounded by a stunning mountain landscape on one side, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean on the other, residents and visitors have a wealth of leisure activities right on their doorstep.
With regular non-stop flights to London with Air Canada, travelling to the city has never been easier. Yes it might look like it’s half way around the world, but the flight time is a fairly easy 9 and a half hours.
The city itself is an interesting melting pot of cultures, this is where east meets west, and it works to the city’s advantage. Tourists are extremely welcome here and can enjoy everything you would hope for from a coastal city, with a little more thrown in.
Where to stay
Alex and I stayed at the Douglas Hotel, a luxurious 5* property situated within the Parq Vancouver Complex. We found this property to be the perfect choice, the rooms were beautiful, we were within walking distance to Gas Town (which was my favourite area!), staff were fabulous and we had so many amenities within the resort complex. The hotel is just the right size, offering a boutique feel with the services of a 5* complex available to you directly (complete with eight restaurants and a casino!).
We enjoyed breakfast at Honey Salt which was in my opinion, one of the most beautiful dining venues in the city. I felt as though I had walked into a dolls house, it smelt how I imagined tea parties to smell too! You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy a meal here, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and weekend brunch.
I enjoyed strawberry french toast for my breakfast, it was delicious! Other options included waffles, pancakes, avocado toast, Eggs Benedict, English breakfast, omelettes and much more.
Where to eat
Steamworks: We ended up here as my husband was on a mission to try all the local beers whilst we were in Canada… yes they do good beer! I happily agreed as the menu was great, food looked delicious, and there was a bustling atmosphere, meaning it must be good!
Situated in Gastown, the Steamworks is easy to find, set between the street and the water’s edge, they offer a brilliant range of craft beers, including tasting sets of 4 or 10 beers. We weren’t hugely hungry so we opted for a sharing portion of nachos… which was HUGE! The food, the atmosphere and the drinks were great, however the service could do with a little more enthusiasm, it wasn’t bad enough to put me off completely but it wasn’t impressive either.
CRAFT Beer Market: Are you seeing a theme with where we ate? Yep it was mainly dictated by Alex’s love of beer, but the food was always good so I had no complaints. Located on the other side of town in the Olympic Village, the CRAFT Beer Market can be accessed via one of the cute little Aqua Busses that go up and down False Creek (right past Parq Vancouver conveniently for us!).
This casual restaurant situated inside the historic Salt Building offers 140 taps, making it home to Canada’s largest selection of craft beer. Luckily, if you are like me and don’t like beer, there is a fabulous selection of cocktails, wine and soft drinks.
Inside is loud and busy but this wasn’t a problem for us, the service was brilliant, I wish I could remember our server by name because she really helped make our experience fantastic. Food portions were generous, fresh and mouth wateringly delicious, with a great range of appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, desserts and even more!
Marble Slab Creamery: I absolutely love Coldstone Creamery and as soon as I booked a trip to Canada I googled where the nearest one would be. Sadly for me it turns out that like England, Canada is deprived of Coldstone Ice Cream. However! Don’t give up hope just yet, I discovered the Marble Slab Creamery in Vancouver and forced Alex to walk around one and a half miles to get there.
Okay it is not the most exciting or glamorous establishment in the world but it is right by the beach and serves delicious ice cream, what more could a girl want? Similar to Coldstone, you choose what flavour ice cream you want, what toppings you want in it, they will mush it all together for you and voila!
Something I loved about Vancouver was the distinct change between each neighbourhood, making it a thoroughly enjoyable city to walk around.
Gas Town: I had looked up Gas Town before even getting on the flight to Canada, I had seen a couple of photos on Instagram so I wanted to head straight there, luckily it was just a short walk from our hotel in the sun. For me this was the most unique of all the areas we visited in Vancouver and it reminded me a little of New York.
Gastown is the historic heart of the city, and where Vancouver was born. The cobbled streets have been rapidly transformed over the last decade, making the neighbourhood chic addition to the city’s map. This part of town is brimming with independent boutiques, eateries, bars and plenty of coffee shops, you will most likely spot a hipster or two.
Most famous in town is the steam clock from where the Steamworks Brewing Company I mentioned above gets its name. The Gastown steam clock was built in 1977 at the corner of Cambie and Water streets by a chap called Raymond Saunders, time your visit right and you will hear its whistle and can watch the steam pop out its top on the hour every hour.
Granville Island: Granville Island is one of the most popular spots in Vancouver for tourists, and for good reason. If you like a place with an industrial feel then this one is for you, and if you like a good market with lots of fresh produce and places to eat, then this is also for you! We popped over on the Aquabus (our favourite way to get around!) and spent the morning browsing through the independent shops and market stalls that are situated here.
The market has been described as one of the best in North America, we were greeted by rows and rows of sweet treats, baked goods, fresh fruit, preserves, crafts, soap, everything! There is also a great food court here, and I am not talking about Mcdonalds and Burger King, I am talking about independent stalls selling home cooked, fresh meals. Alex and I opted for Chinese (it was amazing), but there was so much on offer from typical Canadian dishes to French cuisine to hot dogs, it was also sunny so you could take a perch outside, chow down your food and watch the world go by.
Things to do
Whale watching: Whale watching on the west coast of Canada is not to be missed. We booked the Half Day Ocean Magic tour with Prince of Whales Whale Watching Tours and it was amazing. Okay so we spent the first hour a little chilly chugging along on the boat with the wind (and sea) in our hair wondering when on earth we were going to spot the whales, but when you see that first one, you know the whole thing has been worth it. The guides are extremely knowledgable and friendly with other companies, so everyone shares their sightings. We headed out towards Galiano Island and there we saw a mama killer whale and her three sons. The experience was incredible, the engine was switched off so we could enjoy these magnificent creatures in complete peace.
They bobbed along side us, coming up for air every so often and showing us their tails, at that point I understood why the word ‘magic’ was included in the tour name. Once we left this small pod of orcas we head back out into the Straight of Georgia and found two humpback whales who also put on a bit of a show for us. I was so thankful we chose this tour, it was completely different to our usual sort of activities when we visit cities that’s for sure!
You can book your own tour here.
Stanley Park: If you have a spare afternoon I would highly recommend talking a stroll through and around Stanley Park, the cities first and largest urban park. If you don’t fancy a stroll, why not hop on a bike? Bike rental is available nearby to the entrance of the park and visitors can enjoy cycling round the purpose built seawall, soaking in the views of the bay, mountains, city, and the park itself.
Vancouver Aquarium: If you like sea otters then this is where you need to be! Vancouver Aquarium rescues and rehabilitates sea otters from the local area, often nursing them back to health before setting them free again in the wild. Also a resident at the aquarium is Helen the dolphin who unfortunately had to have one of her fins amputated due to an accident with a fishing boat. She is not well enough to return to her natural habitat but you can spot her eating snacks as you walk through the aquarium. Recently added to the aquarium are two walrus’, Lakina and Balzak, who are just two years old and already weigh over 300kg!
Of course there are so many more exhibits here I could tell you about but we would be here all day, so why not pay a visit and see them for yourself?
Kitsilano Beach: Locally known as ‘Kits Beach’, Kitsilano Beach is one of the best places to head to on a sunny day. This is Vancouver’s answer to Venice Beach in California and you will find locals playing volleyball, sunbathing, pushing their prams, jogging and of course, gossiping. This is the place to head to if you fancy a relaxing afternoon with a good atmosphere, and is the perfect reward after a lap of Stanley Park!
Flyover Canada: This short but sweet simulator ride will take you on a journey from Canada’s east coast all the way over to the west. It sounds pretty simple, and it is, but it is well worth the ride if you are interested in visiting Canada again. We really felt as though we were soaring over mountains and jumping through snow, and it just got us wanting to explore even more of Canada!
Vancouver Lookout: Located at the Harbor Centre, the Vancouver Lookout will give you one of the best 360 degree views in the city. If you are short on time and/or cash, then this is the next best alternative to a helicopter or seaplane tour. The only downside is that a fair few sky scrapers have been built since the lookout building was built, so you are left feeling as though you could do with being just a few floors higher!
Best time to visit is just before sunset where you can watch the whole city transform between day and night.
For us, 3 days was perhaps just one day too short. We would have loved to get out into the mountains but unfortunately did not have the time. There are so many more amazing trips you can take from the city, including a beautiful drive along the ocean road (you can even do this in a supercar!), I just haven’t listed the tours I didn’t do! Alex and I will definitely be back some day as I would love to see the city from a seaplane!
Just want to say a big thank you to the British Columbia and Vancouver tourist boards who helped organise our stay here. Please visit their websites where you can find out way more about the city than I could ever write here! Also, if you are interested in staying at the Douglas Hotel, you can book here!