Vancouver, the big city that seems to have it all. Perched on the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by majestic mountains, the city has a thriving art culture, an established dining scene, historic and diverse neighbourhoods and all these mere minutes apart from one another.
Not going to lie though, it took me a few days and the discovery of the cheesecake brownies from PureBread (more on these later) before I found my groove and started to appreciate and recognise the beauty of Vancouver.
On the day we arrived, after a lengthy 5-hour drive from Vernon, leaving the serenity of the mountains and national parks behind only to arrive in Vancouver to fight through peak weekend traffic and a city overrun with tourists. I was standing on the waterfront with the mountains masked behind the smog of summer wild fires, being jostled by tourists and strollers wondering what the big hype was?
In this guide to Vancouver, I reveal the places that were actually worth a visit and how to make your stay memorable from the get go. Here’s where to eat, play and stay in Vancouver.
Guide to Vancouver
Where to Eat
Yaletown: One of Vancouver’s historic districts but now a chic tree lined neighbourhood and the dining hot spot. With no shortage of trendy restaurants, sidewalk cafes, cocktail bars and pubs to choose from it’s the perfect place to spend an evening.
The Parlour: After wandering aimlessly through Yaletown, at complete random, we sat down at The Parlour, a rustic but very lively restaurant. The menu featured an array of appetising delights with everything from oysters, soups, burritos to pizza and meatball buns it has something for everyone. We both went for a wood-fired pizza and did not regret one bite it was one of the best we have had…ever! The toppings are creative and the base perfectly thin and crispy.
1011 Hamilton Street, Yaletown
PappaRoti: As an after dinner treat we found ourselves at PappaRoti, not knowing what to expect as we have never heard of this unique bakery before and really it looks like they serve bread rolls with Nutella and whipped cream – which seems odd. But in fact, it’s anything but a bread roll. These little mounds are unusual, melt in your mouth treats. It was like sampling a hybrid between an oversized macaroon and a sweet airy bun.
1505 Robson Street
PureBread: You know I cannot resist the sweet temptation of cake and that is exactly what PureBread is, a cafe in Gastown bursting with temptation. Besides the parading pastries, they also have delicious homemade bread, veggie tarts, grilled toasties and pies. After much debate, we settled on a raspberry cheesecake brownie which was moreish to the last crumb.
159 W Hastings Street, Gastown
The Lamplighter Public House: On a complete whim whilst strolling around Gastown, we found ourselves here for lunch and the laid back pub did not disappoint. As a locally loved watering hole with a menu featuring all the pub classics and a really comprehensive selection of craft beer and cocktails, it’s easy to see why.
92 Water Street, Gastown
Where to Play
Granville Island: An artsy neighbourhood and food lovers paradise combined. Arrive hungry as this is another great place to eat as the islands main attraction is the Public Market. An indoor market housing rows of stalls with everything from fresh produce, artisan cheeses, wines to baked good, freshly prepared meals and gelato. With endless options, it’s best to grab a few snacks and eat al fresco overlooking the waterfront. Then take a stroll through the many art galleries and take a peek inside the glassblowers, potters and jewellery studios.
Getting there is easy, simply hop on one of the colourful mini-tugboats that crisscross the bay.
Stanley Park: No visit to Vancouver would be complete without visiting the giant forest nestled at the edge of the city. Stanley Park, actually bigger than Central Park is Vancouver’s downtown oasis and is a must see, grab a bike or simply walk along the ocean’s edge for great views of the harbour and city.
Gastown: As one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods the historical charm has been retained. The cobbled streets are lined with Victorian architecture houses, boutique stores and loads of pubs and eateries.
As an area best explored on foot, I would highly recommend booking a free walking tour by Tour Guys, we did the Gastown tour and it is a great way to not only sightsee but get a deeper understanding of the city. I have done other city tours of theirs and the guides are always informative and entertaining.
Capilano Suspension Bridge: A major tourist attraction just 15 minutes outside of Downtown. I loved this experience of skipping between the trees on swing bridges, wooden platforms and through tree houses. It is not a cheap experience so to truly get your monies worth, get there early to enjoy the serenity of the surroundings before the crowds take over.
They offer a free shuttle bus departing from various locations across downtown Vancouver, which is just super convenient.
Where to Stay
Blue Horizon: We stayed here for our final night in Vancouver before heading home. This boutique hotel is ideally situated in the heart of the fashion high street and hub of the city. We also managed to snag a room on the top floor, granting us a superb view of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains it was the perfect place to round off our grand Canadian road trip.
Skwachays Lodge: Our first 2 nights in Vancouver we based ourselves here. Skwachays lodge is lovely, each room is a unique Aboriginal artwork. As a very reasonably priced hotel, it has everything one would need for a short stay, comfortable modern rooms and they offer a complimentary continental breakfast each morning (the array of fruit loaves and sweet bread were a highlight). I didn’t love the location, although conveniently based in Chinatown and only a few minutes walk from Gastown, the area is crawling with tourists and locals but it was my personal anxiety of not feeling 100% safe in the area that interfered with me enjoying our stay.
Day Trip – Victoria, Vancouver Islands
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia sits at the very base of Vancouver Island and is the definition of a postcard perfect city. The quaint harbourfront city radiates laid back island life whilst being filled with the old world charm of English pubs, boutique stores, secret alleyways and massive public gardens whilst the streets are exploding with blossoms almost year round (thanks to the mild island weather). Once in downtown everything you would need is easily accessed on foot which is why Victoria is a simply splendid day trip escape.
How to get to Victoria
Taking the BC Ferries Connector bus and ferry from Vancouver to Victoria is the simplest and most cost effective round trip option. It is an all in one package that has you boarding a luxury coach in downtown Vancouver (Pacific Central Station) which drives you directly to the ferry terminal. At the terminal, the bus boards and you are allowed to disembark and explore the ferry for the duration of the 95-minute voyage through the spectacular Gulf Islands. On arrival at Vancouver Island port, the bus simply drives straight off the ferry and into downtown Victoria.
The round trip by bus and ferry takes approximately 4 hours each way from downtown Vancouver. Alternatively, you can take a 35-minute flight. Tickets can be purchased at the terminal but during peak season it’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance to ensure your seat on the bus/ferry.
Where to Stay
Helms Inn: A delightful little lodge in the heart of Victoria. Considering how unbelievably affordable the lodge is the rooms are spacious, clean, comfortable and they even come with a fully equipped kitchenette.
I hope this guide to Vancouver will be helpful as you plan your trip. Let me know if you have any other great recommendations to add?