Vancouver might be known for its great outdoors, but it’s also got a vibrant cultural side, exciting culinary scene and fantastic places to stay. From an unforgettable museum of Indigenous art and hyper-local fine dining to seeing some of the world’s most ancient forests up close, here is a week’s worth of ideas for exploring British Columbia’s largest city.
Get the lay of the land (and stretch out your legs) by strolling the Seawall along Vancouver’s waterfront. The 22-kilometre pedestrian path winds past beaches (Kitsilano is sporty, Jericho low key), the former Olympic Village, Science World and essential pit stops such as Earnest Ice Cream, purveyors of artisanal flavours like Whiskey Hazelnut and Sour Cherry Goat Cheese. Finish up at Stanley Park, a huge green space with forest trails, natural lagoons, historic landmarks and the world-class Vancouver Aquarium.
Check-in at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, an imposing 17-storey building known as the “castle in the city”. Completed in 1939 and located in the heart of downtown, expect glittering chandeliers, marble floors and upscale shops like Gucci in the lobby. There’s also a dedicated concierge and private lounge for the most luxurious suites (other Fairmont-managed properties include The Savoy in London and New York’s Plaza).
Dinner is at Notch8, the sleek bar and restaurant that was part of the Fairmont’s 2019 $100 million makeover. Order a hickory-infused Old Fashioned and the signature slow-roasted prime rib.
Grab breakfast at the Fairmont before heading to the Vancouver Art Gallery right across the road. The former courthouse showcases everything from AI-inspired installations to one of Shakespeare’s first editions and paintings by renowned Canadian artist Emily Carr. Retail therapy more your style? You’re within a two-minute walk of Robson, Alberni, Burrard and Granville streets, four of the city’s main shopping destinations.
Stroll a few blocks over to brunch institution Café Medina – the Liège-style waffles are legendary – then make your way to Granville Island. A former industrial site, today you’ll find florists, pottery studios, a huge kids’ playground and a sprawling indoor food market. Wander from stall to stall or take a two-hour foodie tour that ticks off Canadian delicacies like smoked candied salmon and elk salami. Stay for a lager at Granville Island Brewing and dinner at Alimentaria Mexicana's bright cantina.
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Rise early to ascend Grouse Mountain (aka “the peak of Vancouver”), around 30 minutes’ drive from the Fairmont. Hop on the Skyride cable car for views of the city and beyond – in summer thrillseekers can even ride on its roof. During the warmer months you can hike, mountain bike, zipline, meet the wildlife and more. In winter get ready to ski, snowboard, ice-skate or just create snow angels in the powdery stuff.
Still feeling adventurous? Swing by Capilano Park’s 70-metre-high suspension bridge on the way back into town.
Stop for a quick refresh in your room before heading out for the evening in historic neighbourhood Gastown, a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Meander the quaint cobblestone streets until you’re ready to decide what’s for dinner. Hint: a cocktail at Prohibition-glam bar The Diamond would be a good start.
Time to take a day trip out of the city. You’re spoilt for choice: sail around the Gulf Islands, visit nearby vineyards or get a dose of the great outdoors in any number of ways.
If you’re a newcomer to the area or simply a powderhound, Whistler Blackcomb will be high on your list. A two-hour drive north of Vancouver, the epic mountain scenery won’t disappoint. In winter you’ll get the classic Whistler experience: pristine slopes, snow-dusted firs and picture-book perfect fireplaces. In summer, expect gorgeous wildflowers, hiking trails for most fitness levels and much smaller crowds. Either way, get a taste of the fine-dining scene at locally-focused Araxi and The Four Seasons’ Sidecut Steakhouse.
Housing close to 50,000 ethnographic and 535,000 archaeological objects in a huge brutalist building, the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia campus is a must-see. Exhibits mostly relate to the First Nations peoples of Canada but you’ll also see Indigenous artefacts from around the world and works by contemporary artists. Don’t miss the soaring three-storey totem poles in the Great Hall and Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men sculpture.
Next up is the 22-hectare VanDusen Botanical Garden, a 20-minute drive away. Stop for a sandwich at Truffles in the visitor centre or a more upscale meal at Shaughnessy Restaurant, where dishes showcase herbs, flowers and veggies from the garden. Spend the afternoon traipsing the photogenic walkways and Elizabethan hedge maze or take a self-guided tour tailored to the season.
Book ahead for dinner at Vij’s in Cambie, the game-changing Indian restaurant famous for lamb “popsicles” (cutlets) in fenugreek cream curry.
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Fuel up on pancakes at the Fairmont (served with lashings of maple syrup, of course) and hop on a seaplane or scenic 90-minute ferry to Victoria, British Columbia’s capital on the southern end of Vancouver Island. A lovely, laid-back city, tour the turreted Craigdarroch Castle or the family-friendly Royal BC Museum complete with an IMAX theatre. It’s also a great place to set off on a whale-watching expedition or trek the mist-shrouded old-growth forests around Tofino and Ucluelet. Watch the sunset over the harbour with a wild salmon burger from seafood shack Red Fish Blue Fish.
Spend your last morning wandering Main Street’s 30 blocks of cool shops, cafés and breweries. The coffee at Matchstick has a cult following – pour-overs using lighter roasts are their claim to fame. Pick up your takeaway brew and stroll a few streets over to sip it on the immaculately groomed lawns of Queen Elizabeth Park. There’s also tons of colourful street art to spot.
Head back to the Fairmont, where you’ll have time for afternoon tea before starting on your journey home. Don’t leave without trying the buttermilk scones with citrus marmalade and crème fraîche.
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Image credits: Matt Wang (Vancouver); Fairmont Hotel; Tanya Goehring/Destination BC (Vancouver Art Gallery); Coast Mountain Photography/Destination Vancouver (Grouse Mountain); Destination Canada (Whistler); Destination BC/@anatoletuzlak/Destination Canada (Museum of Anthropology); Reuben Krabbe (Victoria); Hubert Kang/Destination Vancouver (Street art); Jeffrey Eisner (Suspension Bridge).