Find urban forests and hidden beaches. Wander neighbourhoods brimming with food and culture. British Columbia’s west coast city demands a few days before you take on the epic ski fields and wilderness just beyond.
Hit the highlights
Watching the sun rise over mountains from the shoreline of Vancouver’s harbour is up there with the best ways to start any day in any city in the world. Walk the path between Coal Harbour Marina and Canada Place before catching a cab to Granville Island, where the famed market offers local produce and craft (and six 21-metre-high industrial silos painted into “Giants” for your Instagram grid).
Your closest peak to the city is Grouse Mountain. Reach its top by soaring above a sea of Douglas firs on the Skyride cable car (in summer, adrenalin-hunters ride on its roof). The season will dictate whether you snowshoe, ski and skate, or hike green trails and Mountainvisit a grizzly bear sanctuary. Back on Vancouver’s peninsula in Stanley Park, a 400-hectare urban forest woven with trails, beaches and historic landmarks, Talaysay Tours runs First Nations-guided walks that explore the unique cultural history of this natural wonderland that lives in harmony with the city.
Do the neighbourhoods
Vancouver is an eclectic grid of neighbourhoods that change pace and personality with every turn. Wander the hip side streets off Main Street to discover intricate street art murals, low-key cafes, restaurants and creative breweries. Chinatown, the largest in Canada, serves up the serene Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden as well as dim sum and flaky bakery treats – but it’s the southern suburb of Richmond where you’ll find the self-guided “dumpling trail” that is ranked among the world’s most delicious. The buzzing Shipyards District is the place for evening drinks with views of the glimmering skyline. In Davie Village – the heart of the city’s LGBTQI+ scene – there are plenty of cafes, bookshops, pubs and clubs where you can catch some of Canada’s best drag stars.
Just 120 kilometres beyond city limits, the ski resort mecca of Whistler Blackcomb delivers 200 kilometres of runs covered in the kind of snow that powderhounds dream of. Blissing out in baths and spas such as the nature-focused Scandinave Spa is also part of the alpine experience. Landing after the big melt? Hike and mountain-bike trails that wind through wildflowers, glaciers and, in early summer, snow walls.
Closer to the city and on the Pacific coast, Vancouver Island reveals rugged beaches and temperate rainforests. Start in Victoria and drive through dramatic mountain passes to the old growth forests around Tofino and Ucluelet. Want to dial up the journey to epic? Pull onto the Trans-Canada Highway that begins on Vancouver Island and point east. Thrill at the Rockies and prairies as you road-trip from here to beautiful St John’s in Newfoundland, 7821km away.
Eat and drink
Nemesis is a Gastown go-to for silky coffees and pastries so buttery you’ll have to go early, order ahead or miss out. Lift has an all-day menu heroing the west coast’s legendary seafood on the best waterfront patio in the city. Vij’s is owned by Canadian celebrity chef Vikram Vij, who might even greet you at your table, and dishes up innovative Indian fusion.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, known as the “Castle in the City”, updates a historic building with modern luxury, right near downtown’s action. The Listel, located on the Robson Street shopping thoroughfare, is an art-themed boutique hotel that has partnered with the Museum of Anthropology to design rooms with First Nations-inspired decor and original artworks.