Ah, Vancouver… Probably one of my favourite cities. It’s a place I would love to live in (if it wasn’t for the expensive prices of everything!)
Looking across to North Vancouver from Canada Place in Coal Harbour
Vancouver is a fantastic and unique mixture of thriving metropolis, nestled on the shoreline, with beaches, parks and open spaces all overlooked by Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. I can’t think of another city which has beaches, hiking spots and city life in such close proximity to one another, and that’s the reason I love it so much – there’s literally tons to do!
But to narrow it down, I've picked some of the top things to do when visiting Vancouver – we only had 5 days here, which was just enough time to see the top spots!
Perhaps one of the most listed attractions in Vancouver, Stanley park is one of the city’s main tourist spots. It is 400 hectares of open space, parkland and beaches on the edge of Vancouver. There are several activities you can take part in here, including pitch and putt, tennis courts and swimming pools, it also houses Canada’s largest aquarium. There is more than 27km of forest trails weaving through Stanley Park, or if you prefer to explore on two wheels, hire a bike and ride the 8km seawall around the edge of the park with views across the water.
The Totems at Stanley park
Although perhaps the most popular part of the seawall is the 8km inside Stanley Park – the seawall is actually 28km in length and spans from Coal Harbour to Jericho beach.
Tip: Rather than walk the whole length in one day, we split it up into smaller sections; One day we walked from Coal harbour to Stanley park along the sea wall and explored Stanley Park, then on another day we took the ferry across to Granville Island and after looking around there, walked onto to Kitsilano beach.
The Seawall at Coal Harbour and then at Kitsilano Beach
Wander round Downtown Vancouver
Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are diverse in culture and each offer something different. It would take months to visit every area of every neighbourhood, so I’ve highlighted some of the best areas in my post, here.
This colourful shopping district of Granville Island is located on the other side of False Creek to Downtown Vancouver. To reach is you can take either the False Creek Ferry or the Aquabus, both are relatively inexpensive and just a short ride.
The island is centred around the public market, which sells fresh produce, street food and unique gifts. There are also numerous boutiques selling fashion, jewellery and arts and crafts and several restaurants, cafes and bars. I would definitely recommend spending a few hours here, wandering around the shops and enjoying the food and atmosphere.
Sat outside Granville Market enjoying some local food!
Sitting above the clouds on the North Shore, Grouse Mountain, is easily accessed from downtown Vancouver. You can catch a cable car (skyride) up to the top of the mountain, where you can see grizzly bears, take a ride on the zipline, watch a lumberjack show, or in the winter ski, snowboard or ice skate.
If, like me, you like hiking and fancy a challenge, skip the skyride and hike to the top instead! The Grouse Grind, as the trail is called, is only 2.9km from the base to the top, but don’t be fooled – this is a really challenging hike! Often nick-named ‘Nature’s stairmaster’, you’ll climb 2830 stairs and it will take between 1 ½ to 2 hours to complete the climb, depending on your level of fitness. The path is clear and has steps built in all the way up. Unfortunately when we did this hike, the usual route was closed for restoration, so we took a different trail, which was a lot more uneven and challenging – to make it worse the cloud coverage at the top meant we didn’t even get a view over the city!
After grabbing a cup of tea, and refuelling, we bought a one way ticket for the cable car to take us to the bottom.
Hiking Grouse Mountain
Capilano suspension bridge
One of Vancouver’s biggest attractions, the Capilano suspension bridge is close to Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver and is easily reached by public bus or taxi.
The suspension bridge crosses over the Capilano River into lush forest to the start of the Treetops Adventure trail, which comprises 7 footbridges linking viewing platforms in the canopy of the trees. Don’t miss out on the Cliffwalk – a series of suspended walkways jutting out of the cliff with views over the forest and river.
Although we enjoyed this, it was quite tourist-y (which we should have known!) so expect to queue to get onto the footbridges.
Crossing over the suspension bridge into the Treetops Trail
Capilano Canyon Trail
After visiting the Capilano suspension bridge, we walked up the road to the Capilano River Regional Park and followed the Capilano Canyon trail. The trail is only 2.6 km long and is mostly flat as it winds through the canyon, passing streams and stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The loop trail takes roughly 1 hour to complete and is not widely known to many tourists, meaning that you’re alone for most of the walk. If your planning a visit to the Capilano Suspension bridge, this short trail is a great add-on.
Enjoying the peace and quiet of Capilano Canyon Reserve
Visit the beaches
There are numerous beaches in Vancouver, the more notable ones perhaps include two inside Stanley Park and one just on the edge. English Bay ( or The First Beach) is just outside of Stanley Park, on the seawall and is one of the city’s most popular beaches due to its proximity to the city. Here there are volleyball courts, washrooms and kayak and paddleboard rental. Second and Third Beach are in Stanley Park – Second beach is more popular with families as it has an outdoor pool, whereas Third beach is more secluded, so you’ll find a little bit more peace here!
Further out, there are Kitsilano and Jericho beaches, located along the seawall, both of which have playground, picnic areas, tennis courts and washrooms.
English Bay beach
Sea to Sky Gondola
If you want to get out of the city, this is located just 45 minutes outside of Vancouver on the famous Sea to Sky highway. The Sea to Sky Gondola offers sweeping views over Howe Sound, Shannon Falls and the famous Stawamus Chief hiking area. At the top, take a walk over the 100 metre long suspension bridge and enjoy 360 degree views over the Howe Sound. There are also numerous hiking trails at the top, from 30 minute trails for all the family to 2 hours trails for more intermediate hikers.
Views over the Howe Sound on the Sea to Sky Gondola
My Two week Canadian road trip
Two weeks is not a lot of time to see Canada but I managed to squeeze in three main destinations in my two week road trip. See my itinerary for two weeks in Canada, travelling from Toronto to Banff and then onto Vancouver.
All links on this website are my own recommendations or sites I found useful when planning and are not affiliated. I do not receive any commission from including these links within this blog.