Last month we traveled to the Western side of Canada to visit Vancouver. The city is full of life and one of the most beautiful places we've ever been. There are many reasons to visit Vancouver, from terrific food, to fun nightlife, summer events and outdoor activities, the Canadian jewel on Pacific coast quickly became a top travel pick, and somewhere we can't wait to visit again!
Vancouver is one of Canada's largest metropolitan areas. Their flagship airport, Vancouver International Airport (YVR), is about 20 minutes from the downtown area and is consistently rated one of the best airports in North America. According to the city's official Vancouver tourism website, there are more than a dozen international flights in and out of YVR every day, with 22 alone bound for the United States. Needless to say, this wonderful city if quite accessible by plane.
While traveling by air is ideal from far distances, there are other, more adventurous means of transportation. For shorter distances, like traveling from Seattle, Washington, you can choose to drive, hop on a bus or train, or even take a ferry! Arriving by rail offers sightseeing at its finest, offering a front row seat to the beautiful surroundings of British Colombia. Check train times with the VIA Rail’s transcontinental service, the Rocky Mountaineer two-day rail tour, from Alberta, and fromt he U.S. there's the Amtrak Cascades route between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, via Portland and Seattle. Ferries travel frequently between Vancouver and Seattle, allowing you to take in the scenery by boat and potentially spot magnificent wildlife along the way. Check out BC Ferries for times and rates.
Where to Stay
We chose the Pan Pacific Vancouver for a few reasons. First, you can't beat the views. The Pan Pacific is located right on the water on the north side of the city, boasting generous views of the mountains just beyond. It's also conveniently located next to the cruise port. As many Vancouver visitors are embarking for Alaska, this makes it an ideal choice for continued travel.
Pan Pacific Vancouver was the perfect blend of luxury and comfort. The beds were cozy with top notch linens, everything was clean, and it has terrific amenities. Even in summer it can get chilly in Vancouver at night, and the heated outdoor saltwater pool was much appreciated. The hotel is also centrally located to many tourism activities, such as Gastown, Stanley Park, the Sea Aquarium and many terrific restaurants.
Vancouver is an entirely walkable city. While it is wide, we only took an uber ride once or twice while there, usually at the end of the day when we were simply too tired to make the trek back. If you're not up for walking everywhere, they do have plenty of local transit options, including buses, a SkyTrain, and even SeaBus! If you have your own car, download the EasyPark Parking App, which shows a map of parking lots in the city.
What to Do
Where to start! We only had a few days in Vancouver, but made sure to fill them with fun - we didn't want to miss a thing. On day one, it's always nice to get your bearings in a new city. We decided to start by walking down the main road through Vancouver called Granville Street. Home to countless restaurants, bars and shops, Granville Street cuts through the heart of the city, connecting its chic north area with the trendy southend. After about an hour or so meandering our way south, we wound our way down the bridge to the Granville Island Public Market. The market is a literal smorgasbord of fresh seafood, locally sourced and exotic cheeses, farm grown fruit and vegetables, bakery treats, and Canadian food items galore. Located right on the water, the indoor/outdoor market is packed with people, both locals and tourists alike, sampling delicious food items, savoring drinks, and enjoying music played by local buskers jamming on every corner.
At the top of our list of things to see and do in Vancouver was the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Swaying gently over the Capilano Canyon is the world's first, longest (459 feet) and highest (230 feet) suspension bridge. This unique park invites guests to walk over a roaring white water river, stroll through the treetops with squirrels and birds, and walk along the glass-bottomed cliffside walkway to take in some of the most breathtaking views we've ever seen. Built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer commissioned by the government, the famous suspension bridge can hold the weight of 97 elephants, 203 moose, or 4,520 beavers!
The park is easy to get to, offering a free shuttle service from Canada Place and hotels in the downtown area. It takes you through Stanley Park, across the magnificent Lion Bridge and up into the mountainous landscape beyond.
Vancouver is home to much impressive wildlife, and it's no surprise that they boast an award winning sea aquarium. Home to more than 9,000 animals, at the Vancouver Aquarium you can see Beluga whales, sea otters, sharks, walrus and even has a walk-through rainforest area of birds, turtles and a sloth. The aquarium is located within Stanley Park on the other side of the Lion Suspension Bridge from Capilano. Both the park and the aquarium are an easy stop off point when heading back to downtown Vancouver from the suspension bridge park.
Another must-do attraction is Vancouver Island. Located southwest of Vancouver, this beautiful botanical island is the most populated landmass between western North America and New Zealand! The colorful, quirky island is home to much wildlife and several attractions, including the world renowned Butchart Gardens. With more than 50 acres of colorful and aromatic flowers, highlights of the Butchart Gardens include the famed Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, and the magnificent Ross Fountain. If you visit in summer, consider staying for the Butchart Gardens' spectacular illuminations. Butchart Gardens staff utilize thousands of lights to bring out a different look and feel to the gardens, creating a memorizing display of colorful perfection.
The most common way to get to Vancouver Island is by boat. We decided to combine our trip with a whale watching tour, a real highlight! We chose the Whales & Gardens Tour with the Prince of Whales team, which embarks from the boat docks just near our hotel and Stanley Park. The whole trip, including bus transfers to the gardens, will take 5-6 hours. We spotted tons of wildlife and did see a group of Killer Whales. Pack warm though! The air temperature on the water was chilly even midday in July.
Where to Eat
Our first day in Vancouver, we decided to try the famed farm-to-table restaurant, Fable. A local favorite, Fable has a rustic-chic ambiance that is almost a trendy as its food. These perfectly balanced bistro dishes showcase the best of locally grown seasonal ingredients. We went for the Butcher's Cut and Smoked Duck Breast, then wrapped it up by sharing the Rhubarb Custard. The gourmet comfort food made us feel right at home. Though its been open a few years now, the still packed restaurant can be difficult to get into. Reservations are strongly recommended.
After a long day out in north Vancouver enjoying the suspension bridge park and the aquarium, we really worked up an appetite! While walking back to our hotel from Stanley Park, we stumbled upon Cardero's, an adorable harbourside restaurant with tons of fresh seafood and a great wine list. We started with a dozen Kusshi Oysters, which are local to Vancouver and my absolute favorite, and then moved onto their impressive seafood menu. It was at Cardero's that I discovered Black Cod, the delicate and buttery Pacific Ocean fish that has since set me on a course to seek it out everywhere I go. The restaurant was the perfect mixture of casual dining with an upscale atmosphere, only made better by the breathtaking view of the harbour and mountains just beyond.
Before heading out of town, we stopped at Jam Café, which we heard a lot about. Don't be intimidated by the line that always seems to be out the door and down the block. The food at Jam Café is really delicious and, if you don't mind waiting 20-30 minutes for a table, is sure to leave you feeling full and happy. We chose the boneless buttermilk fried Chicken N' Waffles, and the Pork Belly Benedict. In hindsight, we probably should have chosen one and split it between us. The portions are hearty and generous to say the least!
Vancouver is a wonderful city that is beautifully juxtaposed by the outdoor wonderland just beyond. Rich in life and culture, if you've never visited this vibrant city, consider putting it at the top of your travel wish list. It is sure not to disapoint.