If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might remember that my hubby and I kick-started 2016 travels by going to Vancouver in January. We had been there about 3.5 years ago and this was going to be our second time in the city, and yet, I had made such a (good) big deal about going to Vancouver, read on to know why…
Here’s the gist – we live in Seattle and going to Vancouver is like a weekend affair, I mean, if on a Sunday morning we felt like brunch in a different country we could literally just drive to Vancouver! So what’s the big deal about going to Vancouver you might ask? Well, the big deal wasn’t really about visiting Vancouver (hey don’t get me wrong, we loveeee the city) but its about the fact that for a travel-obsessed couple like us, we had not crossed the US border for 22 months! That’s right, 22-freaking-months!!! (thanks to the painfully annoying and never-ending visa and immigration saga). And that’s exactly why even though we are just 2.5 hours away, visiting Vancouver was a HUGE deal to us!! Now that’s off my chest, lets get talking about Vancouver itself and why it is that we love the city SOO much!
For starters, Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city with the ocean to one side and mountains to the other. The Pacific Northwest is deemed to have a laid back vibe (having lived here in Washington for over half a year I can totally vouch for it) and the Pacific Rim is known for its urban energy, but Vancouver is not partial to either, it simply offers you the best of both worlds!
We spent a week in Vancouver and stayed at a hotel in Downtown. It was just the perfect location to explore and enjoy everything the city has to offer – beaches, museums, theaters, parks, outdoor activities, shopping, restaurants – you name it and it is just 15-20 mins away (by walk or by drive). The picture perfect views from downtown are simply breathtaking; imagine the scenery of a skyline (skyscrapers all neatly stacked next to each other); now add the ocean to the foreground and snow covered mountains to the background, and imagine yourself going for long walks enjoying this beautiful view! No, I am not depicting a scene from a movie and this is in fact, a reality in Vancouver that I got to experience for a week. As they say, ‘Vancouver is a place where you can go skiing in the morning and sailing in the afternoon’.
Here are some of the top things to do in (and around) Vancouver:
Stanley Park is bang in the middle of Vancouver downtown and is one of the largest urban parks. There are many ways to explore the park – walk, jog, bike, hop on the miniature train or get on a horse carriage to take in and enjoy the views of the skyline, ocean, north shore mountains, all from within the 1000 acres of this park. An added bonus is to be able to watch dolphins, penguins, otters and beluga in the Vancouver Aquarium that is located within the park. Stanley Park is rightly called as the crown jewel of Vancouver and the playground of Vancouverites.
English Bay is really an extension of Stanley Park (and one of my favorite places in Vancouver). One could jog or bike along the Seawall and continue onto second and third beach, catch a glimpse of the sailing ships, lay on the sand soaking up some sun, play beach volley ball, catch a spectacular sunset. The best part is that there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to grab a bite when you tire of people-watching… 😉
Granville Island is a gem located under the Granville Bridge. It is supposedly one of the largest public markets, and a Vancouver’s favorite, both among tourists and locals alike! This public market has a well-balanced fusion of shops (produce from farmers, crafts from artisans, etc.), galleries, theaters, cafes and restaurants. The view from the island is stunning.
Canada Place is an iconic national landmark that is located in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown. Watch (or even get on one) the seaplanes take off one after another with mountains in the background (makes for a gorgeous sight). The five Canada Place sails are 90 foot tall and are lit up every evening. The heritage horns at Canada Place play a short medley everyday at noon, which is basically the first four cords of Canada’s National Anthem.
Gastown is apparently the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver. It is close to the waterfront and spans 12 blocks. It is famous for its steam clock and cobbled streets among several other things. It houses some of the most chic restaurants, high-end boutiques and trendy clubs in the city.
Robson Street is a retail therapy heaven with an array of great choices from high-end international brands to local designer stores. The street is always bustling with vibrant energy. And to satisfy the hungry shoppers, there are also a large number of restaurants and cafes to choose from.
VanDusen Botanical Garden is apparently a must see for all botanical garden fans, with a variety of themed gardens and art installations (which means plenty of photo ops). We had to miss this one as we did not have enough time for it.
Capilano Suspension Bridge is a 15 min drive from downtown Vancouver. The bridge is 230 feet above the Capilano River and 450 feet long, it is a thrilling experience to walk from one end of this hanging bridge to the other. The park has several attractions –treetop adventures, seven suspension bridges, historic and art displays, etc.
Grouse Mountain is very close to the Capilano Bridge and offers plenty of adventure activities to choose from, but if you do not have the time or the energy for an activity, then simply hop on the Skyride gondola and take in the mesmerizing views of Vancouver from the top of the mountain.
West Vancouver and Lighthouse Park is a 25 min drive from downtown Vancouver. The park is beautiful and offers plenty of hiking trails that are well marked and the hikes are easy for the most part. The trails will take you down rocky paths and lead you to the ocean. The views of the water, mountains, Lions Gate Bridge and the city from along the trails are spectacular.
Sea to Sky Highway is a spectacular drive on highway 99 from Vancouver to Whistler. There are plenty of spectacular vistas, photo ops along the way. There’s ocean on the left side and mountain on the right side (in many ways, reminds me of the Pacific Coast Highway-1 drive in California). We have not been able to go all the way to Whistler either of the times but definitely plan to when we are in Vancouver the next time.
Food: We love the food scene in Vancouver; it is terrific!! From high-end gourmet restaurants to hole in the wall cafes to food carts, everybody serves mouth-wateringly-delicious food. Just talking about it is making me hungry!! I recommend you dedicate enough time in your schedule to try different cuisines and restaurants when you are in Vancouver. We already have a long list of restaurants we need to check out the next time we are back in that city.
The Beaches: Vancouver boasts itself for having some of the best beaches in and around the downtown area – Second and Third beach (both along the Seawall Walk in English Bay), Jericho beach, Kitsilano beach, Spanish Banks beach, Sunset beach etc. The city and mountain views from any of these beaches are spectacular and a great way to soak in the sun and catch some gorgeous sunset. P.S: Clothing is optional on some of the beaches in Vancouver.
Biking and Walking: To throurughy enjoy everything Vancouver has to offer, ditch your car and explore the city by foot or on a bike. It is the best way to discover some of the hidden gems as well as get the best views of the mountains, ocean and the city skyline.
Transportation: If you are not up for walking or biking, then public transportation is the way to go. If you have a car then be mindful of the fact that parking in downtown is very expensive. There are plenty of tour bus options available if you want to go to places outside downtown.
There you have it, those are some of the many reasons why we LOVE #vancity a.k.a Vancouver!!! If you are a family/friend visiting us, don’t forget to bring your Canada visa along, next brunch is served up in Vancouver 😉
So tell me, have you been to Vancouver (and love it too)? If not, does this blogpost on Vancouver remind you any other city?
“I love just how beautiful Vancouver is. I mean, everywhere you look it’s just mountains and ocean.”