What to do in Vancouver, BC
A blogger and tourist’s guide to visiting Vancouver.
Where to stay
We stayed at the YWCA Hotel on Beatty Street. Our hotel goals were cleanliness, budget and location, location, location. The YWCA is located in downtown Vancouver, short walks away from the popular neighbourhoods Chinatown and Gastown, as well as close to transit and the Waterfront. The staff were friendly and efficient. It was a simple hotel, but we had no issues and felt comfortable during our stay.
All of their rooms are private, with options for a shared, semi-private or private washroom. We had a semi-private washroom which meant we shared a shower and toilet with one neighbouring room. We had a private sink in the bedroom, and disinfectant spray was provided in the shared washroom.
The YWCA offered AC, a TV and a fridge in the room. They also have a full kitchen to use at your leisure, and a gym room.
How to Get Around
We took the train directly from the airport into the city. There are machines just outside of the train where you can purchase a single ride pass, day pass or Compass Card. Follow the signs through the airport for the train, and you can’t miss it. If you arrive early and plan on using buses or trains later in the day, I recommend a day pass. If you’ll use transit daily, grab the reloadable card.
The reloadable Compass card can be reloaded in any train station in the city, or online. I recommend doing it at the in-person stations, or online the day before you plan to use it. We reloaded the card through the website, and there was a 24-hour delay by the time it was activated. Luckily, we were still there using transit the next day. It’s an easy tap when you board a city bus or walk through a train turnstile. The same pass is used for the Sea Bus!
Gastown, Granville Island & Kitsilano Beach
We arrived in the morning on our first day, and after we were able to check into the hotel early, we headed out for a day of wandering and exploring.
Lunch at Tacofino
Tacofino is a popular Vancouver restaurant, with multiple locations in British Columbia, including the original food truck in Tofino. We accessed the Gastown taco bar from the patio off of Blood Alley. The outdoor brick wall, bright indoor space with the long bar, and scattered mosaic tiles create a vibrant, authentic atmosphere to enjoy some seriously tasty tacos.
Make sure to get a margarita or fun drink! The eggplant was fried and definitely my favourite item I ate there. My friend also enjoyed the fish taco which seemed like a full piece of fish on its own!
After lunch, we wandered further into the neighbourhood of Gastown, enjoying the multitude of restaurants, shops, and beautiful architecture. Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, seamlessly maintaining its history while becoming a thriving fashion and restaurant scene. It’s also a lively spot on weekend evenings if you’re looking to grab a drink.
Make sure to walk down Water Street appreciating the historic architecture, the cobblestone streets and vintage lampposts. If you plan on shopping in Vancouver, this is the place. I particularly loved the woman’s clothing stores The Latest Scoop and One of a Few. There are souvenir shops to explore as well.
The Steam Clock
Located on the infamous Water Street in Gastown, The Steam Clock is one of only a few functioning steam clocks that still exist. It is partially powered by a steam engine and you’ll spot the clouds of steam emerging from the top. The antique style clock was built in 1977 and still chimes every quarter hour. Definitely worth the admiration and a photo stop.
Buro the Espresso Bar
Also located on Water Street in Gastown, Buro the Espresso Bar is a bright open café, serving some seriously good coffee. Overall, Vancouver makes great coffee! We each grabbed a dirty chai latte as an afternoon pick me up. It wasn’t too sweet, and you could tell it was made with quality ingredients.
We continued to walk along the waterfront toward Canada Place, a landmark and venue space, where you can grab a beautiful view of North Vancouver. There are many events and activities here, including the Fly Over Canada experience; a flight simulation journey across Canada.
We admired the views as we followed the Canadian Trail; a cement path along the west walkway of Canada Place. The trail is divided into 13 equal sections, representing our provinces and territories, each indicated with a coloured tile. We made sure to find our home city of Ottawa!
A quirky escape within the city, Granville Island is an absolute must visit. It is easily accessible by both city bus and the sea bus. Full of shops, a public market, restaurants, live music, varying events, art installations, waterfront views and colourful architecture, it was a lively atmosphere that instantly upped our good moods.
Show up hungry, because the public market is packed with everything from fresh produce and grocery items to treats and hot meals. Make Vancouver was one of my favourite stores, full of well-known brands, colourful gifts and cheerful accessories. I also loved visiting Serenity West, a clothing shop full of natural fibres and sustainable apparel made here in Vancouver.
Keep wandering – there is a lot to be seen! You can also rent a variety of watercraft such as SUP boards, kayaks or water bikes, and enjoy other water adventures including whale watching! There is a Kids Market and water park too if you’re visiting with little ones.
Granville Island Brewing
As craft beer fans, we knew we needed to stop at Granville Island Brewing. Let’s be real, we also needed a break from walking. This brewery was Canada’s first microbrewery, and opened back in 1984. Bright, casual vibes and tasty local beer, it was a great stop. We each enjoyed a flight, followed by a pint of the German-style pilsner. The seasonal peach sour was another favourite of ours. They have both patio style and indoor seating, or grab some beer to go.
A visit to Kitsilano or ‘Kits’ beach, was recommended to us for a beautiful place to enjoy the sunset along with some live music. It seems there is often some sort of band or drum circle happening here, with locals dancing and enjoying the atmosphere. I loved how carefree and open everyone seemed as they moved to the music.
The sunset and view was stunning, and worth the visit for that golden hour alone! We went to The Ellis for a snack and drinks at the bar. It was a fun atmosphere all along Yew Street, with people grabbing dinner and drinks. We planned to try the Cider House for dinner, but unfortunately after putting in our name and waiting for two hours, we never ended up hearing about a table there.
Rain or Shine Ice Cream is also close by. It would have been a definite stop if it was earlier in the day! Recommended by many, hopefully I get to try it on my next visit!
Marutama Ramen Canada
With our dinner plans near the beach falling through, we decided to grab some ramen on the way back to the hotel. There were various options as we walked down Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. The JINYA Ramen Bar was packed on a Friday night – if you’re looking to dine there I suggest reservations.
Marutama Ramen had a line up for dine in, but was efficient and still tasty for takeout. We enjoyed the Tan-men ramen with its creamy chicken broth and vegetable variety. Such a delicious, feel good meal. This chain of ramen restaurants originated in Japan!
Stanley Park & Capilano Suspension Bridge
7 Days Coffee Corp
We started our day with coffee and a croissant from 7 Days Coffee. While they have hardly any online presence, they do have quality food and coffee. Hands down one of the best croissants I’ve had in my life.
Biking through Stanley Park was my favourite Vancouver activity! We rented bikes from Spokes Bicycle Rentals, on the corner of Denman Street and West Georgia Street. They offer a number of different bike options, including helmets and locks. It was a very straightforward process and took no time at all. We gave credit card information as collateral, but did not have to pay until we were back to return the bikes. We walked the bikes into Stanley Park and headed past the Rowing Club toward the seawall.
The full bike path around Stanley Park, is over 9KM long, with epic ocean and mountain views the entire way. We were in awe of the view the entire time, making a few stops to soak it all in and take photos. We got off the trail to go admire the Totem Poles, a collection of 9 totem poles sourced from remote BC areas. There are a number of other landmarks, beaches and gardens to view so keep your eyes peeled.
There are walking trails throughout the park as well, but they were closed during our visit due to the presence of coyotes in the area.
Stanley Park Brewing
After biking the full length of the seawall, we stopped for lunch and a flight of beer at Stanley Park Brewing. I was expecting good beer and a cool cabin vibe, which we got, but was not expecting such a delicious meal. My friend and I both got the Szechuan rice bowl and loved it – full of flavour, well cooked and a variety of bite sized veggies. I’m a fan of crisp, easy drinking beer and particularly liked the Electro Lager. I also loved the quality of their brewery merch – all Tentree brand!
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Adventure among the trees, on various bridges, cliff walks and trails, including the iconic 450-foot-long suspension bridge. The Capilano Suspension Bridge hangs 230 feet above the Capilano river, and is over 130 years old. We were surprised at all that the park includes beyond the bridge itself. In addition to the other outdoor structures and interactive activities there is a well-rated gift shop full of quality items and Canadian goods, multiple spots to dine and a free shuttle service.
I would definitely recommend a visit here, but note that it is quite touristy and not cheap. An adult ticket is $55 (with slightly lower rates for seniors, students and children), which may seem steep to some. What made our visit especially worth it, was taking advantage of the free shuttle service which departs from Canada Place downtown Vancouver. Not only did this save on travel costs, our bus driver was also a tour guide and we enjoyed the facts and details about the city of Vancouver on the way to the park.
We also lucked out with it being less busy during our visit! The day we went was gloomy and rainy, and we visited near the end of the day, taking the 3:30pm (last) shuttle there. This meant we didn’t have to wait in lines and got some awesome photos! We’ve heard it can get quite busy at peak times.
We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Alibi Room, located on Alexander street, at the edge of Gastown. This modern pub is known for their locally and ethically sourced food, and their wide selection of craft beer. The atmosphere was relaxed and lively, featuring some fun vintage décor with groups of friends laughing. I really enjoyed the Clover Club cocktail, and my friend loved her beer!
Our backup option for dinner was Ask for Luigi, which came highly recommended for Italian eats! It’s only a 2-minute walk from Alibi Room so you could easily visit both.
Chinatown & Mount Pleasant
Rocanini Coffee Roasters
We began our day with another quality coffee and pastry, today from Rocanini Coffee Roasters. Both were tasty and clearly made fresh!
Photo op: Make sure you get a picture in front of the entrance to Chinatown; the Millennium Gate. Find this landmark at 26 W Pender Street.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
After visiting China in 2018, this Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver was the closest I’ve felt to being there again! This is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture and learn about some of their history. It’s beautiful for a quiet wander, admiring the architecture, curated plants and koi fish in the pond. There are often events and different exhibits at the garden, including guided tours to learn even more.
Treasure Green Tea Company
If you’ve noticed restaurant Google ratings in the city of Vancouver, they rarely go past 4.5 stars, and that will mean a delicious spot! The Treasure Green Tea Company had a 4.9 rating, which meant it HAD to be great. We ordered a weekend special bubble tea, and it was made in front of us. They offered us samples as well to make the right choice! Inside the shop you’ll find a vast selection of teas and tea ware for sale.
Fat Mao Noodles
Fat Mao considers themselves a modern Asian noodle bar with a focus on Thai-Chinese soup noodles. My friend had been wanting to eat here for literally years, and had really hyped up the meal. She loved it, it did not disappoint. The hot and sour pork noodles dish was absolutely delicious! My friend loved the vegetarian khao soi!
Queen Elizabeth Park
We met up with friends who had a car, and they brought us to Queen Elizabeth Park. If you love beautiful gardens and colourful florals you’ll love a visit here. Coming from the city of Ottawa and the cold winters, I was amazed at all the tropical plants and botanicals found here. There are wonderful views over the gardens and of the city, from the highest point in Vancouver. This expansive park is also home to the Bloedel Conservatory, an indoor botanical garden with over 100 exotic birds and 500 plants.
Mount Pleasant is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood outside downtown, and was Vancouver’s first suburb. It has a culturally diverse history and is a charming area to live, work, eat and shop. The area is also home to the picturesque town hall (which I obviously forgot to take a photo of – don’t make my mistake). If you’re into street art or brewery hopping, Mount Pleasant is the area to visit.
33 Acres Brewery
With simple sleek décor, and a modern look, 33 Acres Brewery has an innovative design, community vibe and a drive to make a quality product. The brewery has both an indoor taproom and outdoor patio space to enjoy beer and snack menu. My friend enjoyed all the beers in her tasting flight, while I loved both the ’33 Acres of Cider’ and ’33 Acres of Sunshine’.
We made our way to Brassneck Brewery for snacks and more beer. This brewery has a more rustic vibe, with a long bar, high tables and wooden stools. They like to rotate beer options and experiment with different styles. Batches are also small so you know it’s fresh! I enjoyed the Brassneck Ale, along with the warm baguette and olives from their sister restaurant, the Magnet. The staff was very friendly and seemed excited by our visit!
Electric Bicycle Brewing
If you’re looking for a bit of a colourful, carnival atmosphere to enjoy a beer, I recommend a visit to Electric Bicycle Brewing. The outdoor mural and sign is just a preview. We sat in a corner booth, as I sipped the Shop Cider and my friend had a Hazy IPA. We also tried the Lemon Daddy shot which was a fun addition. They have grilled cheese and snacks available, along with sodas and kombucha if you’re not a beer fan.
The Whip Restaurant
A neighbourhood gathering spot, The Whip Restaurant is known for their burgers and beers, as well as the ambiance. It feels like a cozy spot, where you could go for a fancy cocktail while remaining casual. Amongst the mood lighting, rustic wooden accents and variety of plant décor, we enjoyed burgers and drinks. The staff was extremely friendly too!
Lynn Canyon Park & Vancouver Eats
Lynn Canyon Park
We took public transit, including the seabus to Lynn Canyon Park in North Vancouver. Lynn Canyon Park is a popular destination for hiking, relaxing in nature and swimming. We opted for two hiking trail loops, both beginning at the suspension bridge. The suspension bridge itself is popular for tourists who want to avoid the cost and usual crowds at Capilano Suspension Bridge. It was honestly anticlimactic after visiting Capilano the day before, and if you only plan on visiting for the Lynn Canyon bridge, I don’t think it’s worth the time.
The hiking trails, however, featured beautiful rainforest with 100-year-old trees, and natural elements including water pools, canyons and creeks. We first turned right from the bridge toward Twin Falls Bridge. The trail starts off flat, with sections of boardwalk, but don’t be fooled, after crossing the second bridge there is a fairly intense staircase. Upon completion of this loop, we crossed the suspension bridge again, turning left toward the 30-foot pool. We took time to sit on rocks and feel the chilly waters with our hands. Some people were swimming nearby, but with warnings about casualties from jumping as well as the icy cold temperatures of the water, it didn’t seem safe to go in in September. After this pool section, there is a tall staircase that had us taking breaks to catch our breath. Once you’ve ascended all of the stairs, follow the trail to the right to circle back to the suspension bridge start.
If you’re looking for a more intense hike with epic views in North Vancouver, check out The Grouse Grind. Referred to as Nature’s Stairmaster, this is a challenging hike which we were not up for on this day. There is a skyride gondola that you can take down the mountain.
Lonsdale Quay Market
In North Vancouver, right near the bus terminal and seabus, is the Lonsdale Quay Market. Once a carnival style marketplace, it is now a unique retail market experience and community space. You’ll find quite the collection of over 60 vendors and local makers, selling both gifts and food. It would be a great area to wander around, shop and snack.
Downtown Vancouver, on Melville Street, is Sushi California. We chose this sushi spot for lunch, as it had a detailed menu with lots of options, including many vegetarian sushi rolls. They brought us traditional tea as we sat down to order. Everything we had was delicious, including the Veggie Gyoza, Vege Vege roll and Crispy Avo roll.
If you’re looking for something high end, Miku Vancouver came highly recommended by multiple people. It has views of the bay and seems like a great spot… just not if you’re in sweaty hiking gear and looking for mainly veggie options.
We took our time walking around Vancouver on our last day, before freshening up in the hotel and packing for our flight home. We walked over the Dunsmuir Viaduct toward Chinatown, and loved the view from this walkway overpass. Views of the city, including the Chinatown sign and colourful murals were to one side, and views of Rogers Arena and Science World were on the other.
The Ramen Butcher
Last night in Vancouver meant we needed more delicious noodles! We ventured back to Georgia Street in Chinatown to have dinner at The Ramen Butcher. The chefs at the Ramen Butcher were trained in Japan, and everything, including the noodles, are made fresh daily. I loved the Red Spicy Ramen, and found the spice level one added a great flavour without being too spicy. They have free noodle refills, which we took advantage of.
We opted for a final Vancouver beer at London Pub, which was just around the corner from The Ramen Butcher. This casual watering hole has barrel style tables and rustic pub elements, including games like billiards and darts. We both enjoyed a local pale ale from East Vancouver Brewing.