Earlier this month, I took a short solo-trip to Vancouver, Canada and I had the best time navigating the city, exploring much of what it had to offer. I came across a cheap flight back in December and found a great deal on an idyllic AirBnb, so I booked both on a whim, not really knowing what I wanted to do in the British Columbian city north of Seattle. Yet it ended up being such an amazing trip. Vancouver is a vibrant melting-pot of beautiful, kind humans from all over the world, and I loved it so much that I could easily imagine myself living in a city like that one day.
About a week before leaving, I realized I had very little planned, so I got to work researching all of things that I needed to see and do, and — of course — all of the places I needed to eat. In my four days of exploring, I found that I was able to do everything on my list, and since Vancouver is a fairly walkable city with wonderful public transportation, it was very easy to get around. I always want to share the things that I think everyone should do in a new city, so here is my list of what to do in Vancouver, BC!
FIRST THINGS FIRST...
There are a few things you should know and/or do before you head to Vancouver, some of which I knew before getting to city and some I didn't. Let my lessons learned below help you when planning your visit:
- Create a Google Doc with all of the things you want to do and research where places are before you get there. You can then list those things by day and/or neighborhood to help you stay organized and efficient in your travels. Can you tell I'm fairly Type A?
- Use Google Maps for everything. Seriously. Before going to a new city, I create an offline map with all of the places I want to go, which helps me to visualize where I want to be and when. Also, you should use Google Maps for public transportation, as it can tell you the exact bus route(s) to take to get around the city. My friend Chelsea at Travel Brinkley is an absolute master at Google Maps, so be sure to check out her maps for NYC, Nashville, and more!
- Get a CompassCard. You will need one for all public transportation around Vancouver, including the train from the airport and all bus rides. You can also use exact change for the bus, but trust me, it's way easier (and faster) to just tap your CompassCard when you get on the bus. When you're at the airport, purchase a reloadable card and put a reasonable amount of money on it for how long you'll be there. You can also reload your card at a few of the train stations around the city (like Waterfront).
- Don't worry about getting Canadian currency. You will very rarely if ever need it, as almost everywhere in the city takes credit/debit cards. Just make sure to alert your bank that you will be traveling so that they don't freeze your accounts while abroad!
- Never be afraid to say hello to new people, especially when traveling solo! I ended up making a few friends on this trip just by starting a conversation.
WHAT TO DO:
- Capilano Suspension Bridge. This was the first thing on my list of things to do in Vancouver, and it was truly so magical. I happened to go on a super overcast, drizzly day, which meant the crowds were at a minimum #winning. And the fog made it feel like something straight out of Lord of the Rings or something. The park's attractions include the main suspension bridge, a canyon cliff walk, and smaller treetop bridges. Pro tip: there is a free shuttle to the park that picks up at a few hotels downtown every 30 minutes, with free returns as well.
- Grouse Mountain. Since it's only a short bus ride from Capilano, I figured I might as well make my way up to the mountain while I was there, and I'm so glad I did. I ended up making new friends at the bus stop, and we hung out all afternoon! We took the gondola up the mountain where we went sledding, took a "sleigh ride," and walked through the light tour they had set up. It ended up snowing a ton while we were there, and it was the most amazing winter wonderland.
- Bike around Stanley Park. I am so glad I did this while I was in Vancouver. I rented a bike at the front of the park, and started riding the route along the seawall, stopping to see the totem poles, the lighthouse, and the bridge that connects downtown to North Vancouver. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my hilarious misadventure while I was biking Stanley Park... long story short, make sure you pay attention to where you are and be prepared to hike up some hills with your bike if you're trying to get to Prospect Point... which you absolutely should, because the view is spectacular and there's even a cafe/restaurant at the top!
- Explore Gastown + Yaletown. Gastown was easily one of my favorite little neighborhoods, especially with its trees all lit up at night. Be sure to check out the Gastown Steam Clock and keep your ears open every 15 minutes as it plays a little song. Yaletown is also a cool neighborhood to explore, so make sure to do that, too.
- Walk along the Seawall. On my first day, I walked from the Olympic Village to Granville Island, and despite having my luggage in tow, it was a gorgeous walk on the sunniest day I had in the city! I would also recommend walking from English Bay Beach down to Sunset Beach, then talking the ferry over to Granville Island at some point.
- Visit Granville Island. I actually stayed in an AirBnb on Granville Island, which ended up being the best location. I had the most incredible view of the skyline from the living room window, and it was right next to a bus stop that I used every day to get downtown. When you visit Granville Island, be sure check out the Public Market and get some gelato, coffee, or other local goodies, then sit by the waterfront to watch one of the many street performers.
- Vancouver Lookout. For some pretty amazing views of the city and the skyline, be sure to head up to Vancouver Lookout. They have lots of historical info about the city, including the fact that the lookout was opened by Neil Armstrong. When you get your ticket, it's good for the entire day, so be sure to see the city by day and night!
- Harbour Seaplane Tour. I didn't end up doing this on my trip, but am hoping to get around to it next time because it looks to be an amazing way to take in the sights of Vancouver (and beyond!).
- Visit Whistler. Only about 1.5 hours from Vancouver is Whistler Mountain, a pretty popular spot for those love who snow sports. If that sounds like you, I would consider making the trip up to Whistler for sure!
WHERE TO EAT:
- Nemesis Coffee. I went here twice because I liked their coffee so much. And the avocado toast with ricotta and a poached egg wasn't too bad either.
- Revolver Coffee. A bartender recommended this one to me, and I'm so glad he did. It's super vibey and cozy and I spent an hour or so just reading with my latte while sitting at the window.
- Thierry. I stopped here for coffee and macarons before catching the shuttle to Capilano, but they are best known for their chocolates and other sweet desserts.
Location: Downtown/West End
- Nero Waffle Bar. Oh my word this place was SO good. I opted for a savory Belgian waffle for lunch on the day I was heading home, but made sure to snag two mini liège waffles to snack on at the airport (vanilla custard + chocolate). Location: Yaletown
- The Flying Pig. I also went here twice, though at different locations, and literally just for the pulled pork poutine because, yes, it was THAT good.
Locations: Olympic Village + Gastown + Yaletown
- Meat + Bread. This was a spot that multiple blogs said I had to go to, and I was not disappointed. I got the meatball sandwich at the recommendation of an employee and it was amazing.
- Tacofino. I went here after my long day at Capilano and Grouse mountain, where I ordered a blood orange margarita and their queso appetizer. No regrets.
Locations: multiple throughout the city
- CRAFT Beer Market. Vancouver has quite a few breweries, but this was the one that came most recommended. Great vibes and a great bar!
Location: Olympic Village
- Minami. The best sushi I've ever had, hands down. When you go (because in my heart, you will go there when you definitely go to Vancouver), order the Salmon Oshi Sushi and thank me later.
I really had a great time in Vancouver and would absolutely love to visit again, probably in the summer or fall! I imagine that the city comes even more alive in warmer months, and would put money on Stanley Park looking absolutely stunning when the leaves change! I hope that you found this little travel guide helpful, and that you put Vancouver near the top of your list of places to go in the future! And please feel free to share this post using the image below.