Vancouver easily earns its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, surrounded by the sea and hugged by soaring mountains – reflected in seemingly endless gleaming glass skyscrapers. But it’s not just good looks that make Vancouver worth a second glance: there’s a dynamic culinary scene, thanks to an international blend of chefs bringing their own recipes and techniques to a bounty of superb products, from the lush farmlands beyond the city to seafood from its clean, cold waters. Add in a comprehensive cultural landscape of galleries, museums and theatre, and a shopper’s paradise of big name designers and emerging talent, and you see why there’s plenty to explore beyond the skyline.
Vancouver is a relatively modern city: it was incorporated in 1886, but for countless generations before colonisation, it was home to a thriving Indigenous Coast Salish population; dig a little deeper and you’ll be rewarded with insight into their complex past and dynamic, empowered present.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do...
Carb up for the day at locavore haven, Forage; try the wonderfully over-the-top double-fried pork cutlet with egg and house-made pickles. Stroll downhill to Stanley Park to meet your First Nations guide from Talaysay Tours, an authentic Indigenous company who specialise in outdoor cultural tours of Stanley Park and the Salish Sea. Try a 90-minute Talking Trees tour or immerse yourself in a three-hour Forest Therapy Walk, connecting with nature through your senses.
Vancouver is rightfully known as one of the best places in the world to feast on pan-Asian cuisine, so either make it ramen for lunch at Marutama where they make the noodles fresh in-house, and the broth is a silky collagen-rich chicken base, or try sushi at Miko, a tiny West End institution with signed Canucks hockey player photos on the wall and a superb menu of sushi, sashimi and robata grill favourites (try the BBQ salmon neck and the chef’s choice sashimi).
The free shuttle bus from Canada Place to Grouse Mountain runs throughout the summer; climb aboard and explore the thrills of Grouse Mountain from the Skyride, North America’s longest aerial tramway system up to the summit, to the Eye of the Wind turbine (the only one in the world that allows visitors to travel up to the glass viewing pod), and forested trails. Embrace peak Canadiana and chomp on a Beaver Tail (a fried flat doughnut, dipped in maple sugar).
Make a pit-stop at Tap & Barrel under Douglas Coupland’s pixelated Digital Orca statue, and enjoy an all-B.C. wine and beer menu with a panoramic view of the water and mountains. Try an Empress G&T made with colour-changing gin from Victoria Distillers.
Suitably rested, indulge in a quintessentially West Coast experience with dinner at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar where multi-award-winning chef Alex Chen deftly works magic with his seafood-focused menu which looks as beautiful as it tastes; if halibut from Haida Gwaii is in season, snap it up!
Don’t want to go to bed? Visit Gastown and take a seat at the bar at Pidgin to explore their seasonally changing cocktail and sake list; the One Eyed Samurai is an irresistibly Instagrammable watermelon-infused tequila pleaser.
Caffeinate at Nemesis (302 W Hastings St) choose from a range of espresso drinks, pourovers or rotating filter coffee options, as well as kombucha and nitro cold brew on tap. Teas come from Vancouver’s 05 company. Devour innovative bakes such as a raspberry-matcha ‘cruffin’ or a satisfyingly gooey Croque Monsieur.
Pick up more sugary snacks for later, such as the cult ‘Crack Bar’ at Purebread (159 W Hastings St), then take a taxi to the Plaza of Nations water ferry stop; buy a day pass, and enjoy a scenic sail on the Aqua Bus or False Creek Ferries through False Creek to Granville Island.
Arrive in time to check in for the 11am kayak tour with Vancouver Water Adventures (1812 Boatlift Lane) and see the city from the water, learning more about its heritage and neighbourhoods, whilst spotting seals, eagles and herons.
Second only to Niagara Falls, Granville Island is one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations; make a delicious journey of discovery to find out why by picking up some of the Public Market’s (1689 Johnson Street) finest treats. Try Oyama Sausage for charcuterie, Benton Brothers for cheeses, Terra for artisan breads, Kaisereck Delicatessen for spicy bratwurst smothered in curry sauce, and don’t miss Lee’s Donuts. The honey-dip are legendary, Seth Rogan regularly queues for the jelly-filled.)
Although it's best known for the foodie abundance of its Public Market, the rest of Granville Island is a hub for artists, crafters and designers of all stripes; browse everything from unique jewellery at Forge and Form to sake made from rice grown in the nearby Fraser Valley from the Artisan Sakemaker.
Using your ferry pass sail to Yaletown to soak up the sights in the city’s most chic neighbourhood full of pavement cafés, warehouse flats and one-off stores such as Fine Finds Boutique for local designers and artists, Revolucion Cigars & Fine Gifts for barware, wallets, tobacco products, pocket squares and ties, and Barking Babies for your four-pawed friend back home to pick up 'doggles' (pet eyewear), bow ties, bandanas and other doggy inessentials.
Leave early for dinner tonight so you can enjoy a cocktail at the bar of Botanist. Try Into the Aether, which arrives on a billowing cloud of dry ice and appears to float, thanks to magnets. Then, take a taxi to the Mackenzie Room for a night of no-decisions delight over a chef-curated, five-course, wine-paired feast of whatever is in season and delicious, from the plant-and-seafood-forward bounty of the Pacific Northwest.
Plan ahead with post-dinner reservations for the Shameful Tiki Lounge, where you can indulge in vintage Tiki cocktails in one of the city’s most fun and friendly bars.
With the hands-on fun of the Science World museum at one end and Queen Elizabeth Park, a long-extinct volcano and the highest point in the city at the other, the Mount Pleasant/Main Street neighbourhood is worth exploring. It's home to dozens of cool bars, craft breweries, restaurants and quirky one-off stores, such as Devil May Wear, The Regional Assembly of Text and Giving Gifts.
Entrance to the Vancouver Art Gallery is by donation each Tuesday evening between 5pm-9pm. Avoid the queues between 5pm-7pm, when the multi-level gallery space – with its excellent permanent collection of Canadian treasures, including Emily Carr’s works, and innovative visiting exhibitions – is mobbed by thrifty early birds; head down later for a more serene experience.
Did you know?
The city of Vancouver was founded on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Watuth), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nations of the Coast Salish peoples. Visit c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City at the Museum of Vancouver to gain an insight into the relationship between Indigenous and settler communities.
The bar at the Hotel Sylvia is one of the city’s most historic and interesting: it was the city’s first licensed cocktail bar in 1954, a favourite haunt of Errol Flynn (who died in Vancouver in 1959) and home of the Vancouver cocktail. Enjoy this twist on a negroni in the lounge overlooking scenic English Bay.
Unless you are laden down with a half dozen suitcases, the Skytrain transit into the city from Vancouver International Airport is the only way to travel. Trains leave every seven minutes to travel the 16 stops from the airport to the downtown core. Buy a day ticket for CAD 16 (£10).
Where to stay . . .
Fairmont Pacific Rim may have a modern exterior, but inside there’s a traditional warm welcome. Chilled live guitar or piano-playing singers croon daily, and the lobby rings with the sound of ice crashing in cocktail shakers and flirty conversation. Decadent rooms and suites come with ravishing harbour views.
The spa is one of the city’s best, with wine-based vinotherapies and treatments with Canadian ingredients. Cosy outdoor cabana beds, fire pits, a pool and hot tubs overlook the 'sails' of Canada Place and the North Shore mountains.
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Ever wanted to stay in an art gallery? Now’s your chance. The Listel’s walls and public spaces shine with original modern and indigenous artworks. The bold First Nations artworks on display will likely whet your appetite to seek out more.
Eco-initiatives in this ‘zero waste’ boutique hotel include refillable carafes from the water stations on each floor, recycled paper in the loos, and solar panels on the roof; but the thread counts remain reassuringly high. Taste Canada coast-to-coast at the superb Forage restaurant and fun Timber gastro-pub.
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Enrich your knowledge of First Nations Culture via an immersive stay at Skwachàys Lodge. High above the front door, a 40-ft totem pole and striking carvings identify this Indigenous social enterprise project. The lobby gallery and gift shop display Indigenous-made art, crafts, souvenirs, and jewellery, all available for purchase.
Each room or suite is an art installation in its own right; themes include images such as the raven, eagle, salmon, and orca whale. Expect top-of-the-range comforts, from first-rate mattresses to walk-in showers and a Welcome Room with complimentary teas and coffee. This is a chance to meet and talk to First Nation peoples; not just the staff, but perhaps the artists, who have studios in the building.
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What to bring home . . .
Head to innovative designer John Fluevog’s flagship store in Gastown, a treasure trove of funky footwear as worn by Madonna and Beyoncé, to pick up a pair of Munster heels.
Vancouver’s craft distillery scene is thriving. Use that 1L duty free allowance on a bottle of Odd Society’s Prospector 100 per cent northern BC rye whisky, or Sons of Vancouver Amaretto sweetened with BC blackberry honey.
When to go . . .
Although it’s an excellent year-round destination (and from November until April, you can add on a day skiing or boarding on the local ski hills), Vancouver shines at its brightest from April until October, when the flowers are in bloom, the sunsets long and late, and patio bars are spilling over. Summer festivals are too numerous to count; however, winter brings January’s tasty city-wide Dine Out Festival and February the prestigious International Wine Festival.
Temperatures are mild with summer highs in the mid-20s, and winter rarely dropping below zero. But rain is common year-round with October to April getting the majority of rainy days. Think layers and always have a brolly.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist board information: 00 1 604 683 2000; destinationvancouver.com
Emergency fire, police and ambulance: 911
British Consulate-General: 1111 Melville St, Suite 800, Vancouver, British Columbia V6E 3V6; 00 1 604 683 4421; gov.uk
Flight time: (from UK) London to Vancouver is approximately 9.5 hours
Time difference: -8 hours
Currency: Canadian dollars
International dialling code: +1
Local laws and etiquette
• Always have your passport and driver’s license with you when driving in Canada, in case you get stopped by police.
• You can turn right at a red traffic light (provided you come to a complete stop first, there is no oncoming traffic and no contradictory sign saying 'no turn on red').
• In Canadian cities, you have to park with your car pointing in the direction of the traffic on the correct side of the road, otherwise you will be fined.
• Avoid parking within 5m of a fire hydrant.
• Tipping is expected for very nearly everything with tip prompts on card payment machines usually at 15 per cent, 18 per cent and 20 per cent.
• Like most cities, Vancouver has Uber and Lyft, however, local transit is more than adequate, or book a taxi via the Yellow Cab Vancouver app
• Transit is reliable, plentiful and inexpensive. The Translink system of bus, train and seabus accepts contactless Visa and Mastercard credit cards and Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. Paying with a credit card or mobile device allows you to transfer across the system; you'll have 90 minutes on bus, SkyTrain, and SeaBus, and 180 minutes on the West Coast Express.
Nikki Bayley moved to Vancouver in 2012 after falling in love with its beaches, mountains and proximity to amazing Okanagan wines. Nowadays you can either find Nikki toasting her new home in the wine country or restaurant-hopping through Vancouver.