Steadfast mountains, dark blue ocean, and modern glass.
When Vancouver comes to mind, these are three of the characteristic things my thoughts instantly jump to. On one recent 48-hour trip, I found myself enjoying the contemporary and clean landscape of the city, and of course, the vast natural splendor surrounding it. As a visitor, it’s easy to find the beauty of Vancouver.
If you’re planning a trip out to the west coast, I’ve put together an active itinerary (plus some ideas on where to stay and what to pack) which spans two full days – perfect if you’re only able to get away for a weekend.
8 a.m. Coffee & Croissants at Thierry
This French inspired café in the center of downtown Vancouver is the ideal spot to start your day with a strong cappuccino and a house baked pastry. Their croissants are especially delicious (perfectly crunchy on the outside and buttery soft on the inside) and you can get some great people watching in from the covered patio on Alberni Street, one of Vancouver’s priciest avenues, making breakfast at Thierry a mellow way to wake up in Vancouver.
Can’t make it for breakfast? Squeeze in Thierry in the afternoon for a pick-me-up coffee with some homemade macarons or for a late night treat (the hot chocolate is especially good) before bed. Thierry is open from 7am to midnight on weekdays and from 8am to midnight on weekends.
1059 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6E 1A1 / (604) 608-6870
9:30 a.m. Bike the Seawall
After breakfast, walk down towards the Coal Harbor Seawall and you’ll find an array of bicycle shops that rent out bikes for the day (if you miss the ones along the seawall just keep walking until you hit Denman Street where you’ll find a plethora).
Grab a bike (remember from which shop as this is where you’ll need to return the bike when you’re done) and hit the seawall loop around Stanley Park. There is so much to see here you could spend all day exploring the trails inside Stanley Park, but stick to the outside loop along the ocean for beautiful views of the city and mountains. There are plenty of places you can stop for a quick break or photo opportunity.
A few things to note: There are separate pathways for cyclists and people walking the seawall. Watch the markings on the ground to ensure you don’t end up on the wrong path or risk having every bicyclist ding their bell at you in annoyance. The other thing to keep in mind is that the Seawall around Stanley Park is a one-way loop. Again, watch the markings on the ground and check which way your fellow cyclists are going to ensure you don’t disrupt the traffic flow.
12:30 p.m. Lunch at Cactus Club English Bay
After your bike ride around Stanley Park, stop for lunch at the Cactus Club in English Bay. While it’s a chain restaurant and you might find a line-up in the summer, the food is flavorful and the views are worthwhile.
1790 Beach Ave, Vancouver, BC V6E 1V3 / (604) 681-2582
2 p.m. Cycle False Creek Seawall to Granville Island
Following lunch, jump back on your bike and continue on the seawall into False Creek. You’ll pass under both the Burrard Street and Granville Street Bridges, cycle along the edge of Vancouver’s Yaletown neighborhood and David Lam Park, go under the Cambie Street Bridge, pass by Science World and Olympic Village, and finally make your way to Granville Island.
4:30 p.m. Explore Granville Island
Lock up your bike and explore Granville Island. Inside the market hall you’ll find an abundance of both local food vendors and artisans. Pass by heaping cartons of raspberries, sample some fresh smoked salmon from one of the fish shops, and watch out for the seagulls patrolling outside (they will try to steal your food).
In the summer you’ll often find street performers and musicians performing in various spots as well. If you’re visiting Vancouver from May to September, almost every day at Granville Island is busy. Should your trip take place in the off-season, head to Granville Island on a weekday to avoid the weekend crowds.
The Public Market is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
6:30 p.m. Return to Downtown
Once you’re done exploring the market, either bike back across the Burrard Street Bridge or take your bike on board one of False Creek’s colorful Aquabus ferry boats to be transported across the water back into downtown. Once there, make your way to Coal Harbor to return your bike rental from the shop where you picked it up.
8 p.m. Dinner at Pacifico
Finish off the day with a glass of Italian wine and delicious thin crust pizza at Pacifico. For dessert, don’t miss the house made Tiramisu. If you’re still feeling up to something after dinner, you can always check out a movie at Scotiabank Theatre located right next to Pacifico or head over to wander Vancouver’s main shopping district on Robson Street.
970 Smithe St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 0A4 / (604) 408-0808
9 a.m. Breakfast at Café Medina
One of Vancouver’s most popular brunch spots, Café Medina is beloved for its sweet Belgian waffles, delicious coffees (the lavender latte is a personal favorite), and cozy Mediterranean décor.
But, prepare yourself: if you don’t arrive shortly before opening time you’ll be in for quite a wait. Café Medina typically has long lineups, especially on the weekends, so be sure to get there early to guarantee a table. They are open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
780 Richards St. Vancouver, BC V6B 3A4 / (604)-879-3114
10:30 a.m. Make your way to Grouse Mountain
One of the peaks on the north shore, Grouse Mountain is an exciting place to spend the day and there are several ways you can get there, by car, public transit, or shuttle bus.
If you want to use public transit, head down to Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver (it’s the historic brick building at the edge of Gastown on West Cordova Street). Buy a ticket for the SeaBus, the ferry which connects downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver and enjoy the quick 15-minute ride across Burrard Inlet.
While it does take longer than driving, I enjoy taking public transit to Grouse because of this particular part of the journey. Oftentimes, you’ll see a curious seal poking its head out of the water as the SeaBus goes by and you almost always get a beautiful view of the downtown skyline (unless the city is rained in, in which case don’t bother going to Grouse).
After the SeaBus drops you at Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, hop on the #236 bus which will take you directly to Grouse Mountain.
If you’re driving yourself, you’ll either have to cross the Lions Gate Bridge or the Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge to go to North Vancouver. If you know you’ll be heading out or coming back during either morning or afternoon rush hour, avoid the Lions Gate Bridge at all costs as traffic can get backed up for hours. For more detailed driving instructions, you can follow these directions.
Alternatively, throughout the summer months there is also a free shuttle bus making daily round trips between Canada Place and Grouse Mountain. You can find more information here.
11:15 a.m. Discover Grouse Mountain
There are two ways to reach the top of Grouse Mountain. If you’re in decent shape, I would recommend you hike the Grouse Grind, which has been aptly nicknamed “mother nature’s stair master”. It’s not that long of a hike, but it is quite steep and you will sweat buckets. Be sure to bring along a water bottle and wear sturdy shoes (I love Merrell for hiking shoes).
The Grouse Grind is usually open from May to September/October.
The other, less physically taxing, way of reaching the top is to buy a round trip gondola ticket for $40 which will conveniently get you up to the top in less than five minutes. If you do however choose to do the hike, the gondola ticket to go back down is only $10 and can be purchased at the Guest Relations desk.
Once you’re on the top of Grouse you’ll find plenty of things to do: from zip lining to observing Grizzly bears meandering through their natural habitat to watching a thrilling Lumberjack show to gazing upon Vancouver from the inside of a giant wind turbine. Or, there’s also hanging out on the lodge patio on a warm summer day with a cold beer.
In the winter, you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding some of the best powder snow with views of the city stretching out below.
8 p.m. Dinner at Absinthe Bistro
Located on vibrant Commercial Drive, Absinthe Bistro is an intimate 22-seat restaurant owned by husband and wife team, Cory and Juliana Pearson. Their French menu is comprised of three starters, three mains, and three desserts which change on a regular basis and are made from only the freshest ingredients.
Think dishes like Smoked Eel Terrine, Braised Beef and Crème Brulee. Of course, Absinthe Bistro wouldn’t be complete without serving real absinthe. You can try this classic drink poured over a sugar lump as an after dinner drink. A three course menu of your owning choosing is fairly priced at $45. Reservations are recommended.
1260 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X4 / (604) 566-9053
In the summer months, finding somewhere half decent to stay in Vancouver can be quite the challenge. With the influx of international tourists from May to September, you’ll find rates often double or even triple, and due to the increase in demand, availability is often scarce. Book as early as you can.
While summer remains the most popular time to visit Vancouver, the city is a year-round destination. Spring can be quite rainy, but fall and winter are great times to go. You’ll have the benefit of off-season rates, availability in most all high-end and low-end accommodations, plus Vancouver simply feels quieter.
With that in mind, here are a few places I can recommend from personal experience and a few that I’ve heard are good value for the cost:
HI Vancouver Downtown I’ve stayed here on a number of occasions both in the summer and winter. It’s probably safe to say that the HI Vancouver Downtown is the best hostel in downtown because of its quiet location yet close proximity to many attractions, price point, and free daily breakfast (it’s nothing to write home about, but it does the job).
While I haven’t stayed in a shared dorm room, the private rooms are simple, clean, and come with a sink. Bathrooms are shared. Most recently, I stayed here on a holiday long weekend in the summer and the cost for a private room double occupancy was $120/night.
HI Jericho Beach The one that always gets away. I’ve tried to stay here on many occasions but HI Jericho Beach sells out quickly. This hostel is located right at scenic Jericho Beach, just a little ways outside of downtown. While it might not be as centrally located as the HI Downtown, the rooms looks a tiny bit fancier and some of the private rooms come with their own bathroom.
The Burrard A boutique hotel with a vintage vibe, The Burrard first opened its doors in 1956. Today this updated retro hotel is the place to stay for all kinds of travelers looking for an ultra-cool accommodation only minutes from restaurants, shops, and attractions. The Burrard offers guests free Wi-Fi, dog-friendly rooms, free bike rentals, and a gorgeous inner courtyard perfect for lounging in the warmer months.
Packing for a trip to Vancouver
Oftentimes, Vancouver can feel quite a bit warmer than it is due to humidity levels in the summer. While temperatures are usually in the mid-20s C, it’s best to pack shorts, t-shirts, and light clothing (Tradlands makes some of my favorite travel pieces – you can find my reviews here and here) for sunny days. Nights tend to cool off, so pack a pair of long pants and a light jacket or sweater.
Winters are mild in comparison to many other places in Canada. Temperatures usually hover around the freezing point, and unlike the mountains around Vancouver, the city itself rarely gets much snow. If you’re visiting in the winter be sure to pack an insulated jacket, sweaters, long pants, sturdy walking shoes, gloves, and a toque.
Regardless of the season, my final piece of advice would be to pack a compact umbrella that you can leave in your car or bring along in your backpack – because in Vancouver, you never know when it might start raining.
While this 48-hour guide is meant to give you a well-rounded tour of Vancouver, please feel free to extract bits and pieces to include in your own travel plans, or you can follow this itinerary entirely as it is written here.
Either way, I’d love to hear about your time in Vancouver. Have you been to any of the places listed? Let me know in the comments below!