The appeal of the famed green and leafy city of Vancouver is so strong that if you’re not careful, you’ll spend your whole life there. Countless visitors to the open-minded and laidback cosmopolitan centre love it so much that they move there for good. So it’s safe to say that you can never spend too much time in Vancouver. But what is the shortest amount of time you should stay? If you’re stopping by at the beginning or end of a cruise and only have a finite amount of days to spare, how many is enough to do Vancouver justice?
The magic number is: three.
Spend one day in the city, one day out on the ocean and one day up in the mountains. These three unique regions represent the three different faces of Vancouver, and the only way to really understand the city is to embrace them all.
Day 1 – City
Spend your first day in Vancouver in the city, getting your bearings. There are innumerable ways to explore, but a couple of our favourites are by hop-on, hop-off bus or by bike. If you fancy heading out under your own leg-power, the compact city is easily walkable, taking about 45 minutes to get from one side to the other.
The hop-on bus services allow the freedom to explore Vancouver’s diverse neighbourhoods, from the sleek city centre to the relaxed harbour area to trendy Gastown. Commentary is provided along the way to give you an insight into Vancouver’s top attractions, including the Art Gallery and Aquarium. If you fancy cycling, then Vancouver is the perfect bike-friendly city. Hire a bike in the huge Stanley Park and cycle along the seawall for an introduction to its variety of beaches and the unique vibes of each one.
Robson Street forms the main hub of the city centre and is an ideal starting point for shopping. Many of the big hotels are located in this area, or just a short walk away on the harbour front. Chinatown is well worth a visit for the historic buildings, exotic shops and excellent food. Gastown is the neighbourhood to head to for sophisticated cocktails and gastro-pub fare.
No exploration of the city would be complete without a trip to the iconic Granville Island market. Cross False Creek over the Granville Bridge and enter this gastronomic wonderland. With artisan-made gourmet morsels from charcuterie to cheese, locally grown fruit to fresh-baked bread, there is so much here to tickle your taste buds.
At the end of your day, head up to the Vancouver Lookout for a bird’s eye view of everywhere you visited in the day, and enjoy the spectacular sunset views over the city, the sea and Vancouver Island in the distance.
Day 2 – Sea
Wake up bright and early on your second day in Vancouver to make the most of getting out on the ocean. If you’re new to seafaring, then dip a toe in on a short boat tour with Sea Vancouver. These tours are excellent value for money at just $42 per person for a 90 minute zodiac ride. You’ll have the chance to see the city from a new perspective, zipping past as the experienced skippers point out Coal Harbour, North Shore and English Bay.
For a longer – and potentially more rewarding – trip out onto the ocean, book onto a whale watching tour. Running from April through to October, these tours offer the chance to catch a glimpse of some of the thousands of migratory and resident whales which pass through the waters around Vancouver every year. Orcas, humpbacks, grey whales and minke whales can all be spotted, as well as sea lions, otters, dolphins, eagles, pelicans and puffins. Tours range from around 4-5 hours on a half day trip to 8-9 hours on a full day tour.
Other ways to enjoy the ocean include seaplane excursions – which depart near the iconic, sail-shaped Canada Place on the waterfront – sea kayaking tours and lounging on one of the beaches. Head further afield to Kitsilano Beach for sun-drenched glamour, Second Beach for an enormous, heated outdoor pool, or Wreck Beach for clothing-optional sunbathing!
Day 3 – Mountains
Wherever you are in the city, you’ll always have views of Vancouver’s incredible mountain surrounds. The most awe-inspiring are the North Shore Mountains – the mountains which form the tip of the majestic Coastal Mountain Range running all the way up to Alaska. Despite being just over the Lions Gate Bridge, half an hour from Downtown Vancouver, these mountains are wild. Rugged trails pass through temperate rainforest which is home to bears and coyotes. The main hiking areas are Cypress Provincial Park, Mount Seymour Provincial Parks and Grouse Mountain.
For a high octane experience slightly closer to home, head over to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park a short bus ride from downtown. This fun forest park is home to a number of canopy walkways under the shady boughs of towering cedars. The main event is the 137m long, 70m high suspension bridge over the gushing waters of the Capilano River, followed swiftly by the exhilarating Cliffwalk – a gravity-defying walkway which clings to the edge of a cliff. After you’re done with the heady heights, you can explore more of the surrounding Capilano Canyon and Capilano Regional Park which offer some great walking trails.
For a more challenging hike with some of the best mountain views around, drive around an hour outside of Vancouver into Squamish and take on the Stawamus Chief. This 7 mile hike offers expansive mountain and sea views from its summit, and the rewarding trail features old growth forest and a side-path to the thundering Shannon Falls. The gradient is tough but the panorama at the top is worth it. If you fancy the incredible views without the sweat, the nearby Sea to Sky Gondola is for you. All of the rewarding vistas with none of the blisters.
So there you have it – a whirlwind three days in Vancouver, giving you just enough of a taste to fall for the city and its charms. If you’ve got the chance to stay longer in Vancouver then do – there is so much on offer that you could easily spend a week or more. Otherwise, our 3 day recipe for success is the perfect start or end to your cruise.
Photo credit: Stawamus Chief, Squamish GoToVan | Flickr