Vancouver is a city of bright lights nestled among some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. Surrounded by temperate rainforest and towering peaks, it almost looks as though it has been dropped into the heart of the raw Canadian wilderness. As the capital of British Columbia, Vancouver has much to recommend it. It boasts some of the best hotels in Canada, diverse cultural riches in its centre, fantastic dining in Gastown, and, of course, the sheer majesty of the surrounding coastline and nearby islands.
As Jonathan from the popular Canadian lifestyle blog, Waiching’s Wall, comments, “Every day in Vancouver is awesome. The city is friendly and has something new to offer every visitor. One day you can be relaxing by the sunny English Bay beach and next thing you know you’re either eating Vancouver’s famous Asian food Downtown or shopping around Robson Street, which houses some of the best fashion retailers in the city.”
Rebecca from the much-loved blog Miss604 agrees, saying: “My husband is American so we get visitors every summer and my goal is always to have them experience Vancouver by land, sea, and from the air. Because of our unique geography, with Downtown Vancouver nestled on a peninsula surrounded by the Salish Sea, across from the Coastal Mountains, there are so many ways to explore the region.”
But, with so much to see and do, how can you experience the best of Vancouver if you are only staying for a couple of days? Follow our tips to kick off your Vancouver city break, or make the most of a fleeting visit during a fly drive holiday through Canada. Here are some top travel blogger tips on how to spend 48 hours in Vancouver.
Our suggested itinerary
Morning- Hiking in North Vancouver to discover Deep Cove
Afternoon- Cycling around Stanley Park, shopping and coffee
Evening- Discovering Vancouver’s cuisine in Gastown
Morning- Whale watching or flightseeing
Afternoon- Exploring maritime Granville Island
Evening- Carriage ride around the Seawall
Morning: Hike in North Vancouver to discover Deep Cove
There is no better way to kick off your time in Vancouver than with a brisk adventure into the great outdoors. As Alexandra from the Vancouver-based style and lifestyle blog, To Vogue or Bust, comments, “Vancouver is first and foremost a natural playground”. Surrounded by some of the world’s most impressive mountains, along with luscious old-growth forests, rugged coasts and beautiful seascapes, Vancouver’s natural bounty is endless. Alexandra says that, because of this, if she had limited time in Vancouver she would spend it outside soaking up this natural beauty.
“Hike up the mountains in North Vancouver”, she suggests, recommending Lynn Valley, where she grew up, “or kayak in False Creek or out of Deep Cove.” Jonathan agrees, suggesting: “If you are adventurous at heart, head straight to North Vancouver to check out the hike trails at Deep Cove or Grouse Mountain, or drive down to the Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.” These spots all offer fantastic hiking trails, from leisurely strolls to challenging treks.
Hiking to the summit of Grouse Mountain, which sits at 1,253 metres (4,110 feet), is an exhilarating experience. Also known as the ‘Grouse Grind’, this trek is open during the summer, and requires some level of fitness. The mountain is easily accessible being just a five-mile drive from Vancouver, and once you reach the top, you are rewarded with unrivalled views of the city and the North Cascades. You could even enjoy a spot of skiing! For something a little more relaxed, head to Horseshoe Bay or Deep Cove and walk along the coast for easy-going terrain and tranquil coastal views.
Afternoon: Cycling around Stanley Park, shopping and coffee
Returning to Vancouver for lunch, head towards Downtown. Here, there are countless cafes and restaurants to choose from to re-energise after the morning’s escapades. Blogger Viranlly Liemena recommends grabbing lunch at the Tacofino Blue Truck, where you can enjoy the West Coast’s finest tacos and burritos, originating in Tofino. With dishes such as crispy pacific cod burritos with refried black beans, basmati rice, cabbage, chipotle mayo and salsa fresca, this is your initiation into Vancouver’s fusion of local and global cuisines.
After lunch, it’s time to get exploring the city itself. Elisabeth from Sidetracked Travel Blog says:
“If you’ve only got 48 hours to spend in Vancouver, grab a bike from one of the many rentals shops to tour the city. You’ll get around quickly and have the opportunity to stop wherever and whenever you like. Be sure to ride the seawall loop around Stanley Park and downtown for beautiful views of the city and ocean.”
Cycling is indeed the best way to see a lot of Vancouver in a short space of time and, as Jonathan agrees, Stanley Park is a must to get the best views of Vancouver’s skyline. You can either cycle around the streets for an active take on city shopping, or can combine cycling with one of Vancouver’s biggest passions – coffee. Shirley and Mike, coffee experts and bloggers from Vancouver Barista, recommend their very own take on Vancouver in a ‘coffee crawl’ of the city. They say, “A 48-hour coffee tour of our city is worthy of bragging rights” Here is their ideal itinerary for the afternoon:
Downtown for V60 at Nemesis Coffee
Macchiato at Musette Caffe
Gastown’s Revolver for a Chemex,
Siphon at Platform 7 in Kitsilano.
Mount Pleasant’s 49th Parallel for doughnuts and latte
Espresso tasting flight at Milano Coffee
Commercial Drive with an Americano at Moja Coffee
Of course, you don’t have to visit every single location in one afternoon. But, with so many brilliant coffee joints in the city, sampling a few of the best is our favourite way to explore the city with all your senses and break up an afternoon shopping spree.
Evening: Exploring Vancouver’s cuisine in Gastown / Robson Street
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After all that hiking and cycling, the evening is the time to unwind and soak in the atmosphere of Vancouver. First, it’s time to refuel with a delicious meal. Elisabeth recommends trying authentic Mexican food at La Casita in Gastown, with specialities including Blackedes Filete de Cod and Steak Tampiquena. However, if you’re looking for something a little different after lunch at Tacofino, Carmen from Taste of Van has plenty of suggestions. She says:
“Vancouver is known for its diverse food culture. There are a wide range of cuisines from Asian to European to simply local. For anyone who is visiting Vancouver, I highly recommend walking down Robson St for a good meal. Not only will you get some shopping done but you will see a sample of Vancouver’s food scene. There are a variety of restaurants from high end to cheap eats.”
“When visiting Vancouver, you must check out the Japanese ramen places we have in town. It honestly seems like a new one is popping up every other month. If you want an evening of good food, I suggest eating in the following sequence: Marutama (delicious, authentic ramen from Japan), Nero Belgian Waffle Bar across the street, and finishing the night with some bubble tea from either The Bubble Tea Shop or Chatime. If your stomach can handle it, there are tonnes of places in-between as well.”
Morning: Wildlife watching or flightseeing
If you want to get a sense of the scope of Vancouver’s landscapes or wildlife, a few hours spent on a sightseeing tour is a must. On day two, get up early and get ready to explore Vancouver in earnest. Rebecca often takes guests out by sea or sky to show them the natural riches of the British Columbia coast. She says, “By air, you can take a sightseeing tour by seaplane with Harbour Air right from the waterfront in Downtown Vancouver.” Here, you will glide over the whole seafront, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the city and surrounding area that you will never forget. If flying in a small plane does not appeal, you could instead head to the north shore of Vancouver to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge. At 140 metres long and 70 metres above the Capilano River, walking across the bridge is a breath-taking experience.
Vancouver is also a brilliant destination for animal lovers, so a morning spent enjoying a guided tour of British Columbia’s coastal wildlife is a morning well spent. Take a sightseeing boat trip around Vancouver Island to see the famous black bears in their natural habitat, foraging for food on the coastal rocks. Alternatively, if marine life is your thing, head to the coast. Rebecca says, “by sea, I love whale watching tours! There are many companies that operate right from Coal Harbour, or south of the city in Steveston.” Wild Whales Vancouver takes visitors on once-in-a-lifetime boat trips to see killer whales, grey whales, humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins and sea lions. Alternatively, if you are feeling more adventurous, why not try a whale sightseeing trip by kayak? This is the perfect way to get an up close and personal view of orcas in the wild as you have never seen them before!
Afternoon: Discovering maritime Granville Island
One of Vancouver’s most famous areas is Granville Island – a peninsula on the coast famous for its maritime exploits. Popular for shopping and dining, an afternoon here is the perfect way to wind down after your exhilarating morning activities. Granville Island Public Market is particularly famous with visitors for its fresh seafood, farmers’ market and local artisan goods over more than 50 stalls.
As Jonathan comments: “The island houses some brilliant art collectables, souvenirs and live music on a sunny day. I usually grab poutine and walk down the Waterfront or Tear Drop in Downtown Vancouver, or just sit on the benches and read a book.”
The area is also home to Granville Island Brewing Co, a beer company that has been creating small-batch brews there since 1984. If craft beer is one of your passions, experiencing one of their beer tasting tours is a must. Whether you choose to hunt for a bargain in the market, catch a show at one of the many performing arts theatres, or simply stroll along the marina, an outing to Granville Island is a truly idyllic afternoon.
Evening: Two experiences of Gastown
For your final evening in Vancouver, lovers of the city suggest two very different itineraries, both based on getting to know the bustling centre of Gastown a little better. If you’re a fan of a good night out, this area will be your haven, and therefore Viranlly suggests an evening of good food and cocktails at Vancouver’s finest bars and restaurants. Famous for its nightlife, Vancouver has many joints to choose from, but Viranlly recommends going for happy hour at L’abattoir to kick the evening off, followed by the cocktail hour at The Diamond (“Yes, it’s different from happy hour”). Refuel with dinner at dinner at Kissa Tanto before continuing the merriment at late night happy hour at Pidgin. Finally, when you are ready to head back to your hotel, grab a late night snack at Hi-Five Grilled Cheese.
Alternatively, you may want to spend your last evening in Vancouver to simply stroll around Gastown and soak in the sights. Gastown is arguably the historical epicentre of Vancouver, named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire steamboat captain who opened the area’s first saloon in 1867. Jonathan recommends: “In the evening it would be fabulous to dine at Gastown or soak up the moonlight under this pretty neighbourhood that displays the famous Gassy Jack Statue and the only steam clock you’d be seeing in a while. The city’s cultures come alive here.”
Here, you can take in the Victorian, Edwardian and Romanesque architecture and modern culture all beautifully lit up for the evening. Gastown was designated as a National Historic Site in 2009, named the most stylish neighbourhood in the world in 2012 and is today popular with visitors for its chic décor boutiques, unique galleries and some of the best restaurants in the city. Walk through the streets, illuminated by old-style street lamps, visit phenomenal eateries such as Calabash Bistro for its exquisite Caribbean fare, followed by a trip to Acme Cafe for its renowned desserts.
Want to stay on the west coast a little longer?
If you find yourself falling in love with Vancouver, as so many people do, why not stay a few more days to explore some of the surrounding regions? Alexandra suggests to extend your visit to the Vancouver area, you should “make a quick day trip to Squamish or, if you have time, to Whistler to experience the mountains and hikes there.”