Vancouver, BC is just 2.5 hours north of Seattle but in all honesty, it feels as though it’s a world away. As you cross Lions Gate Bridge, into the main city of Vancouver, the breathtaking seaport skyline graciously invites you in, greeting you with a clean, modern aesthetic and multicultural energy unlike any other. In fact, 196 languages are spoken in Vancouver, which carries over to an incredibly diverse and authentic culinary scene. If you’re curious where to even begin, from the food, to the adventures, where to stay and beyond, I’ve created the best Vancouver travel guide to inspire your next trip!
This post is in partnership with JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and Tourism Vancouver
Best Vancouver Travel Guide
Vancouver is ranked as the 3rd most livable city in the world, with its close proximity to both water and mountains, its focus on sustainability, innovation and inclusion, it’s also become a world-class destination for travelers from the United States and beyond. Whether you’re interested in a girlfriend getaway, family vacation or romantic respite, it has something to offer any time of year.
Vancouver is a unique gem amongst the Canadian cities and an easy hub for domestic and international travel, as well. It’s within driving distance from anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. If traveling from afar, the Vancouver International Airport is actually ranked the best in North America! The airport is less than half an hour from downtown and is connected by The Canada Line, a light rail train.
Where To Stay In Vancouver
One of the dreamiest luxury hotels in downtown Vancouver, close to Gastown and Yaletown, is the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. Anchored in the heart of the city, with restaurants, cafes, shopping, museums and entertainment within walking (or short taxi!) distance. It’s a personal favorite.
Parq Vancouver is actually a massive resort destination and the JW Marriott is one of the property’s premier accommodations. Parq Vancouver includes a 72,000 square-foot casino (with natural light!), a 30,000 square-foot outdoor park and 60,000 square feet of event space.
The hotel has 329 rooms and suites designed as relaxing retreats offering plenty of space to enjoy a staycation in the city or a hub for an adventurous weekend.
One of my favorite amenities offered on property is Honey Salt, an elevated farm-to-table dining experience serving up one of the best brunch menus in the city, plus a fantastic bloody mary bar on the weekend.
The JW Marriott Parq Vancouver also has their customer service very dialed in. From the valet to check-in and throughout your stay, you’ll be greeted by name and with the upmost attention. They have impeccable dedication to refined hospitality.
The JW Marriott Parq Vancouver also has a spa, aqua lounge, beauty bar and fitness studio. If you’re familiar with JW Marriott properties you know they never miss a detail.
Things To Do In Vancouver
Vancouver is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Canada which means there is a lot to do in the city. My suggestion is to visit with the plan to return. Don’t worry about seeing everything at once. Take your time, relax and just enjoy!
As a heads up – I love unique and interesting experiences, often which are tours – so you may notice a theme in the best Vancouver travel guide! :)
Located across False Creek from downtown Vancouver, Granville Island is one of the city’s most visited neighborhoods. A cultural hub with theaters, artisan workshops, craft studios and an incredible indoor Public Market with endless rows of fresh produce, gourmet foods, baked goods, and seafood. Open daily from 9am to 7pm there are more than 50 independent food purveyors – which means you should definitely arrive hungry. Seth Rogen, a famous Vancouver native, claims Lee’s Donuts inside the Market are the absolute BEST – so take note my friends!
You can get there by car, taxi or ferry.
Hop-on-hop-off tours are my favorite way to explore a new city! Landsea Tours in Vancouver offer 15 central stops focused on the downtown core and Stanley Park. Designed to showcase the distinct culture of each area, stops highlight such areas as Gastown, Chinatown, Canada Place, The West End, Yaletown, and Davie Street. The luxury double-decker coach buses have glass skylights, live commentary and just one easy route. The full tour loop is 2 hours. However, if you hop-on-hop-off, it picks up every 30-60 minutes depending on the season. Seriously such a great way to see the city!
Another one of my favorite experiences while traveling are food tours! And the Vancouver Food Tour offers everything from dumplings, to vegan, to craft brew ‘n’ bites. There’s literally a tour for every palette. Highly recommend!
The Great Canadian Free Walking Tour
It’s hard to believe, but the Great Canadian Free Walking Tour really is FREE! Based solely on tips, expert guides allow you to get a feel for the city by foot by exploring Stanley Park, Gastown, Chinatown, Granville Island, and the local favorite Mount Pleasant. The walking tours have a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and are LEGIT! Just make sure to book ahead of time!
Vancouver Mural Festival Free Walking Tour
Another fantastic budget-friendly experience in Vancouver is the Vancouver Mural Festival Walking Tour, which also happens to be free or by donation! Offered in the Spring and Summer, it’s an hour walking tour through Vancouver’s largest display of public art. You may even get the chance to meet the artists!
The Vancouver Biennale offers three FREE self-guided public art tours which allow you to explore the city via their curated Google Map routes. You can read about the artwork and artists as you go along by foot, car or bike!
Recognized as one of North America’s most respected and innovated visual arts institutions, the Gallery focuses on the historical and contemporary art of British Columbia, with special attention to the accomplishments of First Nations artists and the art of the Asia Pacific region. It’s open 7 days a week, 10am – 5pm with extended hours on Tuesday.
Also known as North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale neighborhood, the Shipyard District is very trendy right now and definitely worth a visit! It’s only a 12-minute trip from downtown Vancouver by Seabus and offers another perspective to the always-evolving city. The newly renovated Shipyard Commons has a seasonal water park, ice skating rink, hotel, art gallery, eateries, brewery, and more!
While you’re there make sure to take a stroll down the Burrard Dry Dock Pier which extends 700 feet over Burrard Inlet, and offers 360-degree views of the North Shore and Vancouver skylines. A must-see Vancouver landmark!
And if you’re feeling adventurous (and thirsty) check out the North Vancouver Beer Bike Tour!
Located within Vanier Park just west of False Creek on the Vancouver waterfront, the Vancouver Maritime Museum has historic vessels, galleries, a children’s center and incredible exhibits like the current feature – Making Waves: The Story and Legacy of Greenpeace. If you have interest in environmental activism and sustainable practices, I highly recommend this exhibit which runs until June 7, 2020.
Just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is an outdoor adventure playground in both summer and winter!
During the winter (usually November-April), Mountain Admission Tickets include round trip access via the Skyride, access to the mountaintop ice skating pond, snowshoe trails, the Light Walk, Sliding Zone and more! You can also purchase a lift ticket to ski or snowboard.
In the Green Season (usually May–October), Mountain Admission Tickets include a scenic round trip Skyride, access to the Peak Chairlift, World-Famous Lumberjack Shows, Birds in Motion Demonstrations, visits to the Grizzly bear habitat and more! You can also add on your adventure with a ropes course, canopy tour, paragliding, heli tour, zipline, surfing or e-mountain biking.
Looking for something made in Vancouver? Check out this list of hometown brands which have become popular worldwide and swing by their original or flagship stores:
- Lululemon Athletica
- Respect Your Universe
- Native Shoes
- Save Natural Wellness
The Vancouver Aquarium is an unforgettable experience with over 50,000 animals and 30 unique exhibits with the emphasis on ocean conservation and education. If you’re short on time, put this at the top of your list. The jellies are worth it!
The Stanley Park Seawall
The Stanley Park Seawall is part of the 28 km Seaside Greenway which is the longest uninterrupted waterfront path in the world. The Seawall extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park and is divided in to two clearly marked sections – one for walkers and joggers (closest to the water), and one for cyclists and inline skaters (inside path).
The Seawall also runs along the east side of English Bay Beach, Vancouver’s most popular beach area. In the summer months, you can rent an umbrella, chairs or kayaks.
The Elizabethan hedge maze inside the VanDusen Botanical Garden is somewhat of a hidden gem! It’s free to visit every day except Christmas and is connected to 55 acres of gardens with plants from around the world. There’s also an observation deck where you can view the maze (and people watch as they try to navigate!).
Where To Eat In Vancouver
Vancouver has ranked 12th in Conde Nast Traveler’s World’s Best Food Cities awards and named among the Top 10 dining cities by Food and Wine magazine. So where do we begin? From sustainable seafood to urban farming, speciality desserts and food trucks – it’s hard to narrow it down, however, I’ve done my research and came up with a list of top contenders and local favorites.
Situated in the midst of Vancouver’s Little Italy, Pepino’s is a cozy eatery with a nostalgic vibe serving up traditional Southern Italian dishes. There’s only 62 seats in the restaurant – so reservations are highly recommended!
Located in both Yaletown and Gastown (I prefer Yaletown), Rodney’s Oyster House has a fun crew, amazing seafood and yummy cocktails. Check out their Low Tide (happy hour) menu daily from 3-6pm!
Vancouver’s original and most talked-about food cart, dishing up Japanese-inspired hotdogs (think seaweed flakes and miso mayonnaise). Try with their signature butter and shoyu (soy) “shaked fries.” The cart has multiple locations across the city.
Blossom Dim Sum & Grill
Vancouver is the most Asian city outside of Asia (49% of Vancouver’s population hails from Asia), so Asian food is a must while in the city. Blossom Dim Sum & Grill is one of the newest and most popular culinary hot spots.
A solar-powered food truck serving up gluten-free and vegan Indian comfort food.
You can also find amazing recommendations via the Street Food Vancouver App.
There are hundreds of award winning restaurants in Vancouver, so for the sake of time here’s a recap of the dining districts to make it easy to find exactly what you’re in the mood for:
- Gastown is a haven for the city’s up-and-coming chefs and bartenders, and the best place in the city for a progressive dinner (going from restaurant to bar and having a different course at each).
- Yaletown is where the city’s beautiful people come to see and be seen at hip eateries with sidewalk patios.
- The West End is known for Japanese ramen, izakaya pubs and late-night Korean noodle and karaoke spots.
- Chinatown has superb traditional bakeries and dim sum haunts alongside modern fusion hotspots, as well as cutting edge cocktails.
- Granville Island is famous for its market-fresh take-away spots and casual eateries with great city-and-mountain views.
- Kitsilano, long known for its excellent vegetarian restaurants and quirky coffee houses, now boasts a strip of hot new restaurants, especially along 4th Avenue.
- South Main is filled with small, eclectic joints (many catering to local veggies) as well as a comprehensive craft beer scene.
- Commercial Drive, also known as Little Italy, has independent coffee bars and diverse ethnic eateries.
- Richmond, a neighbouring city located 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, is often lauded for serving the best Chinese cuisine outside of China.
- Railtown Main Street divides fashionable Gastown from the warehouses and train tracks of Railtown—a neighborhood which is transforming into a thriving scene for creative professionals with its chic cafes and coffee bars.
Getting Around In Vancouver
Vancouver is an easy city to navigate in that many of the major attractions and neighborhoods are located within walking distance to one another. The best ways to get around the city are by foot, bike, public transit, or taxi. The TransLink system – which includes the SkyTrain, the SeaBus ferry and numerous bus routes – is both manageable and affordable.
Uber was slated to launch in Vancouver, BC in December 2019. However I’ve read conflicting reports – so I’ll keep you posted on this!
Best Vancouver Travel Guide
I hope my best Vancouver travel guide has inspired you to visit Vancouver, BC in the near future! If you have any questions, let me know on this Instagram post!
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Obsessed By Portia Specialty Tours
Let’s travel together!
I’ve partnered with Bio-Monte Tours of Italy for a signature tour to Sicily June 14 – 23, 2020! Every tour includes world-class guides, culinary experiences, wine tastings, private transportation, luxury accommodations and intimate group sizes (no more than 10).
Send me an email if you’d like further details – [email protected]!