It’s tough to squeeze all the charm of BC’s capital into a weekend – but it’s worth a try.
By Sarah Hart
Surrounded by pristine wilderness, close to amazing skiing, and populated by incredibly diverse and – sorry for the stereotype – unusually-friendly people, Vancouver is an alluring city.
After our long weekend in town, here’s what we learned: British Columbia is a spectacularly beautiful and livable place with a cost of living to match. Real estate prices are among the world’s highest.
So follow our tips for a Vancouver getaway to hip neighborhoods, epic outdoors and fine food, and you’ll get a glimpse of a dream big-city hometown. And raccoon-mountie encounters aside, why wouldn’t you want to live there?
The Good Stuff
Hang Time Take a free bus from downtown Vancouver for a 20-minute ride to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. Built in 1889, this 450 feet long suspension bridge is about 230 feet up, making those with a fear of heights more than a little nervous to cross. If you can garner the courage, it’s a quick but unsteady walk to the other side where hot chocolate and more tree bridges await. Knowledgeable nature guides answer questions and help you get an up-close look at owls, birds, and other native animals.
If you can’t quite make it across the wobbly bridge, there’s also the newer Cliffwalk. Anchored to precipitous cliffs, this catwalk is also not the best choice for those fearing heights. If you’re game, standing on the glass platforms above the valley makes your heart skip a beat. (The Lynn Canyon Bridge is similar to Capilano, but free and without the other attractions. We didn’t have time to check it out on this trip.)
Seawall Ride Grab bikes, rollerblades or running shoes and head out to the Seawall path. It’s almost 14 miles of stunning scenery and a great way to see Stanley Park, Granville Island, Kitsilano Beach, and the Burrard Inlet.
Stanley Park You can’t go to Vancouver on a family trip and not go to Stanley Park. This enormous, 1,000-plus-acre park borders downtown, and delivers a bottomless list of things to do:
- Rent bikes and head around the park on the Seawall path
- Hop on the horse-drawn carriage & tour
- Ride the Stanley Park Train
- Suit up and head to the beach
- Grab lunch on the deck at Stanley Park Bar and Grill
- Visit the beautiful Vancouver Aquarium and support Ocean Wise while you’re doing it!
Shopping Take a bus, car, bike or Aquabus to Granville Island for food, art and everything under the sun. Once a neighborhood of warehouses and factories, Granville Island went through some serious urban revitalization and is now home to the enormous Public Market, Kids Market as well as a multitude of galleries, restaurants and more. The buzzy Public Market offers everything from fresh produce to artisanal crafts, as well as amazing takeaway food from around the world. There’s also a microbrewery and street performers at every corner. The smaller set will love the Kids Market, a multi-level arcade with games, toys, candy for days.
Neighborhoods Gastown and Yaletown are two quintessential Vancouver neighborhoods to ramble around. Shop, eat, gallery hop and take in the local flavor. Gastown is the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver and aside from trendy shops, it’s also home to the famous whistling Steam Clock, that releases a cloud of steam every hour.
Ski & Zip Yes, you can ski, but Grouse Mountain is a year-round destination and only a 15-minute drive from the city. Ziplines, a ropes course, and bountiful hiking trails make this both a summer playground and winter wonderland. The Skyride is open 365 days a year and on a clear day offers spectacular views of the city. Further on, the Sea to Sky Gondola boasts beautiful views of coastal forests, Howe Sound and Squamish.
Beach Definitely a hot spot in summer, Kitsilano Beach or “Kits” is less than 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver, but a world away. Aside from the sandy beach, Kits has a big playground for the littles, and a variety of water sports, tennis, volleyball and more.
Locals Pretty much every single person we encountered was extraordinarily friendly, polite and kind.
The Not-So-Sweet Smells of Stanley Park The horse-drawn carriage tours around Stanley Park are a big draw, but riders beware. While tough to find fault with anything on this great trip – and this could have been a one-off – it was an extraordinarily stinky, very slow moving tour. We did learn some fun facts about Vancouver though. Our kids’ favorite was the story of Gastown’s namesake, “Gassy” Jack Deighton. Although in this context “Gassy” meant he loved to talk and tell tales, the kids begged to differ.
Good to Know
Save Up Price-wise, a trip to Vancouver is on par with a visit to New York or San Francisco. If that’s too rich for your blood, then definitely don’t get too attached to this gorgeous city.
Hotel Time Here’s a big city where it makes sense to use your hotel points. We chose the Fairmont Pacific-Rim as a base downtown. Adults loved the location; kids loved the rooftop pool.
Sarah Hart – January 2019
Sarah’s first job out of college was as a travel writer who wasn’t paid nearly enough to travel. She and her family love outdoor adventures, dance parties, and big meals with friends and family. She prefers packing to unpacking and enjoys butchering Spanish and French equally.
© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved
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