All Articles 3 perfect days in Vancouver

3 perfect days in Vancouver

Mark Sullivan
By Mark SullivanDec 1, 2023 12 minutes read
Boat headed down False Creek, downtown Vancouver, British Columbia
False Creek
Image: edb3_16/Getty Images

Flying for the first time into Vancouver, you might wonder why outdoors lovers rave about the place. Your first impression is of miles of gleaming glass skyscrapers. But as you get a little closer, you notice the wide swaths of greenery covering the city, the mountains just to the north, and the glittering blue expanse of Vancouver Harbour. Wherever you find yourself in Vancouver, you’re just minutes from some breathtaking natural wonders.

The first is always Stanley Park, a peninsula in the middle of the city that is 100 acres larger than New York’s Central Park. Start here and work your way outward to other highlights like the tree-covered peak at Queen Elizabeth Park. The grand finale is the stunning nature preserves a short drive away in North Vancouver. In between, treat yourself to some world-class meals.

We’ve gotten feedback from Tripadvisor readers, so rest assured we’re sending you to places that are the best of the best.


DAY ONE

Biking in Stanley Park past the Vancouver skyline
Stanley Park
Image: Marc Bruxelle/Getty Images

MORNING: Exploring Vancouver’s crown jewel

If there’s one unmissable sight in Vancouver, it’s Stanley Park. One of the largest city parks in North America, this incredibly lush peninsula juts out into Vancouver Harbour. If you have the stamina, you can’t do better than a stroll around the 5.5-mile path that runs around its perimeter, passing through majestic stands of Douglas firs (scan the upper branches for bald eagles) and skirting the coastline where you’ll often spot seals goofing around in Burrard Inlet.

If you have time for one stop in Stanley Park, make it Vancouver Aquarium. Kids love getting up close and personal with these sea-loving creatures from British Columbia. We don’t like to play favorites, but we adore the cephalopod named Ceph Rogen. (Word has it that comedian and actor Seth Rogen, who grew up nearby and spent much time here as a kid, was delighted to have an octopus named for him.)

There are several beaches on the edges of Stanley Park, but our favorite extends along its southernmost edge. English Bay is a wide expanse of sand that’s popular with locals looking to catch a few rays, as well as kayakers and other water sports enthusiasts.

AFTERNOON: Checking out a couple of works of art

By this point, you’re probably ready for lunch. Don’t worry, you won’t have far to go. Across the street from English Bay Beach you’ll notice an impressive building covered top to bottom with ivy. This is the Sylvia Hotel, home to Sylvia’s Restaurant and Lounge. The wood-paneled dining room is pleasant enough, but you’ll want to get here early to snag a table on the tree-shaded patio. Dine on steamed mussels or crab cakes while you watch the ships navigate English Bay.

Not far from Sylvia’s is the Roedde House Museum, set in a mostly low-rise residential area that’s a joy to explore. This Victorian-era gem has been restored to the way it more-or-less looked back in 1888.

Now head toward Robson Square, one of the prime people-watching spots in Downtown Vancouver. Here you’ll find the Vancouver Art Gallery, one of the finest museums in the region. One of the big draws is the collection of works by Emily Carr, one of Canada’s best-loved painters. Also worth a look is the nearby Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, showcasing First Nations artists.

EVENING: Shop ‘til you drop, then drop in for dinner

If you want to indulge in a little shopping before dinner, you couldn’t be in a better location. The Hudson’s Bay Company, a century-old department store that locals simply call “The Bay,” is nearby. Inside you’ll find boutiques for many of Canada’s hottest designers. But if you ask us, even better is a stroll down nearby Robson Street, where many retailers locate their flagship stores. Just off Robson is John Fluevog, maker of the iconic funky footwear. Everything on the shelves looks like a work of art.

Make dinner reservations for Black + Blue, a steakhouse where the beautifully aged steaks are on display in a glass case like high-end luxury goods. If the weather cooperates, opt for a table on the third-floor patio. Otherwise, the mezzanine offers a great view of the entire dining room. If you’re looking for a more casual (or less meat-y) night out, join the line at Ramen Danbo, a spot that’s a favorite with locals for the steaming bowls of noodles.

STANLEY PARK AREA TOUR OPTIONS

  • Like we said, walking is the best way for newcomers to experience Stanley Park. But it’s a lot to cover in a couple of hours, which is why we recommend the Secrets of Stanley Park Walking Tour. Your guide will fill you in on a nearly forgotten cemetery and the remnants of a once-thriving village.
  • If you prefer to see Stanley Park on two wheels, opt for a half-day trip with the very popular Stanley Park Bike Tour. You’ll see just about every sight of the 1,000-acre park, including a 700-year-old cedar tree.
  • If you want to view all of Stanley Park in half an hour, the only way is up. Departing from Canada Place, the 30-minute Vancouver Seaplane Tour takes you up and over the city, including Stanley Park and a sprinkling of islands in Vancouver Bay.

Travelers say: “Stanley Park is an absolute must-visit in Vancouver. This sprawling urban park is a natural oasis that offers a wide range of activities and stunning views. Whether you’re walking or biking along the seawall, exploring the lush gardens, or taking a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The park’s towering trees, scenic bridges, and serene beaches create a sense of tranquility within the bustling city.” —@Lee M

Worthy detours along the way

DAY TWO

Whale watching with Prince of Whales, in Vancouver
Prince of Whales
Image: vkyryl/Getty Images

MORNING: Hit the beach, stroll the avenue

It’s hard to beat an early morning stroll along Kitsilano Beach—Vancouver residents shorten the name to “Kits Beach”---before the crowds arrive. The view of the skyline framed by the North Shore Mountains makes it worth the trip to the city’s most popular stretch of sand. Check out people doing their daily workout, or join a class at the nearby yoga studio-bistro-boutique called TurF.

The neighborhood of Kitsilano is an appealing spot to hang out, especially along 4th Avenue. Locals head to Fable Kitchen for the farm-to-table breakfasts like sourdough toast topped with smoked salmon, guacamole, and pickled red onion. We also like the comfort food at Sophie’s Cosmic Diner.

AFTERNOON: Enjoy great seafood on a not-quite island

It’s not technically an island—a narrow strip of land connects it to the mainland—but Granville Island sure feels like one. If you’re thinking about a whale-watching excursion, Granville is the place to set sail. The cheekily named Prince of Whales offers half-day trips that depart from the docks at Granville Island.

Granville is also where locals and visitors alike go to sample the area’s incomparable seafood. Make sure to check out what just came off the boats that day at the world-famous Granville Island Public Market. It’s not just a seafood shack, however. Stalls are piled high with fruits and vegetables, flowers and plants, and meats and cheeses. If you can’t wait to taste what you bought, there are picnic tables in the back with some jaw-dropping views of the skyscrapers across the water.

If that view is what you came for and you’re ready for a sit-down meal, The Sandbar is your top choice. Occupying a choice piece of real estate next to Granville Island Public Market, this seafood restaurant and sushi bar knows how to prepare the catch of the day. When the weather’s warm, there’s outdoor seating under the bridge from the mainland. If you just need to wet your whistle, you can’t go wrong at Granville Island Brewing.

Ask locals about their favorite spots, and they will probably mention Queen Elizabeth Park. A short drive from Granville Island, this former rock quarry is now a year-round showplace. It sits at the highest point in the city, so the views are sweeping. At its center, under a geodesic dome, you’ll find scarlet macaws and other exotic birds at Bloedel Conservatory.

EVENING: Explore the trendy eateries along Main Street

Main Street, which bisects a huge chunk of Vancouver, runs just east of Queen Elizabeth Park. In the past several years it’s become a foodie destination. Several of the upscale eateries have garnered international reputations, including the award-winning Published on Main. Reservations are tough to get, but check back a few days ahead of time and you might snag seats at the bar. The way to go here is the chef’s tasting menu, which takes advantage of what the team can forage from local farms and forests.

No reservations? Tripadvisor readers heartily recommend Sula, an Indian restaurant that serves street foods from Mumbai and seafood from Mangalore. Order several dishes and share.

GRANVILLE ISLAND AREA TOUR OPTIONS

  • Run by the highly regarded Landsea Tours, the half-day Vancouver City Sightseeing Tour culminates at Granville Island Public Market. If you don’t want the hassle of finding your way around a new city, this option includes pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
  • Are you the kind of person who likes to taste a little bit of everything at the market? You can with VIP Access Granville Island Market Tour, which includes samples from at least 10 different vendors. You get to meet local chefs and hear how they turn the freshest items from the market into award-winning dishes.
  • One of the best views of Granville Island is from the water, which is why the Sea Vancouver City and Harbour Tour is so special. Ranked the best of the best by Tripadvisor readers, this 90-minute tour in zippy 12-passenger Zodiacs also lets you get up close and personal with wildlife like sea otters.

Travelers say: “I love Granville Island! Every time I visit Vancouver I have to come here. There is a little market with the best freshly baked buns, fresh fish, fantastic coffee, fresh flowers and little boutiques. You can sit and watch boats going by.” —@Bohemian_me84

Worthy detours along the way

DAY THREE

Patio dining at Cliff House Restaurant, Vancouver
Cliff House Restaurant
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Start your day suspended in mid-air

From Downtown Vancouver, cross Burrard Inlet and you’re in an area called the North Shore. A car is the easiest way to get around outside the city, but you can also opt for a 10-minute ride aboard the Translink Seabus. In addition to being a speedy way across the inlet, the ferry offers great views of the skyline. It drops you off next door to the colorful Lonsdale Quay Market, which is not quite as bustling as the one on Granville Island.

If you don’t have your own car, an Uber is a great way to get around this fairly compact area. Your destination is undoubtedly Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, since it’s been the area’s most popular tourist attraction since it was built in 1889. Back then it was made of hemp rope and cedar planks. Today, it’s constructed of much stronger stuff, but still provides the same views of the old-growth forests. Be sure to leave time to explore the Cliffwalk, a narrower walkway cantilevered from a sheer rock face. Bolted into the rock in only 16 places, it’s an engineering marvel.

Looking for the road less traveled? Or the price tag less astronomical? Head to the nearby Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, which offers an equally thrilling walk as the more famous Capilano Suspension Bridge but is absolutely free.

AFTERNOON: Conquer the area’s tallest mountain

Not far from Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, the Cliff House Restaurant is a reliable place to rest and relax after a morning of hiking. The food is simple, but delicious. One of the outdoor tables shaded by butter-yellow umbrellas is the place to be.

It’s hard to believe that just a five-minute drive from Capilano Suspension Bridge is Grouse Mountain, the region’s other major attraction. An aerial tram with standing room inside and out whisks you to the top, then you’re free to explore. Watch a falconry demonstration, visit a pair of grizzlies in a nature preserve, or follow the Grouse Grind, a hiking trail up the face of the mountain.

EVENING: Explore Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood

By this point you’re headed back to Vancouver. We’ve saved dinner in Gastown—a neighborhood where the streets are lined with graceful Victorian-era buildings—for your last night since this will most likely be one of your most memorable parts of the city. The streets are illuminated with replicas of century-old gas lamps, with three levels of softly glowing globes. It’s easy to imagine you’re stepping back in time. Get your bearings by finding the Gastown Steam Clock, which lets off a puff of steam every quarter hour.

In the past few years, the foodie scene has expanded to include many other parts of the city, but Gastown still reigns supreme. One of the tried-and-true favorites, L’ Abattoir has won special mention from Michelin, no less. In an atmospheric old building that once served as a city jail, it serves favorites like Fraser Valley duck and pairs it with local produce like golden turnips.

Another award-winner is St. Lawrence, named for the mighty river that runs alongside Montreal and serving dishes from that region. This charmer specializes in hearty Quebecois dishes prepared with the finest French cooking techniques, so you’ll find things like crispy pig’s ears with maple syrup. That sweet staple from the Montreal area also figures into many dishes, especially the desserts.

If you’re looking for a place for a nightcap, you couldn’t do better than Steamworks, a neighborhood pub that’s been a favorite of Tripadvisor readers for years. It serves typical pub grub and a fine selection of beers.

NORTH VANCOUVER AND GASTOWN AREA TOUR OPTIONS

  • Getting around North Vancouver isn’t hard, but if you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, opt for the Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge Tour. The excursion includes admission to both attractions and, most crucially, pickup and drop-off at your hotel.
  • If you relish a few thrills and chills, sign up for the Lost Souls of Gastown walking tour. As you wander the streets, a costumed guide shares a few neighborhood horror stories, including the tale of a gruesome murder that remains unsolved to this day.
  • Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood has some tales to tell, and a lot of them are about its culinary heritage. Gastown Historic Food Tour takes you to some of the area’s best eateries to sample dishes from half a dozen different cultures.

Travelers say: “We loved Gastown with its historic streets, great shops, coffee shops and pubs. The Gastown Steam Clock is a must see, make sure you are there on the hour when the clock whistles and puff steam from its top.” —@KatieQC

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


If you don't mind crowds, Vancouver is hopping between June and August. But it's much more pleasant from March to May and September to November, when you don't have to wait in line at the most popular sights, book months ahead at every eatery, or pay sky-high rates at hotels and the weather is still mild. There are festivals all year, so you won't be missing out on the fun. However, expect nearly half a month of rain between November and January.



Most museums and galleries are closed on Monday or Tuesday, so keep that in mind if you're headed to Vancouver for museum-hopping. If you're headed to Granville Island or other popular destinations, weekdays will see smaller crowds.



When it comes to work, Vancouver is a pretty typical 9 to 5 city. Most restaurants and shops are generally open every day. Some may close a little later on Thursday and Friday and a little earlier on Sunday.



Downtown Vancouver: Most of the city's hotels are located in or around Downtown Vancouver, which you'll explore on Day One of our itinerary. Sleek and sophisticated, L'Hermitage Hotel is ranked among the "best of the best" by Tripadvisor readers. Despite its location in the heart of the city's entertainment district, its rooms are serene. There's a spa, a fitness center, and a heated outdoor pool where you can shake off the chill. On Robson Square, the Wedgewood Hotel and Spa has earned a Travelers' Choice Award for its old-world luxury and its restaurant, Bacchus, also gets high marks from Tripadvisor readers. Rooms feel luxurious without being stuffy, and they all have private balconies overlooking the city.

Granville Island: There's not much space on little Granville Island, but one boutique lodging, the Granville Island Hotel, has established a foothold here. This Travelers' Choice accommodation has contemporary rooms, many with views of the city skyline. On top of that, it's a short stroll from Granville Public Market, so you can get there before the crowds.

Stanley Park: In the West End, the Sylvia Hotel sits across from English Bay and a few blocks from the entrance to Stanley Park. It's what the Canadians refer to as a "heritage" building, so it has plenty of character, with ivy growing on its handsome brick exterior. Rooms are simply furnished and meticulously clean. We also love the restaurant downstairs which we visit on the first day of this itinerary.



You'll probably find yourself walking most places in Vancouver, especially if you're here in the warmer months. But there's also an excellent public transportation system that makes getting from one neighborhood to the next a snap.

Public transportation: Translink SkyTrain is an automated light rapid transit system with three lines covering much of the city, connecting Downtown Vancouver with most of the neighborhoods you'll be visiting. Reloadable smart cards are used to pay your fare and are available at vending machines at all stations.

By bike: Vancouver's bike share system is called Mobi, and it's served by more than 250 docking stations all around the city. Once you download the app and enter your payment information, you can "wake up" the bike you want by entering your seven-digit code.

By boat: A passenger ferry, SeaBus, crosses the Burrard Inlet from Downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver. Many people take this 15-minute ride for the views of the skyline. It's part of the Translink system, so paying your fare is simple.

By car: Unless you're traveling to North Vancouver or other spots outside the city, you definitely don't need a rental car.

By taxi: You can easily hail a taxi on the street in Downtown Vancouver, but it's probably best to have your hotel call one for you if you're in another neighborhood. They run on meters, so you always see your fare. Uber and Lyft are also options.

Airport transfers: Getting into the city from Vancouver International Airport is a cinch. Taxis are available outside the arrivals gate, and you can also call an Uber or Lyft. The cheapest way to get downtown is by Skytrain on the Canada Line. It's also fast, getting you there in less than half an hour.


Mark Sullivan
Mark Sullivan is a longtime travel and lifestyle corespondent. He has written dozens of articles and has contributed to more than 200 travel guides.