With limited vacation time, an abundance of natural beauty, and some of the world’s most unique cities, right on our doorstep, it’s no surprise that, according to Expedia, 77% of Canadian vacationers decided to holiday in the homeland. With no borders to cross and only travel insurance to worry about, travelling to a new province could be the easy, breezy vacation you’ve been looking for.
If you’re hoping for a short stay jam-packed with things to do then look no further. We’ve put together a ten-part series guiding you on how to make the most of your weekend break in some of Canada’s coolest metropolises.
This week we look at West Coast city: Vancouver
Vancouver is a city based on a coastal seaport and the most populated in beautiful British Columbia. Voted by Mercer as one of the “most livable cities in the world”, Vancouver is a perfect mix of urban life and nature, great for those after a taste of adventure. Surrounded by the cerulean waters of the Pacific and set at the foot of snow-capped mountains, Vancouver has also secured itself a comfy spot on the Forbes list of “most beautiful places in the world”. With an easy to use transport system that ranges from skytrain to seabus, the city is perfect for visitors from out of town who are geared up to explore.
You can’t talk about a visit to Vancouver without mentioning the famous Stanley Park, spanning 1,000 acres and home to the most visited tourist attraction in the city-the Stanley Park Totem Poles. The nine totem poles at Brockton Point bring to life the story of the first nations through their beautiful artistry and are both a history lesson, as well as an art piece. The Vancouver Parks Board has been collecting intricately carved totem poles from across BC since the 1920s.
As you delve further into the green oasis that sits along the Stanley Park seawall, take a hike through some of the beautiful trails, or hop aboard the train which chugs its way through the park during the warmer months.
If you’re an activity lover, Stanley Park is home to tennis courts, its own pitch and putt golf course, as well as plenty of places for you to tie up your shoes and take a scenic jog.
The park also offers a few spots ideal for a beach day, with several sandy spots lining its outskirts. Second Beach is by far the park’s favourite spot-not only boasting incredible views of English Bay and the west side of Vancouver, but also offering a heated, outdoor pool if you're not so keen to dip your toes into the ocean.
Pack a picnic and find a secluded spot to refuel, or head to one of the restaurants, cafes or vendors dotted around the island.
Granville Island is connected to the downtown core by its namesake bridge, and it's the perfect place to pick up locally produced goodies. Once a major hub of factories, plants and sawmills, its biggest attraction these days is the Granville public market, offering everything from beautiful flowers and freshly baked goods, to handcrafted souvenirs and unique jewellery.
Head down early and stop for brunch at noteworthy Edible Canada, just steps from the hustle and bustle of the market. Offering an eight-item menu that is rich in local favourites, its an ideal place for out of towners to grab a bite. And if you really love it, head next door to its store of the same name.
If you find yourself on the island at the right time of year, you may catch one of the festivals that pass through, including the Vancouver International Children's Festival, the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and the Vancouver Writers Fest.
Over 40% of Vancouver’s residents were born outside of Canada, so you can imagine how pleasantly this lends itself to the city’s diverse food offering. Team that with the fact that it is an ocean-side city that prides itself on locally sourced, fresh produce, and you know you’re in for a happy tummy.
One of the West Coast city’s biggest food trophies is the vast selection of sushi restaurants on offer, with almost too many to pick a favourite. However, if you’re after something that strays off the path of traditional rolls, find yourself at General Public, located on Main Street. The restaurant serves up a menu of unique rolls, in a quirky environment that boasts DJ nights and a cocktail menu not to be frowned at.
Or, for something a little more traditional, head to Chinatown's Bao Bei-a Chinese take on a tapas bar. Taking influences from Taiwan, Shanghai and the Sichuan province, it is a modern take on traditional cuisine.
For the vegetarians, try one of the MeeT locations, in Gastown or on Main Street, where the menu takes an 80/20 approach to healthy eating. Try one of the restaurants five, unique takes on fries, or sink your teeth into a “burger”. If deep-fried isn’t for you, then opt for one of the raw, gluten-free options, including a plentiful list of veggie-laden bowls.
Of course, while in Vancouver, you’ll most likely want to try out just some of the local seaside offerings. Blue Water Cafe is a sustainable seafood restaurant in the heart of Yaletown. Choose something raw from the sushi bar, or watch your meal be cooked before your eyes in the open kitchen. A combination of “east meets west”, the restaurant also has a bountiful drink menu and a heated patio so guests can dine outside year round.
Sitting on the shores of the North Pacific Ocean, when visiting Vancouver you have to check out some of the cool activities the waters have to offer. From surfing and paddle boarding to whale watching and other marine life tours, whether you’re a water baby or happier keeping your feet dry above deck, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
One of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions is whale watching, and a trip to the city is a special opportunity to see whales in their natural habitat. There are a wealth of tours operating in the area that take customers out into the wild to spot orcas, grey whales, humpback whales, minke whales, and other marine life like porpoises, dolphins and seabirds in a breathtaking coastal setting.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, how about exploring the deep on a scuba diving tour. Vancouver waters offer a pristine marine environment, with scuba diving tours exploring sunken wrecks, reefs and marine life below the surface.
And, of course, the area is perfect for water sports. While spots off Vancouver Island, such as Tofino, are where the real action is at, spots off the city’s coast offer ample opportunity to surf, paddle board, jet ski and kayak.
Whether you’re taking on the Grouse Grind or taking in the views from the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Vancouver has a tonne of trails and hikes for all fitness levels. Adventure seekers, head into the mountains for some serious vertical climbs. For a calmer hike, hop in the car for 30 minutes and head to West Vancouver where you can try gentler options at Cypress Falls or Lighthouse park- both of which will bring you face-to-face with some massive trees, as well as breathtaking views.
Take in the scenery from above at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, and amble across its namesake bridge, built in 1889, which spans 70 metres and draws over 800,000 visitors a year.
If you want an intense workout, head to Mount Seymore for a 9km mountain hike, although be aware this trail is only open July until October. Or, tighten your sneakers and get fit taking on the Grouse Grind, which, although only 2.9km in distance, is a serious vertical incline, with participants storming up 2,830 stairs and gaining an elevation of 2,800ft. Reward yourself with a fresh Beaver Tail at the end; you will have earned it!
Your trip to Vancouver won’t be complete without a visit to the city’s oldest neighbourhood-Gastown. Founded by ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton in 1867, the area is a historical haven, dotted with old-school gas lamps, completed with a picturesque clock and, of course, a statue of Gassy Jack himself. You can explore the area in an afternoon on one of the neighbourhood walking tours.
Alternatively, Gastown also has a thriving fashion and art scene. Browse in one of the unique vintage stores or boutiques in the area, or stop off in one of the small Northwest Coast Native art galleries such as the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver.
Or enjoy some delicious food and stylish cocktails at one of the many, unique bars and restaurants that line the streets.
Of course, our list isn’t exhaustive, and no doubt you will find some of your own travel gems while exploring this coastal city. However, remember to stay safe, and protect your trip with a travel insurance policy.