Urban, Oceanic & Mountainous: Vancouver Vacations in a Nutshell

Known for its stunning views and active lifestyle, Vancouver is the bustling gem of British Columbia. Internationally accessible, extremely safe and surrounded by the sea and the mountains, few places tick as many boxes for travelers as Vancouver vacations do. Whether you love urban centers full of life or you seek nature at its finest, this idyllic metropolis has something for everyone.

Regions of the City:

When it comes to the city, Vancouver vacations surpass all expectations! The city is home to many different neighborhoods, each with its own distinct feel and sub-culture. At the heart of the city is downtown, a central region filled with high-rises, glitzy bars, and restaurants. For those with cultural inclinations, you can find showstoppers such as the Vancouver Opera and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Named after “Gassy Jack”, a local who could talk for hours, Gastown is the seedling neighborhood of Vancouver. A trendy hub filled with independent shops, bars, and cafes, it’s well worth spending an afternoon here. Make sure you visit Gastown’s iconic steam clock – it rings the melody of Big Ben (in London, UK) every fifteen minutes.

Vancouver vacations: people drinking on roof in Vancouver at sunset with the mountains in the background.
Downtown Vancouver has some pretty scenic rooftop bars! Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Hubert Kang.

Yaletown is another trendy neighborhood with bars aplenty, and we recommend getting a drink by the waterfront to watch the yachts pass by. Here, you’re in the heart of downtown with a pleasant sea breeze. Be sure to check out some of the excellent Asian cuisine in Chinatown, watch the seaplanes fly in at Coal Harbor, and head to Kitsilano to visit the MacMillan Space Centre and the various other museums. Top tip! If you’re looking for an unforgettably authentic way to enjoy the best of Vancouver, grab some picnic blankets, pick up some sushi to-go and head to Sunset Beach in the golden hour. Trust us when we say this is a local’s favorite thing to do for a reason! The sushi here is as fresh as it gets, and the sunsets are divine.

Vancouver vacations: space center with cherry blossom in the foreground.
The MacMillan Space Center during the cherry blossom season. Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Vision Photography.

Parks Galore:

Vancouver’s parks personify the ethos of the city, nature remains front and center and they’re designed for those enjoying an active lifestyle. One of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America, Nitobe Memorial Garden is a zen-filled refuge that offers peace and serenity. Located at the University of British Columbia, we recommend heading there for one of the regular traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, and if you get the opportunity to visit in the spring you may see some spectacular cherry blossoms. Don’t forget to check out the blooming rose garden as well. Alternatively, the Dr. San Yat Sen Chinese Garden is an easily accessible downtown refuge in historic Chinatown.

Vancouver vacations: Cherry Blossoms at UBC Nitobe Memorial Gardens.
Cherry Blossoms at UBC Nitobe Memorial Gardens. Credit: Destination Canada.

When it comes to seeking some city-based greenery, Stanley Park is the star of the show. A Vancouver vacations staple, this oceanside oasis brings a slice of the rainforest to the city. Stanley Park is so serene that it won TripAdvisor’s prestigious best park in the world award, beating the likes of world favorites such as New York’s Central Park. There’s plenty to enjoy within this utopian outcrop; cycling the seawall is a great way to soak in the landscape, and if you’re feeling adventurous, rollerblading is still a popular activity here… Where else but Vancouver? You can also wander the tall pines in the forest or visit the Rose Garden and the Rhododendron Garden for some flowering marvels. For an authentic exploration of BC’s heritage why not also pay a visit to the totem poles at Brockton Point? A meaningful piece of culture commemorating the indigenous communities of BC, these works of art are well worth a visit. As if all that wasn’t enough, you can also enjoy swimming at the pristine Third Beach, ice creams recommended!

Vancouver vacations: Runner along seawall of Stanley Park.
The seawall of Stanley Park is a local’s favorite and a must for Vancouver vacations. Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Nelson Mouellic.

The Ocean:

Vancouver vacations wouldn’t be complete without making the most of the North Pacific lapping on your doorstep. The options here are as bountiful as the ocean itself. A truly memorable oceanic experience, there are regular whale watching tours that conveniently run from the shores of downtown. On these experiences, you’ll explore the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound on the lookout for orcas and humpback whales! Cameras at the ready, your trusty tour guides will let you know when a fin is about to break the water. Additionally, did you know that Vancouver has its very own fleet of aqua buses for getting around False Creek? Make sure you take one to the Granville Island Market where you will find a collection of hearty food stalls and creative crafts shops facing the iconic Burrard Bridge. Other marine highlights include kayaking in Deep Cove and watching the firework displays over English Bay in the summer.

Vancouver vacations: orca jumping out of the water during a whale watching tour.
Orcas, humpback whales, who knows what you might see on Vancouver vacations?! Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Prince of Whales Whale Watching.

The Mountains:

Take your Vancouver visit to new heights and pay a visit to the alpine! Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains are more than just a dazzling backdrop, they’re a way of life. Located in North Vancouver just across the Burrard Inlet, Grouse Mountain is an all-time favorite of locals and tourists alike. In the summer, why not take on the challenge of hiking the famous Grouse Grind, a 2.9-kilometer hike that ascends 853 meters up the mountainside. Often referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”, this trail is no mean feat. You hike at your own pace, however, and the route is often taken on by people of all ages, from children to grandparents. At the top, sit down for a burger on the patio and enjoy the view – you’ve earnt it after all!

Vancouver vacations: Grouse Mountain gondola ascending above Vancouver.
If you don’t fancy taking on the Grouse Grind there’s always the gondola! Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Devin Manky.

In the winter, Grouse Mountain has its own fully functional ski area, complete with 33 ski runs, 4 chairlifts, and 6 terrain parks. If you’re a capable skier, we recommend heading to Grouse for some night skiing. Seeing the twinkling city-lights beyond the snow-white slopes is an experience that’s truly unique to Vancouver. Other mountain-based highlights in Vancouver include a visit to the green pools and falls of Lynn Canyon and a walk over the thrilling Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Vancouver vacations: Credit: Group of friends eating at Altitudes Bistro at the top of Grouse Mountain.
Grabbing lunch at the top of Grouse Mountain is a highlight of visiting Vancouver in the winter. Credit: Tourism Vancouver & Rishad Daroowala.

Vancouver Vacations Offer the Best Access to BC:

One of the best things about Vancouver is not only the phenomenal activities within the city but the ease of access to everything great about BC. The Sea to Sky Highway up the west coast regularly features as one of the best drives in the world, and with good reason! The route passes stunning archipelagos and soaring peaks. On this route, you can pass iconic landmarks such as the Stawamus Chief Mountain in Squamish and Whistler, the largest ski resort in North America. Alternatively, take a seaplane for a scenic 30-minute flight to Victoria, a pristine haven of wildlife, forestry, and beaches. Whatever your pleasure, Vancouver is a captivating base to explore from.

Vancouver vacations: a seaplane soaring away from Vancouver at sundown.
Vancouver offers unparalleled access to all of BC. Credit: Harbour Air Seaplanes.

Vancouver Vacations in a Nutshell:

We may be biased, but we can’t get over the endless possibilities that Vancouver offers. Whether you’re looking strictly for city and culture or you want to have fun in the outdoors, Vancouver has it all without compromise. Complete our list of must-dos and you’ll be an honorary Vancouverite in no time! For more inspiration on this wonderful city, check out our West Coast Romance itinerary.

Vancouver vacations: BC Place and the Vancouver skyline at sunset.
The dreamy Vancouver skyline. Photo Credit: Destination BC & Albert Normandin.