The Best Things to Do in Vancouver

My first stop in Canada (ever) was Vancouver. I drove up by bus from Seattle just two days before my ESTA for the US expired. After three months in the US I was curious to see if and how Canada would differ. And it…. didn’t? Not much anyway. To me, Vancouver was really similar to Seattle.

That’s not to say that Vancouver doesn’t have plenty to offer or isn’t a great place to live. But after almost a week in Vancouver, I never fell in love with it. One thing I do really appreciate about Vancouver is the scenery. The presence of both ocean and mountains is stunning. The atmosphere in Vancouver is pleasant as well, pretty chill and laid-back.

It was nice to spend a week in Vancouver, hanging out, catching up on work, exploring and planning the rest of my trip through Canada. I enjoyed walking around the city and exploring Vancouver. Although I wouldn’t recommend spending more than three days in the city (get to the mountains asap!!), here are some of the best things to do in Vancouver:

Stroll around Gastown and Downtown

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Gastown is the prettiest part of Vancouver by far. It’s a small strip that reminds me a bit of European cities. It’s a little touristic, but still really nice to walk around for a bit. Gastown is especially beautiful at night when the fairy lights in the trees are lit.

Downtown Vancouver really isn’t anything special. It’s like every other modern big city in North America, it felt like I had never really left Seattle. However, there are still a few nice buildings to be spotted between the high rises. Check out the Vancouver Art Gallery and have lunch at the food trucks in the park behind it. Canada Place is a dock for cruise ships but has some lovely views of the harbor and north Vancouver.

Lounge on a city beach

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My favorite thing about Vancouver is the presence of both the sea and the mountains. They really have the best of both worlds. There are several city beaches all around Vancouver. Because the climate in Vancouver is pretty temperate, there’s a good chance you’ll actually be able to enjoy them too.

The biggest and most popular is Kitsulano beach, which fills to the brim with people on sunny weekend afternoons. A quieter option is David Lam park, which has a lovely view of the harbor and people boating around. In my opinion, the best sunset view is not at Sunset Beach Park, but at English Bay. Sit down at Inukshuk and enjoy the sun setting over the mountains and bay.

*Note: Unfortunately, it is not permitted to drink alcohol in public parks and beaches in Canada (something, as a European, I’ll never understand). You can try to be stealth by pouring your beer in cups, but if the police catches you they’ll take your drinks and charge you a hefty fine.

Visit Granville Island

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Granville Island was once a steelwork, but now one of the biggest tourist attractions. In the 1970s it was turned into a charming area with shops, artist studios, restaurants and an indoor market. The Public Market is a great place to gorge on samples and shop for local delicious specialties. Stroll around and dip into all the cute shops and check out art by local artists. Granville Island is also a great place to go for a lovely dinner overlooking the water.

Go for a hike

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With the mountains literally on your doorstep, there are plenty of good places to hike in and around Vancouver. A popular place is the pride of Vancouver: Stanley Park. It’s a huge natural space right at the edge of downtown Vancouver. The Pacific Spirit Regional Park is another great option for a leisurely stroll. It’s a big park close to the University of British Columbia campus.

If you want something more challenging, try your hand (or feet?) at the Grouse Grind. This is not for the faint of heart! Grouse Grind is a steep hike, basically stairs, north of Vancouver. Hiking this is like an initiation for Vancouver citizens. Another popular option in north Vancouver is Capilano Suspension Bridge or the Lynn Canyon Bridge if you don’t feel like paying admission.

If you’re not much of a hiker, Vancouver is also pretty bicycle friendly. You can bike around the whole island seeing the English Bay from all sides.

Maybe check out Chinatown

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So, Chinatown in Vancouver is a bit of a tricky one. On the one hand, it is a really cool place and looks very authentic (one of the best I’ve seen in North America). On the other hand, it is also where the homelessness problem is the worst.

Chinatown and Downtown Eastside is pretty much a sanctuary neighborhood for homeless people in Vancouver. Homelessness and drug use is a huge problem in Canada and especially Vancouver, where the climate is warm enough to live on the streets year round. Police in other parts of the country will even give homeless people bus tickets to Vancouver!

Chinatown has remained relatively safe, because the city provides food and clean needles. So there is little need for addicts to turn to crime and violence. However, you still need to be careful here as people have been known to accidentally be stabbed with needles and the atmosphere is not the nicest. To me, walking around Chinatown was even worse than San Francisco (something I didn’t think possible). Even though they have it relatively good here, the amount of human suffering is still staggering.

If you like modern cities as well as impressive nature, then you’ll love Vancouver. From art to food, there are plenty of things to do in Vancouver. And once you’re tired of city life, it’s only a short drive to the ocean or into the mountains.

Planning a trip to Vancouver? Ask me anything in the comments or on Instagram. If you liked this post, please share it on social media.

7 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in Vancouver

  1. Ahh sorry you didn’t love Vancouver! I fell in love with it within about 2 days and decided to move there haha. Easily in my top 2 cities in the world (not sure it can quite beat Edinburgh!). I do agree that right in downtown isn’t anything special, though Gastown is very cute, and the views across the water from the harbour are stunning! Stanley Park and English Bay are my two highlights, and two reasons I absolutely love the city. Chinatown… yeah, less said. The issues are really, really bad, but a few Vancouver locals told me that everyone is harmless. I felt way more on edge in Mission in San Francisco, as you made that comparison. East side Vancouver was just eye opening. But really outside of that there are so many great neighbourhoods and it’s so easy to get out into nature without even really leaving the city.

    1. Haha, well nothing can beat Edinburgh 😉 I think being so used to charming old cities in Europe, US and Canadian cities just never quite live up to that to me. But having all that beautiful nature around is definitely a plus!

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