Vancouver, Canada in the summer time is absolutely breathtaking, from its quaint downtown to its vast natural surroundings! I tacked Vancouver onto my trip to Seattle, Washington and took the Amtrak Cascades train to the city. The train ride is about 4 hours and has some of the most scenic views in the world. I would fully recommend it!
Also read my city travel guide to Seattle, Washington
The best time to visit Vancouver is from March- May and from September- November when the weather is mild and the hotel rates have decreased. However, due to the sunny weather, summer is the busiest and most popular time to visit. The city of Vancouver lends itself to plenty of awesome outdoor activities (perfect for nature lovers!), from hiking and zip lining to mountain biking and swimming. So without further adieu, here is my city guide to Vancouver, Canada.
Traveller Tip: if you are planning a trip in the summer, be sure to reserve a hotel at least 2-3 weeks in advance. If you are planning a trip in the winter, don't let the cold temperatures get you! Vancouver is an awesome destination for all winter sport fanatics.
Where to Stay:
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Vancouver Centre which was super clean and affordable. The hotel also offered complimentary breakfast and a great view of the city! Hotels in Vancouver are notoriously expensive. I recommend looking for a hotel well in advance of your trip and also searching for hotels slightly out of the downtown area. For a treat, try the Rosewood Hotel Georgia (or stop by for rooftop drinks!) or the Fairmont. If you are renting a car, be sure to check for free parking, as this could lower your travel expenses.
the best place to stay in Vancouver is in the West End.
It’s a relaxed but densely-populated local area within walking distance of everywhere downtown and close to the SkyTrain to the airport.
Look to stay in the area between Davie, Denman, Robson, and Burrard streets we’ve zoomed into here:
Check out more hotels in Vancouver
Transportation: I would recommend renting a bike (if weather is nice) or using Vancouvers public transportation system to get around the city, as parking can be a bit of a pain. However, if you plan on visiting mountains and nature parks like Whistler and Grouse Mountain, I would recommend renting a car, as Canada does not have uber/lyft services and a car or bus would be the most affordable way to see the city.
What To Do:
Stanley Park is Vancouver's first official green space, located just north of the downtown area. Known by both tourists and locals as Vancouver's most popular and wild backyard, a trip to Vancouver isn't truly complete without visiting Stanley Park. I recommend heading to the park in the morning to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful views, the zoo, the aquarium and some awesome historical landmarks. We decided to take a horse-drawn carriage through the park as we were short on time to see everything, but if you have the time definitely take a walk through this beautiful park. We loved visiting the Totem Poles, which were located at Brockton Point, a short walk from the free Rose Garden and Vancouver Aquarium. Prospect Point is a popular look out spot and definitely worth braving the crowds, as the view is stunning. However, if you want to avoid the crowds Siwash Rock look out point is definitely a more quiet spot, just 15 minutes walk from Prospect Point.
Traveller Tip: I would skip the aquarium if you are short on time. It is great if you have children, but nothing spectacular. I also don't agree with wild animals being kept in small tanks so my opinion may be a bit biased.
Gastown is a neighborhood that combines the old with the new, as one of the oldest and trendiest spots in the city. The cobblestone streets, old buildings, vintage lamp posts and the whistling Steam Clock all add to the ambiance of the neighborhood. Gastown is known for its delicious and trendy restaurants, from chic cocktail lounges to hip eateries and restaurants servings classic Canadian cuisine. All I can say about Gastown, is to make sure to visit with an empty stomach!
We enjoyed strolling down Water Street to find trendy clothing shops and cute souvenir stores. Hudson's House was one of the stores we bought most of our cute souvenirs for the trip!
Places to Eat in Gastown:
La Casita for the best Mexican restaurant in the city!
The Flying Pig for their delicious poutine (head here during happy hour to save on appetizers).
Trees Coffee for the best cheesecake!
Old Spaghetti Factory for some delicious pasta!
Lions Gate Bridge
The Lions Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic parts of Vancouver and connects Stanley Park to West Vancouver Park. Some of the best photo spots on the Lion Gate Bridge can be taken from the Prospect Point Lookout at Stanley Park. I recommend walking over the bridge to get some more amazing views of the city from Prospect Point. While walking on the bridge, notice the two lion statues that sit at the south end of the bridge, named in honor of a pair of pointed peaks along the North Shore mountain range called 'The Lions.'
Another attraction located in Stanley Park, the Vancouver Seawall is a great place to take a stroll, ride a bike or even go for a run to enjoy the outdoors in Vancouver. I recommend renting out a bike and cycling along this scenic road, as the seawall stretches around Stanley Park for 5.5 miles.
Granville Island, home to what was once Vancouvers factories and sawmills, now holds one of the best Farmer's Markets I have been to. Explore the market and enjoy the variety of fresh food, pastries, homemade products, and handmade art it has to offer. Apart from the Public Market, Granville Island has many wonderful shops and boutiques selling arts, crafts, accessories and more! I actually purchased one of my favorite wooden pair of sunglasses at one of these stores! I would definitely recommend doing some shopping here and supporting local.
The Farmer’s Market is open every Thursday from June to September. Shop for warm baked goods, preserves, plump fruit—I challenge you to walk through this place and not come away nibbling on something delicious!
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Don't let your fear of heights or bridges get to you on this one! Located just north of Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge is easily one of the best places to see in Vancouver. The sight from the bridge is breathtaking and definitely worth conquering your fear. The bridge is 460 feet (140 m) long and sits at a height of 230 feet (70 m) above the river. After walking on the suspension bridge a couple of times, I would definitely recommend the Capilano Suspension Bridge park, if you want to further immerse yourself in more Canadian beauty. However, if you would prefer spending $55 elsewhere, Lynn Canyon Park is a free alternative with a suspension bridge and equally beautiful views and waterfalls.
Grouse Mountain, is the closest mountain to Vancouver and only a 30-minutes drive away. The views of the city from this mountain are amazing and a definite must see! Watch the breathtaking views of the city change from grassy forest to snowy peaks as you mount the 3,700 ft scenic Skyride to the Alpine station. When you reach the top of the mountain, you will be greeted with panoramic views of the whole city, a delicious cafe and restaurant and much more. From hiking and zip lining to lumberjack shows and grizzly bears, Grouse Mountains has it all.
Traveller Tip: Be sure to check the weather on the mountain before you go up as some activities may be closed due to weather conditions.
'The Grouse Grind' is the most popular hiking trail to get up to Grouse Mountain. It is a 1.7 mile (2.9km) trail straight up the mountain (2,800 ft/850m elevation gain) through the forest. If you would like to avoid the crowds of the Grouse Grind, you can hike the BCMC instead, which is more quiet and not as steep.
Traveller Tip: Be sure to wear layers as it gets pretty chilly up on the mountain!
English Bay Beach
The English Bay Beach, also known as First Beach was one of the last spots we visited in Vancouver, and I am definitely glad we did. With the Stanley Park seawall running along the east side of the beach and the English bay to the west, First Beach is a treat for anyone who wants to spend a couple hours in the sun. Although, the weather was not hot enough to swim (Florida girl here!), we did happen to catch the most beautiful sunset. Surrounding the English Bay Beach are an abundance of little coffee shops and restaurants, be sure to pop into one and grab yourself a coffee and watch the sun go down.
Oh, and if you are visiting in the winter, every year on New Year's Day, there is a Polar Bear Swim that is definitely worth watching or participating in, if you're feeling courageous.
Trip to Whistler, BC
If you are in Vancouver, you MUST take a trip to Whistler, a quaint mountain town and ski resort about 1.5 hours from the city. I would suggest renting a car to get to the mountain so you can have the freedom to add stops and have a way to get around once you arrive. If renting a car is not in your budget, one way bus fares are typically $25-$60 Canadian dollars.
Once you arrive, you will find an abundance of summer activities to do on the mountain from exhilarating mountain zip lining to dirt biking and ATV rides. Whistler has one of the most beautiful mountain views I have ever seen to this day. It would be a shame to not take advantage of the amazing hikes and gondola experiences when visiting. I would recommend the Sea to Sky hiking trail as you will have the opportunity to pass through a suspension bridge with some unbeatable summer views. Another iconic spot is the Train Wreck Trail, which features graffiti train cars scattered among the forest.
Traveller Tip: Book the activities in advance, as we found many of the activities to be sold out when we arrived!
Trip to Squamish, BC
If you have the opportunity to make a stop before you get to Whistler, Squamish is definite must see! Featuring snow capped peaks on the Tantalus Lookout, beautiful, natural waterfalls and many hikes! Check out Porteau Cove, hike The Chief or if you are feeling extra adventurous, go white water rafting!
Traveller Tip: I would recommend spending a couple nights in this area before heading back to Vancouver. I found myself wishing we had more time in Squamish and Whistler.
Where to Stay:
Although we did not have the opportunity to stay the night in the Squamish and Whistler area, I did some research on where to stay, so you don't have to!
If you came prepared, camping around Squamish is the most budget friendly option. Alice Lake Provincial Park has over 100 sites to pitch a tent, plus 4 freshwater lakes and plenty of trails.
For mid-range travelers Sunwolf is an awesome place to spend a few nights, right on the banks of the Cheakamus River.
If you prefer to stay right in the middle of all the action, accommodations can be found further along in Whistler, where travelers can pick from some amazing hotels!
If you are looking for a more coastal vibe, the village of Steveston is the place to be! Only 30 minutes from Downtown Vancouver, this seaside village is filled with quaint shops, cafes and is known for its delicious seafood restaurants on the water. Fans of the ABC's hit show Once Upon a Time, may recognize the fictional town of Storybrooke as the historic neighborhood of Steveston. The village is also a gateway to some of the best whale watching Vancouver has to offer! Spend the day on the water cruising the coast looking for some of the worlds largest creatures while creating an experience you will never forget. This quaint historic fishing village is a destination not to be missed and is reachable by car, skytrain and bus from Vancouver.
Traveller Tip: Definitely book the whale watching expedition in advance.
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