13 Things to See (& Do) in Vancouver

There’s are so many attractions in Vancouver that it’s impossible to see it all in a brief trip (I am already planing to return at some point, next time with a rental car so that I can explore the mountains). But you can fit a lot into three packed days. In addition to what I’ve come to think of as the big four…

  1.  Stanley Park
  2. VanDusen Botanical Garden
  3. UBC’s Museum of Anthropology
  4. Granville Public Market

… here are some other things that I enjoyed in my travels around town.

5. Inukshuk

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This monument is a traditional Inuit form known as an inuksuk, used as a landmark and sometimes as a navigational aid out on the otherwise featureless tundra. It is, in essence, a giant cairn (and was also the inspiration for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games logo). This inuksuk was built in 1986 by an Inuit carver, Alvin Kanak. Sitting out on a point at the end of English Bay Beach, is made out of giant chunks of grey granite.

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Something about this monument really spoke to me, so much so that I went back to photograph it at different times of day.

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The Inukshuk Man (as I took to calling the figure in my head) is meant to embody friendship and welcoming. I really appreciated it.

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6. The Food

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There’s a lot of good food in Canada these days, and Vancouver seems to have more than its fair share. My favorite place for breakfast was Purebread Bakery in Gastown; I would recommend trying the roasted apple brown sugar pecan cream puff tarts accompanied by their variation on a chai latte. But if that particular breakfast order doesn’t strike your fancy, don’t worry — the selections, both sweet and savory, seem to be endless:

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Other food favorites on this trip included:

  • Best Bistro: The Bistro Wagon Rouge (it’s off the beaten path, but well worth it)
  • Best Cocktail: The Devils’ Garden at Tuc Craft Kitchen (turns out that heaven is a mix of reposado tequila, chipotle-infused mezcal, Cynar, honey, lime, chipotle bitters, and a sprig of mint)
  • Best Brunch: Chambar (skip the line at hyper-popular Jam next door — it’s not worth it — and have the delicious bol sante salad-like creation here instead)

If you want a picnic, I would recommend stopping by the Granville Public Market to pick up cheese curds from Benton Brothers, Okanagan red wine prosciutto from Oyama Sausage, a bagel from Siegel’s, and a piping hot cup of chai or earl grey (both are excellent) from the Granville Island Tea Company — that may just be the perfect lunch.

Finally, if you happen to be walking along the waterfront on a warm spring day, you can stop by Bella Gelateria for a yummy snack:

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7. Water, Water, Everywhere!

Vancouver is nestled in the sea and crisscrossed by creeks and rivers, which means that  you get all sorts of amazing views as you walk and bike around.

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There are, of course, boats of all kinds, from pleasure cruisers and sailboats …

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… to adorable, zippy little tourist boats …

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… to dragon boats …

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… to houseboats …

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… and even boat-related public art (this house on stilts was designed in the shape of an old boat shed):

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LightShed, by Liz Magor, 2004

This much water means that you also have sea planes, which I find fascinating.

8. Bike Paths

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Vancouver is an extremely bicycle-friendly city, with bike lanes that run along most of the major streets, through residential areas, and all along the water:

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You can ride through the parks …

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… down to the beaches …

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… alongside all sorts of interesting buildings …

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Science World

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The twisty skyscraper on the left, Vancouver House, is my favorite building in the city

… and right up to flocks of Canada goose goslings:

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You can even ride over most of the bridges that separate downtown Vancouver from the southern part of the city. These vantage points give you great views down along False Creek …

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… and up to the bridges themselves:

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I was a particular fan of this steel truss extravaganza, the Burrard Bridge, which opened as an Art Deco “Symphony of Steel and Concrete” in 1932.

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9. Flowers

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Spring on a perfectly blue day is lovely just about anywhere, and Vancouver is awash in color in May. You might find irises (above), lupines …

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… cherry blossoms …

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… poppies …

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… or even skunk cabbage:

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And you’ll certainly find rhododendrons — lots of them! They’re showy, giant, and all over the place.

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10. The SeaBus

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For just about $10, a tourist can buy a one-day public transportation pass that’s good for busses and the subway — and also a 12-minute ferry that takes you from Vancouver’s Waterfront Station to North Vancouver! This trip on the SeaBus gives you the chance to get out on the water without paying an arm and a leg — and while it’s all indoors (which I thought was a shame), it’ll give you a seaside view of Canada Place …

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… and the whole city skyline:

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You can also wander around North Vancouver once you’re off on the other side (if you get there too early in the morning, there’s not a whole lot to do — though in retrospect, I wish I’d used that $10 transportation pass and hopped on a bus to Lynn Canyon Park). But you can sit on a bench, stretch your legs, and admire a pair of old two-masted ships as you look back at the city far across the water:

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11. Views From on HighIMG_4832

I was fortunate to have some spectacular vistas looking down on the city and out over the mountains at my Airbnb, especially during sunset …

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… and sunrise out on the balcony:

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I also loved this view of BC Place from my hotel window:

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12. Beaches

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I’m not sure that I loved the beaches of Vancouver so much as I loved the fact of them — they seem incongruous in a place so far north — and the fact that everyone congregates on them in great masses on warm spring days:

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I am both puzzled and enchanted by the fact that Vancouver’s beaches are studded with giant logs:

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13. fThe Gastown Steam Clock

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I’m not sure why so many tourists — myself included — feel compelled to flock to this clock. It is one of the only working clocks designed to be powered by a steam engine in the world, and while it looks like something straight out of the Victorian era, it was built in 1977. You can still see the steam engine inside at the clock’s base — but sadly, because that engine was both incredibly noisy and not very good at actually keeping time, the clock now runs on an electric motor. Nonetheless, it’s still a beautiful landmark.

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