7 spots not to miss in Vancouver

7 spots not to miss in Vancouver

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vancouver several times with work. I love visiting Canada and Vancouver is widely regarded as many people’s favourite city in Canada, if not in the world. It’s hugely diverse culturally, with beautiful open spaces and an abundance of nature around every corner. It’s also a foodie heaven, with so many different cuisines it’s impossible to get a taste of everything in just one visit.

Every time I get the chance to return to Vancouver, there are some spots that I just keep going back to. I jump at the chance to visit because now I feel I just about know the city well enough for it to feel like home from home. Here are my top 7 places to visit in this fantastic city that you should consider stopping off at if you’re in the area.

1. Stanley Park

Stanley Park really does have it all. A wonderful open space that brings cyclists and pedestrians alike close to nature but still in sight of the towering apartment blocks of Downtown Vancouver from across the water. I’ve spent hours wandering through this park before in sunny weather, enjoying the escapism of being able to access such a large park in a major city. One of my favourite routes is along the scenic seawall, which takes you along the edge of the water all the way to the totem poles in the park.

Looking through trees across harbour with boats at Vancouver apartment blocks
View of Vancouver from Stanley Park
4 totem poles in Stanley Park in front of trees
Totem poles in Stanley Park

2. Cafe Medina

Cafe Medina is one of those tucked away little restaurants that you would probably never discover by accident. It’s located down the pretty nondescript Richards Street downtown but is well worth a visit. I came across this restaurant on Trip Advisor where it gets some excellent reviews. As well as offering a stunning selection of carefully crafted brunch options to delight every palette, they’re renowned for their Belgian-style waffles. The waffles themselves are light with a fluffy inside and a crisp outside and come with a choice of delicious sauces. My favourite sauces are the white chocolate pistachio rosewater and milk chocolate lavender. The price is also reasonable, with each waffle costing $3.25 and one sauce topping costing $1.

Salmon on toast with avocado, salad and a cup of tea
Salmon on toast two-ways at Cafe Medina
Two golden brown Belgian waffles with white chocolate dip and milk chocolate dip
Belgian waffles

3. English Bay Beach

English Bay Beach is located just next to Stanley Park on the edge of the city, but within walking distance of the Downtown area (about 30 mins walk). Although I wouldn’t typically associate Canada with beaches, this really is a lovely spot to chill out and do some good old-fashioned people-watching whilst gazing out over English Bay, with the hills of Vancouver Island in the distance. You’ll spot the locals heading down to English Bay Beach to go for a jog, relax after work and even play volleyball in the sand! I’d recommend heading down just before sunset to finish off your day by sitting on the grassy slopes by the beach and watching the gorgeous sunset.

View of beach, sea, mountains and trees with people walking
English Bay Beach looking towards Stanley Park
Blue, pink, purple, yellow and orange sunset over the sea and mountains
Sunset at English Bay Beach

4. Vancouver Harbour

I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that the location of Vancouver is geographically stunning. The main part of the city is surrounded by water on 3 sides, offering visitors incredible views of mountains and forests from almost every angle. Even in the middle of the summer, you’ll still be able to glimpse the snow-capped mountains in the distance. If you’re staying in the Downtown area, it should take you no more than around 15 minutes to wander down to Vancouver Harbour. I love to watch the sea planes taking off to do their tours of the area – one day I’m hoping to get the chance to do one of these myself! Vancouver Harbour is also where you’ll find the Convention Centre at Canada Place. Next door to the Convention Centre you can hop on the SeaBus at Waterford Station to take you across the water to North Vancouver (the cheapest and quickest option).

Harbour with sea planes in foreground and mountains and forest in background
Stunning views over Vancouver Harbour
Grey skies with harbour in foreground and Vancouver skyline
View of Vancouver from the SeaBus

5. Grouse Mountain

Sounds like a bit of a trek? Well don’t worry; Grouse Mountain is actually much closer to Vancouver than you might think. It’s also very accessible from the city. You can take their free shuttle bus from Canada Place to the bottom of the mountain, which takes less than an hour. Then take the gondola all the way to the top. If you’re feeling more adventurous and have time, you can hike up the mountain. This challenging walk is called the Grouse Grind and is 2.9km up the face of the mountain. Once you’re at the top, there are also less challenging trails for you to enjoy. Additionally, you can take in spectacular views of Vancouver and grab something to eat and drink in one of the 8 restaurants and coffee shops up there (including Starbucks!). An adult day ticket costs $44.95 or $48.95 if you want to ride the Peak Chairlift.

Trees with lights in front of the Grouse Mountain entrance in the dark with snow
The entrance to Grouse Mountain
Snowy tunnel with fairy lights in the dark
Exploring the top of Grouse Mountain

6. Downtown Vancouver

Looking for some retail therapy? Look no further than Downtown Vancouver! If there’s something you’re looking for, it’s bound to be here. From Canadian favourites such as Roots on Robson through to Hermès on Burrard, shoppers are spoilt for choice. Once you’re all spent, the Downtown area also offers countless restaurants for you to rest your weary feet. I’d recommend stopping off at one of the many sushi restaurants as Vancouver has an abundance of fresh fish and a strong Asian food scene being on the Pacific Coast.

View of downtown buildings with trolleybus wires and crosswalk
Downtown Vancouver
Sushi plate with rolls plus edamame beans, prawn tempura and Japanese tea
Sushi anyone? You won’t struggle to find this in Downtown Vancouver

7. Gastown

Gastown should definitely be on your list of places to visit during a trip to Vancouver, as it’s the oldest neighbourhood in the city. Despite being located just down from the Downtown area, Gastown retains its historic charm with old-fashioned lampposts and cobbled streets. The defining emblem of Gastown is the Steam Clock on Water Street. It also has some amazing restaurants, so this is usually where I head for my evening meal when I arrive in the city. My favourite is Peckinpah for mac ‘n’ cheese with smokehouse meat located just by the picturesque Maple Tree Square.

View of buildings and trees in dusk light with cobbled streets and vintage lampposts
Maple Tree Square, Gastown
Mac and cheese in white dish with a slab of brisket meat on top and a root beer
Mac ‘n’ cheese with brisket at Peckinpah restaurant, Gastown

Getting around

One of the things I really appreciate about Vancouver is its walkability. The core of the city is fairly compact and easy to navigate so you can get around without relying on a car. The buses in Vancouver are also very easy to use if you need to go further afield or if you can’t be bothered to walk. Be aware that Uber is banned in Vancouver so you won’t be able to rely on this. In my experience, the taxis are also unreliable an expensive so I would plan ahead to use public transport if possible!

If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Canada, why not travel there this winter? Check out my top 5 tips for making the most of the Canadian winter.