There are places that I visit once, soak in, enjoy, and store in my memory banks. Then there are places we go back to over and over again.
For me, the best example of this kind of relationship is the one I have with Vancouver, Canada. Not only do I love Vancouver, but I’ve been going there for years and still visit once a year.
The West Coast city offers a mild climate, cosmopolitan atmosphere and incredible attractions, both urban and natural lie within reach.
In offering suggestions about what to see and what to do, I’m going to make some assumptions: that you haven’t been before or at least in a long while, and that you’re staying downtown, as that’s where most of the hotels are. If you drink coffee, I’ll throw in some great cafes to try too. I’m also assuming you’re not renting a car, since it’s not really necessary if you plan to just enjoy the city.
Getting Into Town
Taxi fares from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) are set by zone. Make sure to ask for a zone-based flat rate and check that the driver uses the correct zone map for charges.
For two people and given the exchange rate, it makes sense. It’s ~$37 CAD (~$27 USD) from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and takes about 20-30 minutes depending on traffic.
Public transportation is available from the airport to downtown via the Skytrain Expo Line or Canada Line.
Where to Stay
Generally, the easiest place to stay in Vancouver is somewhere in the vicinity of downtown. Downtown Vancouver is heavily residential, sustaining a lot of dining and nightlife in the and around the city’s cosmopolitan center.
I’m a Hyatt loyalist, and often stay downtown at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. Sometimes I use World of Hyatt award nights. At times when it’s offseason, I grab a cash night. Each year Hyatt gives me an anniversary free night certificate to use at any Hyatt category 1-4 hotel. This Regency is a category 4 hotel so it’s a great use of that free night.
I feel pretty strongly about this hotel, its location, and its lounge and consider it one of my home Hyatt hotels!
What to See
Stretching out from downtown, it’s easy to experience the city’s natural beauty. I walk a ton, so this A-list has a lot of walking in it.
1. Stanley Park. No matter what the weather, it’s always a walking city. I’ve been there in the winter with snow and sleet and still walked all over the city. Walk and you’ll feel like a local. The park is huge with many walking routes. If you walk the perimeter of the park all the way to English Bay, it will take a few hours. There are shorter routes to the bay. They are all beautiful.
2. Granville Island. You can walk there from downtown or take a bus. People often compare Granville Island to the Pike Market in Seattle. I think Granville has better offerings, space is nicer, and I find it more fun. There are lots of great eateries in the market, and I insist you try chai tea from Granville Island Tea Company.
It’s my favorite of all chai beverages.
3. Robson Street is an active shopping distict with trendy stores and shops. The real action starts from the corners of Burrard and Robson streets. Walk Robson west all the way to Denman and then turn left and head to the Bay. Great urban walk.
4. Yaletown. This area gets better each year as it continues to develop. Wherever you are downtown, walk to Davie Street and head east all the way to the water to find Yaletown. Once there, take a stroll along the body of water known as False Creek.
5. Grind it out on Grouse Mountain. Grouse mountain provides the setting for a rigorous and gorgeous uphill hike outside the city. I finish the Grind feeling exhausted and often covered in dirt…….my kind of outing. Finish ‘The Grind’, and come home with bragging rights.
6. Cineplex Odeon. If you’re in the mood for a movie, there’s a terrific art cinema in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver. I go there all the time when I’m in Vancouver. You can walk here from downtown. The cinema is well served by the bus routes, too.
Where to Eat
Food in Vancouver largely centers around the city’s various Asian and other immigrant communities.
- Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna – I go for the great lamb and mussels. You might have to wait in line, but you can also do takeaway.
- Baoguette Vietnamese Bistro – I love this place! Every single time I’m in Vancouver I eat here. Sometimes more than once.
- Sura Korean Cuisine – great Korean bar-b-que joint!
- Sylvia Hotel – this is a lovely historic hotel on English Bay. The restaurant is quite good and it’s also a great spot to pop in for drinks and people watching from a spot by the window.
- Victoria, in the basement of the mall adjoining the Hyatt Regency, has great dim sum and Cantonese cuisine.
If you’re staying downtown and need a caffeine fix, I’d recommend two places. One is JJ Bean Coffee Roasters. You’ll find locations around Vancouver.
The other is Caffè Artigiano, which you’ll also find in various locations. These are the two best cafes. If you do head out to Kitsilano or the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, try Elysian Coffee Roasters or 49th Parallel. I prefer Elysian but many the locals in Vancouver do like 49th Parallel.
If tea is your thing try the O5 Tea Bar for their rare teas from all around the world. If you like beer, Red Truck, 33 Acres, Big Rock, and Andina will not only serve you a great pint but also a great meal!
A great chocolate place is called Mink Chocolate. If you like chocolate, even a little bit, this is a must. If you’ve never tried drinking chocolate, this is the place to enjoy one for the first time!
People often ask me about getting out of the city, and Vancouver is a great jumping off point to get to nearby Whistler — often rated the world’s best skiing. Vancouver Island, home to Victoria, B.C. and many of Canada’s best wineries, is an easy ferry ride away. The Port of Vancouver provides harbor to many Alaskan Cruises.
Sometimes though, on trips like this, I prefer just visiting Vancouver. It’s glorious in the spring/summer/fall when you can hike, and be by the water, but then again even in the coldest months, I always enjoy a trip to The Queen City.