Most cruises going to Alaska depart from Vancouver Cruise Terminal. Another option for departing is the port of Seattle, in the USA but Vancouver is the big winner, not only between cruise companies but also between passengers. Reasons? Vancouver is astonishingly beautiful, safe, easily walkable, and the port facilities can’t be compared with any other cruise terminal in the world.
We have been in many cruising, departing from ports like Singapore, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Southampton, Civittavechia, Papeete, etc and we had never seen a cruise terminal that is better than the one we have here in Vancouver. Modern, efficient, pretty, comfortable and located right in the downtown area. It’s easy to go even by foot while admiring the beautiful buildings and nature.
So…. ok! Between leaving from Seattle or Vancouver you decided for Vancouver. Congratulationson your nice choice!
Now… comes the “big question” that almost everyone I know ask me: “How long should I stay in Vancouver?”
My advice is to stay at least one week, and you will not regret it.
Many people I know book for only three to five days and usually they regret it, as I usually hear: “I wish I could stay more”, “next time I will stay longer”, “so much to see so little time”.…
If you are still in the planning process, think with care and make an effort to stay longer.
You will love it and will thank me later, I am positive! 🙂
The first time we visited Vancouver, back in 2009, we came with the unique purpose of embarking on a ship to Alaska. At that time we lived in Brazil and before the Vancouver Olympics there were few travel articles about the city. At that time I had to dig deep, in order to discover “what to do” and “what to see”. We stayed only three days and I regret it because we didn’t have time to see many lovely attractions.
Our first visit in 2009
We loved Vancouver so much that we decided to move here “someday” in the future! We succeed with our plan and are leaving happily here since 2012. 🙂
My advice is: Stay as much as you can! In case you have limited time, I will give my “dream list” for short period stays.
This is also the itinerary I take Brazilian visitors whenever they ask for a good guide in town. 🙂
If you have just one day:
Stanley Park: In case you have only one day, I recommend you go around Stanley Park. If you can ride a bike and the weather is nice, this is the best way to see it. You can rent a bike in many places around the city, and Denman Street is one of the most popular as it has several stores and it’s also very close to the park, making it easy for pickups and returns.
At the bike store ask for a map of Stanley Park . I always like to know what I am seeing when I travel abroad, so a map will give you a good perspective of the park’s main attractions.
Stanley Park is easy to navigate and very safe.
Please notice that are dedicated lines for pedestrians and bikers and that after the Rowling Club the bike lane has only one direction (anti-clockwise, meaning the water will be always on your right hand side). When biking you must go all way around and can not return. If you get tired and want to return without circumnavigating the park, you must step out and push your bike while waking on the pedestrian line. Please pay attention to this rule and make your trip safe and don’t put other people’s life at risk as well. Thank you! 🙂
While riding along the park don’t miss: First Nations Art and Totem Poles, Nine O’Clock Cannon, Bocktom Point Lighthouse, the sculpture called “Girl in a Wetsuit”, Lumberman’s Arch, the flowers, the lagoons, the animals. You certainly will see squirrels, ducks, several species of birds, raccoons and geese. If you are luck you may see a seal or an eagle, and if you are extremely luck you may see a whale! 🙂
On your journey around the part you will pass under the Lions Gate Bridge, a few beautiful beaches (sunset summers have music, dance and applauses to the sun on Third Beach). You will finish your ride at the awesome English Bay, where we have fireworks competitions late in July, Polar swim in January 1st and amazing sunsets all year round.
If you don’t bike I recommend you take the “hop-on hop-off bus” or the trolley (there’s a dedicated route around the park). You can also walk all the way, but it’s a long way to go walking: the seawall is 9 km long and I suppose if you are staying for just one day, you might be already tired from the trip to get here.
It will be easier if you choose to see the park by bike, by car or by trolley / bus / van.
English Bay, the end of your tour around Stanley Park
Canada Place: Located by the side of the Cruise Terminal, this is an excellent place to take pictures. You will also enjoy your time watching the seaplanes land and depart from the waters just in front of you. There’s also an interesting attraction called “Fly Over Canada” and the Vancouver Convention Center is an architectural masterpiece.
Gastown: This is the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver and it’s an amazing place to see beautiful architecture, watch the steam clock (steam occurs every 15 minutes), buy souvenirs for your friends back home (several stores with unbeatable prices). Also many restaurants from the most-affordable to the super-gourmet. Gastown has everything.
Granville Island: A small island with a Public Market where you can buy local produce as cheeses, Canadian ham, apple syrup, handmade biscuits, super fresh fruits, flowers, sweets, chocolates, artisan breads, etc. While there don’t miss the Granville Island Brewing (local brewery offering tours and tastings), the Emily Carr University’s Gallery, the concrete silos painted by the super-famous Brazilian artists “Osgemeos”. There are several food stalls and restaurants where you can eat and drink. Additionally, you will find dozens of charming little stores selling all kinds of unique gifts.
If you are traveling with kids, prepare your wallet: They will go crazy in the (wonderful) toy store there! 🙂
If you have two days:
Vancouver Aquarium: I recommend you return to Stanley Park and visit the Aquarium, specially if you are traveling with kids. Vancouver’s Aquarium is one of the best in the world (I have been to most of them and I guarantee Vancouver and Lisbon make the top of any list).
North Shore: After visiting the Aquarium, drive or take a bus to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. This is a paid attraction that deserves each penny. You will visit a park with a 140 meters long suspension bridge and will be able to walk on top of ancient trees (treetop adventure). Some trees have trunk so thick that two people can not embrace them!
If you have been there before and it has been a while since your last visit, I recommend you return to enjoy their new attraction: The cliffwalk. It’s amazing!!!!
Hatchery: Not far from Capilano Park, on the same Capilano Road, there’s a great attraction, good for all ages. Capilano River Hatchery is an awesome place to visit. Depending on the time of the year you visit, you will see salmon jumping and entering the facility. Give a look on their website to see what kind of salmon is arriving at the time of your visit. You can see salmon during the whole year. Additionally, inside the premises you will see displays instructing about salmon’s life cycle and tanks where eggs and small fish stay before being released. This attraction is free.
Grouse Mountain: As you are on the North Shore, I want to save you time! Continue on the same Capilano Road (by car or by bus) till the end. There you will find the parking lot (if you are traveling by car, don’t forget to pay for parking). From the parking lot you will see the Gondola Ticket Office. Ride the gondola to the top of Grouse Mountain where you will find unforgettable views of Vancouver and surrounding mountains.
If you travel during the winter months you will see people skiing and snowboarding. If ski is not your sport, there are marked trails for walkers and snowshoers.
During summer you will see bears! Yes! Grouse Mountain has a bear sanctuary and kids from 3 to 99 have a blast watching them!
If you have three days:
Spend the first two days as described above and begin your third day visiting Queen Elizabeth Park. You can go there walking, biking, by car or by public transit.
Queen Elizabeth Park is a real gem in the city. Entrance is free and from there you will see amazing gardens that are beautifully kept regardless of the season. If you are luck enough to be here during spring or fall you will be rewarded by the prettiest pictures your camera has ever taken! 🙂
There are also sculptures, tennis courts and the Bloedel Conservatory (this one has an entrance fee) where you see plants and flowers from other regions of the world as well as some exotic birds.
Van Dusen Botanical Garden: This is, for sure, one of the best parks in the world! I simply love it! Here you will find the most astonishingly manicured gardens ever! This park is a “must see” during anytime of the year. If you are visiting Vancouver during December you definitely can’t miss it as there’s a fabulous Christma’s display of lights and music.
Chinatown: After visiting two parks you may want to visit our beautiful Chinatown. It’s easy go get there (I recommend you go by public transit as it is tough to find parking space). There are several stores selling exquisite foods, stores selling classic souvenirs with Vancouver / Canada logo, and several places to eat. There you will find the beautiful China Gate, the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Classical Chinese Garden (free entrance), and Sam Kee (the world’s narrowest building, on the corner of East Pender & Carrall St) among other attractions.
If you have four days:
By this time you are probably in deep love with Vancouver and want to stay here forever. If that’s the case, go to the Canadian Immigration Website and see if you qualify to move here. 🙂
Otherwise… continue exploring:
Get a car and go to Squamish.
You will drive along the picturesque Sea to Sky Highway. This highway is frequently rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world by all newspapers and tourism agencies from across the globe. It’s amazing, believe me!
On you way to Squamish you will pass the Sea to Sky Gondola. Stop there and ride to the top. You will have a-m-a-z-i-n-g view of Howe sound (“sound” is an inlet larger than a bay and wider than a fjord) and forested mountains.
There’s a suspension bridge, a glass platform and several hiking trails. The views are really breathtaking.
After visiting the Sea to Ski Gondola, continue north on Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) and stop at Shannon Falls. There are beautiful falls with very easy access from the parking lot (less than 5 minutes walking). You may read additional details here.
From the Falls continue to Squamish. We go there frequently, and it’s always a pleasure to walk along the trails, see the eagles, the bears and the salmons (depending on the season). There are several excellent places to have lunch. If you like beers, don’t miss a visit to the local brewery. Have a look at one of our visits. 🙂
If you must return today, drive back to Vancouver and on the way back stop at Horseshoe Bay to admire the views and see the ferries that travel to nearby islands arriving and departing.
You can continue your trip back to Vancouver traveling along Marine Drive so you can stop at the Lighthouse Park located in West Vancouver.
If you have 5 days:
Instead of returning to Vancouver after visiting Squamish, continue north on the way to Whistler. Regardless the season you will have memories that will last a lifetime!
I have several blog posts telling what we did there in summer, winter, fall, etc. You may want to check them: Day Trip to Whistler, Do you love skiing? Go to Whistler, Where’s the best place to ski? , Travel to the Canadian Rockies during summer.
If you have more than 5 days:
The options are endless, and to name a few I would say:
Museum of Anthropology. While there drive around the beautiful University of British Columbia campus and try some of the trails in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. While there you may want to visit the Botanic Gardens at UBC as they have the excellent Greenheart TreeWalk.
Close to Rogers Arena you will find BC Place, our multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof.
Vancouver Public Library – The building’s exterior resembles the Colosseum in Rome.
If you like to shop top brands paying bargain prices, visit our new excellent outlet.
If you enjoyed walking on suspension bridges, go to Lynn Park and try the suspension bridge there. You may find this one even better than the others as this one is totally free! :)delta migratoryy Steveston Village. This is a must see attraction close to Vancouver!
Go on a Sea Safari along Howe Sound.
Visit Harrison Hot Springs. Short drive from downtown Vancouver, you can overnight there and enjoy many attractions in the area.
Visit Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. You will travel by ferry and enjoy every minute of your trip, I can guarantee you! You may want to check one of my trips there.
Visit Tofino, on Vancouver Island. Plan at least two days to truly enjoy it. It’s great in summer but it’s good in winter as well. In my post you can see a lot of things to do there as well as some of the pictures.
Visit Cypress Mountain
Visit Mont Seymour
Walk around the West End and enjoy the bars and restaurants at Davie Street.
There are other tons of things to see in Vancouver and nearby towns. All you have to do is…. stay as long as you can! 🙂
PS: In case you want more information about a particular place or want an itinerary designed for your needs, let me know in the comment area below and I will be happy to help.
If you are shy and don’t like to leave comments on blogs, you can drop me a line: cecilia “dot” architect “at” gmail “dot” com.
Thanks for visiting and enjoy your time in my gorgeous city! 🙂