Alex and I just celebrated our 2-year wedding anniversary on July 8th (where does the time go?!). To honour the occasion, we decided to travel to Vancouver—somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for ages! We started a new tradition of taking a big trip for our anniversary every year, instead of buying each other gifts. We have our sights set on Asia for October (fingers crossed!), but until then, we thought a little jaunt would do the trick to tide us over! As someone who previously assumed the journey was about 6 hours, I was so pleasantly surprised to see that it’s only a 4.5-hr. direct flight to travel to Vancouver from Toronto!
Know Before You Go
- Once you arrive in Vancouver, figuring out local transportation is key. As of the date of writing, there are no ride-sharing programs in Vancouver, which means no Uber and Lyft (they will arrive in September of 2019). Depending on what you want to do, you’ll have to take taxis, public transport, ferries, car rentals, or get around on foot – so plan ahead!
- Taxis aren’t as ubiquitous as in other major North American cities, like Toronto and New York. You can’t always expect to hail a cab from wherever you are in Vancouver. A great cab-hailing app to save you time and hassle is Kater.
- Downtown Vancouver is very walkable and you can get to most major attractions within the city on foot. For attractions north of Vancouver (like Whistler, hikes, the Sea to Sky Gondola etc.), you’ll need a car rental or car sharing option.
- Vancouver didn’t get the nickname “Raincouver” for no reason. It does rain in Vancouver A LOT. So, bring an umbrella, and if a lot of your activities are outdoors, give yourself 1-2 extra days to do sightseeing in case of rain. Thankfully, it didn’t rain one single time on our 3-day trip in July – so we totally lucked out!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the DOUGLAS, inside Parq Vancouver (along with JW Parq Marriott) and had a fantastic time! The location alone is enough to entice you – right across from BC Place, super close to major attractions, and by the water. The Parq Vancouver is an entire entertainment complex (great to post up in, should it be raining one day 😉), which has:
- 4 full-service restaurants (Honey Salt, The Victor, BC Kitchen, and MRKT EAST)
- 3 bars/lounges (D/6 Bar & Lounge, Centre Bar, and Whiskey/Tea Lounge)
- a casino
- an artisanal gelato shop
- a make-up and blow out salon
- aqua lounge/pool
We found the DOUGLAS to be super modern and stylish. It’s one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels, which is their collection of boutique hotels around the world that are focused on unique design. The décor is inspired by nature and the hotel is named after the Douglas fir – a tree found all over British Columbia!
We stayed in a Junior Suite on the 14th floor and had a great view of BC Place and downtown Vancouver. Our suite had floor-to-ceiling windows and was very spacious, with a separate living room, desk, and king-sized bed. The bathroom was outfitted with a large marble sink, rainfall showerhead, and Aesop bath products. Service was exceptional and we found the staff to be both friendly and helpful, including doing everything they could to ensure a room was ready for us on our early check-in and upgrading us from a room to a Junior Suite at no additional charge! There was also a concierge on-hand to assist with directions and anything we needed during our stay. The DOUGLAS was such a great base, and I definitely recommend if you’re planning to travel to Vancouver!
For those seeking weekend getaway options to Vancouver and elsewhere, Marriott offers great deals on hotels (including the DOUGLAS). Marriott Bonvoy Members benefit from lower rates when booking direct on Marriott.com. For more info on Marriott’s weekend getaways, click here.
What to Do
The biggest part of the fun when you travel to Vancouver is getting outdoors – whether it be for a bike ride or stroll around the seawall or through Gastown, or for something more adventurous, like a hike. On our 3-day trip, we had a good mix of indoor and outdoor activity, which gave us a great taste of what Vancouver has to offer.
Stroll through Gastown & Chinatown
Starting in downtown Vancouver, a stroll through Gastown is a must to feel immersed in the local culture. Both Gastown and Chinatown are part of The Downtown Eastside. Gastown is the original neighbourhood where Vancouver was founded and a heritage site. Once plagued by poverty, it’s been developed over the years. Currently, it’s a tourist area with lots of bars, restaurants and shops.
Make sure to check out the Gassy Jack Statue and Steam Clock – two of the most photographed landmarks in Gastown.
I will say that Chinatown is honestly well past its heyday. If you travel to Vancouver, it’s something to see once, due to its history and size (it’s Canada’s largest Chinatown). Visit the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, and if you’re in the mood for authentic or cutting-edge Asian food, do your research to find a great place to eat (we had plans to go to Bao Bei, but didn’t have time, in the end). Avoid Hastings Street, which is Vancouver’s equivalent of skid row. We found Davie St. on Vancouver’s west side to be a more bustling or ‘new generation’ Asian neighbourhood.
Sea to Sky Gondola
About an hour north of Vancouver in Squamish is the Sea to Sky Gondola. A 10-minute gondola ride takes you 885m above sea level to the top of Howe Sound (experienced hikers can opt to climb and take the gondola back down).
Once at the top, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views. There’s also a suspension bridge and a Summit Lodge to have a drink overlooking the mountains and water. Check out my Instagram video to get a better idea of the experience. Also, enjoy the beautiful views along the Sea to Sky Highway on the way there and back.
Go to Granville Island
You can’t visit Vancouver and not go to Granville Island. It’s literally a hop, skip, and a jump….err, rather, 10-minute ferry ride away!
There are a couple ferry companies that will bring you over: Aquabus (which is technically slightly faster) and False Creek Ferries (which I recommend, but I could just be partial because the False Creek ferries are so darn cute!). On the island, you’ll find the Granville Island Public Market, which is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. There are so many goodies at the market to excite your taste buds!
If you want to chill and watch the boats go by, head to Sandbar for some cocktails and oysters. Ask to sit on the patio.
Popular amongst locals, we didn’t actually go to Kitsilano for the beach, but rather to find the infamous swing. It’s part of the fun to try to find the swing, so I won’t actually disclose its location 😉. If we had more time, we’d explore more of Kitsilano, which is Vancouver’s once hippy hangout turned yuppie neighbourhood (and incidentally, the birthplace of Lululemon).
Bike Riding in Stanley Park
The size of the seawall (and Girl in a Wetsuit statue) will actually surprise you, but another must-do if you travel to Vancouver is exploring Stanley Park. You can stroll, but I recommend biking around the seawall because you can make the rounds much faster and thus spend more time exploring specific sights. Third Beach is a popular hangout spot. Our favourite was watching the sunset at Siwash Rock.
There are lots of bike rental companies, so you’ll have no trouble. Many of them close at 8 or 9 p.m. and you can rent by the hour. We rented from Spoke Bicycles, located right on Denman St., which is a nice start and end point for your ride. The process was pretty seamless (almost conveyor-belt like), as all these companies rent out a tonne of bikes on a daily basis.
Go to Lighthouse Park
Lighthouse Park was a very pleasantly surprisingly easy hike (I mean, I’m no experienced hiker and I was able to do it in flat leather sandals!). There are several trails, so do your research! We wanted to get the iconic view of the lighthouse, so we took the trail to Shore Pine Point! This is a great place to come, if you are strapped for time and want to get a taste of hiking in Vancouver.
To Suspension Bridge Or Not To Suspension Bridge?
That is the question. And it’s a very good one, so I’ll share my honest thoughts. Chances are, if you plan to travel to Vancouver, you’ve come across some epic photos taken on the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Maybe if you’ve dug a bit more, you’ve learned there are other suspension bridges in Vancouver, like Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. We thought we were clever in opting for Lynn Canyon – compared to Capilano, it’s free and less-crowded. However, at the time we visited (roughly 3 p.m.), it was my literal worst nightmare. All in all, for a chance to walk on a 48m long bridge that is suspended 50m above a canyon (Capilano is 140m long and 70m high), it was not worth the hassle for us. For some, the $47 entrance ticket to Capilano is enough to sway them (pun intended 😉), but I would not go to either on my next trip to Vancouver.
Go to Commercial Drive
Commercial Drive is such a gem of an area, especially if you’re a foodie! Once a working-class area, due to settlement by Portuguese and Italian immigrants after World War II, it’s also been developed over time. Today, it is a pretty cool blend of old and new. So, you’ll find everything from ‘mom and pop’ shops to hipster restaurants and bars. We checked out some pretty awesome spots, including Livia Sweets, La Mezcaleria, and Havana (more on these places in my upcoming Vancouver Eating Guide).
Where to Eat and Drink
There is no shortage of great places to eat and drink in Vancouver – and not just for sushi and seafood! We really did not expect to have such amazing dining experiences heading into our trip. Because there were so many places we loved, I’ve decided to share in a separate Vancouver Eating Guide. Stay tuned for that in the next couple of weeks!
Overall, Vancouver exceeded our expectations and I would return again and again. Now that I’ve finally visited the west coast, I feel that I can call myself a true Canadian! Do you have plans to travel to Vancouver?
*This post was done in partnership with Marriott International, who made this experience possible. However, all opinions and thoughts are 100% my own.