Of all the cities in the world, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful in its seemingly peaceful co-existence with the Pacific Ocean and wild encompassing rainforest. There’s a Feng Shui to the city. The cityscape, usually grey and dreary, is made bright no matter the weather with green spaces, views of snow capped mountains and the ocean breeze. It’s a city ideal for outdoor lovers, foodies and those simply looking to escape inside or out.
Here’s my top list of things to do in Vancouver for first timers or in my case, places I like to revisit during my stay in a city I am increasingly calling my second home.
Vancouver Art Gallery
For me no visit to Vancouver is made complete without strolling through the Vancouver Art Gallery. Their eclectic exhibitions are always interesting and range from Surrealism to exploring the architecture and history of the hotel.
Even when an exhibition that I am not particularly interested in is taking place I still head to their gift shop to purchase postcards, interesting gifts and a new book or nicknack. It’s also a great place to check out some important works of Canadian art by the Group of Seven as well as both historical and contemporary British Columbian artists – Emily Carr, Bill Reid, Ken Lum, to name a few.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is located downtown across from the Pacific Centre Mall near the Four Seasons. You can save on popular Canadian retailers during your shopping experience by visiting FlipIt.ca to score coupons then have lunch at the Yew Restaurant and Seafood Bar for a taste of west coast Canada. You can also dine at the various food trucks including Vikram Vij’s popular Railway Express.
Located in Stanley Park, a place you’ll probably want to see during your first time visit, is the impressive Vancouver Aquarium. An ideal way to keep the kids engaged for the afternoon and fitting for adults with a healthy curiosity of ocean life. I can’t help but become a kid again especially while watching the illuminated orange jelly fish dance against a backdrop of piercing blue.
Explore Historic Gastown (via food & drinks)
Yes, Gastown can be very touristy but in the evenings the locals can be found at some of the cities trendiest bars and restaurants like L’Abattoir or The Pourhouse. Watch the city come alive when a Vancouver Canuck hockey game is on and you’ll get the quintessential experience of Hockey Night in Canada.
Dr. Sun Yat Zen’s Garden in Chinatown
You can escape city life in Chinatown at Dr. Sun Yat Zen’s Classical Chinese Garden. During my visit I admittedly had to share the garden with a drug addict as it is located a few streets away from the notorious East Hastings Street where you’ll see a plethora of homeless people high on drugs. I think my visit to the Chinese Garden was an unusual occurrence and I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest you go and check out the springtime blooms or the summer flowers on your own. It’s safe. You can also head inside the gorgeous Chinese building for a tour of the grounds and don’t forget to take a peak at the Eight Treasures Gift Shop.
Explore Granville Island
Exploring downtown Vancouver would not be complete without a visit to Granville Island which offers great shopping but more importantly delicious food. It’s a public market located beneath the Granville St. Bridge and offers artisanal beer, wine, coffee, meats, cheeses, chocolates and plenty of handmade artistry such as candles, jewelry and other unique souvenirs to bring home.
You can also do a food tour of the island making it easier to find and sample the best regional culinary fare.