Whether you’re a first-time visitor to the supermodel of Canadian cities or this is your 100th trip to Lotusland — or even if you live here — you’ll find much to see and do in 48 hours in Vancouver. And spring is the perfect time to see the city in all its green glory.
No trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Granville Island. Tucked under the Granville Street Bridge, this former industrial area is home to a bustling public market, interesting shops, fine arts galleries, mouth-watering restaurants and countless hidden gems, along with some of the cheekiest seagulls to be found anywhere in the city (seriously, keep an eye on your French fries when eating outside).
Hearkening back to the area’s industrial roots, there’s still a working concrete manufacturer on Granville Island. Ocean Concrete has trucks playfully painted to look like huge strawberries and giant bunches of asparagus, and their six concrete silos were spray-painted by OSGEMEOS to form an enormous colourful mural titled Giants.
There’s a Mobi bike station on Granville Island and another one near the island’s entrance, but the best way to reach the popular destination is by mini ferry with either Aquabus or False Creek Ferries. And don’t let the charming name fool you: Granville Island is actually a peninsula, not an island.
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Stanley Park has been called the jewel of the city, and with good reason. Located right downtown, this 1,000-acre green space (which is larger than Central Park in New York City) contains some of Vancouver’s most popular sights and attractions for locals and visitors alike.
The totem poles at Brockton Point make a great photo op, as does Girl in a Wetsuit, a life-sized bronze sculpture reminiscent of The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. The 9 O’clock Gun is a cannon that booms nightly — and has a hilariously monotonous Twitter feed. It’s also pretty much the law that every visitor must pose for a snapshot inside the Hollow Tree, a cedar stump around 700 or 800 years old.
Siwash Rock is a rock outcropping that dates back 32 million years. Its Indigenous name, Slhx̱i7lsh, refers to a Squamish legend about a man rewarded for his unselfishness by being transformed into the rock.
Of course, Stanley Park’s most popular attraction has to be the 10 kilometres of seawall that stretch around it. It took months to repair sections that were badly damaged by storms this past winter, but the Stanley Park section of the seawall is finally open again.
Vancouver’s picturesque seawall is the longest uninterrupted waterfront path in the world. It starts at Coal Harbour and meanders around Stanley Park and the West End, past False Creek, Olympic Village, Granville Island and Vanier Park, and ending at Kitsilano Beach Park. It’s the perfect place for any visitor interested in walking, running, biking or blading — or, most importantly, admiring glorious sunsets. (With 48 hours in Vancouver, you should be able to see two of them.)
For unparalleled views of the city, take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain. The gondola ascends 2,800 feet, high above the towering treetops. Once at the peak, visit orphaned grizzly bears Grinder and Coola, who recently had their longest hibernation ever.
Vancouverites have a well-earned reputation as an outdoorsy bunch — and all visitors to the city should also give at least one of our fresh-air activities a try. In the colder months, choose from skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. When it’s warmer, the possibilities are endless: hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, scuba diving, stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, canoeing, golfing and more.
At any time of year, wandering through a park or garden is a welcome escape. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a Ming Dynasty–style garden located downtown, right in the heart of Chinatown. Other places to take in the serene green scene include VanDusen Botanical Garden, which has an Elizabethan hedge maze; UBC Botanical Garden, with its Greenheart TreeWalk full of suspended walkways and tree platforms, high above the forest floor; and the highest point in the city, Queen Elizabeth Park, home to the Bloedel Conservatory, which is full of exotic birds, flowers and plants.
See the province’s natural beauty from high in the sky in a Harbour Air seaplane. Options range from a quick 20-minute flight to a full day spent hopping between the Gulf Islands. Harbour Air also offers private, custom flights, as does Helijet.
Every visitor to Vancouver should make time to see some whales. Occasionally, the creatures oblige by swimming close to downtown, but usually, more effort is required: booking a tour with a reputable business such as Vancouver Whale Watch, Wild Whales Vancouver or Prince of Whales. These companies are careful to follow all of the guidelines around how to see orcas, humpbacks, grey whales and minke whales in the wild without harming the animals. Earlier this year, BC had a record-breaking 72 orca sightings in a single day.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Housed in the city’s former courthouse, a gorgeous neoclassical building designed by Sir Francis Rattenbury and later renovated by Arthur Erickson, the Vancouver Art Gallery has an extensive permanent collection and hosts thought-provoking temporary shows. Planning for the construction of a new building to house the VAG is currently underway.
If you prefer to admire artwork while soaking up some vitamin D at the same time, you’re in luck. Thanks to the Vancouver Biennale, there are plenty of larger-than-life outdoor pieces to check out during your 48 hours in Vancouver, such as A-maze-ing Laughter, a group of bronze laughing men at English Bay; Engagement, a pair of enormous engagement rings at Sunset Beach Park; and The Proud Youth, a red boy with a mischievous grin, on the Yaletown seawall.
The City of Vancouver also has an impressive collection of outdoor art. Downloadable self-guided walking tours lead you to see pieces such as Digital Orca, which resembles a killer whale made out of giant LEGO, in Jack Poole Plaza; The Drop, an enormous raindrop, outside the Vancouver Convention Centre; and Time Top, a retro-looking spaceship, near the Cambie Street Bridge.
Alberni Street is the chicest street in the city, dotted with luxury shops ranging from Tiffany & Co. and Omega to Hermès and Louis Vuitton. It’s located one block from Robson Street, a bustling retail area with big-name stores such as Lululemon, Sephora, Indigo, Kiehl’s, Roots, Banana Republic, Aritzia and Nike. Other popular shopping destinations include West 4th and South Granville. Quirkier offerings can be found on Main Street in Mount Pleasant and on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver.
A trio of Vancouver’s favourite homegrown brands opened gorgeous retail spaces earlier this year, which are definitely worth visiting — with credit card in hand. Peruse classically designed backpacks at Herschel’s new store on Robson Street, then check out all the madcap footwear at Fluevog’s new shop and performance denim at DUER’s new space, both on West 4th. Other popular local brands include Lululemon, Arc’teryx, Aritzia and Native Shoes.
Vancouver also has a huge array of summertime markets worth checking out. Find local produce and baked goods (ideal for snacking), artisan crafts (which make thoughtful souvenirs) and more at farmers’ markets around the city.
No quick vacation is complete without a pampering spa treatment, and Vancouver has an abundance of appealing options to fit the bill. At Vida Spa, many of the treatments are based on Ayurveda, a traditional Indian system of medicine with the aim of finding balance in the body. Chi, The Spa offers ultra-relaxing packages such as the 240-minute West Coast Detox and the 180-minute Couples Retreat. Absolute Spa helps guests look and feel great with massages, facials, exfoliation, waxing, manicures and more.
Traditional Thai massages are on the menu at Smile Thai Wellness — the rejuvenating experience feels like a mini retreat to Thailand. Miraj Hammam Spa lets you indulge in traditional, detoxifying Middle Eastern treatments such as a steam bath and a full-body gommage (exfoliation), without leaving Vancouver.
West Coast fare
Vancouver is known for having an abundance of fresh produce, meat and seafood. Some top picks downtown for feasting on West Coast fare include Hawksworth, Forage, Botanist, ARC, Lift and Five Sails. Stellar seafood destinations include Blue Water Cafe, Coast and Joe Fortes.
For tasty seafood on a budget, go for fish ’n’ chips. Countless restos throughout the city offer perfectly golden brown cod or halibut, paired with crispy French fries, so you might have to sample several during your 48 hours in Vancouver. And with restaurants opening here all the time, there’s always somewhere new to please your palate.
Metro Vancouver has some of the best Asian food in the world. Need proof? Sample the sushi at Miku, Minami and Tojo’s; the Indian delicacies at Vij’s; and the Chinese cuisine at Kirin, Peaceful and Bao Bei. For mouth-watering fusion fare, head to Kissa Tanto, for their unique blend of Japanese and Italian flavours, or Ancora, which mixes Japanese and Peruvian tastes.
For on-the-go eating during your 48 hours in Vancouver, visit food trucks such as Disco Cheetah (Korean), NaMì (Vietnamese), Le Tigre (Chinese) and Shameless Buns (Filipino). Don’t miss Japadog — Anthony Bourdain chowed down on their Japanese-style hot dogs on his TV show No Reservations. To discover which trucks are operating each day, visit Street Food App.
For an entire evening of epic eats, hop on the Canada Line SkyTrain and head to the Richmond Night Market. All summer long, this lively night market is bursting with creative street food, unusual products for sale, fun games, and live entertainment ranging from music to dance to martial arts displays.
Vancouver boasts a growing craft-beer scene. Look for local brews on the menus at restaurants around town, or make the trek to taprooms such as 33 Acres, Red Truck and Parallel 49. If you’d rather let someone else organize where to go and how to get there, contact Vancouver Brewery Tours.
You can’t walk a block here without bumping into a coffee shop — including the very first Starbucks location that opened outside the United States (it’s in Waterfront Station). Local favourites for a caffeine infusion include Revolver, Milano, Timbertrain, Matchstick and 49th Parallel, which also dishes up delightfully decadent Lucky’s Doughnuts.
To maximize your 48 hours in Vancouver, pick a hotel right downtown, then walk or use the SkyTrain to get around. According to The Times, Vancouver’s top two hotels are the Fairmont Pacific Rim, with its spectacular Coal Harbour location, and the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, which exudes refined elegance. The Sutton Place Hotel is a favourite choice for celebrities visiting Vancouver, as is the Opus Hotel.
The Douglas, which is part of the Parq Vancouver Casino Resort, has two special packages available this summer: Park and Dine (May 1 to August 1) and Romantic Getaway (May 1 to September 1). Another top pick is Skwachàys Lodge, the country’s first Indigenous arts hotel. It combines a boutique hotel with an Indigenous art gallery, plus it has 24 live/work studios for Indigenous artists, a rooftop sweat lodge and a traditional smudge room.
Your next 48 hours in Vancouver
One thing is certain: 48 hours in Vancouver is nowhere near long enough to explore everything this spectacular city has to offer. Just a few places to check out on a return visit: Science World, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Convention Centre, Bill Reid Gallery, Vancouver Maritime Museum and the University of British Columbia grounds (not to mention nearby Wreck Beach — where clothing is optional, which means sunscreen is mandatory!).