Vancouver is a city that I got to visit multiple times in the last year. Unfortunately, all of these trips were on weekends and lasted less than 3 days. How do you visit such a big city in just three days do you ask? The answer is, you probably won’t see everything, but get a walking map right now and start highlighting what you really want to see. And if you are not sure what you should see, here is a short list of what not to miss in Vancouver.
Canada Place is a huge white building and dock where the cruise ships anchor while in the city. It is also a conference center. If you are not attending any of the conferences, it might seem pointless to visit, but you will also find Fly Over Canada, a 4D movie where you get to see all of Canada’s best sights, as well as the Vancouver Olympics medals and podium. And if all of that doesn’t interest you in any way, it is also one of the best spots to take pictures of the mountains and the bay on a clear day.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Located in Chinatown, the garden is an escape from the traffic and noise of the city. Part of it is open to the general public, but you can also pay a small fee for a guided tour of the whole garden and learn about the tradition of Chinese gardens and their meaning. If you get the chance, go during the Chinese New Year and see it all decorated with lanterns.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a 140m bridge that rests 70m above the Capilano River. The park is located approximately 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver, but free shuttles depart from Canada Place every 15 minutes. Although entrance to the park is pretty expensive (43 CAD) it includes the suspension bridge, hiking trails in the rainforest, the treetops adventure where you can walk on bridges from tree to tree, history and nature tours and, if you visit during the holidays, the park will be decked out in Christmas lights. For more information, visit the official website here.
Stanley Park is a huge metropolitan park (about the same size as the downtown area of Vancouver). It is surrounded by water and has a great view of the city, the bay and the mountains. Its main attraction is the seawall, a 10-kilometer pathway that surrounds the park and attracts thousands of tourists and locals each day. The seawall is so popular that it was extended to 22 kilometers and now continues to Kitsilano Beach, way outside of Stanley Park. The park also features hiking trails, beaches, lakes, the Vancouver Aquarium and many view points.
Gastown was the original settlement that evolved to becoming Vancouver. It is the oldest part of the town and is now a National Historic Site of Canada. Today, Gastown is a neighborhood full of trendy boutiques, cute restaurants, technology companies, art galleries, etc. all in the original buildings to preserve the architecture. It is also the location of the Gastown Steam Clock, a popular landmark of the neighborhood. It uses the city’s heating network to power the clock’s mechanism and whistles.
whistler and road 99
If you have time for a little road trip while in Vancouver, I recommend going to Whistler. Even if you aren’t really into skiing, you will love the city of Whistler and its free-spirited community. While driving to Whistler, make sure to stop at every viewpoint to take in all of the beautiful scenery of this area.
The city of Vancouver was one of my favorites of the last year. I loved how it offered all the activities and services of a big city while still being close to nature and having hiking trails, mountains and free water easily accessible. I am not usually attracted to cities and often feel overwhelmed in them, but I would love to live in Vancouver.
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Last year, I lived in Comox, British Columbia. I spent the whole year working, traveling and having the time of my life. Unfortunately, when June came around, my contract also came to an end and it was time for me to say goodbye and go back home to Quebec City. Goodbyes are always hard, but nothing helps more than a brand new trip to take your mind off the old one. So instead of driving straight to Quebec, I took the long way home and brought a friend along. And that is how our 26 days of driving through North America started. It was a trip full of ups and down, but we saw the most beautiful places where you should definitely stop while on a road trip through North America.
First stop, Vancouver. Of course, the first stop always depends on where you start, but in our case, since we started on Vancouver Island, the city of Vancouver was our first stop. Vancouver is the third biggest city in Canada and probably the most breath-taking. Its location right by the Pacific Ocean and next to a magnificent mountain range makes it the perfect mix of nature and city life. Check out my article on What Not to Miss on a Short Trip to Vancouver to see the different activites you should plan for your trip to VanCity.
2. The okanagan
The Okanagan Valley is a wide region of the South East of British Columbia. It is located on lake Okanagan and includes multiple cities like Kelowna and Pentiction. If you want to thoroughly explore this area, plan for at least a couple of days as there is a lot to see and the distances between the different activities are long. The area is renowned for its wineries and if you are looking to taste some good wines during your stay, I suggest going to Naramata. The little village will transport you to Tuscany while you drive through winding roads and walk in the orchards with a beautiful view of lake Okanagan. The tastings are affordable, the wine, delicious and the ambiance, irreplaceable.
3. the rockies
You can’t drive through North America and not stop in the Rockies. If you thought the mountains were beautiful in Vancouver, prepare to be blown away by this mountain range that stretches way further than you can see in every direction. And once you start getting used to the mountains, the colour of the lakes astonish you by their blue hues that range from baby blue to teal to a bright electric blue. For a more complete look at the Rockies and the different National Parks of this region check out The Canadian Rockies: from Mount Robson to Waterton.
Yellowstone was the first national park ever created in the United States, but also the first in the world. It was created in 1872 to protect the biodiversity of the area and its many geothermal features. The park is home to bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves and hundreds of other species of mammal, birds, fish and plants. Half of the world’s geothermal features are kept safe in the park and you can spend days checking out lava flows and different coloured geysers and lakes, but a visit to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without an eruption from Old Faithful. The geyser is very predictable and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. I was so impressed that we stayed a complete 93 minutes to see it erupt a second time.
5. mount rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an emblem of the United States located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculptures represent presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. It took fourteen years and four hundred workers to complete the sculptures, but the results, although a little creepy from up close, are impressive and show true talent from sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
6. badlands National Park
Badlands was one of the surprises and highlights of my trip. I had come across the website while researching for things to do in South Dakota and thought it looked pretty cool, but the pictures really didn’t do it justice. I had very low expectations since I had never heard about it before, but the warm and dry air, the little prairie dogs and the endless buttes and spires charmed me. The sunset was absolutely breath taking and the open hiking policy allows you to really explore the park.
Chicago is the third most populated city in the United States and is home to the second busiest airport in the world. Let’s just say, it is big and there is lots to do! Just in the downtown area, there is Millennium Park with its silver bean (Cloud Gate), Navy Pier, a dozen museums, Willis Tower and its Skydeck, boat tours on Lake Michigan and, before you know it, you have been there for a week and haven’t seen everything yet! I loved the view of the city from Lake Michigan. The lake is so big and blue; it feels like the city is right on the ocean.
Whether you go East to West or North to South, you will find plenty of surprises and natural beauty in North America. I hope one day I will get the chance to see all of the Canadian provinces and all of the American and Mexican states.
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Vancouver has so much to see and do that a handful of days cannot possibly be enough, especially in this weather… Whoever said it never snows in Vancouver is a liar! But even with just a few days and bad weather, we were able to explore most of the Downtown Vancouver area and drive through Burnaby, Langley and Aldergrove. We even accidentally ended up in America! So here is what we got to see.
Driving through Langley, Burnaby and Aldergrove
I know you are dying to know how we accidentally ended up in the United States so here is the full story! I was officially in Vancouver for training purposes and our training ended at noon on Friday the 3rd of February. So, after training, we had lunch at the Warehouse and joined one of my friends from Vancouver who was going to the Bates Motel and Once Upon a Time sets as both are filmed in Vancouver. We started by driving all the way to Aldergrove, where the set of Bates Motel is. As I said earlier, it was snowing, pretty heavily. The roads were slippery and visibility was almost none existent. We looked for it for hours and never found it. After a while, we gave up and decided to just head to Richmond for the set of Once Upon a Time. We put the address in the GPS and started driving. After a few minutes, we saw a Duty Free shop and realized we are going into the USA customs, but by the time we figured it out, we couldn’t turn around and the “Return to Canada” gate was closed so we had to go through customs. Neither of us had passports and my friend’s driver’s license is getting renewed so her only photo ID was her Costco card. They pulled us over and we had to go inside to explain the whole story, trying not to laugh. They finally gave us a letter that said, “lost without identification” and we could return to Canada with an escort. (The custom officers in the US were super nice and understanding so kudos to you guys! Keep up the good work in this hard time) We ended up not even going to Richmond as it was getting late and we were all just tired of driving. So that was the story of how we drove for hours and ended up going absolutely nowhere and how my friend entered the United States with a Costco card. It was a fun day all the same!
Walking Through Downtown Vancouver
The next day, we went to Downtown Vancouver. We started in Canada Place and saw the Vancouver 2010 Olympics podium, torches and medals. They looked beautiful on TV, but they are so much better in real life! I wish I could have taken one in my hands to feel how heavy they are.
After Canada Place, we walked to Gastown to explore the tourist shops and take some pictures. Gastown is so pretty and different from the high buildings, metal and glass. I took some more pictures of the steam clock (still trying to figure out how it works) before we made our way to Chinatown.
The Chinatown gate on West Pender is just as beautiful as I remembered and, the Chinese Garden, even more beautiful! Last time I was there, it was too early and I could only access the park while the official garden was closed. This time, we saw the whole thing. It costs 12$ for adults and 9$ for students, but it is worth the cost. We did the guided tour and got some tea and Chinese candies and snacks. There were lanterns everywhere for the Lunar New Year and we learned so much about Chinese customs and traditions. We wrote wishes on the wishing tree and took so many pictures.
After visiting the garden, we went to Yaletown for lunch and hot chocolate. Did you know there was a Hot Chocolate Festival in Vancouver? It takes place from January 19th to February 14th. There are 29 participating restaurants and coffee shops and over 60 different recipes. We went to Bella Gelatoria and decided on the Hot Chocolato. It is regular hot chocolate with a scoop of gelato in it and it is exquisite. The mix of flavors, the hot and the cold are just so good I can’t even explain it. We left the restaurant completely full with our stomachs bursting. We then walked to Pacific Center for some shopping and called it a day at about 5 PM as we were both freezing in our wet boots.
The weather made it very difficult to find motivation to walk through the city, but we still had an amazing day
The next day, we had to take the ferry at 12:30 as it was snowing again and I was starting to get sick and didn’t want to get home too late. It was also snowing in Nanaimo, but luckily the highway was plowed and it wasn’t too slippery. My friend got stuck in Comox with me as my car was stuck in the snow and I couldn’t drive her to the ferry, but we all made it home safe.
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Spoiler alert! I didn’t see everything in one day, that’s impossible. What happened is, my friend offered me to go to Disney on Ice with her on a Saturday night. I work all week so Saturday was perfect, but since she had to work, I couldn’t arrive in Vancouver until 5 PM. So I drove to Nanaimo, took the ferry and made it to her workplace at about 5:30 PM. That night, all we did was go to Disney on Ice (which was amazing by the way) so I didn’t start visiting Vancouver until the next morning at 6 AM when my friend dropped my off at her workplace before going back to work. She works in the middle of town so I was lucky! I had from 6 AM until 11 AM: when I had to take the bus to go back to the ferry terminal.
Tip 1: get a walking map of the city. Most of the attractions are only a few blocks from each other so you don’t need a car and you will save time and money by walking from place to place. Plus, all the important attractions are highlighted on the map.
My friend had told me the name of places I should visit and so had my dad. That included Canada Place, Gastown and the steam clock, the Chinese garden and Stanley Park.
At 6 AM, I left my friend’s workplace in West End and made my way to the Vancouver Convention Center and Canada Place by walking along the harbour. The seawall as a ton of boards that explain how Vancouver came to be and the major events in the history of British Columbia and I loved learning some facts about my new home for the year. I was too early to go on Fly Over Canada, but still walked around Canada Place and looked at all the different cities written on the ground.
Tip 2: If you plan on visiting Vancouver early in the morning or during the weekend, look up the opening times of the attractions you plan to visit as they might open later than usual on weekends and it will help you plan your itinerary so you don’t miss any fun activities.
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