As we spent three days in Vancouver, British Columbia, we realized the city stands out for having unlimited activities for all ages. Whether pursuing nature, history, or the eclectic urban lifestyle, we found activities that pleased us all. Vancouver is totally worth exploring. In fact, we fell in love with this city.
So, what did we do in Vancouver during our visit? With so many options, it was hard to explore everything; however, after some quick research, we sorted it out based on our family’s interests. Starting with Vancouver for outdoor lovers: two places you can’t miss, we moved through cool neighborhoods, bustling markets, fascinating museums, tasty cuisine, and more.
Eat at Public Market in Granville Island
Granville Island is an easy trip from Vancouver downtown. Despite being easily reachable by car, the fun way to get around is by hopping on one of the family-owned vessels which serve False Creek and the surrounding areas. Called Aquabus, the small boats stop at different points around False Creek including Granville Island, Maritime Museum, and Yaletown. The Aquabus is a fun, cheap, and fast way to travel around the main attractions bordering False Creek. Additionally, it is a good way to get beautiful waterfront views of the city.
The island has something for everyone. Having the Public Market as the main attraction, this lively neighborhood is home to plenty of unique shops, local artisans, restaurants, breweries, art galleries, street performers, and much more.
The Public Market
The Public Market is a bustling, colorful, indoor layout with booths that sell an array of local products all created, grown, or produced by each vendor. From baked goods, flowers, soaps, fruits and vegetables, seafood, coffee, artisan handicrafts, and jewelry, the options are countless. Row after row, all the vendors were nicely organized. As we walked by the food stalls, we sampled gastronomic delicacies. Two of my favorites were the pure Canadian maple syrup and a lemon bar.
Even after all the snacks we had through the aisles, we still wished for a proper meal. After each of us grabbed a small bite from different stationary vendors, we walked to the patio wrapped around a corner of Granville Island and shared a table with other folks. While we enjoyed each bite, we appreciated the gorgeous views of the False Creek and Coal Harbour.
On the other side of the Public Market, street artists performed. Musicians played bongos, drums, or banjos, belly dancers exhibited charming movements under the sound of folk music, and funny magicians showed tricks that made all of us laugh or shout a “Wow!” There was always someone on the promenade to entertain kids and adults alike.
Explore the Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum is located in Vanier Park, a 15-minute walk along the Sea Wall from Granville Island. We opted for another short ride on the Aquabus. The small museum was not only a fantastic place to learn about the history of British Columbia and the first Europeans who arrived in the area, but also the First Nation People. Although the exhibits were both educational and fascinating, the highlight of our visit was on an old ship.
St. Roch ship
Home of the historic St. Roch, the first vessel to travel the Northwest Passage in both directions, the structure of the building was assembled around the remarkable watercraft. After watching a short movie about St. Roch’s history, we entered and explored the restored boat on our own. Abroad, we saw where the sailors used to eat, sleep, and work during their journeys. Moreover, we walked on decks, touched ropes, climbed stairs, and wondered about objects in each room. We also took turns at the wheel, all the time imagining we were navigating through Arctic ice. Outside the vessel, on the bottom floor of the building, we touched the hull and propellers.
Still in the museum, we continued our adventure by looking at wonderful model ships and had fun using a virtual reality device to steer a boat through the ice glaciers. In the Children’s Discovery Centre, with lots of drawers to open, kids could discover maritime-related things which were linked to available data. Our daughter dressed up as a pirate and tried on an old-fashioned diver helmet.
Learn about the First Nations people at Museum of Anthropology
Located on the beautiful University of British Columbia campus overlooking the Strait of Georgia, the Museum of Anthropology is a collection of arts and cultures with a significant concentration on the First Nations peoples and other cultural communities.
Our visit to the museum was divided into two parts. First and foremost, the free guided tour that was given by one of the knowledgeable volunteers directed us through the First Nations families’ exhibits. Fascinated, we learned about the descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada who lived here for many thousands of years before explorers arrived from Europe. Starting in the main foyer, we heard about the canoes and sculptures on display. We also learned about the large-scale totems and carved house-dishes which were sculpted in the shape of animals or supernatural figures. Each of them represented the history and wealth of their owners.
For the second part, we examined pieces from around the world. Our tour included a visit to rooms with baskets and hats, then moved through colorful masks, traditional clothing, photos, and ceramics. The tour finished with our admiring the well-known sculpture, The Raven and the First Men, at Bill Reid’s rotunda. After the guided tour, we had free time to browse other rooms.
Stroll, shop, and eat in Gastown
Back in 1867 when a single lumber mill stood in the wilderness near Vancouver Harbour, a seaman called “Gassy Jack” arrived in the area. Bringing a barrel of whiskey, he assured millworkers he’d give them drinks if they’d build him a saloon. The tavern was built and the historic district of Gastown – named after “Gassy” – was born. Gastown is, in fact, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Vancouver.
While walking on the restored cobblestone streets with vintage lamp posts and incredible architecture, we realized it was a one-of-a-kind place. Historic buildings house fantastic boutiques, bookstores, gallerias, and plenty of dining and drinking business. We agreed that Gastown is nowadays not only filled with charm but also full of life.
Every corner was elegant and imposing. The Victorian-style Steam Clock fed by the steam pipe system that runs underneath Vancouver was totally worth viewing. After learning how it works, our daughter was intrigued by the clock’s rumbles with steam and whistles that occurred every 15 minutes. Splendid! Equally remarkable was the statue of John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.
Not far from the heart of this neighborhood, we checked out the Vancouver Lookout. Located at the top of the Harbour Centre building – one of the tallest buildings in Vancouver – the tower stands 177 meters (581 feet) high while the observation deck itself is at a height of 130 meters (430 feet). The spectacular 360-degree bird’s eye view of Vancouver metropolitan area, the Harbour, Stanley Park, and the superb North Shore Mountains is heart-stopping.
Eat and drink in Vancouver, British Columbia
Have I already said that Vancouver is a food paradise? We quickly became aware that the city is filled with an overwhelming number of eateries. Although this is not a post about restaurants, two of the several places where we ate conquered our tummies.
Water Street Cafe
Water Street Cafe, in Gastown, is located in a corner building that overlooks the cobbled streets and the famous Steam Clock. Offering an inviting atmosphere, followed by impeccable service and food, this small restaurant made the list of one of our favorite dining rooms in Vancouver. Featuring a menu with casual French and northern Italian cuisine with West Coast influences, the restaurant uses the freshest of ingredients in preparing all dishes available. From starters to main dishes, drinks, and desserts, everything we ordered was outstanding.
Blue Water Cafe
Blue Water Cafe is housed in an adapted brick warehouse in the heart of historic Yaletown, Vancouver’s vibrant and hip neighborhood. This phenomenal seafood restaurant impressed us from the moment we arrived until long after we left. Although the restaurant is big and crowded, we experienced a friendly, attentive service on every detail. Tables were beautifully set with crisp white linens. And the food! From the raw bar, the oysters made wonderful starters. Moving onto the main dishes, we savored the freshest, wild, coast species tastefully prepared. Cocktails and wine were exceptional. Later on, all of us agreed that our dining experience was faultless.
A note on the side, we were celebrating my in-laws 50th anniversary. Because we were a group of 11 people, we made reservations a couple of months in advance. Later that night, we heard from our waiter that the restaurant is sold out every night of the year.
Have you been in Vancouver? What are your favorite attractions in town?