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Vancouver is one of Canada’s most picturesque cities - known for its art galleries, restaurants, shops, parks and recreational activities. It is surrounded by sprawling mountains, beautiful lakes and bustling harbours. The locals are friendly, the food is great and there is a hip urban vibe that radiates through each unique neighbourhood – I absolutely love it!
If you are planning a trip to BC and only have a few days to do some sightseeing, this guide highlights some of the best attractions and day trips.
The flight from Toronto to Vancouver is approximately 5 hours and renting a car is one of the best ways to explore. There are many opportunities for memorable road trips and parking is quite reasonable.
We visited Vancouver at the end of September and rental car companies at the airport (including Thrifty, Budget and Dollar) were charging over $1,000 CAD for 4 days which is higher than normal. (Rates vary by season and availability).
Travel Tip: If you don’t want to purchase car insurance every time you travel, you can obtain coverage for rentals through your personal car insurance provider.
**Important Travel Information: If you plan to rent a vehicle to drive from Vancouver to Whistler from October 1st to Mach 31st along the Sea to Sky Highway, you are legally required to have winter/snow tires. Cars with these tires cost extra and are subject to availability. You must ask for them at the time of booking and SUVs with winter tires are extremely limited.
Vancouver to Victoria Island – BC Ferry and Rates
Since our flight arrived early, we decided to spend the first two days in Victoria.
From the car rental company, we drove to the BC Ferry (Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay). The ferries carry passengers and vehicles to the island – you can drive your car right onto the boat.
It costs extra to transport a car but I highly recommend it. The drive from the ferry terminal to downtown Victoria is quite lengthy and having a car makes it easier to tour the island.
$17.60 per adult
$59.50 – undersized vehicle + 50 cents fuel rebate
We paid $200.50 round trip - 2 adults + 1 car.
For current prices please refer to the BC Ferry website and schedule.
If you do not book a specific departure time online and you miss the ferry, you may have to wait 30-60 mins for the next one. It takes 90 mins to reach the island but the journey is picturesque. Head to the upper deck and enjoy the ride (you might want to bring snacks).
Downtown Victoria is the best place to book a hotel on the island because it is centrally located on the harbour.
We stayed at Huntingdon Manor – a gorgeous Victorian hotel known for its glamorous high tea service and tranquil garden. I booked on Expedia for $254.00 CAD per night with breakfast included. Rates may be higher during peak season.
Tickets - Adults: $20.60, Kids: $10
Tickets –$5, kids under five are free
On the second day, we woke up early (way before checkout) and spent the morning road-tripping around the island.
*Snap a photo at the Mile Zero Marker Sign on Douglas Street. This is the start of the Trans-Canada Highway which is over 8,000 km / 4,970 miles. It was formerly the longest uninterrupted highway in the world.
If you only visit one attraction in Victoria, I highly recommend Butchart Gardens. It is located in a lush forest and features several exhibits with various themes and styles. The abundance of vibrant flowers, plants and foliage gives the illusion of floating through a magical wonderland. It is simply exquisite!
-Tickets: $36 per person, parking included.
After taking the ferry back to Vancouver and relaxing at our hotel, we were ready for our next adventure.
We planned a road trip from Vancouver to Whistler along the famous Sea to Sky Highway – one of the most picturesque roads in Canada. It isn’t as scenic as the Icefields Parkway in Banff, but it is definitely worth checking out.
Before getting onto the Sea to Sky Highway, you will come across one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions – The Capilano Suspension Bridge. If you have an aversion to heights, consider skipping this attraction, otherwise give yourself a couple hours to explore the park.
The bridge is suspended between two cliffs so it sways and bounces in the wind (be prepared if you are prone to motion sickness).
Entrance fee for Capilano Bridge:
*Porteau Cove – excellent place to picnic, take photos and use the restroom.
*Brandy Wine Falls
*Shannon Falls – Short easy hike from the parking lot.
*Travel Tip: You can hike from Shannon Falls to the Sea to Sky Gondola instead of driving to the lot up the road. The dense, mossy forest makes for a beautiful hike and it is a great way to get your steps in (we did over 12,000 that day).
Sea to Sky Gondola
For one of the most amazing views, take the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish BC. The ride to the summit is exhilarating – a vertical climb up steep rocky mountains. If you don’t like heights, this probably isn’t for you. It was a bit terrifying but totally worth it!
- Gondola ticket price: $56 per person.
Once you reach the summit, there is a cliffside cafe with an incredible view, another suspension bridge (free to cross), several scenic hiking paths and lookout points. Follow the map provided with your ticket to make the most of your time. You’ll probably need 1-2 hours.
Whistler Village is a charming little town where the athletes stayed during the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is nestled at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and has a variety of shops, restaurants, ski resorts and luxury chalets. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is about 1 hour and 38 mins but expect traffic delays.
We visited in autumn so the village was awash with fall colours.
*Lost Lake (near Whistler Village) – parking is limited.
We did quite a bit of driving on this trip, so our last day was dedicated to touring the city on foot.
Places to Visit in Vancouver
*Granville Island Public Market was our first stop of the day. Parking is only $1 per hour but space is limited so try to arrive before lunch.
The market is a great place to get fresh produce and treat yourself to a cup of decadent ice cream at Soft Peaks. The marina is located in the heart of the city with a wonderful view of the skyline. Grab some tasty food and find a seat outside to enjoy the scenery. Most days there are live musical performances.
After lunch, take a leisurely stroll around the boardwalk, do some shopping or embark on a sightseeing cruise.
In the food court I tried a yummy pizza slice and shared a big taco bowl with my husband.
Another great place to enjoy the skyline is Longsdale Quay. There are bars and restaurants right on the water, an indoor food market and a patio/boardwalk where you can see the entire city.
Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions. It is a wonderful place to spend the day and picnic.
The park is expansive so below I've listed a few of the best ways to explore:
*Rent a bike and cycle around the Seawall on the perimeter of the park.
*Walk around the seawall and enjoy the beaches.
*If you don’t have the energy to walk or bike, get a free park map from the information booth or use Google Maps on your phone to pinpoint scenic spots around the Seawall and throughout the park you can drive to. On Goggle Maps places of interest are marked with a camera icon.
*Prospect Point Lookout is one of my favourite attractions. There is a stunning view of Lionsgate Bridge (Vancouver’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge).
*Tea House & Ferguson Point
*Brock Point Lighthouse
Gastown is known for its whistling Steam Clock, indie art galleries, Victorian architecture, trendy restaurants, bars and lounges. Parking in the impark lot near Steamworks Brewing Co. is $12 per hour.
If you want to shop till you drop, Robson Street is the place to do so! There are hundreds of stores and restaurants to choose form.
The Richmond Street Market opens at 7 pm – 12 am Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the summer months. Because of its growing popularity we decided stop by. Parking is available but the lot fills up quickly and there is usually a long line of people waiting to get in. Make sure to arrive early.
- Entry fee is $5 per person which includes parking.
Once inside, you will find a few rows of food vendors selling Chinese/Asian street food and cheap flea market goods. Many of the dishes are deep fried and there is a lot of seafood (which I’m not a fan of). The quality and variety of food was not impressive so I left shortly after arrival.
La Casa Gelato is a fun family owned ice cream shop located on the outskirts of town. They offer 238 different flavours of gelato and many are quite unique!
Some of the unusual flavours include: nori, garlic, smoked salmon, wasabi, durian, roasted red pepper and feta, purple yam, maple bacon and corn cheddar.
You can also get normal flavours like cherry, mint chocolate, Fererro, almond, pumpkin, apple and blueberry.
We had an amazing time in Vancouver. The city is surrounded by nature and most of the locals are friendly and polite. I look forward to visiting again soon.