What to do and see in Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, British Columbia is one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, situated on the west coast and surrounded by soaring mountain ranges, it is a postcard city with outdoor adventures galore. Although it is the country’s most expensive city to live in, visiting this city and province should be at the top of everyone’s travel list.

Vancouver British Columbia by Joel Levy
View from the Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre – Photo by Joel Levy

I recently visited the city to explore its many offerings including its food, its attractions and its accommodations. This was my first visit to the city in many years having lived there from 2002-2012. The city changed a lot in my years there and even more so in the time since I left. Some of those biggest changes were to its transit. First when I was there with the adding of the Skytrain line to the airport and more recently the Broadway Skytrain/Subway line that is currently under construction.

This leads to the first part of my trip, the travelling.

I have always flown from Toronto into Vancouver’s main airport YVR. Situated just south of the city, the airport is easily accessible by the Skytrain that was built for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The train is a direct line to downtown which then connects to the older Skytrain lines that head East out of the city and into neighbouring suburbs. The problem most recently with this airport is the surging costs of air travel. This is why I chose to try a new option, flying Swoop airlines to Abbotsford. Although the trip into the city can be an extra hour of travel after you arrive, the saving were enormous, saving me roughly $500 each way.

2022 Nissan Armada by Joel Levy
2022 Nissan Armada by Joel Levy

Once you are in the city, there is not much need for a car. Because I wanted to do some roadtrips while I was there, we were lucky to work with Nissan who set us up with their press fleet and loaned us the 2022 Nissan Armada, a beast of a vehicle that is more tank than car. The large vehicle would be great for a family trip, equipped with TV screens in the headrests along with personal headsets for the ones in the back. As we did some light off-roading, the vehicle fit our purposes. Some of which I will get to later in the post.

Where to Stay in Vancouver?

Vancouver has a wide selection of places to stay depending on what you are looking to do during your trip. There are motels, hotels, resorts and lodges at a wide range of prices available. You can also find this wide variety in many different locations of the city and its suburbs. Here are a few that I visited on my most recent stay.

Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre view of downtown Vancouver by Joel Levy
Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre view of downtown Vancouver by Joel Levy

Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre (Broadway), an IHG Hotel

Located on Broadway (the city’s main east-west street) and in between two main streets (Main and Granville), The Holiday Inn Vancouver-Centre Hotel keeps you in the centre of the city without being in the busy downtown core. Vancouver’s downtown is on an island, well more of a peninsula, connected by bridges to the land just south of it. This hotel is just south of the downtown core and because of that has some of the best views of the city you will find. North-West looking balconies will capture amazing sunsets while viewing the downtown core and the mountain ranges that lay behind it.

In terms of amenities, the hotel has a parking lot for your vehicle. If you are driving, the area is much easier to get in and out of than if you were in the downtown core. The Hotel also has a restaurant called Stages that has great buffet breakfasts with all of your favourites as well as menu items throughout the day for every meal. If you are looking to keep active in your downtime, the hotel has a gym and a pool.

The area is very accessible for those looking to take transit or walk. The Broadway buses run east west and can take you to Commercial Drive in the East or to UBC campus in the west. If you are looking to explore the area, Main Street is a bustling area with tons of shopping and restaurants to visit. If you are looking to head downtown, you can grab the Skytrain/Subway at Cambie and Broadway just steps away and be downtown in minutes.

Fairmont Waterfront view by Joel Levy
Fairmont Waterfront view by Joel Levy

Fairmont Waterfront

If you are looking to scale up your trip and be in the heart of it all, the Fairmont Waterfront may be the spot for you. Located on the waterfront across from the Olympic Torch and Canada Place, this 4-star hotel boasts incredible views of both the city and the water with its mountain backdrop. If you have a car, you will want to park it in the nearby parking lot because everything is accessible by foot here.

The hotel has a great restaurant in its lobby called ARC, menu items can be delivered via room service. During my stay, I had their delicious burger and fries as well as their cod fish ‘n chips. The hotel also has an outdoor pool and a gym that can be accessed with your room key.

The area is very walkable, from Stanley Park to Gastown, you will not run out of things to do in a single visit. The hotel actually offers some add-ons to your stay that include tours with Talaysay Tours, an authentic Aboriginal cultural and eco-tourism experiences in and around Vancouver, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast, that invited me to tag along for one of their Talking Trees tours in the beautiful Stanley Park. During the tour, their guide taught us the history of the Squamish people, including the history of the trees of the park and how different plants and trees were used over thousands of years. A must do experience whether staying with the hotel or not.

Loon Lake Lodge

Loon Lake Lodge is actually a part of UBC and is located about 40 minutes east of Vancouver in Maple Ridge. I attended a Wellness Retreat while on my trip and wrote about that more in full HERE. If you want to relax and get out to a beautiful lake in a forest, this place may be what you are looking for. The prices are very reasonable and there is an option to have your meals included. Going with a group of friends would be a lot of fun. Swim, kayak, canoe, standup paddleboard or hang out by the fire while you leave the city stress behind you.

What to do in Vancouver?

There are so many amazing things to do in and around Vancouver but I will talk about some of my favourites and some of the more uniques things to see and do.

Pajo's Fish and Chips in Steveston by Joel Levy
Pajo’s Fish and Chips in Steveston by Joel Levy

Steveston and Pajo’s Fish and Chips

Steveston is a cute area just south of Vancouver located along the water that reminds me a lot of the east coast of Canada. Single story buildings with coastal decor, seafood galore and a lot of boats. One of the top destinations here has always been Pajo’s Fish and Chips. Make your selection of Cod, Halibut or Salmon and get a cone filled with fries to go along with your choice of one or two pieces. The tables here are even designed for the cones so you can slot them into the holes in the tabletop.

Museum of Anthropology

The Museum of Anthropology is located on the UBC campus and actually has classes for the school there as well. I myself had my Anthro-101 class there and visited the museum often. The museum houses nearly 50,000 ethnographic objects, carvings, weavings and contemporary artworks from around world, including the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and First Nations of the Pacific NorthWest. For more information about the MoA, check out our article HERE.

Talaysay Tours by Joel Levy
Talaysay Tours by Joel Levy

Stanley Park and Talaysay Tours

I already mentioned the Talaysay Tours through the park but more info on the park itself is always good to include. Explore the site’s 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest and enjoy scenic views of the water and the mountains while walking or biking amongst its majestic trees or along the Stanley Park’s Seawall which encircles the entire park. You can visit the Vancouver aquarium while also checking out its famous totem poles. The park also has a few restaurants like the Tea House, Waterfall Cafe and Prospect Point Cafe. The 20 gauge, 2 km Stanley Park Railway track is a great 15-minute ride aboard their miniature trains. The park also has several beaches you can visit.

Wreck Beach

Located on the UBC campus, Wreck Beach is arguably Canada’s best beach. The west facing sandy beach is accessible by bussing to UBC and then walking west through the campus and then down their 300+ stairs through a rainforest that looks like a Jurassic Park set. Arriving at the clothing optional beach, you will see many stalls that are set up daily selling clothing, beach blankets, food and even massages. Lucy’s Peruvian food is delicious and a must try and Stormin’ Norman’s grill will have you a burger and fries stat. Be sure to grab one of the amazing tapestries or clothing items which are very reasonably priced. Vendors on the beach sell everything from beer, coolers, ciders, and adult freezies to chocolate mushrooms and pot products.  The community down there is like no other. People are friendly, welcoming and protect each other and the guests from those that may interrupt their peaceful and self governed way of life.

Hidden Location by Joel Levy
Hidden Location by Joel Levy

Hidden Locations

Hidden or secret locations can be trails, rivers or waterfalls that the locals wish to keep a secret. If you are lucky enough to know someone, like I was, who can take you to one, be sure to visit them. I was able to visit one of the famed hidden saunas located on a glacial river that included waterfalls and a beautiful rocky landscape. We brought our own wood to use as well as some to leave for future visitors and hiked to a barrel sauna that we pumped fire-wood into and spent hours going back and forth from the cold dip to the hot sauna. These locations can be found anywhere from North-Vancouver to Squamish.

Arcade Bars

The arcade bars scene has also arrived in Vancouver. Similar to our venues here like Tilt and Zed*80, Vancouver has a number of places to visit to have a drink, listen to music and gather with friends all while playing your favourite retro arcade game, console game or sports game. I visited Glitch myself but was surprised that they charged for the games, and quite a lot at that, while our arcade bars are free to play. There was one in Vancouver called GRETA in Gastown that apparently was free to play.

Where to Eat in Vancouver?

Every time I visit the city of Vancouver I make the longest of lists of places to eat and am then disappointed that I can not attend them all. On my latest visit I was able to try three of those listed restaurants I can write about but will also leave you with my list so you can explore further if you wish.

Say Mercy!
Say Mercy!

Say Mercy!

Say Mercy! refers to itself as an Italian restaurant seen through the lens of Southern BBQ. Many of the dishes are Italian in nature but with a twist of southern flavours mixed in. The restaurant is located at Fraser and 27th in the central-eastern part of the city.

Items on their menu include things like BBQ TARTARE with Bradner Farms Beef, Smoked Emulsion, Hickory Sticks, Pickles, Bra Duro; NASHVILLE HOT CORNISH HEN with Fra Diavolo Sauce, Pickled Zucchini, Braised Fennel, Cayenne, Peanuts; and CREOLE CACCIUCCO with Louisiana Popcorn Rice, Shrimp, Mussels, Clams, Cod. Prices range from $15-$19 for appetizers and $15-$27 for mains. They also offer a tasting menu for $55.

Fat Mao Noodles
Fat Mao Noodles

Fat Mao Noodles

Fat Mao Noodles has two locations. One in Chinatown on Georgia and one downtown on Helmcken. Fat Mao means “prosperous cat” in Cantonese. The restaurant is a modern noodle bar by Chef Angus that focusses on Thai-style noodle soups. The locations focus on lunch and early dining experiences, closing at around 9pm, or when they run out of noodles.

Dishes include Braised Duck Noodles which features Braised duck leg in an aromatic soy broth. Asian celery and bok choy; Khao Soi Chicken Curry Noodles which includes Braised chicken leg in a creamy northern Thai curry. Pickled mustard greens. Served with flat egg noodles and crispy noodles; and Hot and Sour Pork Noodles which include Hot and sour pork soup with BBQ pork, minced pork, and Vietnamese ham. Asian celery, peanuts, and crispy shallots. Prices are around $22 for each dish. Sister restaurants of this place include Maenam Restaurant, Sen Pad Thai, Longtail Kitchen and Freebird Chicken Shack.

¿CóMO? Taperia
¿CóMO? Taperia

¿CóMO? Taperia

¿CóMO? Taperia is a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant inspired by the owners several trips to Spain. It is located in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver at 201 E 7th Avenue. Here you will want to order several small to medium sized dishes to be shared with the table. The place is unique as it is a standing style restaurant with some high tables and seating with a European feel. Football (soccer) is on the television while grocery products imported from Spain line the windows and walls. One can also purchase loose items like olives from the bar.

Items on the menu include olives, Goats Cheese Stuffed Peppers, Croquetas, Iberico Salchichon, Truffle Manchego, and their house bread to name a few. This was one of my favourite places I ate on the trip. Prices range from $3-$54.

There were so many places that sounded amazing so I will leave you with my list offered to me by several restauranteurs and those in the industry. In no particular order, they suggested Published, Burdock and Co., Acorn, Kissa Tanto, Osteria Salvio Polpe, AnnaLena, Maenam, Pidgin, Oca Pastificio, Saint Lawrence, Superbaba, Barbara, Boulevard and Soyu.

Whatever your fancy when visiting a city, Vancouver will have something for your tastes. I hope you visit soon and enjoy the city as much as I did. If you have any suggestions for our readers, please let us know in the comments on social media.




About Joel Levy 2599 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography