With the mildest weather in Canada, incredible seafood, and spectacular forest, ocean, and mountain landscapes, there’s a lot to love about Vancouver. Locals are more laid back and friendly than in many other major cities, and the major Asian influence means a diverse culinary scene. British Columbia’s largest city also serves as a gateway to the rest of the province, from the mountains of Whistler to remote wilderness retreats like Sonora Resort.
Loosen up your muscles after a long flight with a bike ride or leisurely walk exploring more than 16 miles of forest trails in Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre public park on a peninsula adjacent to downtown. It’s a great place to relax and get some fresh air if your hotel room isn’t quite ready yet. Cycle City Tours has daily three-hour bike tours of the park that are great for riders of all abilities. On weekdays, tours begin at 1 pm while on weekends they depart at 9:30 am. You’ll learn about the rainforest and wetlands’ biodiversity, along with First Nations cultural history. Don’t miss the nine majestic totem poles at Brockton Point, at the easternmost point of the park.
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Now that you’re right on the Pacific Ocean, seafood doesn’t get any fresher. Sushi connoisseurs will enjoy Miku and its unbeatable waterfront view. They’re best known for aburi-style sushi, where fish is lightly flame seared and brushed with housemade sauces. If you come for lunch, the miku zen premium bento is a great option for the indecisive—it includes four seasonal dishes along with five pieces of sushi.
Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery for a wide selection of Canadian art alongside international exhibitions like a Pablo Picasso show that explores the relationship between the artist and his muses. A few blocks away, the Bill Reid Gallery showcases the jewelry, paintings, and woodwork of Bill Reid and the many contemporary First Nations artists that the legendary Haida goldsmith, sculptor, and storyteller inspired. If you’re in the market to take home a piece of local art, RendezVous Art Gallery has a particularly moving selection to peruse, as do several small galleries in Gastown, a lively neighborhood on weekends.
Pop into L’Abattoir for a cocktail or French-inspired dinner. Sit at the bar if you’re dining solo or head to the plush atrium in back. The antique crystal glassware and custom-crafted chandeliers juxtaposed with exposed brick create a casual yet sexy vibe, the perfect atmosphere for rich dishes like foie gras on warm brioche or roasted duck breast. Vegetarian options here are surprisingly impressive.
Walk back downtown for dessertchocolate bonbons, macarons, and a nightcap at Thierry, a café with a full bar that’s open until midnight every day. The patisserie, chocolaterie, and café has a wide array of entremets and confections, all freshly made on site. During the day, you’ll likely catch a glimpse of chef Thierry Busset through the glass window diligently tempering chocolate and crafting sweets in his atelier.
Start the morning with a coffee and croissant at Beaucoup Bakery. They have the best viennoiserie in the province (accompanied by excellent coffee and tea). Save some room for more sweets—a short walk away is Chocolate Arts, perhaps the best chocolatier in town, if you’re looking to explore Vancouver’s excellent chocolate scene further. Bold ganaches and pralines are carefully paired with the best chocolate to accentuate each flavor. You can also taste through several single-origin varieties and select your favorite for a rich chocolate drink.
Spend the afternoon browsing for souvenirs. Luxury shopping abounds downtown—a big draw for Chinese tourists—and the exchange rate is very favorable for American visitors. Many European designer brands like Prada, Burberry, Brunello Cucinelli, and Louis Vuitton have newly opened flagships here, but for a true taste of Vancouver style, look for homegrown lines in the Gastown neighborhood, like John Fluevog shoes, a local favorite since the1970s. More recent Vancouver fashion successes include Kit and Ace’s machine-washable cashmere, and Herschel Supply Co.’s functionally fashionable backpacks.
It’s only fitting to wind down the weekend with one last knockout meal. Although Hawksworth Restaurant has been consistently recognized as Vancouver’s best upscale restaurant by local media, you’ll be just as comfortable here in jeans as a suit or dress. The cocktail list is excellent, a mix of old and new, and all wines by the glass are also available in 2.5-oz. tasting portions. Most guests opt for the six-course tasting menu, but if you’re on a tight schedule or budget, there are equally delicious à la carte choices like sablefish with tender pea shoots, enoki mushrooms, and caramelized soy froth.
WHERE TO STAY
The Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver has been setting the standard for five-star luxury in this city for four decades. The intimate RedCedar spa has just two treatment rooms and offers the best massages in the city. Dine at YEW for fresh, local seafood in a lively atmosphere paired with great Okanagan and imported wines.
Fairmont is another iconic Canadian hospitality brand, with three prime locations downtown that all offer complimentary bike rentals. The family-friendly Fairmont Waterfront is the largest, right next to where cruise ships dock, while the Fairmont Pacific Rim is the newest property, built for the 2010 Olympics with a sleeker, more contemporary feel. Their new owners’ suites are so stylish and swanky you won’t ever want to check out. Every detail, from the record player with a personally curated vinyl collection to customized toiletries and sumptuous bedding, exceeds expectations. And the lobby lounge raw bar here is fantastic—it’s the first sushi restaurant in Vancouver to earn the Ocean Wise seal of approval for sustainable seafood.
WHEN TO GO
Summer is high season and winter is busy too, with conventions and visitors flocking to ski in Whistler. If you go in early spring or late fall, room rates are much lower and the city won’t be as crowded.
Vancouver has become a fashionable international destination, popular with Asian, European, and North American travelers. There are direct flights to Vancouver International Airport (YVR) from more than two dozen American cities and countless other international destinations. From the airport, it’s just a 40-minute cab ride to downtown, where nearly all hotels are located.