I visited Vancouver twice during my year abroad in the United States, making the 7 hour drive once in November and again over Memorial Day weekend in May. Vancouver is similar in many ways to the other big cities of the Pacific Northwest (Seattle and Portland), with beautiful nature and stunning natural scenery, but also the slightly too cool for school hipster vibe, loft apartments, coffee shops and breweries.
The first trip my friend Danielle and I were slightly underprepared, forgetting that Canada is a different country, with different currency. As we crossed the border station, Danielle (who was driving) turned to me with a panicked look on her face: “They still drive on the right in Canada, right?!” We had not done our research, but we survived and came back slightly better prepared the second time around, taking my roommate MeiMei with us.
First thing’s first, the drive up to Vancouver (up I-5 from Seattle) is beautiful. It’s probably my favourite drive in the world. Mountains line the horizon.
Also, while we were speeding up 1-5, I spotted something incredible out of the car window. The man driving the car in the next lane, very casually at 70mph, was playing a trumpet. No word of a lie. I even have a picture to prove it. Danielle and I were crying with laughter, and it still makes me laugh when I think about it now!
We finally made it to the border, across the border and into CANADA! Let me show you some of my favourite discoveries from my two trips to this lovely city!
This is an old historic district in Downtown Vancouver, with cobbled streets, hip fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, some touristy shops, restaurants, bars and apartment buildings. The most famous landmark is the steam clock, which produces the chimes of Westminster, followed by ‘Gassy’ Jack, a statue of a Canadian bar owner this area is named after. This is a fun area to explore, wishing you had enough money to buy things in the ultra-cool, high-end boutiques and ultimately coming home with a bottle of souvenir maple syrup from the tourist shop.
Stanley Park is a 1,001-acre public park at the edge of downtown Vancouver, surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is recognised as one of the greatest urban parks in the world, and draws around 8 million visitors a year. We played in the autumn leaves, looked out over Burrard Inlet from Prospect Peak and walked around the seawall.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge:
Now this is my top visitor tip for Vancouver. The Capiliano suspension bridge is pretty famous – one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vancouver – and charges $20-30 (CAD) to visit. To see NATURE! What a rip off. We visited Lynn Canyon suspension bridge instead – although not as deep as Capiliano, it is completely free and still spectacular! You’re welcome!
Grouse Mountain and the Grouse Grind:
We stumbled upon this hike very, very accidentally. My friend had found a short hike online and hungover one morning we drove out to find it – take in some fresh air to cure our headaches. What we ended up hiking was a 2.9 kilometer trail up the face of Grouse Mountain, otherwise known as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’. This is the recommendation from the website: “This trail is very challenging. Keep in mind that there is a wide range of mountaintop trails that might better suit the average hiker”. If only we’d known in advance…All jokes aside, this was a very challenging hike, taking over 2,500 stairs with a 2,800 foot elevation gain (got a little bit dizzy in places), but I am so glad we took on the (unexpected) challenge because the views from the top were absolutely incredible and the pride we all felt for completing it was immense. Plus, how many people can say they accidentally climbed a mountain?!
(Be aware that the trail is one-way only (up!) and you must pay $5 for the Skyride down.)
Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in Vancouver where a public market runs. We spent a leisurely morning browsing the shops and stalls, admiring the various food counters before finding our way to the Granville Island Brewery where we took part in a beer tasting.
I’d really recommend a night out in Vancouver too. Both trips we partied down Granville Street (where they shut the road to vehicles on the weekends for the ultimate party street). There’s plenty of options whatever your scene is – I particularly enjoyed a country music bar with live music and line dancing, while bartenders dressed as cowboys and girls poured free shots of Jack Daniels into your mouth! Danielle loved one called ‘The Moose’. Mostly because it was called ‘The Moose’.
I really enjoyed both my visits to Vancouver and I hope I can return again in the future to continue exploring the city and its surroundings, but also more of British Columbia, the mountains and nature!