Travel

Weekend in Vancouver: an insider’s guide to the best things to do

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Lizzie Pook
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Vancouver city guide

Stylist’s travel editor (and Canada superfan) Lizzie Pook finds the coolest places to stay and the best things to eat, drink and do in Vancouver.

Bursting with the buzzy restaurants, arty neighbourhoods and coffee shops you’d expect from a metropolis, yet just minutes from some of the world’s most stunning mountains, Vancouver is consistently voted one of the world’s best cities to live in. And now, with the “Meghan and Harry effect” in full swing following Team Sussex’s move to Canada, this ocean-fringed city is in the spotlight more than ever.

There’s no shortage of ways to spend your time here, whether it’s eating your way through the finest dumplings in Chinatown, picnicking on some of the city’s urban beaches or latte-hopping through the brick-lined streets of trendy Gastown. That’s not to mention the glut of fantastic hotels where you can rest your head after a busy day of exploring.

But even if city breaks aren’t really your thing, wherever you stay in Vancouver you’ll be within easy reach of the great outdoors - bears, wolves and cougars, oh my! - Giving you the very best of both worlds.

Temperatures in the rest of Canada can plummet to eyelash-freezing levels but the climate in Vancouver remains relatively mild throughout the year - pretty similar to the UK, in fact - so you’ll find plenty to do whenever you visit.

Here’s my selection of the best things to do in Vancouver, where to stay and, most importantly, where to eat.

Best places to stay in Vancouver

  • The EXchange hotel

    The EXchange hotel
    Vancouver city guide: The EXchange hotel

    Set in the meticulously-restored old stock exchange building, this art deco hotel – which sits at the corner of Howe St and Pender St in the heart of Vancouver’s Central Business District – has something of a ties-and-briefcases feel. It’s also a lovely, calming place to escape to after a day spent stomping around the city.

    Rooms - which, rather impressively, are entirely heated and cooled by rain water - come with Egyptian cotton sheets, underfloor heating and little nods to its past life as a financial hub scattered throughout. Downstairs, you’ll find Hydra restaurant - tales of Greek myths and legends play out over the bathrooms’ speakers - serving up fresh fish and hearty Mediterranean dishes under marine-themed chandeliers. From £113 per night.

  • Fairmont Pacific Rim

    The Pacific Rim is one of the coolest places to stay in downtown Vancouver, and it’s not uncommon to see celebs swooshing out of its huge glass doors. Just 10 minutes from Gastown and five minutes from Waterfront station, it’s slap bang in the heart of the action. Rooms are a mixture of high-tech and sleek marble, with oversized bathrooms offering tubs with views of the water.

    As well as looking good, the hotel also smells amazing, thanks to the signature Indian Jasmine scent that wafts around the hallways. Downstairs, you’ll find the supremely lovely Botanist bar and restaurant, serving up elaborate cocktails (including the Pretty Bird which comes with its own nest and glass bird) and good-looking dishes such as burrata with grilled beetroot and charcoal risotto. Even further downstairs, the exquisite Willow Stream Spa is a subterranean temple of loveliness where relaxation comes easy thanks to knot-busting massages and cleansing rituals. From £216 per night.

  • The Loden

    Think of the Loden as a sort of boutique oasis in the city, with an internal garden, soothing timber and copper touches throughout and Buddha statues in the rooms. Decked out in earthy tones, it’s a restful spot (even though it’s on central Melville Street) where you can take your yoga mat onto the outdoor patio before hot-footing it to the French-themed tableau bar and bistro for moules-frites and La Belle Epoque cocktails. From £156 per night.

  • Rosewood Hotel Georgia

    If you’re partial to moody velvet upholstery, glowering lanterns and grand marble staircases, then Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia should be very much up your street. Right in the middle of buzzy downtown, its location couldn’t be better, but it’s not just geography that makes this place wonderful. From its art deco saltwater pool, to its understated rooms with Twenties-style lamps and oversized marble tubs, it’s one of the sultriest places to stay in town. From £169 per night.

  • The Douglas

    Arty sorts will be drawn to The Douglas. Part of the hip Autograph Collection, it brings a much-needed slosh of personality to the somewhat industrial Parq Vancouver entertainment complex.

    Overlooking the False Creek sea inlet, rooms here are bold in design, with exposed concrete ceilings and terracotta brick work, and the focus on design continues throughout the hotel (the reception desk is even made from the trunk of a Douglas Fir tree). Food-wise you’ll be well served at farm-to-fork Honey Salt (which does great things with local salmon) and 1886, which serves up fine-dining Chinese food in fancy surroundings. From £140 per night.

Best things to do in Vancouver

  • Cycle the Stanley Park Sea Wall

    Stanley Park seawall
    Vancouver city guide: Stanley Park seawall

    The meandering Stanley Park seawall loops for 10km (or 13,123-steps) taking in everything from the city to the sea. It provides the perfect opportunity for stretching your legs and seeing what the city has to offer (you may have to contend with enthusiastic early morning joggers and roller-skaters, just FYI).

    The park was once home to many indigenous peoples and remains an important cultural site for Canada’s First Nations people today. Now you can hire bikes from Spokes and swoosh past beaches, monuments and swathes of nature (keeping your eyes peeled for bald eagles above and harbour seals bobbing about in the surf).

  • Visit the eye-opening Police Museum

    It may not sound like the first place you’d have on your list, but Vancouver’s Police Museum will get the heart of any true crime fan racing. Charting the city’s murky past, and the officers in charge of dealing with it, it’s also home to a pathology lab, an old morgue, an autopsy room (it’s not uncommon to see people taking selfies on the pathology table) and a wall of entirely-preserved organs, showing the cause of death of those who passed through these doors. Which is about as grisly as it sounds. Check the website for events such as ghost tours, movies in the morgue and pop-up bars in the autopsy room, and make a mental note to check out the collection of confiscated weapons, from Japanese throwing stars to lethal blowguns

  • Take a water taxi to Granville Island

    Granville Island
    Vancouver city guide: Granville Island

    Brimming with arty little nooks, intriguing backstreet studios and boutique shops, Granville Island – accessible via Vancouver’s charming rainbow water taxis – is a great place to while away an afternoon. You could spend hours in the shoreline bars and restaurants, but the island’s main draw is the bustling Public Market, which pulls in locals, tourists and the city’s top chefs, who source local ingredients from a dazzling array of stalls selling fresh produce and gourmet goodies.

  • Explore Gastown

    Gastown steam clock
    Vancouver city guide: Gastown

    You’ll find a feast of quirky shops, art galleries and cafes in Gastown, one of Vancouver’s coolest neighbourhoods that is ripe for exploring on foot. With cobblestone streets and slick refurbished Victorian buildings, it’s also one of the best-looking spots in town, and it’s here you’ll find the famous Gastown steam clock (one of only a few in the world), which toots and whistles every 15 minutes. Craft beer and good food abounds here, and there are plenty of restaurants that are well worth a visit, including La Taqueria, Peckinpah and Tacofino.

  • Go cocktail-hopping in the city’s best bars

    Vancouver is home to an embarrassment of great bars, many of which are no more than little holes in the wall. Off bohemian Main Street you’ll find The Narrow Lounge, a bar you’d never even know existed unless you knew to keep an eye on the red light outside. If the red light is on, the bar is open (and you can sip on peach-infused Old Fashioneds until the small hours). If there is no red light, it’s closed.

    Pourhouse in Gastown is the place to go if you are really serious about your bitters, and Score on Davie in the West End neighbourhood is one of the best places in town to get a Caesar (a ‘unique’ Canadian drink featuring clam juice, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt), although they have a habit of adding burgers and onion rings to theirs. If it’s softer stuff you’re after, Lucy’s Eastside Diner on main street does a mean peanut butter milkshake, and is open 24 hours.

Best places to eat in Vancouver

  • L’Abattoir

    As you might guess from its name, L’Abattoir has something of a blood-soaked history. The building actually used to be a butchers and then a jail, but now it’s one of Gastown’s best foodie spots, filled with lashings of exposed red brick and brutal black iron. The food really is exquisite and the menu is packed with drool-inducing dishes, including baked Pacific oysters, tender Ling cod, cacao-crusted beef and moist rum cake with juicy sultanas. It’s all fantastic, just don’t leave without trying the avocado gimlet, too (sounds odd, but it really works).

  • Chambar

    Airy and spacious, with exposed brick, banquette seating and a thick leather curtain through which you must ceremoniously swoosh in order to enter, Chambar is that brilliant blend of buzzy-yet-restful (the perfect hungover brunch spot basically). There are plenty of healthy dishes on the menu, like beetroot carpaccio, tofu and turmeric breakfast bowls and seared ahi tuna, but you simply must try the waffles, they’re light as air (and come with an array of dipping sauces and a flourish of edible gold leaf). There’s also the city’s longest list of Belgian beers, should you fancy a bit of the old hair of the dog.

  • Duffin’s Donuts

    From the outside, Duffin’s on Knight Street looks like little more than a run-down fast food joint, but actually it’s incredible. It’s run by three different immigrant families who came together to buy the restaurant, and the result is a tongue-tingling explosion of different flavours and dishes - from Latin and Thai to fried chicken - and over 50 different types of doughnuts. The Pupusa is a must-try; a sort of Mexican pancake stuffed with refried beans and cheese.

  • Forage

    There’s something very special about the chefs at Forage, and that’s because they can turn even the humblest of ingredients, like the lowly lettuce, into an ‘experience’ dish. All food here is sourced sustainably from local fishers, foragers and farmers and there’s also a sprawling selection of local BC wines and beer on offer, too.

    Standout dishes include the award-winning BBQ duck chowder, and the juicy Canadian bison steak with marrow roasted potato, while the Pacific Sour cocktail (a blend of Lady of the cask Brandy, Odd Society elderflower liqueur, lime juice, egg whites and bitters) is dangerously moreish.

  • Japadog

    Back in the day, the only street food that you could sell in Vancouver was hotdogs, so a local Japanese family decided to start their own hotdog cart that highlighted the best of Japanese cuisine, too. Hence, Japadog’s unique blend of hotdogs and nori was born, and it sure as hell works. You’ll find their carts and trucks throughout Vancouver, serving up traditional hotdogs and buns topped with yakisoba noodles, yakiniku rice, kimchi and even tempura shrimp.

For more information, visit hellobc.com 

Images: courtesy of venues 

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