tourists riding the grouse mountain skyride to the top of grouse mountain with vancouver city view

Day Trip to Vancouver: How to Spend One Day in Vancouver BC

Doing a day trip to Vancouver from Washington State, Vancouver Island, or anywhere else on the globe? I want to make it the best visit possible, so here’s my promise:

Even if you’ve only got one day in Vancouver I’m going to make sure you soak in the city’s epic nature, eat at the best restaurants, and live and breathe our culture and history like a local.

I was born and raised here, and this is how I’d do Vancouver in one day if I were a tourist.

Vancouver One Day Itinerary Checklist

Before we get into how I’d craft a one day visit to Vancouver, here’s a few suggestions I want you to consider first, so you can tinker with my plans with greater autonomy:

Again, this is about you learning enough to take my suggestions but mold them to your own tastes.

Let’s go!

One Day in Vancouver: Morning

a gold bracelet at the bill reid gallery vancouver bc

Learn the City’s History in Downtown Vancouver

On any normal Vancouver itinerary I’m going to recommend the Museum of Anthropology for some early education, but if you’ve only got 24 hours in Vancouver we’ve gotta get central fast.

Our 24 hour Vancouver tour starts at the Bill Reid Gallery.

Not only is this aboriginal art museum dedicated to one of the most famous artists in British Columbia history, but it’s right in the heart of the downtown Vancouver and it’s the perfect to start.

The intricate jewelry here is a sight to behold, but look up! The massive Mythic Messengers (once seen on our $20.00 bill) frieze is the highlight here, and it tells of a great Haida power struggle.

Once you’re finished the 30 minute visit, head outside and look up at the historic Hotel Vancouver. This Châteauesque-style building is arguably the most iconic in downtown Vancouver.

the gastown steam clock chiming in gastown vancouver bc canadaHead Over to Gastown

This character neighbourhood just 10 minutes’ walk from the Bill Reid Gallery was founded by pioneering loggers (lead by “Gassy Jack” Deighton) who decided to build a whiskey bar so they wouldn’t have walk back to town to drink.

Today Gastown is a bustling cultural centre full of bars, restaurants, galleries, and cafes.

The cobblestone streets and heritage architecture are a bit like Europe, and the main attraction is the Gastown Steamclock – make sure you’re standing there at any 1/4 hour for the steam whistle show.

Once you’ve taken Vancouver’s most famous selfie with the clock, head on over to the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery for another dose of amazing local aboriginal art. It’s free to walk through, almost plays like one of Vancouver’s best museums, and has some of the city’s finest souvenirs.

From here walk down Water Street through the souvenir shops and funky furniture and shoe stores, and you’ll get to Maple Tree Square. The flatiron Hotel Europe is another great photo opportunity, and grabbing a coffee and soaking up the square is a great way to feel Vancouver vibes.

The view of Burrard Inlet from Vancouver Lookout
Instagram: @vancouverlookout

The Vancouver Lookout

While walking around Gastown you’ll probably see our 553 foot observation tower lurking over the streets. Yes, it’s a bit too 1970’s from the outside but it’s got 360° views of the city to die for.

There are very few places in the city, aside from perhaps Queen Elizabeth Park, that so succinctly capture the mountain/sea/city dynamic that makes Vancouver one of the prettiest cities in the world.

I’m recommending the Vancouver Lookout for people who want to keep the mileage low.

If you’re seeing Vancouver in one day keeping things tight should be rule #1 – though if you want the real best panoramic view and are willing to travel a bit I’ll be sharing it later in this post.

The Seawall runs past Stanley Park

Stanley Park

You wouldn’t dream of missing North America’s highest rated urban park. From any point in Gastown you can head back to the car, or better yet grab a Mobi bike share and ride the famous Seawall to get there.

When you enter Stanley Park, you’re treated to an amazing view of the city skyline and the sails of Canada Place as the road curls around the peninsula and takes you to the nine Stanley Park Totem Poles, public art like Lady in a Wetsuit, and even the Vancouver Aquarium.

Driving? Take the Prospect Point exit for an amazing panoramic view of the harbour entrance, including epic views of the Lions Gate Bridge.

Those riding a bike will love Siwash Rock, the most famous rock formation in the city that almost looks like an outcropping on the coast of Italy, if way smaller.

A Day Trip to Vancouver: Afternoon

Produce stands at Granville Island, VancouverGranville Island

The Stanley Park Seawall spits out both cars and bike riders to English Bay in Vancouver’s West End – in Vancouver in summer it’s highly recommended to go for a swim as you’ll find some of Vancouver’s best beaches here.

That said, we know Vancouver weather isn’t all that cooperative so we’ve got better, tastier plans that are just 10 minutes away.

Taking in Granville Island is a must for anybody wanting to visit Vancouver. All the great city artisans, distillers, sculptors, clothing makers, and even fisherman share this space to ply their trade.

The star of the show here is the Granville Island Public Market, with its local fresh produce and food court which is an automatic lunch stop. Don’t leave without getting double smoked salmon sticks or candied maple salmon at Longliner Seafoods.

Other tourism automatics include Nanaimo bars (a local delicacy with chocolate, custard, and coconut) at Laurelle’s Fine Foods and the artisan masters at Lee’s Donuts.

grouse mountain patio restaurant with bird's eye view of vancouver harbour

Grouse Mountain

Assuming you skipped the Vancouver Lookout, heading to the North Shore Mountains and getting up (actually, way up) the mountains to our city’s outdoor playground is an amazing option.

Grouse Mountain at its very least offers an incredible bird’s eye panorama of the city.

Taking the gondola up is the best way to see the interaction between the mountains below your feet, the sparkling blue harbour and Stanley Park to your right, and the sprawling city to the left.

Beyond this, there are all sorts of things to do here: having a drink on the terrace at Peak Chalet, visiting with the grizzly bears Grinder and Coola, zip-lining, the Mountain Ropes Adventure and more.

This North Vancouver attraction is also home to many of the top things to do in winter in Vancouver – including skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, tubing, and more.

a long range view of the capilano suspension bridge and capilano river vancouver bc canada
Instagram: @capilanosuspensionbridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge

It has been city heavy so a bit of nature really fits here, in the form of this fabulous swing bridge strung 230 feet above the Capilano River – a walk across it is like floating through a West Coast rain forest, with the odd sway that almost turns it into an amusement park ride.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge itself is not only a unique tourist experience, but is home to the world’s largest private collection of totem poles, and counts two additional attractions:

  • Treetops Adventure: 7 suspension bridges connecting eight 300 year old Douglas Fir trees for an eagle eye view of the forest floor 110 feet below
  • Cliff Walk: 20 inch wide platforms jolting out from the side of a giant granite rock, placing guests eye to eye with old growth forest tree tops – with a scary glass bottom portion included.

There’s also a great gift shop and there’s even a great historical sightseeing tour of the park.

Vancouver in One Day: Evening

coffee-inspired cocktail at uva wine bar vancouver

Happy Hour in Yaletown

Vancouver’s most fashionable district may be a bit too yuppy for some people’s tastes, but the fact is that quality reigns supreme here – even if it tends to cost a bit of money.

That said, during happy hour this is the best place to search Vancouver for amazing drink and snack deals.

Seafood lovers should mark Rodney’s Oyster House down. Their six oysters and a drink for $18 is one of the best deals in the city – especially since the oysters come from the area’s top growing bays.

If you’re leaning more towards drinks (with a few Italian appetizers like meatballs thrown in) then Yaletown Distillery is a great deal – their $5 highballs using their craft liquor is a great evening start.

An Amazing Vancouver Dinner

Vancouver is a foodie city – and there’s just so many ways to go here.

Since you’re in Yaletown I’m going to recommend selecting any of the best restaurants in downtown Vancouver or even head back to some of the best restaurants in Gastown.

Vancouver is a sushi-mad city and the average quality is super high. Whether you’re looking to make an experience out of it trying epic aburi (flame-seared) sushi at Miku Waterfront, or you’re content heading to a hole in the wall that churns out affordable gourmet sushi at Tom Sushi you’re in good hands.

We also can’t ignore the city’s massive Chinese influence. Heading to some of the top restaurants in Chinatown is no mistake either – and budget food lovers should pay particular attention to the super-authentic, lip-smacking meats at Chinatown BBQ.

a classic well lit bar in vancouver bc canada

Evening Drinks

I’m making a massive assumption that you’re going to be up for it – but let’s do it anyway. Most of Vancouver’s best bars are found either downtown, or at most a quick 15 minute taxi ride.

If you’re eating in Chinatown then one of the city’s best cocktail bars Keefer Bar is found right there.

Lovers of craft beer in Vancouver will fall in love with the variety at CRAFT Beer Market – which comes with a harbour view to die for.

I’m not forgetting about wine lovers either – TWB (The Wine Bar) in Yaletown has probably the best list in the city.

Finally, if you’re looking to do a bit of a crawl in an area full of bars that offers a different neighbourhood dynamic, then heading to Commercial Drive (Vancouver’s Little Italy, but with an independent flair) is the best bet.

Vancouver in One Day FAQ

Where can I go for a day trip in Vancouver?

Being much more compact in area compared to other North American cities, since it’s trapped between mountains and water, visitors can cover a lot of ground in just 1 day in Vancouver.

Spending time in the downtown core, walking around visiting a few museums and concentrating on the galleries and shops of Gastown is a great start.

After that, heading along the Seawall to discover Stanley Park is a must. From here you can wind your way around to discover Granville Island Market – and then head over to see the natural wonders of the North Shore like Capilano Suspension Bridge and/or Grouse Mountain.

How can I spend a day in Vancouver?

If you’re visiting Vancouver in one day, you can plan a very diverse experience including museums like the Vancouver Art Gallery, parks, the best Vancouver shopping on Robson Street, cafes, restaurants, and even outdoor activities like the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, skiing, or going to the beach.

I recommend following my 24 hour Vancouver itinerary above to get a greater idea of how to spend one day in Vancouver.

What is there to do in Vancouver in 24 hours?

With just a day in Vancouver visitors can experience life in a west coast rain forest in North Vancouver, visit North America’s highest rated urban park, learn about the area’s aboriginal cultures, eat in some of Canada’s greatest restaurants, and experience endless shopping and entertainment options.

What can you do in Vancouver for a few hours?

If you’re only visiting Vancouver for a few hours, you should be getting downtown as soon as possible. From here, taking a quick look at the Bill Reid Gallery and then heading to Stanley Park is a great base.

If there’s any time left over, a walk through historical Gastown to get a better understanding of the city’s history is a fine option. Here you can also get a quick bite or craft coffee in some top Vancouver restaurants and cafes.

This is ideal for visiting with a car, though it’s doable from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) as the Skytrain trip downtown takes only about 20 minutes.

Taking a Day Trip to Vancouver?

I want you to write me in the comments below if something isn’t quite clear.

This isn’t just a Vancouver travel website that I want to sit and rot – I want it to come alive with questions, comments, compliments (insults?) and anything else on your mind.

Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

Ash

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