Planning a Vancouver itinerary doesn’t have to be hard.
Our awesome attractions and notable nature can be bunched together in a way that makes it easy on the odometer – and soft on the savings account.
I was born and raised here and if I were a tourist this is how I’d do it.
Got any questions on visiting? Fire away in the comments.
Before You Arrive in Vancouver
Before planning your Vancouver itinerary make sure you read:
- Getting from Vancouver airport to downtown quickly
- How to get around Vancouver using public transport
- How to get top savings using the Vancouver Attraction Passport
- The best areas to stay in Vancouver
- Getting a room at some of Vancouver’s top hotels and hostels
- What Vancouver food you’ll absolutely have to try
Also – don’t worry if the trajectory of this itinerary feels foreign. I have made this to discover Vancouver on foot with easy directions.
Still stuck? At the end of it all I’ll be giving you a map to follow to make it easy peasy.
All of it can be easily adapted for visitors with cars as well.
Vancouver Itinerary – Day 1
Day one of our Vancouver itinerary is all about discovering the city’s origins.
By sundown you’ll be an expert on its pre-colonial aboriginal history and live the city’s growth from backwater logging town to city fit to host the 2010 Olympics.
It’ll all be done with delicious food and even a few drinks thrown in.
9:00 AM: Get Caffeinated Downtown
Get downtown by taking the Skytrain from the airport and getting off at Vancouver City Centre Station.
Conventional advice would suggest legendary Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons: ask for the ‘double double‘ (two sugar, two cream) to sound like a local.
For my money though I’m doing Fabourg. This local Parisian-style cafe has bountiful brew and the baked goods to match.
Take a left outside the cafe and one block up we visit:
9:30 AM: The Bill Reid Gallery
It’s fitting to start the tour at the Bill Reid Gallery: Canada’s only public gallery dedicated to contemporary Indigenous Art of the Northwest Coast.
It’s named after Haida artist and sculptor Bill Reid.
The mandate here is to create an awareness of Indigenous culture and values, and bridge gaps between aboriginal and settler populations.
Highlights include Reid’s 8.5 meter long bronze masterpiece Mythic Messengers and a full scale totem pole featuring Wasgo the Haida seawolf.
Outside we move ahead a bit in Vancouver’s history to:
10:15 AM: Look Up at the Hotel Vancouver
This luxury Châteauesque hotel was Vancouver’s tallest building for over 30 years – and is arguably the city’s fanciest hotel to this day.
The light green copper pitched roof is emblematic of the prosperity brought west by the Canadian Grand Railway. Famous past guests include Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill.
You should go into the lobby and stand under its great chandelier.
It’s said that here is the exact centre of the city – so imagine that the original 1888 incarnation of the hotel used to be considered a ‘foolish location’ due to its location between two forests!
Vancouver has really grown up, case and point:
10:45 AM: Robson Square and the Vancouver Art Gallery
Right across the street from the Hotel Vancouver is the northern end of Vancouver’s largest plaza.
The 1,300,000 square foot square is bookended with the Vancouver Art Gallery to the north and the British Columbia Law Courts to the south.
Local architect Arthur Erickson’s vision was the foundations of society (law and art) at either end with people in the middle – so go be people in the middle!
There’s a waterfall, a beautiful garden pathway, and even an ice rink (winter, free admission) which hosts salsa/ballroom dancing events in warmer months.
Wander around a bit and see the gallery before:
12:15 PM: Finding a Favourite Food Truck
Vancouver’s best restaurants are great but we’re on a mission to move to as many places as possible in our Vancouver itinerary – so we need quick bites.
Right outside the Art Gallery you’ll find a dozen food trucks catering to all tastes.
My go-to trucks are Mom’s Grilled Cheese for the classic sourdough with pickles and Japadog for its Japanese-inspired hot dogs (go for the ‘terimayo’).
You can get the full list with Streetfoodapp.com.
Then it’s time to walk the 15 minutes to:
1:15 PM: The Vancouver Lookout
I know, in a city so praised for natural beauty I’ve done nothing in this Vancouver itinerary post but force you to visit galleries, admire man made chandeliers, and eat pork products.
That ends here – 551 feet above the city at the Vancouver Lookout.
The glass elevator takes you up to this observation deck and rotating restaurant for a 360 degree view of the city, harbour, and North Shore mountains.
Keep in mind that your tickets are valid if you come back at night!
We head downstairs and take a left out the door 10 minutes to:
2:15 PM: Gastown
The city’s most photographable object is the massive antique Steam Clock which goes off every hour on the hour to the sounds of the ‘Westminster Quarters’.
Near here is also the site of one of Vancouver’s best souvenir shops: Hudson House Trading Co.
3:30 PM: Happy Hour
Gastown is full of great bars and the prices don’t get any greater than between 3:00 – 6:00 pm. Expect to pay around $4.00 for a beer and $6.00 for wine.
When it’s warm and you want to sit outside and watch Vancouver go by then I suggest the stone-clad heritage building Water Street Cafe.
If you want trendy but old timey then head for the Clough Club and their craft cocktails and elevated South American tapas with local ingredients.
On a budget? Head to Metropole (‘The Met’) for $3.00 house wine, Jameson whiskey, and pulled pork sandwiches.
Once we’re lubricated it’s time to pay a fitting:
5:00 PM: Visit to Gassy Jack
This statue in Maple Tree Square is an effigy to the namesake of the neighbourhood: “Gassy Jack” Deighton, a chatty British sailor and bar owner.
Gastown originated when Gassy Jack offered some local mill workers all the whiskey they could drink if they could build him a bar.
Naturally, they built the bar in 24 hours.
The Globe Saloon (since destroyed) became the area’s first bar and paved the way for modern Gastown and its bold, boozy identity.
7:OO PM: Dinner
If you’re staying downtown it may be wise to go back to your hotel and freshen up a bit, but either way I want you in Gastown for the evening meal.
There are some amazing restaurants in Gastown that should not just be tasted but experienced.
There’s a great farm to table meat joint called Wildebeest that serves their dishes West Coast style. Make sure to grab a shot of sherry served in a bone.
You could also opt for the Quebecois-influenced French restaurant St. Lawrence. Trout amandine is the signature dish.
On a budget? There’s great value to be had at Kito No Donburi, with high-end Japanese rice bowls at fast food prices. Plus their sushi is great.
9:00 PM: Cocktail Nightcap
Just next to Gastown is Vancouver’s legendary Chinatown. It’s North America’s second largest and the cultural heart of the city’s thriving Chinese population.
For the full effect walk through the Vancouver Chinatown Millennium Gate before getting to Keefer Bar.
The Asian fusion lounge also has an oddly sleek medical equipment decor.
Keefer Bar’s mixologists are some of the best in the city. Just talk to them and establish a taste profile and let them make you a custom cocktail – no menu needed!
Vancouver Itinerary – Day 2
It has only been one day in Vancouver so you can’t be tired, can you? Because today we’re kicking it up a notch.
Our fairly urban introduction yesterday will transition slowly to some of Vancouver’s more outdoorsy sites – after all, that’s what we’re famous for.
I’m mapping out the day using bikes but it can easily be adapted for walking or even public transport.
If you’ve got any questions on how, just ask! 🙂
9:00 AM: Breakfast at Catch 122 Bistro
Day two of our Vancouver itinerary starts back in Gastown at Catch 122.
Even if you’ve stayed out late you’ll be happy to know that here the contemporary breakfast/brunch is served daily until 3:00 pm.
The salmon toast with dill mustard sauce is my favourite but the pork shoulder eggs benny and Liege waffles are also delectable.
Already have a hotel breakfast? Skip ahead and go to:
10:00 AM: Canada Place
We can walk over to Canada Place, Vancouver’s iconic sail-shaped convention centre and cruise port, in just 10 minutes.
What was originally a Rail Canada pier has now become one of the city’s most active meeting points. There’s a great view of the water and mountains as well as the popular Flyover Canada attraction.
That said, we’re going to look for two monuments here: the 2010 Olympic Torch and local author Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca.
If you’re there around noon keep your ears open for the 12 O’clock Horn – which plays the first four notes of our nation’s national anthem ‘O Canada’.
We’re just a couple minutes from:
10:45 AM: Bike Rental at Waterfront Station
I’ve got a car that’ll make things quicker but there’s still no way I’d rather do it than discovering Vancouver by bike.
We wanna be able to get into all the nooks and crannies of the city without circling the block looking for parking and blowing $8.00/hour for a spot.
It’s also the best way to explore day two’s piece de resistance, the world’s longest urban/seaside bike path: The Seawall.
We get the 5h Bike Rental package and point our tires west on the seawall to:
11:00 AM: Coal Harbour Contrasts
Look left for Vancouver in a nutshell.
It’s in this residential neighbourhood that Douglas Coupland’s City of Glass moniker for our city comes to life in a forest of towering green glass skyscrapers.
Look right for nature’s ravishing rebuttal.
The mountains book end us into the path perfect for panorama photography and understanding the city’s nature – just make sure to stay in your lane!
This 5 km portion of the seawall also offers lush greenery and a marina.
11:30 AM: Stanley Park
There’s no Vancouver itinerary without it.
Just 15 minutes from the chaos of downtown we arrive at the foot of Stanley Park, a location so heralded that TripAdvisor named it the world’s best park based on visitor reviews.
But this park wasn’t carved out by some landscape architect or urban planner.
It’s an old growth forest whose half a million trees (some as high as 250 feet) have been standing in the area since before anybody knew Vancouver by name.
The first stop is at the First Nations Totem Poles. These gigantic monumental carvings are British Columbia’s biggest tourist attraction.
Keep following the path for the Brockton Lighthouse and the Girl in a Wetsuit monument (just offshore on the right, look out!) before we arrive at:
11:45 AM: The Lion’s Gate Bridge
Us Vancouverites falsely believe our epic harbour-traversing suspension bridge can compete with San Francisco, but you’ve gotta see it anyway.
It was completed in 1937 and the original owners were the Guinness Family (yes, the stout!) of Ireland. The original toll was just 25 cents for car or horse/carriage.
You’ll see it famously destroyed in the movie Final Destination 5.
In all it’s just a great photo opportunity with compelling contrast to the mountains.
If you’re walking or driving there’s a great vantage point of the bridge and harbour from up at Prospect Point.
12:15 PM: Siwash Rock
Continuing along the seawall we start curling back around toward downtown and one of the first landmarks telling us this is Siwash Rock.
This 59 foot high rock outcropping has a vague resemblance to a bowling pin sticking out of the sea.
The 32 million year old sea stack is the only such one in the Vancouver area.
Local aboriginal legend has it that a man was turned into the rock as a monument to ‘clean fatherhood’.
From here it’s just 7-8 minutes to:
12:30 PM: Second Beach
It’s one of Vancouver’s best beaches so if it’s swimming season (May-Sept) I hope you’ve brought your swim trunks.
This wild sand beach gives you the option to take a dip in the ocean or even in a heated swimming pool (Second Beach Pool).
There’s also a great picnic spot at Ceperley Meadow to have a quick snack, top up the fluids, or recharge your legs if you’re not used to all that cycling.
In off season it’s still nice to park the bikes and go for a little walk.
1:15 PM: The Inukshuk
Even further up the seawall we’re back into downtown and stop at this grey granite structure you’ll see with sunsets in every Vancouverite’s Instagram.
The piled rocks look as if they could collapse at any moment.
Inukshuks are actually traditional Inuit navigation aids representing friendship and hospitality.
Amateurs try to recreate mini versions of them using rocks round all along the waterfront – give it a try and leave your mark!
1:30 PM: False Creek Ferry and Granville Island
Right at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre we find a False Creek Ferry stop.
Feel free to board with your bikes! It’s just a quick 10 minute ride over to Vancouver’s arts and culinary hub: Granville Island.
It’s time to lock up the bikes (locks are included) and head straight for the market. Nobody should be leaving without trying the double smoked or maple-candied salmon from Longliner Seafoods.
We have lunch at the food court or nibble our way through the market stalls and their fresh fruits, charming cheeses, and delicious deli meats.
Take another hour to explore the galleries and artisan shops of the area.
3:30 PM: Back Downtown
The ticket back to the Aquatic Center leaves us back on the downtown peninsula with two options: get some afternoon rest or go shopping.
Either one requires us to get up to the bike-friendly Hornby Street.
The path back to Canada Place and the bike rental shop and our hotels is straightforward.
If we’re going shopping though we’re stopping short at Robson Street. In taking a left here we’re thrown right into Vancouver’s main shopping street.
All the big brands are here so knock yourself out.
6:30 PM: Dinner in Yaletown
This formerly industrial area was once Vancouver’s warehouse district.
Today it’s one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the city. The urban regeneration here is quite remarkable – it’s now a spot for high end restaurants and headquarters for lots of cool local startups.
Vancouver Itinerary – Day 3
That’s 2 days in Vancouver done and dusted and on day 3 we’re (almost) leaving the city behind and going all out on the nature.
Make sure you’ve got some comfortable walking shoes and plan for unpredictable Vancouver weather.
10:30 AM: Seabus Time
Let’s head back to Waterfront Station only this time… we’ll be fronting the water.
The Seabus is a passenger only ferry connecting downtown Vancouver with the suburb of North Vancouver. They run every 15 minutes.
We hop on and get across Burrard Inlet in just 12 minutes. Keep your camera handy because this is a great way to discover Vancouver by sea.
After some amazing pics we get off at:
10:42 AM: Lonsdale Quay
This old ship repair dock in North Vancouver is now a multipurpose waterfront space featuring Lonsdale Market.
Take a stroll through the food and crafts area but make sure you head to Lift on Lonsdale for a bite. The breakfast sandwiches are great but dreams are made with the French toast and Bailey’s whipped cream.
You may also want to consider the adventurous Polygon Gallery for some thought-provoking art and media exhibits.
12:15 PM: Capilano Suspension Bridge
From Lonsdale we hop on the 236 bus and we’re halfway up the mountain in 25 minutes.
The 460 foot long Capilano Suspension Bridge floats through an old growth forest, dangling you 230 feet above the Capilano River.
It’s wobbly but safe, a type of old school thrill ride made of cedar planks and hemp rope that has been a part of any Vancouver itinerary for 80 years.
Admission here also gets you access to the world’s largest private collection of totem poles, the legendary Cliff Walk, and the ability to climb some 60,000 pound 350 year old Douglas Fir trees.
1:45 PM: Grouse Mountain
We hop back on the 236 bus and alight at its terminus: Grouse Mountain.
If you’re going skiing in Vancouver it’ll likely be here at the closest of the three ‘local mountains’ – but Grouse is much more than than just skis and poles.
Consider this recreation destination Vancouver’s playground. There’s snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer. There’s a wildlife refuge where you can see grizzly bears.
It’s got epic mountain top dining, ziplining, sleigh rides, disc golf, lumberjack shows, a theater, shopping, and more.
The views from the Skyride gondola that take you to the peak are incredible.
4:30 PM: Flyover Canada
What if I told you that you could fly across Canada for $26.00?
To do so we reverse our tracks from the morning and end up back at Waterfront Station and Canada Place. It’s here that we find Flyover Canada.
This state of the art 4-D flight simulation ride replicates a coast-to-coast Canadian flight. It’s the longest flight simulation ride in the world.
The east to west flight is a great way to understand more about the vastness of Canada and Vancouver’s unique place within it.
5:30 PM: Reflections Bar
In spring/summer it’s just a 10 minute walk from Canada Place to the Rosewood Hotel and its fourth story inner courtyard bar called Reflections.
The patio here has major garden vibes and a sophisticated drinks menu. It’s a great special occasion bar and perfect for couples.
In winter we’ll be going to Stock and Supply for their endless list of local craft beer, $7.00 happy hour negroni, and lemon pepper chicken wings.
7:00 PM: Dinner
You can’t go wrong with any of the best restaurants in downtown Vancouver.
That said, if you’re visitors and looking for an amazing local treat then look no further than Forage.
The chef here sources his ingredients from local foragers, fishermen, and farmers. The result is a fresh, sustainable, finesse-driven Pacific Northwest restaurant.
The slow cooked salmon here showcases our most prized local protein perfectly.
Vancouver Itinerary – Day 4
It has been an intense 3 days in Vancouver, hasn’t it?
I’m going to reward you by loosening the leash a bit and letting you migrate to a few areas popular with us locals but a bit off the beaten tourist path.
The best part of all… you can sleep in!
10:30 AM: Get the Hell Out of Downtown
We’ve spent most of our Vancouver itinerary downtown so let’s change that in a hurry by hopping on the #2 bus (‘Macdonald’).
We cross the Burrard Street bridge and get off at the first stop, dipping into Vancouver’s bohemian beachside district: Kitsilano.
11:15 AM: The Museum of Vancouver
I like using the largest civic history museum in Canada as a way to supplement knowledge already learned. The exhibits really come alive after having spent a few days in the city.
At the Museum of Vancouver you’ll find the Ćəsnaʔəm ‘City Before the City’ exhibit which details life in the area before European settlement.
Most of the other exhibits are broken down by decade, of particular interest is the 1950’s Gallery and its focus on Vancouver’s legendary neon signs.
The Wild Things showcase also has valuable information on local wildlife.
12:15 PM: Vanier Park & Kits Beach
Just outside the museum is Vanier Park, the site of many summer festivals in the city like Bard on the Beach and the Children’s Festival.
We head to the water and trace a path west until reaching the throngs of Kitsilano Beach, the city’s most popular swimming and people watching waterfront.
This path is part of the same Seawall we rode two days before in Stanley Park.
The beach is also home to Canada’s longest swimming pool, a nice dip in summer is always welcome.
1:30 PM: Shopping in Kitsilano
Up the road about 8-10 blocks is the locally famous 4th Ave.
Between Burrard and Larch is a commercial area famous for locally made, sustainable activewear shops and high end fashion boutiques.
If you’re so inclined I’d suggest taking a wander around there. It’s about a 12 minute (slightly uphill) walk from Kits beach.
2:30 PM: Peaceful Restaurant
The handmade or blade sheared noodles and premium Northern Chinese food is a great way to experience some of Vancouver’s unignorable Chinese culture.
Get the beef rolls: you’ll thank me later.
3:45 PM: Museum of Anthropology
Here we get one of the premier collections of Northwest Coast Indigenous sculptures, totem poles and artifacts anywhere.
Of the 535,000 archaeological objects the most popular by far is the Bill Reid masterpiece Raven and First Men.
Many tourists have told me this was the highlight of their trip.
Plan to spend two hours here – there’s that much to see.
6:00 PM: Downtown Entertainment
We’ll be back downtown with plenty of time to round out our Vancouver itinerary with some of the city’s premium entertainment offerings like:
- Theater at the QE or the Centre for Performing Arts
- A Canucks, Lions, or Whitecaps game
- A walk along Vancouver’s Star Walk on the Granville Strip
- A visit to BC’s biggest casino: Parq Vancouver
It’s really up to you.
If you’re not in the mood for a big ticket night out there’s a second option:
7:00 PM: Commercial Drive
From downtown you can get on the Skytrain and get off at Commercial-Broadway for access to Vancouver’s cultural heart.
Commercial Drive is an area officially known as Vancouver’s little Italy. It’s full of quirky bars, enotecas, and thrift shops. Beer lovers can hit some tasting rooms in the nearby the Yeast Van Brewery District, the beating heart of Vancouver’s craft beer scene.
It has a much more residential feel and this is what I want you to get on the last day – a true local neighbourhood where Vancouverites live their day to day.
Spend the evening drinking and eating here, and that’s four days in Vancouver done!
Tweak Your Vancouver Itinerary in the Comments
This is how I would have done a Vancouver itinerary.
That said, it may not be the way you would do it – so feel free to tell me your vision and I’ll help you with custom advice to get it all planned.
I’m here to answer any questions you have about Vancouver in the comments below or via the Vancouver Planner Facebook page.