It’s been days since my flight back home and still my head is spinning from the roller coaster ride that is Vancouver. The city was without a doubt so wonderful and so enjoyable it would be injustice not to share my experiences with all of you. Our Vancouver trip was absolutely worth our time – every second of it! Now, let’s go to the details, shall we?
Where we stayed: The Sands, Listel and Westin Bayshore
Considered as one of the best cities in the world to live in, tourists flock to Vancouver like bees to their honeycombs, so you really wouldn’t have a hard time finding a good deal on your hotel accommodation. As for me and my travel pals, we booked ourselves in two hotels. We just can’t stay too long in one place. Call it hyperactivity disorder!
We first checked in at the Best Western Sands by the Sea. We were sold to it because it’s not that high-end a place. Though still expensive (What’s not expensive in Vancouver anyway?), we thought it delivered the goods. My suite was roomy enough, no bedbugs whatsoever, as opposed to some reports. The maid tidied up the place and replaced the sheets everyday. There was a handful of restaurants and pubs around the area including a branch of Starbucks, an oasis for our group of coffee freaks. Price aside ($154), I thought it was a good enough deal.
Finally, we checked in at The Westin Bayshore. We stayed in the 9th floor of the new building called “The Tower.” And boy did it offer the best view! From our room, we had a commanding view of the harbor. We can also see the seaplanes commute to and from the nearby terminal. The food was great, although a little too pricey for my taste. Service was sluggish at times, but nice enough overall. There’s also wireless internet available for free. At $335, you actually pay for the view and the location, which was, on all accounts, quite outstanding.
Day 1: The Sights in Stanley Park, Sunset Beach and Granville
On our first day in Vancouver, we took the “hop-on, hop-off” trolley tour to get a general feel and vibe of the city. The bus driver narrated bits of trivia about the places we passed by. The rate is $35 for adults and $18.50 for children.
Our group first hopped off the world-famous Stanley Park. It’s a massive park at 400 hectares. Yet its massive size is not what you will notice first about the park. It was downright magnificent, an oasis of trees, gardens, wildlife, forests, beaches. Frankly, I never thought a park can look this bountiful.
We spotted squirrels, raccoons, skunks and coyotes, even eagles and herons. Our group especially loved our time wandering in this place called The Lookout, the highest point in Stanley Park. The panorama was just breathtaking! Up to this point, my camera’s SD card was already a quarter full.
Next stop was Granville Island. It was a public market with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, and meats – everything you need to cook food. But we weren’t very eager on cooking our own food for this trip, so we didn’t buy anything. We just sashayed around the market taking pictures of what looked to be the typical everyday scene in these places.
We finished the trolley tour for the day. The information from the driver and tourist guides was really informative, not to mention fun and useful.
Day 2: Botanical Garden, Vancouver Aquarium and the City Center
For our second day itinerary, we first dropped by Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, which has an impressive collection of plants in the outdoor gardens. After which, we headed to the Vancouver Aquarium, which I enjoyed tremendously. For someone as fascinated with underwater life and marine animals as me, Vancouver Aquarium is a place that will be hard to forget. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, aquariums I’ve ever seen.
We spent the night in the City Center. We had a small meal at the Spaghetti Factory in Gastown. Then we made our way around Chinatown. I loved the night market on Keefer and Pender streets. There were just a lot of interesting things to see and buy. Later, we tried dim sum at one of the restaurants.
Day 3: Seaplane Tour
Seeing those seaplanes land and take off every single day has whetted my appetite to try the things myself, so I insisted that we do it already.
We booked a 20-minute flight at $99 per head and by golly, it was so worth it! The pilot hovered us above the mountains, the plains, and the city proper – all over Vancouver! It was an exhilarating ride forever etched in my head.
We landed hungry, primarily because we flew hungry. So we headed to Bon’s Off Broadway in East Vancouver. Bon’s offers all-day breakfasts, which is amazing! I love breakfasts; I can eat breakfast all day and not worry about a thing. Bon’s breakfasts are always less than $10, which was a welcome thing considering the rather pricey activity we just took on.
Day 4: Whale Watching at the West Coast
We went whale-watching the next day! We booked with Wild Whales Vancouver. Just a reminder, be sure to wear a cap or visor plus sunglasses just in case it’ll be sunny. Oh and sun block, too!
Our whale-watching tour was successful, thankfully. We got to see killer whales, Pacific Gray whales and humpback whales. Imagine these creatures weighing thousands of pounds throw themselves out of the water for what looks like playtime for them, and seeing these lovely creatures up-close. It was unbelievable.
You have to be very watchful since it doesn’t take too long before they dive back into the water. Sometimes, all you will get is a split-second to catch their acrobatics. I suggest don’t worry about capturing it on camera immediately; enjoy it with your own bare eyes first. There really is nothing like memory to keep things fresh.
Day 5/6: Exploring art
The 5th day we were feeling kind of artsy and esoteric. So we took the 44 Bus and snaked our way to the University of British Columbia to see the Museum of Anthropology. It’s considered to be Vancouver’s most impressive museum with primarily West Coast native artifacts. We got lucky because we went on a Tuesday, an entry-by-donation day.
Next stop: Vancouver Art Gallery. Located in the City Center, the gallery houses various exhibits including those of renowned artist Emily Carr. Her collections were really good. Again, it was a pay-by-donation day. We donated $5 each. Normally, that’s $20 on adults.
I have a thing for science museums! So I enjoyed Telus Science World a lot. Nifty collections they have there. It’s located at the end of False Creek.
On Day 6, we continued our art expeditions in Vancouver. We went to HR MacMillan Space Center which is a really, really cool place if you want to know how it feels to be in space. There’s also a space-flight simulator machine.
In the same building as the Space Center is the Vancouver Museum which houses the city’s young but rich history.
Day 7: Butchart Gardens
We raced over to Vancouver Island and spent virtually the whole 7th day in the Butchart Gardens. I was fascinated with the very fragrant, blossoming flowers just about anywhere I look.
The flower beds were so beautiful you just want to lie on your tummy and inspire the breeze around it. At one point, we didn’t realize that we’ve been lying in the lush grass for almost an hour already; some of us unintentionally falling into the most relaxing nap we’ve had in years.
Again, be sure to have your camera handy. It’s lovely to shoot flowers on macro. If you’re lucky you might even catch a butterfly or a bee at work. When I look back, that day at Butchart felt like a dream.
Day 8/9: Whistler’s Shannon and Brandywine Falls
The next day, we’re off to Whistler.
We rented a car and drove through the Sea to Sky Highway. I’m telling you, this has got to be the most picturesque driving route I’ve been to. The drive to Whistler alone is a destination. It will give you the best views of Howe Sound and the majestic mountains.
Of course, we had to stop by Shannon and Brandywine Falls. Shannon was spectacularly huge. It cascades over cliffs and boulders at over 1100 feet from the ground. Brandywine, on the other hand, is a more serene-looking waterfall. It beautifully hurls down water from the mountains to a basin on the ground.
We decided to spend the night in that gorgeous town of Whistler. We started driving back to Vancouver before sunrise so we could see Howe Sound and the mountains again in a different light. We weren’t disappointed – it was twice as mesmerizing. We were just so proud of ourselves we were like celebrating on the road!
Day 10: Snooze fest
We slept the day through. We had to take a break, otherwise we’d probably be too weary to appreciate everything.
We took this opportunity to swim in the pool in our hotel and dine in the nearby Hon’s on Robson. For dessert, we drove to Cheesecake, etc. in South Granville. Yum yum!
Day 11: Suspension Bridges
Fully recharged, we braved the suspension bridges.
First, we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s a hundred-foot-long bridge that crosses the Capilano River. It was both scary and exciting at the same time. For a split second while crossing the bridge, I was dead sure I was going to fall. So imagine the mix of thrill and torture.
The Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge is basically the same as Capilano but with fewer people. Take note and be warned: this is certainly not for the faint-hearted!
Day 12: Grouse Mountain
Onwards to Grouse Mountain. To get there, we rode the Seabus from the Waterfront Station then the 236 bus took us right to Grouse. The round-trip bus ride cost $8 apiece.
If you wish to hike, you can do so. Keep in mind, however, that the steep elevation does not make for a very leisurely journey. You can always hire a tram at $5 each. For us adventurers, though, there was no other way but to hike. It was not so bad, really, depending on one’s fitness level.
We dined at Altitudes and, thanks to our table’s perfect location, we witnessed the slow and beautiful transformation of the sky as the Vancouver sun set. It was lovely to see the city light up before your very eyes the second darkness engulfs the city.
The Grizzly Bears were a bonus, really.
Day 13: Sailboat Racing
We tried sailboat racing offered by Cooper’s Boating on our penultimate day in Vancouver. It’s on Granville Island and for only $25. It’s virtually for anyone who wants to try the sport out, as there are no required skills to enjoy it. And who knows, it might be a discovery for you, like it was for me.
I enjoyed every second of it, every paddle, every splash of the water. For a first-timer, it certainly wasn’t as complex as I imagined it to be. I’m sure to do this again when I get the chance.
Day 14: The Celebration of Light
We intentionally planned our trip to be in late July just to catch the Celebration of Light. We thought it was fitting to conclude our trip with some fireworks. We managed to get a reservation at one of the cafes along English Bay, and our view couldn’t be more perfect.
The show started at exactly 10PM. Music started to pipe in from just about anywhere marking the start of the show. I later found out that local radio stations simultaneously play the same choreographed music for the fireworks spectacle. The fireworks, by the way, were nothing short of spectacular!
Vancouver, oh, Vancouver! This certainly has been my best vacation to date. The memories I gathered were just too many and amazing for words. Like a roller coaster, the ride was tiring and exhausting, but at the end of the rails when the ride abruptly stops, under your breath you whisper, “Wow! That was fun!” That’s exactly how it felt like coming home from Vancouver. And I will surely go back.