Learning valuable lessons from our first trip to this city several years back, we would like to share with you a 1 day Vancouver itinerary that we recently put together to make the most of our time.
We’ve been to Vancouver before, driving almost twenty hours from San Francisco, California with friends. At a time when online resources were not as readily available as today, we relied on tourist guide books to know the “must-see” places. Maps were indispensable to find our way around. We ended up staying three days visiting a few tourist areas, mostly unsure where to go next and how. Looking back, we think we could have done a better itinerary and optimized our stay, especially considering the long drive.
Last Spring, we went for an 8-day cruise to Alaska, with Vancouver as our boarding point. We thought it might be a good idea to re-explore the city, with all the information ready at our fingertips to plan our itinerary. We chose a flight schedule that allowed us a full day to do a quick city tour before we had to board the ship.
Vancouver is a bustling city that offers access to majestic mountains, family-friendly beaches, and abundant flora and fauna, all within minutes from where you may be staying. It can cater to varied types of travellers because of the many things it has to offer, but you need to plan your day well. We want to share what we did during our stop at Vancouver and some insights on what other things you can consider if you are planning a trip there.
Getting Ready to Start Your Day
Breakfast provides typically the energy needed to start one’s day. In a city like Vancouver, one has so many choices for breakfast. You can go to restaurants, bakeries, specialty food markets or coffee and tea shops.
As we wanted to head out early, we just grabbed coffee and light breakfast at a Tim Hortons. It’s a fast-food restaurant chain popular among Canadians, serving fresh coffee, donuts, breakfast, and quick meal options. There was one right across the street from our hotel, and there are thousands of these in Canada.
Options to Move Around
If you are up to the challenge, you can go around on foot or public transit. This may, however, be quite limiting considering your time constraints. It also depends on where you want to go and where you are staying.
Another option is cycling. Vancouver supports green transportation initiatives and has continued to expand the city’s bike route network as part of its strategy to reduce traffic congestion and encourage people to pedal their way around. They even have an app for their public bike share system – Mobi by Shaw Go.
In our case, we decided to take the Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour on comfortable buses. The price for the tour was value for money, and the drivers were courteous and knowledgeable of the places and attractions on their route. One of them even stopped and got off the bus to help a seemingly lost tourist on a busy intersection. Quintessential Canadian! The tour also saved us the challenge of driving around and dealing with traffic in an unfamiliar place. All we had to do was sit back and listen to the driver’s narration while enjoying the views.
The Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour had two routes (City and Park). The former covered all the downtown highlights while the latter would take you to open spaces, natural wonders and the seaside. We decided to take the City Route.
My wife, an expert outlet mall shopper, applied her skills on how we can optimize our time when faced with so many choices in so little time. We first did the entire loop to see the whole route and what it offers. Then, we went back to the areas we wanted to focus on and spend most of the time available.
The Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour enabled us to explore the best of Vancouver at our own pace, focusing on areas that most interest us. We not only learned a bit of history; we also heard some interesting stories about these places that the drivers shared
Enjoying the Electric Boat Tour
The Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour came with some upgrade options. We chose a 30-minute cruise at Coal Harbour on a 10-passenger ultra-quiet and pollution-free 100% electric boat.
As the boat cruised around the harbour, we enjoyed listening to Captain Irwin, our friendly, knowledgeable guide. He shared informative facts about Vancouver’s stunning skyline and attractions within our eyesight, interspersed with his unique humour. He even dove deep into some of the city’s architectural points, landmarks and indigenous history.
The 30-minute tour came with a bonus, the opportunity to watch seaplanes landing and taking off at the harbour and the cruise ship terminal – a stunning view and educational experience.
Visiting Stanley Park
The City Route of the Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour also took us to Stanley Park.
Stanley Park, a vast verdant oasis in the heart of an urban landscape, has plenty to offer. We could have spent the whole day there if we had more time. There’s so much to experience and enjoy – a game of pitch and putt, a ride on Stanley Park train over a 2 kilometre track that winds through the forest, a stunning view of the Lion’s Gate bridge, relaxing on the beach, or dinner in one of the park’s classic restaurants.
There are so many things to do, and one could either join a tour or explore it on their own. Or, as mentioned earlier, rent a bike for about an hour and cycle around the seawall surrounding the park. In our case, we decided to leverage the hop-on/hop-off stops to explore the various parts of the park.
The Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium, is also at the park. We had visited this before and decided to skip this time. If you are considering to visit, you can buy your pass online to avoid the long queues.
Exploring Granville Island
Granville Island was an industrial wasteland transformed into Vancouver’s premier artistic and cultural hub, which attracts millions of visitors each year.
The island has a public food market, theatre, restaurants, an art school, a brewery, a distillery. You could also find many cultural venues that host numerous performing arts and cultural festivals year-round.
The public market houses rows upon rows of vendors’ stalls selling produce, seafood, meat, baked goods, and gourmet food – a popular place for locals and visitors. If you are lucky, you may also find some artisan cottage-industry food and handmade crafts sold on a rotating schedule.
After going around the public market, we were ready for a hearty late lunch and decided to feast on the city’s famous fish and chips, crispy calamari, and fresh coleslaw on one of the seafood restaurants in the area.
Ending the Day at Gastown
Our last stop on our hop-on/hop-off tour was Gastown, the oldest suburb in Vancouver. Here is where you would feel the city’s past, walk on cobblestone paths, and view stunning architecture. One of its major attractions is the iconic steam clock which has quite an interesting, and a bit controversial story. The city built it as a monument with an alternative purpose of keeping the homeless from sleeping on a warm spot.
Another way to see all that Gastown offers would be to take advantage of one of the walking tours. After the tour, you could have a nice meal at one of the neighborhood’s array of excellent places to eat and drink. In our case, however, the hearty lunch we had at Granville Island left no more room for this.
There you have it – a full 1 day Vancouver itinerary. As you can see, there are a lot of things you can accomplish even with limited hours in Vancouver.
If you have more time to spend, there are quite a lot of other attractions in the area. You can also venture outside of the city like Vancouver Island, Whale Watching, Suspension Bridges (either at Capilano or Lynn Canyon). There are countless tours you can exploit!
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