48 hours in Vancouver


By Johanna Read, Vancouver based writer

Photography by Wu Swee Ong/Getty Images

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July 2017

Surrounded by both the ocean and the mountains, Vancouver is a vibrant city that appears to have it all – natural beauty, an exciting multicultural foodie scene and plenty of opportunities for wild encounters. Local writer Johanna Read shares her highlights for a 48-hour visit to Canada’s largest western city.

Day one

Make yourself at home

The British Airways flight to Vancouver from London arrives just before dinner, meaning you can start your Canadian adventure as soon as you touch down. Take the SkyTrain for traffic-free transport to Vancouver’s downtown peninsula, where hotels are within walking distance of the city’s highlights. Waterfront Pan Pacific Vancouver and the Asian-inspired Fairmont Pacific Rim are in the heart of the action and have fantastic views of Coal Harbour, while modern boutique hotel The Burrard is closer to False Creek, a watery inlet that separates the downtown from the rest of the city.

British Columbia’s mild, oceanic climate is ideal for growing food – and Vancouver’s best chefs make the most of this local bounty in their menus

20:00 – Dine like a local

British Columbia’s mild, oceanic climate is ideal for growing food – and Vancouver’s best chefs make the most of this local bounty in their menus. At Burdock & Co in the trendy South Main neighbourhood, chef and owner Andrea Carlson showcases ingredients from local artisanal producers in her dishes, such as BC spot prawns (when they are in season from May to July) or grilled morel mushrooms with sorrel and goat Camembert cream. If you miss a Friday night reservation, try for a weekend brunch.

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  • Stay at one of the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s suites.

    The suite life

    The upscale Fairmont hotel company is known the world over – with residences in 22 countries and their headquarters in Toronto.

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  • Eat waffles with lashings of maple syrup at Café Medina. © Amy Ho.

    Did you know?

    It takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup and a tree becomes old enough to tap when it’s about 40 years old.

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  • A day out at Granville island © scotto72 / Getty.

    Historic centre

    The city of Vancouver was originally named Granville until it was renamed in 1886, but the island and one street in the city still retain the name.

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23:00 – Cocktail lab

Before you call it day, have a culinary-inspired nightcap at Fairmont Pacific Rim’s new Botanist Cocktail Bar + Lab, the first and only cocktail lab in Vancouver. Grant Sceney and David Wolowidnyk’s innovative cocktails are categorised by ‘flowers and trees’, ‘fruits and vegetables’, ‘berries and vines’, and ‘herb and spice’. Try a Deep Cove – named after a nearby village – which features Island Gin, sea buckthorn, and blue algae, served artistically atop a piece of driftwood.

Day two

09:30 – Fly sky high

Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountains, the perfect introduction to Vancouver is from above – so book a seaplane tour to see its beaches, forested mountains, and the sparkling blue ocean from a bird’s-eye view.

10:30 – Seawall stroll

Once you're back on solid ground, get up close to what you saw from above by taking a stroll on the Seawall, the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront pathway. The 22km-paved walkway begins just above the seaplane docks and loops northwest to circle Stanley Park and then around False Creek. Keep your eyes on the water: great blue herons fish along the shore, seals are seen regularly, and – on occasion – whales even swim by the Seawall.

11:30 – Park life

Veer off the waterfront into forested Stanley Park – which is one of the world’s best urban parks – to escape all evidence of the city. The temperate rainforest has massive Douglas firs, centuries-old cedars, and winding paths leading to Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon. If you’ve lucked out with the weather, relax on one of the beaches looking out onto English Bay.

  • Seaplane is the way to get around © franckreporter / Getty.

    Whale watching

    Spot humpback, minke, orca and gray whales from above by taking a seaplane – and be sure to bring a pair of binoculars for the many types of birdlife you might see, like puffins and bald eagles. Book flights from London to Vancouver, plus a five night hotel stay from:£609 pp

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13:00 – Lunch with a view

Continue walking along the False Creek Seawall to Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio. Open for lunch and dinner, the elegant restaurant serves up seafood that is accredited by Ocean Wise, a designation from the Vancouver Aquarium to guide diners and chefs toward sustainable choices. Drawing on Vancouver’s multicultural character, Ancora blends Peruvian and Japanese influences: start with wild sockeye salmon sushi and steelhead ceviche, and accompany your choice of fish with a side of togarashi-spiced Brussels sprouts.

14:30 – Cruise control

After lunch, board the tiny Aquabus to explore the creek further. Plan a longer stop at Granville Island to peruse the Public Market, artists’ studios, and boutiques, and be sure to pick up some souvenirs at Edible Canada, such as sweet treats from Vancouver chocolatier Thomas Haas or Noble’s sublime bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup.

19:30 – Go gastro in Gastown

After a rest at your hotel, wander around boutiques and galleries in Vancouver’s oldest – but very hipster – neighbourhood, Gastown, followed by a casual dinner at Shebeen Whisk(e)y House. Named a top international whiskey bar by the Irish Whiskey Awards in 2015, it’s the perfect place to tuck into Canadian inventions such as poutine – French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy – alongside your tipple. Ask for a table in their secret alleyway garden if the weather is good.

  • Cocktails are crafted in front of you at Botanist Cocktail Bar.

    Dramatic drinking

    Chemistry just got delicious at Botanist Cocktail Bar and Lab – which serves sparkling, fizzing and smoking creations that raise the cocktail stakes.

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  • See the curvy Seawall at Stanley Park © dan_prat / Getty.

    Walk and roll

    The 28-kilometre Seaside Greenway is the perfect way to explore the city with one eye on the ocean. It’s the longest uninterrupted waterfront path.

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  • Expect queues at fabulous restaurant Burdock & Co.

    Call of nature

    Hipsters flock in their droves to eatery Burdock & Co on Main Street for organic small plates like nettle and cashew pesto paired with naturalist wines.

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Day three

08:00 – Breakfast of champions

A superstar on the Vancouver brunch scene, Medina Café serves up locally-sourced breakfasts that are ‘crafted with love’, including Liège-style Belgian waffles (top them with anything from salted caramel to white chocolate pistachio rosewater) and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, such as Coca, a blistered woodstone fired flatbread with pork ragout, Sfoglia cheese and truffled potato purée.

10:00 – Get arty

Discover the art of the Haida First Nation – fine wood and metal carvings and sculptures inspired by the ocean – and other local indigenous artwork at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art . One of Canada’s greatest artists, Reid was a master carver, sculptor and goldsmith, as well as a writer and broadcaster. Keep an eye out for his immense bronze The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe at the airport.

11:00 – The great outdoors

Vancouver has plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits on its doorstep. Across Coal Harbour is the Capilano Suspension Bridge which has been thrilling visitors since 1889. Nearby, the Skyride gondola is also worth a ride up Grouse Mountain for spectacular views.

13:00 – Whale of a time

End your trip on a (natural) high by going on a whale-watching trip from quaint Steveston village – which is on the way to the airport. You may get a snap of sea lions, porpoises, orca and grey whales as your final memento of this truly magnificent city.