The nature gods have really blessed Vancouver. Situated in a stunning location, the biggest city in British Columbia is surrounded by mountains and bordered by salt and freshwater. Its attractive setting draws in tourists with its exciting outdoor activities, rich indigenous heritage, and impressive dining options. From vibrant public markets to large urban green spaces, lively neighbourhoods and family-friendly attractions, plan a trip to Vancouver with our guide on how to enjoy 2 days in Vancouver.
How to get to Vancouver
Getting to Vancouver depends on your starting point and mode of transportation. Vancouver is accessible by various means including air, train, bus, and car.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is the main airport serving the city and is well-connected to domestic and international destinations. You can book a flight to YVR from major airports worldwide.
Take the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) from eastern Canada or drive north on I-5 from cities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. This road trip is a great day trip from Vancouver to Seattle.
VIA Rail offers passenger train services to Vancouver from other Canadian cities. The most popular route is the “The Canadian” which connects Vancouver with Toronto via Jasper and other stops.
Board a Greyhound or other public transportation company coach from various cities in Canada and the United States.
If you’re coming from Vancouver Island or nearby Gulf Islands, reserve a spot on BC Ferries, which operates a network of ferry routes to the Lower Mainland.
Use the Map Below to Search for Hotels and Short-Term Rental Options for where to stay in Vancouver
How to enjoy 2 days in Vancouver
If you’ve only got a weekend in Vancouver, BC, you know that it’s not possible to do it all. Consider this a top attractions, 2 days in Vancouver itinerary, visiting some of the city’s ‘can’t miss’ popular destinations and diversions.
Stroll through Granville Island Public Market
Granville Island is the city’s number one tourist attraction – at the top of the list of things to do in Vancouver. The island used to be a place of industry but was converted into a vibrant peninsula filled with bustling markets, unique shops, theaters, and individual eateries. It’s accessible by walking, cycling and even by False Creek ferries traveling from downtown and Kitsilano.
Start at the island’s Public Market, open 7 days a week. The food stalls feature fresh produce, baked goods, seafood, meats, cheeses and deli items. Some of my personal favorite shops include Oyama Sausage Co. for fresh meats and cheeses, Lee’s Donuts for fresh donuts (an absolute must!), and Granville Island Tea Company for spiced chai.
Grab some picnic items, then walk along the scenic boardwalk around the compact island. Be sure to tuck around corners and marvel at the giant painted concrete silos at Ocean Construction.
Kids will want to visit the Kids Market (naturally), as well as the large playground and waterpark in summer. The eastern end of the Island features quieter walking paths as well as the Granville Island Hotel, home to one of the best patios in town.
There is no shortage of places to eat on Granville Island, including some of the most kid-friendly restaurants in Vancouver.
Our favorites include; Popina Canteen, the Sandbar, Dockside (Granville Island Hotel) and the new Alimentaria Mexicana across from the public market. The many food stalls inside the Market are also fabulous for quick bites and prepared picnic items.
Visit Stanley Park
The city’s green heart is one of the most spectacular public spaces in the world. And it’s one of the most popular, must visit places in Vancouver’s downtown.
Stanley Park is located at the northwestern tip of Vancouver. Walk from English Bay in the West End, or drive by car via the park’s Georgia Street entrance.
This is an urban oasis – 400 hectares of temperate rainforest with free recreational activities for everyone. Walk or bike the 10 km around the Seawall with views of the north shore mountains, Lions Gate Bridge and English Bay. Wander along forest paths on a guided Indigenous interpretive walking tour with Talasay Tours. Or just relax in the sunshine at Second or Third Beaches.
The Park is home to several family-friendly outdoor activities and attractions, including the popular Stanley Park Train and the Vancouver Aquarium. In summer, you can enjoy the open-air Theatre Under the Stars or Summer Cinema events.
Where to eat in Stanley Park: Prospect Point Cafe (great views of the north shore), the Teahouse Restaurant (a perennial favorite and popular wedding venue), Stanley Park Pavilion and the casual Waterfall Cafe.
Head up to Grouse Mountain
While technically Grouse Mountain is not in Vancouver, it’s a popular place to visit in Vancouver, Canada. One that’s easily accessible from the city. Just 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, including a lovely trip over the Lions Gate Bridge, Grouse has loads of fun activities to enjoy for a spectacular day on the mountain.
Drive to the base of the mountain and ride the Skyride Gondola up to the Peak of Vancouver. Enjoy the beautiful views of the city before you hit the hiking trails in summer, or ski the slopes during the winter months.
Feeling adventurous? Try walking up the Grouse Grind to climb the 2,800+ steps (3 km) straight up the mountain. Just remember to reserve your Skyride download ticket for the journey home.
On the mountain itself, enjoy mountain ropes adventures, zip lining, and visiting with the resident grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola. There is also an entertaining Lumberjack show, and wildlife talks with knowledgeable rangers.
Kids will love the treehouses, slides and games of the Tree Canopy Adventure. If you’re pressed for time during your weekend in Vancouver, plan to spend a half-day on Grouse Mountain.
During the Christmas holidays, the mountain celebrates the Peak of Christmas. Popular events include; Light Walk, Santa and reindeer visits, and the high altitude skating rink.
Places to eat: The Observatory (fine dining and the best views of the city), Altitudes Bistro (amazing nachos), Lupins Cafe and the Grind Coffee Bar.
Visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the rainforest at family-friendly Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver. The park’s main feature is the impressive Capilano Suspension Bridge, which spans 137 meters (450 feet) across the Capilano River and is suspended 70 meters (230 feet) above the riverbed.
The Bridge offers breathtaking views of the surrounding forest and the river below. It leads to the park’s Treetop Adventures, a series of elevated walkways and platforms that takes visitors through a magical walk through the treetops.
If you’re brave enough, head towards the Cliffwalk, a cantilevered walkway that juts out from the granite cliffside and offers panoramic views of the canyon and Capilano River. It’s a thrilling – if nerve-wracking – experience for guests looking to get close to the rugged terrain.
The park also features a Story Center with insights into the history and culture of the area, including the Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the region for centuries. There’s also a gift shop, cafe and restaurant. And Canyon Lights at the park is one of Vancouver’s most popular holiday things to do in Vancouver in December.
Set foot in one of Vancouver Museums
While nature takes center stage in this outdoor-oriented city, Vancouver has its share of culture too. This is best represented in its high quality art galleries and vibrant family-friendly museums.
Located on Robson Street, the Vancouver Art Gallery is a great place to see in downtown Vancouver for the best of west coast art. The VAG also features traveling exhibitions from international artists.
At the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) is world-famous for its collection of Pacific Northwest Indigenous Coast Salish art, including totem poles and long houses from Haida Gwaii and sculptures by artist Bill Reid. UBC is also home to the Beatty Biodiversity Museum, a lesser-known natural history museum that is perfect for kids.
The Vancouver Police Museum will be a hit with crime fans of any age. It showcases the city’s not-that-sordid criminal past, including the old city morgue and history of the Vancouver Police Department.
Marine adventure fans will enjoy the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Kits Point, which includes learning about the St. Roch National Historic Site.
The St. Roch was the first vessel to cross the Northwest Passage from west to east (1940-1942). And the first to complete the passage in one season (1944), and first to go around North America.
Spend time at the beach
Whether you’re sunbathing, swimming in the invigorating ocean water, or partaking in beach volleyball matches, Vancouver’s beaches offer a range of recreational activities against a backdrop of stunning mountain views.
Vancouver’s beaches are an important part of the city’s allure. Kitsilano Beach, lovingly known as Kits Beach, features sandy expanses and beach volleyball courts. In the city’s West End, English Bay Beach near Stanley park bustles with locals, tourists and offers great summer sunsets.
Spanish Banks, Jericho and Locarno beaches are ideal for families with their shallow waters and low tide. At UBC, Wreck Beach, a clothing-optional strip along the Fraser River, provides a unique and liberating experience.
Spend time in Vancouver’s Chinatown
Visiting Vancouver’s Chinatown is like stepping into a living history of culture and culinary delights. As one of the oldest and most authentic Chinatowns in North America, this neighborhood features cobbled streets, traditional Chinese lanterns, and bustling food markets.
The cultural heart of Chinatown is the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden. This urban park gem is where you can explore serene ponds with colorful koi fish, lush gardens, and intricate architectural details of the temple and garden buildings.
The small grid of Chinatown features an interesting blend of shops, herbal medicine stores, and restaurants offering dim sum, dumplings, and a wide array of Chinese cuisine.
Don’t miss visiting the Chinese Canadian Museum, the first of its kind in Canada. It showcases stories of Chinese Canadian heritage, and features renovated historic school and living rooms.
The excellent Chinatown Storytelling Centre is home to Canada’s first permanent exhibit space dedicated to telling the stories of the Chinese Canadian journey. The Centre features an immersive self-guided storytelling experience, with artifacts, photos, and recordings from the 1880s to the present day.
For anyone interested in learning about the city’s history and diversity, a visit to Vancouver’s Chinatown is a must.
Visit city neighbourhoods
Vancouver is a city of neighborhoods. Although the city has 22 designated neighborhoods, there are additional charming areas that provide tourists with a sneak peek into the diverse and multicultural fabric of this town.
If you’ve only got 48 hours in Vancouver, wander through the highly walkable downtown peninsula. Enjoy the LGBTQ+ friendliness of the West End and English Bay, and the international flair of Robson Street. Walk the cobbled streets of historic Gastown and enjoy a cocktail on a sunny patio in Yaletown.
On the west side of town, Kitsilano is famous for its beaches, shopping and laid-back vibe. To the east, Commercial Drive celebrates its Italian roots while growing into a truly diverse neighborhood.
Up-and-coming neighborhoods include the East Village along Hasting Street, Strathcona, Sunset on Fraser Street and Marpole, each with something different for visitors looking to go beyond downtown.
Where to eat in Vancouver
Welcome to foodie city! Vancouver’s culinary scene is incredibly rich and diverse, reflecting the community and the palates of residents and visitors.
From classic American burgers to spicy Chinese, world-class sushi to family-friendly dining and some of the best vegan and vegetarian food in the world, you can experience a new cuisine every day of the year and never hit the same restaurant twice.
These are some of Vancouver’s best restaurants, and some of my own personal favorites:
- Sushi – Miku, Minami, Temaki, Ajisai, Shu Sushi Bar
- Fine Dining – St. Lawrence, Chambar, Kissatanto, Salvio Volpe, Botanist, Boulevard, Hawksworth
- Asian – Maenam (Thai), Joong Won (Korean), Dynasty (Chinese), Mr. Red Cafe (Vietnamese)
- Pizza – Via Tevere, Pizzeria Farina, Grano, Bufala
- Vegetarian/Vegan – The Acorn, Do Chay, Mila, Chi Vegan
- Chains: Cactus Club, Earl’s, Tacofino, Nook
- Casual: Livia Sweets, Juke, Downlow Chicken Shack, Local
- Family-friendly: White Spot, Rocky Mountain Pizza Company, Tacofino, Via Tevere
- Ice Cream: Too many to mention! Check our top list here
Vancouver is a young, nature-oriented and growing city by the sea. Future articles will hone in on some local favorites. We’ll uncover spots that are worthy of an in-depth visit, when schedules permit more than a 2 day tour of Vancity.
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Photo credits: Destination BC, Claudia Laroye