Weekend Getaway: A Guide to Vancouver

Welcome to our Weekend Getaway series! While it’s our preference to discover a country slowly and thoroughly, realistically time often only allows for a long weekend of exploring. Each week we’ll focus on a different city and highlight how to get the most out of a 2-4 day stay. Sometimes we write about the city ourselves, while other times we’ll have awesome guest bloggers giving us the low-down.

If you’re interested in guest blogging on this series, shoot us an email!  

Welcome! Tell us a little bit about yourself (don’t be shy), your blog and where you’re currently traveling. 

My name is Hayley and I am a freelance writer (and whatever else keeps my travel funds healthy) who currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. I blog about solo and budget travel at Hayley on Holiday. I have visited 25 countries and I am always looking for the next opportunity to add to this number. I recently returned to Australia after a working holiday in Vancouver, Canada. I am now exploring my new home of Melbourne and constantly plotting my next holiday. 

What makes Vancouver a good place for a weekend getaway?

Vancouver has so much to offer visitors on a weekend getaway. It is such a unique city as in one weekend you can visit the beach, cycle through North America’s biggest urban park, hit up a hipster neighborhood and head up a mountain.

What’s the best way to travel around Vancouver

It depends on where you are coming from. I initially flew into Vancouver, but for North American residents it is so easy to get to the city by bus, train or car. I have taken the Via Rail train from the Canadian Rockies and also used Greyhound and Bolt Bus to visit the states. I was too scared of driving on the other side of the road to get behind the wheel myself.

Public transportation: Is it available in this city, and is it easy to navigate?

Vancouver has an excellent public transport system. The Skytrain is a fast train easily linking the city to outer suburbs. Buy a book of 10 tickets at Shoppers Drug Mart or other participating retailers to save money during your weekend getaway. There is also the Canada Line, which was actually built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It takes visitors swiftly from the airport directly into the heart of Vancouver.

What is the typical cost of a taxi to get from one side of town to the other?

I can count on one hand the amount of times I took a taxi in Vancouver, as public buses run all night. However, Vancouver is an expensive city so to get a taxi from the airport to the CBD (Downtown Central Business District), which are on opposite ends of Vancouver would cost about $40CAD.

Do you have any recommendations on a luxury or boutique hotel in the area?

I would recommend a luxury stay at the Fairmont Waterfront or Pacific Rim hotels. They are located a short distance apart but right near the water at Coal Harbour, which is very close to the CBD.

 How about those looking for a more budget friendly option? 

When I first arrived in Vancouver I stayed at Samesun Backpackers for nearly three weeks. It is clean, located in the city center, offers a great free breakfast and has a bar downstairs with activities and cheap food and drinks most nights.

One of our favorite things to do while exploring a new city is to take part in the outdoors scene. What are some adventure and/or outdoors activities (such as hiking, biking, waterfall rappelling, skiing, skydiving, etc.) to enjoy here?

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor activities in Vancouver. Locals love the outdoors here. Cycling around Stanley Park will keep you busy. I recommend kayaking in Deep Cove, for beautiful British Columbian views.

There are three mountains on the city’s outskirts: Cypress Mountain, Mount Seymour and Grouse Mountain. In summer you can attempt nature’s ultimate stair master, the Grouse Grind. In winter hit the slopes. I am too uncoordinated to ski but my friends and I had fun tubing on Mount Seymour for something different.

Are there any local entertainment events that we should know about when planning a trip to Vancouver (such as South By South West in Austin, a Football match in England, or running with the bulls in Spain)?

Every summer Vancouver seems to have a different festival each weekend. One of my favorite picks includes the Food Cart Festival, because I love food. The Celebration of Lights happens over three nights and includes a 30 minute fireworks show each night. The Pride Parade is a fantastic celebration in the city’s West End neighborhood. There is also the Folk Music Festival, which attracts international performers.

Name one phenomenal attraction that shouldn’t be skipped. 

I think it is impossible to visit Vancouver and not visit Stanley Park. It is right next door to the city and the perfect place for an afternoon walk, cycle, run or even horse carriage ride. It is amazing being fully immersed in nature so close to a bustling metropolis. Central Park, eat your heart out.

Where should we go if we want to blend in with the locals?

Commercial Drive, hands down. It is definitely the most popular and unique street in town. Get the Skytrain here (Commercial-Broadway station) and just wander. Check out the boutiques, thrift stores, book shops and record stores. My favorite places for food and drinks are St Augustine and Bier Craft.

Let’s talk about an important aspect of travel: Food. What are your absolute favorite restaurants in the area?

I want to return to Vancouver just to have one more brunch at Red Wagon Café, it is that good. For lunch you can’t wrong with some meat on bread from Meat and Bread. Then dessert, get your s’mores on at Mink Chocolates.

Vancouver also has over 100 food trucks. You can download the Street Food App and find out where the closest one is to you during your visit. I actually worked on one called Aussie Pie Guy, which sold Australian handheld meat pies. Definitely the best job I have ever had.

What’s one local dish you’d recommend someone to try while they’re here?

I mean, can you visit a Canadian city without trying poutine? For those unaware of this delicacy, think fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. Belgian Fries on Commercial Drive do some really unique combinations for the adventurous types. 

We’re from the US where waiters and waitresses make a living solely from tips. What is the tipping etiquette in Vancouver?

Yep, Canada is the same as the United States and tipping is expected. As an Australian in Canada, I had to learn about the etiquette, but found tipping between 15 and 20 percent for a good meal was appropriate. For drinks I would usually just add a dollar.

If we’re craving a night out on the town, what are some cool local spots we should check out?  

Granville Street in the city is the nightclub strip, so look no further. For a quieter night of excellent food and delicious drinks I recommend visiting the Gastown district, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood. Start the night at The Flying Pig or Peckinpah. Then enjoy a fishbowl cocktail at Steamworks Brewery (as good as it sounds) or beer at The Lamplighter.

For beer drinkers, Vancouver has quite a few craft breweries. My favorites include 33 Acres Brewery, who regularly have food trucks parked outside so you can have a meal with your brew. Brassneck Brewery and Parallel 49 both have excellent selections too.

What is the currency here and how much would a typical pint of beer cost?

The Canadian Dollar is used in Vancouver and a pint would cost between $6 and $7 plus tip.

Where should we go for the city’s best photo op?

Take the SeaBus ferry over to North Vancouver at sunset to capture the entire Vancouver skyline. Alternatively, capture one of the city’s iconic buildings, Science World from the seawall near Olympic Village. 

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Jimmie & Shelly