The Stopover - How to Spend 72 Hours in Vancouver


Introduction

Layover in Vancouver

Vancouver is a world-renown tourist destination known for its stunning natural beauty, diverse population and west coast vibes. Nestled by the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by forests and picturesque mountains, it is consistently ranked as one of the top five most livable cities in the world.

With a modern airport and multiple cruise ships coming in during high season, it is also one of the most visited Canadian cities. After the 2010 Winter Olympics, the secret to beautiful BC is out and everyone from tourists to international students are now coming in droves.

Having lived here for most of my life, I would recommend at least a week-long visit if you can to really explore the city and its surrounding regions properly beyond the standard tourist places to really dig into some hidden gems!

But if you are short on time or on a stopover in Vancouver, read on for an ambitious itinerary of what to see and do with 72 hours in the 604!

Here is my guide on how to spend 72 hours in Vancouver to maximize your itinerary:

Day One

Vancouver Chinatown

The first day is all about soaking up the West Coast vibes and culture. Begin your morning right by heading to Floata Restaurant inside Chinatown Plaza on Keefer Street to sip on herbal teas and eat some delicious dim sum – tasty Chinese small plates and delicacies.

Once you’re all fuelled up, walk across the street to Gold Stone Bakery to load up on traditional Chinese pastries to fuel your neighbourhood explorations. From here, it’s a short stroll to the tranquil Dr.Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden, where water, plants and rocks are arranged to conform with Feng-Shui principles of chi - energy and flow.

Once you’ve taken in the Asian heritage in Chinatown, hop on a taxi for a short 5-minute drive down Carrall Street and get off at Water Street, which puts you in the heart of Gastown. Avoid East Hastings Street if possible, as the drug addiction and homeless problems of the city are concentrated in this one area considered to be “skid row.”

Vancouver Gastown
Once you’re in Gastown, take a quick photo of “Gassy Jack” - called that because he was a loud-mouth and liked to talk, not because he *ahem* liked to fart in public. Wander down the cobble-stone streets along Water Street and check out all the boutique stores, hipster coffee shops and souvenir stores. Join the crowd of gawking tourists at the Steam Clock, which puts on a small display of sound and steam every 15 minutes.

Stop for lunch at Water Street Café conveniently located across the street for some Pacific Northwest cuisine served with an Italian flair and some people watching. As a side note, Yours Truly once spent two summers bussing tables and food running here while in high school – all you can drink pops, great food and cash tips - good times for a teenager!

Once you’re filled with Pacific-goodness, walk south along Granville Street from West Cordova Street and head towards Vancouver’s city center. From here, you’ll be able to soak in the atmosphere of people going about their daily business, buskers performing and food trucks selling tasty eats. 

Vancouver City Centre
Granville Street is officially the Entertainment District, which comes alive on weekends with concerts, clubs, bars and restaurants. However, true Vancouverites who know what’s up head to the classier Gastown and Yaletown.

Some excellent date spots with strong cocktails and good ambiance are The Diamond in Gastown and The Banter Room in Yaletown.  If you must do Granville, check out The Roxy, a Vancouver Institution that should be bumping any night of the week.

If your wallet is feeling a bit heavy and you want to do some shopping, walk down Robson Street or Alberni Street to go nuts or window-shop at all the recognizable big brand name stores. Be sure to stop by Robson Square, which really comes alive on weekends with all sorts of street festivals and crowd-pleasing public performances.

Vancouver Tim Hortons Double Double
To feel really Canadian, grab a cup of Tim Horton’s double-double (that’s a coffee with two milk and two sugars, mind you) to refuel along the way.

Other notable delicious and affordable street eats in the area include: Japadog on Robson or Burrard, the sandwiches at Vietsub on Robson, and the Warehouse on Granville with $5 casual fare snack dishes. By the way, if you are a yoga-lover, now is a good time to stock up on Lululemon as their flagship store is close by!

If you’re feeling artsy or it’s a rainy day, head over to the Vancouver Art Gallery (affectionately and hilariously known as the “VAG”) to check out their permanent West Coast exhibits, as well as temporary exhibitions by artists from across the globe. Pro-tip: Entrance fees are by donations on Tuesdays, rather than the standard $23 CAD adult ticket.

Vancouver Sushi
After you've had your share of the arts, be sure to end with a sushi dinner. After all, what is a visit to Vancouver without sushi and a chance to taste the fresh salmon of the west coast? Samurai Sushi and Yamato Sushi along Davie Street are good value options. However, if you’re feeling more splurgey, Minami in Yaletown and Guu Original on Thurlow Street serve absolutely mouth-watering Japanese dishes with a modern flair.

Wind down your evening in the West End along Davie Street, the LGBT neighbourhood adorned with rainbow colored crosswalks, flags and bars. There are many bumping LBGT-friendly sports bars, restaurants and clubs with fair prices along this street. On a drag-themed night, you might even spot colorful characters walking around en-route to some sort of a party.    

Day Two

Outdoors in Vancouver

Day two of how to spend 72 hours in Vancouver is all about natural beauty.  We’ll be spending most of the day outdoors, so I hope the sun is out! If not, pack an umbrella and go with it! After all, braving the rain is an experience Vancouverites know all too well.

We start with breakfast at the popular Medina Café on Richards Street just off Robson, a placed that consistently serves tasty Mediterranean inspired brunch dishes with locally sourced ingredients for a fair price. If you can, come on a weekday and before 10AM as the line-ups can get as long as an hour after that! The lavender lattes and Belgian waffles are must-tries.

Once you’re filled with Mediterranean inspired cuisine, make your way over to Canada Place. This iconic complex houses was built to resemble a ship and hosts a convention centre, hotel and ferry terminal. Walk along the Canada Trail and soak in the Canadian history with the beautiful North Shore Mountains in the backdrop.

From there, walk east along Cordova Street and make your way over to Waterfront Station, where many familiar TV shows such as Fringe were filmed. Buy a day pass for under $10 CAD and take the SeaBus across the Burrard Inlet to Londsdale Quay in North Vancouver. Be sure to enjoy the ride and snap a few photos along the way!

North Vancouver Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

Afterwards, hop onto Bus #228 towards Lynn Valley and get off after a 30-minute ride, where you’re just a short walking distance away from the Lynn Canyon Park. Filled with tranquil hiking trails, green forests and of course the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, a scenic and fun walk not for the faint of heart!

Once you’re done, head back to the visitor’s center and order yourself a taxi, Uber (use promo code garyl960 for $5 off your next ride!) or Lyft (coming in December 2019 – about time) because there is no time to waste! Take the 20-minute ride to the base of Grouse Mountain, where you can buy tickets to go up the mountain on the gondola. 

Locals and people who have more time hike the Grouse Grind for fun and fitness, but in the interest of time and non-sweaty shirts, you’re going to pass on that this time. Enjoy a beaver tail pastry, also known as “the Canadian Doughnut” and wash it down with a beer at the top while admiring the view of the city from the top.

Ready for the next leg? Ride the gondola back down and hop onto the #236 bus back to Londsdale Quay, where you can backtrack via public transit and make your way back to the Vancouver Convention Centre beside Canada Place. This will take about an hour.

Vancouver Jack Poole Plaza

Once you’re back in the heart of downtown, rent a bicycle from any of the many shops along the seawall. They can be rented by the hour, by the afternoon or the whole day. Pedal down the seawall and snap a photo of Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza, which was lit for the 2010 Winter Olympics and on special occasions.

You are also now in a neighbourhood called Coal Harbour; an area full of overpriced, multi-million-dollar condos most ordinary people can’t afford! Besides the rain, Vancouverites love to complain about unaffordable housing! Just don’t bring it up in conversation unless you’re ready to hear a rant.

From here comes my favourite part of Vancouver – biking the seawall. Bike at your own pace along the seawall towards Stanley Park and stop at the many viewpoints along the way to admire the sea, mountain and forest views. Be sure to stop at the famous Pineapple Rock just before Third Beach to take a photo.

Vancouver Stanley Park Seawall

If you’ve timed it right, you should arrive at English Bay at the end of a one-hour to three-hour ride (depending on your pace) in the late afternoon or early evening. Grab an ice cream from Marble Slab, sit down at a park bench and soak in the spectacular West Coast sunset!

After sunset and a hard day’s sightseeing, reward yourself with a deliciously authentic bowl of Japanese ramen at critically acclaimed Marutama Ramen (be sure to order garlic chips). It’s so good that even celebrities such as Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) was seen eating there!   

Call it a night early at your hotel / hostel / Airbnb (If you’re new to the platform, click here to get $35 USD off your next stay!) and recharge, as tomorrow is another big day.

Day Three

Vancouver Mount Pleasant

Today is all about getting out of the “downtown bubble” trap that many tourists and visitors fall into by exploring other cool places and neighbourhoods outside of the core.

Start your day off in the Mount Pleasant neighbour along Main Street between East 5th and 16th Avenue. It’s considered a hip residential area filled with great coffee shops, boutique clothing stores and interesting urban graffiti perfect for colorful Instagram photos. Grab your morning java at Kafka’s which display artworks of local artists or 49th Parallel Café, a cozy hang-out with good pastries.

Once you’re awake and your legs are warmed up, hop on the 99 B-Line westbound towards UBC and get off on Granville Street, where you’ll proceed to Granville Island. The public markets are full of bakeries, food stands and cafes to grab breakfast or lunch.

Vancouver Granville Island

There are also numerous boutiques, shops and galleries to explore. On Sundays, street performers gather all over the place and enhance the vibe with their music and talents.  You can easily spend a few hours wandering around here.

Proceed to nearby Kitsolano, a laid-back residential area known for the huge saltwater pool and mountain views from Kits Beach, where local hangs out, read, walk their dogs and play beach volleyball on a nice day.

Most of the action is along the beachfront by Cornwall Avenue, or further uphill along West 4th Avenue. Popular restaurants here include The Naam for vegetarian food, Trattoria for family-style Italian food and The Eatery for innovative sushi rolls. The Local is also a great spot to post up for some people watching and craft beer.

If you have time to spare and as much of a geek as I am, the H.R MacMillan Space Centre and Planetarium is worth a visit. I’ve been told that the Vancouver Maritime Museum is also neat if you have interest in naval affairs, but I have never been and therefore can’t speak to it.

Vancouver Kitsolano

Once you’re done in Kits, walk over to West Broadway Avenue, where you can hop on the #99 B-Line bus towards the world renown University of British Colombia (UBC for short). The sprawling campus is nestled in the lush-green university endowment lands and is a mini-city in its own right with students and faculty staff from around the world.

Check out the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a 2.5-acre traditional Japanese garden with a teahouse. It is widely considered one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. If you’re curious about the First Nations people that inhabited the land long before the European settlers came along, spend some time at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. It's filled with treasures and artwork from the First Nations bands across the Pacific Northwest.

University of British Columbia

End your last night in Vancouver on a classy note and head over to Yaletown, where the trendy goes to see and be seen. It’s the part of town where it’s not uncommon to see Lamborghinis, Range Rovers and other high-end cars valet parked. Treat yourself to a roof-top steak dinner at the tried and true The Keg or if you’re feeling extra-fancy, at the trendy Elisa Steakhouse.

Grab one or a few nightcaps at Yaletown Brewing Company to wind down your night – congratulations, you’ve made it through three days of whirlwind sightseeing around Vancouver!

Bonus Trip Ideas

Vancouver Canucks

Catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game at Rogers Arena – nothing says Canada more than hockey, eh? At the time of writing, the team is mediocre and not a championship contender. This means that what was once a constantly sold-out event is now much more accessible and affordable as it’s still great times.

Cheer on the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place. The games are nowhere as skilled as they are in Europe or South America, but in terms of pure sporting atmosphere, it can be a lot of fun. Sit near the Southsiders (south side of the stadium) if you want a raucous experience full of heckling, chanting and flag waving.

Experience a bit of Asia by riding the Canada Line train to Richmond, a nearby suburb. It’s a municipality with a large Chinese population and infrastructure that caters to them. Whether it’s malls, restaurants or cafes, there are enough Chinese signs around to make you think you’ve teleported to Hong Kong.

Be sure to check out the Richmond Night Market for neat carnival games, delicious Asian snacks and interesting trinkets if you’re in town during the summer.

Conclusion

Vancouver at Night

If you followed the above recommended itinerary on what to do in Vancouver in 72 hours to a tee and maximized your short but eventful time here, I cheer you!

It is jam packed and requires some solid execution to pull off. If you didn’t get to all of it, no worries – all the more reason to visit again and to spend more time on your next go-around.

Whether you’re with friends on a west coast road trip, a couple on their honeymoon or holiday, or a family with kids in tow, Vancouver is a city with something for everyone.

Although it is not the cheapest city, Americans and Europeans will get to enjoy a solid discount with the current foreign exchange rates being what they are. Vancouver’s natural geographical beauty, international food scene and abundance of cool activities will ensure you have a great trip.

Think I've missed a spot that absolutely must be included?

Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time,
Gary

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