Last month, I spent a weekend exploring Canada with my husband and a couple of friends. Originally, we wanted to visit Banff but since we needed more than 3 days to explore the national parks there, Vancouver was the easier choice for us. A weekend is definitely not enough to see everything but with some careful planning, we were able to get the most out of our three days in the city.
I’ve never been to Canada before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For some reason, being in Vancouver didn’t seem like I was out of the country. It reminded me a lot of Seattle; scenic, trendy and diverse. Like Seattle, what I love the most about Vancouver is that it’s teeming with outdoor activities. And the best part? Most of the popular hiking trails are only 1-2 hours away. If you’re like us and don’t really take relaxing vacations, then this guide is for you.
Things to know before you visit:
- Getting around – Public transportation is available by Skytrain, buses or ferry. Uber or Lyft are not available in Vancouver.
- Currency – Canadian Dollar. We didn’t really need to exchange currency because credit cards are widely accepted in the city.
- Best time to go – I recommend visiting during Spring or Fall. We went around mid-July and it was really hot and crowded (understandably).
- Driving in Vancouver – If you plan on driving to Vancouver here are some additional must know’s:
- Gas is kinda pricy and so is parking.
- Speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour.
- Biking is popular in the city. Be aware of bike lanes.
- There are no freeways or large highways in Vancouver. Which means there will be a lot of street driving. Street driving = lots of traffic lights!
- Blinking green lights exist at pedestrian controlled intersections. Drive through cautiously.
- If you’re planning to drive to Vancouver from Seattle like us, make sure you leave early in the morning. Crossing the border can take some time.
Where to Stay:
Since we visited during peak season, we decided to book an Airbnb to save on costs. Most of the hotels we looked at were crazy expensive so it was considerably cheaper to rent a house for 4 people. We stayed in New Westminster, which was still kinda far from the downtown area so I suggest looking somewhere in the highlighted area from the map below. Like I mentioned earlier, Vancouver doesn’t really have any freeways so if you plan on staying outside of the highlighted area, it might take sometime to get to downtown especially if you don’t have a rental car.
Where to Eat :
- Go Fish Ocean Emporium (Granville Island) – the lines are loooong and rightfully so. Their fish and chips are the bomb!
- Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (Robson Street)- one of the best ramens I’ve tasted. Make sure you order the kara miso ramen.
- Saku (Robson Street) – if you love Japanese food then you should eat at Saku. I love their katsu sets. They serve it with unlimited rice, salad and soup.
- Nero Belgian Waffle Bar (Robson Street) – we got the Liege and Bresilienne waffles. Both were absolutely delicious!
- Purebread – wide selection of delectable baked goods. Go for your carb and sugar fix!
- Rain or Shine Ice Cream – famous for their malted milk chocolate honeycomb, honey lavender and coffee toffee flavors.
- Medina Cafe – one of the trendiest brunch spots in Vancouver. Try the fricassee and lamb meatballs.
- Revolver Coffee – do a taste test and order the espresso flight: 2 different coffees each served 2 different ways.
Cod and chips (served with coleslaw, pomme frites and condiments) + Grilled salmon tacos at Go Fish Ocean Emporium
Rosu Katsu Set at Saku. Love the presentation
Katsu Nabe and the cute interior at Saku
Waffles at Nero Belgian Waffle Bar
Shoyu Ramen and Kara Miso Ramen at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
Our first stop is the famed Granville Island, Vancouver’s premier cultural hub. Attracting millions of visitors each year, Granville Island is home to several shopping boutiques, a public market, numerous fine art galleries and an extensive marina. Before grabbing something to eat, we explored the indoor public market. It was barely noon and the place was already buzzing with locals and tourists alike. Here you will find several food stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, cakes and pastries. There were also local artisans showcasing a variety of their work, ranging from oils and candles to leather goods and artworks. After checking out most of the shops, we finally headed to Go Fish Ocean Emporium for lunch, located just outside the public market along the Island Park Walk. The wait time was around 45-50 min. Thank goodness it was worth the wait. The cod and chips were so good!
- Granville Public Market: open 7 days a week, 9 am till 7 pm.
- Go Fish Ocean Emporium: open Tuesday to Sunday; Tuesday to Friday (11:30 am till 7 pm) & Saturday and Sunday (12 pm till 7 pm).
In the afternoon, we met up with one of my good friends, Melissa (who I met on Instagram) and her bf Tom for a sunset bike ride at the Seawall. At first I thought we were just going on a casual bike ride but it turned out to be really tiring. My calves were burning! It took us about 2 hours (including several stops) to do the whole 6-mile bike trail that loops around Stanley Park. Some of the must see’s along the way are: Lions Gate Bridge, Siwash Rock, Brockton Point Lighthouse, Totem poles and Third Beach. Since the Seawall is the most popular recreational spot in the city, we were worried it might be too crowded at 6 pm. Surprisingly, it was not! Make sure to follow the rules posted along the way and to always wear your bike helmet.
For dinner, we ate at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, located just a few blocks away from Spokes. If you love spicy ramen, make sure you order the kara miso ramen.
- Spokes Bicycle Rentals: open 7 days a week, 8 am till 8:30 pm. We rented 1 speed cruisers for 2 hours ($17.14 CAD).
- Hokkaido Ramen Santouka: open 7 days a week, 11:00 am till 11:00 pm.
The next day, we woke up early to drive up north towards Pemberton. It’s been one of my goals to hike the entire trail for Joffre Lakes so I made sure we had enough time to reach the third lake. From our Airbnb, it took us about 3 hrs to reach the trailhead. We underestimated how popular this hike was because it was already busy and packed at 9 am. I highly suggest going on a weekday and maybe staying in Pemberton or Whistler if you plan on doing this hike without the crowds. Or you could also wait till the summer season is over and go around fall.
Good to know:
- Difficulty: Intermediate
- Trail: 6.8 miles/11 km roundtrip
- Time: 4-5 hours depending on your ability and amount of stops you take
- Entrance fee: Free
- Facilities: Pit toilets are available at the trailhead and at Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes
- What to bring? Comfortable hiking/running shoes, drinking water, sunscreen, bug spray, food/snacks and camera.
From the parking lot, it’s about a 5-10 min walk to get to the Lower Lake. Right then and there, we were blown away by the beautiful scenery. With Matier Glacier (where Upper Lake is located) peaking behind the tree-covered mountains, we got a quick preview of what’s to come. Make sure you use that bug spray because the bugs here are as fierce as Beyonce! If you’re able to make the hike towards the next lake, do it! Don’t just stop here because the Middle Lake has even better views.
The hike towards Middle Lake was quite the workout. I love to hike but it’s been awhile since I’ve done one so it definitely kicked my butt! Aside from a few flat areas the trail is mostly uphill. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got to the Middle Lake. It took us about 2 hours to get there. Was it worth the struggle? Well, I mean check out this view and tell me if this isn’t one of the most gorgeous lakes you’ve seen? The turquoise water was so stunning and that view of the glacier behind it made it even more picturesque! But don’t be fooled by the pics I took because most of the people finish their hike here so this area is extremely busy and crowded. The line to take a picture on that log alone was really long so we decided to forgo and move on.
After soaking in the views, we made our final push towards Upper Lake. The distance from Middle and Upper Lake is relatively shorter which delighted our aching feet. It only took us about 30 min to reach Upper Lake. The lake itself is stunning but the scenery leading up to it wasn’t too bad. We enjoyed going through a forest and seeing the beautiful, cascading Holloway Falls.
We refueled with some food and drinks and chatted for awhile before heading back to the trailhead. It was much faster going back down but it did take a toll on our knees especially on certain dirt areas on the trail. As busy as Joffre Lakes was, I truly enjoyed our time here. It was a nice change of scenery especially coming from Las Vegas where we don’t often get this kind of views.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
On our last day in Vancouver, we decided to check out the instagram famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, located just 15 min from Downtown Vancouver. We got there right when they opened at 8 am and there were already more than a handful of people in line. I don’t know how people were able to get pictures without anyone in their shots because right after paying our tickets, we ran towards the suspension bridge to get some photos and we never got the opportunity to take any because it was constantly busy. 🙁 The bridge is 450 feet long and towers 230 feet above the Capilano River. Originally, the bridge was the only attraction in the park. Later on, they started building additional attractions around the bridge which includes treetops adventure, cliffwalk and living forest. The park isn’t particularly huge so we were able to go through the whole park in 2-3 hrs. If the price is a bit steep for you, a great alternative would be visiting the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge instead (free entrance).
- Capilano Suspension Bridge: $46.95 (Adults)
What do you think? Would you visit Vancouver for the weekend?
Additional places to see:
- Garibaldi Lake
- Lindeman Lake
- Sky to Sea Gondola
- Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
- Cascade Falls
- Shannon Falls
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Heading to Vancouver? Pin this weekend guide!