Travel Itinerary for 3-5 Days in Vancouver

In just a few days, you can experience the best of Vancouver, combining outdoor activities, cultural explorations, and time for strolling, snacking, and sipping. Vancouver’s public transit system makes it easy to get around without a car; this 3- to 5-day Vancouver itinerary includes tips for the most convenient transit options.

view from Vancouver Lookout of the downtown skyscrapers and the waterfront
Orient yourself to the city with the 360 view from Vancouver Lookout. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

3 Days in Vancouver

Day 1: Downtown and Granville Island

Get your first glance of the city and orient yourself with the 360-degree view from the observation platform at the Vancouver Lookout downtown. Save your ticket to return later for the nighttime views.

Catch bus 50 on Granville Street to Granville Island. Browse the stalls and stop for a morning snack in the Granville Island Public Market, before checking out the galleries and shops in the Net Loft, on Railspur Alley, and throughout the island. Don’t miss the museum-quality aboriginal art at the Eagle Spirit Gallery.

For lunch, return to the Public Market or sit down for a more leisurely meal, highlighting Canadian products, at Edible Canada Bistro.

To start your afternoon on an active note, rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard at Ecomarine Paddlesports Centre and spend an hour paddling around the island. Back on land, refresh yourself with a sake sampling at the Artisan Sake Maker or a craft cocktail made from the small-batch spirits at Liberty Distilling before catching the bus back downtown.

Your next stop is the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, which shows works by a noted First Nations artist. Nearby, you can wander the exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery, making sure to see paintings by B.C.’s renowned Emily Carr.

In the late afternoon, rent a bike and take a leisurely ride along the Seawall in Stanley Park, stopping to see the totem poles at Brockton Point, then pedal past landmark Siwash Rock. Pause to rest at English Bay Beach, which is also one of Vancouver’s best spots to watch the sun set over the ocean. Across the street from the beach, smile at A-maze-ing Laughter, a public art piece comprising 14 grinning bronze figures.

Have dinner downtown, perhaps the imaginative contemporary fare at Royal Dinette or a creative pizza at Nightingale, then return to the Vancouver Lookout to gaze over the city’s twinkling lights.

a pond in front of a traditional Chinese building
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was the first authentic Ming Dynasty garden built outside of China. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Day 2: UBC, Gastown, and Chinatown

Enjoy breakfast at Forage or Medina Café before exploring more of the city’s cultural highlights.

From Granville Street, catch bus 4 or 14 west to the University of British Columbia and the Museum of Anthropology. This first-rate museum has a particularly strong collection of First Nations art, including an awe-inspiring gallery of totem poles. After exploring the museum, take a walk through the serene Nitobe Japanese Garden nearby.

When you’re finished on campus, take bus 4 back toward Kitsilano for lunch on West 4th Avenue: Thai food at Maenam or French bistro fare at Au Comptoir. Check out the 4th Avenue shops before stopping for dessert at Beaucoup Bakery & Café or a shot of rich hot chocolate from Chocolate Arts.

Bus 4 or 7 will take you from Kits to Gastown. Walk along Water Street, watch the Gastown Steam Clock toot its steam whistle, and stop into several of the First Nations art galleries, like Hill’s Native Art.

Continue into Chinatown for a late-afternoon tour of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the only authentic Ming Dynasty garden outside China.

Stay in Chinatown for dinner. Try the unusual combination of Italian and Japanese elements at speakeasy-style Kissa Tanto or share modern Canadian plates at Juniper Kitchen & Bar. After your meal, have a drink at the Keefer Bar, or take a cab back downtown for a nightcap at Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar or elegant Prohibition Lounge.

a woman stands atop Grouse Mountain looking out at Vancouver
Head up to Grouse Mountain on a clear day for incredible views. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Day 3: The North Shore

Today, you’re exploring the mountains and rainforests on Vancouver’s North Shore. Catch the free shuttle from Canada Place to Grouse Mountain. If you’re up for a challenge, walk up the Grouse Grind, a trail nicknamed “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.” But there’s no shame in taking the Skyride; it’s North America’s largest tram system. At the top, laugh at the lumberjack show, explore the wildlife refuge, and go for a short hike. The views are spectacular on a clear day.

Come down the mountain, and at the Grouse entrance, catch bus 236 to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This 450-foot (137-meter) span swings over a canyon high above the Capilano River. If you’re feeling brave, follow the Cliffwalk, a series of boardwalks cantilevered over the rushing river. Do you dare stand on the glass platform and look down (way down!)?

Get back on bus 236 to Lonsdale Quay. Stop for a drink, with views of the city skyline, at Pier 7 Restaurant & Bar, a short walk from the quay. Then take the SeaBus across the Burrard Inlet to Waterfront Station downtown.

Have dinner in Gastown, where L’Abbatoir serves French-accented west coast fare on the site of Vancouver’s first jail or stylish Chambar combines flavors of North Africa and Belgium with local ingredients.

With More Time

front view of the International Buddhist Temple in Vancouver's Richmond neighborhood
Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Day 4: Richmond

Ride the Canada Line to spend a day in Vancouver’s “new Chinatown” in the city of Richmond. First up: dim sum in the Golden Village along No. 3 Road. At Golden Paramount Seafood Restaurant, choose from a mix of traditional and modern Hong Kong-style plates, or at Su Hang Restaurant, try Shanghai-style dim sum.

After you’ve eaten, catch bus 403 southbound along No. 3 Road to the International Buddhist Temple, one of the largest Chinese Buddhist temples in North America. Visitors are welcome to tour the gardens and the peaceful temple complex.

From the temple, head to the village of Steveston, an active fishing port where the Asian communities have historic roots. Visiting the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site or the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site will introduce you to the area’s multicultural history. Walk along the wharf, where fishing boats sell their fresh catch. Pajo’s on the pier makes first-rate fish–and-chips.

Bus 402, 407, or 410 will take you back to the Golden Village, where you can browse the Asian shops at Aberdeen Centre.

If you’re in town on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday between mid-May and mid-October, take the Canada Line to Bridgeport Station for the Richmond Night Market. Graze your way through this Asian-style festival of street foods from China, Taiwan, Japan, and more. Return downtown on the Canada Line.

a fountain flows in the center of a pond
Take a morning stroll through the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Day 5: Cambie Corridor and East Vancouver

From downtown, take bus 17 to VanDusen Botanical Garden and spend your morning strolling among the blossoms. When you’re ready to eat, hop on a northbound bus 17 for lunch at Salmon n’ Bannock, a modern aboriginal bistro.

Continue east on Broadway to the Cambie Corridor to browse the neighborhood’s boutiques. There’s a cluster of shops near Main and Broadway, and more clothing and accessories purveyors on Main between 20th and 30th Avenues (if you don’t want to walk, bus 3 can take you along Main Street).

When you’re done shopping, it’s time for a beer crawl to try the city’s craft breweries. Both 33 Acres Brewing and Brassneck Brewery are a short walk from the intersection of Broadway and Main.

For a more serious exploration of Vancouver’s microbrewery scene, head for the Commercial Drive and East Village neighborhoods. Parallel 49 Brewing Company has a large tasting room that’s a popular neighborhood gathering spot. To sample some spirits, visit Odd Society Spirits, a small-batch distillery in a former motorcycle garage. To get here from Broadway and Main, take bus 99 eastbound on Broadway to Commercial Drive, then change to bus 20 going north and get off on Hastings Street.

When you’ve tasted your fill, bus 4 or 7 (on Powell St.) or bus 14 or 16 (on Hastings St.) will bring you back downtown for dinner at lively Guu Garden (a Japanese izakaya) or at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar for local seafood in a stylish setting.

Carolyn B. Heller

About the Author

A travel writer based in Vancouver, Canada, Carolyn B. Heller has celebrated spring in the Canadian Arctic, swapped fairy tales with a Druze family in the Golan Heights, studied Spanish in Ecuador and Costa Rica, and road tripped throughout North America. She writes about cultural, culinary, and offbeat adventures for Travel + Leisure, Atlas Obscura, Verge Magazine, Explore, The Takeout, Roads & KingdomsMontecristo, Canadian Traveller, and many other publications. And she’s the author of three Moon guidebooks: Moon Vancouver, Moon Toronto and Ontario, and Moon Vancouver and Canadian Rockies Road Trip.

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