Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, no matter what time of year you decide to visit. If you’re thinking about vacationing in Gastown, Vancouver’s national historic district, you’ll want to prepare an itinerary for your first day in the city. Use the following guide to decide what to do, where to eat, where to stay, and how to arrive and depart.

Early Morning: Start With the Most Important Meal of the Day

You’ll need plenty of fuel to keep up with your itinerary in Vancouver, so skip breakfast at your hotel and find a local eatery. First, consider Yolks. As its name implies, it specializes in egg-based dishes, but this popular breakfast joint serves a diverse menu that injointes chicken and waffles, French toast, beignets, and organic oatmeal. Drink a bottomless cup of coffee or indulge in a delicious mimosa.

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for the best waffles in the city, try the Medina Cafe. It’s like a cozy coffee shop and quirky restaurant wrapped up into one neat package, and you’ll thank yourself for loading up on caffeine and sustenance. The restaurant serves breakfast and brunch, so feel free to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely meal of your choice before you start your day’s itinerary.

One of the most popular breakfast joints in Vancouver is the Twisted Fork Bistro, which often has long waits if you don’t make a reservation. Keep in mind that the restaurant doesn’t seat parties until everyone arrives, so if you’re traveling with a group, be sure you all arrive at the same time.

Stanley Park
Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Midmorning: Take a Long Walk Through Stanley Park

Most large cities have several open green spaces, but Stanley Park in Vancouver is one of the most beautiful in the world. It sits along the waterfront and features several miles of well-defined walking and jogging trails. You’re likely to see birds, rabbits, raccoons, and other native fauna during your trek through this inner-city wilderness, though you can stick to the common areas if you wish.

Throughout Stanley Park there are several places to play games, admire outdoor art, ride bikes, and lounge in the sand. If you didn’t follow up on any of the above suggestions for your breakfast, you’ll find a few cafes, restaurants, kiosks, and food trucks scattered throughout the park, so you’ll be able to grab a bite or a to-go cup of coffee. If you want to see more of the park in a short period of time, take advantage of bike rental companies and bike-sharing programs, both of which let you see the area on two wheels for just a few dollars.

Noon: Relax and Unwind at the Blue Water Cafe

After you’ve gotten some exercise at Stanley Park, stop for lunch at the Blue Water Cafe. It’s a famed seafood joint that plates up many kinds of native fish and other delicious dishes. You’ll get the full flavor of British Columbia on the menu, which includes clams, scallops, crab, and shrimp cocktail. For your entree, try the sablefish or Ling cod. If you’re not a fan of fish, you might get the beef tenderloin or the free-range chicken.

Don’t leave your table after you finish the main course, though, because the Blue Water Cafe specializes in delicious desserts. Indulge in apple toffee pudding, three scoops of fresh sorbet, or a slice of dark chocolate cake. You can also get a few goodies to go if you’re staying at a hotel with a refrigerator.

Afternoon: Absorb Some Culture at the Museum of Anthropology

The Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia offers several buildings open to the public, but the Museum of Anthropology is perhaps the most interesting. You’ll get a sense of Vancouver’s rich history and inhabitants who were there long before recorded history.

Most of the museum’s exhibits are traveling, so you can always see something new when you visit. Ancient artwork, pottery, and other exhibits tell stories about the people who occupied Vancouver hundreds and even thousands of years ago. You can also listen to lectures about Vancouver’s anthropological beginnings and about its Native residents. During the summer, the venue often hosts a family weekend, which attracts parents with kids as well as adult singles and couples.

Chinatown
Chinatown in Vancouver.

Late Afternoon: Pick Up a Few Souvenirs in Chinatown

Once you’re finished touring the Museum of Anthropology, head to Chinatown, which is one of the most diverse and engaging neighborhoods in the entire city. It’s the perfect place to indulge in an hour or so of retail therapy, especially if you want a few souvenirs for yourself and the folks back home.

Often, there are festivals in Chinatown that celebrate various aspects of the Chinese culture, so don’t miss these if you visit during one. Additionally, if your stomach can wait, consider staying until after the sun sets. The streets light up with colorful paper lanterns, and the night market features some of the best buys you’ll find on the island. The night market lasts from May through September, and you can find everything from home decor to electronics.

Dinner Time

Several local restaurants will deliver an excellent meal after a long day of sightseeing. Consider the Chambar Restaurant if you’re looking for a casual, laid-back meal. This restaurant serves comfort food in spades, and the bar is always fully stocked with craft beers, cocktail mixers, and bottles of wine.  If you get here early, consider participating in happy hour, which includes inexpensive beverages as well as appetizers to whet your appetite.

For the meal itself, Chambar Restaurant offers many great dishes. A few local favorites include the mussels in white wine and cream sauce, the ratatouille, and the mixed green salad with apple cider vinaigrette dressing. For dessert, try the chocolate mousse. It’s a fresh, light way to end your meal.

When you’re in the mood for Asian fusion cuisine, you can’t go wrong with the Miku Restaurant, which you’ll find on the Vancouver waterfront. Small portions allow you to try multiple things at once, whether you’re interested in sushi or something a little more cooked. There’s a fully-stocked bar as well as a to-go menu and a smattering of dessert options.

If you feel like a traditional French meal, stop at L’Abattoir. It’s a little on the pricey side, but you’ll taste authentic French cuisine in a romantic, intimate environment. Try an exotic dish, such as the duck glazed with long pepper honey, and don’t forget to order a bottle of French wine for the table.

Canada Place
Canada Place in Vancouver.

After Dark: Step Back in Time at The Roxy Cabaret

You never quite know what you’re going to get at The Roxy. Some nights, you’ll hear live music from native Vancouver bands; on others, you’ll get to enjoy a D.J.’s skills. The Roxy often hosts theme nights, so you can dress up based on a particular era or a specific theme, to enjoy yourself even further.

While it’s undeniably hip, it’s also comfortable and casual, so you’ll never feel as though you don’t fit in. Tourists mix easily with locals here, so you might meet some new friends, and there’s always a familiar song if you feel like hitting the dance floor. On Sundays, you can usually expect country and western music, so bring your cowboy boots, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays offer $5 covers and fewer crowds.

Where to Stay

When you’re looking for a place to stay in Vancouver, you have lots of choices. Hotels tend toward the pricey end of the spectrum, so save your pennies before you leave for vacation. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, for instance, has rates starting at around $400 per night. The hotel offers close proximity to the Vancouver Art Gallery and a few other favorite destinations. Plus, you’ll enjoy luxurious linens, a well-stocked minibar, and premium channels on your flat-screen television.

You might also consider staying at the Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver. It’s a little more modern than the Fairmont, with lots of open spaces, clean-lined furniture, and minimal decor. Most rooms offer a balcony, so you can sit outside and enjoy the lights from the city when you return from a wild night at The Roxy Cabaret. There’s also an on-site restaurant and bar as well as workout and business facilities.

Alternatively, consider booking your room at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. It’s close to the financial district, which might make it seem ideal for business travelers, but it’s also close to tourist attractions for people on vacation. The mirrored window walls and gorgeous panoramic views make this one of the most sought-after hotels in the entire city. Plus, there’s an indoor pool, so you can take a dip no matter the time of year.

If you don’t want to blow your whole budget on lodging, try one of Vancouver’s hostels. The Samesun Vancouver, for instance, is designed for backpackers and younger tourists. You get free breakfast, free wireless internet, and an on-site restaurant. The dorm-style rooms make getting to know other travelers easy, and you’ll feel like you’re back in college with the bunk beds and shared bathrooms. Best of all, rates can start as low as $40 per night, depending on the season.

Burrard Bridge
Burrard Bridge in Vancouver.

Landmarks

Stanley Park, as mentioned above, is one of Vancouver’s treasures, and it’s also a designated historical site. Some of the artwork and landmarks within the park have existed for many years, and you’ll get a keen sense of Canadian culture from a stroll through the green space.

The Marine Building is one of the most famous landmarks in Vancouver. Its art deco architecture and underwater art will make you feel as though you’ve stepped under the ocean. There’s also the Hollow Tree in the West End, which has stood for more than 700 years. It’s the perfect spot for a photo op or to reflect on the beauty of nature.

If you’re looking for a gorgeous view as well as an enticing landmark, walk across the Burrard Bridge. Try to visit during the early afternoon on a weekday to avoid too much traffic and noise. You don’t want to walk the bridge in the early morning because of commuters.

Head to English Bay Beach to see the famed Ilanaaq Inukshuk. You’ll find many inukshuks throughout Canada, but this is one of the largest and most detailed. An inukshuk is a cairn made to resemble a human being. The crude form of statuary has become an iconic part of Canada’s cultural identity.

Finally, don’t leave Vancouver without visiting the Capilano suspension bridge. It stretches for 140 meters over the Capilano River, and you’ll find yourself 70 meters above the water with gorgeous views on all sides. Pause in the center to take photographs, of both the surrounding scenery and of the other people who are crossing it from either side. The suspension bridge moves, so it might create some anxiety in people who are afraid of heights, but it’s worth confronting your fears.

Airports

Vancouver International Airport is the second largest airport in the country (behind Toronto) and will likely serve as your point of arrival and departure. It offers several restaurants, boutiques, shops, and service businesses within the building, both before you arrive at the security lines and after you enter the terminals.

The airport has several premium lounges that guests are free to use. Tap into the airport’s WiFi or catch a few minutes of sleep before your flight is called. There’s a Starbucks as well as several other coffee shops if you need a caffeine jolt, and you can also grab a smoothie at Booster Juice if you feel the need for some fruits in your diet. Believe it or not, there’s even an on-site spa.

Are you ready for your Vancouver adventure? Start packing your bags and getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime. If you’re staying longer than a day or two, make sure to create your own itinerary so you don’t miss any of the top attractions on your list. Of course, you can always return another day.