VANCOUVER TRAVEL GUIDE- SUMMER (WITH KIDS)
Back in the summer of last year we embarked on what possibly was our greatest adventure yet- a road trip around parts of the Pacific Northwest of the US. We started off in Vancouver, headed down to Seattle, then Portland, then Lake Tahoe, before finishing off in San Francisco for a few hours before flying back to London. We were away 17 nights in total and it was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life so far.
I’m finally getting round to writing up an itinerary and travel guide for each destination, then once I have finished that I will put together a planning and tips post too. Without further ado here is what we did with our time in Vancouver, British Columbia…
Without a doubt Vancouver is one of those places in the world we have always wanted to visit. In fact I’d go as far as to say it’s probably been on my top 10 wish list of all time. When we began planning where we were going to go for our epic adventure (we knew we wanted to go on a US road trip we just didn’t know where originally), Vancouver wasn’t on the list as I thought it would be too tricky to visit there then travel into the US. However with a little bit of planning and research, we realised we could fly into Vancouver and travel down the West coast of the US without severely denting our budget or causing us to drive too many miles. In fact it was cheaper to fly into Canada than some of the US destinations (as a side note here one day we WILL do a full Canadian road trip as it was just one of the best places we have ever been).
We decided to spend the longest amount of time in Vancouver as there was just so much we wanted to do and see while we were there, so we booked a hotel for five nights. In reality we only just slightly scratched the surface of all Vancouver has to offer.
WHERE WE STAYED
As we were travelling with our children we wanted to stay in a place that was accessible to all the places we wanted to visit, but that was also not right in the thick of all the nightlife or city craziness. We settled on the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. The hotel is nestled in the centre of the thriving downtown district, and features the iconic One Wall Centre, a landmark on the Vancouver cityscape. It’s a short distance from attractions like Stanley Park, Rogers Arena and Canada Place, as well as Yaletown and Robson Street. One thing that we often do on road trips is vary up the places we stay in order to help with our budget. As we were staying in Vancouver for five nights, we wanted to stay somewhere that was comfortable for our family of five.
The incredible view from our room as the sun was setting. This is one of my favourite photos.
The hotel was perfect for us and we got upgraded to a suite on arrival which was just amazing. We woke up to the most beautiful sunrises and views of the Vancouver skyline. It was in a fantastic location, just minutes from Stanley Park and also great for an accessible way out of the city (as a lot of the things we got up to weren’t actually in the city themselves).
I will be doing a detailed blog post once I have finished all the destination blog posts (similar to this Florida Road Trip Itinerary and Budget), outlining sample costs and budget for our trip, but the hotel in Vancouver was the most expensive hotel of our trip. There were a couple of reasons for us opting for a more expensive hotel while we were in Vancouver. Firstly it was because it was our first destination on the trip, meaning we wanted to be comfortable after our long flight. Secondly we wanted to be quite central as we were only hiring a car for a couple of days of our five day stay, and thirdly it was our longest stay in one destination at five nights.
We paid approximately $249 a night which works out currently at £146 approximately, therefore a total of £1245 plus local taxes for the five nights. However this will massively vary on what time of the year you are staying and how far in advance you book. We try to book hotels as far as we can in advance. If you use a site like booking.com then you can cancel free of charge usually up until a couple of days before you arrive, so if you are savvy you can watch the rates and rebook if they go cheaper or rebook somewhere else, which is something we tend to do a lot on trips like this.
In terms of spending money we try and budget for around £50 to £150 a day. Obviously this varies as some days we might be doing activities that cost more. As a family we enjoy being outdoors so we try and do as much ‘free’ activities as we can. Food wise, we tend to eat out once a day, as food can soon mount up your costs. Therefore we will eat snacky meals we have got from supermarkets etc, and only really eat out for one of our meals a day- it doesn’t matter which one. Like I mentioned I will talk more about budgets in my final post.
THINGS TO DO
We packed a lot into our five days in Vancouver and I wanted to share some of the best activities we found to do with our children (of course this is helpful even if you don’t have kids too).
SEA TO SKY GONDOLA
On our first day we visited the Sea to Sky Gondola, which actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our whole trip. Based in Squamish, about an hour from Vancouver, you could spend the entire day here. Because there was so much we wanted to do, we opted for the morning, but I wish we had managed to stay for longer. The first excitement of your visit is that you head up to the summit in a gondola, offering beautiful views of the surrounding area (a few days after we visited while we still on our road trip the gondola actually got seriously damaged by vandalism but I believe it is up and running again now- such a shame).
Once you are up at the top there is loads of things you can do. There are plenty of walks to enjoy, including two different loop walking trails with viewing platforms offering incredible views, the spectacular Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, numerous hiking trails, rock climbing, access trails to backcountry routes and much more. There’s a cafe up there, various little food carts, and even a kids playground.
The suspension bridge is incredible- but not for the faint hearted!
Look at this beautiful view as well- it was absolutely stunning.
We spent a few hours up there, just walking around, enjoying the view, playing on the kids playground and enjoying our first ever portion of poutine.
I highly recommend a visit- there is nothing like cool, crisp mountain air in your lungs.
Later in the afternoon on our first day, and all feeling a bit tired and jet lagged, we headed to Granville Island. The Granville Island neighbourhood sits just south of the downtown peninsula, right under the Granville Bridge. The main attraction is the Granville Island Public Market- full of market stalls selling fruit, veg, cheese, gifts and just about anything else you could think of. I didn’t take many photos while we were there, but you can check out my Vancouver video to see more. It’s also one of the city’s most important cultural districts with theatres, artisan workshops and craft studios.
There’s lots of spots to grab a bite to eat, whether that’s a pizza slice in the market itself, or one of the many spots outside in the surrounding buildings.
You can get sit and take in the views of the Vancouver skyline from one of the many benches and seating areas outside.
Also make sure you grab an ice cream from Popina Canteen, it’s called a puffcream- have you ever seen anything more tasty looking? We shared one between five because they were massive!
BIKE THE CITY SEAWALL
One must do is to bike the Seawall. Vancouver has the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. The 28 km Seaside Greenway is an uninterrupted pathway, including the Stanley Park Seawall, that extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park. Perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog, it is the most popular recreational spot in the city. We biked the 9km Stanley Park section- an absolutely glorious cycle in the sunshine. It says it takes an hour to cycle, but with three kids and wanting to stop off at every opportunity, I’d factor in a whole morning.
We hired bikes, trailers, and helmets from Yes Cycle as they were located near our hotel.
Also while you are there take a dip in one of the city’s outdoor pools. Located in Stanley Park near where we were cycling, Second Beach Pool is the perfect place to spend afternoon. It’s basic, but is great fun for the kids, cheap for admission, and has views of English Bay. We also stopped off to see the totem poles as well, which are the most visited attraction in the whole of Vancouver.
It really was one of the highlights of our trip cycling round this beautiful city park. Stanley Park has so much going on and you can spend hours there.
CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE
One must see for all of us before we arrived in Vancouver was The Capilano Suspension Bridge. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a simple suspension bridge crossing the Capilano River in the District of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The current bridge is 140 metres long and 70 metres above the river. However the Suspension Bridge Park has other things going on including a cliff walk, a tree top adventure, a restaurant, cafe, and lots of educational facilities too.
I will say that while the bridge is certainly impressive, it wasn’t incredible. I would still recommend a visit, but it is quite expensive to get in, and if you only really want to see the bridge then it’s probably not worth it. At the time of writing this it was $53.95 for an adult ticket and $16.95 for a child (kids under 6 are free), although there are always offers on if you search around too. If you want to spend the morning there taking advantage of the other parts of the park then possibly so. We arrived as it opened (one advantage of jet lag!) and it was still busy. You see these amazing photos on instagram of the bridge empty with just one person on it, but the reality is that isn’t the case, especially if you go in peak hours. The bridge was packed full of people by the time we left. We actually preferred the Cliff Walk to the bridge itself.
Still it was beautiful and we all enjoyed ourselves, but if you are paying just to see the suspension bridge it would be better to perhaps find a different bridge instead (there are a few in the Vancouver surrounding area).
The same day that we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge we also visited Grouse Mountain. Grouse Mountain is a big skiing destination in the winter but it is also good fun in the summer too. The main route up the mountain is by the Skyride, which offers fantastic views of the beautiful scenery. The cost for the Skyride trip up Grouse Mountain when not skiing is approximately $59 for adults, $52 for seniors (ages 65+), $32 for children (ages 5-16) and $159 for a family of four. It’s quite expensive, but again there is lots to see and do at the top.
Just look at the views you will experience from the Skyride- just absolutely stunning.
Once at the top there is hiking, chairlift rides, a movie theatre showing educational films, some grizzly bears (behind an enclosure although I am sure there are some wild ones lurking up there too!), and a rather strange but amusing lumberjack show (which is well worth a watch). More than anything though, the views are phenomenal so for that reason alone it is worth a trip.
A DAY TRIP TO WHISTLER
We decided one of the days to take a day trip out to Whistler, around 2 hours North of Vancouver, and my goodness are we glad we did. We had the most incredible time there. Whistler is one of the largest ski resorts in North America, but besides skiing and snowboarding, the area offers a huge range of activities in the summer. The hub of Whistler is a compact, chalet-style pedestrian village at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains- it’s beautiful and there are loads of restaurants, cafes and shops there.
We spent the morning walking around and taking in the gorgeous views, before it was time to do something that had been on all of our bucket lists- ziplining! Jon was happy to sit it out in favour of taking our three year old (who was too small to participate) on a mountain bike around one of the lakes (he hired a bike and trailer from one of the shops in Whistler village). Therefore it was myself and our girls aged 8 and 6 at the time who were to take on the mighty ziplines of Whistler.
We booked our ziplining tickets with Ziptrek Ecotours who I can thoroughly recommend. They offer a variety of different ziplines, ranging on a beginner one to the intense and crazy Sasquatch- which is 1 huge zipline over 2km long. It looked absolutely immense, but the girls were a bit young. That said we did the Bear Tour, which combined four different ziplines with some tree top walking and learning about the local environment and sustainability. It was really interesting and definitely still quite a thrill. I didn’t take many photos on the tour, but I did put together a tiny video here so you get the idea of the tour (you can watch my full Vancouver video for more ziplining action!)
I often think some of the best memories end up being the most spontaneous ones. We decided to google a lake to go and do some wild swimming/sunbathing, but we also didn’t want one that we needed to go on a proper hike to get to (after all we had a three year old with us!). We happened to google lakes nearby and found Green Lake, a few miles away from Whistler.
Look at the snow on the mountains in the background- even though it was August.
It was a perfect spot to spend the remainder of the afternoon. We lay out our towels on a small dock, where there were just a couple of other people, and we relaxed in the sunshine. The lake was absolutely freezing, but those of us who dared had a little paddle. It was such a lovely end to the day.
JUST STROLL AROUND THE CITY
Take some time to stroll around the city. Just walk with no real intention and see where you end up- those are some of my favourite days when exploring. As we were walking we came across the Gastown Steam Clock. Built in 1977, this well-known, antique-style clock is powered by steam & whistles to tell the time. I mean it’s only a clock, nothing hugely exciting unless clocks float your boat, but still worth a photo as you are passing.
Also in my humble opinion you can’t leave Vancouver without trying Poutine at least once (I had it a few times over the space of the five days). Poutine is actually a a dish associated with the Canadian province of Quebec, since that is is where it originated. But Vancouver still serves it up in many places. Poutine is french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. We also had ours with some different and crazy toppings, including pulled pork. If you fancy some good authentic Poutine, head to Fritz European Fry House, a place that looks very unremarkable from the outside (it’s more fast food, there’s only a couple of tables inside), but that serves up the tastiest and most well regarded poutine in Vancouver.
And that is it! Our wonderful five days in Vancouver. Like I said right at the start, it was probably one of our favourite places we have ever been, and we are desperate to go back and do a full Canadian road trip one day. I’ve loved reliving it through writing this post and editing these photos.
Here’s the video that I made of our time in Vancouver as that will give lots more detail of the places we visited…
We then headed to Seattle for two nights…. blog post coming soon 🙂