Not that the city needs more to boost its ego, but Vancouver is gorgeous. It's surrounded by water and mountains, filled with forests, and garnished with glittering, sky-stretching towers. The downtown core is full of life, and the locals take full advantage. Sure, like any other city there are many touristy things to do, but we've pulled together some inside information to help you bypass the mundane and experience the exceptional. From what to do and where to eat to what to pack and where to stay, consider this your guide to the real Vancouver.
>> Psst... we're giving away three awesome Herschel bags for your trip at the bottom of the article!
What to do
Vancouver is a tricky city when it comes to what to do. Not because there aren't ample options, but because of the famously fickle weather. Luckily, we've got a few top picks that will keep you busy rain, snow, or shine.
Storm the Seawall
Even if it's totally stereotypical, a walk around Vancouver's stunning seawall is absolutely necessary. A favorite for literally every local, it's the world's longest uninterrupted waterfront path and stretches from Coal Harbour to Kits Beach. If it's cold, grab a hot coffee in Yaletown at Bella Gelateria and walk west to English Bay where you can snack at Cactus Club's beachfront location, or if it's warm rent a bike and take to the gorgeous greenery of Stanley Park.
Browse boutiques in Gastown
Yes, we all know Robson as the most recommended shopping street, and it is if you like chain stores. While the downtown stretch is ripe with ZARA's, Forever 21's, and Sephora's, it's Gastown where you'll find incredible one-of-a-kind boutiques. Start at one western end of Water Street and make your way through numerous shops selling clothing, cards, cigars, and more. Bonus: you'll pass by the iconic Gastown steam clock, though not many locals can tell you what's so special about it.
Get into the Art Galleries
Similar to shopping, you're likely to only hear of one art gallery to visit in Vancouver: VPAG (Vancouver Public Art Gallery). Yes, it's great, but considering the disruptive construction around the building at present, why not take to Chinatown instead to visit some quirky, kitschy galleries? We suggest popping by The Rennie Collection and Centre A, then following up Main Street into Mount Pleasant where you can browse the crazy-cool Hot Art Wet City.
Where to eat
Where you should eat is probably the hardest question for any local Vancouverite to answer. A city that truly calls to foodies, Asian fare is at the forefront, with everything else falling closely behind.
Belgian Brunch at Chambar
More likely than not, you can't recall the last time you had Belgian food. No, it's not Vancouver's specialty, but it is Chambar's and they do it damn good. While every meal of the day here is spot on, definitely pen it in as your brunch spot. Sizzling skillets serve fried eggs, barbecued bacon, curried orzo, and applewood-smoked cheddar, while their popular waffles are a sweet treat to keep on the side. Other brunch notables include Cafe Medina and Jam, which by the way is literally right next to Chambar.
Stylish sushi at Minami
Ah yes — sushi. Even the toughest critics will argue that Vancouver's sushi scene rivals Japan's, and you certainly can't get it cheaper anywhere else. And while there are plenty of family-run stops with rolls for $2.50, Minami is where you go for unprecedented quality and presentation. Situated on a stylish side street in Yaletown, we recommend you try the classic Aburi sushi.
Okay, so maybe you want something cheap, fun, and local. That, my friends, is Gringos. Tucked into a tiny side street (Blood Alley) among Gastown's hipster-esque club scene, the itty-bitty bar serves tacos, chips and dip, and colorful bucket drinks garnished with sour gummy worms. You can get a totally delicious meal here for less than $10, and as an added bonus, they're open late seven days a week.
Where to drink
Typically speaking, Vancouverites are known to be healthy and active. While that certainly means we get our daily dose of cold-pressed juice and yoga, we can still enjoy a cocktail or two on a night out. Therefore, so can you.
Okay, not a cocktail (or any alcoholic drink for that matter) but Nemesis deserves a mention. It's brand new to the city, but for coffee, this place is the actual bomb. Whether you stop by during the day or make an emergency trip for a morning after hangover cure, you can do no wrong in your order. How, you ask? It's all thanks to the dream team of Vancouver's best baristas and chefs who've come together in perfect harmony to open this heavenly stop.
Two words: girls' night. Perched prettily on the rooftop of the downtown Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the beautifully-decorated Reflections serves small bowls of snacks and a large variety of cocktails, wines, and champagnes. Dress to impress and go for the bottle — the staff here will make damn sure you're taken care of. And just in case you should decide to shake things up, a speakeasy-style bar accurately named Prohibition lies just below the hotel.
Cocktails, cocktails, cocktails. Marked only by a neon sign in Chinatown, The Keefer has every delicious concoction you could dream of. Styled like an dim-lit apothecary, the drink menu lists 'remedies and cures' like Bone China (rum, Montenegro, Olorosso sherry, fig & kapok gomme, cacao & coffee bitters, whole egg, nutmeg) and Dragon Fly (gin, dragonfruit, pearl sake, lemon, ginger syrup, magnolia bark tincture).
If beer's more your game, the Alibi Room is where it's at. With 50 taps pouring local and imported craft brews, the drink menu is particularly beer heavy, and compliments the local, free-run, and naturally-raised bites on the menu. Who said that food and beverage pairing was exclusive to wine, anyway?
Where to stay
Unlike some other sprawling cities (ahem, Los Angeles), Vancouver's downtown core is truly the place to be. Hence, all three of our top picks are within a few blocks from each other — and crazy close to pretty much everything else we've recommended so far. You're welcome.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
The city's iconic 'Castle in the Sky', the grandoise Hotel Vancouver takes up an entire city block, and houses some of fashion's finest like Dior and Gucci. Totally pet-friendly, you can spend your time by the pool, perusing the shops, or keeping things classy at a High Tea service (yes, it's a thing).
Rosewood Hotel Georgia
Home to the Vancouver's renown Hawksworth Restaurant and both the aforementioned Reflections and Prohibition bars, Rosewood Hotel Georgia is a refreshing blend between contemporary and classic. You can practically spend your entire night just here, though we suggest you take advantage of some of our other offers. Tip: if Hawksworth is a little out of your league, nearby Nightingale is run by the same talented chef, at more informal prices.
Part hotel and part residence, you'll truly feel like a local at L'Hermitage Vancouver. One of our favorite amenities by far is the outdoor (and thankfully heated) salt water lap pool, as well as the one and two-bedroom 'homes' that boast everything from living space to fully-equipped kitchens. If you want luxury mixed with local lifestyle, this is it.
What to Pack
In all honesty, you don't need to pack your entire wardrobe for a trip to Vancouver. The people are casual and the weather is predictably unpredictable. All you really need is a few necessities and you're set.
Forget your usual boring suitcase — Herschel is beachside chill meets urban adventurer, and their bags are the bomb. The local brand makes a range of everything from backpacks and toiletry kits to travel luggage and duffels, making it easier to pack what you want, however you want it. Better yet, their seasonal prints keep things interesting while adding an extra oomph to your outfit.
Umbrella, umbrella, umbrella. Often laughed at by the more Eastern provinces, Vancouverites almost always have their umbrellas out, even in the snow. That's because the snow is wet. As is the rain. As is sometimes random showers on a sunny day. Other than that, you're pretty much good.
While somewhat stylish, Vancouver has unfortunately had to give way to practicality thanks to those unusual (and often uncomfortable) weather patterns. We're not saying leave your cute stuff at home, but make sure you do pack athleisure, sneakers, and a warm jacket for wandering the city. Basically, the Vancouver starter pack: a baseball cap, Lululemon leggings, and Nikes. Trust us, you'll fit right in.
...The best part? You can win one of these three awesome bags by Herschel. Simply follow VIVA and Herschel on Instagram and tag two friends in the comment section of our post. We'll pick a winner on March 17th, so good luck!