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things to do in Vancouver

Things to do in Vancouver in twelve hours

What’s great about visiting Vancouver is the number of things you can do in one day. You can quickly get a feel for the city, it’s people and culture.During my recent business trip in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to meet up with an old friend and to play tourist for the day.  In twelve hours we managed to experience a great many things the city has to offer including local cuisine and attractions.

Things to do in Vancouver

Colourful old buildings with character and style in Gastown

Hour 1: Gastown 

Named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, who opened the first saloon in the area, Gastown is considered the first downtown area of the city. It’s one of the key areas to visit to get a feel of the history of the city. In 2009, it was designated as a National Heritage Site of Canada.Although primarily populated now by interior design shops, tourist-oriented souvenir stores and restaurants catering to the visitors from the cruise ships that dock nearby, Gastown is a must-visit for anybody loving old historic buildings. This area is a photographer’s playground, offering interesting architectural shots and scenes on the street.

The old buildings, with many originating in the late 1800’s (built after the “Great Vancouver Fire”), offer a glimpse of Old Vancouver. While many buildings are restored, some show the effects of weather and time, creating cool photo opportunities.

Hour 2:  Exploring Chinatown 

Things to do in Vancouver

Umbrellas hanging in a store in Chinatown

Adjacent to Gastown, and centered on Pender Street, Vancouver’s Chinatown is filled with hustling and bustling locals visiting the numerous ethnic food shops – from dried goods stores with dehydrated fungus, shrimp and fish, to the fresh fish markets where customers “fish” out their purchases from water-filled tanks.Popping into some of the small shops you may feel like a “bull in a Chinese shop”, as they are filled to the brim with traditional items and products made in China. Stopping to watch and listen in this neighbourhood you will see how people interact, haggle over the price of an item or just meet to catch up in the street.

Things to do in Vancouver

Interesting shops in Chinatown make for a good hour of perusing and walking about

Check out the “China Gate” on Pender Street which stands impressively over the busy traffic, and the historic Sam Kee Bulding at the corner of Pender and Carrall Streets – once considered the narrowest commercial building in the world.You may even bump into a local Canada Post man who will stop for a moment if he sees you with your camera, and will share with you insights into the community and efforts for revitalization.

Keep your camera out and ready for action  – there are many interesting photo opportunities in this part of the town.

Hour 3: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Things to do in Vancouver

Still waters at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park create gorgeous reflections. Too bad it wasn’t a sunny day.

Pass on the paid entry into the home ($14 for adults) and enjoy the garden area which gives you an exotic scene in the middle of the city. It’s calming here, with huge bamboo stalks, flowering bushes and the large pond with carp swimming idly in it. This is where you can test your photography skills, or just take a leisurely walk with a friend or significant other.

Hour 4:  Lunchtime in Gastown

Things to do in Vancouver

Coffee at Jules Bistro is a pick-me-up for more exploring

Head back to Gastown to try out the number of great spots in the area.

Jules Bistro on Abbott Street on offers a simple lunch menu inspired by French cuisine, featuring a number of options focusing on fresh seafood. What makes this an ideal spot to visit for lunch is the charming way the proprietors have blended the old architecture and style of the building with a French flair.

Lunch for two is approximately $80 with a glass of wine each, an entree and dessert. 

Hour 6: A two hour visit to Stanley Park

Things to do in Vancouver

People running in and out of the water at one of the beaches at Stanley Park with North Vancouver in the background

While this large park – Vancouver’s equivalent to Toronto’s High Park, and New York City’s Central Park – deserves more than just a brief visit, you can certainly see much in about two hours.

Check out Lion’s Gate Bridge from the lookout area just southwest of it, and head along for a drive around the park. Many areas allow you to park and check out the coastline where you can walk along the trail or even dip your toes into the water.

On a beautiful clear day, enjoy a picnic at one of the many rest stops. 

Hour 8: Granville Island Market

Things to do in Vancouver

Fancy cookies to be found in the Granville Island Market

Head to Granville Island Market where you can check out the local produce and foods inside the market. Other artisan shops surround the area, but keep your cameras in your bag – as noted in a previous blog post, most of them don’t welcome the idea of having photos taken in their shops.

This area has one brewery – Granville Island Brewery – which is worth visiting. You can enjoy tasting three different 4 oz. glasses (your choice) for about $6. A tour of the facility with the tasting is about $9.75.

Granville Island Market is worth a two hour visit, walking in and around the shops and the outside area, boardwalk area.  

Hour 10: Port Moody
Things to do in Vancouver

Walk along the pier to see the beautiful views to the north of Port Moody.

Coquitlam to Port Moody, a quiet area where the mountains loom in the distance with snow tops. Rocky Point Park gives you amazing views, while also giving you a moment to rest after a long day.

Here you will find people wandering along the shoreline trail with their dogs, or taking an outdoor yoga class.

Hour 11: Dinner at My Greek Taverna in Coquitlam

Things to do in Vancouver

Chicken Skaras with Prawns from My Greek Taverna in Coquitlam

From Port Moody head east to Coquitlam for dinner. While it may be a sleepy town, it has one great Greek restaurant – My Greek Taverna (946 Brunette Avenue) where you can satisfy your hunger after a full day of exploring Vancouver.

While not overly fancy in decor, this restaurant wins with it’s menu. The food here is served in the traditional, generous portions that you can expect from Greek restaurants. It’s not only the size of your meal that is amazing, it’s also the quality.  The Chicken Skaras with Prawns ($18.95) is a meal and a half – the chicken breast is marinated in garlic lemon butter and then charbroiled. Slightly crispy on the outside, it’s moist and juicy on the inside. The prawns are huge Tiger Shrimp, and it comes with Greek salad, rice and a potato. Drizzle fresh lemon for a zesty flavour.

This last stop brings you to about twelve hours. Should you have any more energy left, head back into downtown Vancouver to the Yale Town area for drinks at one of the many fine restaurants in the area.



  1. Randall Shirley

    This MUST have been on a suburban guide! As a local, I would never dream of sending visitors to Port Moody or Coquitlam…just getting out there would burn 1-2 hours in traffic. Instead, stay in Vancouver. Head downtown to the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Vancouver Aquarium. Or if it’s a gorgeous, clear evening, head across to North Vancouver and ride the Grouse Mountain tram for stunning views of the region. Back in the city, dinner is at Banana Leaf on Denman or Vij’s in South Granville. Sleep affordably at the delightful, art-filled Listel hotel.

  2. Thanks for the tips Randall. I actually did do this route (timed to just after rush hour to reduce travel time). After two days in the city, wanted to get a taste of something less touristy and real. The views were gorgeous.

    Your ideas are great though. Perhaps for another visit to Vancouver.