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Itinerary: Canada – 3 days in Vancouver and Whistler!

September 28, 2012
Vancouver makes a perfect weekend getaway for those living in Seattle. Just drive across the border and in a couple hours – voila! – you are in a different country! For folks planning an international trip from the West Coast who don’t want to hop onto a plane for a 6+ hour flight, Vancouver is perfect. A short flight from PDX / SFO / LAX to YVR and in a few hours you are in the heart of Canada-land!

First sight of Vancouver downtown and the surrounding alpine peaks after getting out of YVR airport

Vancouver’s charm lies in the exotic mix of European and Native First Nations influence that is visible everywhere. You can go from seeing authentic Totem Poles built by First Nations to having an equally authentic High-Tea experience complete with scones and clotted cream. The city has a lot to offer in terms of sight-seeing and nature – lovely wooded parks, tall snow-capped mountain peaks, well-groomed slopes which are a haven for skiers, gorgeous vistas on scenic highways with poetic names like the “Sea to Sky highway”, and quaint European charm tucked away into a mountain resort named Whistler.

With a weekend visit, you can comfortably spend a day in Vancouver and do a day-trip to Whistler. However, a 3-day visit would be ideal, because Vancouver has a lot of things to see and do, and you can complement that with a relaxing day and night spent in Whistler Village.

We had always heard that Canadians are some of the friendliest people in the world and now we can vouch for it! The brightest smiles greeted us everywhere we went, and people were more than willing to stop what they were doing to answer a question or tell us about a place we were looking for. The people in a new place make for a large part of the experience when traveling there, and Canadians are awesome!

Totem poles and the seawall path in Stanley Park, along the Vancouver Harbor

Places to go / things to do in Vancouver & Whistler:

Stanley Park – A lovely must-see wooded park in the heart of the city. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic and for taking long strolls through tall trees, passing by sparkling fountains and beautifully landscaped grounds, surrounded by the harbor on all sides. The Totem Poles exhibit is a must-see, it was our first introduction to Canada’s First Nations Cultures. You need a few hours to see everything in the park, you can also drive throughout the park on accessible roads. But make sure to get out of the car and see the totem poles and do a picnic lunch / stroll for sure! For those wanting a cardio-workout, there are bicycles available for rent, and a lovely seawall path which snakes all around the park to explore!

Walking on the bouncy Capilano Suspension bridge!

North Shore of Vancouver – The rugged North shore is just across the city harbor. Capilano Suspension Bridge is the top attraction. The suspension bridge and surrounding Grouse Mountain area is a 20-30min drive from Vancouver across the Lions bridge! Entrance tickets for Capilano includes access to all exhibits, we did the tree-top walk (lots of fun), Cliffwalk (glass pathway several hundred feet over the treetops), and we visited Capilano fish hatchery nearby. You need a few hours to a half-a-day to see and do everything here.

Top Left, clockwise: Grouse mountain gondola ride, view of the Two Sisters / Two Lions peaks, grizzly bear Coola says Hello, view of Vancouver downtown from the mountain top

Grouse Mountain – If you continue driving north of Capilano bridge, you will get to Grouse Mountain. They have a gondola ride up the mountain, amazing views of surrounding Vancouver cityscape and of course, ski slopes! You will get to see grizzly bears Coola and Grinder if they are not in hibernation. Grouse Mountain also has white wolves in residence (near the parking lot) which is open to the public and a docent will tell you all about their interesting history and how they came to be there. You need a few hours (3-4) hours to do the gondola ride, spend some time at the top of mountain, seeing the grizzlies and riding back down.

Nighttime view of Downtown Vancouver from Vancouver Tower

Vancouver Tower – A tall tower in the middle of the city, with amazing views of Vancouver skyline and city lights at night. We went in the evening before sunset to see the daytime views and then came back after sunset to see the view with city lights on. The entry pass is valid for the entire day or for several hours, so most people go twice to see it the day and night. You can do this whenever you are spending the afternoon/evening in Vancouver downtown. You need 30mins to an hour to go up and check out the views.

First Nations exhibits inside the Museum

Museum of Anthropology (MOA) – MUST NOT MISS! The museum houses a lot about Canada’s rich history, the different First Nations Cultures and tribes, showcasing authentic tall totem poles that have been exquisitely carved, and tons of interesting exhibits around every corner. The museum building itself is a thing of beauty with glass walls and high ceilings that let in a lot of natural light. You can easily spend a half day or even a full day here.

Skiing and riding the ski-lifts on top of Blackcomb mountain in Whistler

Sea-to-Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler – Do this drive in the day time to enjoy the amazing views! Whistler is a 2 hour drive away from Vancouver, and in no time, you will be in a cute, quaint European village, complete with cobblestone pedestrian walkways and slant-roofed chateaus. There are lots of vista points along the way, Shannon Falls makes for a nice stop. If you plan on heading out of Vancouver early morning, you will be in Whistler for brunch! A day trip might get hectic, especially if you want to take the peak-to-peak gondola rides, explore the Whistler Village and stroll on the pedestrian-only roads, so plan to stay a night in Whistler if possible.

Whistler Village and Canada’s Olympic legacy

Whistler – We LOVED Whistler. The cute village has a pedestrian-only stroll area and on either side are hotels which look just like French chalets, and there are plenty of gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains all around. It’s definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t ski! You will get to learn about the Olympic legacy of Whistler from their hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2010. We took the gondola up to Blackcomb Peak, and got a similar experience as Grouse Mountain, with amazing views all the way and LOTS of snow on the peaks dotted with enthusiastic skiers. The top of the mountain is a cool place to hang out for sometime and take in the views. They also have a peak-to-peak gondola that goes from Blackcomb to Whistler, which would be a unique thing to ride on too!

A foodie’s paradise! Top left, clockwise: Xiao Long Bao, Fish & Chips, Samosa, French creperie, Spicy fried rice at Noodle Box

Ahh,the food. Where to begin? Vancouver is heaven for foodies. From inexpensive asian-inspired eats to proper sit-down fine dining with a view of the sunset over the harbor, Vancouver has something to satisfy even the fussiest palate. And one of the most memorable things we found out was what a strong influence Indian Punjabis have had on Canada! Not just Vancouver but even beyond in cities like Victoria and far flung places like Tofino. The last thing we expected to find was piping hot samosas with mango chutney when we walked into off-the-beaten-path cafes. We did not expect to find Chicken-Tikka-Masala wraps in Starbucks alongside their Egg-Salad sandwiches. It was an awesome experience to be eating really good Indian food in the most unexpected places! Apart from the Indian food experience, we also had some of the best french crepes at a cafe in Whistler and a very memorable experience at Shanghai River in Richmond, savoring some of their legendary Xiao Long Bao dumplings. Delicious!

Where to eat in Vancouver:
Milestones restaurant in downtown Vancouver (great for fine dining)
Rangoli by Vij’s (famous all over Canada! It’s a bit of a drive from the center of the city, but worth it!)
Noodle Box (good spicy cheap asian style cuisine)
Shanghai River in Richmond, Canada – for their legendary xiao long bao (soup filled dumplings)
Where to eat in Whistler:
– Crepe Montagne (french creperie, great for breakfast/brunch)
21 steps restaurant (great for inexpensive fine dining)

Where to stay:
– Howard Johnson Boutique Hotel in North Burnaby
The Crystal Lodge in Whistler Village

Enjoy Vancouver and all that it has to offer. It’s a fun city and the great people make it a great destination!
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