An enchanting seaport city surrounded by mountains and known for its livability and quality of life, Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of Canada’s best-loved spots. All visitors know to stroll through Stanley Park and go to Gastown, but for an insider’s look at this incredible city, check out these hidden gems.
1. Nitobe Memorial Garden
It’s nowhere near as large as Stanley Park, but the Nitobe Memorial Garden, located at the University of British Columbia, is well worth a stop. This gorgeous Japanese garden is named for Dr. Inazo Nitobe, who sought to promote a better understanding of Japanese culture and history in the West. The garden is alive with color most of the year -- the cherry blossoms are in their full glory in the spring, the irises blaze in the summer, and the maples are stunning in the fall. Each lantern, stone, and shrub here was carefully curated and placed; nothing was an afterthought. There’s even a teahouse on-site, where ceremonies take place several times a day on the last Saturday of the month. Admission to the garden costs $7 CAD; taking part in the tea ceremony costs an extra $10.
2. Cypress Falls Park
Although it’s just a 20-minute drive from Vancouver, Cypress Falls Park feels like a world away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Take an easy 2-mile hike through forests of 300-year-old red cedars, Douglas firs, and lush, leafy ferns; you’ll reach two rushing waterfalls deep in the park. This is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy all the natural beauty British Columbia has to offer, and it’s not as crowded or well known as other hiking spots. If you’re lucky, you might just get the whole place to yourself!
3. Rennie Museum
Located in Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown, the Rennie Museum is small, but it packs a powerful contemporary art punch. Home to the private art collection of the real-estate magnate Bob Rennie, the museum has no permanent exhibits. Instead, the curators rotate pieces in and out periodically. A conceptual piece by Yoko Ono was recently on display here, as were the collected works of Kerry James Marshall. The museum is free to enter, but there’s a catch: You must book a Saturday tour ahead of time, and tours are usually booked weeks in advance. But a little bit of planning is well worth it in this case. At night, you can see the building’s funky neon sign that reads, “Everything is going to be alright.”
4. Rosewood Hotel Georgia
Another place to check out Canadian contemporary art is the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Located downtown, this chic boutique spot was first opened in 1927, and it has been the city’s most fashionable retreat ever since. The rooms and suites are luxe and stylishly appointed, but you don’t have to stay there to appreciate the hotel’s extensive all-Canadian art collection. The concierge will supply you with a gallery map so that you can make the most of your stop-in, whether you’re simply passing through or making the hotel your home base. Rooms start at $469 CAD per night.
5. Bloedel Conservatory
Head to Vancouver’s highest point to experience a year-round tropical paradise. The Bloedel Conservatory, built in 1969, is located in Queen Elizabeth Park. This enormous domed biosphere houses free-flying exotic birds, including parrots and finches, and three separate climate zones: tropical, subtropical, and desert. More than 500 types of plants from around the world grow here, including beautiful lush tropical plants and flowers. There’s even a healing garden designed to soothe the senses. Admission costs $6.75 CAD, and the conservatory is open daily. Be sure to explore the rest of the park as well, including its sculptures and manicured gardens.
6. MacLeod’s Books
Ready to channel your inner bibliophile? Browse an incredible assortment of volumes to your heart’s content at the legendary MacLeod’s Books, located near Gastown. This place is crammed with books of all of sorts -- literally from floor to ceiling in some spots. You’ll find gorgeous antique volumes mixed in with well-worn paperbacks and beloved children’s classics. There’s a treasure for every reader at this incredible spot that Oscar Award-winning director Guillermo de Toro called “heaven” during a recent visit. MacLeod’s is open for bookworms daily.
7. Inuit Gallery
Vancouver is known for its art museums and galleries; however, the Inuit Gallery tops our list. The gallery features museum-quality pieces -- including painstakingly carved sculptures and intricately designed pieces of jewelry -- that were crafted by aboriginal Canadian artisans. Now in its 40th year, the gallery is well known for its wide range of work and exhibits. You’ll find the perfect Vancouver souvenir at this beautifully curated spot, and you’ll support local artists as well.
8. Richmond Night Market
If you’re really ready to shop (and snack) like a local, head to Vancouver’s Richmond Night Market. This evening shopping extravaganza has a street-festival feel; it gives visitors a chance to sample a variety of cuisines from different cultures. The market features 200 retail vendors and more than 100 food stalls offering a wide range of street food. Be prepared to bargain, and make sure you take along a tote bag to haul off your souvenirs! There’s also nightly live entertainment. Plan to rideshare or take public transit, since the market can be crowded and parking is tricky. The Richmond Night Market is open weekend evenings from May through October; admission costs $4.75 CAD.
9. Liberty Distillery
When it’s time to take a break from the sightseeing and shopping and settle down with a cocktail, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Liberty Distillery. Tucked away on the city’s Granville Island, Liberty sells a number of high-end artisan spirits. The employees start with grain grown in British Columbia, and they use custom-designed stills with copper pots to produce each batch. For $10 CAD, you can tour the distillery to see the process, and then kick back with a cocktail in Liberty’s full-service lounge, which is open seven days a week. A steam whistle sounds at the antique bar Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. sharp to signal the start of happy hour.
10. The Boxcar
If you’re a craft beer aficionado, The Boxcar will be your bar of choice in Vancouver. This funky venue and lounge, located in the Mount Pleasant area of town, features two dozen revolving taps and offers select seasonal cocktails. In the summer months, you can take your beer to the back porch and enjoy the sunshine. If you’re hungry, you can place an order at the next-door pizza joint and have it brought to your table in The Boxcar. Happy hour is every day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and most evenings there is live music.
11. Kingyo Restaurant
Vancouver is known for its stellar Asian cuisine. For a terrific tapas experience with a contemporary Japanese flair, head to Kingyo, located downtown. Bento boxes, sushi, and sashimi are all on offer here, made with fresh fish pulled straight from the Pacific. The presentation is incredible; the food is almost too good to eat. Save room for the frozen green tea brûlée for dessert!