The history, culture and nature of Vancouver
Add a Canadian Rockies road trip to Calgary if you have longer.
Your Air New Zealand flight will land you in Vancouver mid-afternoon. You'll have time to settle into your inner-city accommodation, then stretch your legs with a walk around Gastown.10-14 days
Gastown, named after 'Gassy' Jack Deighton - a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barman who opened the area's first saloon in 1867 - Gastown is where Vancouver began. A self-guided walk will reveal the area's colourful history.
Things to see and do in Gastown
- Visit the old morgue that's now a Police museum
- Check out the First Nations art galleries for something beautiful to take home
- Find the Steam Clock and the statue of 'Gassy' Jack Deighton
- Eat lunch at a pub or craft brewery
- Go on a Gastown Tasting Tour, which is like a progressive dinner
- Do the 'Forbidden Vancouver' night-time tour of Gastown's most infamous places
North of Vancouver's CBD is Stanley Park, a vast area of green that's almost an island. As well as fun outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, the park offers an opportunity to understand the First Nations people, the original inhabitants of Vancouver.
Things to see and do in Stanley Park
- Learn about First Nations' history and culture on a 90-minute walking tour, led by a First Nations descendent
- Find the totem poles at Brockton Point, a collection that started in the 1920s
- Rent bikes and ride around the Stanley Park seawall, keeping an eye out for otters and seals
- Snap a selfie in Stanley Park's famous hollow tree
- Watch the birds at Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon - you might even see a beaver!
- Hike the 27-kilometre trail network
- Snack or lunch at one of the park's restaurants, cafes or snack trucks
Today is about mountains, rivers and forests, as well as ways to get up, over and around them. First stop is Capilano Suspension Bridge Park for adventurous fun involving structures and trees. Then it's on to Grouse Mountain for an unforgettable SkyRide journey and an assortment of shows that epitomise Canada. From the central city you can catch a shuttle, taxi or a combo of ferry and bus to reach Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Grouse Mountain.
Things to do today
- Feel the sway and bounce as you walk over the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Learn about the ‘Capilano Tramps' from the 1900s, the original tourists to the park
- Dare to do the Cliffwalk, a labyrinth of cantilevered bridges, stairs and platforms 33 metres above the forest floor
- Ride up Grouse Mountain on the SkyRide to get a special appreciation of the region's geography
- Watch the antics of Grinder and Coola, the orphan grizzlies that live in Grouse Mountain's wildlife refuge
- Catch the lumberjack show, which demonstrates forestry skills from the 1900s - log rolling, a 60-foot tree climb, two-man peg and raker saws and axe throwing
More of a sandspit than an island, Granville Island was once an industrious place full of factories and sawmills. Now it's an industrious place full of creative business people, artisans and performers. You can combine Granville Island with Vanier Park, which has several interesting museums.
Things to do at Granville Island
- If you're walking to the island, catch a colourful mini-tugboat over False Creek
- Go straight to the Public Market to meet some locals and discover First Nations art
- Join a food walking tour of the market, to find fresh and unusual local flavours
- Use the False Creek ferry service to visit Vanier Park, where you'll find the Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum or HR MacMillan Space Centre
Just an hour's drive north of Vancouver is the town of Squamish, where you can get another view of Canada's history, culture and wildlife. Located at the top of a fiord and surrounded by spectacular mountains, this adventure-minded town offers a range of outdoor activities. It's also a place to experience art, music and theatre - as the breathtaking location inspires local creativity.
If you continue north you'll come to Whistler, a world-famous snow sport mecca in winter and spring, and an alpine fun town all year round. We recommend you stay one night in Squamish and another in Whistler before returning to Vancouver.
Things to do in Squamish and Whistler
- Catch the Sea To Sky gondola for views of the sound and nearby Shannon Falls
- Get adventurous with an Eagle Float tour down the Squamish and Mamquam River to see salmon-eating bald eagles
- Visit the Britannia Mine Museum - a mine that has literally been turned into a museum!
- Discover the award-winning Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, a beautiful space to learn about the history of First Nations people
- Go hiking in Garibaldi Provincial Park to see alpine perfection
- Try one of Whistler's many non-skiing activities, like ziplining, white water rafting, tree-top adventures or a bobsleigh tour
Canada Day is officially 1 July, but you can create your own Canada Day any day of the week. It'll be enlightening, exciting and fun.
Things to do that are oh-so-Canadian
- Have a Nanaimo Bar with your coffee, a slice made with graham crackers, coconut, walnuts, butter and chocolate
- Take a coast-to-coast scenic flight over Canada without leaving the ground - FlyOver Canada is a total sensory experience
- Eat poutine - French fries, fresh cheese curds and brown gravy
- Go to the Museum of Anthropology to find out about the Northwest Coast First Nations people
- Try some candied salmon - locally caught, hot-smoked salmon glazed with maple syrup
- Watch an ice hockey game at Rogers Arena, or indoor lacrosse if you're visiting during summer
A day in Horseshoe Bay will give you a taste of small-town coastal life in British Columbia. Although it has a permanent population of just 1,000 people, this village has plenty of charming shops, galleries and places to eat. The local tourism industry is centred on Howe Sound eco-experiences.
Things to do in Horseshoe Bay
- Arrive by ferry, because the journey along the coast is wonderfully scenic
- See Howe Sound wildlife and hear local stories on a sea safari tour
- If you have boating experience, rent a boat and explore the local islands and coves at your own pace
- Walk to Whytecliff Park to see the seals
- Eat fish and chips while you watch the boats come and go from the marina
Across the Salish Sea is Vancouver Island and the spectacular historic city of Victoria. You could visit by boat, but it takes a few hours to get there, so a seaplane flight is recommended instead. You get aerial sightseeing as well as transport, and the fare is surprisingly affordable. Your day in Victoria will revolve around appreciating the historic architecture, finding the perfect seafood restaurant for lunch and checking out the local museums.
Things to do in Victoria
- Wonder at the detail within Craigdarroch Castle, a restored Victorian mansion that was built by a Scottish coal tycoon
- Tour the magnificent British Columbia Parliament Buildings, built in 1898
- Eat at Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria's legendary seafood restaurant area
- Go shopping in Fan Tan Alley in Victoria's Chinatown - it's the narrowest street in Canada!
- Enjoy tea and cakes at The Fairmont Empress Hotel
- Walk along the Ogden Point Breakwater to the lighthouse
Unless you're planning to head off on our recommended Rockies Road tour, today's your last day in Vancouver. Before your evening flight home to New Zealand there will be time to do a few things you might have missed.
Things to do on your last day
- Roam around the Bloedal Conservatory, a temperature-controlled domed paradise that's home to more than 120 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and thousands of flowers
- Shop at Nordstrom, North America's best-loved department store
- Wander around Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown
- Head up the Harbour Centre Tower for a final view of the city, harbour and mountains
Top off your Canadian holiday with a self-drive Rockies Road Tour from Vancouver to Calgary, then catch a domestic flight back to Vancouver. You could comfortably do this journey in four days, or take longer if you have the time. New Zealanders can drive in Canada on an NZ driver's license for up to three months.
Highlights of a road trip to Calgary
- Find the amazing Othello Quintette Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park
- Bike a section of the Kettle Valley Railway trail
- Check out the views at Kamloops Lake, then visit the British Columbia Wildlife Park
- Call into Salmon Arm for bird watching and hiking
- Explore 3 Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town, once a thriving gold rush settlement
- Drive up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway near Revelstoke for alpine meadow hiking
- Visit the hairy residents of Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch
- See the Emerald Lake, Takkakaw Falls and the natural bridge over Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park