Short on Time? How to Visit Vancouver in 3 hours

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Many people come to Vancouver having left very little time to explore the city. Often they're about to board an Alaska-bound cruise, or are taking a trip across the water to Vancouver Island. This Canadian city is home to ToursByLocals headquarters, so we're always encouraging people to stay longer!

But it's not always possible. Luckily, our Vancouver guides are used to helping people make the most of their time here. Whether you're seeing the sights on a half-day city tour or exploring on your own, our guides have great suggestions for how to spend your precious day. Today Mahara joins us to share her idea for the best way to experience a slice of Vancouver when time is of the essence.

Granville Island – A Slice of Vancouver

Do you want to get a feel for Vancouver, but don’t have much time? My suggestion is to visit Granville Island, a forty-year-old treasure in Vancouver’s heart. It’s accessible by car, bus, or, if you are coming from the downtown core, a combination of Skytrain and water taxi. You can’t imagine the things you will find there.

Set alongside “False Creek”, so named because the water ends a bit further down the way, Granville Island is an amazing mixture of stores, food markets, manufacturers and artists.

The Public Market is one of the best in Canada. It has evolved into a magical combination of serendipity, form and function. The “higgledy-piggledy” streets and alleys were based on the original narrow lots facing the waterfront, with railway access at the back. It seems that around every corner is a new discovery, and that is part of its magic. Don’t worry, you can’t get lost, because all leads to the Public Market by the waterfront.

First, to get a “general” feel for Vancouver, walk the waterfront in front of the main market. It offers a great perspective of downtown, the Burrard Bridge and sweeping views out to the sea. Driving in you’ll see the corrugated-tin buildings, which once housed the machine shops and factories where nails, chains, barrels, wire-rope, paint, saws and wood-ties were made.

The Public Market

The main Public Market is a visual delight of dozens of colorful food booths. Beautiful fresh and artisan food abounds here: organic, hand-made and speciality products hard to find elsewhere. Fruit and vegetable markets, three or four meat markets, a soup and stock market, fantastic bagels, fish markets, speciality sausage and poultry shops are just some of the offerings. You can find specialty teas, coffees, spices for Asian cuisine, oils and vinegars, home-made pasta and all things Italian.

As well, many of the organic and artisan shops offer speciality products, such as wild venison and rare cheeses from Europe. And don’t miss the hand-made gelato and ice cream shops, chocolatiers, pie shops, donut shops and fudge shops. Does it ever end?

Italian, German, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, Thai and Mexican food booths have been operating for dozens of years, and offer freshly prepared food at reasonable prices. As well, there are fish-and-chip spots and organic freshly-prepared veggie, juice and salad shops.
With 59 food shops in the Public Market, as well as nine sit-down restaurants around the Island, do a “once-around” first, as it can be hard to decide what to eat. So much fabulous food! Grab a table first, and be prepared to share it with others. This is a great place for groups with different tastes.

...and all the rest!

Now for the rest of the island. Imagine a silk-weaving shop next to a ninety-year old working cement factory. Think about a children’s birthday party happening next to a large boat yard, where you can watch boats being painted, yachts being hoisted into drydock, or sailing boats lowered into the water. There is a distillery, an artisan sake shop, a brewery, and a wine shop. The huge Children’s Market has lots of activities inside and a creek out back where the kids can feed the mallard ducks and sit under the weeping willows. In the summer the water sprinklers delight the kids.

The Emily Carr University of Art and Design lives here, with the thousand or so students adding to the island’s creative vibe.

The shops around the island are a wonder to behold. First – no chain stores! None-zippo-zero. Hats, coats, silver and gold jewellery, belts, scarves, glass, pottery, wood, artist paint, 3-D Models for construction projects – you name it, if it’s handmade- you can probably find it on Granville Island.

There are pottery guilds, arts collectives and art galleries offering many mediums. It’s all here: a hand-made marriage broom, hand-blown custom art glass, or a hand-crafted umbrella. You can find unique natural stones and beads from around the world. Visit an around-the-world fabric-collective store, or purchase fascinating musical instruments from around the globe, rarely seen in one place.

During the warmer months, you can enjoy watching kayakers or rowers glide by. The Breast-In-A-Boat Dragon Boat Crew (women supporting breast cancer programs) practice here as well.

Usually three or four outdoor acts are on-going around the Public Market area, musicians mostly, but also jugglers, and other fun entertainment. The terraced hills further along the market place are a great way to celebrate some of the special holiday shows such as Canada Day, along with fireworks.

Granville Island supports eight live theatre groups. It’s a great place to go on a summer night, out for a quick meal or a fancy one, and then stroll off to the theatre. There’s also a lovely hotel on the island, if you want to base your Vancouver stay here.

The maritime market has stores with all things nautical, and you can rent kayaks and other boats. The pirate ship is busy in summers with shows on the ship for the young ones. The whale watching tours provide transportation out to the sites, convenient for those who don’t want to drive.

All in all, Granville Island has something for everyone, and so makes it a special place for the solo traveler or large groups. Don’t miss it!

Coming to Vancouver this summer? Don't miss the chance to spend a few hours at Granville Island...and maybe with Mahara as your guide! You can contact her through her guide profile page to arrange a private tour.
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