Vancouver is a city famous for its surroundings. Misty mountains, sandy beaches and wild forests are only a stone’s throw away in any direction. Vancouverites make the most of the city’s natural riches in every way they can, from morning yoga in the park to eating at farm-to-table restaurants and drinking local beverages. Even if you’re pushed for time, it’s easy to find local attractions that clue you in to the city’s chilled-out, cultured vibe.

Here a few tips on which attractions to prioritise if you’re aiming to explore this one-of-a-kind city in a hurry.

2 Labbotoir
Settle in for a classic brunch or dinner at L’Abbatoir. Credit: Hamid Attie Photography.

One hour: Grab a bite at L’Abbatoir

An empty hour at the start of the day is best filled by heading out to brunch at L’Abbatoir. The local favourite serves up Pacific Northwest-inspired food with a French twist. Head into historic Gastown to find this joint on Carrall Street at the corner of Blood Alley and only a couple of blocks from the famous steam clock on Water Street. The décor mixes industrial chic with bistro style – there are exposed brick walls, long-hanging light bulbs and huge windows that flood the area with natural light. Plump for a contemporary spin on classic fare, like their buttermilk and ricotta pancakes served with whipped mascarpone, smoked maple syrup and delicate pears. For something more hearty, try the fresh Pacific octopus with soft-boiled egg, buttery German potato and nutty romesco sauce.

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Find yourself a seat at the Long Table Distillery. Credit: Long Table Distillery.

One hour: Sample hand-crafted gins at Long Table Distillery

On Fridays and Saturdays, Long Table Distillery on Hornby Street throws open its doors to host cocktail tastings all afternoon and into the evening. The eponymous long table – made from redwood sequoia and measuring fourteen feet long – sits in the centre of the distillery. The friendly ginsmiths’ pride themselves on making some of the best gin in North America, distilled from 100% Canadian produce. Robust bourbon barrel-aged gin has notes of cinnamon and citrus, while their botanical cucumber gin tastes of summer garden parties. Buy your liquor by the glass or bottle.

3 Shopping On Commercial Drive
Go shopping for unique treasures on Commercial Drive. Credit: Getty Images.

Two hours: Nose for souvenirs on Commercial Drive

There aren’t many things more quintessentially Vancouver than the careless counter-culture cool of Commercial Drive. It’s one of the city’s best-known neighbourhoods, stretching for 22 blocks from north to south. To get there, head south out of downtown and over any of the major bridges, then go east along Fourth Avenue or Broadway until you see the signs – or take the SkyTrain straight to Commercial-Broadway Station. Hit up the specialty food stores for smoked sausages or farm-made cheese, or wind your way through Mintage Vintage in search for bargains. Visit Audiopile for an endless array of records, pick up knitting supplies from The Little Bog Yarn Shop or flip through second-hand books at one of the many bookstores in the area.

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We’ll go for the beer-battered halloumi, please – The Acorn. Credit: Sean David.

Two hours: Eat guilt-free food at The Acorn

Vegetarian food has never looked as good as it does at The Acorn. The award-winning restaurant set up shop on Main Street in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, making it easy to get to by public transit. Enjoy the chic bistro atmosphere while sampling some of the best meat-free plates in Canada. Start off with a roasted eggplant and horseradish cashew pate, served with pickled mustard seeds and purple taro chips. Move on to the beer-battered halloumi main, plated up with zucchini and potato pancakes, pea smash, mint yoghurt and a lemon balm. Round off your dinner with an elderflower semifreddo with spruce shortbread crumb for dessert.

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Hire out a bicycle and explore Stanley Park. Credit: Getty Images/​Stuart Dee.

Three hours: Breeze through Stanley Park by bicycle

Make like the locals and travel by bicycle. Vancouver is an eco-friendly city with extensive cycle paths, and getting around the famed Stanley Park on two wheels is the way to go. The park sits at the north end of Vancouver’s downtown island and sprawls for 405 hectares, making it larger than New York’s Central park. From the entrance, head east along the seawall for views of Vancouver Harbour and downtown. As you travel north along the path, North Vancouver’s shipping port comes into view. You can ride this route in a huge circle around the park’s perimeter or head into the wild trails that criss-cross the forest for over 27 kilometres. On your journey, you may come across locally crafted totem poles, ornamental lakes and colonies of rare great blue herons.

7 The Shore
Stroll the shores with your camera in hand. Credit: Getty Images/​Michael Wheatley.

Three Hours: Chill out at Spanish Banks

Head west toward the University of British Columbia campus to find the best beach in Vancouver. Spanish Banks is a favourite spot to chill out far from the urban sprawl of downtown. Walk the full length of the seawall if you want to breathe in the fresh air, or just put down a towel and check out the reflection of West Vancouver in the water. You can enjoy a game of beach volleyball, host a barbecue, try kiteboarding or just grab a coffee and watch the people go by.

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