When it comes to outdoor fun and fitness, Vancouver is a four-season city.
On Canada’s mild Left Coast, Mother Nature parked the ultimate playground, complete with a paddling pool (ocean), slides (mountains) and sandboxes (beaches). Summer or winter, endorphin junkie or couch potato, you’ll find plenty of options for open-air R&R.
Get on a bike and ride:
Vancouver boasts an excellent bike lane infrastructure and bike rentals are relatively cheap. Pick up a bike at one of the rental shops on Davie or Denman Streets, or near the Vancouver Convention Centre, and go exploring. You can also take bikes on the SkyTrain and Canada Line–it’s definitely worth the extra effort to cycle the scenic dyke encircling nearby Richmond.
Lace up your hiking boots:
The North Shore mountains just beyond Vancouver offer hiking trails to suit every level. Head for Grouse, Cypress or Seymour Mountains with trail shoes and a pack lunch, or if you’re short for time try Lynn Canyon. (I frequently look to the excellent guidebooks by local hiking guru Jack Christie for hiking suggestions and trail tips.)
Walk a seawall:
It’s possible to walk (or ride, or rollerblade) almost entirely around Vancouver’s downtown core on a series of connected seawalls. Choose any stretch–from the convention centre to Stanley Park; around Stanley Park to English Bay; from Granville Island to Kits Point–for postcard-pretty views of the city.
Stanley Park is the most famous one, but Vancouver has myriad green spaces in which to lose yourself. You won’t have to look far for a park bench where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, especially in the West End, Yaletown and Coal Harbour.
Stop and smell the roses:
Vancouver has beautiful backyard gardens. From spring to fall, enjoy a stroll through the botanical bounty of Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, Chinatown‘s Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, the University of British Columbia’s Nitobe Garden and the VanDusen Gardens.
Head for the hills:
From November to late spring, you can ski, snowboard or snowshoe on the nearby North Shore mountains–less than an hour from the downtown core. (Many hotels offer discount packages for room-and-lift-pass; be sure to enquire). Come spring, you can hike or mountain-bike. In the winter, when it’s raining at sea level, it’s usually snowing in the mountains; in summer, when it’s hot on the ground, it’s cool in the mountains. Dress appropriately.
Life’s a beach:
When your idea of “breaking a sweat” involves a beach towel and a fat novel, head for one of the city’s best beaches. While there are hard-core fitness buffs who swim year-round in a wetsuit, the more delicate prefer to wait for the summer months to enter the chilly Pacific. Favourite swimming beaches include Stanley Park’s Second and Third Beaches, Kits Beach and Jericho Beach in Kitsilano, and clothing-optional Wreck Beach near UBC.
Watch the wildlife:
Birders will find their bliss near Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon, or further afield on the dykes of Richmond, North Vancouver’s Maplewood Flats, or Delta’s Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Or, for a little more up-tempo wildlife adventure, visit the bear sanctuary on Grouse Mountain, or take a whale-watching tour.
Take a mini-cruise:
See Vancouver from “see-level”: for a unique view of the cityscape, get out on the water via commuter ferry (TransLink Seabus, Granville Island Ferries or Aquabus), kayak (rentals in Deep Cove and Granville Island), or harbour cruise (departing from behind the Westin Bayshore near Stanley Park).
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