A guide to sightseeing in Vancouver for the don’t want to, cannot or won’t walk traveller!
I consider myself unfortunate and not clumsy. Although the latter is the reality, meaning I often have to adapt my travel plans to cater for self-afflicted injuries. A situation I found myself in Vancouver in British Columbia Canada recently. I broke my little toe by stubbing it too hard on my hotel bed base. I could barely walk, but was desperate to see the city, and so had to innovate to solve the problem.
The result is this guide for anyone wanting to see Vancouver when they cannot, will not or do not want to walk very much! It is not a guide to accessible travel – but more for the lazy, slightly mobility restricted or a temporarily damaged person like myself..
Locals will proudly tell you that Vancouver is regularly voted as one of the top places in the world to live, with a great quality of life. It is a beautiful city with modern buildings, large waterfronts, great restaurants and museums. It is a major place for films and TV shows, doubling up for many loactions around the world.
The city developed from a settlement called Gastown after a tavern was opened to serve the workers at the wood mill. It kept expanding and growing, fueled by the gold rush and then it really boomed when the Transcontinental Railway linked Canada from coast-to-coast and the large natural port became a major hub for exports and imports. Trade still drives the city, as does its role as the embarkation and disembarkation port for cruises to Alaska. Around 280 cruise ships a year visit the city.
Exploring Vancouver without walking much
Hop-on Hop-off Bus
The best way to see and explore Vancouver, without too much walking or missing out on much, is to use the Westcoast Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus. You should use it to get an overview of the city and combine it with my tips to get in-depth low exertion experiences at a few key stops.
Why Westcoast Sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus?
There are several different hop-on hop-off options, including Big Pink and the old-fashioned styled Vancouver Trolley Company, but I chose Westcoast for six reasons:
- They run one circuit lasting just over two hours covering most city highlights and districts without having to change to a different route at one of the few stops that overlap. This means less walking and standing about.
- They include stops at, or very close to, all the main tourist hotels and the Cruise Terminal at Canada Place. I felt this was important to cut walking, something I was thankful for.
- They run all year every 20 minutes, with first pick-up at 08:27 and the last at 17:03. There is very little waiting or standing at any stop for the next bus.
- Tickets cost a reasonable CAD$42 (about £20.50)**, and last 24 hours from the time you buy it on board – giving lots of flexibility. This is important, as you will see from my recommendations as you may prefer to spread them over two days to do them all justice.
- The buses have seats both in the open air and covered and, with the changeable Vancouver weather, you can enjoy beautiful sunshine and taking photographs without the reflections off windows, with the ability to get under cover if gets cold or rainy.
- They sell tickets to many city attractions on the bus (including Vancouver Lookout, Harbour Air Panorama flights and Sea Vancouver zodiac trips), which saves extra walking and lining up.
You can download a map of the route at http://westcoastsightseeing.com/live-bus-map/
Essential Vancouver Stops
To get the best of the city there are a number of stops I recommend getting off at. I have chosen ones that need limited walking:
Gastown: A trendy and historic district with steam-powered clock and Vancouver Lookout.
This is the original and most historic part of Vancouver. Close to bus Stop One is a remarkable steam-driven clock. You find it by the huddle of people gathered around it at the top of the hour when it kicks into life and pumps out steam and whistles. If you want a good shot of you and the clock, get there a bit before to grab one of the good angles!
The whole area is a delight, with trendy open-air restaurants and gift and First Nation artwork shops. Good selections are within less than a block of the stop and so are manageable for most people wanting to reduce walking. It is also a great area to have lunch in.
If you can walk a bit further consider I recommend going up the Vancouver Lookout, which is about 200 metres up the road. Perched on top of a building, it was opened in 1977 by Neil Armstrong who was the first man to walk on the moon. You get 360-degree views through panoramic windows with panels explaining the history and pointing out key features and buildings.
Canada Place, for Cruise and Floatplane terminals.
As well as joining or leaving the bus if you are on a cruise, close to Stop Three is the Harbour Air floatplane terminal.
From here you can take short air excursions on the de Havilland seaplanes that take off and land off the calm harbour waters for spectacular views of Vancouver and surrounds from the air. I would suggest either the 20-minute Classic Panorama (CAD$119/ UK£58)**, which takes you over downtown and the North Shore Mountains, or the 35-minute Extended Panorama (CAD$185/ UK£90)** that does the same route as the Classic but then goes further north along the coast towards Whistler and over the Sunshine Coast. You can pre-book the trips, on the bus or on arrival, as flights are plentiful and frequent.
Coal Harbour where you can take a harbour cruise or the SeaVancouver Zodiac tour.
I recommend taking the SeaVancouver zodiac tour, which takes you to all three sides of Vancouver that face the sea: the harbour, beaches and False Creek. I loved this trip! Their office is inside the Westin Bayshore Vancouver Hotel, a short walk from the bus Stop Six. After donning bright red all-in-one suits that keep you warm, dry and act as flotation devices, you board the zodiacs for the thrilling trip. The Captain will stop to give commentary and stories of the city. If you are lucky you will get up close to some of the resident Bald Eagles or Seals that live around the harbour.
You need to be a bit agile to step into and off the zodiac; however, I was able to do this easily even with a damaged toe.
Watch my video of the SeaVancouver trip:
Stanley Park, for a horse-drawn tour around this vast park.
Stanley Park is magnificent. Created in 1886 when the few residents living in the lush green area where forced to move out, the 1,001 acre park is named after Lord Stanley who was the Governor General at the time. The vast Lion Gate Bridge leads out of the park across to the North Shore. The bridge was funded by the Guinness Brewing Family in the 1930s as they disliked having to use boats to cross to and from the city to their home across the bay.
Seeing the park is a must. It is full of cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers and joggers, many of whom travel around the long sea wall that runs right around its edge. The best way to see the park is to go on one of the hour-long Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours that leave from Stop Eight. Although the hop-on hop-off bus has six stops within the park, you only get to see the outer perimeter while the horse tour enables you to see the interior better. The tour costs CAD$35 (UK£17)**
The Vancouver Aquarium is also at this stop but requires a lot of walking to both get there and get around.
Stanley Park Totem Poles.
Although just one stop further on, I recommend getting off at Stop Nine to view the stunning collection of nine First Nation totem poles. They are just across the road from the stop and so not much walking. The collection started in the 1920s and is one of the most visited attractions in Vancouver.
False Creek, to catch the foot passenger ferries to see this newly developed area.
Close to Stop 14 is one of the False Creek ferry terminals. Board one of these zippy little ferries and stay on as it travels to seven stops along False Creek to the Southeast False Creek Waterfront Park and then return.
This area used to be a derelict industrial area that came to life and was developed to support the 1986 Expo and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Today the area along the banks called Yaletown has modern soaring glass condominium blocks (that are popular with the young and trendy Vancouver residents), yacht basins filled with upmarket boats, a quirky floating home village, Brazilian artist decorated concrete storage tanks and the metal-domed Science World. The leisurely ride gives you a great feel for the modern and vibrant city that has emerged over the last decade.
Granville Island, fabulous but not for limited walkers!
At Stop 18 is Granville Island, which is a fantastic place to visit and explore. However, it requires a good deal of walking to get around the craft shops, market and other attractions and so is not ideal. There is even a good length walk from the hop-on hop-off bus stop. Granville Island was originally a major industrial area that became a centre of entertainment, shopping and restaurants.
If you still have time, and energy, there is one other activity that I did that you should consider in this area that does not take a lot of walking. I caught a taxi right to the door of Ecomarine Paddlesport Centre on Granville Island and went on a kayak trip. You do need some mobility to clamber in and out of them, but it puts no pressure on your legs or feet. We paddled out under expert supervision into the harbour, past the Maritime museum and on to the “dog beach” that is popular with pets and their owners who threw balls and sticks into the sea for the eager canines to retrieve.
As this guide has hopefully shown, you can see a great deal that Vancouver has to offer even if you want to have as little walking as possible. It does mean missing out on discovering the eclectic delights of Granville Island, roaming the sprawling Art and other museums, exploring the magical streets of Gastown in-depth or getting out across the bay to venture up Grouse Mountain and enjoy the walking and other activities. Those you can save for next time!! I had a great time in this beautiful city.
Disclaimer: I travelled to Vancouver as a guest of Destination Canada in partnership with Travelator Media.
** Prices at 3 August 2015
Suggested reading on Vancouver: