3 Days in Vancouver: How to Plan the Perfect Vancouver Itinerary

3 days in vancouver waterfront
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As a frequent traveler around the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver has always held a special place in my heart. There’s something about the giant buildings lining the harbor and the delicious Canadian food (poutine, anyone?) that keeps me coming back year after year. However, I’ll admit that I’ve never really had the chance to fully explore the city until recently. That’s why I decided to spend 3 days in Vancouver, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

From the minute I arrived, I realized just how much I’ve been missing out on during my brief annual stops on the Vancouver to Whistler drive. The shopping, the restaurants, the bars – there’s truly something for everyone in this vibrant city, no matter the time of year. It doesn’t hurt that the views are stunning no matter you look, from the waterfront to the surrounding mountains in the background.

In this article, I’ll give you all my best tips for what to do in Vancouver for 3 days, where to stay, what to eat, as well as my 3 days in Vancouver itinerary for you to copy to make your trip that much easier.

Tips for Spending 3 Days in Vancouver

Ready to plan your perfect 3 day Vancouver adventure? Before we dive into all the amazing things you can do in this vibrant city, here are some of my insider tips to help you make the most out of your trip. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, these tips will help you plan out your ideal three days in Vancouver.

How to Get to Vancouver

vancouver city freeway

Getting to Vancouver is fairly straightforward, whether you’re driving or flying in when visiting Vancouver in three days. The Vancouver International Airport is only about 20 minutes south of downtown Vancouver, so you’ll be in the city quickly. This is a good option if you’re taking a weekend trip from Portland so you can get here quicker.

You can rent a car from well-known companies such as Enterprise or Hertz if you plan on driving around during your 3 day trip to Vancouver.

Alternatively, you can also take the Vancouver Airport SkyTrain to get into the city for a cheaper price quickly. This is the best route if you’ll be spending 3 days in Vancouver with no car.

If you’re driving from Seattle, it’ll take you about 2.5 hours with no traffic to get from city to city. Note that this can vary greatly depending on the time of day, as I almost always encounter traffic in Everett when heading north.

However, there are many things to do between Seattle and Vancouver if you need to kill some time.

You also have to cross an international border, so you’ll need your passport to get over the border on this fun weekend trip from Seattle. If you don’t have NEXUS (which I highly recommend because it saves me literally hours of waiting time at the border every year), you can expect to have a potential wait when you get to the border.

As of February 2023, there are no additional restrictions when crossing the border, and you only need the ArriveCAN app if you’re flying into Vancouver.

Really want to visit Vancouver in style? Book a seaplane from Seattle to Vancouver for the ultimate transportation!

Where to Stay in Vancouver

vancouver hotel room

There are dozens of different options to choose from for your Vancouver accommodation, from hostels to luxurious hotels. I’ve stayed at several different ones, but nothing compares to the Fairmont Waterfront for 3 perfect days in Vancouver.

First of all, the location can’t be beat – as the name indicates, you’re right on the water, so you’ll want to ask for a harbor view room when you book it. I could’ve spent hours in bed just staring out the window at Vancouver’s harbor and the mountains in the background. It’s also a fun way to spend a rainy day in Vancouver, just staring out at the rain.

fairmont waterfront harbor view room

It’s also central to a ton of activities – you’re only a few blocks away from seaplanes if you want to take a ride, and there are dozens of shops and restaurants within walking distance. I booked this hotel because I wanted to be close to Gastown for going out at night, but didn’t want to stay right in it due to the noise, so this was the perfect compromise.

There are plenty of things to do within the hotel itself during your 3 day itinerary in Vancouver- they have an outdoor heated pool, which was my first time ever being at a pool in the city like that. I went both at night to see it lit up and in the morning to relax, followed by the hot tub.

There’s also a fitness center next to it and a restaurant and lounge downstairs, whether you need breakfast or a nightcap. I noticed many dogs here as well (lucky pups!), so it’s a great dog-friendly vacation in the PNW.

How to Get Around Vancouver

waterfront station vancouver

There are plenty of options for getting around Vancouver in 3 days. I found that it was really easy to get around Vancouver, whether you don’t have a car or are on a Pacific Northwest drive and just want to leave yours parked all weekend as I did with mine.

In addition to Uber and taxis, here are a few of the public transportation options:

  • SkyTrain – there are three lines (Expo Line, Millennium Line, and Canada Line), which can quickly take you around Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby
  • TransLink – an extensive bus system that I saw going all around downtown Vancouver
  • SeaBus – a passenger ferry that goes from North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver

Is Spending 3 Days in Vancouver Enough?

While you could be in the city for weeks and still have more to explore, spending three days in Vancouver is plenty of time to see the city. As you’ll see later on my itinerary, you can easily explore the downtown area and waterfront and go on the outskirts of the city during your trip. I do have a 2 day Vancouver itinerary if you’re short on time, but I recommend three days when possible.

What’s the Best Time to Visit Vancouver?

Deciding what month to visit Vancouver depends on what you want to do. Vancouver in the summer is warm and dry, so you’ll be able to do all the outdoor activities you want comfortably, such as hiking or kayaking.

However, this is the most popular time, so you’ll have some waits at attractions, and hotels are more expensive. You might also consider making a trip up to Whistler in the summer if you have time.

I think spring in Vancouver and autumn in Vancouver are ideal times to visit because you have mild weather but fewer crowds. You can do a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities during this time.

However, I will say that I recently visited Vancouver in the winter, and even though it snowed (which isn’t common), we had our pick of any restaurant and bar we wanted since there wasn’t much of a wait. There are also still plenty of activities to do, such as winter hikes in Vancouver. You’ll also love all the Whistler snow activities, as Vancouver doesn’t get a ton of the white stuff.

For a festive experience, consider attending some of the Christmas events in Vancouver in December.

Can You Spend 3 Days in Vancouver With No Car?

Yes, even though I drive every time because Seattle is close enough, you can easily plan a Vancouver 3 day itinerary without having a car. I was pleasantly surprised at how many public transportation options there are around the city, from busses to trains (perfect if you want to go on a weekend getaway from Vancouver) and more.

Is Vancouver a Walkable City?

Not only do you not need a car in Vancouver, but you can easily walk around the city. As much as I love Seattle, we have some serious hills in the downtown and waterfront areas, so walking around is much more tiring. Vancouver is much flatter and has plenty of wide sidewalks to get around and an easy grid to follow (especially if you can establish where you are in relation to the water, which I did last time).

What to Do in Vancouver for 3 Days

Here are some of the best things to do in Vancouver for 3 days.

Walk Around the Waterfront

If you’re looking for a free activity to do, take a stroll along the harbor. I loved people watching here, from seeing the locals get in their morning jogs to watching all the seaplanes land on the water. You can visit a park and even walk to Stanley Park if you’re feeling energetic.

Stop at the Gastown Steam Clock

gastown steam clock

One of the must-see attractions on my list was the famous Gastown Steam Clock. Located in historic Gastown, it is one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Canada, with its intricate details and beautiful design.

I loved both the clock and the charming cobblestone street lined with vintage buildings and unique shops in the area, and it’s one of the more unique places to visit in the Pacific Northwest.

Walk Through Stanley Park

spring in vancouver stanley park

Did you know that Stanley Park is bigger than New York’s Central Park? That means you’ll have plenty to explore and can walk as little or as far as you want. There are plenty of different walking trails to choose from, gardens to admire, and multiple restaurants to stop at when you’re hungry.

The famous Vancouver Aquarium is also located in the park if you’re looking for an indoor activity, which is a great option for 3 days in Vancouver in winter on those cold days. You’ll also love visiting the area during Vancouver during fall due to all the beautiful foliage.

Feel like going on a drive? A road trip to Banff from Seattle is beautiful.

Visit Granville Island

granville island

Granville Island is one of the most popular attractions in Vancouver, and for a good reason. From exploring the always bustling public market to taking part in eclectic art galleries, you’ll want to stop here during your 3 days in Vancouver. I always end up buying multiple local goodies to bring back home with me.

Want another Canadian island adventure? Here’s how to spend one day in Victoria.

Check Out the Night Life

I loved how close all the restaurants and bars are in the downtown Vancouver area, which makes it really easy to walk and figure out where you want to go next.

While I’m not into clubs anymore, here are some of my favorite places to get an adult beverage:

  • Clough Club for specialty cocktails
  • The Magnet for a huge assortment of beer and cider
  • Alibi Room for a large selection of beer and wine

Book a Seaplane Tour

vancouver seaplane tours

If you want a really unique experience during your time in visit Vancouver in 3 days, you’ll want to go on a seaplane tour. This is such a fun way to see the Vancouver skyline and look at everywhere you’ve just walked during your trip.

They’re only 20 minutes long, which may help persuade you if you’re scared of smaller planes. I’ve done this before, and it’s a pretty smooth ride, and I don’t like small planes. It’s a fun activity during 3 days in Vancouver in the summer.

Book your Vancouver waterfront seaplane tour online.

Go Shopping

gastown vancouver

When the exchange rate is reasonable, Vancouver is one of my favorite places to indulge in retail therapy. The downtown area is packed with all kinds of shops, from luxury boutiques to trendy stores and everything in between.

Robson Street is a must-visit for fashion lovers, where you’ll find brands like Zara, Aritzia, and Nordstrom. If you’re looking for high-end designer labels, head to Alberni Street, where you’ll find stores like Prada, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co.

The Perfect Vancouver 3 Day Itinerary

Here’s my suggested 3 days in Vancouver itinerary based on what I did during my trip.

Day 1: Gastown

On your first day, check into your hotel as early as possible. I recommend going to ARC at the Fairmont Waterfront to start your weekend and get appetizers and a cocktail (I had a lavender sour cocktail, which was amazing).

When you’re ready to go out for the night, head to Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar for dinner. It’s in the Waterfront Station and has a fun ambiance, and we got a seat right by the window so we could people-watch as we ate our dinner. They have a variety of dishes, but I recommend getting the salmon risotto one.

rogue kitchen & wetbar

After, you can head towards the Gastown neighborhood to explore for the night. There are a ton of different restaurants and bars here, so it’s fun to walk around.

You’ll want to stop at the Gastown Steam Clock, which is one of the most photogenic places in Vancouver. There was actually a line to take pictures here when we got there because it’s so popular.

If you love beer, you’ll want to go to The Magnet, which has dozens of beers to choose from. We got a flight so we could try a few different kinds (including rum + eggnog stout, which was interesting, to say the least!). They also have cider, wine, and a food menu if you’re hungry.

Day 2: Waterfront & Downtown

On the morning of the second day of your 3 day Vancouver itinerary, walk over to Caffe Artigiano, which is adorably Instagrammable. I was getting coffee to go but had to stay for a few minutes because I loved the big open windows with their little plants at each table. They had some different coffee options, such as the Spanish latte I got with a touch of condensed milk.

caffe artigiano

If you’re feeling energized, head down to the Vancouver Waterfront to start the day. While you’ll often see seaplanes landing on Lake Union when spending a day in Seattle, something about the seaplanes here landing with the majestic mountains in the background made it even more special.

If you have the time, I highly recommend booking a seaplane tour of the city to see it from a completely different angle. I’ve done this in both Seattle and Vancouver Island, and it was a breathtaking experience both times.

There’s plenty to see along the waterfront, depending on how far you want to walk. The Drop and the Digital Orca are entertaining art pieces to see along the way and make for fun photos. You can also walk along the Seawall Water Walk to get some exercise and see locals jogging when you’re looking for active things to do in Vancouver in 3 days.

digital orca

You’re probably hungry by now, so you’ll want to head somewhere amazing for brunch. That’s where Le Petite Belge comes in, where they have famous Belgium waffles and other items like salmon benedict. There will likely be a bit of a wait since it’s small, but I promise it’s worth it.

le petite belge

Now that it’s mid-day, all of the dozens of shops in downtown Vancouver should be open. There are so many places to go that I can’t list them all, but I recommend going to Robson Street to find a majority of them. Depending on what the dollar is worth, it’s an ideal time to stock up and save money if you need a few items.

When you’re ready for a late lunch, head over to Vancouver’s Chinatown to Bao Bei. The dumplings and potstickers are handmade each day, which makes them incredible. I also recommend getting a side of fried rice to go with your meal.

After that, take a stroll over to the Vancouver Public Library on W Georgia St. I had never noticed this before, but this library looks like a giant colosseum with how it’s designed. It’s beautiful, and I recommend going inside if you have time.

vancouver public library

You’ll probably want to freshen up at your hotel and relax for a bit, but then it’s time for dinner. It’s time to enjoy some of the famous seafood Vancouver is known for, so head over to Fanny Bay Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market to enjoy an amazing meal. I recommend getting one of the dozen different types of oysters to start with.

Day 3: Stanley Park & Granville

For the last day of your 3 day trip to Vancouver, head to Stanley Park for a relaxing morning. I love stopping here every time I drive through the city for a bit of tranquility.

If you want to walk from downtown Vancouver, you can stop at Lost Lagoon or Coal Harbour, which are on the south side. While you’ll likely want your car, I personally love going to the north part of the part where you can see Lions Gate Bridge. You can make a quick stop at Breka Bakery & Cafe on Denman to grab coffee and pastries to go before you head into the park.

stanley park gardens

When you’re done, it’s time to visit Granville Island Public Market. There are more than 50 vendors here, so you’re sure to find something to take home. You can visit Dockside Restaurant for an elegant lunch experience or get a beer at the more casual Granville Island Brewing Co.

Alternatively, you could stay at Stanley Park and visit the Vancouver Aquarium. For lunch, my personal favorite is Stanley Park Brewing Restaurant & Brewpub for beautiful views of the park while you eat.

After that, it might sadly be time to check out and start heading home.

If you have more time and are headed south, I highly recommend checking out the historic town of Steveston in Richmond. There are so many cute restaurants and shops along the river, and Shintaro Sushi Japanese Restaurant is an ideal place to eat your last meal in Canada.

fishermans wharf steveston

Hopefully you enjoyed your 3 days in Vancouver and can’t wait to start planning your next trip there!

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