You don’t need a car to enjoy Metro Vancouver’s most popular sightseeing destinations. Vancouver, North Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby are easily accessible by public transit, and there are convenient shuttle bus and floatplane connections from Vancouver to Whistler, Victoria, and beyond. Enjoy the gentler pace of car-free travel on this four-stop itinerary featuring gorgeous gardens, snowy slopes, and urban adventures.
When to go: winter to fall.
From the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on Sea Island, take the Canada Line to Richmond-Brighouse. Some hotels in Richmond also offer free shuttle bus services for guests. Travelling light? Stop at Templeton station and visit McArthurGlen Designer Outlet to find clothing and other necessities—or make the stop on your way home instead.
Arrive at your Richmond accommodation.
Richmond is deeply influenced by Asian culture and features some of the best Chinese food in the world. There are several unique food courts and restaurants clustered around Aberdeen station—stop for a delicious snack at Aberdeen Mall or Yaohan Centre, and check out The Dumpling Trail: A constellation of 20 restaurants serving every kind of Asian dumpling. Visit a few, or try them all on this self-guided tour. For a splurge, book an organized food tour with Authentic Asian Eats. Or, join Globe and Mail food critic Alexandra Gill for the Richmond Chinese Dinner Party: Classic Cantonese to New Wave dining experience, which explores the evolution of Richmond’s vibrant Chinese culinary scene, offering guests the opportunity to taste up to 10 dishes, paired with dessert, wine, and beer. Need to walk off a big meal or stretch your legs after a long flight? Visit Richmond’s popular Middle Arm and West Dyke trails (located within a 5-km radius of downtown) for an easy stroll along the edge of the scenic Fraser River, a nature-lover’s paradise.
Stay overnight in Richmond.
It’s not just planes that land in Richmond. Millions of migratory birds stop along the Fraser River estuary on their north-south migratory route between Alaska and South America—also known as the Pacific Flyway. British Columbia has several popular bird trails that offer unique experiences, such as award winning nature photographer Liron Gertsman’s guided birding tours, suitable for hobbyists and enthusiasts alike.
Keep the nature vibes going with a short bus ride to Steveston Village, a historic fishing community that is still the largest commercial fishing harbour on the west coast. Start at Garry Point Park and stroll the riverfront, where you’ll find a charming variety of restaurants, shops, playgrounds, and many other activities, including whale-watching tours. There are also two National Historic Sites: The Gulf of Georgia Cannery and Britannia Shipyards. Both sites boast stunning views of the Fraser River, with exhibits highlighting the fascinating history of the region and the diverse peoples who make it thrive. To get to Steveston Village: take Translink bus #401, 402, 406, or 407 from the Richmond-Brighouse Canada Line train station.
Overnight in Richmond.
Onwards to Victoria on Vancouver Island via a mini-cruise with BC Ferries. The company is working to advance sustainability with significant long-term environmental, socio-economic, and community investments. The BC Ferries Connector leaves from Vancouver International Airport for direct travel to downtown Victoria. Check the most current schedule and pre-purchase a ticket online or by phone.
Take the Canada Line to YVR Airport station. Depending on the time of the day and the location of the hotel, this could take up to 45 minutes by public transit. It is sometimes a faster journey by taxi or hotel shuttle. Alternatively, pick up Translink bus #620 from Bridgeport Station to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and board the ferry as a foot passenger. Drop luggage at the designated area and pick it up upon arrival at the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal on Vancouver Island.
The ferry journey from the mainland to Victoria includes a scenic 90-minute crossing through the Gulf Islands, with lunch available onboard. From Swartz Bay, buses #70 or #72 travel to Victoria’s downtown Inner Harbour area.
Arrive in downtown Victoria, late afternoon.
Most tourist attractions in Victoria are located within a 2.5-km radius of the BC Legislature buildings, and Victoria’s downtown is easy to navigate by foot, bike, bus, and water taxi. For example, Canada’s oldest Chinatown is a short 1-km stroll along the harbourfront, and picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf is roughly the same distance in the opposite direction. Transit Tip: Both locations are accessible by bus #5 or #7 or via Victoria Harbour Ferries. Historic Craigdarroch Castle can be reached by buses #2, #5, #11, #27, and #28.
The brightly coloured Victoria Harbour Ferries are a unique transportation and sightseeing combo, with stops all around the Inner Harbour and a variety of tour options including the historically fascinating Victoria Gorge Tour and party-friendly Pickle Pub Crawl. Service hours shift with changing daylight hours, so be sure to check schedules in advance.
Speaking of pub crawls: Enjoy a before-dinner brew at Phillips Brewing & Malting Company, just a short stroll from Chinatown. Phillips has embraced a broad range of environmental initiatives that help reduce waste, lower overall emissions, and save water. Next, it’s on to dinner, which always tastes better when you know where your food comes from. Local farmers and fishers are at the heart of the Victoria dining experience.
Stay overnight in Victoria with a sustainable accommodation provider.
Fuel up for a day of visiting Victoria’s famous gardens with a 360-degree city view at Vista 18 Restaurant & Lounge, and feel good that the restaurant sources their ingredients from local land and sea.
Book your visit to the Butchart Gardens in advance with the Butchart Gardens Express Shuttles, operated by Gray Line Sightseeing. The tour operates year round but has limited schedules in winter when the gardens close briefly. Alternatively, BC Transit’s #75 bus travels to the gardens from downtown Victoria. Named a National Historic Site in 2004, the spectacular 55-acre garden has attracted visitors from around the world for more than a century, and is a leader in responsible garden management. Take a break to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea in the dining room; menus feature local ingredients and change with the season.
In the afternoon, take bus #75 (or enjoy the 2.3-km walk) and hop off at Keating Cross Roads in West Saanich for a three-minute walk to the family-friendly Victoria Butterfly Gardens—an especially warm and welcoming diversion in colder weather. Featuring beautiful butterflies, lush tropical plants, frogs, tortoises, iguanas, flamingos, and free-flying tropical birds, it’s a magical environment for all ages that’s certified by the Vancouver Island Green Business Program.
For grown-ups, the next stop is just up the road: Church & State is the largest winery on Vancouver Island, producing 100 per cent BC VQA wines from grapes grown in their own estate Vineyards. The tasting room and bistro are open year round except for a few weeks in December. Check opening hours online and reserve ahead. Return to downtown Victoria via the #75 bus.
Come dinnertime, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to eating local: Many Victoria restaurants feature ingredients harvested from the nearby farms, fields, and forests. A popular option is 10 Acres Farm & Restaurants, with four downtown eateries famous for their farm-to-table meals.
Overnight in Victoria.
Bundle up for a sustainably focused wildlife viewing experience with Eagle Wing Tours, Orca Spirit Adventures, or Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures. There’s plenty of wildlife activity around the Salish Sea in the winter: Watch for bald eagles, seals, sea lions, porpoises, and dolphins. While there’s no guarantee of seeing whales, you can be confident they’re out there—just not as close as they are in summer. Book in advance because winter schedules can be limited and are weather-dependent. Tours depart in the morning, returning to the Inner Harbour in the early afternoon.
In the afternoon golden hour, capture a selfie or two at photogenic downtown locations such as the BC Legislature buildings, the Fairmont Empress, the Gates of Harmonious Interest and Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown, Bastion Square, Market Square, Munro’s Books, and Roger’s Chocolates. There are many repurposed heritage buildings in downtown Victoria—history buffs will want to check out the information plaques to delve deeper.
Overnight in Victoria.
After breakfast, soar back across the Salish Sea to Vancouver on a scenic flight over the Gulf Islands with Harbour Air or Helijet. These local carbon-neutral airlines live the values of corporate social responsibility and are currently developing electric aircraft. Harbour Air’s first electric floatplane debuted in December 2019 and is expected to soon be approved to join the fleet.
Land in downtown Vancouver, check any luggage at your nearby hotel, and set out to explore on foot, bike, bus, or SkyTrain. Most sightseeing spots are within a 30-minute walk from the Vancouver Art Gallery and Robson Square in the heart of Vancouver. Travel without touching the ground with a visit to Canada Place, where Flyover Canada will sweep you across Canada in an immersive 4D movie experience. A stone’s throw from the double LEED Platinum Vancouver Convention Centre and Jack Poole Plaza, it’s a great location for souvenir photos, especially when the sun’s lighting up the North Shore Mountains. To learn more about some of Vancouver’s greenest buildings, check out Green Building Audio Tours.
From Coal Harbour, it’s a short walk along the seawall to Stanley Park—or a ride on the #19 bus—to North America’s second-largest urban forest park. Until the 1950s, there were Indigenous communities in this location and you can learn more about the ancient and enduring Indigenous connection to Stanley Park with Talaysay Tours’ Talking Trees Tour, where an Indigenous cultural ambassador shares ecological and cultural practices. While Stanley Park features many excellent photo opportunities, perhaps the most-photographed location is Brockton Point, where several carved totem poles are located.
Vancouver is a foodie heaven—a vibrant culinary destination with endless dining options. Seafood is a big draw, and many restaurants and grocery stores in the city are part of the Ocean Wise Seafood Program, which aims to prevent overfishing, pollution, and climate change. Founded in Vancouver in 2005 with 16 participating restaurants, Ocean Wise now includes more than 750 members. The not-for-profit program uses a scoring system to make it easier for the public to dine responsibly—just look for the Ocean Wise symbol on your restaurant menu.
When it comes to resting your head in Vancouver, you’ll have plenty of sustainably-focused options to choose from. Many hotels have new and innovative programs, such as the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel’s Bee Garden Project, Listel Hotel’s Five Green Keys rating, and Coast Harbour Hotel’s Refreshingly Green Initiatives.
Overnight in Vancouver.
Today, head up to the mountains and down to the market, In the morning, hop on the SeaBus and cross Vancouver Harbour to Lonsdale Quay, then take bus #236 to visit two popular North Shore attractions.
Surrounded by forest, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is an all-ages adventure experience featuring the original Suspension Bridge high above the Capilano River canyon, and the newer Treetop Adventures and Cliffwalk. The park’s long commitment to environmental stewardship includes partnering on the Metro Vancouver zero waste challenge, Ocean Wise membership, and a rainforest replanting program.
Farther up the road, Grouse Mountain Resort promises a winter wonderland for visitors and skiers alike. On a clear day, let the Skyride whisk you to panoramic views of the Vancouver skyline and distant cities and waterways. Here, you can skate, ski, and snowshoe—or just enjoy the epic views over a hot chocolate. When it comes to sustainability, the resort’s Blue Grouse Practice strives for social, environmental, and economic impact.
Take bus #236 back to Lonsdale Quay and return to downtown Vancouver via the SeaBus.
In the afternoon, take bus #4, #7, #10, #14, #16, or #50 to Granville Island, arguably the second-most visited attraction in Canada. On the return journey, consider taking a False Creek Ferry or Aquabus back to Vancouver—scenic and affordable mini-cruises that will deliver you to the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, David Lam Park, or Yaletown.
In 1916, the area around today’s Granville Island was known as Industrial Island. It was a manmade island built on mudflats with material dredged from False Creek—a place to put the warehouses, mills, factories, and shops that serviced the burgeoning city of Vancouver. In the 1950s, the city filled in Granville Island’s back channel to create more industrial land, so it was no longer an island. For decades, the area was an unsightly industry wasteland, but in the 1970s, the city collaborated with the federal government to reclaim and revitalize the land—now treasured by tourists and locals alike for its vibrant public market, diverse cultural offerings, family-friendly parks, and artisanal food scene.
The popular Granville Island Public Market Tour leads visitors through more than 20 signature Canadian tastings, including organic breads, local charcuterie, British Columbia cheeses, and donuts from Granville Island’s top food artisans.
Overnight in Vancouver.
There are a number of scheduled shuttle services to and from Whistler. Epic Rides connects downtown Vancouver and Whistler; Skylynx connects YVR and Whistler, with occasional stops in downtown Vancouver; and Whistler Shuttle provides door-to-door and meet-and-greet services at YVR.
From downtown Vancouver, it takes less than two hours to get to Whistler, a four-season resort destination that includes the largest ski resort in Canada. Because winter is the prime ski/snowboard season, visitors are encouraged to beat the crowds by visiting mid-week.
Get to know Whistler Village at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains—a pedestrian area with more than 200 shops and 90 restaurants, as well as assorted spas, galleries, clubs, and pubs. Download online maps for details of where to eat, shop, and play, or try Go Whistler Tours, a free local guide to self-guided cultural, culinary, and outdoor experiences in the region. Discover an amazing variety of trees during the 2-km “Weird and Wonderful Trees” tour, or indulge in some local specialties at the “Craft Beer” and “Sweet Treat” tours.
At the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, cultural ambassadors from Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh and Lil̓wat7úl Nations greet visitors with a welcome song and a short film before their guided tours. Learn about the unique cultures of both nations on their shared territory, enjoy authentic Indigenous meals in the Thunderbird Café, and visit the gift shop to purchase responsibly sourced Indigenous gifts. A short stroll away, the Audain Art Museum features remarkable works by BC artists from the 18th century to present, including The Dance Screen (The Scream Too), a finely carved red cedar sculpture by Haida Chief 7idansuu (James Hart).
When it comes time to eating, Whistler’s food scene is as memorable as its mountainous scenery, with everything from budget eateries to award-winning fine dining spots like Wild Blue, Bearfoot Bistro, and Araxi. Meanwhile, Whistler Tasting Tours introduces you to the mountain town’s best-kept culinary secrets.
Spend the night in Whistler with a sustainably-minded hotel provider.
Whistler takes outdoor adventure seriously, regardless of the season. From winter through early spring, snow sports are the big draw: Skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. But there are many other ways to enjoy being outside, too: dog sledding during the winter and mountain biking in the spring, for example, or simply enjoying the view from the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola or relaxing at the Scandinave Spa. It’s entirely possible to enjoy a morning on the slopes and the afternoon in a sauna, followed by dinner and a nightcap at one of the resort’s pubs, clubs, or lounges.
The resort municipality has taken the Balanced Scorecard Approach to develop its 2023-2026 Corporate Plan with various communities’ input and monitoring. The plan includes four core priorities: Housing, Community Engagement, Climate Action, and Smart Tourism. Building infrastructure for electric vehicles, expanding housing for employees, and managing demands through dispersion to minimize the impacts on the environment and the community are some of the many initiatives undertaken.
Whistler Blackcomb, a Vail Resorts property, is aggressively pursuing a comprehensive sustainability commitment with the Vail Resorts Epic Promise Commitment to Zero. Started at Whistler Blackcomb, this ambitious undertaking commits to net zero emissions, net zero waste to landfill, and net zero operating impact to forests and habitat on which the resorts operate for the entire Vail Resorts network by 2030. Learn more about Whistler Blackcomb’s Top 10 Environmental Strategy.
Overnight in Whistler.
Return to Vancouver International Airport via Whistler shuttle services. The airport has committed to eliminating emissions from its operations, becoming net-zero by 2030.
Written by Julie Ovenell.