Vancouver’s Top 5 Secrets: Tour Group Insider Tells All

Urban Adventures' Bike Tour

We all know that Stanley Park is stunning. And the Grouse Grind is amazing. And nothing beats a Saturday at Granville Island Market. But there’s a lot more to Vancouver than that. To dig deeper and find some real hidden gems in the city, I’ve enlisted the help of Urban Adventures, a unique group that offers walking, biking and hiking tours around Vancouver.

“You can do lots of tours, but not many people let you get off the beaten path like we do,” says Blaise Sack, the veteran guide who designs and leads Urban Adventures’ outings. Trips range from a two-hour tour of Gastown and Chinatown (a bargain at $25) to their newest excursion, a five-hour bike tour around Stanley Park and into Granville Island and Olympic Village ($75).

After leading hundreds of tours around the city, Blaise has accumulated a treasure trove of hidden gems. Here are some of his most coveted Vancouver secrets.

1) The Long Table Series at the Irish Heather. Located in Gastown, the Irish Heather is among the more authentic and old-school Irish pubs in the city (though it only opened in 2008).  What really sets it apart, however, are its nightly fixed-menu suppers.  Guests are seated at a single long table and served a lovingly prepared Irish meal – like braised beef shortribs with roast parsnips.  Meals come with a beer and are a bargain ($12 most nights).


Blaise Sack from Urban Adventures at The Irish Heather.

2) Hill’s Native Art. While the Bill Reid Gallery may be more famous, Hill’s Native Art in Gastown is the continent’s largest Northwest Coast Aboriginal art gallery.  The first floor is jam-packed with masks, totem polls and other carvings, but the real showpieces are tucked away on the third floor, where few shoppers ever bother to look.

3) ChocolaTas on Granville Island. Located in the Public Market, this gourmet chocolate shop is where master chocolatier Wim Tas works his magic.  Tas emigrated from Belgium in 2002, where he was trained at Maison Wittamer, the exclusive supplier of chocolate to the Belgian royal family.  Chocolates are made by hand using fresh ingredients and incorporating unique flavors including Tuscan hazelnuts, Iranian pistachios, Provençal orange peel and Champagne.

4)The Mill at Coal Harbor. On a sunny afternoon, there’s few better places to grab a beer than The Mill Marine Bistro, which boasts Vancouver’s largest outdoor patio.  The setting on Coal Harbor – with views of the Burrard Inlet, North Shore mountains and float planes circling in for a landing – makes the patio even more special.

5) The Hang Out Place on Granville Island. This small shop on Granville Island specializes in selling hammocks – from beautifully woven Mayan and Brazilian hammocks to utilitarian camping and backpacking varieties.  But their real claim to fame is their own invention: a chair hammock dubbed “The Hang Out.” The innovative design – with the hammock itself suspended from a cross bar – makes for an incredibly comfortable lounging experience.  It’s “perhaps the greatest invention since egg chairs from the ’70s,” says Blaise from Urban Adventures.

Photo credit: The Hang Out Place

These are just a few of the secrets exposed on Urban Adventures’ city tours.   “I’ve lived here almost all my life, and every day I learn something new on the tours,” Blaise says.  If you’re visiting Vancouver for the first time or a “lifer” interesting in learning more about the city, you can check out the complete line-up of Urban Adventures’ tours on their website.

Remy Scalza


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