5 Ways to Wind Down and Destress in Vancouver

Photo: Spa by JW Aqua Lounge

With its beautiful natural surroundings, Vancouver offers the possibility of finding tranquility. In addition, because the West Coast lifestyle places a priority on both physical and mental well-being, there are numerous ways to relax and unwind in the city.

Here are 5 options for destressing in 2024 while also gaining a deeper appreciation for all that Vancouver has to offer.

Spa Treatments

Photo: Spa by JW Relaxation Lounge

The more laidback ethos of Vancouver means that there is a wide selection of spas, with each one offering a different way to relax and destress. A particularly unique one is Circle Wellness, which relocated to picturesque Granville Island at the end of last year. The establishment consists of shipping containers transformed into private self-guided thermal spas, each complete with a shower, cedar soaking tub, WellPod (sauna), a cold plunge tub, and radiant heated riverstones. You book a 90 or 120-minute session and can enjoy the circuit by yourself or with another person.

Spa by JW at Parq Vancouver also offers special ways to bring calm into your life. The spa features a Mind Sync Harmonic Sleep Lounger, which uses vibrational sound therapy to aid with anxiety and bring about greater feelings of relaxation. You can also book their Spirit of the Mountain Body Treatment, which includes evergreen body exfoliation as well as a body wrap. Guests can relax on chaises or in the hydrotherapy tub found in the outdoor Aqua Lounge, which has great views of the city.

The spa menus at Vida Spa in Sutton Place Hotel and the Westin Bayshore include numerous body therapies intended to help with reducing tension and creating feelings of bliss. For instance, they have a restorative and relaxing classic massage that uses Swedish techniques, a hot stone massage, a soothing botanical aromatherapy massage, and a nidra sleep treatment. If you’re looking for a quick session before heading out to explore the city, consider their De-Stress Express Treatment, which focuses on particular areas where your body is holding tension. If you visit the location at the Westin Bayshore, you can go for a walk on the seawall afterwards for further unwinding.

Finally, Vancouver’s multicultural nature means that spa treatments reflect many different cultural traditions when it comes to relaxation. Miraj specializes in a Middle Eastern hammam experience, with gommage (exfoliation) and body rhassoul mask options. Head massages and scalp treatments, which are really big in Asia, are also now available in Vancouver, at places like Headicure, where they use techniques on your scalp to pleasurably trigger ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Responses).

Forest Bathing

Photo: Candace Campo from Talaysay Tours conducting a presentation and speaking to a group while on a walking experience in Stanley Park in Vancouver; Destination Vancouver/Kindred & Scout

Soaking up the stillness of nature has been found to be incredibly restorative. Within Vancouver itself, Stanley Park is a prime location for engaging in forest bathing. Owned and operated by Candace and Larry Campo of the Shíshálh (Sechelt) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nations, Talaysay Tours offers guided walks through Stanley Park, which combine cultural education and wellness journeys. Their Forest Bathing option is two-hours long, starting at a big cedar tree between the parking lot and the Stanley Park bus loop. From there, an experienced Forest Guide will take you into the woods where teachings related to plants are explained, and gratitude related to the interconnectedness with the natural world is cultivated.

Meanwhile, Takaya Tours, run by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, operates canoe tours and split tours (canoeing and walking) April/May to October, which allow you to connect with nature in replica ocean-going canoes. Once on the water, a guide will talk about Indigenous myths and offers songs as they talk about the land and traditional usages of it. Guests leave the tour feeling a greater sense of knowledge as well as well-being through their time in nature.

The Stanley Park Ecology Society holds numerous events that allow participants to learn more about the trees and plants in the park, as well as the birds and animals that populate it. While doing so, you can also take part in the benefits of forest bathing. Upcoming events include “Wigeons and Waddles: Water Birds of Coal Harbour” (February 10, 9:30am to 11am), a “Woods and Wetlands Walk” (February 17, 10am to 11:30am), “Heron Watch” (February 22, 5pm to 6pm), and “Owl Prowl” (February 24, 5:30pm to 7pm).

Gardens in Vancouver

The NItobe Memorial GArden at the UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver

Photo: UBC Botanical Garden

Not only does Vancouver have lush nearby forests, but it also has many gardens that bring a sense of zen to those who visit them. A favourite is the UBC Nitobe Memorial Garden, a jewel of a space that celebrates harmony, quiet, and peace. Each element of the garden, from its bridges to its local and Japanese flora exude beauty and tranquility. While on campus, you can also visit the UBC Botanical Garden, exploring its grounds (e.g., David C. Lam Asian Garden, Harold & Frances Holt Physic Garden) and potentially doing its Greenheart TreeWalk (open April to October). The UBC Rose Garden is also nearby; it blooms June to September and has gorgeous views of the water and mountains.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a Ming Dynasty-style garden, which features pristine greenery and beautiful Chinese architecture, such as pagodas, and reflective pools. In addition to walking through its many areas, you can also take part in their public tea ceremonies, which educate guests about this healthy and meditative ritual while they try two kinds of tea.

Or, you can visit Queen Elizabeth Park for relaxation. At 52-hectares, the park offers something for everyone, including Quarry Gardens with a variety of annuals and perennials, a rose garden, an arboretum, fountains, and public sculptures/art for admiring. The park features some of the best views of the city.

Vancouver Local Mountains

A mom snowshoes carrying a baby

Photo: Tara O’Grady/Sea to Sky Gondola

While Vancouver’s local mountains are spectacular for the adrenaline of downhill skiing or snowboarding, there are numerous other activities you can do on them to find stillness and calm. For example, Cypress Mountain, Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain, and the Sea to Sky Gondola all offer self-guided showshoe ­­trails, with some opportunities for guided tours. If you’re looking for an easy and short snowshoeing experience, Cypress Mountain has “Lights to the Lodge” (4pm to 9:30pm), which takes you on a lovely self-guided trail to Hollyburn Lodge. As you thoughtfully make your way, you’ll marvel at Old Growth Forest, with sparkly lights as your guide. Once you reach the Lodge, you can enjoy a beverage or snack before going along the return trail.

Mt Seymour has many beginner-friendly trails in their Discovery Snowshoe Trails, including Ole’s Pass, Explorer Trail, and Goldie Lake Loop. Their guided Twilight Snowshoe Tours are also very popular, which includes chocolate fondue. Meanwhile, Grouse Mountain features two easy self-guided snowshoe trails: the 0.5km Light Walk Loop and the 1.5km Blue Grouse Loop. Otherwise, you can opt for one of their many tours, such as Discover Showshoe Tours, Private Snowshoe Fondue Tours, and Full and New Moon Snowshoe Tours. And finally, the Sea to Sky Gondola has numerous trails as well as daily guided tours and sunset tours, which come with a cozy hot beverage. NOTE: please check snow conditions before heading out.

In the spring and summer, Vancouver’s local mountains offer pristine views and other peaceful activities such as walking, bird watching, and scenic rides on their chairlifts and gondolas. In addition, the Sea to Sky Gondola usually holds Yoga with a View from June to October on their Octagon Deck at Summit where you can set intentions while marvelling at the beautiful scenery.

Yoga and Meditation

Photo: Fairmont Pacific Rim’s The Nordic Spa (with the option of adding a yoga class)

Vancouver is home to numerous studios and instructors who specialize in traditional wellness practices such as yoga and meditation.

Ballet BC’s new MOVE studio offers gorgeous views of not only Granville Island, but also Vancouver’s downtown skyline. They host a variety of yoga classes, such as vinyasa, hatha, restorative, and gentle flow. Their candlelight flow and restore yoga is particularly soothing since half the class is devoted to breath work. One of their teachers, Tianne Allan, specializes in sound bathing, leading sessions at MOVE using crystal bowls (e.g., February 17, 1pm to 2pm).

The Westin Bayshore in Coal Harbour is the site for both indoor and outdoor yoga classes. Just Add Water Yoga teaches one-hour liquid yoga classes (Monday-Thursday Saturday) in the hotel’s outdoor pool from June to September and their indoor pool from October to May. The sessions work on stability and playful strength. The outdoor sessions are an amazing way to engage in moving meditation while being in a quintessential Vancouver setting.

Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Pacific Rim features one-hour yoga classes Thursdays (7am) and Saturdays (9am and 11am). The yoga classes are $29 for hotel guests or $178 for those not staying at the hotel. However, the $178 also includes access to the William Stream Spa and The Nordic Spa. The latter is located outdoors and includes a cold plunge, a hot tub, and a cedar plank sauna. Soak up the lushness of Vancouver’s water and mountains while enjoying the self-guided Nordic circuit. Hotel guests can use the circuit for 90-hour time slots ($35); otherwise, non-guests can visit Mondays through Thursdays for 3-hours at a time ($149, includes Willow Stream Spa facilities).

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