Vancouver is a gorgeous city nestled between the ocean and the mountains, and divided into various communities by the Burrard Inlet and the branches of the Fraser River.
To capture the essence of this city, here are suggestions for your first day (especially if its your only day) in Vancouver. This inlcudes both sides of the Burrard Inlet waterfront, so you get an intimate perspective of the city, the mountains, and the water:
Get downtown by bus, taxi, or car. Go to the SeaBus terminal, beside Canada Place.
Take the SeaBus over to North Vancouver. Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge, and West Vancouver are on your left. North Vancouver is straight ahead, and downtown Vancouver is behind you.
Shop at the Lonsdale Quay Market, grab a bagel, and head back downtown. The 12-minute ride rests you for a day of walking around. Head up Londale Ave for some great views back at Vancouver and Stanley Park.
Check out Gastown with its old buildings, cobblestoned streets, and steam-powered clock. You can sneak views of Vancouver Harbour's docklands and container port.
Wander up the hill a bit into Chinatown, the second largest in North America. Grab a fine Dim Sum meal or devour a Peking Duck as a snack.
Zip through downtown to Robson Street with its fine boutiques.
End up at Stanley Park and wander around the Seawall (it's a 10 kilometre walk around the seawall to English Bay, so if it's late or you're a bit weary, short-cut along Denman Street to English Bay and enjoy the sunset from one of the restaurant patios.
On the second day focus on the downtown area: its big, and it's busy! Here is a recommended itinerary:
Breakfast at the Westin Bayshore Inn watching the seaplanes take off and land before your eyes.
Catch a taxi over to Granville Island and experience the aquatic feel from the many unique shops and fresh produce from the Lower Mainland.
Scoot westward to Kitsilano and enjoy the sights of Kits Beach in the summertime. There are lots of interesting restaurants and shops in the neighbourhood. Backtrack along the shoreline to the Maritime Museum with the St Roch, the first boat ever to cross the Arctic Ocean along the famed Northwest Passage.
Take the water ferry across False Creek and wander eastward to BC Place, one of the largest air-supported roofs in the world. Check out the monument to Canadian runner Terry Fox, who attempted a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research.
Head toward downtown through Yaletown. Check out the trendy boutiques and restaurant. Take a short break here.
Head north toward the waterfront, and you'll pass the Vancouver Public Library, several performing arts theatres and Chinatown (detour to the Sun Yat Sen Gardens)
As you walk west along Powell Street you will get great views of the cranes on the Vancouver Harbour before getting back to the Seabus Terminal and downtown, with its many department stores and shopping complexes like Pacific Centre.
If you have any energy left, check out the nightlife along Richards Street.
If you are visiting for a longer period, there are a number of destinations worth visiting (each about a half day, including driving):
Burnaby, is just to the east of downtown. Head east on East Hastings and you'll pass the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) with its summer long amusement rides, and take the road up Burnaby Mountain, You'll be rewarded with a tour of Simon Fraser University's campus (designed by Vancouver architect Arthur Ericson) but stunning mountain-top east-facing views of Burrard Inlet and north up rugged Indian Arm. Head back via Burnaby Lake, with various civic buildings, museums, and recreational facilities on its shores.
Horseshoe Bay, a quaint harbor community, on Highway 1 west (but don't actually go on a ferry). Take the Upper Levels Highway to get there, but take Marine Drive back, for great views of the UBC Headlands, while passing Lighthouse Park, and number of small boat-filled coves, and Dundarave Park and the Park Royal Mall before crossing back over the Lions Gate Bridge.
Deep Cove, a beach town nestled among the tall trees, on the eastern end of the North Shore on Indian Arm. Enjoy a nice coffee and watch the seals, sailboats and kayaks in the cove.
Steveston Village, a historic fishing village, on the southwest tip of Richmond. The cannery is a national historic site, and there is a great museum. On the way back through Richmond, visit Minoru Park (surrounded by various civic, entertainment, and recreation facilities, and to the east is the Golden Mile Asian marketplace. Head north along River Road and enjoy the Fraser River waterfront while watching planes land at Vancouver International Airport.
White Rock, the most splendid beach in the Vancouver area, close to the US border. There's the Rock, the pier, the beach, and the shopping & dining along the beach.
Fort Langley, a wooden fort that dates back to the early (gold rush) days of BC settlement. Take the Trans-Canada east to Langley, and head north, following the signs. To the south you will see snow-covered Mount Baker, in the US. Return via the Golden Ears Bridgew toll-free) and drive west on Lougheed Highway (#7) through Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, crossing the Pitt River, back through Coquitlam, and Port Moody where you can visit the Port Moody Railway Museum. The road winds on the north side of Burnaby Mountain with views of Burrard Inlet, and the oil refineries and oil tanker docks before cursing through Burnaby into East Vancouver.