VANCOUVER — Traditionally, when you think about going on vacation, your imagination goes to relaxing on the beach, learning about a destination's culture and history, indulging in regional food and drink and letting go of your daily routine. But recently, younger travellers have been choosing their destinations for another reason — getting in a good workout.
Whether it’s taking the journey to Los Angeles or New York for a weekend filled with boutique fitness classes, or planning a weekend of hiking and running in Oregon, fitness has moved away from the hotel gym and has become the focus of the getaway.
Again and again, Vancouver has been named Canada’s fittest city and one of the healthiest cities in the world. With temperatures that barely dip below zero, an incredibly functional public transportation system and a jaw-dropping gorgeous scenic backdrop, it can be relatively easy to stay active on a daily basis.
Above: From Stanley Park runners get a great view of Vancouver's skyline.
I flew into Vancouver on a Friday morning for a whirlwind weekend that included SoulCycle, a beautiful hike, a lot of walking and Canada’s biggest 10km race — the Vancouver Sun Run.
I’ve highlighted some of my favourite physical activities to do in Vancity and encourage you to include at least one during your next visit:
Boutique Fitness Classes
The latest fitness trend across North America is group fitness classes in boutique studios — and the leader of these is SoulCycle. The chic Yaletown studio opened its doors in July 2017 and has had clients dipping, pumping and moving to the music ever since. This high-intensity spin class gets you out of the saddle and moving to the beat of the music while following the choreography of an energetic instructor.
The studio is dark and full of energy, so get up and dance like nobody’s watching.
Pro tip: Check out the instructor bios online before registering. You’ll be able to see the style of music they play and some insight into their personality and how they’ll motivate you to work your hardest.
If gains are more your style, GymBox (909 W Broadway) is the place to go for a full body workout. Group training classes range from Barre, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), (heavy) Weight Lifting, TRX, Boxing to Training Day boot camp.
Trainers will guide you through the workout and push you to your limits to achieve your goals in endurance, speed, agility and strength. GymBox also offers customized nutrition plans that will help accelerate your progress.
Pro tip: GymBox offers a two-week $29 intro pass you can use for any of its classes — perfect for a short vacation in Vancouver.
Above: Vancouver has plenty of beaches where you can work out.
To slow it down, YYoga (multiple locations throughout the city) has got you covered. You can relax your muscles in a restorative class, sweat out your stress in the hot room, and find deeper connection to yourself and your breathing in yin and meditation.
The popular yoga studios offer a beautiful and open space for your practice, often with large windows allowing natural sunlight to pour in (or cloudy views, depending on the season). There are showers and towels available to rent (much-needed after a class in the hot room). The different studios also have different offerings in terms of snacks, refreshments and infrared sauna.
Pro tip: Your first class is $10, and if you have no mat, no problem; mats are available for a $3 rental fee.
Vancouver’s most popular hike, and the most challenging, is the 2.9km Grouse Grind. Locals and visitors flock to the trail in North Vancouver for a gruelling, mostly vertical, ascent of Grouse Mountain. A warning sign at the quarter mark lets hikers know that the trail only gets steeper and tougher from then on, and if they think the first portion was a challenge, they may want to turn around and go back down.
Athletes take on the grind as a speed and endurance challenge, and you will often see people running up the trail while you take a much-needed break. The average person (like me) can complete the grind in about 1 hour and 30 minutes, whereas the all-time fastest record is 23 minutes and 48 seconds.
Once you reach the top take a minute to breathe in the fresh mountain air before you explore and choose which activities to take part in — some activities will require you to book ahead, so check the website and plan accordingly.You can grab a bite to eat, visit the grizzly bear habitat, watch the breathtaking Birds in Motion demonstration, take a guided eco walk, take on the trails with a mountain bike, go zip-lining between mountains and much more when you reach the summit.
Above: A hike up Grouse Mountain will test your endurance,
For those who are looking for a more leisurely hike, the beautiful Quarry Rock hike in Deep Cove will still get your heart rate up, but offers relief from the incline. The 3.8km round-trip hike has become increasingly popular in recent years, so it’s important to arrive early to find parking and avoid a crowded trail. There are plenty of stairs and plenty of trees, creating a leisurely and scenic walk to the lookout point. Along the way you’ll also cross bridges over small streams and waterfalls that add variety to what is otherwise a typical wooded hike. The lookout point over Indian Arm is a wonderful reward and makes a great place to sit in the sun or snap an Instagram-worthy shot of the landscape.
Pro tip: Before the trek grab a treat from Honey’s Doughnuts & Goodies in town. The doughnuts melt in your mouth and are full of flavour — and taste even better once you’ve worked up your appetite hiking.
Walking and Running
While there are many parks and trails to visit, Vancouver’s city landscape actually offers the ideal route for runners and walkers alike. The Seawall around Stanley Park is a popular place for locals to stretch their legs. You can choose to walk/run the 10km loop, or venture into the park for a detour.
As mentioned earlier, I took part in the Vancouver Sun Run, Canada’s largest 10km race with an incredible 41,645 participants.
Beginning in Vancouver's downtown core, the race heads around Stanley Park, follows the Seawall along the English Bay, passes Granville Island and then over the Cambie Street Bridge to the finish line at B.C. Place Stadium.
Because of the high participation, the course is dense and the pack never breaks. This may be frustrating for some runners, but what it does for many is create a strong sense of community and allows each individual to be carried by the adrenaline. It was an incredible thing to be a part of and gives you an entirely new way of exploring the gorgeous city.
The best perk of a fitness vacation remains valid: You can enjoy the food, drink and relaxation without feeling the need to get “back on track" and “back to your routine” when you get home.