Highlights of Vibrant Vancouver – A City To Savour
If you followed 2016’s Royal tour in British Columbia, you’ll know that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s itinerary was jam-packed full of high-profile visits to some very worthy groups and projects.
One of their highlights was undoubtedly their visit to the Great Bear Rainforest, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, as described by Kathryn at Travel With Kat as she goes in search of grizzly bears.
Canada’s vastness means it not only has natural wealth in abundance, but some seriously impressive urban charms too. None more so than Vancouver, rightfully deemed one of the best cities in the world.
As the Royal guests swooped into the city on their Harbour Air seaplane that first weekend, they’ll have seen all sorts of other waterfront activities; ferries, yachts, seagulls, people; to-ing and fro-ing, hither and thither.
However, with one of their 30 or so engagements beckoning there was no opportunity to explore further. So I thought they (and you) may like to know what else they could have seen. Here are some of my favourite spot that give Vancouver its unique appeal.
Where west coast rainforest meets a reflective seascape and towering pillars of concrete, metal and glass.
This is the urban oasis that is Stanley Park.
The Park fans out for 400 hectares from the western edge of the downtown area and provides a haven of tranquility for romantic encounters, creative inspiration and therapeutic musings. Gardens, totem poles, hiking trails and wildlife beckon local residents and visitors, just a stone’s throw from the buzz of city life and commerce.
Every modern metropolis should have its own version of Stanley Park
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Wibbly, wobbly and wonderful. Situated a few minutes north of downtown Vancouver, the dizzying heights of Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge and the surrounding temperate rainforest make for an enthralling and educational day out.
The park owners epitomise the very best in environmental stewardship. As their website states:
By seeking to reduce the impact on the environment beyond measures required by governmental permit or rule, we will produce a better environment, conserving natural resources and ensuring our long-term sustainability.
Swaying high above the Capilano River, the bridge is the only access point into the main park. In her recent post, Travel With Kat explains more about the park’s history and whether I was able to conquer my fear of heights during our visit in June.
To most intents and purposes, Sea Village looks like a picturesque, but regular residential enclave. But just stand by the dockside and watch for a minute.
The water sloshes and laps up against the outer walls. You may start to notice things don’t seem quite right. That’s because it’s not just the water that’s moving, but the houses themselves.
These are floating homes, moored at one of only 2 locations in town where legitimate floating accommodation exists.
Unsurprisingly, this colourful row of buoyant abodes attracts hordes of curious passers-by who, intrigued, stop to investigate – without wanting to stare for too long. The usual tactic is to pretend to look around at other things for a few seconds, before turning back to take another look and some good pictures. I should know, I was one of them.
The unique construction, history and regulations of the village is explained in more detail in this article.
Gastown’s Iconic Steam Clock
Every quarter of an hour, this tick-tocking little landmark in historic Gastown (Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood) comes to life, spluttering clouds of vapour into the air and whistling shrilly.
It provides an obvious photo-call opportunity for the gathered crowds surrounding it, but its popular presence has a more interesting (and not so endearing) origin than you might think. It’s one of the many stories that illustrate the quirky vibes of Vancouver.
Fabulous, buzzing, boho-chic Granville Island.
The district has changed a lot since my first visit to the famous public market several years ago. Back then it was already a foodie mecca, with a seemingly infinite range of exotic fast food stalls serving up pots of take-away nosh. Today, it’s more epicurean and offers the highest calibre of artisanal food, along with gifts, arts & crafts and some classy ethnic clothing.
It’s really difficult to walk past any of the outlets without wanting to sample everything on display. We succumbed just the once though, at Benton Brothers, who say: ‘Oozy, stinky, runny, salty, earthy, pungent, mild, creamy, hard, soft – cheese is our passion’. So how could we resist?
The Tastes of the Town
It’s a shame when a tight schedule leaves no time to sup and savour the local flavours of a place. Fortunately, unlike our Royal counterparts, we were able to include a trip to Granville Island Brewing and a couple of visits to Cactus Club Cafe venues, one by Canada Place and the other on West Broadway.
While both outlets cater to a variety of palates, my travel partner and I found our preferences to be quite similar! For liquid refreshment, the brewery’s Hey Day Hefeweizen blend topped the bill for both of us.
As hungry travellers, we were also equally impressed by the Cactus Club Café’s famous Feenie Burger, so named after its creator, Canadian chef Robert Feenie – the restaurant’s appointed ‘Food Concept Architect’ no less. I’m no burger connoisseur (if that’s not a contradiction in terms), but it’s up there among the best I’ve tasted.
There’s so much more to savour than I’ve got space for here – for more on Vancouver’s culinary hotspots, check out local expert Johanna Read’s mouth-watering take on appetite-inducing Vancouver on the Boutique Travel Blog.
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre & GMS Observatory
For stargazing purposes, being at sea level is not very helpful. Not only are you at the mercy of coastal mists but the dense atmosphere means you’re observing the night sky through layers of air turbulence and tiny particles.
Add to that the light pollution generated by any large urban area and it makes for a challenging location from which to inspire the next generation of budding space boffins.
But Vancouver is nothing if not progressive, and the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre and the associated GMS Observatory in Vanier Park provide a riveting range of exhibits and events, from planetarium shows and interactive science stations, to live presentations and observing sessions.
The farthest reaches of the galaxy may not be visible from here, but there is much to learn from studying our Moon or fellow planets, especially when guided by one of the knowledgeable volunteers who run the sessions.
The Space Centre is a non-profit community resource, and as they state on their website:
Above: The striking foyer of the Space Centre; planetarium queue; meteorite sample; interactive exhibit.
Undoubtedly, William and Catherine will visit Canada again in their lifetimes, and perhaps get the chance to experience some of my Vancouver highlights, (or even squeeze in a glimpse of the often overlooked Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just a bit further north). But whichever part of this incredible country they return to, I hope they’ll remember to ask me along too.
Disclosure: I travelled to Vancouver in support of a Travelator Media press campaign in association with Destination Canada. My thanks to Kathryn at Travel with Kat for the invitation, and to travel eater Johanna Read for her great guidance in Vancouver.