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 in which to live.
Most folk are aware of Vancouver’s stylish waterfront, with its ferries, yachts, seagulls, people; to-ing and fro-ing, hither and thither. It’s also known as a gateway city for many a great combination trip; pair it up with a road trip along the often overlooked Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, for example, or a visit to the Great Bear Rainforest, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Or head down to Seattle across the US border to visit its unique Space Needle or learn more about its influential grunge music scene of the 90s.
But don’t even think about leaving too soon – there is so much to see and do in this friendly and open city. Here are some of my favourite spots that give Vancouver its unique appeal.
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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. Heights aren’t my thing at the best of times, so this was going to be a challenge. It was worth the nerves though. Read my companion Kathryn’s post about the park’s history, and my extraordinary courage (!).
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 hopefully 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 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 at the Boutique Travel Blog.
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre & GMS Observatory
For stargazing purposes, being at sea level is not verypful. 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:
“Through innovative programming, exhibits and activities, our goal is to educate, inspire and evoke a sense of wonder about the Universe, our planet and space exploration”
Undoubtedly, I will visit Canada again in my lifetime, or at least I hope to. I’ve explored but a tiny corner of this incredibly diverse and welcoming land, and any opportunity to visit a new part will be grabbed with both hands. But if my next visit happens to be Vancouver again, it’ll be no hardship, because it’s a city to savour many times over.
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. This post was first written to coincide with the Royal Visit of 2016.