I’ve been itching to visit Vancouver for a long time. The city is constantly voted on top of the list for liveability and quality of life. It also continues to receive constant high accolades for its fantastic and still rapidly evolving food scene.
Vancouver is also a place that perfectly blends big city life (steel, glass and skyscrpers) with nature, and the list of activities in and around the city is almost endless.
So when I was planning a road trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it was clear that Vancouver had to be part of the programme.
With only two full days to spend here – and the weather for the first time during the two and a half week trip not greatly collaborating – my to-do list for the city became fairly small but it still included what I reckon you should see as a first time visitor. Thankfully, downtown Vancouver is quite small and completely walkable so this is not too difficult to achieve.
A stroll through Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, is clearly a must. With its cobbled streets lined by Victorian houses the area has retained a lot of its lovely historic charm. There are a lot of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, so it’s worth to take some time to stroll around.
In Gastown, you will also find Vancouver’s famous steam clock, the last one still in use world-wide (it is actually working on electricity, only the pipes are filled with steam). At each full hour the pipes will release steam and play a little symphony.
Canada Place, built for Expo 1986 today is a convention centre and cruise ship terminal. It offers great views of Burrand Inlet – if the weather permits. A recently added new attraction at the end of the pier is FlyOver Canada. As the name suggests, it is all about experiencing a flight over Canada (virtually, in about eight minutes). Thanks to the latest technology, a giant circular screen and a seat hanging suspended in front of that screen plus a couple of special effects like creating wind and mist, you will get the impression as if your are indeed flying. It’s fun and you will get some idea about the greatness of the country, so go and try it if you have some time left.
Yaletown is another of the city’s historic districts where old warehouses were turned into independent galleries, cafes, patios and little shops. It’s duped one of Vancouver’s hottest up-and-rising areas and just a short distance away from downtown. Although to tell the truth I have not been too impressed.
Granville Island is another absolute must when visiting Vancouver. Located on a small peninsular across False Creek not too far from the city centre at the end of Granville Street Bridge, it once was a run-down industrial area. Today there are many art galleries, craft studios, theatres, cafes and the areas undoubtedly main attraction, the much lauded Granville Island Public Market, featuring artisanal goods and fresh produce. Make sure you come hungry at any time of the day (usually people come for breakfast or lunch) and taste the fresh food offered at the numerous stalls, from bread, charcuterie, cheese, pies, salmon, lobster, all sorts of sweets and anything between.
Vancouver also has a large number of museums, including the Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum and the MacMillan Space Centre. if your time is limited and you have to pick only one, however, I strongly recommend the Museum of Anthropology. The display of northwest coast aboriginal artefacts in one of the best and offers intriguing insights into the First Nations history.
And finally, no trip to Vancouver is complete without spending some time at Stanley Park. This round about 400 hectare site is the beating heart of the city. Set away a full day to truly explore the park and its various attractions like the Totem, Poles, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Miniature Railway.
In the park (or better around it) the nearly nine kilometre long Seawall Promenade, the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path, invites to walk or cycle around the park (you can rent bikes at the park’s entrance). The promenade offers great views of the Vancouver downtown skyline, Burrard Inlet, the North Shore mountains and the Lions Gate Bridge (again, weather permitting).
Have you been to Vancouver? What did you like most about the city?