The people of Vancouver are fiercely proud of their city, and the first time you glimpse its mirrored skyscrapers rising up from its picturesque harbour and backed by the breathtaking and snow-capped local mountains, you’ll understand why. Easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and frequently voted its most liveable, it’s little wonder Vancouverites are so quick to celebrate life in their precious city.
Vancouver has retained many of its historic neighbourhoods, including Gastown – the original site of the small town that blossomed into modern Vancouver. Brimming with cultural attractions, including the Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Art Gallery, a strong combination of international and local exhibitions mean you’ll learn a little about the city while getting a feel for its place in the rest of the world.
Vancouver’s beautiful parks and gardens, including the Van Dusen Botanical Garden and Stanley Park, remain beautiful year-round, pushing back the winter gloom with a Christmas lights extravaganza and, for all kids great and small, a Christmas train through the park that makes even the most Grinch-like visitor smile.
Bountiful as the city’s cultural attractions are, its true magic lies in its stunning natural setting. Cradled between the coastal ranges of Mt Cyprus, Grouse Mountain and Mt Seymour and the Pacific Ocean, a few hours west on a ferry will bring you to the charming and beautiful Gulf Islands, and a 90-minute drive north will see you arrive in world-renowned ski resort, Whistler.
A clean, fresh and naturally blessed city, Vancouver will enchant, entice and maybe even seduce you.
Vancouver’s Top 10
10. Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden The only Ming Dynasty-style garden to have been built outside China in 400 years, the sheer beauty and scale of the garden is relaxing and inspiring.
5. Burnaby Village Museum For a sneak peak at 1800s Vancouver, Burnaby Village is an historical treat, complete with period buildings.
9.Granville Island Not technically an island at all, Granville Island is a hub of bars, cafés, boutique stores, a world-class produce market and some of the best seafood restaurants in Canada.
4. Vancouver Aquarium With over 70,000 creatures from around the seas, the Vancouver Aquarium also delivers the best in live animal shows, including a beluga whale. The sea badgers are an absolute must-see. They float on their backs while holding hands! Aaah!
8. Vancouver Museum The Vancouver Museum has a strict focus on the city: its past, present and future. Very informative and a great place to escape the cold in winter.
3. ancouver Lookout 50 stories up, the Vancouver Lookout provides a 360-degree view of the city, the mountains and even Vancouver Island on a cloudless day.
7.Vancouver Art Gallery Displays the best from renowned Canadian artists, as well as worldwide cultural visionaries and historical masterpieces.
2.Stanley Park Horse-drawn-cart rides around Stanley Park are considered the number one Vancouver attraction. The beautiful rides take in Deadman’s Island, Vancouver Harbour and the world-famous Rose Garden.
6.Whistler Ski Resort Site of many of the 2010 Olympic Games events and possibly the world’s most famous ski resort.
1.Capilano Suspension Bridge The Capilano Bridge is the one of the most iconic and thrilling sites in all of Vancouver, suspended 230 feet above the raging Capilano river is a great rush as you breathe in the cold Vancouver air.
- Monument of Canadian Chinese – Located near the Dr Sun Yat Sen Garden, this large monument is dedicated to the Canadian-Chinese in WWII and their invaluable efforts in constructing the Canada Pacific Railway.
- Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden – One of the most stunning spots in Vancouver.
- Irving House – This elaborate 14-room house was once occupied by Captain William Irving.
- Burnaby Village Museum – A collection of heritage and replica buildings.
- Gastown – The city’s oldest neighbourhood, featuring charming cobblestone streets and an antique steam clock.
Vancouver Art & Culture
- Vancouver Art Gallery – This downtown museum combines local and international artwork.
- Telus World of Science – Also known as Science World, this venue just south of Chinatown features exhibits, shows and galleries designed to make science fun for children.
- Contemporary Art Gallery – A small gallery featuring modern art.
- Museum of Anthropology – Based at the University of British Columbia, this museum holds thousands of artefacts.
- Vancouver Maritime Museum – Ideal for those with a passion for all things nautical.
- Pacific Centre Mall – Shops range in size and include stores like Hugo Boss and Guess.
- Sinclair Centre – Explore the upper and lower malls of this large shopping centre.
- Sears on Granville – Enjoy browsing the large variety of shops at this downtown venue.
- Park Royal Shopping Centre – Located near the Lions Gate Bridge, this mall features bargain shops and an exotic deli area.
- Richmond Centre – Features 240 stores and is perfect for shopaholics.
Gay & Lesbian Vancouver
- Vancouver Pride Parade – Typically held in July of each year, this parade attracts more than 500,000 spectators.
- 1181 – Regarded as one of Vancouver’s best lounges, this spot is a great place to enjoy a cocktail before dinner or clubbing.
- Celebrities – This is Vancouver’s largest gay and lesbian nightclub venue and is also popular with local and international DJs.
- PumpJack Pub – Also known as PJs, this casual pub has a friendly atmosphere for both locals and tourists.
- Oasis Ultra Lounge – This spot offers tapas, cocktails and a heated outdoor garden patio.
- Dragon Boat Festival – This annual festival is not to be missed by those who visit Vancouver in June.
- HSBC Celebration of Light –This four-night extravaganza features fireworks over the English Bay at the end of July and start of August.
- Stanley Park – This famous park in downtown Vancouver is a hotspot for walkers, cyclers and beachgoers.
- VanDusen Botanical Garden – This stunning garden is a relaxing place for visitors who want to temporarily escape city life.
- Playland at the PNE – A medium-sized amusement park located in East Van.
- Catch the Vancouver Canucks hockey team at the Rogers Arena between October and April.
- If you cannot catch the Vancouver Canucks, check out the Vancouver Giants junior hockey team at the Pacific Coliseum.
- Watch the BC Lions during summer and fall at the BC Place.
- Visit the Empire Field to see the Vancouver Whitecaps FC soccer team.
- Enjoy a Vancouver Canadians baseball game at the Nat Bailey Stadium in south Vancouver.
Vancouver LocalGastown and Chinatown
Emerging in the east of the city, Gastown was a series of industrial slums and Chinatown was where Chinese immigrants chose to settle after building the national railroad. Some of the oldest and most interesting buildings in Vancouver are situated in this dual district. The Gastown Steam Clock is one of the last of its kind in the world. Although seemingly unnecessary and kitsch nowadays, it still draws an enormous crowd each 15 minutes when it belches steam.
Although it can’t lay claim to being the tallest building, the Sam Kee Building is the world’s thinnest – at just 4 feet and 11 inches (1.5 metres) wide. Finally, the Vancouver Police Museum exhibits the most unusual weapons ever confiscated by the police department, as well as information on some of the weirdest and most violent (and therefore the most fascinating) crimes committed within the precinct.
This district lays claim to some of the most beautiful elements of Vancouver, including Stanley Park and a string of beaches. Stanley Park is filled with numerous attractions, including the Vancouver Aquarium, and there’s plenty to occupy the kids, too, such as the Children’s Farmyard and Miniature Railway – which is a handy way of getting around with the youngsters. The Totem Poles near Brockton Point are beautifully crafted and painted. The West End is also home to the University of British Columbia, and is a quirky mix of academics, students and well-to-do Vancouverites sitting on some of the most valuable land in the province, if not the country.
Close to Downtown and including Granville Island, which houses the local kids market and public market, South Granville is also known as the ‘Theatre District’. It features several arts and performance spaces, including the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, famed for its great productions of Broadway classics both old and new. Vancouver Theatre Sports, an incredible improvisation troupe, calls South Granville home. So if you’ve ever wanted to conquer your fear of public speaking, here’s the place.
Originally the working-class side of Vancouver, as is often the case in these inner-city slums, it is becoming increasingly gentrified, which means housing prices are on the rise and its ethnic diversity is now a selling point for the locale. The area is most famous for two things: the Pacific Coliseum, home of the Vancouver Giants (the minor league ice hockey team, owned, incidentally, by crooner Michael Bublé), and HastingsRacecourse, where the rich and hatted of Vancouver come to swan over ponies and place large bets. East Vancouver also boasts the indie and bohemian areas of Commercial Drive and Main Street, both trendy areas to grab a bite at a quirky café, see a live band at one of the many fine pubs or peruse the many thrift stores for a bargain.
Originally home to Vancouver’s hippy population, Kitsilano has become more and more fashionable and, as a result, more and more expensive. It is considered one of the prettiest suburbs of Vancouver, featuring parks and several beachfront cafes and bars. Vanier Park is a pleasant picnic spot that hosts a plethora of runners and walkers throughout the week and is home to three of the most important museums of Vancouver. The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Planetarium, which is aimed more at adults, provides an in-depth explanation of the workings of space. The Vancouver Maritime Museum covers the history of Canada’s maritime excursions. The Vancouver Museum is home to hundred of exhibits showcasing the city’s history.
Vancouver Eat & Drink
Vancouver’s food scene is one of the most innovative in the world, with service that is second to none. Well-priced, inventive and competitive, it draws on its multiculturalism and abundance of great local seafood and produce.
Lupo Restaurant Modern Italian cuisine at its most sublime and subtle, offering a great variety of beef and pasta dishes. The best feature is the private room, which comes equipped with a wine cellar and a personal waiter. You pay for the privilege, but what a privilege! Yaletown
Raincity Grill Voted best new restaurant in 2005, this Vancouver hotspot still proves a favourite among locals and travellers alike. Famous for its fantastic weekend brunch, the fish is also worth a try if only because it is personally caught for the restaurant.
Chambar Belgian Restaurant This restaurant is the epitome of new Vancouver charm: hip and a little self aware. It has a strong focus on local and fresh produce but is willing to outsource in hope of sticking to its rotational menu.
The Blue Water Café The term fresh seafood gets thrown around a lot. But how do you know? At the Blue Water Café you know. How? Your dinner is sitting in a tank next to your table. If you can get past the fact that you’re ordering your dining neighbours, it’s superb.
Tonic Vancouver’s hottest nightclub. Simple as that. Attracting enormous crowds every night, Tonic’s nightly specials mean you’ll have a different experience every time you visit.
The Granville Room Epitomises comfort and style, with low lighting provided by candles and wall lights. The cocktail menu (scrawled in chalk along the wall) alone is astounding, comprised of local and international favourites.
Narrow Lounge Tucked away and without windows, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a rabbit’s warren. But this vintage dive bar doesn’t disappoint, with great service, foreign beers and hearty cocktails on the menu. It’s what a Gen Y bar should be.
Quattro on Fourth The place to see and be seen for Vancouver’s bright young things, it’s perfect for groups or some romantic canoodling in the corner. Eating out on the garden patio in summer is a real treat.
Between 25 March and 20 April, the streets turn pink and red as the cherry blossom trees come into season, and the annual Cherry Blossom Festival takes place. This citywide festival includes music performances and art exhibitions. Lots of fun.
The Magnetic North Theatre Festival (4-14 June) celebrates Canadian performing arts, especially theatre. With workshops, panels and endless shows, the Festival is great for those in the industry or just for people who enjoy a great show.
Dancing on the Edge is a contemporary dance festival in July. It aims to increase awareness of dance in all its form. The festival exhibits the best Canadian dancers as well as worldwide entertainers and choreographers.
One of the largest gay pride events in North America, August’s Pride Parade celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. The event starts at noon and carries on throughout the night, and includes entertainment, family activities and clubs staying open later than usual. It’s a great event for a great cause, so if you’re in town, jump aboard a float and enjoy.
One of the biggest in the world, the Rogers’ Santa Claus Parade, staged every December, features over 60 floats. An especially long float disguised as a train follows the parade and accepts donations for the poor and homeless of Vancouver. In 2010, the parade collected over four tonnes of food and over 2000 toy donations.
When To Go
Vancouver gets cold between October and March. Not as cold as the rest of Canada, but cold enough to make you uncomfortable without three layers of clothes. It is, however, the time to go if you’re thinking of hitting up the ski slopes. Plus, with plenty of seasonal cheer about, it’s worth rugging up for.
Summer (July to September) is the busiest and best time to visit. Vancouver comes alive to embrace the sunshine, long days and multiple festivals.
What To Miss
Robson Street is often promoted as Vancouver’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive and the Champs Elysee. In truth, though, it is quite small and rather underwhelming.
Prospect Point is a real let down. Although promised in tourist guidebooks as an exciting peek across Vancouver, trees obscure most of the view and you can only just see the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
Vancouver has a fairly big drug and homeless problem, and while you’ll find homeless people all across the city (it’s the warmest option in Canada, and the only place it’s possible to survive a winter outdoors), the drug scene is remarkably contained within a two-block radius. East Hastings St, right next to Chinatown, is the place you want to avoid – there’s a safe injecting room and about two blocks of heroin and crack-fuelled shanty towns. But then, as if you imagined the entire thing, you’re across the street and back in bustling, clean Chinatown.
Ferry: For a city that is surrounded by water on three sides, the best way to cruise (literally) around is via boats. The ferry system operates over 20 routes, taking you around Vancouver, to Vancouver Island and around the Gulf Islands as well.
Taxi: Charging by the minute rather than by distance means that sometimes these yellow guardians can be cheap or expensive (in rush hours). Pick them wisely.
With one of the most attractive urban skylines in the world, amid the backdrop of the North Shore Mountains and Georgia Strait, Vancouver is the envy of the Pacific Northwest. The city has fast become the gateway of choice to Asia, with waves of immigration from the continent over the past few decades. The result is a unique and diverse metropolis in North America, with ethnic ‘hoods, great cuisine and enviable quality of life.
A busy, active city, Vancouver is a place where you can ski and golf, all on the same day. A moderate coastal climate ensures that even in January, inhabitants are exempt from Canada's notoriously harsh winters.
Vancouver offers the promise of a total experience to visitors. While the hot economy and population growth has made the city the most expensive real estate market in Canada, there has never been a better time to be a tourist in Vancouver. With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games the city has become even more attractive for vacation purposes.
Stanley Park is one of the best open spaces in urban North America. With over 1,000 acres of land, the area is the primary playground for Vancouver residents. As a place to have a picnic, engage in a wide variety of sports, take a walk or bike ride, Stanley Park is tops. The park contains a slew of city monuments, gardens, native totem poles and the Vancouver Aquarium.
The Vancouver Library Square is more than just a place to borrow books. For architectural reasons alone, the space deserves a visit. The avant-garde design by Moshe Safdie is a city favourite.
A stroll around the downtown core of the city reveals a network of impressive early 20th century British Empire structures, from the Marine Building to the Sun Tower.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the best on the West Coast, with a collection that features works by British Columbia native Emily Carr.
A large Chinatown and cozy Little Ginza district are two notable ethnic enclaves that make Vancouver one of the most cosmopolitan urban areas in North America.
A 125 km drive north of Vancouver, the Coast Mountains ski and golf resort town of Whistler is world class. The area will host a good portion of the 2010 Winter Games and has a full slate of events year round.
In Vancouver proper, the NHL's Canucks are the main city team. Regular season games take place between October and April at GM Place.
The Vancouver Fringe Festival is one of the most diverse, with a full line-up of shows in the month of September.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Ballet BC and Vancouver Opera perform on a regular basis throughout the city.
Where the city shines however, is in the alternative music scene. The downtown area has a cluster of superb venues, with a slate of performances from month to month.
Vancouver has a temperate oceanic climate. Considerable shelter from the mountains of Vancouver Island shelters the city from cold air fronts. A reputation as a rainy city is largely overblown. In truth, Montreal regularly receives more precipitation than Vancouver.
- Winter (November to February) 0.5-9°C
- Spring (March to May) 3-17°C
- Summer (June to August) 11-22°C
- Fall (September to October) 7-19°C
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