There is no right way to start writing a post about Vancouver, other than saying that it is by far the most known city of Canada - and for a reason. This hip West Coast metropolis charms you in an instant. I can't say if it's how the green meets the skyscrapers, the shameless exposition of art and culture or the people who never seem to sleep, Vancouver is a must-see destination for everyone travelling in Canada.
Canada is an incredibly vast country with countless of different sub-cultures merged into one big definition of 'canadianess'. The East and West are, despite being inside the same geographical borders, two completely different worlds with a whole different set of treats to offer. This is why it took me far too long to board a plane and make my way to see the Rocky Mountains from my cozy eastern headquarters. The presence of the said mountains has a drastic impact on the climate, as does the periodical El Niño: checking the local temperatures is therefore a must for anyone hopping from one coast to another, as there might be +15 in Vancouver and -20 in Québec on the same week. So don't let 'Canada' fool you: being inside the same country might not mean being around the same whereabouts!
My trusted travel partner Sébastien and I arrived to the province of British Columbia by Greyhound bus through the narrow mountain roads and Albertan prairies, from Banff. However, reaching Vancouver by plane is made easy, as the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is just one Skytrain line away from the city centre. That being said, navigating your way around the city couldn't be much easier for a North American metropolis, as the PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION consisting of buses and the skytrain system takes you close to most attractions. SKYTRAIN is definitely worth trying at least once, despite being hated by most locals as unstable and slow - for tourists like ourselves, this underground train above the ground is a great way of catching a special view of Vancouver.
Needless to say, there are only so many things to do and see in this city. We were lucky to be hosted by Sébastien's friend Roxanne, who gave us a local's insight on the top hotspots of Vancouver from the famous Stanley Park to dining places and secret pubs. My top 4 must-see spots are almost within walking distance from one another:
(our definition of 'walking distance' seems to be highly debatable though, as we shocked our poor Roxanne more than once by wandering around the city without a map and valid bus tickets)
|Map from maps.google.com|
1. STANLEY PARK
Putting a park in the Top 4 list of must-see things in one of the best cities I've visited might seem a bit odd at first, but believe me: you must visit this park. It's not just a park: Stanley Park is a 1000-acre forest with dozens of paved dirt paths, well-maintained beaches, and even Canada's largest aquarium. This almost 130-year old attraction has been recognized as one of the best urban parks in the world (source: Global News Canada). Not only that, but the way Stanley Park offers you the chance to escape the noisy concrete jungle and dive into a maze that resembles a pre-historic forest is purely spectacular.
But why is it so special for a Northern European girl like myself? It's the trees. They are enormous. If you have ever wanted to feel like a fairy in a magical forest, Stanley Park might be just the destination for you: douglas firs, western red cedars, western hemlocks and sitka spruce trees, some of which have grown up to 80 metres high, are all natural for this British Columbian rainforest terrain.
Believe me, these are far from being the only 'just look at how big these trees are' photos we took. The special thing about these trees is that once they grow big enough, the oldest part of the tree starts to die out, and the tree becomes hollow. Therefore it's very easy to get inside!
Navigating around the park without a map is possible (as mentioned, we never ended up having a map during our Vancouver adventure), although not really recommended, as it's extremely easy to get lost. There are multiple information boards and trail maps around the forest, but you might end up walking a long way to the wrong direction before encountering one. You also might want get out of the park before it gets too dark, since there are no streetlights of any kind on the trails.
Website: Stanley Park
Website: Stanley Park
2. GRANVILLE ISLAND
Granville Island really is a special cookie, and a dream come true for anyone into urban community culture and local small-scale entrepreneurs. This little community is located on an island under the Granville Bridge on the gulf of False Creek; you can easily access it either by walking or by tiny ferry. It is by far the most touristic spot we visited in Vancouver, but no wonder: Granville Island is like a soothing oasis in the middle of pulsating city life. Charming little shops, a public market, a local brewery and even an enormous toy store in an old factory building all make it worth a visit!
(I, however, cannot offer any tips as to how to get your kid out of the toy store - it was already hard enough for me to get Sébastien, 31, to leave)
|Kids Market Toy Store|
|Left: The Umbrella Shop under the Granville Bridge⎮Right: Inside Kids Market|
|Granville Island Ferry Dock|
If you're up for a bit of walking, the blue ferry line (Line 1) drops you off right on the other side of False Creek, which then brings you to the Sunset Beach Park. By following the seaside you have an astonishing view of the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, and can easily reach Stanley Park.
Website: Granville Island
3. CRAFT BEER MARKET
The restaurant complex in this Vancouver location is an impressive sight in itself. As seen in the picture above, tens of pipes on the ceiling travel across the room and deliver the beer from the casks to the astonishingly wide row of taps. You'd think that it's easy for the staff to get lost in the middle of all this craft jungle, but to our experience the waiters were extremely helpful with a lot of know-how on the subject. Our waitress immediately spotted our helplessness in front of the endless beer menu, and was able to recommend us just the right kind of beer after only a few questions.
|The Beer Menu|
|So many taps!|
We could have spent the whole night there, but decided to accompany Roxanne to a local tiki room, The Shameful Tiki, for a burlesque show. Drop by if you end up close to 4362 Main St. and like exotic cocktails, but be aware: there are no visible signs of the bar outside, so make sure to write down the address first!
Website: Craft Beer Market Vancouver
4. GASTOWN ⎮ CANADA PLACE
These two spots are fused together due to the fact that, and this time I promise, they are just a 5-minute walk apart from each other. Gastown is one of the oldest districts of Vancouver, established in 1867, and is designated as a National Historic Site by the federal government. This historical region indeed has it's vintage vibes, mostly caused by the cobblestone streets and picturesque lightbulbs. As put by the district's website, Gastown is known as the center for independent design, culture, food and fashion: there are countless of little coffee shops and restaurants, as well as small boutiques for accessories and souvenirs of all kinds.
|Streetview of Gastown|
|Gastown Steam Clock|
One of the most charming attractions of the Gastown district is by far the Gastown Steam Clock in the corner of Cambie St. and Water St. It was originally built on this spot to solve an issue in the steam vent in this popular sidewalk back in 1977, and was mostly funded by local merchants, private donors and property owners. The clock is run by a real steam engine, and whistles appropriately at full hours. 4 times an hour you can hear the whistles chime Westminster Quarters. A funny trivia: a picture of the clock is featured in the cover of Nickelback's album Here and Now!
And what about Canada Place?
Canada Place is a venue for exhibitions and national events, but moreover it's an important waterfront landmark with a stunning view over the Vancouver Harbour. All provinces and most important cities of Canada have been carved on the stone pavement (I obviously took a photo of the Québec one: a picture of it can be seen on THIS post). We personally didn't even enter the venue, since the landscape was more than enough to keep us entertained while walking among the waterfront. You can never get tired of admiring the Rockies, right?
|A bald eagle seen from the peak of Canada Place|
The most memorable thing for me during our visit was the above photo: a wild bald eagle sitting on the top of a lamp post at the port. We waited for a while for it to take flight, but the eagle couldn't have cared less about the honks of the passing ships. Despite living in the country for 11 months now, the pure, absolute beauty of Canadian nature never ceases to amaze me. You cannot help but feel small when admiring a view like the one you get to see at the peak of Canada Place.
Website: Gastown⎮Canada Place
Have you been to Vancouver before? Is there something you would have added to the list? Please share your advice and experiences in the comments!