Destination Spotlight: Vancouver, BC

On February 28, 2011, in Alaska, Alaska Cruises, Vancouver, by Lori Power

"Vancouver, BC"

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

is Canada’s emerald jewel. From downtown you can see the Strait of Georgia’s blue-green waters, glacial fjords, islands, and mountains with snow caps and dense forests. Vancouver is relaxed and outdoorsy, yet cosmopolitan. The city also boasts high-fashion boutiques, a vibrant arts scene and a fondness for health-conscious eating.

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a cultural buff or a parent seeking family fun, you’ll find plenty to do in Vancouver come rain or shine. More than 8 million visitors go there every year. Consider beginning your adventure by taking the glass elevators to the top of Harbour Centre (also known as Vancouver Lookout). From there you can get your bearings—and a breathtaking view of the city at your feet.

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

Just north of downtown is Vancouver’s prized possession: Stanley Park, a last vestige of semiwilderness with more than 1,000 acres/400 hectares of woodlands, trails and gardens. Within the park you’ll find one of North America’s biggest and best public aquariums.

Black Squirrel in Stanley ParkFun Fact: The black squirrels in Stanley Park are descendants of the eight pairs presented to Vancouver in 1909 by New York City.

On the opposite side of downtown is Granville Island, now a tourist attraction rivaling Stanley Park. Explore the wonderful covered public market, artisan shops, artists’ studios and restaurants.

The Vancouver Art Gallery, located in the center of downtown, features noted Canadian works, as well as top-notch traveling exhibits. Telus World of Science, housed in a geodesic dome, offers hands-on exhibits to entertain children. The Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia campus is the largest teaching museum in Canada. It houses 35,000 ethnographic and 535,000 archaeological objects, including many First Nations artifacts such as totem poles, carved boxes and feast dishes.

Because Vancouver is a gateway to Asia, be sure to roam the crowded sidewalks of Chinatown and stroll through the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Visit neighboring Gastown and its restored Victorian-era buildings—though it can seem a bit touristy.

Before you leave Vancouver, make the trip across the Burrard Inlet to the North Shore and one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Capilano Suspension Bridge. You can drive over the Lions Gate Bridge or scoot across the harbor via SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay and pick up a taxi or bus from there.

Here are some of the popular activities available to tourists visiting Vancouver:

Sights—For natural beauty in an urban setting, a horse-drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park; the Skyride up Grouse Mountain for a great view of the city; a drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Howe Sound to Squamish and Whistler for a glimpse of rugged rain-forest terrain; The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre; Fort Langley National Historic Site.

Museums—The Museum of Anthropology; the Vancouver Art Gallery; Vancouver Museum.

Memorable Meals—Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House for a quintessential Vancouver dining experience; Bishop’s or Cioppino’s for serious, intimate dining.

Late Night—The lounge and dance floor of the Caprice Night Club for the younger crowd; the Opus Bar for the older set; Chinatown’s night market; a nightcap at the Cellar Restaurant & Jazz Club.

Walks—Stanley Park’s seawall; the family-friendly beach walk near English Bay; the cycling and skating route around False Creek; the garden walkways near Granville Island.

Especially for Kids—The Vancouver Maritime Museum; hands-on exhibits at Telus World of Science; the labyrinth of vendors at Kids Market; astronomy shows at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre.

Here are some neighborhoods in Vancouver that are worth a visit:

Chinatown
Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, though no longer a thriving residential area, retains a century-old authenticity and an age-old business savvy. Walking along Pender and Keefer streets, you’ll see where locals shop for fish, meat, produce and traditional herbal medicines. It’s also a good place for souvenir shopping: Don’t miss the night market on Friday and Saturday, open until 11 pm throughout the summer. Twice daily, the Chinese Cultural Centre offers a highly recommended, 90-minute walking tour. Phone 604-632-3808. http://vancouver-chinatown.com.

Gastown
This is where Vancouver was born in the 1860s and where a 1970s renovation converted three blocks of Victorian buildings into restaurants, boutiques and galleries. Today it’s enjoying another revival with the addition of chic clothing stores, upscale galleries and a surge in heritage renovations, while retaining a touristy ambience. Among the attractions are the corner steam clock (for the best show, see it when the hour strikes) and the statue of Gassy Jack, the area’s forefather, at the corner of Water and Abbott streets. Free 90-minute walking tours run throughout the summer, leaving from Gassy Jack’s statue at 2 pm. Phone 604-683-5650 for tour information. http://www.gastown.org.

West End
The high-rise apartment buildings of the West End are home to thousands of Vancouverites who love the neighborhood’s amenities: English Bay’s beaches, Stanley Park, and the trendy stores and eateries of Denman, Robson and Davie streets. Denman, considered the heart of the West End, is lined with good restaurants and takeouts serving various ethnic cuisines. Dotted among the West End’s walkable interior streets are ivy-clad, turn-of-the-century houses built by wealthy pioneers.

Yaletown
A frenzy of New York-style warehouse conversions and a boom in high-rise construction have transformed Yaletown into a sophisticated neighborhood with elegant shops, galleries and restaurants. By day, the area buzzes with fashionistas, filmmakers, photographers and high-tech gurus; by night, the tony pubs and clubs take over. Much of the action is along Mainland and Hamilton streets.

Cruising out of Vancouver?

If your ship docks at Canada Place, at the foot of Hornby Street, you may think those five white sails are flying over one of the many ships in Vancouver’s harbor. It would be an honest mistake. From its mast down, the main cruise-ship terminal resembles a seagoing vessel. Just 1 mi/2 km east of Canada Place—at historic Ballantyne Pier—is the city’s second cruise terminal. In all, there are berths for five ships. Annually, that means more than 30 ships and close to a million passengers.

The Canada Place complex has a hotel, shops, restaurants, a spa, secure underground parking and rental car agencies. The Ballantyne terminal is geared primarily for processing passengers. Canada Place is downtown, and Ballantyne is a short taxi ride from the city center. Although the walk between the two cruise terminals may seem doable, we don’t recommend it: The neighborhoods in between are potentially unsafe, and the route is not pedestrian friendly.

There is no tourist-information booth at either terminal—just a rack of brochures and maps. The city’s main tourist office is just one block west of Canada Place on Burrard Street.

Getting to Vancouver:

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is Canada’s second-busiest airport. It was first in the world to enable cruise-ship passengers to move through quickly so as not to miss their cruises. You will find a good mix of retail outlets, a terrific showcase for First Nations art and an adjoining hotel, as well as an on-the-run spa for services such as manicures and shoulder massages. Terminals are clean, bright and airy.

Vancouver International Airport is located 8 mi/13 km southwest of the city center; it takes about 25 minutes to get there from downtown. Phone 604-207-7077. http://www.yvr.ca.

Connecting Transportation

Best way:

The Canada Line, a high-speed train, connects the airport with downtown Vancouver. The trip from the airport to downtown takes about 25 minutes. The airport station is located between the international and domestic terminals. Trains run every 4 or 6 minutes for most of the day; beginning at 11 pm, trains run every 10 minutes.

Volunteers wearing green coats are available to help orient visitors. The train is also accessible to people with mobility challenges.

For more information on the Canada Line, visit http://www.translink.ca.

Other options:

Hotel courtesy vans and taxis provide transportation into the city. Taxi fare to downtown ranges Can$40-$50. Major car-rental companies maintain branches at the airport, and city buses provide airport service. Staff members at the tourist counter or the ground-transportation booth can direct you to the appropriate bus for your destination.

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1 Response » to “Destination Spotlight: Vancouver, BC”

  1. I’ve been to Vancouver but after reading your post, I missed a lot of places. I can’t wait to go back now. I was fortunate to spend some time hiking on Galiano Island. I was visiting a friend so I was able to get a different tour.

    Thanks for the recommendations. Michelle

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