Located in British Columbia, Vancouver is the largest city in Western Canada and the third-largest in all of Canada. It is known for its natural beauty, as it is nestled between the mountains and the ocean. Vancouver is one of my top ten favorite cities in the world.
Vancouver’s proximity to the ocean and the mountains provides for an excellent location: within minutes, you can get from downtown to the mountains or the beach. Vancouver is a dream for city-dwellers who need some fresh air but can’t quite move into a rural area.
Vancouver is just over 100 years old, and its namesake, Captain George Vancouver, sailed through the First Narrows in 1792. The first settlement on the downtown peninsula was Granville, located on the spot of today’s Gastown. Its location and harbor made it an excellent spot for a port, and Vancouver soon became the biggest port in the region. Today, it is still Canada’s main western port and the launching ground for most cruises up the Inside Passage.
Vancouver is perhaps best known for its scenic beauty and the opportunities afforded by its natural environment. Surrounded by water on three sides and crowned by the North Shore mountains, Vancouver is a great starting point for discovering the area’s many outdoor activities. In less than an hour, I went from downtown to the mountains, exploring the Capilano area, overcoming my fear of heights on the Capilano bridge, hiking across rivers, and ending up in random seaports because I forgot what bus stop I needed to get off at.
Vancouver’s true appeal comes from this blend of nature and man — from city to mountain and back all in one day.
Vancouver’s main park is a gem among city parks worldwide. Stanley Park is second to none. Perched on the edge of the city, this park is an oasis of calm in an already relaxed city. The park has an aquarium, beaches, and miles of trails that let you dissolve into nature while still being a stone’s throw away from the city. It makes for a great mid-day break location, a place to walk or hike, or a spot to just relax. In the park, you hear none of the sounds of the city. It’s easy to relax here, without the crowds you see in Central Park or Hyde Park.
For foodies, Vancouver represents a delight for those who love Asian cuisine. As Canada’s major western port, immigrants from the Far East have long called Vancouver home. This has led to a city with a high Asian population and Asian food on every corner. Sushi, Chinese, and some amazing Korean food can all be found here. Vancouver is home to the second-largest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco.
Vancouver is a hip city — it reminds me a lot of Seattle, and a cross between Melbourne and Sydney. Walking around, everyone is relaxed, friendly, and very “cool.” The buildings are ultra-modern, and there are cafes everywhere and outdoor restaurants when the weather is nice.
Here are some things to see and do in Vancouver:
Visit Grouse Mountain
(6400 Nancy Greene Way, 604-980-9311, grousemountain.com)
For anyone who loves the outdoors, this is probably Vancouver’s number one attraction. Take the SkyRide gondola up the mountain where you can catch a fantastic view, then go skiing or snowboarding, or during the summer months, walk one of the forest trails. Tickets are $44.95 with discounts for seniors, students, children, and families. Grouse Mountain is open daily from 9am to 10pm, 365 days a year.
Check out Granville Island
Granville island is a pretty cool place. The island offers a full day of shopping and eating, a market for buying delicious, and fresh groceries. There is also the Granville Island Brewing Company, which is British Colombia’s oldest brewery. It’s easy to spend a day watching the street performers and sampling farm fresh food from local establishments. The public market is open 7 days a week from 9am to 7pm.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
(3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver, 604-985-7474, capbridge.com)
This 440-ft long suspension over the Capilano River is not for anyone who is afraid of heights — it’s a big drop! Located outside the city, the bridge, surrounding trails, and scenery makes for one of my favorite trips from the city. Open every day except Christmas with hours ranging from a 9am open (8am during part of the year) and closing between 5pm and 9pm, depending on the season. Adult tickets are $42.95 with discounts for seniors, students, and kids.
Go whale watching
If you’re looking to spend money on something, consider a boat tour to watch Orca whales. A tour typically costs upwards of 170 CAD for a day — make sure to ask about student discounts. You get a lot of whales coming up the inside passage so chances of seeing them are very high. If you don’t, most companies will give you a voucher for another trip.