Canada‘s third largest metro area (pop. 2.3 million), on the Pacific Ocean at the southwestern corner of British Columbia, Vancouver is known for its majestic natural setting and is also frequently ranked as one of the world’s best cities in which to live – as many visitors discovered during the 2010 Winter Olympics held here, and more than 9 million others continue to experience each year.
Vancouver is divided basically into the Westside, the Eastside (aka East Van), and city center. In addition to being the city’s financial and commercial hub, this last is of course the city’s main visitor magnet, with many of its top landmarks thanks to being the area where it was founded with “Gassy Jack's” saloon back in 1867. Today, the original Gastown is naturally gentrified and tarted up for tourism with all manner of dining, shopping, and entertainment options, and its landmarks and Victorian architecture including the neo-Gothic Christ Church Cathedral; the acclaimed museum Vancouver Art Gallery; red-brick Byrnes Block, The Landing, and Gaoler’s Mews (now housing shops, dining spots, and offices); and the triangular Hotel Europe. There’s also a much photographed Steam Clock, built in the 1970s to showcase the area’s vintage underground steam heating system. Fans of crime and cop shows might also enjoy the Police Museum, with all manner of historical and procedural displays of crime and punishment. And for superb views over the city, ocean, and nearby mountains, check out Vancouver Outlook, a revolving observation deck 50 stories up.
In addition, downtown you’ll also find Chinatown, one of North America’s largest (the city’s Asian population is even higher-profile today, with the most common names these days including Wong, Ng, and Chan). Here you can visit the fascinating Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and the atmospheric Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, as well as snap a pic of the Sam Kee Building, the world’s narrowest office building. (Oh, and Chinese restaurants galore, 当然!) Nearby, less well known but also very cool is a Little India (aka the Punjabi Market) with fascinating shops, a Sikh temple, and some of the best curries west of Bharat.
Stanley Park and the West End are the most popular areas to hang out, thanks to their beaches; parkland and attractions; and lots of little shops and eateries. The 1,001-acre (405-hectare) Stanley Park in particular is a tremendous trove for visitors, including lovely gardens; totem poles (above) and historical Klahowya Village of the First Nations peoples (which is what Canadians quite rightly call American Indians); Nature House ecological centre; picturesque horse carriage tours; and the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
Another recently popular gentrified area over False Creek from downtown is Granville Island, once a gritty industrial zone and now home to a popular shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.
Then over across the inlet in North Vancouver, also don’t miss the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a wobbly bit of business strung 230 feet (70 meters) over a gorge but holding strong since 1889. Nearby, also secure but a bit unnerving is the new Treetops Adventures suspension bridges and Cliffwalk, a series of bridges and walkways along the edge of the abyss. Out here the environment is rainforest, and the visitors’ centre offers both ecological displays and showcases First Nations culture and art.
Finally, don’t forget to take a harbor cruise, because some of the most spectacular vistas of this port city are from the water.
Bet you didn’t know there was so much to see and do here in Canada’s Queen of the Pacific, eh? As you can probably tell, I highly recommend it.
More information: TourismVancouver.com.
photos | Shaund, Prayitno