City of Scenery, Sophistication
By David Burke | Images By Joern Rohde
From art and dining, to shopping and exploring historic neighbourhoods, there is something for everyone in Vancouver, the largest Canadian urban area west of Toronto and the country’s West Coast hub. If you only have a couple of days to explore Vancouver, deciding what to do and see in one of the world’s most beautiful cities will depend not only on what strikes your fancy, but on when you visit.
Vancouver’s summer and fall event schedule is full of all manner of street fairs, cultural cavalcades, sporting events, food-and-drink extravaganzas and music festivals to keep your toes tapping, your palate sated and your brain stimulated all summer long.
Many people start their tour of the city near the distinctive white sails of the Vancouver Convention Centre and cruise-ship terminal. From here it’s a short walk to the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre. This is a great place to get the lay of the land and stunning views of the North Shore mountains from the 169-metre (553-foot) observation deck.
For most first-time visitors, it takes at least a day to tour the downtown peninsula, sandwiched between Burrard Inlet to the north and False Creek to the south.
The 405-hectare (1,001-acre) Stanley Park, one of the world’s best-known urban parks, fills much of the peninsula’s western end. Here you’ll find several beaches, an outdoor pool, the Vancouver Aquarium, a stand of totems celebrating the vibrant cultures of British Columbia’s Native peoples (referred to by Canadians as “First Nations”) and the popular Stanley Park Seawall walking/biking path. vanaqua.org
In addition to great shopping and dining, the downtown peninsula includes two of the city’s most fascinating neighbourhoods: Chinatown and Gastown. Chinatown, which centers on Main and West Pender streets, is one of North America’s largest Chinatowns. Highlights include the Sam Kee Building at 8 West Pender, one of the world’s narrowest buildings, and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Gastown, just east of the Vancouver Convention Centre along Coal Harbour, is marked by Victorian-style buildings and punctuated by the famed Gastown Steam Clock, one of only a handful of functioning steam clocks in the world.
The pathway along False Creek is an excellent place for a stroll or a jog. At the eastern end of the “creek” — it’s really an inlet, not a creek — is a geodesic dome that houses Science World at Telus World of Science, a great place for the whole family, particularly on a rainy day. It includes interactive, hands-on displays and demonstrations, larger-than-life Omnimax films showcasing the physical and natural world and galleries focusing on life sciences and the animal kingdom. scienceworld.ca
The Granville Island Market on the southern shore of False Creek is Vancouver’s public market and meeting place. Here, you can browse among the market stalls and cafés, pick up that one-of-a-kind souvenir and meet the creators of unique arts and crafts in their shops and studios. granvilleisland.com
Art lovers will find numerous galleries downtown. The Vancouver Art Gallery is home to both permanent and visiting exhibitions of great art.
Nearby is the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, which includes a collection of creations by Reid, who is best known for his two- and three-dimensional depictions of Haida legends. billreidgallery.ca
Those with a keen interest in local art and culture should visit the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus at the western end of the city. Reid’s famed sculpture “The Raven and the First Men” is among the great works housed here. moa.ubc.ca
Plant lovers have a few options. The UBC Botanical Garden, which includes the Nitobe Memorial Garden, is a traditional Japanese garden dedicated to the memory of Dr. Inazo Nitobe, whose wish was to foster world peace. botanicalgarden.ubc.ca
South of the downtown core, you’ll find the VanDusen Botanical Garden, a 22-hectare (54-acre) paradise of gardens, forests, ponds and even a hedge maze.
In Queen Elizabeth Park, the Bloedel Conservatory houses a lush tropical forest complete with abundant bird life under a climate-controlled, translucent dome. vancouver.ca
For more information, call the Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre at 604-683-2000, or visit destinationvancouver.com.