Despite the fact that it is one of the world’s youngest metropolises, perhaps no city on Earth has attracted so many accolades over the past couple of decades than beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. Being promoted as a vision of the future by many urban planning proponents, Van City has been forced to develop along parameters forced upon it by its geography and geopolitics, as massive mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean, and the nearby border with the United States have all influenced the region to reach to the sky instead of sprawling out.
The inflow of prospective residents has continued unabated since its founding a little over 100 years ago, as the shockingly beautiful natural surroundings, the opportunity to practice outdoor sports within an hour of leaving home, and a climate that ranks among the mildest in the entire country have proven to be all the recruitment that Canada’s 3rd largest metro area (and the largest in Western Canada) has ever needed to attract new citizens.
This strong sense of attraction has brought many highly talented people to its shores, leading to a dining scene that is both cheap and amazing in the quality that it offers, an art scene that makes it easy to find things to do on any given weekend throughout the year, and a cityscape that strives to build the sleekest, sexiest and most modern condos and skyscrapers for its discerning property clients.
All these positive aspects, plus little intangible things like the random cry of a flock of seagulls, will hook you on this city well within the first day or two that you spend here.
Any tour of Vancouver should start at the point where it all began. Back in 1886, the city of Vancouver was signed into existence, back when it was mostly a collection of rickety shacks on the shore of Burrard Inlet. The original townsite is known as Gastown, whose structures were eventually replaced by stately brick buildings that have been lovingly preserved straight up to the present day. The seminal sight here is a steam clock, so snap a picture whenever there is a rare break in the never ending series of tourists taking selfies with it.
The next attraction worth seeing in Vancouver is Chinatown, but to get to it from Gastown involves crossing East Hastings Street, home to the cities’ infamous Downtown Eastside. The rapid pace of development, rise in property values and rents, and the stubborn stagnation in wages has driven many people to the streets over the years, most of whom gather here for the cheapest housing that can be found in Vancouver, and the social services that these unfortunate people desperately need. Anyhow, the shift from high levels of prosperity in Gastown, to the shocking squalor of the Downtown Eastside will certainly come as a shock, but so long as you cross through during daylight, you will likely not be in any danger, though the usual provisos surrounding personal safety apply (e.g. no blatant displays of wealth, awareness of surroundings, etc).
Once you get to East Pender Street though, you’ll be in Chinatown, which contains a number of attractions well worth your time. Browse the usual assortment of markets and stores offering goods imported from the most influential nation in the Far East, but make time for the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a stunning traditional garden with a charming lake, pagodas, and vast array of plants that the rich soil and mild climate of Vancouver make possible to grow.
On your way out of this neighbourhood, take a second to also marvel at the Sam Kee Building, the world’s narrowest commercial building, with a floor width of only five feet (1.5 metres), an oddity built half out of spite after the city expropriated most of the owner’s plot of land to widen West Pender Street.
While Vancouver proper is only 125 years old, First Nations people have lived in this region for countless thousands of years prior to that. Learn more about their story at the Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of British Columbia, where you can gaze upon various artifacts found in former local settlements, the most significant of which are the totem poles that coastal BC is famous for. Other cultures from around the world are also covered, so take your time and kill an afternoon here if it is pouring rain outside, as it is wont to do frequently in this corner of the world.
Another indoor attraction worthy of a wet afternoon is the Vancouver Art Gallery, located within an elegantly crafted neoclassical building in the heart of downtown. Being the largest art museum in Western Canada, it houses many works from Canada’s best known artists, such as Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, as well many other significant painters from Europe (Holland is well represented in particular).
After you have satisfied your lust for arts and culture, delve into the outdoors in the midst of Vancouver urbanity in Stanley Park, a greenspace that occupies the top end of the downtown peninsula. Walk along trails that pass between trees that are likely larger than any that you’ve seen before in your life, or stroll along the seawall, soaking in the scene that the massive North Shore Mountains, the numerous towers of North Vancouver, and the deep blue arm of ocean of Burrard Inlet combine to create in a splendid fashion. Fans of marine life may want to check out the Vancouver Aquarium, where trainers work with animals such as sea lions and orca whales to entertain and educate people young and old on the importance of the health of our oceans.
Want to cook yourself a fresh, nutritious and delicious meal back at your hostel tonight? Then a trip to Granville Island is the best way to achieve this end, as this public market and arts district contains fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foodstuffs from all around the local region. It also contains the Granville Island Brewery, so take a tour and sample one of Vancouver’s most beloved beers.
Those looking for a dining experience that is elevated above fast food, but one that won’t leave you with an empty wallet should head to Commercial Drive on the east side of Vancouver. Here, well patronized restaurants from various cultures all over the world will make it difficult for you to choose which one to eat at, but once you do, you’ll likely be impressed with the food you do end up eating.
Those looking to play in the mountains won’t have to go far for their first taste of Canada’s peaks, as Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour Mountains lie within a moderately long transit ride from downtown. Within a half an hour, you can be charging up the Grouse Grind, an ultra steep trail that ascends 3,000 feet in one kilometer and is dubbed as Vancouver’s stairmaster, you can be soaring down mountain biking routes on Mount Seymour, or you can follow in the ski/board trails of freestyle snow athletes on Cypress Mountain, as this is where many of those competitors fought for Olympic gold in 2010.
The North Shore Mountains also give rise to many vigorous creeks, which have carved deep canyons over millions of years. One of the most famous gaps in Metro Vancouver is spanned by the Capilano Suspension Bridge, allowing those looking to peer into the abyss for the princely sum of $35 to do so. If you wish to do this over a slightly less deep but no less significant drop, then heading to Lynn Canyon will yield you close to the same experience for $0 … many locals do this on a daily basis, so follow their advice and save your hard earned cash!
After all this running around, you’re probably looking for a stiff drink at this point. While excellent pubs can be found everywhere in this dynamic city, two zones within the downtown core offer those looking to bust a move the ideal place to do so. Granville Street is home to Vancouver’s most raucous clubs, and venues like the Commodore Ballroom allow well known bands and acts to entertain the lively masses.
If you prefer the company of the same sex, then the Davie Village between Burrard and Jervis Streets contain a wide selection of gay bars, pubs and clubs to allow you to mingle with guys and gals that play on the same team as you, all while enjoying fabulous shops and restaurants before and after your night out here.