Just one look, you’re hooked
Lonely Planet reveals why visitors keep coming back to Vancouver – spectacular natural scenery, a buzzing metropolis and a kaleidoscope of distinctive neighbourhoods
VANCOUVER always lands atop the ‘‘ best places to live’’ lists, and who’s to argue?
Sea-to-sky beauty surrounds the laid-back, cocktail-lovin’ metropolis.
With skiable mountains on the outskirts, beaches fringing the core and Stanley Park’s forest just blocks from downtown’s glass skyscrapers, it’s a harmonic convergence of city and nature.
It also mixes Hollywood chic (many movies are filmed here) with buzzing Chinese neighbourhoods and a freewheeling counterculture – including a popular nude beach and the Marijuana Party headquarters.
Flying into Vancouver International Airport on a cloud-free summer’s day, it’s not hard to appreciate the city’s reputation as a natural utopia.
Gently rippling ocean crisscrossed with ferry trails, the crenulated shorelines of dozens of forest-green islands and the ever-present sentinels of snow-dusted crags glinting on the horizon give this city arguably the most spectacular setting of any metropolis on the planet.
But while the city’s twinkling outdoor backdrop means you’re never far from great skiing, kayaking or hiking, there’s much more to Vancouver than appearances.
When hitting the streets on foot, you’ll come across a kaleidoscope of distinctive neighbourhoods, each one almost like a village in itself.
This diversity is Vancouver’s main strength and a major reason why visitors keep coming back. If you’re a first-timer, soak in the breathtaking vistas and hit the verdant forests whenever you can, but also save time to join the locals and do a little exploring off the beaten track.
Home to 9000 water-loving critters – including wolf eels and beluga whales – the aquarium, in Stanley Park, also has a walk-through rainforest of birds, turtles and a statue-still sloth. Check for feeding times and consider an Animal Encounter trainer tour (from $C24). The newest draw here is the 4D Experience: a 3Dmovie theatre with added wind, mist and aromas. One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, Vancouver’s magnificent 404ha Stanley Park enjoys a breathtaking setting, surrounded on three sides by rippling ocean and watched over by looming mountains.
The park’s popular 8.8km seawall skirts a temperate rainforest that’s home to beaches and blue herons.
Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon nature reserve is a tranquil, watery oasis now colonised by indigenous plants and beady-eyed birdlife and is accessed via a shoreline trail.
Drop into the Nature House (stanleyparkecology.ca; admission free; hours: 10am-7pm Tue-Sun MaySept) to learn about the park’s ecology and ask about the Ecology Society’s guided walks (adult/child $C10/$5). One of the region’s most popular outdoor hangouts, Grouse Mountain is only 20 minutes from downtown.
Restaurants and attractions – including a skating rink – offer coldseason respites from the slopes.
In summer, Skyride gondola tickets to the top include access to lumberjack shows, alpine hiking trails and a grizzlybear refuge.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Lower Mainland region’s most popular attraction, Capilano’s massive, gently swaying cabled bridge spans the roiling waters of spectacular tree-lined Capilano Canyon.
Walking gingerly across the world’s longest (140m) and highest (70m) suspension bridge, remember that the steel cables you are gripping are embedded in huge concrete blocks on either side. That should steady your feet – unless the teenagers are stamping their way across.
With an international diversity that even rival foodie cities such as Toronto and Montreal can’t match, Vancouver visitors can fill up on great ethnic dishes and the region’s flourishing West Coast cuisine.
Fork into salmon, oysters and other West Coast specialties, washed down with local wines and microbrews.
Tap into the latest reviews at urbandiner.ca or pick up a free copy of either Eat Magazine or City Food.
Vancouver and British Columbia’s best Japanese dining is at Tojo’s (ph 604 872 8050; tojos.com; 1133 WBroadway; mains $C19-$26).
Hidekazu Tojo’s legendary skill with the sushi knife has created one of North America’s most revered sushi restaurants.
This is an edited extract from
(1st Edition) by Karla Zimmerman, John Lee, et al. Lonely Planet 2011. RRP: $45.99. lonelyplanet.com