This week in Shakedown, we’re taking a look at Canada’s largest port, Vancouver. The city’s fame was sent beyond the scale when the city hosted the 2010 Winter Games, and the appeal to travellers continues to echo beyond the Coast Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean that pin it to Canada’s fragmented West Coast, just 24 miles north of the Canada-US border.
Sonja Koehler, our Branch Manager at STA Travel Bristol, recently returned and claims, “Vancouver is one of my favourite cities in the world; it provides the perfect blend of modern city life, beside the Pacific Northwest.”
Be inspired by Vancouver's thriving art scene | Image by kennymatic
Travelling to Vancouver
Couple this with a multicultural population (more than half of Vancouver’s school-age children have been raised speaking a language other than English) and you’ve got them makings of an interesting urban adventure.
This sentiment is no better represented than by the fact that Vancouver reigned unchallenged as the best place to live in the world, until it was toppled by Melbourne earlier this year, when “increased congestion” was rumoured to fuel its downfall. Surely the ultimate Catch 22?
The city is laid out in a rough grid, with the downtown area bordered by the Burrard Inlet and Vancouver Harbour to the north and east, and the popular English Bay to the west.
Getting around the city is a breeze, especially as a pedestrian; or consider exploring Vancouver by bike. A regular passenger bus services runs from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m; while the SkyTrain connects downtown Vancouver with the suburbs and Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Elsewhere, the passenger ferry service, SeaBus, journeys across the beautiful Burrard Inlet in 12 breathtaking minutes to Lonsdale Quay on the city’s North Shore.
Enjoy one of Canada's most electric skylines | Image by kennymatic
The local weather runs on four predictable seasons, with average highs of 23°C in July and August, plummeting to average lows of just above zero between December and February. Outside of the summer months, expect a dash more rain to fuel the city greens, but it’s not all bad — Vancouver ranks as Canada’s second warmest city, a notch behind nearby Victoria.
Vancouver’s Parks & Attractions
Vancouver kindly presents some of the best variety of attractions you’re ever likely to find within a city boundary.
Consider a trip with the Vancouver Trolley Company, for excellent live commentary aboard San Francisco-style trolley cars.
Elsewhere, Grouse Mountain is an easy 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Its summit reaches 4,100 feet above Vancouver, and holds claim to being the city’s most-visited natural attraction. Which should come as no surprise when you consider that its riveted slopes house no fewer than five ziplines, several hiking trails, a wildlife refuge for grizzly bear and wolves, ski and snowboarding, plus a lumberjack show.
While you’re up there, also rise into the Eye of the Wind for exquisite views of Vancouver and the surrounding North Shore Mountains from the wind turbine’s 360° viewing pod, tucked beneath the hub of the 38-metre long blades.
If your lungs aren’t bursting with freshness already, Vancouver also has some of North America’s best public parks.
Enjoy the woodlands of Vancouver's Stanley Park | Image by jonrawlinson
Stanley Park, with its 150 year old forest and 8.8km seawall trail makes a refreshing day out, or explore the 24km of well kept trails which traverse the park. If you’re in the city from later November until early January, look out for the park’s annual Bright Nights exhibition, when millions of lights speckle the park with festive magic.
Lynn Canyon Park celebrates its centenary in 2012, and aside from plenty of walking tracks, it offers travellers a rare treat of swimming holes in the north of the city. Elsewhere, the seasonal gardens of Queen Elizabeth Park offer a handful of quaint activities, including lawn bowling. Quite marvellous, darling.
For a sky-high thrill, take the free shuttle from downtown Vancouver to visit the slender Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver’s oldest attraction, which was completed in 1889. The bridge is suspended 450 feet (135m) across and 230 feet (70m) above the mellow Capilano River.
This park also proffers a series of seven more bridges, suspended in the treetops of the Douglas Fir forests. And a final nod to the Cliffwalk, which opened in June 2011, and offers brave souls a route along suspended walkways (often across glass-panel flooring) to previously unexplored areas of the park.
Sonja told us, “the Capilano Suspension Bridge and surrounding sights were an absolutely wonderful experience! Walking across the bridge was breathtaking, and I really enjoyed exploring the forests via the Tree Top walk. The Cliffwalk was totally unexpected and unique. I’d do it all again in an instant!”
Elsewhere, Granville Island — accessible via the False Creek AquaBus — injects the hustle and bustle of a public market, dappled with buskers and theatre performances. It’s the self-proclaimed town square of the city, and promotes a fantastic sense of community and arts, right in the heart of the city.
Add some zing to your trip, with a visit to Granville Island | Image by Leah Gregg
A final tip of the hat to the Museum of Vancouver (closed Mondays), provides an excellent fusion of local and international arts.
Events in Vancouver
There are plenty of events running throughout 2012; including the popular Vancouver International Film Festival (29 September — 29 October); meanwhile the vibrant Vancouver Pride Parade attracts in excess of half a million revellers; while September’s Vancouver International Fringe Festival offers no-holds-barred performances throughout the city.
Sports fans are in for a treat. Ice hockey steals most of the headlines, and tickets to a Vancouver Canucks game selling out well in advance. Another option is baseball; head over to Nat Bailey Stadium, to cheer on the Vancouver Canadians, or roar on the BC Lions as they thrash it out in the Canadian Football League.
Exploring Around Vancouver
Away from the city, but close enough to be part of the Shakedown, consider a trip west to Vancouver Island‘s picturesque — and somewhat Anglophilic — capital, Victoria. En route, look out for orcas, minke and grey whales, seals and porpoise. Alternatively, journey along the Whistler Sea to Sky Climb rail route to the winter sports capital of the world, Blackcomb Whistler, or journey by road along the highway of the same name.
Vancouver is surprisingly easy to incorporate into an adventure around Canada. At least four of our popular hop-on hop-off bus routes, Moose Tours, start and finish in the city and allow a generous six months to complete the west coast routes. Alternatively, consider a Vancouver self-drive which takes in the aforementioned Vancouver Island, plus the opportunity to go whale watching, take a flight in a floatplane, and go in search of bears among the West Coast rainforests.
Food and Digs
For the city’s best coffee houses and brew pubs, head to the West End. Expect the best eats in the city to feature seafood, especially salmon. For something faster, snag a Japadog for a Japanese twist on the classic hotdog! With its relatively close proximity to its Asian neighbours, you should expect a tasty amount of fusion cuisine. This is a foodies paradise, with Vancouverite’s spending more on dining out than any other Canadian city.
So that’s a wrap for this week’s Shakedown, Vancouver. I hope it surfaced some interesting titbits for you, and opened your eyes to a city rich in attractions, and nestled along one of the world’s most enigmatic coastlines.
Do you have any more useful information for travel in Vancouver? Consider sharing it via the comment thread below, and help fellow travellers make the most of their time in the city and the surrounding region.