As much as I hate starting an article with an overused travel cliché, I have to say that Vancouver is one of those cities that has it all. Hop in the car and you can go from mountains to metropolis in less than an hour and carry on a bit longer and you’ll end up at the beach. This makes it a unique destination that caters equally to nature-lovers and city-dwellers. I spent a week here staying with family and being shown around by my favourite (and only) Vancouverite friend Katie. Having a local in tow is always the best way to explore a new city and if that local happens to be a raging socialite who knows the entire city like the back of her hand, even better. Before I start listing all the cool stuff you can do in this fascinating city let me warn you: Vancouver is expensive, even by London standards. Of course, every city can be done on a budget if you’re smart, but just bear it in mind – your money certainly won’t be going as far here as it does virtually anywhere else in the world. Anyway, moving along, for those of you ready to take on the beauty queen that is Vancouver, here are my suggestions for having a blast (without having to sell everything you’ve ever held dear).
This is one of the most expensive things on the list (around $20 CAD) but my god it was worth every cent. Have you ever been in one of those rollercoaster simulators that you get at funfairs? Well Flyover Canada is basically the same thing but freaking huge and instead of a rollercoaster you’re in a helicopter flying over the most beautiful parts of Canada. You’ll soar over meadows, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and lakes, all the while being sprayed with mist when you get too close to the water. Words can’t really do it justice – just go and do it. Oh and while you are waiting in the queue before the ride, take a look out over the water and check out the floating petrol station.
From what I gathered, Stanley Park to Vancouver is what Hyde Park is to London or Central Park is to New York. It’s the big mumma of green spaces and comes complete with ocean views, towering trees and some groovy totem poles you can check out. If the sun is out this is the perfect place for getting lost in the wilderness as you follow one of the many trails the snake through the forest. Take a camera and a picnic and make an entire day of it if you have time. If it’s raining then just stay in the car (if you have one) and drive through the park or, if you don’t have a vehicle, hop on the horse drawn trolley and take in the scenery from the sheltered comfort of the carriage.
I know you can get brunch anywhere in the world but there is something about a Canadian brunch that is a bit special. Maybe it’s because almost everything on the menu comes with maple syrup or perhaps it’s down to the fact that the waiters are so damn polite. Either way, if you’re wandering through the city and hunger strikes, brunch is the way forward. My knowledgeable friend took me to two brunch spots during my stay: Jam and Yolks – both equally delicious and the latter of which served fried chicken with waffles covered in gravy AND maple syrup… It sounds fucked up but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.
There are two things you need to know about Wreck Beach. The first is that to get down to the beach you have to walk down about 400 steps and then walk back up them again. The second is that the beach is clothing optional. I went in November so didn’t have the chance to cringe at any locals sunning their scrotums but if you’re of a prudish nature and the sun is out – stay away. However, if you don’t mind a bit of full-frontal nudity or your anus is looking a little pasty then grab some beers/weed and make your way over.
At first glance Granville Island looks like it could be part of Disney World, wedged between Frontierland and Liberty Square. This little island is made up of colourful buildings selling Vancouver souvenirs (Vancouvenirs?) and the legendary Granville Market. If you only do one thing on this island, check out the market. Located in a massive building, this market sells everything from fresh fruit to maple syrup to homemade crafts and a whole lot more and the best thing is, there are free samples everywhere. You don’t even need to buy anything to get a taste of what’s on offer here.
House Porn is when you go and look at loads of beautiful houses wishing you could be inside them but knowing all you’ll ever get to do is watch as other people go in and out of them. Vancouver is one of the best places I’ve ever been for this activity. Head over to the areas of Shaugnessy or Point Grey and get a real taste for how the other half live. If you can make friends with someone who lives in one of these colossal, multi-million dollar houses and can get them to invite you over please ask for a plus one and let me know.
I believe it is an old Chinese proverb that says “it is never too cold for ice cream”. Don’t quote me on it, but I’m pretty sure. Anyway, even though I was visiting Vancouver in dreary November, ice cream still featured heavily on the agenda. I was whisked off to various ice cream parlours by Katie – my trusty tour guide – and shown a world of frozen goods that even the Italians would be proud of. So if you’re strolling through Vancouver and your craving for ice cream becomes too much, pop into Bella’s or Rain or Shine for a cone of heaven.
Lynn Valley is the perfect palce to get lost in nature, take a deep breath of fresh forest air and take photos of oh-so instagrammable waterfalls. Or you could take an iPod and walk along the magical boardwalk pretending you’re in some kind of edgy music video. Whatever floats your boat eh? (NOTE: in Canada it is actually a criminal offence not to end a sentence with eh). While you’re here be sure to take a stroll along the suspension bridge as you get some fantastic views of the white water that rumbles beneath you.
Just outside central Vancouver is the Sea to Sky Highway, aptly named as it runs from the coastline all the way up to Whistler, the famous ski resort. To drive all the way up to the mountains takes a few hours so if you’re strapped for time then just go as far as Squamish and you’ll still have a good time (as I was informed by the sassy owner of Vancouver brunch spot The Elbow Room Cafe). Drive up as far as the gondola and take the incredibly scenic trip to the top. It’ll set you back around $40 CAD so make sure you get there early so you have as long as possible at the top to hike around the trails – get your money’s worth!
If I want a holiday filled with culture and history, North America would be the last place I go. However, whilst exploring Vancouver I was pleasantly surprised when Katie took me to Gastown (which doesn’t smell as bad its name suggests). The cute cobbled streets are lined with little boutiques in an Olde World style and there is even a clock that shoots musical steam out of the top. It is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood and dates back to 1867, which might not be impressive for a European but by North American standards it might as well be biblical.
My final recommendation for Vancouver is to take the elevator to the top of the harbour centre, which rises up even higher than the city’s skyscrapers. The view from the top is truly sublime, with the towering skyline sitting in the immediate vicinity of the tower and forests and the sea stretching out beyond that. You can even see the snowy peak of Mount Baker (located across the border in the States) in the distance. Your ticket lets you go up and down multiple times and it is definitely worth coming back again once the sun has gone down to the city when it’s lit up.