Updated: Mar 9, 2022
On the shores of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by mountains, Vancouver has the perfect balance of nature and a modern city. Along with its unparalleled nature and ethnically diverse population, it is a paradise for nature and wellness.
Guest Blogger: Suk & Sangy, Urge to XPLORE
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On the shores of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by mountains, Vancouver has the perfect balance of nature and modern city. Along with its unparalleled nature and ethnically diverse population, it is a paradise for nature and wellness. The forests, oceans, and rivers make it one of the best destinations for hiking, swimming, and surfing in North America. Its unique skyline of high-rise buildings against the backdrop of gorgeous mountains, parks, public spaces, and sustainable public transit systems are the reason why it consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities worldwide.
Vancouver was the cynosure of all eyes when it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Start your day early at the downtown waterfront to see the Olympic Cauldron where the flame was lit during the games. There is a boardwalk along the waterfront offering breathtaking views of the mountains across the harbor.
Along with cafes and restaurants, there is a seaplane airport as well. Walk to Canada Place – an iconic landmark along with the cruise terminal. Home to the Vancouver Convention Center and the World Trade Center, there is Flyover Canada – a Virtual Flight Simulator hovering over some of Canada’s most spectacular sights coast to coast.
Most tours in Vancouver originate from the downtown waterfront. You can take a tour bus from here to visit two of Vancouver’s most popular attractions – Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge. The Grouse Mountain also called the Peak of Vancouver is one of the mountain peaks of the North Shore mountains of the Pacific Ranges. At its peaks it is the site of an Alpine Ski Resort with many activities like lumberjack shows, Eco walks, Paragliding, Ziplines, Theatre, and features a refuge for Grizzly Bears. There are several dining options and a chalet as well. To get to the top, hop on to the Skyride – an aerial tramway system that takes visitors to the Alpine Station situated right next to a chalet in just 8 minutes. It's worth taking the ride up dangling above the Douglas firs that blanket the mountains, for the sweeping views of the cityscape below, the surrounding peaks, the Pacific Ocean, the inlets, the bays, and the nearby islands.
There are chair lifts that take you to The Cut a slope with the most famous vantage point of Vancouver. To even get higher take the elevator to the viewPOD at the Eye of the Wind – a large wind turbine with a suspended viewing deck right below the hub of its massive blades. Needless to mention the views from there are jaw-dropping.
The next stop is at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park – the center of attraction here is a swinging suspension bridge over the Capilano River in a stunning location. It is a thrilling experience to cross this 137 m long bridge at a height of 70 m. On the other side of the bridge is the Treetops adventure which is a series of suspended walkways attached to the old trees that take you to the mid-level of the rainforests.
There are guided walking tours that introduce you to the west coast ecosystem, the flora and fauna, and the history of the area. Not for the faint-hearted, there is also the Cliffwalk - a granite precipice along the River on a series of narrow cantilevered bridges, stairs, and platforms through rainforest vegetation.
Head to the beautiful Stanley Park – right next to the downtown which is one of the world's largest urban parks. A heavily forested 1000 -acre park, that is home to over half a million trees that are over 100 years old and 300 feet high. Inside the park is the Vancouver Aquarium with much marine wildlife from the surrounding areas and from across the globe including sea lions, otters, and penguins.
This huge park has the longest uninterrupted seafront walkway offering sweeping views of pristine nature. The recreational walkway snakes around the Sea Wall surrounded by the English Bay and the Burrard Inlet.
At Brockton Point, there is a collection of nine Totem Poles that commemorates the history and the culture of the indigenous people of the land. At the other end park is the Lions Gate Bridge which connects the downtown to the Northern and Western parts.
Just next to the city center is Vancouver’s historic neighborhood of Gastown. It is a vibrant and trendy neighborhood with shopping, dining, cobbled streets, and beautifully restored old buildings. This is also where you will find the famous Steam Clock - one of the few working steam clocks in the world. The clock shoots steam from its five whistles and it gives off a toot from each whistle every half an hour.
Not far from the Steam Clock is Chinatown. Vancouver has one of the largest Chinese diasporas in North America. It is said you get some of the best Chinese food here on the continent and certainly in Canada. There are many restaurants here that also serve other East Asian cuisines as well. Apart from the food, there are plenty of shops selling souvenirs and crafts made by the diaspora. Right on the edge of Chinatown is Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Chinese Garden. An oasis of tranquility, this garden uses rare trees and rocks, and the principles of balance and harmony. You can learn the symbolism behind the placement of each plant, rock, and path.
To get a 360-degree view of Metro Vancouver and beyond take the glass elevator to the Lookout – the UFO-shaped observation deck which is the distinctive feature of the downtown skyline. Another sight of interest in Vancouver is the Science World with a geodesic dome featuring interactive exhibits, displays, and a 3D cinema theatre. In suburban Vancouver, the main attractions are the Queen Elizabeth Park that houses a conservatory, the VanDusen Botanical Gardens which is close by, and of course the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish.
Vancouver is known for its wellness inspired by the nature that surrounds it. Take the little Aquabus and go to Granville Islands to spend an afternoon. Just over the bridge from the city center, it is a peninsula rather than an island and home to a vast public market that has just about anything you could want, fresh produce, cheeses, butcher shops, fresh baked goods, fresh seafood, and wine.
It has a thriving artist’s community that sells handmade products and a famous brewery. The market’s food court is filled with delicious local eats and treats. Its location next to False Creek makes it a picturesque spot.
Being on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver has many beaches to choose from. English Bay is also called Sunset Beach. It's famous with the locals for viewing sunsets and it is also home to the Polar Bear Swim that attracts swimmers from the world over who take the plunge in the icy water during winter.
The one other popular beach is the Kitsilano Beach or the Kits beach as the locals call it. Sunset views are also amazing from here. There is volleyball and the Kits Pool – the only saltwater pool in Vancouver and the longest one in the world.
Best Place to Stay
Yaletown, Gastown, and Granville Street are in the downtown core and are good neighborhoods to stay if you want to explore everything that Metro Vancouver has to offer. Not only you will be near to most of the attractions, but you will also have plenty of options for food and dining be it Pubs, Bars, Cafes or Restaurants. Most of the chain and luxury hotels are located in the Coal Harbor / Waterfront area and these are expensive. For nature and adventures lovers, North Vancouver will work best being closer to the mountains and hiking trails. West-end along the English Bay is best suited for people looking for outdoor activities like sailing and kayaking.
Most of the attractions in Metro Vancouver are covered by Transit. TransLink is the regional transportation authority that operates the public transit system made up of a network of buses, the SkyTrain, Ferries, and the Sea Bus, as well as a commuter train service. You can buy day passes or a Compass Card which is accepted in all transits.
Best Time to visit
Vancouver is an all-season destination. Summer months June to August are best with plenty of sunshine. It's warmer but also the peak season. March – April is good with milder weather and busy because of Spring and Cherry Blossoms. September till mid of October are best if you want to see the fall colors, however, the weather can be a bit unpredictable with bouts of rain. Winters are milder in Vancouver compared to the rest of Canada, so December to February are the best if you are looking for skiing and winter sports.
A 3-day itinerary is a must; the 4th day will give will enough time to see attractions outside of Metro Vancouver. It is the gateway to many attractions like the Ski resort town of Whistler, the wine region of Okanagan Valley, the Vancouver Islands, or the Rocky Mountains. Many of the cruise lines to Alaska originate from Vancouver. So, even two weeks can also fall short if you want to cover most parts of this beautiful region.
Guest Bloggers Suk & Sangy are a couple living in Toronto Canada with a nomadic soul. They have been traveling the world together for many years now and have been to many places across 5 continents. As the pandemic put a restriction on their travel plans, they decided to spend their time sharing their past travel experiences through their blog – Urge to XPLORE. Also, follow them on their Instagram!