No ski trip to Canada is complete without some time spent in the harbour city of Vancouver. This
Getting out and about in Vancouver is made easy by the grid system of the compact downtown, and the fact that most of the must-do sightseeing and experiences are walkable, or easily reached by ferry or bus.
Stanley Park is an oasis of green attached to the northern end of the city, and at 1000 acres it’s bigger than New York’s Central Park. It’s surrounded by water on three sides and an eight kilometre seawall circumnavigates the park which is the city’s most popular biking, blading, jogging and walking track.
Trails also criss-cross through the interior of the park with its 50metre cedar, fir and pine, but out on the seawall every sweep and turn reveals another fantastic vista. From Vancouver Rowing Club on the southern end, it’s the downtown skyline and the Convention and Exhibition Centre; from Brockton Point in the east, it’s North Vancouver with its houses built into the mountain range and the seaplanes; from Prospect Point in the north it’s the impressive Lions Gate Bridge.
Further around to the western side of Stanley Park, the unusual Siwash Rock stands as a symbol of individuality and independence – it’s a symmetrical column of stone that looks man-made and the First Nations people believe it has special powers. Some pretty beaches are also on the western side and a good place to be rewarded with a cool drink is at English Bay Beach – this is right on the western end of the downtown and is a happening local place especially on warm weekends.
No trip to Vancouver would be complete without a ride on one of the city’s aquabuses – or mini-ferries – which cruise around False Creek to the south. It’s relatively inexpensive, as well as a great way to see the south and east side of the city and catch a bit of riverlife as well.
The aquabuses are also the best way to get to Granville Island (a peninsula under the Granville Bridge) which is home to Vancouver’s biggest market selling all manner of fresh foodstuffs and flowers. In days gone by, Granville Island was a bustling industrial centre with saw milling, ironwork, slaughterhouses and other manufacturing plants and the area became largely deserted in the 1960’s.
The transformation began in the 1970’s and now Granville Island is an intriguing and eclectic mix of markets, restaurants, bars and cafes, art schools and a recreation centre which features kayaking and sailing. Its industrial past hasn’t been bulldozed away either – much of the reconstruction and reclamation retained the corrugated iron walls and industrial doorways along with the back alleys and the old rail tracks.
Granville Island is one of those places that can be covered in a couple of hours, or a couple of days – but either way, most people end up sitting at a waterfront bar or cafe to finish off the experience.
Several mini-districts in Downtown have developed their own individuality and reputations – Yaletown in the south-east underwent a major facelift more than a decade ago, like Granville Island. A former rundown textile district, it was transformed into a trendy neighbourhood with renovated warehouses and hip bars and nightclubs. On Mainland and Hamilton, designer boutiques for clothes and interior design have sprung up.
Meanwhile Historic Gastown, north east of Downtown, marks the start of modern day Vancouver and was the site of the founding of the city in 1870. It’s also home to the famous Steam Clock on the corner of Water and Cambie – one of the most photographed landmarks in Vancouver and it actually emits steam and toots on the hour.
Further to the east of Gastown is Chinatown – the third largest in North America – it has the hustle and bustle you’d expect. Lively market stalls operate next to busy restaurants, herb and medicine stores, live animals and textiles. Robson Street which runs through the heart of Downtown is a shoppers’ paradise with almost every retail store imaginable .
A little bit further afield on the north side of the city, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is another way to get close to nature – with a bit of thrill seeking involved. It’s a “swervey” 137 metre bridge with a 70 metre drop to a rocky canyon floor – if you can keep your presence of mind it’s a great way to experience the magnificent rainforest on the north side of the city.
And further up the road is one of Vancouver’s “hidden” gems. Grouse Mountain is a ski resort that operates 12 months a year – out of snow season it offers panoramic views of Vancouver from 1250 metres. The eight minute tram ride to the peak is invigorating in itself, and at the top there are hiking trails and an endangered wildlife sanctuary which features orphaned grizzly bears which were rescued when they were cubs.
With stunning views over Vancouver, Altitudes Bistro is the ultimate sunset venue in this part of the world – the sun drops over the ocean and an orange hue filters through the city and Stanley Park. The sunset is quickly replaced by night, and the city shimmers in the distance like a jewel in the Pacific.
Warmed by Pacific Ocean currents and protected by a range of mountains Vancouver enjoys a mild climate all year round, perfect for sightseeing and getting around the city. During winter, temperatures peak at around 6°C (43°F) during the day. It rarely snows in the city, although the local ski resorts enjou great snow being at higher elevations. Summer days are not too hot, usually averaging around 23°C (74°F). We love Vancouver, year round.
Did you know Whistler Blackcomb is just over 2 hours up the road from Vancouver?