Updated: Jul 10, 2021
Vancouver is a delicious juxtaposition of urban sophistication and on-your-doorstep wilderness adventure. The mountains and seascape make the city an outdoor playground for hiking, skiing, kayaking, cycling, and sailing—and so much more—while the cuisine and arts scenes are equally diverse, reflecting the makeup of Vancouver's ethnic (predominantly Asian) mosaic.
Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the world's most livable cities, and it's easy for visitors to see why. It's beautiful, it's outdoorsy, and there's a laid-back West Coast vibe. On the one hand, there's easy access to a variety of outdoor activities, a fabulous variety of beaches, and amazing parks. At the same time, the city has a multicultural vitality and cosmopolitan flair. The attraction is as much in the range of food choices—the fresh seafood and local produce are some of North America's best—as it is in the museums, shopping, and nightlife.
Vancouver's landscaping also adds to the city's walking appeal. In spring, flowerbeds spill over with tulips and daffodils while sea breezes scatter scented cherry blossoms throughout Downtown; in summer, office workers take to the beaches, parks, and urban courtyards for picnic lunches and laptop meetings.
More than 9 million visitors each year come to Vancouver, Canada's third-largest metropolitan area. Because of its peninsula location, traffic flow is a contentious issue. Thankfully, Vancouver is wonderfully walkable, especially in the downtown core. The North Shore is a scoot across the harbor, and the rapid-transit system to Richmond and the airport means that staying in the more affordable ’burbs doesn't have to be synonymous with sacrificing convenience. The mild climate, exquisite natural scenery, and relaxed outdoor lifestyle keep attracting residents, and the number of visitors is increasing for the same reasons. People often get their first glimpse of Vancouver when catching an Alaskan cruise, and many return at some point to spend more time here.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Two of Vancouver's top garden attractions are over the Cambie Bridge, south of Downtown: Queen Elizabeth Park (just off Cambie at 33rd Avenue), and the VanDusen Botanical Garden, which is at Oak Street at 37th Avenue, west of Cambie. The Cambie Corridor has also become something of a shopping destination, with several big box stores clustered near the intersection of Broadway and Cambie, and more independent shops in the blocks between 18th and 20th avenues.
Gastown is known for its cobblestone streets and Victorian era–style streetlamps; it's also joined Yaletown as one of Vancouver's trendiest neighborhoods, as überhip stores, ad agencies, high-tech companies, and restaurants take over refurbished brick warehouses. It's a relatively small area, bordered by Hastings, Richards, and Main streets and it was nicknamed for the garrulous ("Gassy") Jack Deighton who opened his saloon where his statue now stands on Maple Tree Square. This is essentially where Vancouver originated and it's the zero point from which all Vancouver street addresses start. By the time the first transcontinental train arrived in 1887, the waterfront area was crowded with hotels, warehouses, brothels, and dozens of saloons—you can still see place names such as Gaoler's Mews and Blood Alley, which hint at those early rough-and-tumble days.
Explore at your leisure but try to plan your expedition over a meal, because the market is an excellent place for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and shopping. The buildings behind the market are as diverse as the island's main attractions and house all sorts of crafts shops. The waterside boardwalk behind the Arts Club and around the Creekhouse building will bring you to Ocean Art Works, an open-sided longhouse-style structure where you can watch First Nations artists at work. Make time to visit the free contemporary galleries beside the covered walkway, and Sea Village, one of the few houseboat communities in Vancouver. Other nooks and alleys to note are Ron Basford Park, a natural amphitheater for outdoor performances, and Railspur Alley, home to about a dozen studios and galleries that produce everything from jewelry to leather work and sake.
Granville Island is also a venue for Vancouver's many performing arts festivals—and a great place to catch top-quality street entertainment at any time.
In the early 20th century False Creek was dredged for better access to the sawmills that lined the shore, and the sludge was heaped onto a sandbar that grew large enough to house much-needed industrial and logging-equipment plants. Although businesses thrived in the 1920s, most fell into derelict status by the '60s. In the early '70s, though, the federal government came up with a creative plan to redevelop the island with a public market, marine activities, and artisans' studios. The refurbished Granville Island opened to the public in 1979 and was an immediate hit with locals and visitors alike.