Vancouver is often advertised as a place where you can sail, bike, ski, golf and kayak all on the same day, and still make it back to the urban core in time for dinner. As someone who has been calling Vancouver home for over 30 years I can tell you that all these activities are indeed within reach, however the idea of doing them all in a day is a whimsical exaggeration that should be understood only as such. Located in a spectacular setting of rain forests, snowcapped mountains and the Pacific ocean, Vancouver is a clean, green, mostly safe and mostly prosperous city. The young, modern and multicultural metropolis is home to health-conscious urbanites who are passionate about the outdoors and fitness, believe they are laid-back and sophisticated, and are doing their utmost to discover and define the true identity of their city.
Vancouver Facts and Trivia
Originally known as Gastown, it became the town of Granville, and on April 6, 1886 it was incorporated as the City of Vancouver. The ceremony was delayed when it was discovered that no one brought paper on which to write down the details. Someone had to run down the street to the stationery store.
Vancouver shares its anniversary year with Mercedes Benz, modern field hockey, the abolition of slavery in Cuba, and Coca Cola.
When it was incorporated Vancouver’s population was estimated at 1,000. The 2011 census put it at 603,502. The metropolitan area, referred to as Greater Vancouver, is the third largest metropolitan area in Canada with more than 2.3 million residents; Toronto and Montreal are bigger.
A resident of Vancouver is called a Vancouverite. If you think rain is simply a state of mind, then you could qualify as a Vancouverite. To learn how to be a Vancouverite check: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc-tVZq9a4Y
Vancouver is Canada’s most densely populated municipality. It is also one of Canada’s most culturally and ethnically diverse cities, where 35% of the population is foreign born and the first language of 53% of the residents is not English. Visible ‘minorities’ comprise 51.8% in the population, there are 2% Aboriginals, while ‘European Canadians’ make up 46.2%. In Greater Vancouver, 43% of the residents have an Asian heritage, which is a much higher proportion than in any other major city outside continental Asia. Of these, 19% are ethnic Chinese.
Vancouver has recently ranked third in the world as the best city to live in, although many locals complain that it also should be ranked as the least fun city in the world.
Vancouver’s liquor laws are (like in the rest of English Canada) stuck in some dark ages. Alcoholic beverages can only be purchased in Government Liquor stores or in a few private ones. You can’t buy alcohol in a grocery store. You can’t be seen drinking an alcoholic beverage on the street or in a park.
Vancouver takes its no-smoking law seriously. You can’t smoke tobacco in indoor or outdoor public spaces (except at a few, extremely limited, designated areas). However, you can smoke (and inhale) marijuana openly everywhere.
Vancouver is the birthplace of Greenpeace (1971) and is working hard toward becoming the world’s greenest city by 2020. It is also the birthplace of the Japadog (2005). Free-style mountain biking was born on the slopes of Vancouver’s North Shore.
There are no freeways crossing downtown Vancouver. The city has a fairly extensive bus system and a growing rapid transit system. Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation. You can bike on any Vancouver street, and the city has an additional widespread network of designated bike routes. Dolphins and whales are occasionally sighted in the waters close to the city.
Vancouver has the fourth largest cruise ship terminal in the world. Cruise ships begin sailing in April and end in October. Most cruises head to Alaska.
The international airport (YVR) was ranked #1 Airport in North America for the fifth consecutive year in 2014. It also ranks as one of the world’s best airports and is the only North American airport included in the global top 10. The YVR is home to the largest collection of Northwest Coast Native art in the world. It is also home to a 114,000-litre main aquarium that houses a collection of marine life native to British Columbia, and a smaller 1,800-litre jellyfish aquarium. (I should check these out one day.) Among the oddities turned into the YVR Lost & Found office in 2012 were an old, empty steamer trunk, a new flat-screen TV, and a used toilet seat.
The Lion’s Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Burrard Inlet that connects Vancouver to the north-shore communities of North and West Vancouver, is 5,890 feet long. It has been in use since 1938. At certain hours it can be a traffic nightmare, as it only has one lane, usually in the direction you’re going.
The Capilano pedestrian Suspension Bridge is the longest (140m/460ft) and highest (70m/230ft) suspension bridge in the world.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park covers 1001 acres, which makes it 10% bigger than New York City’s Central Park.
Vancouver’s Kitsilano salt water pool is Canada’s longest, measuring 137.5 meters, which is almost the equivalent of 3 Olympic regulation size pools. This outdoor pool maintains a constant temperature of 25C (77F).
Vancouver is home to three professional major league sports teams: the Vancouver Canucks (hockey), the BC Lions (football) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (soccer).
There are three ski hills within a short drive of downtown Vancouver: Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour.
Tourism is Vancouver’s second largest industry, after Forestry.
Vancouver’s weather could best be described as unpredictable. Together with Victoria it has the mildest climate in Canada, though it rains a lot, with November being the rainiest month. Snow is quite rare but when it does snow it can shut down the city for a few days. July through September seem to be Vancouver’s best months. Inexplicably, the weather during the last 2 weeks of June and first 2 weeks of July is often fickle. Summer maximum temperatures seldom exceed 30 C and usually remain in the 22-27 C range. Summer is typically sunny although it does have rainy days. The winter is dark, rainy and dreary.
Food: It is often said that due to its multiculturalism and extreme urbanity Vancouver’s culture is all about the diversity of dining. Indeed Vancouver has developed a reputation for being a Foodi’s Mecca and the best spot for ethnic and international food in North America. In terms of ethnic and international cuisine the choices are virtually endless. There are Chinese eateries, Korean as well as Mongolian BBQ, Greek tavernas, Mexican taquerias, Italian trattorias, Spanish and Japanese Tapas bars, French brasseries, fish & chip shops, pubs and American-style chains. There are fast food joints, family diners, casual food establishments, upscale casual dining, as well as luxurious fine dining restaurants. Thanks to top cooks and chefs from around the world who have made Vancouver their home, food in Vancouver has become an exciting adventure of wonders, surprises, inventiveness, and pleasure. Armed with a fork, spoon or chopsticks you can discover the magic of Thai, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino, Persian, Hungarian, Russian, Indonesian, Indian, Israeli, Cuban, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Salvadoran, Nepali, Afgan, Lebanese, and of course, BC’s own interpretation of Pacific Northwest Cuisine. It is quite likely that I’ve missed some, but the overall idea is that in Vancouver you can have a bite of everywhere.
Stanley Park: Located at the west end of downtown the park is surrounded on three sides by the ocean. You can see the snow-capped North Shore mountains from many spots in the park. Within its 1,000 acres there are forests of cedar, hemlock and fir, interweaved by grassy areas, beaches lined with driftwoods, and a variety of recreational opportunities. On sunny days it is a good place for hiking, cycling, and jogging through the woods or along the seawall. Avoid weekends.
The Seawall: This is a 22 kilometres, continuous, mostly seaside, path that serves pedestrians, cyclists and skaters. It begins in Coal Harbour, winds around Stanley Park, runs along False Creek, crosses the Burrard Street Bridge, and continues through Vanier Park to the Kitsilano Beach Park.
The Aquarium Marine Science Centre in Stanley Park is home to 9,000 water creatures (including sharks, dolphins, Amazonian caimans and more). Great especially for those with children.
Pacific Spirit Regional Park is located on the westmost side of the city, at the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands. It has 73 km of well laid paths and trails as well as rock and pebble beaches. The richly dense forest of cedar, hemlock and Douglas-fir are mixed with red alder and maple trees. Fifty kilometres of the park are designated for walking, cycling and horseback riding. Owl, eagle, chickadee, warbler, wren, kinglet, woodpecker and sea birds can be heard and seen. Small mammals, like squirrels and voles, and larger ones, like coyotes, racoons and skunks are a common sight. Salamanders, snakes, toads and tree frogs live in the wet areas of the Park. It’s a great place for a tranquil walk, as there are far fewer people here than in Stanley Park.
Grouse Mountain: Located 15 minutes from downtown, Grouse Mountain is BC’s top all-seasons destination. Although not large in area, it offers a variety of experiences and adventures including Skyriding on the largest aerial tram system in North America, ziplining on a dual-line, five-line circuit, paragliding, wildlife viewing, guided tours, casual strolls, and helicopter excursions. The Grouse Grind is a very popular and challenging 2.9-kilometre trek up the face of the mountain. There is a cafeteria located at its top end. Because of its steep grade, 2,830 stairs and a total elevation gain of approximately 850 metres, it is nicknamed ‘Mother nature’s stairmaster’. In winter the mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides.
The Sea-to-Sky corridor (Highway 99) is an amazingly scenic drive between Vancouver and Whistler, which is a major skiing resort about 120 kilometres away. Even if one heads only partway to Squamish this is a beautiful drive showcasing scenic ocean vistas, fjords, soaring mountains and dramatic waterfalls.
Lighthouse Park: This is a little known small piece of paradise, tucked in a dramatically beautiful coastal rainforest. A well-marked network of trails winds through massive trees stretching toward the ocean. It offers great vistas of sea and mountains from various rocky spots.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge crosses the Capilano river in North Vancouver. This famous and popular tourist attraction is part of a private (w/admission fee) small theme park. There are rainforest walks, totem poles, and a swinging network of smaller bridges strung between the trees, called Treetops Adventure.
The Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Park (also in North Vancouver) is not as touristy as Capilano. While smaller it offers more wilderness and far fewer tour buses. It is also free. It contains several easy trails leading through the forest to scenic vistas, including the popular Twin Falls (where a wooden bridge stretches over the river, in view of two gorgeous water falls) and a 30 foot rock above a swimming hole.
Nitobe Memorial Garden. This traditional Japanese garden located at the University of British Columbia is almost unknown to anyone but campus folks. Yet it is an incredibly beautiful, serene garden. A stroll around the pond endows you with enough zen to last for at least a week. It is considered to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America and among the top five Japanese gardens outside of Japan. The site includes a rare authentic Tea Garden with a ceremonial tea house.
Queen Eliszbeth Park is a 52-hectare park located at Vancouver’s geographic center and it’s the highest point in the city which allows for good views. It boasts more than 1500 trees and a lovely rose garden that blossoms with many varieties. Most renowned are its two quarry gardens with their pathways, bridges and mini waterfalls set amongst hundreds of plants and flowers.
Beaches: Regardless of what the tourists brochures tell you, Vancouver beaches do not offer the softest or whitest sand in the world, and they cannot compete with the world’s best. What they do offer are very beautiful mountain-and-city vistas, and lots of opportunities for outdoor sports and leisure activities. English Bay Beach, located in the West End bordering Stanley Park is nice, tranquil and civilized. There are many restaurants and shops along the bordering Denman St. It is the greatest spot for watching the annual Celebration of Light International Fireworks Competition.
Located along Northwest Marine Dr. west of Tolmie St, the Spanish Banks Beach is composed of three distinct sections, east, west and extension. The length of the beach offers some incredible vistas and at low tide the water is one kilometre off shore. It is a good place for walking, biking, jogging, picnicking or playing volleyball.
Wreck Beach is an internationally-acclaimed 7.8 km long clothing-optional beach located in the Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The beach lies at the base of a cliff and the access trails are quite steep. In low tide it is possible to walk along the entire shore. Even though it isn’t the easiest beach to access, it must be the nicest and it’s certainly the wildest.
Jericho beach is ideal for sailing, walking, biking and playing tennis. Some people claim it is the perfect place for a sunset stroll. The annual July Vancouver Folk Music Festival makes its home here.
Competing furiously for first place in the sunset stroll contest, Kits Beach is affectionately and wishfully deemed by Vancouverites to be their version of Venice Beach. Well, it’s not. But it boasts nice views both in geographical form and in the physical forms of the young and hip who come here to see and be seen.
Granville Island: Once an industrial area of sawmills and steel factories, the area fell into disuse after World War II as a result of a series of fires and a changing economy. The site was redeveloped in the 1970s and now is both a locals’ favorite and a huge draw for visitors. The epicentre of the Island is the Public Market, a fascinating assortment of colourful stalls, showcasing homemade products and gastronomic delights, fresh produce, fish and treats. The island is also home to several theaters, galleries, cafes, restaurants and shops. It contains a ‘Kids only Market’ as well as the Granville Island Brewing Company, a marina, a boutique hotel, a Community Centre, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the Arts Umbrella visual and performing arts education centre. On a good summer day it can be flooded with tourists.
The Vancouver Public Library Square: Designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the central branch of the public library is one of the most spectacular architectural structure in the city. The radical design is reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, featuring a seven levels rectangular box that houses the books, periodicals and other library services. It is surrounded by a convex, colonnaded free standing wall that contains reading and study areas linked to the main portion by bridges spanning skylit light wells. The square occupies a full city block in the downtown core and includes an office tower, retail shops and restaurants.
Canada Place: Built for Expo ’86, this landmark resemble a giant sailing ship with five tall Teflon sails that jut into the sky over Burrard Inlet. It is Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal and a convention center. The pier boasts great views.
The Vancouver Lookout: Reminiscent of a space ship that landed on top of an office tower, the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre has a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and surrounding landscape. The admission ticket is valid all day, so you can check out the daylight views and return later for the sunset.
Gastown:Victorian era resonates in the cobblestone streets, antique lamps and old buildings here, giving the neighborhood distinctive tone. The area which used to be quite derelict has recently become a magnet for local designer-owned shops, art galleries and studios, music studios, film schools, restaurants and character bars. While this part of town is becoming increasingly gentrified, is quite safe and has a strong police presence, caution is advised since there still is a significant number of addicts, mentally ill, and homeless people in the surrounding streets.
Robson Street isVancouver’s glamorized tourist shopping and strolling promenade. There is everything for a serious shopoholic: high fashion, trendy yoga outfits, souvenirs, beauty products, books and much more. Beside the profusion of shops there is a supply of coffee shops, ethnic restaurants, sports bars and grills, fine dining and simple eateries.
Yaletown: Lined with swanky Hong Kong-style apartment buildings, trendy restaurants, bars and boutiques, this former rail terminal turned a warehouse district has become a preferred living and shopping area for the city’s moneyed young and childless professionals. The much talked about night life of this trendy area attracts the city’s beautiful people to the upscale drink and dine venues where they can check each other out.
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of BC possesses one of the world’s finest collection of First Nations art. Overlooking the mountains and ocean, the museum’s building is a spectacular piece of art in and of itself.
Bill Reid Gallery. Named after the acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid (1920-1998) this beautiful public gallery for Contemporary Aboriginal art of the Northwest Coast showcases a permanent collection of Bill Reid alongside changing exhibitions.
Vancouver Art Gallery. Housed in a neoclassical former courthouse in the heart of downtown, the gallery is a storehouse of works by a variety of Vancouver artists. Its claim to fame is the full collection of paintings, sketches, ceramics, photographs and letters by locally famous BC native Emily Carr, known for using splashy, bold colors to bring BC’s landscape and culture to life. There is a nice cafeteria on the balcony.