We spent some time in beautiful Vancouver this summer. There are loads of things to do and see in this magnificent city, so I wanted to share with you an impression of how we spent our 4 days there. As you will see, our days were pretty packed and we still only worked our way through part of the attractions of the city that are considered “must-see”. There are still quite a few others that we didn’t get around to visit, like Grouse Mountain, Queen Elisabeth Park, Kitsilano Beach, and English Bay.
Vancouver’s center is compact, so you can do a lot of exploring on foot. Alternatively, with the SkyTrain, busses, and the ferries (pay via Compass Card, cash, or card), the public transport network will get you pretty much anywhere in the Vancouver metro area. There are still no Ubers in Vancouver, but we found the taxi fares pretty reasonable (with fixed fees to and from the YVR airport).
On our first day, we strolled through Chinatown with the main attractions on or just off East Pender Street, like the Chinatown Millenium Gate and the quirky Sam Kee building (the teal-colored building with the ground floor window which is said to be the world’s narrowest freestanding office building at just 1.88m/6’2″ deep). We also visited the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park. (578 Carrall St, www.vancouverchinesegarden.com)
Another tip around that neighborhood is the Vancouver Police Museum (240 E Cordova St, www.vancouverpolicemuseum.ca) which had surprising displays. On its history – definitely not holding back on some of their pretty dark chapters – but also on crime-fighting techniques and apparatuses used throughout history. Some items are quite quirky, like on the introduction of the first traffic lights or about the fact that dogs get nose-printed for identification purposes. Others are eerier like the infamous local crimes as well as the morgue/examination room (where a dripping tap definitely added to the atmosphere…).
We then headed back to bustling Gastown where the Gassy Jack statue and the Steam Clock on Water Street are major tourist attractions, but you can get some proper shopping done, and you will find some good restaurants, coffee shops, and bars there.
A heads up, so you’re not too shocked when visiting Vancouver. Gastown, Chinatown, and East Vancouver are very mixed neighborhoods of significant tourism and poverty, and it is evident that the opioid crisis has a significant impact in Canada as well. So at first, it might be a bit of a shock to see homeless and/or intoxicated people around in these parts of town, but apart from some occasional begging we were never bothered and always felt safe.
In Downtown, you will find the Vancouver Lookout (555 W Hastings St, vancouverlookout.com) which has an observation deck at 168m / 551ft and therefore provides a striking 360-degree view of the Vancouver Metro area.
The weather on our second day wasn’t great, so we chose some indoor activities. Everywhere we go on holiday, we are checking out local science museums and aquariums. The kids love them, and as you will always find new exhibits or species, it never gets old, not even for the adults. The ones in Vancouver are great too, with many hands-on experiments, optical illusions, and environmental awareness exhibits over at Science World (1455 Quebec St, scienceworld.ca) which is only a couple of Skytrain stops from Downtown. The Birdly full-body virtual reality experience (which was $6 extra for 2 minutes) was a hit with our oldest, especially as he got a free ride as the computer froze with 15 seconds left.
Across from Science World, you have the former Olympic Village that was erected for the athletes in the 2010 Winter Olympics. As the weather wasn’t good enough to roam around there, we decided to take an Aquabus ride to Granville Island. The Aquabus operates 8 stops along False Creek, overlooking various marinas as well as Yaletown’s (IMHO) stupendously boring highrises, especially in the glum weather. As Aquabus is a private operator, your Compass Card doesn’t apply, and you will have to pay the fare separately (by cash or card).
The main attraction on Granville Island is the Public Market, where you can find all kinds of eateries and stalls with both local and imported products as well as various arts & crafts. You will also find numerous restaurants, wine shops, theaters (with ALL kinds of shows) as well as one of Vancouver’s many breweries, Granville Island Brewing. It can get pretty crowded though, so off-peak hours are best to visit.
We met-up with Koen, Erica, and Madouc, who kicked off their summer road trip of the entire West Coast in Vancouver. With effectively 1 full day in Vancouver, our third day focusing on the must-see/do things downtown.
First up was Stanley Park which is the 400-hectare city park Vancouverites are blessed with. The 9km Seawall, part of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path, the 28km Seaside Greenway, provides brilliant views of the city. Furthermore, Stanley Park itself has many landmarks, monuments, First Nations totem poles, and plenty of walking trails, and bike/skate paths, of course.
Stanley Park also hosts Canada’s largest aquarium, Vancouver Aquarium (845 Avison Way, www.vanaqua.org), which besides the (un)usual marine life also housed the limited-time Vortex exhibit.
Vortex is a powerful and evocative art exhibit by local writer/artist Douglas Coupland about the ocean plastic pollution crisis, which was partly made from the debris that washed ashore on the British Columbia coast after the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.
Given a booked lunch, we took a bus back downtown where we strolled around Burrard, Hornby, and Robson Streets (the more posh part of downtown) and the square before the Vancouver Art Gallery, across from Hawksworth Restaurant.
Afterward, we went to Canada Place, where the cruise ships moor. The pier also has Fly Over Canada (201 – 999 Canada Place, www.flyovercanada.com) attraction, a pretty fun 4D experience with IMAX sized screens simulating a flight through the most impressive landscapes that the country has to offer, but then also enhanced with sensory elements (smells, wind, mist, and snow). The “flight” appropriately ended with a swooping landing of a seaplane at the harbor of next doors’ Convention Center, where we headed next. Besides many shops and restaurants, the 2010 Olympics Flame and the Digital Orca – also by Douglas Coupland – (lower resolution than expected 😉 are its main attractions.
On our final day in Vancouver, we picked up our rental car in the morning (which got upgraded to a humongous GMC Yukon XL) to explore some of the attractions in the neighborhood. First up was the Capilano River Regional Park in North Vancouver (3735 Capilano Rd, www.capbridge.com). Its suspension bridge draws a lot of tourists, so be prepared to stand in line to be able to cross the 137m/450ft bridge which hovers 70m/230ft above the Capilano River. We were there around noon and had to wait 40 minutes, but as you stand in the shade, it was pretty bearable.
Even though sturdy (reassuring displays can be read when standing in line) a bridge that size will always have somewhat of a wobble, as you can see from the video below. Therefore, be prepared to come across the occasional person with a fear of heights that still insisted on crossing the bridge but ended up clinging the guardrails in a semi-catatonic state…
It is also very worthwhile to catch one of their free tours. They have many interesting facts on the forest and wildlife of the park (the banana slugs are easiest to spot). The Douglas Firs are the most massive trees in the park, standing at almost 90m/300ft. Their thick inflammable bark protects the trees during wildfires, but as the temperatures inevitably go up, the tree sap will start to boil, and under immense pressure, it will find its way through the bark. As the pine sap itself is highly inflammable, the tree will instantly become a flamethrower itself, eradicating surrounding (non-Douglas fir) trees and thus creating some sort of fire corridor. Pretty smart, eh?
Although the park is pretty busy, the views down the gorge are magnificent, as are the canopy walking tour (treetop adventure) and the cliff walk on the cantilevered walkway to the granite wall.
In the afternoon we headed back south over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, past English Bay and over the Burrard Bridge to the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak St, vancouver.ca). As to be expected, the various themed gardens were absolutely marvelous, buzzing with bees and the smells were astounding. Even though the main lawn was off-limits given a private Indian wedding reception, we walked around for about an hour and a half and then had some drinks and snacks at its Shaughnessy Restaurant, which uses ingredients from the Garden in their dishes.
Most amazing was watching hummingbirds (“kolibri” in Dutch as you can hear in the video). Even shot at 30 frames per second, the direction it flew away could not be properly captured.