Get active, get wild and get cultural in’s biggest city – .
VANCOUVER SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
The Capilano Suspension Bridge (3735 Capilano Road) has been a big family favourite since 1889. It sways 70m above the Capilano River. After taking the leap of faith stroll across, other attractions include a treetops walk and totem pole collection. Vancouver’s most famous totem poles can be found in Stanley Park, however. This huge park also includes the city’s aquarium (845 Avison Way, 00 1 604 659 3474). Grouse Mountain (6400 Nancy Greene Way, 980 9311) offers skiing in winter, but a ride on the Skyway cable car, lumberjack shows and the chance to go to the top of a wind turbine year round.
Cultural attractions in Vancouver
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The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (639 Hornby Street, 00 1 604 682 3455) is the showcase for British Columbia’s best known indigenous artist – carvings, paintings and jewellery are on display and there are often live carving demonstrations. There are numerous theatre options, but the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova Street, 00 1 604 689 0926) is the best spot for the intimate showcasing of local playwrights. At the opposite end of the familiarity scale, the hugely popular Bard on the Beach festival puts on Shakespeare productions in Kitsilano’s Vanier Park between June and September.
The 8.8km-long Stanley Park seawall is justifiably popular – it loops around the park through often, ahem, ‘refreshing’ sea breezes. Walkers and cyclists get separate lanes to prevent messy accidents. If you prefer to pedal round, bike rental costs $6.72 an hour with Bayshore Rentals (745 Denman Street, 00 1 604 688 2453). I’ve done a full write-up of the Stanley Park cycling experience.
Particularly energetic walkers can extend their seawall march at either end, trekking for 22km between Coal Harbour and Kitsilano Beach via English Bay and Granville Island. The other iconic Vancouver walk – which most Vancouverites tackle once and only once – is the infamous Grouse Grind. This walking trail up to the top of Grouse Mountain is extremely steep and sweaty.
For a fascinatingly unglossy take on the city’s history and present, the Vancouver Police Museum’s Sins of the City tour (00 1 604 665 3346 – see review) walks through vice, drugs and gambling as well as the Downtown Eastside, Gastown and Chinatown. Foodies on the hunt for the city’s best bites should enjoy the area-by-area tasting adventures offered by the Vancouver Food Tour (+1 866 736 6343). And what better way to work off the gourmet delights than going out on the water? Lotus Land Tours (00 1 604 684 4922) runs excellent nature-heavy kayaking trips along Indian Arm from North Vancouver. I wrote up my experience here.
Find the best deals on Vancouver hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.
Budget accommodation in Vancouver
The cheapest options are generally inconveniently-located motels, but there are three good central options on a relative budget if you’re prepared to accept a shared bathroom. The downtown St Clair (577 Richards Street, 00 1 604 684 3713, from C$55.86) has an odd nautical theme while the West End’s Buchan Hotel (1906 Haro Street, 00 1 604 685 5354, from C$69) is in a lovely old building near Stanley Park. It’s a little old-fashioned, but friendly. The YWCA (733 Beatty Street, 895 5830, from C$75.50) in Yaletown, however, is surprisingly perky and the furnishings are of a higher standard than you’d perhaps expect.
Mid-range accommodation in Vancouver
The Listel (1300 Robson Street, 00 1 604 684 8461, from C$155) is Vancouver’s solid gold bargain. As much an art gallery as a hotel, borrowed museum pieces, sculptures and photo-essays line the hallways. It’s green, uses specially crafted local woods and has a cracking restaurant/ bar with live jazz downstairs. The Sunset Inn (1111 Burnaby Street, 00 1 604 688 2474, from $115 for a studio suite) gives excellent bang for buck as well – lots of space, iPod docks, kitchens, free parking and free WiFi make it a relative steal. Otherwise, The Best Western Plus Sands (1755 Davie Street, 00 1 604 661 7887, from C$97) is a well-maintained, solid option near Stanley Park.
Luxury hotels in Vancouver
The Wedgewood (845 Hornby Street, 00 1 604 689 7777, from C$259) has a country mansion-turned-cool feel to it. Roaring fires, palatial-style bedside drapes, enormous flat screen TVs and in-room bathtubs make this a popular celeb stay – and hugely likeable too. Opus (322 Davie Street, 00 1 604 642 6787, from C$241) is the other hip hang out – bright colours, red-lit lifts, loos with a view and a beautiful people-only staffing policy give it youthful swagger. More subdued, but beautifully refurbished and friendly is the St Regis (602 Dunsmuir Street, 00 1 604 681 1135, from C$182). An interminable facilities inclusion list features free phone calls to anywhere in the world.
Top end hotels in Vancouver
Best in town is the Fairmont Pacific Rim (1038 Place, 00 1 604 695 5300) – a buzzy lobby is complimented a fab heated pool deck. The C$372-plus rooms are gleamingly luxurious, but the harbour view suites (from C$490) with spa baths are the ones you really don’t want to leave. The suites at the Loden (1177 Melville Street, 00 1 604 669 5060, from C$419) are more fun, with a Rock Band game kit, floor-to-ceiling windows and exhibitionist-friendly sliding bathroom walls. The Shangri-La (1128 West Georgia Street, 00 1 604 689 1120, from C$342) adds a few Asian touches such as hanging tapestries and dragon-detailed vanity boxes to high-end treats such as TVs in the bathroom mirrors.
Elbow Room (560 Davie Street, 00 1 604 685 3628) is legendary for its waspish service – to the point where being shouted at for trying to alter something on the menu has become a quasi-theatrical attraction. It’s great entertainment until you’re homed in on yourself, and the breakfasts are ace. See full review here.
The Medina Café (556 Beatty Street, 00 1 604 879 3114) is a popular, humming joint with a cosy-yet-contemporary look and dishes – such as duck confit with cherries, pears and pecans or Moroccan meatballs – that go beyond the humble lunchtime sandwich. Meanwhile the pick-your-own meat and cheese platters at the Salt Tasting Room (45 Blood Alley, 00 1 604 633 1912) are justifiably revered.
The fabulous La Taqueria (322 West Hastings Street, 00 1 604 568 4406) gets really inventive with humble Mexican dishes; the four taco combos allow you to experiment with the likes of chicken and chocolate mole sauce. For fish and chips, try the takeout window of the Raincity Grill (1193 Denman Street, 00 1 604 685 7337). It’s one of the city’s top restaurants, but this way you can get the sustainable seafood for C$10 and take it into nearby Stanley Park. Then there’s always Japadog (530 Robson Street), which gives the humble hotdog a Japanese makeover – expect teriyaki, miso and yakinuku rice amongst other untraditional additions.
Best restaurants in Vancouver
Tojo’s (1133 West Broadway, 00 1 604 872 8050) has been top dog for sushi and sashimi for years – no mean feat in a city with a huge Asian population. The $120, six course, chef-selected tasting menu is the real treat. For waterfront views and indulgent seafood platters, C (1600 Howe Street, 00 1 604 681 1164)monopolises a prime spot overlooking False Creek and Granville Island. Locals say it’s the best seafood in town – a compliment indeed given the competition. For a break from the fish, Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill (1129 Hamilton Street, 00 1 604 688 7466) hits that right spot between atmospherically old school and Yaletown hip. Both the Italian menu and wine list are excellent.
VANCOUVER ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
Gastown is both Vancouver’s oldest district and its booziest. Slightly set apart from the main drag, the Alibi Room (157 Alexander Street, 00 1 604 623 3383) always has a cracking selection of microbrew beers on tap, and offers four sample tasting ‘bats’ for anyone wishing to experiment. Sitting right above Gastown’s often raucous epicentre, The Diamond (6 Powell Street, 00 1 604 568 8272) offers a touch of class with its high quality cocktails. The atmosphere is refreshingly warm and unstuffy though. For wine drinkers, Uva (909 Seymour Street, 00 1 604 632 9560) in Yaletown has an excellent list and buzzy vibe that sucks you in for longer than just a glass.
Live music in Vancouver
The Commodore (868 Granville Street, 00 1 604 683 9413) gets a steady stream of mid-range bands passing through before they break through into bigger, more soulless venues. Often the current indie scene darlings will be found here. More experimental and intimate is the Biltmore Cabaret (2755 Prince Edward Street, 00 1 604 676 0541), where the gig list leans towards the alternative but DJs, karaoke idol competitions and burlesque shows fill in when there are no live bands. For something more sedate, O’Doul’s (1300 Robson Street, 00 1 604 661 1400) in the West End offers live jazz over dinner every night.
Nightclubs in Vancouver
If it’s a fun night without the attitude you’re after, then the Roxy (932 Granville Street, 00 1 604 331 7999) is that classic place that every city has – somewhere that everyone can roll in a little the worse for wear and dance like an idiot amongst a disparate crowd. For something considerably more upmarket and loungy, Republic (958 Granville Street, 00 1 604 669 3266) attracts a more sophisticated crowd than its Granville street contemporaries. Music policy varies dramatically night by night. The Fortune Sound Club (147 East Pender Street, 00 1 604 569 1758) has a friendly, fun reputation, and it’s popular with those who want to dance rather than look pretty.
Markets in Vancouver
The Granville Island Public Market is the city’s favourite mooching spot. It’s great for picking up food – especially fruit, vegetables and cheeses, but other stalls sell everything from ceramic art coasters to chopstick bowls. Many people head to Chinatown on weekend evenings for the night market. It’s held on Keefer and Main Streets, but it’s frankly disappointing. If you want that proper, lively taste of Asia, haul out to the Summer Night Market in the southern suburb of Richmond. This is where many Cantonese people settled when they fled before it was handed back to in 1997. The market is held on Vulcan Way every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night between May and October.
Shopping in Vancouver
Just opposite the Granville Island Public Market, the Net Loft (1666 Johnston Street) is a wooden mini-mall filled with the sort of shops that can lead to light wallets and heavy suitcases. Books, hats, handmade homewares, artworks and jewellery-making equipment are all in the mix. If you’re not exactly strapped for cash and want to take something unique home, the Coastal People’s Fine Arts Gallery (1024 Mainland Street, 00 1 604 685 9298) in Yaletown has high quality (and very pricy) works by top First Nations artists for sale. They range from carved stone bears to shaman masks. For department store shopping, Holt Renfrew (737 Dunsmuir Street, 00 1 604 681 3121) has the best selection of designer labels.
VANCOUVER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Vancouver travel tip
Room prices and air fares will be more expensive, but Vancouver is really best explored in the northern hemisphere summer (June to August). Many residents affectionately call their home ‘Rain City’ and said precipitation is far more pronounced in the winter months. That said, if you’re well prepared with waterproofs and an umbrella, spring and autumn temperatures aren’t as low as they are in Canada’s other major cities. Snow in the city itself is surprisingly rare, even if it sits on the nearby mountains for most of the year.
The currency is the Canadian dollar.
Tourist information: Tourism Vancouver
Details correct as of May 2011, when this guide was researched by David Whitley. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in .
Disclosure:was a guest of Tourism Vancouver.