Canada always seems to be dwarfed by its iconic neighbor, America when it comes to commercial holiday destinations; it is unsurprising when the latter offers some of the most iconic cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Orlando etc… America is also supported by a huge influence in popular culture, be it films, books, TV shows and music. In regards to the later I don’t think I have ever heard of a hit song with Calgary or Toronto as the topic, or if I have I can’t recall.
Nevertheless, millions still flock to this beautiful country for its diverse range of landscapes, activities and lifestyle. One of the most popular locations is the city of Vancouver of which I had the pleasure to call home in 2010. I thought I could let you know a few facts and do a bit of a review…
Vancouver is often included in the top 10 cities worldwide in which to live and honestly I just can’t disagree. The city itself is ideally situated on Canada’s west coast, with access to beautiful off shore islands and the vast Pacific Ocean to the west, mountains to the north and east and very easy access to USA via Washington State (USA) in the south. Vancouver’s first selling point is the weather; it has a much milder climate than the rest of the county, which is a huge benefit in Canada’s notorious harsh winters.
No matter what the season, Vancouver offers a wide variety of activities, which adds to its charm. In the winter the city becomes synonymous as a hub for snow sports, with local Mountain resorts such as Seymour, Grouse and Cypress just a bus ride from the city. If you desire the more attractive ‘world class’ snow sport resorts these are also very accessible too, usually within a couple of hours drive (resorts such as Whistler, Blackcomb and Big White). It’s one of the only cities I know where you can spend a whole day working, then catch the bus to ski the evening.
Throughout the summer these mountains also act as idyllic accessible hiking routes. Their presence on the North shore has a huge influence on the picturesque qualities of the city itself, as they provide one of the nicest city skyline backdrops I have ever seen. I don’t think there is any science behind it, but coming out of work and seeing these scenic backdrops always had a wondrous effect on me.
These Mountains lie on Vancouver’s North Shore, which is accessible from the city via a regular sea ferry service or bus route. The North Shore also contains some priceless beautiful locations, especially great for hiking or lounging during the summer months, these include Deep Cove, Lynn Valley, Lighthouse Park and Buntzen Lake. All of these incredibly picturesque and well worth visiting.
These natural wonders of the North Shore are connected to the city via suspension bridge that passes through the city park. Now when I say city park, you wouldn’t expect what Vancouver has to offer, it is more like a National Park (10% larger than New York’s iconic Central Park). It’s huge, and right next to the city; you can literally walk from your office and within minutes find yourself immersed within a natural forest. This marvel is called Stanley Park, and is a welcome escape from the cities hustle and bustle. Its home to the cities aquarium, popular seawall walk, numerous beaches (yes this city has accessible beaches) and a flood of native wildlife (birds, raccoons and even beavers). You can get lost for an hour or a whole day exploring this beautiful part of the city.
The city itself is also relatively picturesque, with the majority of high rises supporting a glass structure making them less intrusive in the skyline imagery. At its heart, is the shopping streets of Robson and Granville Street, littered with shops, malls and eateries offering everything you could need. I find the area very easy to navigate and actually not as congested as other shopping streets I have experienced. The cities nightlife is also littered around downtown in areas such as Yaletown, Davie Street, Granville Street and my favourite, the amazing Gastown. Gastown used to be a derelict factory/heritage district that has now been transformed into a very popular, trendy bar and restaurant area, and houses some of the world’s biggest companies Vancouver offices.
Central Vancouver also hosts the BC Stadium, home of the Vancouver Ice Hockey team the Canucks, which resides at the heart of Canadian culture. Other notable highlights of downtown include the public library, museums and art galleries, harbours and even more beaches.
We lived just south of the city, in the Broadway area, a stretch of road that runs from the eastern seaboard to Commercial Drive in the west.
The east side of this area is littered with beaches and parks; trendy Kitsilano (aka Kits) is one of the most renowned, and has one of the best beaches Vancouver has to offer. It also has some great boutique and summer shopping. On a sunny summers day you will find this area very busy, with bars, restaurants and swimming at the pinnacle of Vancouver’s summer activities. Just to the east of Kits, is Jericho Beach and other numerous sea-parks all the way up to the UBC Campus. The UBC Campus holds a secret beach called Wreck Beach – Vancouver’s only nude beach. Personally we didn’t appreciate it and found it a little seedy.
Broadway houses hundreds of shops and eateries, a little cheaper than downtown and well worth a day of exploring if not more. From the Burrard Bridge – that connects the south to downtown, the walk is very attractive with the glistening skyscrapers over the opposite side of the inlet (and the mountains beyond that). One of my favorites is Charleston Park as it has beautiful views and is relatively quite. A big attraction in this area is Granville Island (not really an Island but a peninsula) that sits just beside the Granville Bridge. This small area is home to a huge market (great for seafood), numerous shops and buskers/art galleries galore. You can also catch the very cool mini Aquabus from downtown to the Island and vice versa.
The last area I will touch upon is the ever popular Commercial Drive, a mecca for the trendy Vancouverites. This is an up and coming area, full of second-hand, boutique and independent shops, as well as restaurants and market stalls (great for fruit and vegetables). It reminds me a little of Camden in London or Bleekers Street in New York, very trendy and worth a day exploring.
From here it is a short skytrain ride (the cities main method of transport) to Metrotown in the suburb of Burnaby – Vancouver’s most popular shopping mall.
Now every city has its rough spots and Vancouver is no exception. These mainly circle around the downtown eastside; which is an unfortunate poorer area where the homeless and drug culture gathers. Personally I worked in this area for a great deal of time, helping the less fortunate with job hunting and computer access and had few problems. But honestly it’s not a tourist area and one to avoid if possible. The problem here is that the trendy Gastown and the cheap Chinatown areas back onto this area – so just be cautious.
We loved living in Vancouver, as there are very few cities in the world that offer such a range of contrasting, diverse range of activities; such as beaches and skiing within a stone’s throw of one another. The locals are very relaxed, friendly and welcoming, which really adds to the homely feeling of the city. But Vancouver’s crowning glory is its diverse range of natural assets; it is truly a beautiful city.
The only reason we didn’t stay for good, was that our family and heritage is in the UK, but then again never say never…
If you are thinking of visiting Vancouver and want to ask any questions of me, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment below. As a new blogger but serious travel fanatic, your feedback is most welcome either comment, subscribe or like 🙂 Thanks