One of the most popular tourist destination in Canada, Vancouver in British Columbia, offer so much to see and do, that one visit to the city, probably will not be enough.
Vancouver, always amongst the top five cities in the world for livability and quality of life, is named after George Vancouver who claimed the land for the British. When you visit Vancouver it is important to ensure that you have a proper plan and know exactly what you would like to see and do. Otherwise you will be so overwhelmed, and you just might miss half the world class attractions back-dropped by awe-inspiring mountains.
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1. Stanley Park
This national historic site is a 400 hectare oasis in the big busy city of Vancouver. It is famous for the scenic views of water, mountains, sky and the Seawall. The park offers beautiful trails, beaches, wildlife, various landmarks and even some great restaurants.
The park is home to a natural West Coast rainforest, which offers magnificent views of the ocean, mountains and trees. The park is also home to a wide variety of local wildlife. The landmarks include natural, cultural and historical places. It offers a wide variety of experiences and adventures. The park has something for all ages, and even hosts the largest aquarium in Canada.
Stanley Park offers three gardens for visitors to enjoy. Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden houses a wide variety of hybrid rhododendron and azalea plants, which became part of the garden in the late 1960’s. There are about 4500 plants that are planted around the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt golf course. This garden also houses 50 unique rhododendrons. The park is also home to the Rose Garden famed for its floral displays. It was established in 1920 by the Kiwanis Club and has over 3500 rose bushes as well as climbing roses and clematis. It is definitely worth a visit during flowering season from June to October. Any spectacular garden would only be completed with a Shakespeare Garden. You can find it nestled between the forest and the Rose Garden, where it pays homage to The Bard. The garden has a diverse display of trees that Shakespeare mentions in his plays and poems. On each tree is a plaque with the appropriate quote on it.
The park is home to nine totem poles and can be seen at Brockton Point. It is the most visited tourist attraction in British Colombia. The totem poles first found their way to the park in 1920 when four of these were bought from Vancouver Island’s Alter Bay. The current totem poles in the park are replicas of the originals that are preserved in museums or were sent home. The most recent addition to the collection was in 2009 – carved by Robert Yelton of the Squamish Nation.
Home to Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS), the Marion Malkin Memorial Bowl was built in 1934 – originally built to be two thirds of the size of the Hollywood Bowl.
Another must visit location (especially for the nature lovers and those who are visiting with kids) is the Vancouver Aquarium, that focuses on education, rehabilitation and research. This public aquarium is a great tourist attraction that also focus on marine research. It houses various displays including an arctic display and tropical display.
From mid-March to October horse-drawn carriage rides are available to show you the wonderful park. You can also ride the Stanley Park Train, a replica of the Canada’s first transcontinental passenger train. During the summer Vancouver Trolley Company offers a 45-min hop-on, hop-off tour daily. It stops at 15 of the park’s most popular spots. The company uses an old-fashioned San Francisco-style trolley for these tours. Alternatively you can take a bus tour which is run by various private operators.
Seawall is an uninterrupted waterfront path that is 28 km long and takes you through some of the best places to see in Vancouver, and offers various picnic spot as well. Built to prevent land erosion by the sea, the trail starts at Kitsilano Beach, with the seawall stretching east. The trail offers a walk past Granville Island, Stamps Landing, the Olympic Village neighbourhood as well as Science World (Telus World of Science). The attractions include Granville and Burrard bridges, Beach drive, English Bay as well as the Vancouver Convention Centre. Seawall is a multi-use trail for walking, cycling and inline skating. Some parts are accessible by car. There is also the False Creek Ferries and Aquabus that you can take to numerous stations along the False Creek section of the seawall. The best way to cover Stanly Park, might be to bike the 9 km portion of the Seawall around Stanley park.
3. Places to Visit in Downtown and West End
Located along the shore of English Bay is the one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver, the English Bay Beach – easily accessible via the Seawall. People watch, bronze your body, hire a paddle board or kayak and have some water fun. If you are visiting during the last weekend of July – 1st week of August, find a spot at the Bay, to watch spectacular fireworks!
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Located in the West End, the Roedde House Museum is one of the nine victorian residential homes of late 1890s preserved as Barclay Heritage Square. Visit the museum to tour a Queen Anne revival style home.
From here, walk the Robson Street, Vancouver’s famous shopping and dining precinct to reach Vancouver Art Gallery on the Robson Square that feature a wide variety of artists and their work including Emily Carr and Tsang Kin-Wah.
Diagonally opposite, on the Robson Square, is the Christ Church Cathedral, a historic church founded in 1888, well known for its architecture. If you are interested in art, The Cathedral Place located next door has an interesting glass and steel art piece called ‘Navigation, Origin Unknown’ by Robert Studer.
Less than a kilometer from Robson Square, in the Burrard Inlet waterfront of Vancouver, you will find another iconic fixture on Vancouver’s waterfront called Canada Place – home to the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel as well as the Vancouver’s World Trade Centre. What makes Canada Place unique, is the five teflon coated 90 foot sails that make the building a prominent landmark. It has drawn comparisons with Sydney Opera House and the Denver International Airport. At noon, 10 cast aluminum horns, known as the Heritage Horns, sound the first four notes of O Canada, that can be heard throughout downtown. These horns are placed on the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel.
Enjoy a walk around the Canada Place promenade for majestic views of the harbour and ship watching. An interesting tourist place to drop by inside Canada Place is the FlyOver Canada, where you can take a virtual flight ride around Canada. AND Canada Place is where you have to come if you are taking a cruise!
Named after the “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman who opened the the area’s first saloon, the Gastown will impress any visitor with its old gas lamps, restaurants and galleries. Walk along the Water Street to explore its heritage sights and to see the statue of Gassy Jack. Among the historical sites that you must visit is the Steam Clock built in 1977, that chimes every 15 minutes setting of steams. If you want a guided tour, you can choose from a variety of tours from food tours to photography tours and ghost tours.
5. Granville Island
Granville Island is seen as a jewel of government development and is treasured by locals and tourists alike. It was named as the “Best Neighbourhood in North America” by Project for Public Spaces, a New York based non-profit organisation. Originally this peninsula was used as a fishing area by First Nations. After the town was renamed in 1886, the name Granville was kept for Granville Street which is close by. There are over 10 million visitors to the area each year and is seen as a piece of art! Over 300 businesses, marinas, fish mongers, studios and cultural facilities now call the island their home, employing over 3000 people.
The must visit place in Granville Island is the Public Market, an indoor market featuring a fascinating assortment of colourful food and produce stores, showcasing handcrafted products and the very finest in unique gifts. All fresh from the ocean, the oven or the field. It is seen as the jewel of the island’s crown and is definitely worth a visit.
If you are unable to choose what to do or see, taking the Foodie Tour through the market might be just want you need. The tour offers a great shopping experience. It includes visits to the best restaurant and deli’s, great photographic moments, Canadian baking as well as Canadian cheese.
If the Western world is a bit over whelming, make sure you visit the Chinatown which is situated in Keefer street. Established when the Chinese immigrants came over to built the Canadian Pacific Railway, Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest outside of China! Taste delicious food from the restaurants, shop the markets, visit the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives to know more about history, see the large abacus made of British Columbia jade, see the Sam Kee Building, the world’s narrowest building – at only 6 feet wide, outside Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. This peaceful haven, away from the hustle of the city is the first Ming Dynasty Scholars Garden built outside of China.
7. Science World – Telus World of Science
A great place to take the family if you are looking for some educational fun is the Telus World of Science, originally called the Science World. Located in a landmark geodesic dome (known locally as golf ball), originally built for Expo 86, the Telus World of Science is home to OMNIMAX® Theatre, featuring one of the largest dome screens in the world – 27 metres in diameter and five storeys high. If you cannot visit rest of Canada, its premier show, Over Canada: An Aerial Adventure, will leave you in awe, with its inspiring visuals of Canada’s geography, topography and people.
Located in Vancouver’s West Side along the south shore of English Bay is the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, once known as the hippie beach hangout (now, one of Vancouver’s most popular beach, Kitsilano beach – faces the English Bay Beach) has some incredible attractions to visit.
The Museum of Vancouver, which lets you know how the city started, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, that showcase some fascinating information about the Universe and beyond, Vancouver Maritime Museum which tells the stories of how Canada is tied to the Pacific and the Arctic, are just some of the fun and educational places to visit.
If you are visiting in summer, Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival, the second largest Shakespeare festival in the world is really worth a visit, even if you are not a Shakespeare fan. Also swing by the VanDusen Botanical Garden (a must visit if you cannot make it to Victoria to visit Butchart Gardens) and the Queen Elizabeth Park. They offer great exhibitions on plants, nature and make you fall in love with indigenous Canadian plants.
9. Punjabi Market
If you are interested in more ethnic side of Vancouver other than the Chinatown, visit the Punjabi Market, five-block stretch of markets and restaurants along Main Street from East 49th Avenue and East 54th Avenues (South of Queen Elizabeth Park). The market is the focus point of the Indo Canadian culture and offers great Indian food restaurants, shops that sell silk saris and other hand crafted Indian souvenirs. The smell of the exotic spices will make you feel that you are somewhere in Mumbai.
10. Must Visit Places in University of British Columbia Area
The Museum of Anthropology is a great place to visit to learn about the various cultures around the world. Amongst its well known collection is the famous cedar sculpture ‘The Raven and the First Men’ by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid. Do not miss exploring the grounds that display monumental Haida houses, poles and Musqueam house posts.
When you are done visiting the museum, take a walk to the Nitobe Memorial Garden or the UBC Botanical Garden. The former houses the first, and which is seen as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America. The gardens offer about 5000 different species of plants from around the world. You can also get great gardening advice from the staff.
11. Must Visit Places in North Shore
Just north of the city is the North Shore (that includes North Shore Mountains, District of West Vancouver, and City of North Vancouver) accessible via Lions Gate Bridge or the Seabus passenger ferry. You will be missing out a lot, if you do not make this trek out of downtown Vancouver.
Cross the 450-foot Capilano Suspension Bridge, suspended 230 feet above above the Capilano River. Enjoy splendid views of the river below and old growth forest as you stroll the swaying bridge. If you want more adventure, there is the Cliffwalk, that takes you high along on the cliff via a series of suspended bridges, and the Tree Top Adventure that lets you walk on bridges built from one Douglas fir tree to another.
From here, visit the Capilano Salmon Hatchery and take a self-guided tour to see the the whole lifecycle from egg up to the stage where they are released back into the wild. A visit to the hatchery is free; just remember your hiking shoes.
Grouse Mountain, another 3 kms from the Hatchery, has North America’s highest tramway system and offers spectacular views of your surroundings. Visit the Grizzle Bear habitat or take a skyride to the top of the mountain. Hike the many trails and make way to the restaurant on top to satisfy your grumbling tummy.
If you still have time on hand or you prefer a place less touristy, find you way to Lynn Canyon Park to enjoy the other suspension bridge, which is free to walk on! Hike Baden Powell Trail that leads you to beautiful Twin Falls and catch one of the popular puppet shows in the theatre at the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre.
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12. An Experience to Consider: Float planes
If you have ever wondered what it must be like to fly and land in one of those float planes like in the movies, Vancouver is the best place to find out. They offer the Beavers and the Otters. Both are small propeller planes, with the Otters being a bit bigger. The plane ride can take you on a 30-minute sight-seeing tour or be your taxi to Victoria. These planes are known as Canada’s plane and is a definite must visit when you are visiting the city.