Sunday, 22 September 2013

Vancouver: a city with something for everyone

Vancouver, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010, is one of the most spectacular cities in the world. The Games may be long over, but the Canadian city remains a drawcard for tourists from around the globe. 

The largest city in British Columbia is a place where you can paddle in the Pacific Ocean in the morning, go snowboarding in the Coast Mountains in the afternoon and be back in town in time for a fine dining experience in the evening.

This bustling port is a departure point for dozens of cruise ships heading for the Arctic and wherever you go you are confronted by interesting choices; where to eat, where to shop, even where to exercise.

Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal, and is a young, vibrant place that has been listed among the top 10 destinations in the world by travel bible Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

Despite the nearby mountains and ski resorts, Vancouver has a largely mild climate. It is bordered by Burrard Inlet, the city’s main harbour, to the north, English Bay to the west and the Fraser River, so the water plays a key role in locals’ lives.

There’s a real sense of vibrancy in this conurbation of 2 ¼ million people, whether you are at the bustling Granville Island Public Markets, much beloved by local gourmets, or among the joggers and cyclists in leafy Stanley Park and along the waterfront seawall.

Stanley Park, a beautiful green oasis close on over 1,000 acres that's the largest urban park in North America, is close to the bustling Denman Street restaurant strip and the West End, and is lovely at any time of the year. You can take a tour on a horse-driven carriage in the summer months, hire a bicycle, pop into the Vancouver Aquarium or admire the First Nations’ totem poles at Brockton Point (right). 

Over the Christmas holidays the park is transformed into a winter wonderland with more than a million sparkling lights and roast chestnuts on sale.

The waterfront area has a feel very much like Sydney with small passenger ferries operating from False Creek providing commuter services to Granville Island and the affluent Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Canada Place, originally the Canadian pavilion for World Expo 86, is a striking waterfront building topped by white fibreglass sails. It now serves as the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre – and as the city’s cruise terminal.

Also downtown is the Harbour Centre Tower, which offers 360-degree views of the metropolis and beyond, while Grouse Mountain, just minutes from downtown and reached via an aerial tram system, also has great panoramas.

Each of the neighbourhoods has its own individual ambiance. Gastown, with its cobbled streets, steam-powered clock,  trendy boutiques and restaurants, is edgy and on the edge of the city’s Skid Row, while Yaletown, a gentrified warehouse district, has a more yuppie feel (think coffee shops and chic boutiques) and the lively West End quarter is full of students and budget bars and eateries.

Davie Village, on Davie Street, is popular with late-nighters, while Commercial Drive is the district for ethnic food, eclectic fashions and tiny coffee shops.

Across the Lions Gate Bridge, West Vancouver is an affluent suburb with spectacular city views.

Probably the best way to quickly get a feel for the city is either to take a hop on-hop off tour on the Big Bus, which visits most of the major attractions, or a 20-minute scenic flight on one of Harbour Air or West Coast Air’s seaplanes. 

Vancouver is sports mad. In addition to hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is home to the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team, the BC Lions football team and the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team.

The city was first settled in the 1860s due to the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. It blossomed after the transcontinental railway arrived in 1887. Forestry, mining, fishing and agriculture were the traditional industries, but today tourism is a major income-earner and Vancouver has become the third-largest film production centre in North America.

It is full of museums, parks and art galleries, and diverse cultures and is also known as a tolerant city, hosting the gay community’s annual Pride Parade and being the birthplace of Greenpeace.

The city's population is now around a third Asian, which means Chinese, Japanese and Indian cuisines are particularly well represented in the lively dining scene. Chinatown is one of the biggest in North America.

Shoppers are well catered for with upscale Robson Street dotted with high-fashion stores, expensive boutiques and jewellery shops. Nearby South Granville Street is the spot for art and antiques, as well as small design studios.

Granville Island, home of the market, is a former industrial area that also contains arts and crafts studios and theatres. It attracts buskers at the weekend.

Among the restaurant stars are Salt Tasting Room (right), which offers tastings of artisanal cheeses, small-batch cured meats and great wines at communal tables in Gastown and waterfront favourite C Restaurant, which serves inventive seafood dishes. All the seafood here comes direct from local fishermen.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to eat well, either. Stop by one of the several Japadog stands dotted around the city to sample Kurubota pork hot dogs served with Japanese mayonnaise, nori, teriyaki sauce, and fried onions. Strange, but delicious! And so popular a Japadog cart has now opened in New York City.

# Air Canada flies non-stop from Sydney to Vancouver. Phone 1300 655 767 or see www.aircanada.com. For details see www.tourismvancouver.com and www.hellobc.com.


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