Where did I go: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
When did I go: May 2016
I knew I was going to love Vancouver the moment I stepped off the plane. It’s impossible not to, when you see the towering sky scrapers of downtown Vancouver, nestled at the foot of snow capped mountains, surrounded by the blue sea.
On arrival, it was straight through the airport, hardly any queues at immigration and luggage collection done in 10 minutes (London Heathrow, take note). We took a taxi to Listel Hotel on Robson street. Our home for the next 3 nights. We were too tired and rather jet lagged, so decided to call it an early night and save the sight seeing for the next day.
We were up bright an early, thanks to jet lag. For breakfast, we went to DeDutch, a few blocks down from the hotel. Lovely and scrumptious eggs Benedict, and a cup of real Ceylon tea. A great way to start our Canadian holiday!
After breakfast we walked down Robson street to Stanley Park. Stanley park is one of the biggest attractions in Vancouver. Set over nearly a thousand acres, it is the largest city owned green space in Canada. It is set on a peninsula, surrounded by the waters of Vancouver Bay and the English Harbor.
It is home to many kilometers of hiking trails, an 8.8 km sea wall, tennis courts, golf courses, a rose garden, a totem pole forest and plenty of places of eat and drink. It was named the top urban park in the world in 2014 by Trip Advisor.
As you walk in to the park, you get some great views of downtown Vancouver from across the water.
We decided to do some more sight seeing with a hop-on, hop-off city tour trolley. A one day trolley pass (covering Stanley Park and the city) costs 45 CAD per person. The trolley first took us through many of the landmarks in Stanley park, and then headed out into the city. This is called the “Park Route” trolley tour as most of the route is on Stanley Park.
The Park Route trolley tour finished at Canada Place – a convention centre and cruise ship terminal, built to resemble a massive sailing ship. It is also the start and end point for all city tours, so we got on another trolley on the “City Route”. This took us to many of the attractions in the city itself – Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Vancouver, Space Center, Granville Island, Yaletown, Library Square, China Town and finally Gas Town – the oldest part of the city. Some photos from the trolley tour below.
We got back to Canada place by around lunchtime. Time for food and beer at the Steamworks restaurant. We ordered a flight of beer and a plate of “Poutine”. Poutine is a popular dish in Canada, I’m told. Chunky chips with gravy and torn mozzarella. The dish looked small and manageable at first, but turned out to be a lot deeper than it first appeared. I still have no idea how I managed to eat it all!
After lunch we decided to walk off all that Poutine and beer by wandering down to Gastown. On the way, we went past the Steam Clock. Powered by the city’s under ground steam system, it gives the Westminster chimes (in steam) every 15 minutes. It’s a very impressive piece of engineering.
Gastown, the oldest part of Vancouver, started from a single tavern founded by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton back in 1867. This area of Vancouver still has many buildings with Victorian Architecture and is home to many restaurants, bars and shops.
After walking around Gastown for a while, we headed back to Canada place, where we decided to visit the flyover Canada attraction. It’s a virtual reality ride over Canadian landscapes. We go inside, climb a few flight of stairs and are strapped into roller-coaster like seats. Then the lights go out and the seats move and you find yourself flying over so many of Canada’s amazing landscapes. You are surrounded by a spherical screen, so as the seats move and the screen lights up, you get a full 3-D view. It is hard to give an accurate description of how amazing it is. In addition to the fantastic views, you can feel the mist from the Niagara falls, smell the prairies and feel the gusts of wind as you go past the high mountain peaks. It costs about 20 CAD, but totally worth it. Best value for money attraction in Vancouver in my opinion.
Still feeling exhilarated from our ride, we hopped back on the trolley to Granville Island. Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in Vancouver, located across False Creek, from Downtown Vancouver. There is a large public market, a marina and many bars and restaurants. We spent some time exploring the markets, where you can pretty much buy anything. It reminds me of the Bullring markets back at home in Birmingham.
We spent a few hours by the marina, watching the sights, enjoying cake and drinks.
To get back to downtown Vancouver we had three options – walk across the bridge, wait for the trolley or get the boat to cross False Creek river (tickets are 3 CAD each, but we get a free crossing with our trolley ticket). We opted for the boat. This turned out to be great fun. The boat (more like a really big bath tub) takes 12 people across the river, and rocks really quite a lot! Nevertheless, it is a short 5 minute ride across, so no time for motion sickness to set in. You do feel a bit wobbly on your feet when you get out at the other end though.
From Granville Island, you can take the boat to couple of different locations downtown Vancouver. Ours take us to the Sunset beach area of English bay. This is a very popular spot in summer, but it’s is pretty quiet today. Gorgeous views across the English Bay and the mountains in the distance.
After relaxing on the beach for a little while, we walked up from the beach back to Robson street. Almost all the buildings we see are apartment blocks. Each has an estate agent sign outside with contact details, but they all say “waiting list”. Property (or lack of it) is a real issue in Vancouver. It is the the second most expensive city in the world, after Hong Kong. This is mostly driven by property prices. There is a feeling that this is driven up mostly investors from abroad, who see Vancouver property as a safe haven to park their cash. Reportedly, 1 in 8 apartments in Vancouver are apparently sitting empty. I found that this article (published around the same time when were were there) reflected many views we heard from Canadians whilst were were there.
Day started with breakfast at Cora’s restaurant, just a few doors down from the hotel. Great breakfast, but I still don’t understand why they give you a serving of fruit, on the same plate.
Today, we are going to Grouse mountain. A popular tourist attraction in North Vancouver. It is a ski resort in winter, and in summer features hiking trails, zip wire adventures, lumberjack shows etc. I will be doing a separate post about Grouse mountain, otherwise, this one will end up being far too long.
We spent the evening at Canada place, watching the ships go by and enjoying the great sea views.
There are also some interesting installations around Canada Place, such as the Olympic Cauldron build for the 2010 Winter Olympic games.
and this “Digital Orca” sculpture. (It’s not a very high-resolution photo, the sculpture actually looks like that).
We started the day with an early morning run in Stanley Park. I’m not a gym bunny, but the jet lag makes you get up early, so why not put it to good use? We are rewarded with some more great sights from Stanley park – Lions Gate bridge, Girl in a Wet suit statue, the 9 O’Clock gun, the Totem Pole forest and some friendly seals.
You also get some great views across the bay towards downtown Vancouver, specially Canada Place, with some cruise ships docked. It was exciting to see the Celebrity Cruise Ship with its big “X”. We will be boarding this shortly for our 7 day Alaska Cruise.
We had breakfast at Cora’s restaurant again. After breakfast, we checked out from the hotel and took a taxi to Canada Place to check-in to the cruise. More about that here.
The reason we visited Vancouver this time was because it was the start and end point of our cruise to Alaska. But I will be visiting again, and this time for the city itself. It’s a great city with so much to see and do. We didn’t get to try everything around this time, so, this is my list of things to do for the next time in Vancouver:
- Visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park – located in North Vancouver (on the way to Grouse Mountain), this is a park with a suspension bridge, many hiking trails and a thrilling cliff walk.
- Spend a whole day in Stanley park: There is so much more to see and do – have a picnic, hire a bike and cycle the entire sea wall route, visit the rose garden.
- Visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chine Garden: This is a tranquil Chinese classical garden. The first of its kind, outside China.
- Vancouver Island – Strictly speaking, this is outside Vancouver, but I’ve heard so much about it, I have to visit next time around.