Vancouver is quite something. It’s a dangerous place. That’s because once you’re there, there is a huge risk you may never want to leave again.
Vancouver has its appeal. Not only is it the warmest city in the country, but the gateway to Whistler, it’s by the coast, you could go skiing and sailing in one day, the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming … the list is long. No wonder Virgin Atlantic is now flying to Vancouver regularly – how could you not?! In their latest campaign, they asked the public to comment on what is so special about this city. So let’s see what you can get up to in beautiful Vancouver! Here are my favourite things to do in Vancouver:
Huh? Maybe beaches are not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a city, but not so for Vancouver. The city is blessed with multiple long sandy beaches, and locals certainly know to make use of them! Walking along Kitsilano beach (pictured above), you will see Vancouver’s residents playing beach volleyball, people jogging and cycling on the path along the beach, others walking their dogs, and of course, in summer, plenty of sunbathers and swimmers! Kitsilano beach is great because it’s very close to the city centre. If you want to visit a beach just next to the centre, head to English Bay just west of downtown. It really couldn’t be any more convenient, plus, it’s right next to …
If you fancy a bit of green, you don’t have to look far in Vancouver. It is, in general, a green city, both in the sense of great public transport for North American standards – there’s a great network of buses and the Sky Train that gets you everywhere you need to go. But going back to green spaces in the trees and plants sense – Vancouver is home to a huge urban park – Stanley Park. There are a great many things to discover on 1,000 acres (that’s roughly 4 square kilometres), such as the totem poles at Brockton Point.
A great way to see the park is to rent a bike and cycle along the seawall. Definitely one of my favourite things to do in Vancouver.
In case you rent a bicycle and explore Stanley Park (and the city) this way – which I thoroughly recommend – you may want to stop at Granville Island. You can get there either by cycling all around False Creek seawall or by taking the Aquabus to cross False Creek if you’re in a hurry. Granville Island, technically a peninsula, is known for its large public market. You can stock up on fruit and veggies, taste chocolates, pastries and all sorts of delicacies from the region or have lunch at one of its many fruit stands. It is also home to the Granville Island Brewery, where you can take a beer tasting to refresh after your long bike ride!
Great architecture and cityscapes
With all the natural attractions Vancouver has to offer, let’s not forget we are actually talking about a big city. While to many an untrained European eye North American (big) city centres can easily blur into a monotony of high concrete blocks organised in a grid, Vancouver will definitely stand out. Its high rises are a joy to look at, even for those who don’t call themselves city people. Vancouver offers highly attractive cityscapes both to live in and to look at, whether in Coal Harbour, False Creek (below), or Yaletown.
Harbour Centre Lookout
Another treat for the eyes is to be had from the Harbour Centre Lookout. Right in the middle of downtown, take an elevator and look down onto Vancouver from an almost 170m height. I found the 360-degree views of the mountains, the city, Stanley Park and the harbour quite stunning!
Discovering Vancouver: Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Let’s not forget about the cultural elements – Vancouver has sizeable Asian population and its very own Chinatown, which comes complete with wonderful Chinese gardens: Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Classical Chinese Garden.
The Chinese influence in Vancouver can’t only be seen in its diverse population and the many Chinese and Taiwanese shops all over the city. Vancouver’s Chinatown also comes with its very own Chinese garden: the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens.
The garden owes its name to Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first president of the Republic of China, who is also considered the father of modern China. Built in the mid-80s, the gardens consist of a free section and a separate part with an admission fee. The design and construction of the gardens was a collaboration of Chinese and Canadian architects and also engaged experts from the Chinese garden city of Suzhou.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Classical Garden is a cultural oasis in Vancouver’s Chinatown and just about a 15-minute walk from Gastown, its historic centre. Chinatown came about in the late 1800s already and was established by Chinese railroad workers. Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Classical Chinese Gardens only date back to 1986, the year Vancouver hosted the World Expo.
Stroll along the pathways meandering through the trees, rocks and alongside the pond and take in its pleasantly balanced atmosphere. On sunny days you’ll see art students creating drawings of the pagoda juxtaposed against the pond. The gardens are a great little place to escape the city’s hustle and bustle and enjoy the heritage of its Asian immigrants, whilst being reminded of its location in inner-city Vancouver by its surrounding, flash new high-rises.
Entrance to Dr. Sun Yat Sen Park is free; admission to Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens is 12 CAD per adult.
Museum of Anthropology
And if the totem poles in Stanley Park made you hungry for more First Nations culture, go pay the Museum of Anthropology a visit. It is located on the campus of the University of British Columbia in the west of Vancouver, near Point Grey. It is choc-a-block with First Nations artifacts, sculptures, handicrafts, and even more totem poles and will make for a fascinating and educational afternoon, not just on a rainy day.
In my opinion, these are some of the best things to do in Vancouver, and I would do them all again and more – perhaps going to Grouse Mountain for some hiking or snowboarding, and hopping on a ferry to Vancouver Island, where Tofino offers some world-class surfing. The fun never ends. No wonder the economist has chosen Vancouver as the most livable city a few times in a row. And I’m glad Virgin Atlantic is offering more opportunity for us to get there!
What are your favourite things to do in Vancouver?