Nicknamed Hollywood North for the ever-present film crews, Canada's west coast gem of Vancouver is young, thriving and diverse, with the perfect combination of wild natural beauty and the modern conveniences of a city. Named after Royal Navy sea captain George Vancouver, who sailed into the Burrard Inlet on the British Columbian coast in 1792, Vancouver was barely even a town 100 years ago. Today more than two million people call it home, and the shiny futuristic towers of Yaletown and the downtown core contrast dramatically with the snow-capped mountain backdrop, creating a laid back atmosphere amongst the bustle of Canada's third biggest city.
Approximately the same size as the downtown area, the city's green heart is Canada's largest city park, Stanley Park, covering hundreds of acres filled with lush forest and crystal clear lakes. Visitors can wander the sea wall along the exterior of the park, catch a free trolley bus tour, a horse-drawn carriage ride or visit the Vancouver Aquarium housed within the park.
The city's past is preserved in historic Gastown with its cobblestone streets, steam powered clock and quaint feel, though this is combined with expensive souvenir shops and galleries aimed at tourists.
Neighbouring Chinatown, with its weekly market, Dr Sun Yat-Sen classical Chinese gardens and restaurants adds an exotic flair. For some retail therapy or celebrity spotting, there is always the trendy Robson Street.
During the winter months snow sports are the order of the day on nearby Grouse Mountain, perfect for skiing and snowboarding, although the city itself gets more rain than snow. Vancouver's incredible ethnic diversity and combination of mountains, sea and city, offers visitors an endless supply of things to see and do, no matter the budget.
Explore Chinatown and soak up the culture, colour and eateries, or visit the exciting enclave of Gastown famous for its cobblestone streets, antique gaslights and pulsing nightlife. Nature lovers should head to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park for an invigorating day out and culture vultures will love Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
For a panoramic view of the city, climb "nature's stairmaster" up to Grouse Mountain, or take the tram for a less strenuous trip. You can also ride to the top of Vancouver lookout for 360 degree views. The Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver allows visitors to walk from treetop to treetop on delicate walkways suspended dozens of metres above the forest floor.
Visitors should buy a See Vancouver and Beyond Smartvisit Card, which gives the bearer access to 50 attractions in and around Vancouver as well as maps and travel tips. Two, three and five-day Smartvisit cards are available for adults and children starting at $175.
Stanley ParkThe pride of Vancouver's network of parks and gardens, Stanley Park, covering 1,000 acres (405 hectares), is one of the largest parks in any urban centre in North America. Situated in the heart of Vancouver's densely populated West End, stretching out on a peninsula... see full details
Museum of AnthropologyIn the west of Vancouver, at the University of British Columbia on the cliffs of Point Grey, totem poles mark the way to the Museum of Anthropology, world-renowned for its displays of Northwest Coast First Nations art. One of its main features is... see full details
ChinatownVancouver's Chinatown is not only a strong, established ethnic community, but also a popular tourist attraction and prosperous commercial district. Its bustling streets are full of colour and commerce; even the pagoda-topped telephone booths add to the atmosphere. Shop displays spill onto the pavements,... see full details
GastownThe fascinating little historic enclave of Gastown, in the central core area of Vancouver alongside Chinatown, transports visitors back in time to envision the city in days of old, with its cobbled streets, antique gaslights, Victorian architecture and maze of narrow alleys, courtyards and... see full details
Queen Elizabeth ParkTransformed from an ugly stone quarry in the 1950s, the exquisite Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver now boasts lush gardens bursting with flowers, live theatre, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a restaurant, a Pitch and Putt course and much more. The park receives about six... see full details
Granville IslandWhat was once a run-down industrial area in Vancouver is now a thriving entertainment and shopping centre, with a vibrant market central to the Island's activities, as well as the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, a theatre and brewery. The island... see full details
Lonsdale QuaySituated in North Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay offers spectacular views of downtown Vancouver and its harbour, as well as the north shore mountains, and a variety of shops, restaurants and an excellent public market. The best way to experience the Quay is to catch the... see full details
Vancouver Art GalleryEstablished in 1931, the Vancouver Art Gallery boasts thousands of national and international exhibitions by a range of artists, sculptors and photographers, housed in a turn-of-the-century heritage building in the centre of downtown Vancouver. The building also houses a cafe and shop. National and... see full details
Vancouver Lookout at the Harbour CentrePerhaps one of the best ways to begin one's visit to Vancouver is with a trip up the Harbour Centre Tower to the Lookout, where one can enjoy a 360 degree view of the city, Greater Vancouver, the North Shore mountains and on... see full details
Commercial DriveCommercial Drive is as non-commercial as it gets, though it has become one of Vancouver's most eclectic, and increasingly trendy, neighbourhoods. What started out as a skid road for the lumber industry in the late 1800s, swiftly became a neighbourhood of English tradesmen and... see full details
Vancouver Day Trips
Grouse MountainOn Vancouver's north shore, just a 15-minute drive from the downtown area across the Lions Gate Bridge, is the year-round mountaintop playground of Grouse Mountain. Ascending the mountain is part of the adventure in the Super Skyride, a 100-passenger tram that glides up the steep mountain slopes carrying visitors up 3,700ft (1,100m) above sea level in just eight minutes. At the top, apart from magical views of the city below, is the 'Theatre in the Sky', which offers a high-tech presentation about Vancouver. There is also a cedar longhouse called the Hiwus Feasthouse that offers the chance to experience native West Coast culture with displays of dancing, storytelling, chanting and native cuisine. There are hiking trails up the side of Grouse Mountain and on the east side one of them features the Grouse Grind, which is billed as the world's biggest stair-climb. Mountain biking is also a popular pursuit on the mountainside, as is, of course, skiing and snowboarding in the winter months.
Capilano Suspension BridgeBuilt in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver's oldest and most popular tourist attractions, with plenty of activities and sights in the park for visitors to enjoy, besides the bridge itself. Stretching 450 feet (137m) across and perched 230 feet (70m) above the Capilano River, the bridge was originally made of cedar planks and hemp rope, but is now a more sturdy construction of reinforced steel and concrete; though still not for the faint-hearted. A recent addition to the park is the Treetops Adventure, where elevated suspension bridges allow visitors a spectacular view of the rainforest, while they walk above the forest floor between Douglas Fir trees. Other attractions in the park include a story centre, a First Nations Cultural Centre where visitors can see carvers, weavers and beaders at work, a large collection of First Nations Totem Poles, and guided tours of the rainforest. Admission includes all these sights and activities, and there are also several food options and a shop.
Gulf IslandsTucked in the Strait of Georgia, in between Vancouver Island and the mainland, are the picturesque Gulf Islands. More than a dozen of these long, thin islands, and numerous islets, can be found on Canada's West Coast and each island has its own character and beauty, making them well worth a visit. Originally home to the Coast Salish First Nations, the Spanish and English soon followed, laying claim to the island chain. Nowadays, the islands are home to artists, writers, retirees and those seeking a more community-based lifestyle, and many Vancouverites escape to holiday homes tucked in amongst the rainforest. Large parts of the islands have been designated as Marine Parks, preserving the land for the numerous birds and animals that also call the islands home. Bowen Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay and visitors can enjoy a stroll from Snug Harbour, past the historic Union Steamship Company store, grab a bite to eat or take a walk in the Crippen Regional Park. Galiano Island is the second biggest of the group, and is about the size of Manhattan Island in New York. Only 50 minutes away on the Tsawassen ferry on the Lower Mainland, Galiano Island draws all sorts of visitors who come to picnic in Bellhouse Park; take a walk through the lush rainforest up to Bluffs Park to enjoy spectacular views of neighbouring Islands; indulge in a spot of fishing, kayaking or golf; or to visit to one of the local galleries or shops. Many of the islands host events and festivals each year where the community spirit and laid-back atmosphere typical of the Gulf Islands is evident.
The San Juan harbour © indywriter
San Juan IslandsThe San Juan Islands form one of the best boater paradises in the world. The hundreds of islands are separated by nationality but are part of the same scenic and rugged archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Washington State. Much of the area is in a rain shadow behind Vancouver Island, making a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest. Little island communities, great wildlife and the open water provide a real and intuitive disconnect from the mainland. Frequent government ferry services connect the mainland and larger inhabited islands to each other, but scores are only visitable by smaller shuttle boats and yachts. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination, seemingly out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Anchorages are bustling throughout summer, but largely empty in other seasons. Yacht charters are available out of Bellingham.
Othello TunnelsJust outside the town of Hope, about an hour's drive east of Vancouver, lies the Coquihalla Provincial Park, home to the celebrated Othello Tunnels. This quintet of railway tunnels, which traverse the spectacular, steep-sided Coquihalla Gorge, were built for the Kettle Valley Railway, and today, offer visitors both a fascinating insight into the history of the area, as well as a wonderfully scenic and unique hiking experience. While the Othello Tunnels themselves are dark and dank (flashlights are recommended), the two-mile (about 3.5km) old railway trail also crosses above thundering rapids, and cuts through impressive, nearly 1,000-foot (300-metre) granite rock faces. The Othello Tunnels are an accessible and highly rewarding day trip from Vancouver, offering visitors of all ages a great mix of exercise and adventure.
HSBC Celebration of LightThe annual HSBC Celebration of Light musical fireworks competition draws a crowd of an estimated 1.5 million viewers over the four nights, and people swarm over various viewing points in the city to enjoy the show. A team of pyrotechnic experts from Canada, as... see full details
Vancouver Folk Music FestivalFor nearly thirty years, one of Vancouver's favourite events drawing old and young alike is the annual Folk Music Festival; with a host of performers spread across seven stages, set in the heart of the Jericho Beach Park. Day, evening and weekend tickets... see full details
Illuminares Lantern FestivalBasking hippos, floating fish, dragons and fairies come alive at the annual Illuminares Lantern Festival at the picturesque Trout Lake Park in Vancouver. This event is a family favourite, and the best way to enjoy the festival is to go early and picnic,... see full details
Polar Bear SwimLeaping into icy water in the middle of winter may not be everyone's idea of fun, but the annual Polar Bear race has been running for nearly 90 years in Vancouver and every New Year's Day, thousands flock to English Bay to take... see full details
Alcan Dragon Boat FestivalThe International Dragon Boat Festival is an annual event that has become one of Vancouver’s most eagerly awaited family summer events. It is the largest and best dragon boat celebration in North America with more than 100 national and international teams taking part. A... see full details
Vancouver International Jazz FestivalAs one of the biggest musical celebrations in the world, the International Jazz Festival is the most popular cultural event in Vancouver, with performances by more than 1,000 blues and jazz artists from around the world. The 10-day programme is full of famous names... see full details
Bard on the BeachOne of Vancouver's most endearing summer events is a picnic in Vanier Park followed by an evening performance of Shakespeare. Plays are performed in huge open-ended tents overlooking the picturesque English Bay with a mountain backdrop. Plays of past seasons have included Twelfth Night,... see full details