Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vancouver, Canada

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.

Vancouver Attractions

Brimming in history and culture, Vancouver is one fascinating city and has plenty of sightseeing opportunities for everyone. From museums and historic and trendy neighbourhoods to botanical gardens and Granville Island, visitors will have no problem finding things to see and do in Vancouver.

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 Park seawall, Vancouver
Stanley Park
The 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

Vancouver Museum of Anthropology
Museum of Anthropology
In 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

Vancouver'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

The 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 Park
Queen Elizabeth Park
Transformed 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 Island
Granville Island
What 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 Quay
Lonsdale Quay
Situated 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 Gallery
Vancouver Art Gallery
Established 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 Centre
Vancouver Lookout at the Harbour Centre
Perhaps 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 Drive
Commercial Drive
Commercial 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 Mountain

Grouse Mountain
On 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 Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge
Built 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.

Galiano Island

Gulf Islands
Tucked 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
The San Juan harbour © indywriter
San Juan Islands
The 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 Tunnels
Just 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.

Vancouver Events

Setting the sky on fire
HSBC Celebration of Light
The 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 Festival
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
For 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 Festival
Illuminares Lantern Festival
Basking 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 Swim
Polar Bear Swim
Leaping 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

Dragon Boat Racing
Alcan Dragon Boat Festival
The 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 Festival
Vancouver International Jazz Festival
As 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 Beach site
Bard on the Beach
One 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

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is a watery city, geographically, historically and atmospherically. It is Germany's second largest city and lies on the Elbe River, for centuries a major port and trading centre for central Europe. The city has a network of canals that rival those of Venice (it is said to have more bridges than Venice) and is centred on two artificial lakes that take up eight percent of its total area. 

Probably because of all the water, Hamburg is also known as Germany's 'green city', sporting 1,400 parks and gardens. Modern buildings sit cheek by jowl with historic Baroque and Renaissance architecture, and by night the neon lights dazzle all-night revellers, particularly in the city's notorious red light district, the Reeperbahn.

Hamburg was founded in 810 by Charlemagne and earned its place in history by becoming the most strategic port in the Hanseatic League of North German cities which controlled trade in the Baltic and North Seas between the 13th and 15th centuries. A great fire destroyed much of the city in 1842, and a century later World War II bombing raids again laid it waste, but Hamburg bounced back with style, thanks to the wealth garnered from its position as a trading centre. The city's tourist board claims that Hamburg is now home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in Europe.

Most of the sights of interest to tourists in the city are centred on its maritime traditions, particularly in the harbour area, where the warehouse district (Alster Arkaden) has been transformed into an entertaining destination offering a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants.

 Hamburg also has a number of lovely gardens and pretty churches and cathedrals, though there is little really old architecture left in the old town. 

There are also a number of museums dedicated to history, art, communications, ethnology, and even spices. Further afield, Hamburg is the gateway to the seaside and spa resorts of the Baltic and North Sea coastline.

Hamburg Attractions

Of all the cities in Germany, Hamburg is probably the most entertaining for a holiday, with plenty to see and do. Attractions in Hamburg include world-class museums, wonderful art galleries, an upbeat nightlife, excellent restaurants and first class shopping. Another big draw is the notorious Reeperbahn red-light district, a favourite haunt for tourists.

Many of the things to see and do in Hamburg revolve around the famous harbour. The Altona Fish Market - which sells a lot of things apart from fish - is a must, and the Hamburg Warehouse Complex is a delightful area full of historical atmosphere and the evidence of exotic trade. Of the numerous beautiful gardens and parks in the city Planten un Blomen is perhaps the best; catch a concert on the lawns here in the summer months. Other attractions include many wonderful museums and galleries like the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Museum of Hamburg History.

Hamburg is also conveniently located for excursions to nearby attractions. Some of the best day-trips for visitors to Hamburg are the quaint towns of Blankenese, Lubeck and Hameln, which all offer great sightseeing opportunities. The island of Sylt, Germany's most northern point, is also extremely popular.

A Hamburg holiday offers something for everyone, from children who will revel in attractions like the world's largest model railway, to raucous groups of young travellers heading for the famous sex shows of the Reeperbahn, and everyone in between. High season for travel to Hamburg is during the summer months, but the disadvantage of a holiday in Hamburg during this period is that attractions are crowded and prices are at a premium. The summer weather is not even that much of an advantage as Hamburg is notoriously wet and windy most of the year. The best time to visit Hamburg, weather-wise, is spring.

Hamburg Fish Market
Altona Fish Market
It may be billed as a fish market, but there is just about anything and everything on sale at this lively, colourful Hamburg market that takes place early on Sunday mornings, and has done continuously since 1703. The once industrial area of the...  see full details

Warehouse complex (Speicherstadt), Hamburg
Hamburg Warehouse Complex
The world's oldest warehouse complex, built of red brick with Gothic gables and turrets, is a century old and still in use for storing exotic goods from around the world, like tea, cocoa, silk, and oriental carpets. Known as the Speicherstadt in German,...  see full details

Hamburger Kunsthalle
Hamburger Kunsthalle
Hamburg's premier art gallery offers the chance to view works across the time spectrum from the Middle Ages through to the present day. The Kunsthalle's main aim is to educate about art, rather than showcase particular art treasures (although treasures abound), and exhibitions are...  see full details

Hamburg History Museum
Museum of Hamburg History
The Hamburg Museum gives a detailed description of the city of Hamburg from the 8th through to the 20th centuries. Scale models have been used to illustrate the changing shape of the city's famous harbour. Exhibits also include reconstructions of various typical rooms, such...  see full details

Reeperbahn, Hamburg
Hamburg's notorious red light district to the east of the city centre in the St Pauli zone has become its second-greatest tourist attraction, according to the city management. The Reeperbahn (Rope Street) is where rope used to be produced for the ships in...  see full details

Planten un Blomen
Planten un Blomen
In the middle of Hamburg is an oasis of green lawns and trees, with colourful flowers and fountains providing a lovely backdrop to relax in. You can stroll around the Japanese garden and enjoy the tropical flower collections and teahouse; it is easy...  see full details

St Michaelis
St Michaelis Church
St. Michaelis began as a humble church, which was extended in 1600. In 1647 construction began on the grand building that stands today as possibly Hamburg's most recognisable landmark. Like many important buildings in Germany, the church suffered major damage in World War II....  see full details

Miniature Wonderland
Miniature Wonderland
Train enthusiasts will love Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg but so will almost anyone else. With over 4,000 square metres of floorspace, there is much to see with tiny models of various regions, both local and international. The largest of its kind in the world...  see full details

Hamburg Day Trips


This quaint town on the steep Elbe hillside was once a fishing village favoured by retired ship captains. Today it has become popular with locals as a weekend excursion from Hamburg, and visitors also throng the narrow alleys and stairways between picturesque houses packed together on the cliffside. The village offers an abundance of cafes and restaurants where patrons can relax and watch ships steaming in and out of the harbour, and there are more than half a dozen pretty parks in which to spend a few hours on a nice day. The stunning views from the river-facing portions of Blankenese have resulted in many beautiful homes and hotels being built on the steep hillside, much of which is inaccessible to cars and has tiny pedestrian-only streets which are very charming - there are also 4,864 stairs. There are two lighthouses on Blankenese, and other attractions include a roman garden, a doll museum and the many parks and walking trails. There is a ferry service to Blankenese from St Pauli-Landungsbrucken in Hamburg's Free Port and the Blankenese waterfront is serviced by various other water shuttles as well. There are many buoys in the river to help guide all sizes of watercraft, since this part of the river has many sandbars and is subject to tidal shifts. 

The island of Sylt is Germany's most northern point, lying off the northwestern coast in the North Sea. The island boasts some lovely sandy beaches and stunning views, and its main town, Westerland, has become a popular seaside resort. Other saught-after villages are Kampen and Wenningstedt-Braderup. In recent years Sylt has become the seaside destination of choice for the German rich and famous and celebrity spotting is a regular activity for some tourists. The island also has miles of bicycle paths meandering through pine forests and is a popular place for horse riding too. Sylt offers plenty of entertainment for tourists, including shops, spas and exclusive restaurants. There are also a number of golf courses. The Ellenbogen nature reserve is a lovely area for walking and there are two lighthouses to explore as well as wonderful dunes. Although most visitors come to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities in pretty Sylt, other popular tourist attractions include the Sylt Aquarium which is a good place to take children, and the small but historically interesting Saint Severin Church. Sylt is easy to get to and trains arrive several times a day from Hamburg. The island is connected to the mainland by the six mile (10km) long Hindenburgdamm bridge. 
Pied Piper glass window

Hameln, the famous town of the Pied Piper tale told to children around the world, is a popular tourist destination in Lower Saxony, northern Germany, lying beside the River Weser. The old town centre has been reconstructed with several Renaissance buildings, and some wood-frame historic buildings, all adding to the fairytale atmosphere that brings alive the legend of the piper who offered to rid the town of rats, and ended up stealing all the children. A short musical version of the story is performed each Wednesday in the old town between May and September at 4:30pm, and the Pied Piper himself conducts tours around the town! Most of the tourist attractions in Hameln are close together, so it's easy to see everything on foot, before enjoying a meal at one of the town's many cafes and beer gardens. The main attraction of the village is its old-world fairytale appeal and the feeling that you have stepped back in time. Hameln also hosts a popular Christmas market from late November through December which is a great place to do some shopping for those back home. The town in situated in beautiful mountainous scenery, on the river, and is a great base for excursions out into the countryside.

Lübeck Town Hall

Lübeck lies 41 miles (66km) north east of Hamburg, close to the Baltic coast. Not only is this historic town the home of a couple of noted Nobel Prize winners, but as a living monument to the wealthy Hanseatic merchants of the 13th century, it sports some architectural treasures that have ensured its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town's famous sons were Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, and Thomas Mann, whose novel Buddenbrooks won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. As far as the architecture goes, the town is known for its steeples and spires, high-gabled houses, strong towers and massive gates. The town is also billed as the world capital of marzipan, having been the spot where this delightful confection was first devised (there is a legend attached, of course). Samples of marzipan are freely available in Lübeck, along with tastes of wine from the region. There are also some great cafes and restaurants to enjoy in this beautiful town which feels quite unlike any other. If you only have time for a quick visit spend a few hours strolling the Lübeck Altstadt (Old Town) where many of the most striking buildings are gathered.

Hamburg Events

Frozen works of art
Ice World
The charming town of Lübeck is the backdrop to the International Festival of Ice and Snow Sculptures which sees artists from all over the world create some of the most magnificent works of art from several hundreds of thousands of pounds of ice and...  see full details

Ships parade
Harbour Birthday Fest
To celebrate over 800 years of harbour history, Hamburg's birthday festivities entail many water and air-based shows and activities, as well as live music, a funfair and lots of entertainment. More than 1,5 million visitors attend the festival every year and in 2013 the...  see full details

Fireworks at the Alster Fair
Alster Fair
One of the Hamburg's biggest annual summer festivals, the Alster Fair is a celebration of culture, including dance, music, theatre, traditional food and drink, sporting events, crafts and, in fact, almost any cultural celebration you can imagine. Numerous events, activities and performances provide entertainment...  see full details

Rijeka, Croatia

The commercial capital of the idyllic Adriatic coast close to Zagreb is the cultural city and holiday destination of Rijeka, which has an international harbour that lends it a cosmopolitan flair.

 Rijeka is not only the gateway to the beautiful coastal island resorts, but a tourist's delight in itself with its charming historic buildings.

 A stroll along the Korzo Promenade in the old part of town provides an eyeful of classic buildings and a variety of street cafes ideal for resting your feet and enjoying the passing parade.

 Rijeka also has an annual carnival full of lively music and dancing, involving plenty of ancient Slavic folklore and mythology. Revellers don masks to scare away evil forces and a good time is had by all in numerous events, concerts and the carnival parade. There is plenty to eat, drink, see and do in this vibrant port city! 

The best way to see Rijeka's cultural and historical attractions is to follow the well-worn tourist path that gathers all of the most important sights for the town. Most of them are accessible by foot, as they are located in or near the city centre (parts of which are not even accessible to traffic). Although, to see the remarkable Trsat Castle you will have to either hire transport or climb the formidable stone steps from the city centre to the castle. It is certainly worth it.