Vancouver is the most densely populated city in Canada and is very popular with tourists. It has the nickname of “Hollywood North”, being the home of many large production studios and filming location of popular movies and TV shows such as Skyscraper, Fantastic Four, Star Trek and the Twilight Saga.
Vancouver is constantly voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world. After visiting it, I can see why. It is a sophisticated urban centre yet not too crazy-busy like New York City. Located by the water and surrounded by abundant nature, it offers a great balance of work and play, business and recreation. No wonder Vancouver is often touted as a good place to retire, as evidenced by the huge (Chinese) immigrant population.
I visited Vancouver on the back of a friend’s invitation and stayed at his place in the suburbs, his house looking just like one of those I saw on American TV shows. Besides the free accommodation, I also had the good fortune of being driven up to Whistler, which actually isn’t very far. But more on that in the next article.
The jewel of Vancouver – Stanley Park
It isn’t an exaggeration when people say there’s abundant nature in Vancouver, the jewel of that abundance being Stanley Park. Don’t let the word “park” mislead you, Stanley Park has its beginnings as a temperate forest (it still is) but has evolved into an urban space over the years. At a whopping 405 hectares, you can explore different parts of the park each time you come and never get bored of it.
The Vancouver Rowing Club at the entrance of Stanley Park.
There’s a jaw-dropping 8.8 km seawall built around the whole park that would take around 2-3 hours to walk the entire length. For a quicker round trip, try jogging or cycling and take in the great views of the sea while you’re at it. From Stanley Park, you can also sight famous Vancouver landmarks such as the Lions Gate Bridge, Canada Place and the North Shore Mountains.
The view from the Stanley Park seawall with Lions Gate Bridge in the background.
I would gladly workout here every day.
Girl in a Wetsuit, a 1972 bronze sculpture by Elek Imredy and
the Brockton Point Lighthouse in the background.
Inside the park, there are numerous forest trails (27 km in total), beaches, lakes and gardens for visitors to relax and rest their feet. There’s also the magnificent Vancouver Aquarium, featuring 50,000 aquatic creatures. If you’re bringing the kids along, don’t worry, there are play areas, a polar exhibit and miniature train ride to keep them entertained.
Temperate colours and a mini waterfall make for a good zen retreat.
But that’s not all. There’s also an elaborate Totem Pole Park at Brockton Point that draws in the crowds. Nine totem poles in various designs standing tall in the open space are a sight to behold. They were all so cute (I’m not sure if cute is the correct word to describe them), I couldn’t decide which one I liked best.
Totem poles standing tall at Brockton Point in Stanley Park.
Pretty in the day up close, but probably a little creepy at night.
You can easily spend a day in Stanley Park. In fact, my visit barely scratched the surface. It’s not just an attraction to tick off your list, but rather, somewhere you can go and recharge yourself every day.
A fine balancing act of old and new in the city
Back in the city, old and new neighbourhoods thrive alongside each other. For the new, I visited Canada Place. Home of the Vancouver Convention Centre and the cruise ship terminal for cruises departing for Alaska, Canada Place was originally built in 1986 as the Canada Pavilion for Expo 86. Today, its iconic sails are a photo magnet for visitors.
The iconic sails of Canada Place that have often been compared to the Sydney Opera House.
The waterfront promenade also offers great views, with benches looking out to the water and the North Shore Mountains. The only problem was that it was still effectively winter in March and it wasn’t long before my face froze over from the cold wind.
Benches along the Canada Place promenade to take in the great waterfront view.
For something more iconic, I headed over to Gastown, the original town centre of Vancouver in the 1880s. Today, it is a historic site housing a mix of old and new, with the hip and the heritage standing side by side.
There are shops selling everything from tourist souvenirs to home furnishings, renowned art galleries and music studios, not to mention a culinary feast on offer in the many restaurants and bars.
Even if you’re not looking to eat or buy anything, it is a pleasant neighbourhood to stroll through. Here, you can feel the old-world charm of Vancouver and imagine what life was like in the 1880s. Come in summer and you’ll be just in time for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
Back in time in Gastown, complete with cobblestoned footpaths, restored brick
and timber buildings, and the famous Gastown Steam Clock.
While you’re there, don’t forget to take a picture with the Gastown Steam Clock, built in 1977 to cover a steam grate. Though it now operates using modern day electricity, it’s still worth a spot in the photo collection. The steam clock also marks the original site of the saloon owned by Gassy Jack that started it all. It whistles every 15 minutes and at the top of the hour.
The sign that says it all.
Even in the city centre, you can find the old sitting together with the new. That’s the gothic-style Christ Church Cathedral, a charming single storey building nestled amidst the staggering skyscrapers of the central business district. It’s a perfect place to escape the incessant buzz in the city centre once in a while.
Christ Church Cathedral, a piece of tranquillity in the city centre.
Never a dull moment at the farmer’s market
Fashion chain stores are a carbon copy of each other all over the world, but farmer’s markets are never quite the same. While Vancouver is not short on fashion brand names (head down to Robson Street for that), I headed over to the Granville Island Public Market for something a little more intimate.
It is not only a farmer’s market hawking everything from fish, meat, cheese, fruit and other fresh produce, there are also many stalls selling knickknacks and handmade crafts. So, you can shop, grab a snack to eat, shop, eat and repeat that the whole day.
The entrance to the Granville Island Public Market…
and the Granville Bridge that leads into Granville Island.
Canada vs USA: My take
Although Canada is also part of North America, it is a world of difference from the USA. For one, the pace is a tad slower, the crowds a bit less rowdy and the patriotism less in-your-face. I’m not saying I like one over the other (I love them both), but the slower pace in Canada suits me better (maybe I’m just getting old and can’t keep up). Then again, I haven’t seen enough of Canada yet – Vancouver is only my first Canadian city. Well, let’s see if I’ll have a different take in another, say, 10 years?
So, is it really true that you can ski in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoon in Vancouver? Stay tuned and find that out in my next article.