Vancouver: West Coast Beauty, Urban Sophistication

Vancouver is consistently ranked among the world’s most beautiful cities, and as far as attractions go, there is no shortage of fun places and activities to take in, even if you only have a couple days during your Whistler winter holiday. From world-class Stanley Park and the Granville Island Public Market, to North America’s third-largest Chinatown, and the vibrant dining and entertainment scenes, Vancouver is a happening place both summer and winter.

Downtown Vancouver is on a peninsula, bounded by Coal Harbour/Burrard Inlet to the north, English Bay to the west, and False Creek to the south. That makes it a manageable place to get around. “You don’t necessarily need a car in Vancouver,” said Amber Sessions, Tourism Vancouver (TV) communications manager. “You can easily get by on foot, on transit or by taking taxis. We also have a couple of companies that offer hop-on, hop-off bus tours that are just fantastic.”

A lot of people start their visit along the Coal Harbour waterfront. Here, you will find the TV Visitor Centre (200 Burrard St.), where you can ask questions, book tours and purchase tickets to most events and attractions. Nearby is the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre with its 130-metre (426-foot) indoor observation deck that can give you a 360-degree view of the harbour and city. On a cloudless and sunny day, you will enjoy views of the busy Vancouver and North Vancouver waterfronts and the gleaming North Shore mountains; or gaze across the Strait of Georgia at Vancouver Island to the west. Also, close to Coal Harbour is the Vancouver Convention Centre, where the popular Fly Over Canada is located and offers a breathtaking flight simulation over the vast countryside — from coast to coast to coast — complete with wind, mist and even scents!

South of Coal Harbour is Vancouver’s commercial and entertainment hub, centred on Robson Square with its famous outdoor skating rink — a great place to people-watch while enjoying a hot beverage. Robson and Denman streets are great for a stroll that includes interesting shops, cafés and eateries, while nearby Granville Street includes many of the city’s top theatres and performance venues. Science World at Telus World of Science, under the lighted globe at the eastern edge of False Creek, is the place to take the kids for a hands-on exploration of all things scientific, as well as visiting displays.
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For a fun excursion that includes time on the water and is accessible easily from the waterfront, hop on the SeaBus at Waterfront Station and take the 10-minute trip across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, a lively place to grab a coffee, browse the diverse food and artisan stalls or enjoy a casual lunch at one of its many eateries. Art lovers will want to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery, which features both permanent and visiting exhibitions, and the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Native Art.

Christmas-themed activities abound in December. The Vancouver Christmas Market, running Nov. 22 to Dec. 24 in Jack Poole Plaza (home of the 2010 Olympic Cauldron), is a European-style celebration with more than 75 stalls offering up old-world confections and sweets, a 30-foot-tall “walk-in” Christmas tree, live entertainment and more. The Bright Nights Christmas Train in Stanley Park features more than 3 million twinkling lights, holiday-themed displays and live performers. There is a lot to see outside the downtown core, including the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain, Van Dusen Botanical Garden and the Museum of Anthropology.

A short walk brings you to Gastown, named for “Gassy” Jack Deighton, the chatty (i.e., “gassy”) former steamship captain who, in 1867, opened the first saloon in Vancouver’s original downtown. Today, Gastown is a national historic site complete with shops, eateries and featuring its most popular attraction: one of the world’s only steam-powered clocks. Every quarter hour, the clock shoots steam while its five whistles belt out the tune from London’s famed Westminster Chime. To the west, 435-hectare (1,001-acre) Stanley Park — larger than New York’s Central Park — is where Vancouverites go to recreate. The Stanley Park Seawall makes up the core of the 28-kilometre (17.4-mile) Seaside Greenway and is a popular place for runners, walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers with English Bay, Burrard Inlet and the historic Lions Gate Bridge as a dramatic backdrop. Stanley Park’s temperate rainforest also has an extensive interior trail network for walkers, runners and bikers to explore. The park’s eastern peninsula is home to a series of totem poles representing the Aboriginal or “First Nations” peoples who have called the area home for thousands of years. Nearby is the renowned Vancouver Aquarium, which this year features two new exhibits: Steller’s Bay, focusing on the lives of Steller’s sea lions; and Meet the Penguins, which offers guests a chance to get up close with the curious birds with a penguin trainer and an interpreter.

The Granville Island Public Market along False Creek offers visitors a chance to peruse stalls with farm-fresh produce, seafood, shops and artisan stalls and studios, where you can find the perfect gift or souvenir. The island also includes terrific cafés and eateries, two breweries, a distillery, a marina and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Located just east of downtown Vancouver, Chinatown is a fascinating neighbourhood. Highlights include the Millennium Gate on Pender Street, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Carrall Street and the Sam Kee Building, famed as the “shallowest commercial building in the world” in the Guinness Book of World Records.

To get the most out of your city adventure, visit the Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre or

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