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Welcome to Vancouver


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.

Information & Facts


The temperate Vancouver climate is classified as Oceanic with warm, dry summer weather (June to August) and cold, rainy winters (December to February). Summer temperatures reach an average high of 72°F (22°C), while winter temperatures can fall below 32°F (0°C).

Eating Out

One of Canada's most cosmopolitan cities, eating out in Vancouver is something of an event and is a popular pastime for many locals. With eateries of just about every nationality, you can be sure to find something to suit your taste while dining out in Vancouver. Many restaurants offer tapas-style tasting plates to share, so you can be adventurous.

With a strong emphasis on British, French and Chinese cuisine, the food in Vancouver is generally quite international with a few specialities waiting to be discovered. Fish like salmon, halibut and Atlantic cod are popular, as well as wild game such as venison, which can be found on most menus. Salt-cured fish, beef and pork are also something to be experienced. Those with a sweet tooth should try the decadent Nanaimo bar, a local dessert which comprises a wafer crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of custard or vanilla butter icing, covered in chocolate.

Most of Vancouver's best restaurants are situated around the West End, downtown, Yaletown and Gastown areas. Most restaurants require reservations and it is customary to tip waiters around 15% as no service charge is added to restaurant bills.

Getting Around

The integrated Translink public transport system is both highly efficient and good value. The computerised SkyTrain (light rail) has six underground downtown stops as well as an elevated track. Its latest addition, the Canada Line, now connects downtown to Vancouver International Airport. The Translink system also includes buses; electric trolley buses; West Coast Express trains (week days only) and SeaBus passenger ferries that connect downtown to North Vancouver. The network reaches every part of the city, including the beaches and ski slopes. After midnight the regular bus system is replaced by a limited 'Owl' night bus service on main routes. Fares are based on a zone system and tickets are valid for buses, the SkyTrain and SeaBus with transfers valid for 90 minutes from the time they are validated. Various travel passes are available, but the cheapest is probably the DayPass, which allows unlimited transport and is valid across all zones. Taxis are easy to come by at taxi stands, hotels or by telephone, but can be difficult to hail outside of the downtown area. Vancouver's traffic and road situation is fairly well-ordered, but hiring a car is not necessary in the city because the public transport is more than sufficient.

Kids Attractions

Vancouver is a paradise for kids on holiday. During the summer months, visit Stanley Park, where plenty of kids activities abound, such as the Spray Park near Lumberman's Arch and the Children's Farm, a fantastic petting zoo for the younger tots. Families can even enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the park and your kids will love it here, so much so that you may find yourself coming back on more than one occasion.

Animal lovers will have a great time exploring the Vancouver Aquarium and the Greater Vancouver Zoo, while older kids should visit Granville Island's Water Park and Adventure Playground for a day of water fun.

On rainy or cold days when outdoor activities with kids are not an option, head to the Science World at Telus World of Science or the Space Centre for a fascinating day out, or for something really fun, visit the Richmond Go-Kart track for a day of racing. There are also plenty of indoor playgrounds available such as the Kerrisdale Play Palace in the Kerrisdale Cyclone Taylor Arena, or Kid Zone at the Park Royal Mall South Shopping Center.

The official languages are English and French (predominantly in Quebec).

The currency used is the Canadian Dollar (CAD), which is divided into 100 cents. One-dollar coins are also known as loonies (due to the picture of a loon, a type of bird, on the coin), and two-dollar coins as toonies. Banks and bureaux de change will change money and travellers cheques, as will some hotels, but the rate will not be as good. Major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are plentiful. US Dollars are largely accepted, though due to fraud, larger notes might not be and change is usually given in Canadian dollars.


With the stunning mountain backdrop and the outdoors on your doorstep, the nightlife in Vancouver is second to none. With plenty of pubs, clubs, lounges, and everything else in between, there is no shortage of entertainment when the sun sets on this vibrant city. Until recently, city regulations forced bars and pubs to masquerade as restaurants, so you'll find many watering holes with token menus.

Vancouver's British heritage plays a part in it being a pub paradise, the heart of which is downtown, with countless pubs and bars tucked away and nestled in between shops, businesses and bistros. Chamber and Chill Winston are names to remember in Gastown's cobblestone streets, which are reminiscent of Amsterdam and bring tourists flocking here to imbibe and socialise.

Most of Vancouver's clubs and discos can be found downtown around Granville Street and Water and Pender streets in Gastown. The Roxy in Granville is a must and is one of Vancouver's top nightlife spots. Another busy entertainment district is Kitsilano with the Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club, while a third is the up-and-coming nightlife district of Yaletown, which is a more upscale bar and lounge zone with options like the Opus Bar and Yaletown Brewing Company.

The Orpheum Theatre, the Queen Elizabeth Complex, and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre are the top venues for the performing arts in Vancouver. You can see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, touring theatre and ballet companies, as well as high-profile music concerts. For a less formal experience, check out the Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park during the summer months.

Vancouver also hosts several large festivals, including the Vancouver Fringe Festival, centred on Granville Island every September; the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Vancouver Jazz Festival and the Vancouver Folk Festival.

Check out the weekly Georgia Straightor the Thursday edition of the Vancouver Sunfor nightlife and entertainment listings while you're in town.


Shopping in Vancouver ensures a diverse range of products and quality, with everything from haute couture to laid-back flannels, as well as jewellery and home accessories available in malls and shopping areas throughout the city.

Commercial Drive is known as 'Little Italy' and has very trendy boutiques, while Davie Village in the West End is home to great bookshops. Chinatown, encompassing Main Street and Keefer, trades in ginseng, green tea, silks and exotic fresh produce; there are weekend night markets here in summer. Another Main Street also offers a wide selection of antique and home accessory shops. Granville Island Market sells fresh produce, meats, fish and baked goods, and there are a diverse range of shops, stalls and galleries in the area.

Downtown Vancouver and Gastown have shops offering high fashion, jewellery, shoes and home wares. The Sinclair Centre has upmarket fashion and art shops, Royal Centre is made up of a variety of underground shops and the Pacific Centre is home to the famous Holt Renfrew shop. Nearby Water Street is home to art galleries, antique shops and native art stores, as well as souvenirs in the many speciality shops. Note that a Goods and Services Tax is levied on most things, but Canada no longer offers a refund scheme.


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.

Canada covers six time zones, from GMT 8 in the west to GMT -3.5 in the east.

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.

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, and tables groan with the weight of exotic foodstuffs and the strange wares of the Chinese apothecaries. The Sam Kee Building in Pender Street is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the narrowest building in the world, at only six-foot (two metres) wide. This was the result of a local property owner reacting to the expropriation of most of his land in 1912 for the widening of the street: Chang Toy decided to build what he could on the remaining tiny strip. Another main attraction in Chinatown is the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, enclosed behind high walls, that was built in 1986 at a cost of $5.3-million with the craftsmen and materials all imported from China. It is a quiet haven of walkways, pavilions, gnarled trees, water features and natural rock sculptures. Next door to the Garden is the Chinese Cultural Centre with its elaborate gated entrance hand-painted in traditional colours.

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 shopkeepers with the birth of the interurban railway. World War I brought an influx of Chinese, Italian and Eastern European immigrants and World War II saw a vast increase in the Italian population, earning the Drive the moniker 'Little Italy' for many years. Diversity and energy are still the hallmarks of this area, and an afternoon is well spent exploring its various treasures, from all types of food to chic boutiques, second-hand stores, live music venues and more. Go ice-skating at the Britannia Community Centre rink or bowling at the Grandview Lanes, enjoy a delicious Italian gelato or espresso, or simply grab a table at one of the many bars or restaurants, and people watch. There are always plenty of festivals and events going on, too, such as the Parade of Lost Souls on the Saturday before Halloween, the Stone Soup Festival in May and the Eastside Culture Crawl in November.

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 passages wherein hide boutiques and restaurants. Gastown was named after Vancouver's first settler and saloon owner, Jack "Gassy" Deighton, whose historic hotel was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886 along with much of the city. The fire swept through the town in less than an hour, leaving only two of the 400 or so houses standing. "Gassy" Jack has been immortalised with a statue in Maple Tree Square in Gastown. Another point of interest is the Lamplighter Pub in the Dominion Hotel, which was the first Vancouver inn to serve alcohol to women. The Europe Hotel was the first fireproof building in western Canada, having been built just after the fire in 1892. Gastown keeps time with the world's first steam clock, which plays the Westminster chimes every 15 minutes on five brass steam whistles inside its cast bronze case. These and many other interesting corners of Gastown can be explored on a daily walking tour, offered at 2pm each day between June and August, which starts at the Gassy Jack statue and takes 90 minutes.

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 is easily accessible, located in the middle of Vancouver under the Granville Street Bridge on the south shore of False Creek and linked by a road to the city, barely seeming like a separate entity, but a relaxing 'city break' nonetheless. The public market is a riot of colours, smells and tastes and fresh produce, fresh meats and fish, flowers, tasty treats, crafts, clothing and souvenirs are on offer. The separate Kids Market is a must for children, with toy stores, games and more and the Maritime Market offers everything from boat-builders, a museum and tours, to appropriate boating clothing and supplies. Visits to the Granville Island Brewing Company and taste-tests of their brews are possible, or for something more cultural, one can catch a show at the Island's theatre or enjoy a student art show at the Emily Carr Institute. The island has the biggest free waterpark in British Columbia, open May to September. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Island, however, is to grab something to eat from one of the many stalls, choose a table outside and watch the people go by, or take a self-guided tour, being sure not to miss the picturesque houseboats docked at the Island.

Animal lovers of all ages will have a fabulous time exploring the Greater Vancouver Zoo. Boasting 124 species of animals, such as lions, giraffe, black bears, bison, spider monkeys and caracals, and that's just naming a few, children will simple love exploring all the animals and naming the ones they know. Kids can enjoy meeting a reptile, taking the safari mini train, listening to an educational talk or even watching the lions and tigers being fed.

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.

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.

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 SeaBus from Waterfront Station on Cordova Street in downtown Vancouver, a fifteen minute ride that allows one to relax and enjoy the view, watch seaplanes land and see what cruise ships are in the harbour, before embarking on some retail therapy. The market, though slightly smaller than that of Granville Island, boasts mouth-watering fresh goods, from seafood to fresh fruit and vegetables, pastries and sweets and there is a wide range of restaurants available, including Mexican, Greek, Japanese, Indian and more. There are also a variety of stalls selling all sorts of arts and crafts, souvenirs and clothing and the retail level boasts plenty of boutiques, a kids play area and specialty kids stores, topped by the Lonsdale Quay Hotel. A climb up the Quay's signature red tower with its large Q on top is a good way to work off all the delicious food and to enjoy spectacular views of the city and mountains.

Perfect for kids up to the age of 10, Maplewood Farm features more than 200 barnyard animals for children to meet and interact with. Children can learn about the favourite furry friends such as goats, sheep, cows, pot-bellied pigs, ponies, bunnies and hens and get to pet them too. A great attraction for kids on holiday in Vancouver.

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 the world's largest collection of works by internationally acclaimed Haida artist, Bill Reid, including his famous cedar sculpture 'The Raven and the First Men'. In the museum's unique Visible Storage Galleries more than 15,000 objects and artefacts from around the world are arranged according to culture and use. In the grounds of the museum are two Haida houses to be admired, showing the dramatic beauty of traditional Northwest Coast architecture.

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.

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 million visitors annually who come to enjoy a 360 degree view of Vancouver from its highest point, 505 feet (167m) above sea level. The Bloedel Floral Conservatory, with its characteristic geodesic dome, is home to over 100 species of tropical birds that roam free in the area, as well as hundreds of species of exotic plants and flowers. Other highlights of the park include the Quarry Garden, J. Seward Johnson's sculpture "The Photo Session," the Lions Clock and the arboretum, with its fine examples of indigenous trees from across Canada. Spring is an excellent time to visit the park as it becomes a riot of colour, with white and pink cherry blossoms and all sorts of flowers displaying their finest.

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.

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 and surrounded on three sides by water, Stanley Park is both a refuge for visitors seeking a brief escape from the urban jungle, a showcase for the natural beauty that surrounds the city, and an entertainment centre. The park is criss-crossed through its dense rainforest interior by miles of wide gravel paths surrounding Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon. It is home to hundreds of migratory birds such as Canada geese, swans and ducks, and large populations of racoons, squirrels, skunks and coyotes. The park has a miniature railroad, putt-putt gold course, and an aquarium. It is also possible to walk, jog, cycle or rollerblade around the 6.5 mile (10.5km) long seawall that encircles the perimeter.

Home to a vast array of aquatic mammals and animals, at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre you'll find sea otters, whales, sea lions and plenty more creatures. Exhibits, displays and programs are geared towards kids; including Clownfish Cove, with small animals, play areas, and costumes aimed at teaching children about the natural world and the importance of marine conservation. The aquarium features a gift shop, cafeteria, and wheelchair access.

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 international touring exhibitions take place regularly at the Gallery, from Picasso to Rodin, Andy Warhol and others. Whether you prefer the Old Masters or more contemporary artists, the Vancouver Art Gallery is well worth paying a visit.

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 a clear day, even neighbouring Vancouver Island. A 45-second trip in the outdoor glass-fronted Skylift elevator delivers visitors to the Lookout and informative signs point out key attractions in the city and surrounds. As tickets are valid for the entire day and evening, visitors can also enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the sunset from the Lookout or see the lights of the city begin to twinkle below. The tower is also home to The Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, though run separately from the Lookout, and visitors can enjoy the unique experience of dining above the city while the restaurant completes a full revolution every hour. The Skylift to the restaurant is free. The Harbour Centre itself is home to part of the Simon Fraser University campus, several shops and a food court.

With 22 hectares (55 acres) and roughly 11,000 different plant species, VanDusen Botanical Garden is a spectacular showcase of the natural world, right in the heart of Vancouver. Landscaped gardens are laid out exquisitely and specific areas are cultivated to demonstrate botanical relationships or geographical origins, such as the popular Rhododendron Walk or the Sino Himalayan Garden. One of the most popular events held in the garden is the annual Festival of Lights, when the beauty of the flowers is matched by over a million dazzling lights, set up in order to celebrate the festive season. Choirs and carol singers, visits with Santa, a Dancing Light display on Lake Island in the park, the Golden Chain Walk, magicians and tasty treats are all part of this family favourite, running from 9-31 December each year. Daily walking and cart tours are available in the garden from April to October at 2pm and also at 11am on Wednesdays.

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