Vancouver, British Columbia, is known as Canada's emerald jewel for its lush rain forests. On a clear day, from downtown you can see the Strait of Georgia's blue-green waters, glacial fjords, islands, and mountains with snow caps and dense forests.
Vancouver is relaxed and outdoorsy, yet cosmopolitan. It's also sports-minded, and its hockey fans cheer hard for their NHL Canucks. The city also boasts high-fashion boutiques, a vibrant arts scene and a fondness for health-conscious eating. The winter weather of gray skies and drizzle only emphasizes Vancouver's attractions at other times of the year.
With the North Shore Mountains as a reference point, finding your way around the coastal seaport city of Vancouver is pretty easy. The core of downtown radiates outward on a grid system from the intersection of Georgia Street, which runs east-west, and Granville Street, the main north-south artery.
Vancouver is also home to the 1,000-plus-acre Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America.
Sights—For natural beauty in an urban setting, a horse-drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park; the Skyride up Grouse Mountain for a great view of the city; a drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Howe Sound to Squamish and Whistler for a glimpse of rugged rain-forest terrain; the Vancouver Aquarium; a day trip to Fort Langley National Historic Site, 45 minutes east of Vancouver.
Walks—The seawall in Stanley Park; the family-friendly beaches at Spanish Banks; the waterside path around False Creek; the docks on Granville Island.
The original inhabitants of what is now referred to as Vancouver, were the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Unlike so many other hunting-and-gathering peoples, these inhabitants achieved a high level of cultural complexity for a food-gathering base: wild berries, game, fish, water and building materials. This system encouraged hard work, and quickly allowed for the accumulation of wealth and status.
George Vancouver, the British Navy captain who lent the city his name, sailed into Burrard Inlet in 1792. He called it "the most lovely country that could be imagined." Settlers didn't immediately respond to his superlatives, though. The British didn't establish a permanent fur-trading post (Fort Langley) until 1839. The area remained sparsely populated until the gold rush in 1858 enticed fortune-seekers to the Fraser River.
Lumbering and mills became responsible for keeping Vancouver afloat. What truly established Vancouver as a city, however, was the decision by the Canadian Pacific Railway to make Vancouver the terminus of its transcontinental route. The first regular transcontinental train from Montreal arrived at a temporary terminus at Port Moody in July 1886, and service to Vancouver itself began in May 1887. Vancouver's population that year was 5,000. Six years later it reached 15,000 and by 1900 it was more than 100,000. The railroad, in turn, increased the city's importance as a seaport. Today, Vancouver is considered one of North America's finest natural deepwater harbors.
Vancouver has experienced a real estate boom that began after the city hosted the 1986 World's Fair. Foreign investment, especially from Southeast Asia, has transformed the downtown area. Dozens of old buildings have been renovated or razed to make way for innovative postmodern architecture and imposing glass-and-steel skyscrapers. These days, the city has some of the highest real estate values in the country.
If you happen to be one of the many travelers arriving to Vancouver by cruise ship each year, you will dock at one of Port Metro Vancouver's two cruise terminals—both regularly receive praise for luggage handling, customer service and visitor ease.
If your ship docks at Canada Place, at the foot of Hornby Street, you may think those five white sails are flying over one of the many ships in Vancouver's harbor. It would be an honest mistake. From its mast down, the main cruise-ship terminal resembles a seagoing vessel.
Just 1 mi east of Canada Place, at historic Ballantyne Pier, is the city's second cruise terminal. In all, there are berths for five ships. Annually, that means about 240 ships and more than 800,000 passengers, figures that have increased significantly in recent years, as Port Metro Vancouver now offers the most ship and departure date options in Canada.
Stanley Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America, spanning just a little more than 1,000 acres (New York's Central Park is 843 acres).
The gray squirrels in Stanley Park are descendants of the eight pairs presented to Vancouver in 1909 by New York City.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is Vancouver's oldest (dating from 1889) and most famous visitor attraction.
Vancouver has the largest gay and lesbian population in western Canada.
Greenpeace, which started in Vancouver, is known around the world for its environmental movement.
Vancouver is second only to Los Angeles in North American television production and ranks third for feature film production. Entertainment studios such as Paramount and Lionsgate have outposts there, and the city often plays host to A-List celebrities.
DOS AND DON'TS
Do be aware that Vancouver is clean-air conscious. Don't smoke inside any public place, including restaurants, bars, pubs and shopping malls (except where there are designated smoking rooms).
Don't be surprised by how many people speak Cantonese and Mandarin. This is one of North America's most Asian cities. More than half of Vancouver's school-age children are learning English as a second language.
Do take time to visit Vancouver's parks and gardens, as well as surrounding areas. The city has one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world.
Don't jump the line if you're taking a B-Line express bus. Vancouverites are extremely polite at bus stops and form three lines: one for the front of the bus for passengers who need to pay or validate tickets, and one or two for the other doors of the bus, where passengers with passes can enter. The SkyTrain, on the other hand, is a free-for-all.
Do attend a Vancouver Canucks hockey game when the much-beloved team hits home ice.
Don't be surprised by all the towel-waving fans at a Canucks hockey game. It's all part of the Towel Power, a tradition whose roots go back to 1982, to an ill-fated game with the Chicago Blackhawks. The late Roger Neilson, the Canucks coach at the time, got fed up with the officials for what he considered poor refereeing and stuck a towel on the end of a hockey stick. The tradition has been popular among fans ever since.
Do embrace local culture by renting a bike instead of a car to get around the city (you'll also save a fortune on parking), drinking lots of coffee from local cafes and sampling goodies from all of the food trucks.
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a cultural buff or a parent seeking family fun, you'll find plenty to do in Vancouver come rain or shine. More than 8 million visitors go there every year. Consider beginning your adventure by taking the glass elevators to the top of Harbour Centre (also known as Vancouver Lookout). From there you can get your bearings—and a breathtaking view of the city at your feet.
Just north of downtown is Vancouver's prized possession: Stanley Park, a last vestige of semiwilderness with more than 1,000 acres of woodlands, trails and gardens. Within the park you'll find one of North America's biggest and best public aquariums.
On the opposite side of downtown is Granville Island, now a tourist attraction rivaling Stanley Park. Explore the wonderful covered public market, artisan shops, artists' studios and restaurants.
Because Vancouver is a gateway to Asia, be sure to roam the crowded sidewalks of Chinatown and stroll through the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Visit neighboring Gastown and its restored Victorian-era buildings—though it can seem a bit touristy.
Before you leave Vancouver, make the trip across the Burrard Inlet to the North Shore and two of the city's most popular attractions, Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. You can drive over the Lions Gate Bridge or scoot across the harbor via SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay and pick up a taxi or bus from there.
Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport. Reconfirm travel-document requirements with your carrier prior to departure.
Languages: English, French, Chinese (mostly Mandarin).
Predominant Religions: Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic).
Time Zone: 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-8 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the second Sunday in March through the first Sunday in November.
Voltage Requirements: 110 volts.
Telephone Codes: 604, area code; 778, area code; 250, area code
Copyright ©2017 Northstar Travel Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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