Its a been a long time since I’ve been to Vancouver, but I lived there for most of 1988. Yes the photos on this post are real genuine, scanned, print original photos! However friends are stopping over on a trip from New Zealand to Europe (AirNZ if you are interested). So how to plan a stopover? Personally I’m not a huge fan of a few days in one country – its not long enough to get comfortable, but its too long to just hang in the hotel and in the pool/spa (my preferred 24 hour stop-over option!).
Vancouver, British Columbia – In a Nutshell
Vancouver is a pleasent city in a spectacular setting. If you are flying in during daylight hours its worth having a window seat – it really is spectacular – and airport is pretty near to the downtown area. Pick the right time of year and the snow capped peaks will reflect in the crystal clear waters of Vancouver harbour – really.
Vancouver is a classic Pacific rim city. It feels more like San Francisco or even Hong Kong than Montreal or Quebec. This is partly because the second language is Chinese not French. Its also a relatively young city with a population more obsessed with the outdoors than opera.
What I’m trying to say is that although Vancouver is well worth a day or two site seeing - if I was stopping for longer I’d make the effort to get out of town. Its a lot like New Zealand really – although the city is nice enough – the setting is world-class spectacular.
I’ll write a separate article about getting out to Victoria and Vancouver Island, which would my pick for an over-night (minimum) trip.
But first – what would I say you should see in Vancouver itself:
Look don’t shoot me if the picture isn’t from here `- but it probably is. Its just I didn’t write a blog when I first arrived in Vancouver on my first “big trip”! But the pictures match the website and the 168m tower existed when I was in Vancouver! I’d say that I do still have the instinct to go high in a new city to see what’s all the fuss is about. Its a bit expensive – I’d only bother on a clear day! But its a good spot to start if you want to figure out the lay of the land. Or maybe my thing with high points is just weird.
Click here for the Vancouver Lookout website
How to get there: Downtown, you probably won’t miss it.
Museum of Anthropology (MOA) University of British Columbia
Yeah seriously inspiring name right? But I still remember seeing this museum in 1988 – and I’ve seen a LOT of museums since then! So it may well be worth a visit. Even if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, the UBC grounds are well worth a look, and bring your togs for a swim at the beaches. Actually if you forget your togs – go to Wreck Beach – its the city’s nudist beach! The entire campus has its own peninsular, and there are lots of options to walk and hike around. Stanley Park is better known, because its right downtown, but I have a soft stop for UBC park-like grounds – and I am sure there are even more totem polls and modern art now than there were 20 (gulp) year’s ago!
Oh and while you’re in the area I don’t need to tell you that the area where 45,000 students study is usually a good one for cheap, quality food, do I?
Click here for the MOA website
How to get there: take any bus that has UBC as its destination! From the Skytrain you’ll have to transfer to bus #99E. If you are staying at the Jerico Beach Youth Hostel its walking distance or probably more comfortably cycling distance.
Capliano Suspension Bridge
In North Vancouver, 10 minutes from downtown – and you are already in British Columbia’s famous forests! You’ ll like this if you want to get outdoors, but don’t want to be too engergetic. The downside is that its very popular, go early or late (remember its light to 10pm in the summer), and don’t go at all if you don’t like heights!
This apparently the world’s longest (140m) and highest (70m) suspension bridge. Once you’ve played enough on that, then you can do other tree top and canopy walks as well (new since I was there – bring me photos!)
Click here for the Capliano Bridge website
How to get there: there is a free shuttle from Canada Place (details on their website). Alternatively catch a ferry across Vancouver Harbour and connection bus #246, or a bus direct from downtown (#236).
Grouse Mountain was where I, an almost native New Zealander learned to ski! I couldn’t quite get over that I could catch a bus from downtown Vancouver, to the bottom of the gondola, and be at my lesson by 6:30pm! The Gondola runs year round – so if its not ski season you can take it up and scare yourself silly on the zipline. Alternatively they have found a truely unique use for their wind turbine up here – you can.
If I spent money on one attraction in Vancouver it would Grouse Mountain, including the additional chairlift to the top (obviously only for skiers in the winter) – which goes to the summit at 4100ft (1250m) – now that’s a view (bring a jacket even on a warm day).
Its open every day from 8am to 10pm – with plenty of dining options and lots of daylight in the summer. You could easily spend a day up here. I’d probably do either Grouse or Capilano but not both, and Grouse is my pick if you have at least 1/2 day.
Click here for the Grouse Mountain website – and make sure you chose summer or winter depending on when you are visiting!
How to get there: Grouse offer a free shuttle from downtown (summer only). Alternatively catch a ferry across Vancouver Harbour and connection bus #246, or a bus direct from downtown (#236). Yes same connections as Capilano – Grouse is a little further on (about 10km from vague memory).
Getting Around Vancouver – Transport Options
Vancouver doesn’t have bad traffic – compared to London or New York. But on a stop over you REALLY don’t want to be hiring a car! Particularly if you are not used to driving on the right. There is also no need to if you are focussing on downtown area. As there is plenty to see and do in that area to entertain you for three or four days I’d skip the car hire – unless maybe you are determined to head over to Vanvcouver Island or out to the ski fields at Whistler (in season).
Keypoints about Vancouver Transport:
Its an integrated system – you can transfer between Skytrain, bus and ferries on the same ticket. Tickets are valid for 90 minutes within the zones you’ve paid for.
You will need Canadian coins or notes to buy tickets. You can use debit or credit cards – but you probably don’t want to given the bank’s charges for using these overseas.
Regular fares are discounted after 6:30pm week days, all day weekends and holidays. For the price of a single ticket (about $2.50) you can travel the entire network – bargain.
Unless you intend to travel from one side of the city to the other – its unlikely that the day pass is worth it.
The Skytrain connects the airport to downtown and runs from 5am to 1am 7 days a week. Runs every few minutes in peak times, 20 minutes late night. Its about 25 minutes transit from the airport to the downtown area.
Click here for the Vancouver transit website
Vancouver On the Cheap
Yeah the entry fees are adding up aren’t they? If its good weather and I had more enthusiasm than cash I would hire a bike, or walk the promenade around Stanley Park (8.8km from Coal Harbour to English Bay) or the shorter walk in and around UBC. Right in the downtown area there is a recommended 2.2km from Canada Place to Coal Harbour if you don’t have the time/energy for the full walk.
Vancouver The Bits I Missed Out
If you pick up any brochure on Vancouver you’ll see some tourist hot spots I missed: Gastown, Chinatown, Canada Place, BC Stadium. Frankly I wouldn’t go out of my way – if you are in the area sure – but no I don’t see them as highlights. I’d particularly avoid eating in touristy Gastown and Chinatown if you budget matters to you at all. Vancouver does have a huge Chinese population , the latest wave of whom arrived prior to the 1989 Hong Kong hand back to China.
If you want to eat good Chinese, and Vancouver has the reputation for being the Chinese food capital of North America, then head out to Richmond and look for a place crowded with Chinese and plastic tables. The worldwide rule of Chinese Restaurant Decor applies – the worse the decor – the better the food at any Chinese restaurant.
Shopping? The locals head south of the border to Bellingham, Washington state. British Columbia has high taxes compared to WA – so all the big malls are in the other country!