Vancouver is a little gem of a big city. It is big enough to play host to a lot of culture, events and other city treats. But it isn’t just a big city. It is nestled into a beautiful spot of nature, with ‘the sea’ on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other. (OK, not quite the sea, but the Strait of Georgia is seawater and big enough to look like the sea.)
But Vancouver is more than the sum of the things to see and do. The atmosphere is uplifting, positive and happy. People thank the bus drivers when they get off. They fall over themselves to hold up doors. The joke that Canadians say sorry a lot is based in truth, but they are not just empty words but a genuine respect and care for others. And there is a lot of good food, especially the cheap sushi!
You can see the mountains from almost anywhere in the city. Three of them are easily accessible from the city: Grouse, Cypress and Seymour. Each offer basic skiing, good for a quick getaway from the city. But for the real good skiing, you go to Whistler, which I’ve covered earlier.
But skiing is not the only thing you can do with the mountains. The serene nature is something best enjoyed by walking. If you haven’t done snow shoeing before, I highly recommend it!
The gallery below is from my snow shoeing around Grouse Mountain on a gorgeously late-season sunny day. Grouse Mountain also has a wind power plant that you can go into. Photos included in the gallery as well.
The gallery below is from skiing trips to Whistler that I made after my first Whistler post, including some shots from the Spa Scandinave, also near Whistler.
Museums and attractions
One of the better aquariums I’ve been to. Bit pricy but worth it. Highlights were the grumpy sea turtle, the racially discriminated jellyfish, the crazy slow-motion frogs and the belugas spitting on tourists.
The ‘first nation tribes’ are what Canadians call the people who lived in Canada before the Europeans arrived. Their most conspicuous cultural expression is woodcarvings, and Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology features many of them, as well as other anthropological treasures from around the world. My personal highlight from the collection was the animal masques, large articulated wooden masques that could be opened or closed. Closed they resembled some kind of animal. Opened it revealed the man inside, thus tying together the human and animal worlds.
The Museum of Vancouver does a decent job of telling the history of Vancouver, from logging and gold digging to today. It is worth a quick visit, but don’t worry if you miss it. The highlight for me was the stories around the treatment of the large Japanese community during and after the Second World War. The museum is located in a large park overlooking False Creek and downtown, which is another reason to go.
If you have a car, it is worth going to the International Buddhist Temple. It has a quiet serene atmosphere (What did you expect? A rave?) and some impressively large Buddha statues.
In this brand new attraction, you take a gondola up to the top of a small mountain just outside Vancouver. The views from up there are stunning, and there are many walking paths that snake around the wooded top of the mountain, leading to several stunning viewpoints. This is a perfect way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. Warmly recommended.
Capilano and Lynn Canyon suspension bridges
Capilano has the big famous suspension bridge while Lynn canyon is the less-know little brother bridge. Both are located in lush forests with ancient trees that are just as interesting as the suspensions bridges, or more so.
In Capilano, there is also a cliff walk with transparent pathways suspended from the cliff face. Don’t miss it!
Horseshoe Bay and other beautiful spots
There are countless of scenic walks to take around Vancouver. I found one somewhere around Horseshoe Bay. Sorry, I have no idea where it was, and you can probably never find it. But that is fine; just follow your nose and you’re bound to hit upon your own private little spot.
Nature in the City
Biking around Stanley Park and False Creek
On a beautiful day, rent a bike and take a tour around Stanley Park and False Creek. Both are bike-friendly, but you need a mountain bike if you want to bike on the internal paths of Stanley Park.
English Bay and Spanish Banks
There are many great spots by the water to hang out with friends, share a picnic or just silently take in the sunset. English Bay is easily accessible and beautiful. The Spanish Bank is less crowded, but harder to get to.
This is the local nude beach. It has become something of an institution in Vancouver. The main area is busy but not crowded. There are also plenty of hidden little oases along a hike-friendly coastal path. Parts of it is through a forest, and all of it is in the nude!
This classical Chinese garden isn’t big, but it sure is pretty. And it is located right in the city and is easy to fit into any open afternoon slot. Makes sure you get the guided tour or you’ll miss the hidden symbology throughout the garden.
This island, located in the middle of False Creek which runs through the city, is featured in every Vancouver tourist guide. You can safely ignore it. The main features are corrugated iron shacks, a couple of breweries and a broom shop, of which the broom shop is the only thing worth seeing.
Gaming and Fun
Anyone following this blog knows that I’m a massive board game fan, so I was blown away to find that there were three (!) gaming-themed and gaming-friendly bars and restaurants in Vancouver.
Pizzeria Ludica is a gaming hall first and a pizzeria second. They have a wall (A WALL) of games that you can pick up and try, and on Wednesdays, whoever wins a game gets their food free of charge. Easily my favourite gaming place.
The Storm Crow Tavern is a bar for and by geeks. There are Cthulhu statues, steampunk weapons, alien rippers and anything else you can think of. The menu is in the style of a role-playing game manual, and they have a ‘Shot of Destiny’, where you roll a D20 (a 20-sided die) and get one of twenty possible shots. They have games you can pick up and play, but it can be too noisy for games. Full marks for atmosphere though!
The EXP bar and restaurant is a video game themed place. No games to play, but you are welcome to bring your own. The theme of the venue is great. They show video game tournaments on big screen TVs, and they serve a burger with the TriForce from Zelda burnt into the patty with a branding iron.
E-EXIT is totally different. It is a live-action escape game where you and your friends get locked into a room, and you have 45 minutes to escape. To do so, you have to search for clues and solve a number of riddles and puzzles to unlock a series of locks. I played twice and never managed to escape.