It doesn't get much better than this: a gorgeous mix of mountain/ocean scenery and friendly people set in a temperate climate that stays relatively warm all year. Add in a myriad of attractions both inside and outside of the city, and you have the perfect recipe for a great vacation you won't soon forget.
Vancouver consistently rates amongst the five most liveable cities in the world, and it's no great challenge to see why. Whether you're interested in the arts and perusing the city's countless museums and cultural offerings, strolling or picnicking in the vast ancient-treed Stanley Park, or barrelling down single-track mountain bike paths at nearby Whistler, Vancouver has it all.
Getting in and around Vancouver
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is located about 15 kilometres from downtown, with options for transportation including bus, taxi, and private car. It's the second busiest in Canada, so plan to allow some extra time for security. Cheap flights to Vancouver, including from Vancouver to Toronto, Canada's largest city, are available from Vancouver with a number of carriers.
Ground transport connecting Vancouver with both the US and Canada includes trains, buses, and private transportation. See Greyhound, Amtrak (for US connections), and VIA Rail for more information.
Given it was the completion of Canada's initial railway that brought the previously isolated colonies of this vast country together and played a big part in BC's joining Confederation, there's something fitting about crossing it by rail, and the VIA Rail begins here on its country-crossing flagship route, The Canadian: the only rail passenger route to take in Canada's prairies. Look into the Canrailpass if you're planning on seeing much of the country: it permits 12 days unlimited travel in a 30-day period, on all of VIA's long distance rail services.
Travel by sea from the south is another popular form of arrival. Connections to Canada from Seattle arrive through the port of Vancouver. The busiest seaport in Canada, it's also the departure point for many cruise trips to Alaska in the Summer.
Vancouver is an extremely pedestrian-friendly city, with a vast offering of quality mass-transit options. You'll even find a tourist-friendly map of Vancouver at virtually every corner downtown. Another great option for seeing the city is bybicycle: a vast network of paths crisscrosses the city, and most mass-transit buses and trains allow bicycles to be loaded for free.
For getting further afield, Vancouver has a good-value integrated public transport system, Translink, incorporating buses, light rail, and ferries connecting downtown to North Vancouver.
Vancouver Car Hire
If you're thinking about heading north to Whistler or want to get out of town to check out the backcountry of “beautiful BC”, you may want to consider a Vancouver car rental. Private shuttles and bus tours of all sizes are available, but for less structured exploration of this stunning province, the flexibility of having your own vehicle can't be beaten.
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- With over five hundred rooms, the waterfront-located Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver is one of the largest in the city. The hotel offers stunning views across the entire urban landscape.
- Right in the middle of the action, the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver is exactly what you'd expect from this hallmark of the hotel industry. Guests report impeccable service and gorgeous rooms.
- The Sutton Place Hotel is one of the great Vancouver boutique hotels. Recipient of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond award, the hotel was recently renovated.
- The Sylvia Hotel is Vancouver's only beach-side hotel, 5 minutes away from Downtown.
- The Blue Horizon Hotel comes highly recommended. Gastown, Chinatown, and the Aquarium are steps away.
- The Columbia Hotel is well-located in historic Gastown and offers charming private rooms with hardwood floors, kitchenettes, fridges and fireplaces. Aimed at young travellers and budget-minded tourists. Weekly rates available.
- The SameSun is Vancouver's most popular backpacker hostel. Located right in the middle of hopping downtown, there's an on-site bar and room to lay out and relax among fellow laid-back travelers.
Things to do in Vancouver
Stanley Park is the largest city-owned park in Canada, and a point of pride for Vancouver. Famous for its vast reserves of original growth forest, beautiful Stanley Park is spread over 400 hectares, and draws about 8 million visitors over the course of a year. Nearby, hire a bike and cycle the Stanly Park Sea Wall, joining lucky locals for whom exercising in this gorgeous scenery is just a part of daily life.
Gastown. Take a tour of historic Gastown, Vancouver's birthplace. Free walking tours of this downtown district are conducted by volunteers who can tell you the history, show you the architecture, and give you the story on that steam-powered clock whose steam mechanism also powers the whistles you'll hear chiming the hours.
Grouse Mountain is a unique getaway from it all, only 15 minutes out of town. In Winter, Grouse Mountain offers the closest skiing to the city. In the Summer, hit Grouse Grind, a challenging 1.5 hour steep hike with breathtaking views of the city at the peak. Adventurous types actually time themselves. Records start at not much over half an hour, but for mere mortals, allow a couple of hours. A cable car from the top gets you back down.
Catch a Canucks Game. Hockey isn't a sport here — it's organised religion! The Vancouver Canucks have made it to the finals of Lord Stanley's Cup (the National Hockey Leagues premier prize) only twice during their 30 years history, but are still perennially considered among the top teams in the league.
Granville Island, an unlikely oasis in the middle of the city, gritty factories have been reborn as shops, theatres, galleries and more. The markets here are where the locals buy their fresh produce, and well worth a look.
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is home to some awe-inspiring totem poles and a wealth of information on Haida and West Coast cultural artefacts generally, in a refreshing indoor/outdoor setting.
Wander around Kitsilano. This young professional neighbourhood is home to funky shopping, great beaches, and some charming residences.
Vancouver Aquarium. Located in Stanley Parkhas, is an impressive collection of marine biology. You'll find whales, dolphins, and sharks, as well as (unique to the Vancouver Aquarium) professional naturalists explaining what you're looking at.
Hit the beach. Famous for its rain, Vancouver in Summer bucks against this reputation with a wealth of beautiful blue-skied days, perfect for hanging out at its many great beaches. Jericho Beach is handy to a hostel if you're here for the water: picknicking, fishing and windsurfing are all popular here. English Bay, Third Beach and Second Beach near Stanley Park offer some nice views across the bay, and 7.8km wilderness-surrounded Wreck Beach is one of the largest legal clothing optional beaches in the world.
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Day trips in and around Vancouver
Accessible by ferry from Vancouver, Vancouver Island is a gorgeous, quiet alternative to the bustling mainland. If you're looking for world-class hiking, the West Coast Trail, located in Pacific Rim National Park, is a rugged five-day trek. Also consider a whale-watching expedition.
Whistler Mountain. This beast of a mountain is home to the Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort, the largest in North America. Skiing and snowboarding aren't the only venues for entertainment, though. The town at the base of the mountain lights up at dusk with a vibrant nightlife. In Summer, Whistler opens its lifts to mountain bikers.
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