Set spectacularly on the waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, and nestled deep between forest-pine-coated mountains, this metropolis is arguably one of the most breathtaking in the whole of North America. Its setting is matched by the sights and sounds of its city streets, meaning there’s an endless list of things to cast your eyes on when you visit Vancouver.
Since you don’t have forever to explore the city, here are 10 sights you simply cannot afford to miss.
- Robson Street
Right at the heart of Downtown, the city’s original Commercial Street is second-to-none for those who love to shop ‘til they drop. A diverse, bustling, tree-lined boulevard by day, it’s best experienced by night when the lights come on and the atmosphere’s electric.
If you like things chic and cosmopolitan, check out Yaletown. This is the place Vancouverites come to chat over a coffee, converse over cocktails and browse boutique stores. Its packed-out events calendar means there’s always something going on – from jazz and food festivals to community barbecues – all perfectly set to a backdrop of renovated warehouses and heritage architecture. It’s undoubtedly Vancouver’s freshest urban hangout.
- VanDusen Botanical Garden
An oasis of tranquillity, experience all 22 hectares of the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Home to hundreds of species of flora from all over the world, its specialist collections include black, fragrance and Sino-Himalayan gardens – set between pretty ponds and streams. It’s particularly beautiful in autumn, when a spectacular array of colours are on show.
The city’s oldest neighbourhood is probably its most exciting. Full of Victorian whimsy and charm, this district has blossomed in recent years, boasting a thriving fashion scene, independent art galleries and world-class restaurants. The grand facades and cobbled streets – lined with vintage lampposts – feel like a journey back in time; but Gastown’s cool and innovative establishments feel bang up to date. It makes for an incredible mixture of old and new.
- Spanish Banks Beach
If the sun’s shining, the air’s warm and you fancy a day spent horizontal – get yourself down to Spanish Banks Beach. Just one of many golden stretches the city has to offer, this is probably the most spacious and tranquil of the lot. Found west of the city core out on English Bay, there’s almost a kilometre of sand to enjoy at low-tide, and plenty to see and do in the surrounds. If you fancy getting a spot of sport in, there’ll almost certainly be a public volleyball or beach soccer game for you to jump into. You might even make friends with some locals.
- Vancouver Lookout
Not so much a sight in itself, but if you want to take in the skyline from inside the city, head to Vancouver Lookout. Sitting 168 metres above the Harbour Centre, it promises uninterrupted 360 degree vistas of Vancouver from high above.
- Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park
Over in North Vancouver, this 140-metre-long suspension bridge spans the narrow valley 70 metres above the Capilano River. Offering both high-altitude thrills and incredible views, the surrounding forest parkland hosts cliffs-edge walkways, tree-top adventures courses, nature trails and optional eco-tours. It’s the best brush with nature the city has to offer.
- Grouse Mountain
If the Lookout and the Suspension Bridge didn’t scratch your itch to climb high above the Vancouver skyline, consider a journey to the top of Grouse Mountain. Your experience up here will very much depend on when it is you visit. By winter, its snow-covered slopes come alive as a 26-run ski resort – the most popular in the city region. Things couldn’t be more different in summer though, when a hiking trail known as ‘the Grouse Grind’ makes for a lush and green adventure. Whatever the time of year; hop on the aerial tramway for a skyward ride to the summit.
- Stanley Park
Almost entirely bordered by the beautiful waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, spend a day getting lost in the vast, 1,000 acre Stanley Park. Densely forested for the most part, you’ll find everything from trails, beaches and lakes to an aquarium and miniature railway. Voted the best park in the entire world in 2014, its sheer size means a gentle bike ride is probably the best way to take it all in.
The largest in Canada, Vancouver’s Chinatown is well worth a visit. Despite experiencing decline in the last couple of decades, a dedicated revitalisation action plan has started to see serious results in recent years. You’ll find plenty of authentic restaurants, bustling marketplaces and fascinating stores full of curious items, as wonderful smells and the sound of music fill the streets. It’s just one of many thriving migrant communities you could experience in the multicultural city of Vancouver.