Vancouver is a city like no other, effortlessly combining the buzz of a chic urban centre with the rejuvenating spirit of the great outdoors. Here are our top five must-sees:
1. Stanley Park
Lush Stanley Park is the city’s beloved emerald heart with more than 400 hectares (nearly 1,000 acres) of evergreen forests, cricket pitches, rose gardens, totem poles and beaches. Hit one of dozens of marked trails and roam freely or, for a more comprehensive exploration, join a rainforest adventure tour, venturing deep into the heart of the park’s foliage. Stanley Park’s seawall (8.8 kilometres / 5.5 miles) is the perfect route to cycle or stroll, and provides some of the city’s best sea-to-sky mountain views. In addition to resident raccoons, beavers and squirrels, the park is also home to more than 50,000 animals at the Vancouver Aquarium ranging from friendly sea otters to mesmerizing jellyfish.
2. Granville Island
Culinary adventurers gravitate toward this bustling culinary centre to sample artisan products and multicultural influences. At the island’s heart is the bustling Granville Island Public Market, where exotic produce and gourmet ingredients are sold alongside global dishes and local specialties. Sample your way through this Aladdin’s den of culinary treasures on a tasting tour, or wander the massive space on your own and pick up fixings for an al fresco picnic – the nearby docks are always lively with visitors and buskers
3. North Shore
Just across the water from Vancouver’s downtown peninsula, at the foot of the Coast Mountains, is a green suburb that beckons with outdoor adventure. Look down at the rushing river as you cross Capilano Suspension Bridge Park’s swaying bridge, and make time to enjoy the rainforest nature trails, totem pole collection, the Treetops Adventure and Cliffwalk, a heart-stopping, cliff-side journey across a series of cantilevered and suspended walkways. A little further up the slope, Grouse Mountain offers the ultimate mountain-top playground, and the fun begins on a thrilling gondola ascent to the summit. At the top, you’ll be greeted by jaw-dropping views, an entertaining lumberjack show and – everyone’s favourite – Grinder and Coola, the mountain’s resident rescued grizzly bears. The mountain’s ziplines guarantee an adrenaline rush, as does a trip up Eye of the Wind, the world’s first commercial wind turbine.
4. Canada Place and Vancouver’s Harbourfront
Canada Place is picture-perfect for photo-ops and a great place to relax and watch cruise ships glide into the city, and the floatplanes taking off. At its tip is FlyOver Canada, a flight simulation ride that virtually soars across the country complete with wind, scents, mist and sound. Continuing along the waterfront past the LEED Platinum-certified Vancouver Convention Centre, stop at Jack Poole Plaza for a selfie with the 2010 Olympic Cauldron. Made of steel and glass, the cauldron is a legacy of hosting this international sporting event, and offers a ready-made backdrop of the city, Burrard Inlet and the North Shore mountains.
5. Floatplane flightseeing
Fun fact: British Columbia boasts the largest floatplane network in the world. For many, the thrill of a floatplane ride is a novelty in itself as they experience their first watery take-off and landing – but it’s the view from above that’s guaranteed to drop jaws as you zoom over Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver, then find yourself gazing down on remote snowy mountain peaks. For a truly awe-inducing experience, book a floatplane tour that combines a scenic flight north from Coal Harbour and up to Howe Sound fjord, with a wildlife watching sea safari and a waterfront dinner. Or join a “mail run” tour, hopping your way across the Gulf Islands.