Travel writer Valentina Lewis gives us her guide to the sights and sounds of Vancouver. If you need some travel inspiration for the remainder of this year, this might just be it!
A modern city with skyscrapers arranged to fit into dozens of perfectly formed blocks wouldn’t normally be the top of my holiday hit list, but having been named as one of the best cities in the world for quality of life, and the small issue of my brother who now lives there, I thought I better go see what all the fuss was about.
Nine hours and four films later the hype was confirmed as I came into land. Circling towards the airport I could see a city surrounded by dramatic mountains and a glittering blue sea, there was obviously much more to this city than I had given it credit for.
The weather is not too dissimilar to the UK, in both summer and winter, but the summer months are more reliable and the winter months offer some of the best skiing in the world in nearby Whistler. The beauty of this city is that you can enjoy the comfort of a clean, accessible, contemporary city but be hiking, skiing, cycling, mountain biking, boating and much more within half an hour.
Unless you’re a skiing junkie, August is a beautiful, if not a little busy, time to go to really enjoy all the activities on offer. For city folk, there are some unique areas to explore and some great food to be had. There is a large Asian community in Vancouver and so the seafood, and particularly the sushi, is the best I’ve had outside of Japan. Street food is also very popular, with some stalls having become a local institution…there’s nothing quite like a ‘Japadog’! I’ll leave you to imagine what that might be! Head over to Granville Island for a vast food market and stop off at the microbrewery to reward yourself afterwards with some well-deserved beer samples.
Beyond the food, other areas for exploration include Gastown, Vancouver’s old town, with its independent shops and cool bars, Downtown Vancouver for the main art gallery and also the opportunity to watch the sea planes bob in and out of the bay, Stanley Park for a leisurely cycle around the sea wall where you’ll catch glimpses of totem poles or hire a speed boat at Granville Island and hurtle round the bay to take in this amazing city from another perspective.
Having explored the city on a previous visit, I was itching to get closer to Mother Nature this time. I want to see a grizzly bear, is that too much to ask?! Evidently it isn’t, as there’s two living on nearby Grouse Mountain, but for the thrill of seeing one in the wild you will have to go a little further afield. We headed to Banff and Jasper National Parks (a short flight or a long drive away), where every picture you take looks like it’s been Photoshopped and bears casually stroll out in front of your car. It was more than a little scary hiking and being warned to stay in groups, carry bear spray, wear a little bell so they know you’re coming and not run away if faced with one! I defy anyone to be able to stay composed enough to achieve that last bit of advice. If I can impart some wisdom on the subject it is to avoid endless hours of YouTubing ‘bear attacks’ right before heading out into a Canadian forest.
If you don’t have time to go as far as Banff and Jasper, you can see black bears nearer to Vancouver and for even more wildlife head to Brackendale to see bald eagles or take a trip from Vancouver in search of Orcas, it’s hard to describe the thrill when you spot their tall black fins.
I finished my 2 week trip feeling like I needed more time and also, for the first time, I felt I had found a city I’d be willing to leave home for and could happily live in. I read recently that Vancouver has become the latest city to commit to running on 100% renewable energy and I think it just sums the place up, a small city completely committed to its natural surroundings. It’s in tune with a lifestyle that can be fast-paced or relaxed, urban or remote, giving its visitors and proud residents the best of both worlds.
Go soon! The pound is strong at the moment and your money will go a long way
Avoid expensive hotels and opt for an Airbnb apartment
If you have time…
Vancouver Island, Tofino – more incredible scenery, wildlife and surfing
Sea to Sky Highway – a stunning drive to Whistler
Banff and/or Jasper National Park – mind blowing scenery and a lot of bears
Kelowna/Okanagan – vineyards and wine tasting
And very importantly, what to wear!