Vancouver is a city that is both cosmopolitan and outdoorsy at the same time. The city offers the perfect blend of scenic beauty, delicious international cuisines, fantastic shopping, cutting-edge art and innovative architecture, all just minutes away from hiking, skiing, fishing and boating. What more could any traveler ask for. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Vancouver.
Vancouver’s Chinatown is home to the first Ming Dynasty-styled garden built outside of China, with 52 craftsmen coming from Suzhou, China, to ensure the authenticity of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Named in honor of the first president of the Republic of China, the garden takes visitors back to 15th century China, though it was built only in the mid 1980s. The garden’s rocks that were imported from Suzhou, plants, water and architecture blend into an oasis of serenity in this bustling city. The garden’s courtyards provide a good place for visitors to relax and let their senses take over.
Just as New York has its Madison Avenue and London has its Knightsbridge, Vancouver has Robson Street, the best shopping district in British Colombia. Named after a provincial premier, Robson Street has been attracting shoppers like honey draws flies since the late 1800s. Robson Street has more than just fashionable shops and upscale boutiques. It also offers art galleries, and casual and fine dining in various ethnic cuisines. Street performers come out in force at night to entertain shoppers or people-watchers who sip coffee at a sidewalk café.
The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is a must-see for anyone who wants to learn more about native peoples of the world, including British Columbia’s Northcoast Indians who are known as First Nations. Founded in 1949, the museum houses 38,000 ethnological items and more than 500,000 archaeological objects. Wonderful examples of huge totem poles, used by Northcoast natives to tell stories, can be found here as well as implements used by all indigenous peoples in their daily lives. Besides being a public museum, the Museum of Anthropology is Canada’s largest teaching museum, though it is difficult to imagine anyone studying in this spectacular setting that overlooks the sea and mountains.
Canada Place is a striking landmark on Vancouver’s skyline, with fabric-covered roof peaks that resemble sails. The facility itself is colorful with the colors representing the diversity found in Canada. Canada Place was built in 1927 to serve Canadian Pacific Railway and other traders shipping goods by sea across the Pacific Ocean. Today, the multipurpose facility sends passengers on cruises to Alaska. It also is home to the Vancouver World Trade and Convention Center and a major hotel. Remodeled over the years, the waterfront Canada Place served as the Canadian Pavilion during the 1986 World’s Fair.
The first people to climb Grouse Mountain, just 15 minutes outside of Vancouver, hunted grouse on their way to the top, thus giving the mountain its name back in 1894. Grouse Mountain today is one of the most popular year-round adventure attractions in Vancouver, with hiking in the summer and great skiing in the winter. Any season of the year, a tramway whisks visitors to the top of the mountain where they’ll see awe-inspiring views as well as nature movies. The resort also boasts a wildlife refuge, complete with bears, wolves and interpretive programs. Equally enjoyable is a lumberjack show where visitors can watch lumberjacks competitively chop, saw and roll logs.
Vancouver is home to the largest Chinatown in Canada, which got its start in the late 19th century with a large influx of Chinese immigrants. By 1890, there were 1,000 Chinese living here, building homes and businesses in buildings that are still used today. Tucked in among the restaurants that offer a wide variety of Chinese cuisines is a shrine to Jimi Hendrix, who lived here with his grandmother when he was a child. Also, tucked away on Pender Street is one of the world’s narrowest building; it’s just 2 meters (6 feet wide). Shanghai Alley is home to a West Han bell, a gift from the city of Guangzhou in China, to mark the 15th anniversary of Vancouver becoming a sister city.
Stanley Park is a treasure set on almost 1,000 acres in central Vancouver. The city’s first and biggest park is a place to relax with a bike ride on 8.8 kilometers (5.5 miles) of the seawall along English Bay. Meanwhile, 27 kilometers (16.7 miles) of trails through a rainforest beckon visitors who prefer a more leisurely pace as they stop to enjoy wildlife, such as the hundreds of species of birds that call the park home. The City of Vancouver, which owns the park, offers horse-drawn carriage rides through this serene and scenic setting. Nine totem poles carved by First Nations tribal members add a colorful touch to the park, which has been serving the city since 1888.
One of the most successful urban renewal projects in North America, Granville Island (actually a peninsula) started off as industrial land. Overtime, its warehouses and shops were abandoned and left to decay when the industry moved on. Today Granville Island serves many uses. A public market selling fresh produce and fish is open daily. There are waterfront restaurants, art galleries and a lively entertainment scene that offers everything from comedy to contemporary theatre, with plenty of buskers to entertain shoppers throughout the market and around the boutiques.
Gastown is Vancouver’s Old Town. The city’s original city center was named for a Yorkshire seaman, “Gassy” Jack Deighton, but became Vancouver in 1886. It was destroyed by fire that same year, and was quickly rebuilt, but deteriorated in later years. Gastown was reborn in the 1960s. Today, Gastown is Vancouver’s center for art, food, fashion and entertainment. As a national historic area, Gastown’s old buildings are filled with trendy shops and boutiques, innovative restaurants, traditional Native and cutting edge art, and a lively entertainment scene.
A walk through the forest takes on an entirely new meaning when it comes to the forest at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Visitors walk among the upper reaches of an old-growth rain forest on a suspension bridge that is 140 meters (460 feet) long and peaks at 70 meters (230 feet high) as it crosses the Capilano River. The park also offers Cliffwalk, a walkway that clings to the side of a granite cliff, and Treetops Adventure where seven suspension bridges are as high as 30 meters (100 feet) above the forest floor, with platforms where visitors get a squirrel’s eye view of the forest. Less adventuresome visitors will enjoy strolling a ground trail and seeing Totem Park and Northwest natives making traditional crafts.