Long before the Europeans discovered what is now called Vancouver, the coastal area in which the city stands was inhabited by the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Xwméthkwyiem First Nations peoples for thousands of years. In 1792, British Captain George Vancouver, the city’s eventual namesake, arrived in the Burrard Inlet and found that the Spanish had already claimed the surrounding land. It was the British, however, who persevered in their exploration of this part of the west coast, and eventually kickstarted the lumber industry.
Initially just a sleepy timber town, Vancouver saw its fortunes transformed when, in 1887, the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to move their terminus to what was then called Granville (and quickly renamed Vancouver). The population of the city exploded as new transportation links drew thousands of European and Asian settlers to the area, and by the beginning of the 20th century, Vancouver was becoming a major international port. Today, this city of gleaming glass skyscrapers surrounded by stunning ocean and mountain scenery is a fast-paced multicultural destination. World-class museums, plentiful green spaces, and a renowned food scene continue to draw in visitors from all over the globe.
1. Waterfront and Gastown
One of the largest and busiest ports on the continent, the Waterfront is Vancouver’s heart. A block away is Gastown, its origin as a tough mill town masked by graceful heritage buildings built in the boom years of the early 1900s.
One of Vancouver’s oldest areas, Gastown faces the waters of Burrard Inlet and lies between Columbia Street in the east and Burrard Street in the west. The district grew up around a saloon, opened in 1867 by John “Gassy Jack” Deighton whose statue can be seen on Maple Tree Square. Today, Gastown is a charming mix of cobblestone streets, restored 19th-century buildings, and storefronts. Chic boutiques and galleries line Powell, Carrall, and Cordova streets, and several eateries open onto Blood Alley, named after the city’s first slaughterhouses. On the corner of Water and Cambie streets, visitors can hear the musical chimes of the steam clock every 15 minutes.
2. Stanley Park
This beloved green oasis in the middle of the city offers a vast area of natural West Coast rainforest to explore. Discover hiking and biking trails among majestic cedar trees, gaze up at colorful totem poles, and enjoy scenic views of the ocean from the Seawall.
Stanley Park is a magnificent 1,000-acre (405-ha) area of tamed wilderness. The land here was originally home to the Musqueam and Squamish First Nations tribes, but was used by the colonialists as a military reserve because of its strategic position. In 1888 it was established as a city park, dedicated to Governor General Stanley. Today, the park is filled with natural, cultural, and historical landmarks, sandy beaches, rocky coves, and beautiful picnic areas. Local wildlife, ever-blooming gardens, and the meandering Seawall – a 5.5-mile (9-km) perimeter trail that can be walked, jogged, or biked – are all part of this amazing urban escape. The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, where visitors can get up close to various species of marine and jungle life, including sea lions, sharks, penguins, fish, birds, monkeys, and reptiles.
For spectacular views, head to Prospect Point. Set on the northernmost tip of the peninsula, this is the park’s highest point, with panoramas stretching across the waters of Burrard Inlet to the Coast Mountains.
3. Granville Island
This bustling island in False Creek attracts millions of visitors every year. Where once heavy industries belched noxious fumes, there’s now artisanal breweries, top comedy clubs, an array of street entertainment and a lively market overflowing with local produce.
Today, this once down-trodden industrial district has a glorious array of boutiques, galleries, and artists’ studios in its brightly painted warehouses and tin sheds. There are very few chain stores on the island, and the smaller stores, known for their originality and quality, display a range of local arts and crafts. The island is also a center for the performing arts, and boasts several music, dance, and theater companies. The Public Market, which is always buzzing with both visitors and locals alike, offers a cornucopia of foods.
Choose from locally grown blueberries straight from the Fraser Valley, or cherries and peaches picked ripe from Okanagan orchards. Fresh wild salmon, crab, scallops, and shrimp are piled high, while cheeses, charcuterie, and maple syrup products tempt you at every corner. The food court, too, has a dizzying array of choice, from sushi to pizza, and curry to souvlaki. And if that’s not enough to satisfy a hungry appetite, the island is full of other dining options, from waterside cafes to cozy pubs and breweries.
4. Museum Of Anthropology at UBC
Founded in 1947, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia campus is renowned for its displays of Pacific Northwest First Nations craftsmanship.
After entering the museum front doors and walking down a short ramp, the space opens up to the light-filled, glass-and-concrete structure of the Great Hall. Glass walls that reach 50 ft (15 m) high are lined with full-size totem poles and carved figures, while traditional canoes and other works flank the surrounding walls/
Arranged in a labyrinth of glass displays, these spaces house more than 9,000 cultural objects from all around the world. From delicate Inuit bone carvings to West African tribal masks, Chinese opera costumes and Indonesian puppets, there’s an almost overwhelming amount of diverse artifacts to admire. Below the display cases are even more pieces to browse through, hidden in drawers just waiting for an eager visitor to open.
5. Science World
Overlooking the waters of False Creek is a 154-ft- (47-m-) high steel geodesic dome that houses Vancouver’s science center, Science World. The dome was designed for Expo ‘86 and is now one of the city’s most striking land marks. In the Eureka! Gallery, visitors can experiment with light, water, sound, and motion.
The Search Gallery lets visitors explore nature, while the Puzzles and Illusions Gallery boggles the mind with its optical tricks and hands-on challenges. Children aged 0–5 learn through play as they climb, build, and splash within the Wonder Gallery. The outdoor Ken Spencer Science Park focuses on interactive environmental exhibits. The museum is renowned for its OMNIMAX® Theatre, which has the world’s largest dome screen. Movies that feature space exploration, discovery, and fun animation are shown here.
Vancouver’s Chinatown, the second-largest in North America, is older than the city itself. In 1858 the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived, drawn to Canada by the promise of gold. Jobs along the Canadian Pacific Railroad attracted even more Chinese workers in the 1880s. Today Chinatown stretches from Carrall to Gore streets and still provides a warm welcome for more recent Asian immigrants. Declared an historic area in 1970, Chinatown has restored many of its notable houses.
The main drag, Pender Street, is the best place to view the architectural details that decorate the upper stories of the buildings, such as highly painted wooden balconies. Whether buying mouthwatering duck or watching spicy dumplings (won tons) being made at top speed, the main attraction for the visitor is food. There is also a fascina ting range of stores, from bakeries to jewelers that specialize in jade. Other highlights include several relaxing tea rooms, as well as the nearby Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which holds weekly evening concerts of Chinese music under the soft light of lanterns during the summer months.
7. Queen Elizabeth Park and Bloedel Conservatory
Queen Elizabeth Park is located on Little Mountain, Vancouver’s highest hill, and offers fine views of the city. Despite being built on the site of two former stone quarries, the park’s gardens are continually in bloom from early spring.
The acrylic-domed Bloedel Conservatory is perched on top of the hill, and grows plants from many climatic zones in the world, from rainforest plants and trees to desert cacti. There are also freeflying colorful tropical birds and fishponds filled with Japanese carp.
8. Lighthouse Park
Named for the hexagonal lighthouse built at the mouth of Burrard Inlet in 1910 to guide ships through the foggy channel, Lighthouse Park is an unspoiled area of old growth forest and wild, rocky coast. The trees here have never been logged, and some of the majestic Douglas firs are over 500 years old. There is a variety of hiking trails in the park, some leading to a viewpoint near the 60-ft (18-m) Point Atkinson Lighthouse. On a clear day you can enjoy stunning vistas across the Strait of Georgia all the way to Vancouver Island. A two-hour hike leads walkers across the fairly rugged terrain of steep rocky outcrops with breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding area.
Wear good walking shoes, stay on the trails, and be prepared for inclement weather. The drive to the park itself is spectacular. Scenic Marine Drive winds along the West Vancouver coastline, clinging to rocky shoreline, and passing some of Canada’s priciest real estate. On the way, there are a couple of towns that are worth a stop. Ambleside has a long beach, from where there are great views of Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge. A seawall walkway leads to Dundarave Pier, with panoramic views sweeping across Vancouver to the Strait of Georgia. Dundarave itself is a small village with a pleasing cluster of shops and cafés.
9. BC Place Stadium
Standing out from the city’s skyline, the retractable roof of the BC Place Stadium was unveiled in 2011. When the arena opened in 1983, it had a white fabric roof and was the first covered stadium in Canada and the largest air-supported dome in the world. The versatile venue is able to convert in a matter of hours from a football field seating 60,000 people to a more intimate concert bowl seating half that.
Among the famous guests who have visited the dome are Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II. Visitors keen to catch a glimpse of a celebrity or two can take behind-thescenes tours (May–Oct: Tue– Fri only) to the locker rooms, playing fields, and media lounges. The stadium also houses the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which chronicles the history of the region’s sporting heroes.
10. Grouse Mountain
From the summit of Grouse Mountain visitors experience the grandeur of BC’s dramatic landscape and stunning views of Vancouver. On a clear day it is possible to see as far as Vancouver Island in the west, the Coastal Mountains to the north and toward the Columbia Mountains in the east.
The famous “Grouse Grind” is a tough 2-mile (3-km) trail to the peak, but most visitors choose to take the Skyride aerial tram way. In the summer there are many activities, including mountain-bike tours and hanggliding com petitions, plus logger sports such as chainsaw sculp ture. In the winter, the summit has all the amen ities of a ski resort, including 26 runs, ski schools, and 13 illuminated slopes for night skiing. At the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, an enclosed natural habitat that is home to two orphaned grizzly bears and one timber wolf, wildlife rangers give daily talks. The Theatre in the Sky presents videos that take viewers on an aerial tour of BC.
11. Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge has been popular since it was built in 1889. Pioneering Scotsman George Grant Mackay, drawn by the wild beauty of the place, had already built a small cabin overlooking the Capilano Canyon. Access to the river below was almost impossible from the cabin, and it is said that Mackay built the bridge so that his son, who loved fishing, could easily reach the Capilano River.
The present bridge, which dates from 1956 and is the fourth to be constructed here, hangs 230 ft (70 m) above the canyon and spans 450 ft (137 m), making it one of the longest such bridges in the world. Nature lovers are drawn by the views and the chance to wander through old-growth woods (trees that have never been felled) past a 200-ft (61-m) waterfall. The Treetops Adventure includes seven suspension bridges through evergreens, built 100 ft (30 m) above the forest floor. Not for the faint-hearted, the Cliffwalk has a series of narrow cliffside walkways jutting out above the Capilano River.