VANCOUVER has long been a hot spot for Australian travellers using the cosmopolitan west-coast settlement as a launching place to explore the vast maple-leaf land sprawling to the north and east.
But there’s so much to British Columbia’s biggest city, an energetic metropolis made up of dynamic neighbourhoods each boasting a unique personality, it’s worth lingering a little longer during a grand tour around Canada.
When should I visit?
Vancouver is a year-round destination but those with an aversion to the cold should avoid the place between January and March when the winter chill descends and brings snow to the peaks north of the metropolitan area.
Summer strikes between July and September but the northern locale means the mercury rarely soars to searing, spring settles between April and June when it’s possible to ski Grouse Mountain in the morning and cycle Stanley Park in the afternoon, and October to December brings abundant autumn colour.
How do I get there?
There are direct Air Canada flights from Sydney and Brisbane but that’s far from the only alternative with Cathay Pacific going via Hong Kong, Air New Zealand travelling through Auckland, Philippine Airlines using its Manila hub, and both JAL and ANA transiting in Tokyo.
Those keen to travel through the USA can fly Qantas, Virgin Australia, American Airlines, Delta and United to Los Angeles – or the Flying Roo to San Francisco – with North American carriers completing the journey.
How can I get into town from the airport?
The easiest and most economical way to travel between Vancouver International Airport and the neat grid of streets marking the settlement’s bustling Downtown is on the Sky Train’s Canada Line with the journey taking 20 minutes.
Where should I stay?
There are 25,000 hotel rooms in Vancouver with 13,000 suites located Downtown on the peninsula between False Creek and Burrard Inlet.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim in a smart address offering rooms framing vistas across the water to North Vancouver’s peaks, the Listel is the city’s “most art-full hotel’’ perfectly positioned for those keen to savour Robson Street’s delights, and the plush Hotel Le Soleil is an all-suite abode occupying a central location.
Splurge at the Shangri-La Hotel (below), try the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel for a helping of history, or make reservations at The Burrard which is a 1950’s motel renovated to be one of the CBD’s most quirky places to sleep.
If rates climb too high in the heart of town cast an eye south to Richmond or east to Burnaby with both suburbs served by Sky Train services.
Burnaby’s modern Element Vancouver Metrotown (below) – a green option from the Westin group – is an eight-minute walk from Metrotown station and opposite a supermarket making it easy to buy provisions and use the kitchen in every suite for an economical self-catering stay.
How do I get around?
Hire a bike to pedal around Stanley Park or follow the tracks flanking False Creek, use one of the three Sky Train lines to dart around town with all-day tickets costing $CAD10, catch a bus to explore the colourful neighbourhoods, or lace up the walking shoes and simply wander around this most “walkable” city.
Ride the SeaBus across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver or potter around False Creek – from Granville Island to Yaletown and the Olympic Village to Creekside Park – on the cute vessels operated by False Creek Ferries or Aquabus Ferries.
What should I do first?
Granville Island is the eating, shopping, entertainment and artistic hub on the south side of False Creek – between the Olympic Village and Kitsilano – where visitors can effortlessly appreciate the casual cadence that makes this Canadian outpost special.
Arrive hungry and eat up big at stalls inside the Granville Island Public Market sheds (above) – Bon Macaron Patisserie, Terra Breads, Benton Brothers Fine Cheese, and Lee’s Donuts are all worth attention – then wander the alleys to meet craftspeople creating artisan alcohol to quench that sightseeing thirst.
Shoppers can spend hours on Granville but be sure to visit The Net Loft to browse the stationery at Paper-Ya, pictures at The Postcard Place, exotic treasures and hand-dyed fabrics at Maiwa Handprints (below), and cute threads for little people at Parade Organics Baby Co.
Should I make time to shop?
High-street brands line Robson Street, Metropolis at Metrotown is British Columbia’s largest shopping mall, there are indie boutiques along West 4th Avenue in trendy Kitsilano, and Alberni Street is the zone for luxury labels.
Historic Gastown is not only a hub for interior design but the spot to buy creations from Vancouver’s eminent fashion designers, the South Granville blocks across the Granville Street Bridge are known as Gallery Row, and the stretch of Main Street between 20th and 23rd avenues is a corridor of cool.
A new addition is the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet beside Vancouver International Airport – ride the Canada Line to Templeton Station – with factory stores from North America’s most famous brands now open.
What should I eat?
Seafood is the settlement’s signature dish with Vancouver Aquarium developing the Ocean Wise conservation project to help diners find restaurants using sustainable practices when sourcing ingredients from the deep and marking the menu with special symbols to make ordering easy.
Sign up for one of Vancouver Foodie Tours’ guided gourmet experience with the Granville Island Market Tour, World’s Best Food Truck Tour, and Gourmet Gastown some options.
The annual Dine Out Vancouver festival will happen between January 20 to February 5 in 2017 with 250 restaurants offering $20, $30 and $40 menus and more than 80 events from cooking classes to street-food celebrations in the diary.
Where can I take the kids?
Vancouver Tourism describes the destination as “one giant adventure playground’’ so start by riding a horse-drawn carriage around Stanley Park, visit The Maritime Museum, drop into the MacMillan Space Centre, and see the Vancouver Aquarium.
Granville Island has the Kid’s Market, Science World at Creekside Park (above) is packed with hands-on displays, tots can paddle at the Kitsilano Pool when the heated saltwater pond is open during summer, and the Vancouver Trolley Company operates a fun sightseeing hop-on/hop-off trolley that takes in the tourist stops.
Should I venture outside the city?
Venture across Burrard Inlet to Grouse Mountain and do the new Skyride Surf Adventure and Breakfast with the Bears, dash for the deep on a sightseeing vessel to meet the region’s resident orca pods, and catch a floatplane to spend the day in Victoria on Vancouver Island with “royal afternoon tea” at the Fairmont Empress (below).
What about tipping?
While Aussies often stress about tipping in the United States they rarely give it a second thought in Canada but it’s also the custom north of the border with those working in restaurants expecting 15 or 20 per cent after a meal, a few dollars for help in a hotel, and a note or two after a day of guiding.
Vancouver Aquarium is one of the world’s leading marine science centres and is home to more than 70,000 animals, including whales and dolphins, and permanent exhibitions like the Amazon Gallery and Frogs Forever display. See vanaqua.org
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival is in the diary for June 1 to September 23 in 2017 with the annual event, which welcomes more than 100,000 people from around the world every year, home to performances ranging from the traditional to innovative.
Mainstage Theatre hosts two Shakespearean productions each season with the back of the tent open so actors perform against the city skyline and mountains across Burrard Inlet. See bardonthebeach.org
Hot + happening
Vancouver’s biggest asset is the mosaic of interesting neighbourhoods and while Gastown, Yaletown, Chinatown, Granville Island, West End and Kitsilano are some of the more famous make time to explore enclaves like SoMa, Railtown, South Granville, and Mid Main. See tourismvancouver.com