Downtown Vancouver BC was my first real introduction to Canada. I walked so much around the city that by the end of my trip I felt a certain intimacy with the city. I could navigate its grid-like roads remembering the popular ones as the reference point. It is an easy city – in many ways.
First and foremost – it is a city that loves to walk and is fit for walking. The downtown area is best done on foot. There are so many people walking that you naturally walk along. No wonder I did not see many gyms in the downtown area.
History of Vancouver City
Vancouver BC is located at the mouth of River Fraser. Archaeologically, there is evidence of it being inhabited for 8000-10,000 years. There are first nations people like Salish, Musqueam’s and Squamish have inhabited this area in the known history. However, as a city, it is a European settlement of the 1860s.
George Vancouver – a British naval captain first arrived in the city in 1792 CE. His chronicles talk about the pleasant landscape of the city. The city would later take his name. Hudson Bay Company set up their first trading post here in 1827. The gold rush brought thousands of people and hence was born the City.
Canada Pacific Railway connecting Vancouver to East Canada would play a significant role in bringing people here and shaping the city.
The influx of people continues to date.
My friends there asked me where else can you live in a city and a rainforest simultaneously. I did not have a ready answer to that. Step out of downtown and you are in the middle of the rainforest. One good place to see the flora of the region is to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge or some hiking trails around it.
The Maple tree – the iconic symbol of Canada is all over to see. Even in the urbanest parts, you will see a row of trees. If you go during the fall, as I did, you will see the hues of yellow, red and bright pink lining the city.
As a first-time visitor, you are likely to be confused with these names. Check out Google Maps and you will know they are three different entities. It is a metropolitan city. North Vancouver is another city on the other side of the Lions Gate bridge. Vancouver Island is a large island where the capital of British Columbia – Victoria is located.
Things to do in Vancouver BC
Ok, now let us wear the traveler hat and check out some cool places to see:
Flyover Canada is one of the latest attractions in the city. It is a virtual reality show that takes you over the Canadian landscape as if you are flying low all over the country.
Now, I am not really into these kinds of things, but our friends at Vancouver Tourism highly recommended this. So, one evening after it was dark and there was not much for me to explore, I decided to check out Flyover Canada. I am so happy I listened to these tourism guys.
It is definitely an experience worth having. Not only it takes you through the diverse landscapes of the country with breath-taking visuals but it also makes you feel a part of that. When it felt we are about to hit a rock, all of us raised our feet, when it passes close to a field, we feel a jerk and when it rains, light mist falls over you.
Now, I highly recommend Flyover Canada experience as one of the must-see attractions here. It is conveniently located at Canada Place. For the prices and timings check out their website.
Vancouver Art Gallery
The Art Gallery was one of the first things I explored in the city. It has an imposing colonial building that once used to be the main court building. The flight of stairs does give it an air of importance.
Visiting the Art gallery was my introduction to the modern and contemporary art of British Columbia. Check out this gallery of images from the Art Gallery.
You must see the Emily Carr collection – the most celebrated artist of British Columbia.
Check out their visiting exhibitions and other programs on their website. If you appreciate art, keep a couple of hours to explore the Art Gallery.
Walk around Gas Town
Gas Town is one of the oldest areas of the city. It is famous for a steam clock located right on the main road. Every hour you can hear it perform and at any time of the day you can see the steam coming out of it.
I was curious why this town is called the Gas Town and then on top of it a steam-emitting clock. However, they are not as connected as they seem. Gas Town gets its name from a Gassy Jack Deighton – an English seaman, whose statue can still be seen in the street. It is one of the oldest settlements in the city, the original downtown if I can say. The steam clock commemorates the times when the Gas Town had a steam-powered heating system.
It is a happening place even today with bustling boutique showrooms and eateries. There is a youthful buzz around the town in a vintage setting. This is a good place to go shopping or to try some fusion food.
Yaletown is actually the erstwhile rail town. This is where the Canada Pacific Railway ended. The area was once full of railyards and warehouses. Many factories came up in the vicinity. An Expo in 1986 brought a new lease of life to this area when it underwent redevelopment. There are some streets like Hamilton street and mainland street where you can still see the old buildings. Most of the rest of the area in this part of downtown is a recent development.
Like Gas Town, Yaletown is also full of happening restaurants and bars interspersed with designer boutiques. Is that not a perfect combination for a tourist location – have a lot of options to eat, meet and shop.
It was on my list to get the bird’s eye view of the city. Ever since I went on top of Empire State building in New York and saw the massive high-rise buildings look like lego blocks, the tall viewing spaces have fascinated me. I enjoyed it in Thailand from the 84th floor of Baiyoke Sky Hotel. I think most cities in the western world have a vantage point viewpoint in the city.
Video – 360 degrees view of the City
You get a 360 degrees view of the City. Canada place with its giant sails looks beautiful. Gas Town with railway lines running parallel to it takes you back in time. The Stadium catches your eye in the evenings with its magnificent lighting. You can see the streets of downtown running in a grid manner. If you go with a local friend they would be able to point out anything in the city from here.
You get to read some trivia about the city like the famous people who were born here or the important events that took place here.
I recommend you visit the Lookout twice – once during the day & once at night. The good news is that your tickets allow you any no of entries within a day. For more details, check their website.
Granville Island is located across the false creek from downtown. Like Yaletown this is also an industrial town turned tourist hot spot. Old warehouses now serve as artist studios, some of which you can enter and see. There is graffiti or street art as you like to see it. The biggest draw of Granville island is its Public Market.
Granville Island Public Market
It is a fairly large market enclosed in what looks a huge warehouse. Step in and it is a different world. The space inside is bustling with activity. There are people shopping for all kinds of things. In one corner people were eating freshly cooked food.
I took a walk through the aisles of the Granville Island public market. I have to admit that I was tempted to stop and buy many things. The jewelry designers were working on their new pieces while displaying the old ones. Bakers were churning out freshly baked items. I learned about the cinnamon records that seemed tempting like our Desi Jalebi.
There was a whole range of fresh fruits, dried fruits, and spiced dry fruits. I would let you see this gallery to admire this market.
After the market, I went to the false creek to admire the boats. You can easily spend half a day or more at Granville Island.
The city played the host for 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics. The glimpses of the Olympics can be seen across the city. There is a giant Inukshuk – the symbol of 2010 Olympic games can be seen while driving around.
Olympic village came up in a place that was once a salt trading center. In the middle of tall buildings built to accommodate the visiting athletes, stand the little memoirs of the past in the form of sculptures. I saw a giant sculpture of a house sparrow and another of a pile of salt. An open area had wooden log benches and on a rainy day, they presented a beautiful picture of the area.
There is nothing much to see in Olympic village apart from sculptures, but it is good to walk by or drive by it as it is a part of the city’s important milestone.
This beautiful park is not really a part of the downtown, but then it is hardly separate. Any city guide will tell you that Stanley Park is one of the must-do places.
I was fascinated to see the seawall – that is a perfect place to walk in nature while being in a big city. I also saw the images of Totem Poles in Stanley Park and wanted to see them. However, by the time I reached Stanley Park, I had seen enough of these Totem poles in Whistler & Victoria.
It was raining the day I went to Stanley Park, so I just drove through it, stopping here and there to take pictures while Alfred of Private Tours introduced me to the old trees of this park and showed me the best places to click Lion’s gate bridge. I did manage to see the Totem Poles – and these are the only ones that give you an explanation of the carvings on the poles.
This is the beautiful waterfront of downtown. On a pier of Canadian Pacific Rail, now stand giant sails that you can see from anywhere. It is a nice place to walk around.
This is where you can Flyover Canada. I saw a lovely interactive exhibition in one of the halls as I waited for my session of Flyover Canada.
In general, it is a multi-purpose place with a waterfront convention center, some shopping malls, and venues for big events.
During summers some walking tours are conducted here called The Canadian Trail.
Eat your Heart Out
It is a great place to explore fusion food. Being a place with so many immigrant communities, there is no dearth of cuisines you can find here. The highlight is the experimental fusion food which essentially means that the food you get at these outlets is unique.
I tried my hands at as many types of food as I could in and around.
In my next post on Canada, I will take you slightly on the outskirts across the Lions’ Gate Bridge.