Newest Review: ... attractive way to see the city. We found Vancouver a very attractive city. We would often walk from our hotel, up and over and down to ... more
Plenty of Gas but no Gators
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 06/10/11, updated on 06/10/11 (46 review reads)
Advantages: An attractive city with plenty of interests for a week-long visit
Disadvantages: It's a long way to go for just a week ; the Canadian Dollar/Pound Sterling exchange rate - Ouch!
We were travelling with Inghams and they had laid on a coach to take all those returning to the UK to Vancouver Airport. There were two couples, including ourselves, who were taking an extended stay and, although the tour booking did not require them to do so, the local Inghams rep had organised for the coach to take the route to airport through Vancouver city and drop us off outside our hotels, so we didn't have to make a separate journey back into the city from the airport! Top marks, Inghams!
Whilst Vancouver is BC's largest city, those of you who were paying attention during Geography will know that it isn't the capital. That honour is reserved for Victoria, on Vancouver Island, a very much smaller town. Vancouver consists of a commercial heart called Downtown, a peninsular jutting out into Vancouver Bay; to the North, suburbs and beyond the small ski resort of Grouse Mountain; and to the south, more residential suburbs, where the airport is also located.
We were staying at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, across the road opposite the Canada Place conference centre, which sits on the edge of the bay and next to one of the ferries across to the North Shore. This is one of several hotels owned and operated by this hotel chain, in Vancouver and throughout Canada. It's definitely at the upper end of the quality bracket but we got to stay there at a reasonable price as part of our overall package.
Canada Place, across the road from the hotel, is worth a visit. The pavement here, running alongside the building, has tiles listing all of the provinces and major towns and cities of Canada. Take a walk and see how many you recognise.
Further along, towards Stanley Park, is the Olympic Flame from when the Winter Olympics was held here. The flames are now only lit on special occasions. Fortunately, one of those was during our stay: Vancouver's official 125th birthday. Great celebrations both by the Vancouver residents and visitors and also by the indigenous peoples of the area. Very colourful and great entertainment. Here is also the giant "Lego" Killer Whale!
Oddly named as it is on the north side of the city and consists largely of skyscrapers! Down it most definitely isn't. Neither is it all commercial. A 1,000 acres of the tip of the peninsular is given over to the delightful Stanley Park, named after Lord Stanley, one time Governor General and also of Stanley Cup ice hockey fame. From here Lions Gate Bridge provides one of the road crossing to the North Shore and on to the skiing areas such as Whistler.
Vancouver is built on the traditional North American grid pattern so finding your way around the city is really not difficult. Allied to that, the city isn't all that large, certainly not compared with European cities such as London or Paris. Getting around on foot is quite easy but does require a certain fitness since the Downtown peninsular consists of a central ridge which runs its length, up to Stanley Park, with the city mostly sitting on either slope, leading down to English Bay - Coal Harbour on one side and False Creek on the other.
We walked just about everywhere but then we normally do in most cities; I believe it's the only sure way of getting to see everything. Having said that though we did, on a couple of occasions, take the buses and the SkyTrain modern rail service. The buses are not expensive but be aware that you have to provide exact money for every journey or else invest in a travel card from the Tourist Office. There are also SeaBus ferries along False Creek, which you can pick up and drop off at various points and which make a very attractive way to see the city.
We found Vancouver a very attractive city. We would often walk from our hotel, up and over and down to the southern shore of the peninsular and from there walk along the shoreline towards Stanley Park. Along the way there are many attractions, not the least being bars and restaurants at which to take a rest and refreshment. Three of four hours of a leisurely stroll would enable you to circumnavigate the peninsular with ease.
Telus World of Science
Situated at the head of False Creek, this attraction, with its unmistakeable "Golf Ball" roof, is actually very much more a place to take very young children. It is a hands-on introduction to science and the exhibits are designed specifically to hold the attention of the very young whilst trying to teach them something about the science that defines our environment.
However, the "Golf Ball" on the top floor houses a huge wrap-round screen cinema where daily there are films on various science subjects. The presentations are of the sort found at many such attractions such as the one at Futurascope in Poitier, France. The one we saw was a space oriented film, which was particularly suited to this type of screen. As it's all indoors, could be a good visit on a rainy day.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Set right in the heart of the Downtown, this gallery is typical of the sort that you find in major cities. Again, an ideal visit on a rainy day and you ticket allows return visits at no extra cost, so you don't have to "do" it all in one go.
The gallery is very much oriented towards modern art, though not exclusively so. We found it very interesting, especially as we had not long before visited the Tate Modern at Bankside in London.
SalaThai - This was actually the last meal we had in Vancouver before our return. We chose it only really because we hadn't eaten Thai at all during our stay in Canada and were feeling a little deprived. As it turned out, this was a good choice. A nice meal with good food and pleasant surroundings though a fair bit more expensive than most of the places we had eaten. A good place for a special occasion.
English Bay Boathouse - A brilliant restaurant and a must to visit. On Beach Ave, on the southern shore and just before reaching Stanley Park, overlooking the bay. The view from a window seat on the first floor is spectacular although, at the time of our visit construction work was going on across the road beside the beach. I hope it doesn't get so high as to spoil the view! We had a superb, leisurely and filling lunch there for a not unreasonable price.
Cardero's - Beside the marina and just before you enter Stanley Park, this restaurant of wood is built on stilts over the water. Inside the atmosphere is very "frontier". The food was enjoyable and the service good although this is a fairly pricey location. Still, worth a visit.
Provence Marinaside - Great place for a lunch. Beside False Creek and close to one of the waterbus stops, the restaurant has an outside terrace facing south to capture the sun. We enjoyed a delightful light lunch in the sun before setting off to catch a waterbus to Granville Island.
Laguna Blu - Advertised itself as a Tapas Bar but the eventuality was quite disappointing. We had chosen it purely because it was in the right place at the right time. The dishes on offer really didn't merit a tapas description and, had we realised we probably would have passed it by. Also, not the cheapest by any stretch.
Much more forested than a typical European City Park, probably more reminiscent of something like the Lost Gardens of Heligan. A roadway winds its way all around the outside and many roads and pathways wind their way across it. Three or four features of interest can be found there.
Totem Park - a collection of totems both new and old, representing the various peoples that have lived in the region for centuries.
Beaver Lake - as the name implies, the location of a number of beaver families, now under threat by the [natural] silting up and drying out of the lake. Although the lake was at one time quite large it is following the lifespan that all such spring-fed lakes follow. All around the outside, evidence can be seen of beaver activity, repairing their lodges and damming streams. What they will do in 100 years time, when the lake is gone, anyone can guess.
Rose Garden - It's name says it all. Sadly, we were there in very early Spring and so really didn't get the full effect of what must be a very impressive display, when in full bloom.
The Aquarium - A delightful way to spend a morning or an afternoon. I did feel a little sad for some of the larger creatures though: the Belugas did show some evidence of repetitive activity that is normally linked to boredom although they did have a fairly large pool. Mostly, however, the creatures seemed unaffected by their captivity and the tanks appeared clean and well tended. I would recommend a visit.
This oddly-named district is at the foot of Downtown and is a highly popular destination for entertainment, food and drink. We ate here frequently, finding many restaurants of different styles and price ranges. You could be lost for choice.
The district is named after Gassy Jack Deighton, a gold prospector and tavern owner of the mid-19th century. His statue stands at a major crossroads near the boundary between Gastown and Chinatown.
The main street of Gastown is Water Street, a wide, cobblestone road which lends the area a distinctly Victorian, unchanged feel. The street is lined end-to-end with restaurants and bars, interspersed with shops. A major local attraction is also the Steam Clock, which whistles a tune on the quarter-hours and in between leaks steam that makes it look almost alive.
By no means did we try them all: there simply wasn't time, even if we had eaten every meal there, each time in a different outlet. Of those we tried we can recommend:
The Old Spaghetti Factory - OK, the name sounds a bit naff but in fact we found this one of our most enjoyable locations and by far the very best value for money. A very large space, created out of the ground floor of an old warehouse, it is divided up by wood and glass screens into distinct areas, both large and small. Some can be reserved in their entirety for meetings and other special occasions. The food is excellent and the service friendly and prompt. It does get very popular, especially in the evenings but we never had any problems getting in so long as we were prepared to wait a few minutes.
Al Porto - An Italian style restaurant, as the name implies. Actually just off Water Street so watch out for the sign. A much more cosy atmosphere and certainly somewhere for a more "romantic" meal. Food is good and reasonably priced although the local wines are quite pricey but then we did find that most places we ate.
Sitar - Actually just outside Gastown, opposite the Gassy Jack statue, on Powell Street. We had to try at least one Indian restaurant, just to see if they could be as good as those with which we in the UK are blessed. This one wasn't at all bad and the surroundings, in two combined old shops, provided a nice atmosphere. The food was good and certainly up to the average standard you would find at home, and the price quite reasonable.
Next door to Gastown, we didn't explore it more than a single morning. It seems to have a good collection of restaurants but, for some unknown reason, the guides suggest not to visit at night. During our daytime visit it didn't look at all dangerous so maybe we missed out. Apart from the almost obligatory Chinese Gateway, the other attraction here is the Sun Yat Sen Garden. This little haven from the city is quite attractive although not entirely well maintained. Nevertheless, it is worth a visit.
South of Downtown, and across False Creek, you can reach this district by a couple of bridges and by the waterbuses that ply their trade along False Creek. The guidebooks recommend a visit here but don't think that this is all an area of interest. Most of the island is industrialised, especially at the eastern end and elsewhere uninteresting mixes of local shops and housing. The only thing of real interest on Granville Island is the market at the western end, best reached by waterbus.
This you really must visit. It largely consists of indoor market stalls and the size of the covered area is very large. There is an enormous choice of different stalls though mostly they are food related. Being undercover, this is an ideal place to spend a few hours if the weather isn't good. The stalls include many ready-to-eat outlets so you can spend a while relaxing with a nice snack during your visit.
It is possible to stay in Vancouver and still get in some skiing. North Vancouver, opposite Canada Place, on the other side of English Bay, across from Coal Harbour, rises up spectacularly and the snowy mountain top can be clearly seen from the city. You can catch a bus from the city that will take you right up to the gondola to the peak.
By the number of people boarding the bus with skis and snowboards, this is clearly a popular destination for Vancouver residents. We didn't take the opportunity to ski but we did visit the resort after first taking in another attraction. Clearly quite a small area, nevertheless it would be perfectly adequate for a day's skiing during a visit to Vancouver.
We had a meal there during our visit, in The Observatory restaurant that overlooks English Bay and Vancouver far below. A perfectly decent lunch and a spectacular view.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
This was the other visit on the day we went to Grouse Mountain. Halfway up the lower slopes of the mountain, the bus drops you off virtually outside. The main feature of this attraction is, as the name suggests, a footbridge stretched across a deep gorge with a raging river far below. Well, not exactly raging when we were there but then the snows were not yet in full melt.
The views from the bridge are superb and at the other end you are led around forest pathways and "treetop" walkways. The whole experience is very enjoyable with its views of wildlife flora and fauna. Also on display is the remains of a giant tree which fell across the bridge during a recent storm. The tree didn't break the bridge: each supporting cable has a breaking strain of 60 tons. Nevertheless the tree had to be removed piece by piece in order to avoid the bridge rebounding when the full weight was removed.
We did greatly enjoy our visit to Vancouver and just wished we had had more time and that the weather had been generally better. Most of all we would have liked to have visited Vancouver Island and the capital city of Victoria. We understand it is a really worthwhile day out. You can reach there quickly by float-plane from the Coal Harbour seaplane terminal or take one of the many sea routes.
Vancouver may not be a big city but there is more than enough to occupy a week-long visit. We found the Vancouver people very friendly and enormously helpful, so justifying the reputation Canadians seem to have justifiably earned. Most of all, visit the Tourist Information Office opposite Canada Place where you will get loads of leaflets, free advice and help to make your visit one to treasure.
Summary: A very enjoyable stay as part of a two-city ski/sight-see holiday