Thu10302014

Travel

Visiting Vancouver Western Canada's premier destination has much to offer


Photos courtesy of TOURISM VANCOUVER
Outdoor adventures abound in and around Vancouver, including a boat excursion into Horseshoe Bay and a jaunt on the Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, among the most popular attractions in British Columbia.

Last month, the Town Crier published our travel feature on Victoria, Richmond and Steveston in British Columbia. As an extension of that trip, we spent a busy, fun-filled 10 days in Vancouver.

As much as we enjoyed the other three cities, the cosmopolitan and larger Vancouver offered more attractions and activities than the other cities combined. Following are the highlights.

Accommodations and dining

While in Vancouver, we stayed at three different hotels to experience various neighborhoods and types of accommodations.

For the first couple of nights, we stayed at the lovely Coast Coal Harbour Hotel (coasthotels.com) in the waterfront area. The amenities included the Coal Harbour’s rooftop deck with lap pool, hot tub and health club; the hotel’s signature Prestons restaurant (dineprestons.com); and views of the harbor from our room.

The next few nights we camped out at The Burrard (theburrard.com), an extremely hip, avant-garde, reasonably priced hotel offering something we’d never seen at a hotel: unlimited free phone calls to anywhere in North America. Now that’s a great perk! Other appreciated high points included use of free cruiser bikes and passes to the nearby Steve Nash Fitness World & Sports Club (snclubs.com), owned by the NBA star.

We spent our final few days at the Empire Landmark Hotel (empirelandmarkhotel.com), holding claim as the tallest hotel in downtown Vancouver and featuring moderate rates, unbelievable views from nearly all rooms and the superb top-floor Cloud 9 Revolving Restaurant (cloud9restaurant.ca). Our dinner at Cloud 9 was one of the three best meals we had in Vancouver, and the incredible nightlight views added a wonderful romantic flair.

Another favorite dining experience was the trendy Pourhouse Restaurant (pourhousevancouver.com), located in the funky Gastown district. The Pourhouse is popular with both locals and tourists, so be sure to make reservations in advance.

Our most casual, yet still worthy of note, dining stop was Giovane Cafe + Winebar (giovanecafe.com), an Italian-inspired deli-bakery-winebar-market-cafe-shop all rolled into one delightful culinary experience in the stunning Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel (fairmont.com).

Sites and activities

Downtown Vancouver is quite walkable, much like the smaller Victoria.

Start at the Vancouver Lookout tower (vancouverlookout.com), which offers panoramic views and a real sense of the city’s beautiful surroundings.

The “wow” factor prevails at the iconic Canada Place (canadaplace.ca) with its FlyOver Canada experience (flyovercanada.com), a 4-D flight-ride that simulates a soaring plane trip across Canada from East to West.

After your virtual flight, hop onto the free shuttle from Canada Place to Grouse Mountain (grousemountain.com), home to the famous Grouse Grind hike (grueling), a tram to the summit with stunning views, all the winter and summer sports activities you’d expect at a world-class ski resort and engaging grizzly bear and timber wolf enclosures.

Head down the mountain on the shuttle and stop at the wondrous Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (capbridge.com), among the most popular attractions in all of British Columbia. Those not afraid of heights should not miss swinging and swaying on the plank bridge 230 feet above the Capilano River, traversing the Treetops Adventure over and through the rainforest or undertaking the unnerving Cliffwalk, the area’s newest intimidating attraction.

When your shuttle returns to town, sign up for one of the Forbidden Vancouver (forbiddenvancouver.ca) walking tours hosted by period-costumed guides to discover the yesteryear secrets and mysteries of early Vancouver.

Vancouver Foodie Tours (foodietours.ca) offers another unique walking tour that introduces food tastings at specialty restaurants, ethnic eateries and surprisingly upscale food trucks.

If you’d rather ride than walk, don’t miss jumping onto the Big Bus (bigbus.ca) hop-on, hop-off tour, which stops at all the city’s highlights. Be sure to circle world-renowned Stanley Park (vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/stanley-park) and step off at the Vancouver Aquarium (vanaqua.org), where you can enjoy daily beluga whale, dolphin and sea otter shows. For an unforgettable extra thrill, rarely available anywhere else in the world, sign up for an up-close and personal encounter with a beluga whale – it’s an amazing experience. Other highly recommended hop offs include Granville Island, home to the bustling Public Market, lively shops and a variety of dining choices; Gastown, where historic Vancouver is still alive and kicking; the Robson Street shopping district, where shopaholics congregate; Chinatown; and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Nearby excursions

We had time for a brief West Coast Sightseeing (vancouversightseeing.com) tour up to majestic Shannon Falls, followed by a short ride to the Whistler (whistler.com) resort area, home to numerous 2010 Winter Olympics events. While in Whistler, don’t miss the Peak 2 Peak Gondola and the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

Find time for a high-speed Sea Safari (sewellsmarina.com) boat excursion into Horseshoe Bay, Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia to take in the wildlife, island vistas and thrilling boat maneuvers by zealous, daredevil guides.

We strongly recommend at least a two-week vacation stay in Western British Columbia. And though we were there a full two weeks, a few extra days in Whistler to do more exploring of the beautiful environs would have been ideal.

For more information, visit tourismvancouver.com.

Ann and Don Shanahan have written travel articles for more than 25 years.

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