Things to Love About: Vancouver

Vancouver skyline
The Vancouver Skyline from Granville Island {link url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/heydrienne/192325608/}(photo courtesy of heydrienne){/link}

So. Recent hockey-related rioting aside, most people agree that Vancouver is a pretty fantastic place. In fact, it’s consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world, and for good reason: combine the laid back vibe of the West Coast with mild weather, gorgeous scenery, locally grown wine, fresh produce and fish, and myriad outdoor activities practically right outside the door of your beautiful glass-walled high rise apartment, and you’ll understand why property values are soaring. It really is the way urban life should be. Really.

Of course, I have a rather personal bias. My husband proposed to me in Vancouver some years ago, after a long cross-country drive through the U.S. had left my hands semi-permanently frozen in the shape of a steering wheel grip, and my eyes fixed on the middle distance through the windshield. After days and days of nothing but flatlands and badlands and small towns, when we drove over the Lions Gate Bridge and saw the spires of white skyscrapers clustered against a backdrop of water and mountains, it felt like we were entering Oz. I was smitten (and that was before I spoke my everlasting “yes.”)

But when I say I love Vancouver, it’s not just the romantic in me talking. There are real reasons that you should think about this special city as a part of your next vacation itinerary. And while I could go on and on about the place, I’ve managed to condense it down to a manageable list. So here goes.

1. Civilized City Living

It seems like you can see water from just about everywhere when you’re downtown. Of course, that’s probably an exaggeration; but the way the ocean embraces this place, and the locals embrace the ocean, it’s hard to ignore. People leave work at a decent hour (before 5pm!), and head off to canoe, kayak, sail, or participate in some sort of water sports. Apartment buildings are built high, with large windows and balconies so everyone can appreciate being on an island, and yet the towers never overcrowd the sky. Families live downtown, too–it’s not just consigned to urban professionals or the elite, and there’s a thriving street culture, with markets and music and fresh air. I meant what I said about it being the way urban life should be.

2. Granville Island

Imagine if your weekend grocery shopping routine went something like this: you stepped out of your water view apartment and went down to a nearby dock, reusable shopping bags in hand, to get a ferry to the market. And not just any ferry, but a super-cute, 10-seater, looks-like-it-could-be-a bathtub-toy-from-far-away ferry. A few minutes after boarding, you coast over to Granville Island and walk through its public market filled with fresh produce, seafood, meats, spices, coffee, tea, and anything else you could dream up for dinner. Before you shop, you stop by some of the artists’ studios that line this little peninsula, grab a glass of wine by the water and leisurely write out your grocery list as you consider what’s fresh that day. After all, what’s the rush? There’s the lovely ferry ride home to look forward to, then a short walk to your building and an elevator ride back up to that wonderful apartment of yours. Of course, not every Vancouverite can afford the view or the proximity to the water, but Granville Island is accessible to everyone. And at $2.50 per ferry crossing, and with food browsing and sampling that’s often completely free, it’s an inexpensive and lovely way to spend a day.

Stanley Park totem pole

3. Stanley Park

Move over, Central Park. Stanley Park has got you beat: at 1001 acres, it’s 10% larger than its Manhattan counterpart, and it is much quieter, safer, and more environmentally diverse. Of course, the fact that it’s at the end of a peninsula, and surrounded on three sides by water, helps it in the noise department. So does the fact that it is heavily forested (with up to half a million trees!) But add to this the fact that it also houses an aquarium, beaches, children-friendly playgrounds, public pools, tennis courts, works of art like local Native American totem poles and a 5.5 mile seawall around its perimeter for runners, bicyclists, and walkers, and you’ll understand why it’s such a magnet to locals and tourists alike. Believe me, spend even a little time here, and you’ll get serious park envy.

4. It’s a Winter Sports Mecca

Name another major city where they rarely get snow, but are only a half an hour’s drive from excellent skiing and snowboarding. I don’t think it’s possible. For the lucky people of Vancouver, Cypress Mountain is, almost literally, right on their doorstep, and boasts 53 alpine ski runs as well as 19 kilometers of cross country tracks. Not to be outdone, the gorgeous ski town of Whistler, and Whistler-Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, are less than a 2 hour drive from downtown Vancouver along the breathtakingly beautiful Sea-to-Sky Highway. Mesh that with all of the brand-spanking-new facilities that were built for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and if you’re a winter sports enthusiast, it’s Elysium.

Lake Louise, near Banff in the Canadian Rockies

5. It’s the Gateway to the North and Regions Beyond

The great thing about Vancouver is it gets you thinking about places beyond Vancouver. Cruise ships line the pier, picking up passengers on their way to Alaska. Seaplanes land regularly in the harbor, off on regular routes other water-loving cities like Victoria and Namaimo. And tourists the world over use it as a base to explore the Wild North: the Canadian Rockies. Hop on a bus, and in hours you’ll be in a photographer’s paradise: snow-capped peaks, impossibly blue lakes, glaciers, evergreen forests. Just ask Darwin Wiggett, who has devoted himself to capturing brilliant images–and helping others to capture brilliant images–of this gorgeous corner of the world. It is an extraordinary place.

But don’t just take my word for it. You can learn more about Vancouverites’ love of their home city by visiting the Inside Vancouver Blog, which features stories written by citizens about upcoming events like the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition), a big city-wide celebration with amusement rides, music, exhibitions and food stalls. Not jealous of Vancouverites yet? How about the free ballroom dancing in Robson Square? Or the annual fireworks competition? Or the Shakespeare in the Park? Or the free summer lunchtime concerts?

Whatever the reason for your visit to Vancouver might be, or whatever your budget, let TakeTours get you there. Our vendors offer multiple sightseeing trips to Vancouver and British Columbia, as well as tours of the Canadian Rockies at reasonable prices.