With an enviable waterfront setting, ski resorts in the nearby mountains and gorgeous urban parklands, Vancouver is one of Canada's prettiest cities. It enjoys a far milder climate than others in the country – snowfalls here are rare – and Vancouver consistently ranks highly in global quality of life polls. It's a popular outdoor recreation city and sports fans are well-catered for too, with home teams in ice hockey, football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse. With fine food and cultural amenities too, Vancouver is a cosmopolitan treat.
The list of things to do in Vancouver is a long one but as a start, orient yourself amid the city skyline from the observation deck of Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre. If the kids are in tow, they will be fascinated by more than 70,000 creatures at the Vancouver Aquarium. Science World and Vancouver Art Gallery are highly engaging too. Taking a harbour cruise gives you a different perspective on the city but one of the top attractions is not in the city itself; it's a 15-minute drive from downtown at Grouse Mountain. More than 1 million people visit annually to ride the gondola to the summit, ski, hike, whiz along the ziplines and see the wildlife refuge.
Vancouver's multicultural makeup makes this a great city for food. Vancouver restaurants are a smorgasbord of their own. With one of the largest Chinatowns in North America, a dim sum tasting tour might be a highlight for you. Or, find celebrity chefs in action at Tojo's (sushi), Chambar (Belgian fusion) and Il Giardino (Italian). Finding a good restaurant with an even finer view is always a travel favourite. So, if you'd like to sample Vancouver's waterfront dining, try Lift, Five Sails, Mill Marine Bistro or Dockside Restaurant & Brewing Company. Speaking of brews, if you want some of Vancouver's finest, made onsite at the pub, head to Steamworks in Gastown or Yaletown Brewing Co.
Vancouver accommodation has all the 'usual suspects': backpackers, bed and breakfasts, through to international brand 5-star luxury. Staying in the city centre, though pricier, will keep you handy to most places of interest. Vancouver also prides itself on an array of gay-friendly hotels – just ask if the property has TAG (Travel Alternatives Group) accreditation when you book. For the environmentally-conscious traveller with a high end budget, 'green' hotels include The Fairmont Waterfront and The Westin Bayshore. If Vancouver is your entry point to explore British Colombia, there are several wilderness lodges in the region.
Here's a rough guide to bagging the best bargains across Vancouver's array of neighbourhoods. Chinatown's summer weekend night markets are popular but you can always find Asian delicacies here, along with embroidered linens and silks. Downtown and Gastown combine historic parts of the city with high end fashion, gifts and antiques; alongside nightclubs, restaurants and the more tourist-oriented souvenir shops. Granville Street has a downtown and southern section: downtown includes the much-trumpeted Robson Street, top tier department stores and Pacific centre mall; South Granville has trendy galleries and interior design stores. Check out Granville Island too if you fancy the arts.
Vancouver like a Local
The locals here are a friendly bunch – so just say 'hello' back again. Know before you go that $1 and $2 coins are referred to as 'loonies' and 'toonies' respectively and whatever time of year you visit, it's always a good idea to have some layers and a fleece. Feeling hungry and someone offers you a japa dog? Don't worry about eating canines, this is a Japanese-style hot dog, plumped with Asian ingredients like daikon radish, seaweed, teriyaki sauce and fried cabbage. If you're going to Grouse Mountain and feeling energetic, take your hiking shoes and propel yourself up the 3-kilometre trail which takes about 90 minutes to complete.Then you can feel like a local.