Tourists from around the world attending the 2010 Winter Olympics are getting a chance to visit a dramatically beautiful city -- the "city of glass." Vancouver is, by common consent, one of the most striking city locations in the world. It is Canada's third largest city, surrounded by the waters of the Strait of Georgia and the Fraser River, and flanked by the dramatic Coast Mountains. Blessed with a mild climate, Vancouver is a city of beaches, great views, outdoor restaurants, a vigorous artistic scene, and a lifestyle which often makes permanent residents out of visitors.
Just over 100 years old, Vancouver was the home of several Native settlements before Spanish explorer Jose Narvaez anchored off Point Grey in July 1791. Captain George Vancouver charted Burrard Inlet and then made rendezvous with Spanish captains Galiano and Valdes on June 21, 1792. Vancouver was established as a village when "Gassy Jack" Deighton received a saloon permit in 1869, and the community at Burrard Inlet was in business where the restored Gastown area is now situated.
Vancouver is now a young, modern city, based on its large port facility, and its role as the financial center for Western Canada. Tourism is a very large industry in Vancouver. What attracts visitors to the city is its evident charm, the spectacular scenery, and the attractions which this environment promotes: sightseeing, boating, Canada's largest Chinatown, several excellent museums, gardens, wonderful parks and excellent shopping.
The central visitor infocentre is at the corner of Burrard and Hastings Streets, in downtown Vancouver, close to the waterfront and several major hotels, and to the main shopping district which is a few blocks north. Information is available for the Vancouver area and other parts of B.C. Other smaller infocentres are located on the major highways leading into Vancouver.
B.C. Ferries terminals are located at Tsawwassen (the town of Delta ) for service to Vancouver Island (Victoria and Nanaimo) and the Gulf Islands, and also in Horseshoe Bay (city of West Vancouver) for service to Bowen Island, Vancouver Island (Nanaimo), and Langdale (Sunshine Coast).
One of the best ways to get to know Vancouver is by taking a guided bus tour to get your bearings. Gray Line Tours is located in the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, 900 W. Georgia St., downtown. This long-established tour operator has basic daily tours that last 2 hours, with longer tours available.
Getting Around Vancouver
Vancouver is surrounded by water and bridges are a basic fact of life in the area, although traffic jams are rare, outside of rush hours. Two bridges link Vancouver and the North shore of Burrard Inlet: the Lions Gate suspension bridge from Vancouver's West End, and the Second Narrows Bridge to the east. The Burrard, Granville, and Cambie Street bridges cross False Creek in downtown Vancouver, while a series of bridges cross the arms of the Fraser River, leading to the suburbs of Richmond, Delta and Surrey. City maps are available at the downtown Vancouver Infocentre or may be purchased at gas stations.
B.C. Transit operates an effective transit system throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland area.
Two special forms of transit offer tourists special rides. SkyTrain, the region's rapid transit system, is an elevated, automated light rail service running from Downtown Vancouver through the cities of Burnaby and New Westminster to the far suburb of Surrey. This half-hour ride provides some exciting views of the city and mountains and is well worth taking just for the views. Another rapid-transit line "The Canada Line" runs from downtown to the city of Richmond and Vancouver International Airport. It was built before the 2010 Olympics. Catamaran harbour ferries, called Seabus, take passengers across Burrard Inlet from the downtown Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.
Major Vancouver Communities
The Lower Mainland of B.C. is divided into several cities by natural barriers including the Fraser River and Burrard Inlet. On the Vancouver side, Burnaby lies to the east and Richmond to the south. Vancouver International Airport is located on Sea Island in Richmond. Farther south are Delta and Surrey, on the U.S. border.
To the north, across Burrard Inlet, are the North Shore communities of North and West Vancouver. Here, scenic residential areas are situated on the Coast Mountains. Interesting smaller communities on the North Shore include Deep Cove, where Indian Arm joins Burrard Inlet, and Horseshoe Bay.
Bowen Island is the closest of the islands in George Strait and is a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay.
The City of Vancouver is divided into distinct communities, each with its own ambience. Kitsilano, Kerrisdale and Point Grey form the West Side of Vancouver, with great beaches and, at the tip of Point Grey, the University of B.C. Kitsilano is an almost nonstop parade of good restaurants. The West End is Vancouver's downtown, with an amazing mixture of high-and low-rise apartments, tall office towers, hotels, restaurants and bistros, chic shopping streets, beaches on English Bay and Stanley Park. The East Side features several immigrant communities including Chinatown and Commercial Drive with its cappuccino bars and continental atmosphere.
Vancouver is a city of parks and gardens, aided by the mild climate and a lack of frost during most winters. Outstanding gardens include the Asian and Nitobe (Japanese) gardens at the University of B.C., as well as the U.B.C. Botanical Garden. The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden is the only traditional Chinese garden built outside China. Located in Vancouver's notable Chinatown, this garden was designed in the Ming Dynasty style. Other garden areas include Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen Botanical Gardens in central Vancouver.
Beaches are found on English Bay in the downtown area (English Bay and Sunset beaches), in Stanley Park, and from Kitsilano Beach to Spanish Banks Beach on the West Side. Wreck Beach at Point Grey is Vancouver's renowned nude beach. It's down a cliff from the University of British Columbia.
Stanley Park, in the downtown West End, is a world-frenowned urban park, mainly forest with nature trails, but including a fine rose garden and the Vancouver Aquarium, the city's top visitor attraction. Several good restaurants are located within the park with lots of picnic areas and places for relaxing. Pacific Spirit Park is a purely natural forest park near the University of B.C.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is in North Vancouver, spanning a deep chasm, with gardens and waterfalls. For a complete picture of the area, take the Grouse Mountain Skyride from the top of Capilano Road, with views overlooking Vancouver and the Fraser River delta. In the winter, the Skyride takes you to the one of the area's popular ski slopes.
Several museums are well worth visiting. The best is the Museum of Anthropology at U.B.C., containing a re-created Haida village and displaying historical artifacts and the Native heritage of the province, with totem poles, carvings, dugout canoes, jewelry, and ceremonial gold objects.
Shopping is centered in the downtown West End area. Robson Street is filled with fashion boutiques and interesting restaurants, continental and otherwise. Canada Place is nearby -- a convention center located on the cruise-ship pier -- on the harbor, offering great views of the mountains and bustling harbor life. Granville Island, on False Creek, has a public market, fishing boats, restaurants, art galleries and shops -- a great people place. Gastown is the restored early-Vancouver district, with restaurants, clubs, pubs, and shopping.
Over the past twenty years, Vancouver has become a very good place to eat. Its multicultural community has burst out with a range of international cuisine that matches the finest large cities in the world. We can only give you a sampling of the exceptionally wide selection of good dining available in the area and have listed the city's top eating places, along with a couple of moderately-priced restaurants suitable for family dining, or for sampling on a short stay in the city.
Bishop's Restaurant, 2183 West 4th Ave, is a fine small restaurant in the Kitsilano area. John Bishop and his staff are famed for personal service and fresh, seasonal dishes. Reservations required, call (604) 738-2025. This restaurant cannot be recommended too highly. Bishop has made this restaurant a personal triumph, and a delight for diners. Prices are in the expensive range.
Since 1981, Raga has been staking it's claim as one of the premier, if not the premier East Indian restaurant on the Vancouver scene. A few challengers have gone and gone in that time but the Raga, like some overpublisized battery bunny, just keeps goin' and goin'. Their secret, a core clientale from far and wide that keeps coming back for a host of tandoori dishes, vegetable curries and the famous Raga butter chicken. The style is classic East Indian and portions are generous and moderately priced. Open for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended, 1177 West Broadway (604-733-1127).
A new restaurant in 1995, Lola's entry was dramatic and hugely successful. In 1996, Lola's finds itself mentioned in the same breath as the venerable Bishop's on 4th Avenue in Kisilano (see above). This "extremely now' and chic sort of place fortunately pays attention to the rather new maxim ... it's the food stupid! It's "simple, honest, and delicious" writes one critic while another, perhaps having imbibed too many champagne cocktails, states that "...... this restaurant steers an unpretentious path to glory." Were we all that lucky! Reservations recommended, 432 Richards Street (604-684-5652).
The Cannery Seafood House, seems to have been in Vancouver forever, although it's just a little more than 20 years since this deceptively rustic, shanty-style place opened on the Burrard Inlet waterfront. The restaurant offers fine seafood dishes, simply prepared with superb seasoning. In recent years, the chefs have added a mesquite grill and a slight Southwestern touch to the menu mixture. Costs range from moderate to expensive. It's located at 2205 Commissioner Street. For reservations and directions, call (604) 254-9606.
There are two Keg Boathouses, the Vancouver-city version is at 566 Cardero Street just east of Stanley Park. The second incarnation is in Horseshoe Bay, the terminus for the B.C. Ferries ships (6695 Nelson Avenue). Both boathouses serve seafood in picturesque waterfront settings, providing good eating and seaside fun for families and couples.
The Teahouse, at Ferguson Point in Stanley Park, is a special experience, offering dining in the spectacular park. The restaurant has a scenic location, fine views of English Bay, and reasonably good food. You'll find that the view and location makes the prices high..
A few years ago Hidekazu Tojo opened his eponymous restaurant in midtown Vancouver, at 202-777 West Broadway, at Willow. Tojo's was filled from the second day of operation, thanks to great reviews and word of mouth about the superb sushi served in this elegant restaurant.
Gastown is the restored pioneer settlement, located just to the east of the downtown waterfront area. Now, Gastown is a series of cobblestone streets, boutiques, restaurants, and night clubs.
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