A Guide to Vancouver

Lotusland: where mountains, ocean, rainforest and modern city life converge. With international shopping and culinary delights, this cosmopolitan paradise is a hip destination with one of the most seductive urban settings in the world.

By the numbers

Population:631,000 (city); 2,463,400 (metropolitan)

Elevation: 46 meters / 151 feet

Time Zone: GMT -8; Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Weather

Average Annual Precipitation: 112 centimetres / 44 inches

Average Annual Snowfall: 5 centimetres / 2 inches

Average January Temperature: 4°C / 39°F

Average July Temperature: 17°C / 63°F

Did you know?

The environmental group Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver.

Vancouver has the mildest climate for a Canadian city.

The city is about 970 kilometers (603 miles) from Calgary, AB and just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the United States border.

District Guide

Vancouver is a city that has it all; Set between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains, Vancouver is blessed with both natural beauty and cosmopolitan flair. Gardens, parks, and beaches are as common here as heritage buildings, restaurants, and theaters.

While maintaining the laid-back attitude of North America’s West Coast, Vancouver has garnered an international spirit. As the third largest city in Canada, it boasts an unrivaled ethnic diversity and multicultural flavor. It’s young, lively, and the jumping-off point for many spectacular outdoor activities.

Downtown
Vancouver has vitality and style. Nowhere is this more evident than in the downtown core. Its first distinct feature is Stanley Park, located on the west end of Georgia Street. This 1000-acre (400-hectare) park includes an 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) Seawall promenade, old-growth forests, hiking trails, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

Downtown is the city’s largest shopping district. One of its main arteries is Robson Street, a highlight for both locals and visitors alike. Brimming with fashion boutiques, coffee bars and trendy cafes, it is where the heart of this metropolis beats.

Robson street in autumn, Vancouver, Canada

Crossing Robson is Granville, a street that offers independent fashion stores and entertainment venues. Shops like John Fluevog Shoes and True Value Vintage are here, as well as the city’s “Theatre Row,” where concert, theatre, and cinemas can be found. The Orpheum Theatre and the Commodore Ballroom, also on Granville, are two of the city’s premier destinations for live entertainment. Vancouver’s downtown has restaurants to satisfy every palette, urban nightclubs, and a dizzying number of bars offering live entertainment that are befitting of a beacon of multiculturalism.

Gastown

Steam Clock in Gastown Vancouver,Canada
This is where Vancouver first took root in 1867 and is a celebrated heritage district. Cobblestone streets, Victorian street lamps, and heritage architecture give the area an enchanting old-world atmosphere. The iconic Steam Clock at Cambie and Water streets goes off every 15 minutes and adds to the area’s quirky cachet of old world charms. Today, boutiques and specialty shops, such as Hill’s Native Art, Three Centuries Shop, and Salmagundi West, indie art galleries and hip restaurants combine with its historic character to breathe life into the neighbourhood’s well-trod streets.

Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the largest in North America, second only to San Francisco’s. The area’s specialty shops, superb dining, and heritage buildings attract millions of visitors. Summers are celebrated with pomp and show at the open-air Chinatown Night Market, while packed restaurants such as Hon’s Wun-Tun House or Floata Seafood Restaurant dole out scrumptious Asian fare year round. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the tranquil flipside of the bustling Chinatown, while traditional apothecaries lie shrouded in mystery, their shelves lined with nameless ingredients for age-old remedies. Interspersed in between are old-school dim sum restaurants, groceries selling exotic produce and colourful shops overflowing with souvenirs.

Yaletown

Young woman walking along marina, Yaletown Ferrydock, Vancouver, Canada
Not long ago, Yaletown was just a collection of abandoned warehouses. Today, it is one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods, dotted with posh condominiums and converted historic warehouses. Popular establishments include the Yaletown Brewing Co., and unique boutiques like Barking Babies. Yaletown is also known for its fantastic nightlife, spearheaded by venues like Bar None.

Granville Island

A former industrial site, Granville Island has become one of the city’s biggest and best attractions. Live theatre, pubs, and artist workshops converge here. The public market is a one-stop-shop for local specialties and fresh produce, while Granville Island Hat Shop and the colourful Kids Only Market are other popular favourites. Numerous festivals use the island as their headquarters, including the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival and the Vancouver International Comedy Festival.

Girl near Granville Island in Vancouver, Canada

Kitsilano

Located minutes south of downtown, Kitsilano is known for its active population, beaches and mountain views. The community has a profusion of eateries, bookstores, theatres, bars, open-air grocers, and boutiques. Here, you’ll find gems like the Naam, Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe and Kidsbooks. Vanier Park accommodates the annual Vancouver International Children’s Festival in May, as well as the summer’s open-air Shakespearean Bard on the Beach productions.

Girl Sitting on a Bench at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, Canada

Point Grey

Just to the west of Kitsilano is Point Grey, another residential area. One of the wealthiest regions of the city, it boasts stately homes, miles of waterfront, and one of Vancouver’s oldest parks. The area’s beaches stretch from Jericho Beach to Spanish Banks, offering ample choice for swimming, sailing and walks. It also has a cluster of antique and collectible shops, and is home to the annual Vancouver Folk Festival.

West Point Grey Park provides one of the city’s most dramatic viewpoints, with the University of British Columbia (UBC) just south of it. UBC has an expansive campus, featuring several of the city’s best museums and attractions, including the Museum of Anthropology and the Nitobe Memorial Gardens.

nitobe garden vancouver

East Vancouver
Vancouver’s east side has always been known for its multitude of ethnic neighbourhoods and unconventional shopping and entertainment. Once dubbed “Little Italy,” the area on Commercial Drive, between Broadway and Venables, is often considered the city’s hub for artists and counter-culture. Shops and cafes like Pupuseria Rinconcito Salvadoreno and La Casa Gelato help piece together this diverse community. You can also wander through pockets of eclectic galleries and second-hand shops, such as Cosmopolis and Attic Treasures.

West Vancouver
This suburban area northwest of downtown is one of the most prosperous communities in Canada. If you’re looking for a place to shop, head to the large Park Royal Centre – the country’s first shopping mall. Be sure to take time out to walk through the 80-acre (32-hectare), old-growth forests of Lighthouse Park where visitors often spot seals lounging on the rocks near Howe Sound.

Point Atkinson Lighthouse at sunset, Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver, BC

North Vancouver
Just next to West Vancouver lies North Vancouver. The lower Lonsdale area has heritage buildings, antique stores and specialty shops, while the Lonsdale Quay Market is a thriving waterfront treat. North Vancouver is the gateway for several of the area’s ecological sites. Tourists will revel in the splendour of Lynn Canyon Park, the thrill of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the majesty of the Fraser Valley. The year-round destinations for outdoor adventures like Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain are also nearby.

Capilano suspension bridge

Dining and drinking

Whether diners crave glamorous, elegant, warm or unadorned, Vancouver offers thousands of choices for memorable cuisine. Many of the city’s establishments are internationally renowned and combine superb cuisine with extraordinary atmosphere.

Scallop and salad dish at dinner party

Food-loving urbanites flock to bistros, dining rooms and cafes that range from home-style grub in perpetually busy diners to gourmet masterpieces in refined restaurants. Visitors can savour exotic Malaysian fare at lunch and Russian by nightfall, or choose from dozens of other ethnic cuisines. There are so many good restaurants in this city that it is difficult to narrow any list down to a few, but here are some noteworthy highlights.

Downtown
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is a local favourite and a great place to go for beer and fresh smoked oysters. Other downtown highlights include Diva at the Met and CinCin Ristorante.

West End
This beachside neighbourhood is known as one of the largest gay and lesbian communities in the country. The dining selection here is superb: busy Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna has traditional Hellenic treats.

Yaletown
This is a good place to start your exploration of the city’s culinary creativity. Many of the city’s hottest eateries brighten this film and fashion centre. The Italian romance of the Lupo Restaurant and La Terrazza will soften even the most Scrooge-like of connoisseurs. If you prefer your meals more laid-back and inexpensive, the Yaletown Brewing Co. is a trendy hangout with good food, eager-to-be-seen crowds, and in some cases, aloof wait-staff.

Gastown
This charming historic area has an eclectic selection of eateries. The Irish Heather is a relative newcomer to the area, and packs them in almost every night.

Chinatown
From Dim Sum to fine dining, Vancouver’s Chinatown offers Asian delicacies and treats. Some of the most popular venues include the busy and noisy Pink Pearl Seafood Restaurant and the Floata Seafood Restaurant, for authentic Hong Kong-style creations hot and fresh from the wok. Hon’s Wun-Tun House is a good choice as well.

Chinese Style Cuisine - Roasted Peking Duck

Granville Island
This once-industrial island was transformed in the 1970s into what it is today: a city oasis with a famous public market, heavenly bakeries and cafes and fresh-food restaurants. Seafood lovers will revel in Bridges’ three-level restaurant, wine bar and bistro. Another good choice is the Arts Club Backstage Lounge.

Kitsilano
This casual and health-conscious neighbourhood has some of the top restaurants in town. Weekend line-ups shouldn’t daunt you from trying out the kitschy, faux-greasy spoon humour of Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe, whose breakfasts are rumoured to be the best in town. The Naam is a landmark, open 24 hours and offering a selection of organic and vegan health food. Other critic’s darlings: Pastis’ French cuisine taken to new heights; and the raved-about Vij’s Indian fusion creations.

Point Grey
This somewhat sleepy and upscale section of the city offers many dining choices. Try the Celtic hospitality of Dentry’s Irish Grill for a good time and meal. If you want something more intimate, the Brock House Restaurant provides an elegant setting for special dinners, and Cafe Madeleine has live music, readings and artwork. True Confections is the place to go afterwards for rich desserts.

East Vancouver
There is plenty to sample all over vibrant East Vancouver, from Main Street’s Little India to Victoria Drive’s Portuguese neighbourhood to Commercial Drive’s Little Italy. Try the savoury Indian fare at Nirvana and All India Sweets, both on Main Street. Farther east on Commercial Drive, there is so much to choose from that it may take a week of dining just to get an idea of its offerings. Places like Federico’s Ristorante & Supper Club offer traditional Italian meals, while newer places like the Cuba-inspired Havana and the literary Bukowski’s offer hip alternatives with live entertainment. Fet’s has a 1950s diner feel, while Cafe Deux Soleils serves creative vegetarian meals. Further west on Main Street, young and artistic hangouts like the Locus are changing the shape of city dining.

South Vancouver
Restaurants are fewer and farther between in this suburban uptown area, but there are gems worth the quick drive from downtown. The elegant Seasons in the Park in Queen Elizabeth Park offers fine dining.

Entertainment

Vancouver offers everything from fine arts, cinema, literary readings, theatre to spectator sports. The arts and entertainment weekly the Georgia Straight, and the Thursday and Friday editions of the Vancouver Sun and Province provide extensive listings of the city’s events and venues.

Granville Street at night

Music
Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, K.D. Lang, Bif Naked, 54-40 and Diana Krall are just some of the big-name artists who began their music careers here. They have made it so big that you rarely see them perform locally anymore. When they do, you will find them at large venues like B.C. Place, General Motors Place, the Vogue, Orpheum Theatre or Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Vancouver’s music scene is diverse. The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia, and the Orpheum Theatre, home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, are great venues for classical music performances. For jazz, blues and fusion, the best bets are the Roxy, Pat’s Pub, Frankie’s Jazz Club, Guilt & Company, and the Blue Martini Jazz Cafe.

For punk, indie and other aural alternatives, smaller venues like the Commodore Ballroom feature local and international talent in intimate settings. In-store performances at Red Cat Records also boast quite a niche following.

Cinema

Several first-run movie theatres are within a few blocks of each other in downtown Vancouver. Across the bridge, the newer Fifth Avenue Cinemas show popular art and alternative films to West Side crowds. For independent, art, foreign and experimental films, check out the diverse listings at the Pacific Cinematheque.

Vancouver also has one large-screen theatre – the Alcan Omnimax Theatre at Science World.

Mega-screen movie theatres have been popping up across the city over the last few years, and there are more than a few to be found in and around the city.

Theater
From classic Broadway hits to innovative productions, rich and varied theatrical activity has always been a part of the city’s entertainment scene. The 2,929-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre is the city’s largest. It’s perfect for seeing touring musicals, international opera and modern dance. Next door to the QE is the more intimate Vancouver Playhouse, a 668-seat auditorium that stages plays, concerts, chamber music recitals and modern dance performances.

Other theater and concert venues include the Arts Club Theatre, the refurbished Stanley Theatre, Orpheum, Firehall Arts Centre, Presentation House Gallery and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

Comedy
For seriously funny stuff, try Yuk Yuk’s. It has theatre-style seating, a full dinner menu and stand-up comics from the city and around the world. The Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island is another venue for interactive fun. It’s home to the Theatre Sports improv group.

Sports
Vancouver offers a medley of sports events. From September to May, the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks play the coolest game on earth at Rogers Arena.

June kicks off with the pre-season games of the Canadian Football League. You can catch the B.C. Lions in action from July to late October at B.C. Place.

Festivals
Some acclaimed international festivals that provide year-round fun and entertainment include the Vancouver International Film Festival, Vancouver Fringe Festival, Vancouver International Children’s Festival, International Jazz Festival, Comedy Festival, Folk Music Festival, and New Music Festival. They occur all over the city and offer locals and visitors a chance to mingle.

Nightlife
As the sun sets, the city’s bars and nightclubs gear up for a night of parties, drinks and fun. Vancouver’s nightlife is mainly centred around five neighbourhoods, each a characterful medley of venues with a distinct vibe of its own.

The stretch of Granville Street between Robson and Nelson is home to Vancouver’s scintillating nightclubs; a neon-lit strip lined with jam-packed bars and booming clubs overflowing with partygoers. This is where the youth of the city head to unwind with a drink or two before hitting the dance floor at clubs like The Roxy and Republic. In contrast, Yaletown caters to a more sophisticated clientele with a line-up of chic cocktail bars, trendy pubs and wine bars. The Yaletown Brewery is a great place to begin the evening, moving on to more upscale choices like the OPUS Bar and Bar None. Gastown’s eclectic and ever-evolving nightlife offer boasts popular venues like The Lamplighter, L’Abattoir and Irish Heather. Here, old-world charm melds with hipster cool to create a veritable cornucopia of diversity.

The neighbourhoods of Kitsilano and Main Street also have much to offer but are lesser known than their more exuberant counterparts. Bars like the Bimini Public House is a stalwart of Kitsilano’s nightlife scene, while Main Street is an upcoming alternative blessed with craft breweries and bespoke cocktail bars. Davie Village, on the other hand, is Vancouver’s LGBTQ-friendly hangout that welcomes all with open arms for a night on the town.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find hidden gems aplenty amid Vancouver’s glitzy nightlife, like the Regional Assembly of Text where the Letter Writing Club descends every Thursday night; Pub 340 for gritty live music and pinball; Steamworks for monthly eco-themed Green Drinks Socials; St Augustine’s and The Whip for guest cask events; and the Fox and Biltmore for cabaret.

Outdoor Activities
Vancouver is one of those rare cities that effortlessly balances the perks of a big city with the vast and wondrous outdoors. Grouse Mountain is one of Vancouver’s most visited outdoor attractions with year-round activities like hiking, biking and skiing to enjoy. Parks like the Lynn Canyon and Stanley are the city’s green lungs; oases of natural wonder amid the urban landscape of the city. Nearby, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Regional Park boast hiking trails, totem poles and spectacular scenery.

Kayaking in False Creek, Vancouver, British Columbia

In winter, the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort takes centre stage, while Locarno and Jericho Beach are summer-time escapes. With adventure parks, fishing excursions and water sports to boast, the city of Vancouver sweeps the outdoors into its embrace.

Recommended tours

Vancouver is a city of adventure. Tours, whether professionally-guided or a personal adventure, give visitors the chance to take advantage of the city’s vitality and experience the area’s natural beauty. The biggest problem is deciding how you’re going to take in all there is to see.

Historic Vancouver
For a glance into the city’s past, try the free Historic Walking Tours of Gastown. Set in the city’s birthplace, the daily tour highlights the area’s many attractions and shopping, restaurants and bars. Visit the Steam Clock, shop at The Landing, and get a picture taken with the statue of the area’s founder, Gassy Jack. You’ll stroll through streets named Blood Alley and Gaoler’s Mews, the city’s first jail cell.

There is much to discover by walking through the streets of Vancouver. The Architectural Institute of B.C. (AIBC) provides a variety of tours in the summer months. The free tours show Vancouver’s history through the city’s architecture. Visit highlights like Canada Place, Robson Square, Cathedral Place, and Strathcona.

You can stroll through Burnaby Village Museum, saunter through the exhibits in the Canadian Craft Museum, enjoy a sample of micro-brewed beer in the Granville Island Brewery, and learn about West Coast First Nations culture at the Museum of Anthropology.

Another guided walking tour follows the history of the Chinese-Canadian community in Chinatown. Many tour companies offer tours that take you through one of North America’s largest Chinatowns. You’ll see Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens, the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and the bustling street markets.

If you would rather explore Vancouver at your own pace, then pay a visit to the Vancouver Tourist Information Centres. One of the city’s best features is its close proximity to natural wonders. For guided hikes through some of its closest attractions, such as Lighthouse Park, Horseshoe Bay and Bowen Island, check out Rockwood Adventures. They have an extensive selection of walking tours.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. People walking dogs on a waterside trail with downtown skyline in the distance.

Nature Tours
For bus tours, there are several companies in the city, including Gray Lines and Pacific Coach Lines. If you’re looking for a smaller mini-van tour, then try Cityscape or Blue Mountain Tours. Many offer multilingual, narrated tours that can be customized.

With the fresh air and views, it’s easy to get caught up in the city’s healthy vibe. Velo-city Cycle Tours takes you on guided cycle tours of the city and surrounding area. You’ll spend time in and around Granville Island, Vanier Park and Grouse Mountain.

There are also several options for those looking for unusual excursions. At Stanley Park, Horse Drawn Tours take passengers on an old-world wagon ride through the 1000-acre park. For something less equestrian, the Vancouver Trolley Company takes passengers on a turn-of-the-century trolley ride to view the city’s sites along various avenues and thoroughfares. You can see the city at your own pace, getting on or off at any of the 16 stops to visit attractions.

See the city in style with Fridge’s Early Motion Tours, where you will be taken around in a 1930s Ford A. To learn more about West Coast First Nations, several tour companies, including West Coast City and Nature Sightseeing and Detours Excursions B.C. have special day trips that highlight the heritage, history, art, and importance of B.C.’s native cultures.

For an extravagant and romantic tour, B.C. Rail’s Pacific Starlight Dinner Train runs from spring to autumn. A restored dining car provides gourmet cuisine and views as it glides through North Vancouver, Howe Sound, and Porteau Cove. Another opulent B.C. Rail excursion offers a combination voyage. Take the luxury steam locomotive Royal Hudson Steam Train to Squamish, passing along the coastline past West Vancouver and Horseshoe Bay. Once at Squamish, cruise home to Vancouver on the Harbour Cruises’ “Britannia.”

Often referred to as the “Hollywood of the North,” Vancouver is the third largest film and TV shooting center in North America, after L.A. and New York. The popular “X-Files” was shot here for years. Hence the idolatrous X-Tours, which, among other special experiences, offers limousine tours of spots where X-scenes and memorable film moments took place.

Water Cruises
Touring Vancouver by water can be adventurous and is one of the best ways to see the area. Although the more daring can charter their own boats at places like Cooper Boating, companies like Harbour Cruises offer guided sightseeing cruises that let passengers view the city from Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound, Vancouver’s harbour and English Bay.

B.C. Ferries can take you to the city’s surrounding islands for great day trips, and the convenient SeaBus enables you to travel quickly to and from the downtown waterfront and the North Shore. You can take a tour of the historic fishing village of Steveston, hop aboard the sea lion cruises in the spring, marvel on a killer whale watching expedition or relax on the Pitt Lake cruise.

There are also several wilderness sightseeing tours that use Vancouver as a launching point. Paddlewheeler River Adventures and LotusLand Tours provide water excursions that offer insight into the spectacular scenery and history of British Columbia.

Helicopter Tours
Vancouver by air is a spectacle that every visitor should experience. There are a number of reliable air tour providers in the region. Although more extravagant than a ground-bound tour, air charters offer unforgettable bird’s-eye views. Harbour Air has a fleet of seaplanes that provide quick city tours, as well as outings into secluded wilderness areas.

Vancouver Helicopter Tours also offers panoramic air trips over the city and surrounding mountains and valleys. They have a nighttime flight, the Grouse Heli-Picnic, where you can fly up to Grouse Mountain and dine while overlooking the city.

History

This young city was once a wild, densely forested and mountainous coastal area inhabited only by First Nations people and wildlife. Many events have combined to transform the once wild setting into the thriving cultural and business center it is today. Yet the city retains its natural beauty, now set around a diverse urban core. And to think it all began with a couple of explorers who recognized the bountiful resources and spectacular potential of the area.

When British explorer Captain James Cook first arrived here in 1778, the natives in Nootka Sound mistook the captain and his raggedy crew for a boatful of strange, transformed salmon. It’s no wonder, really; the First Nations had lived undisturbed for thousands of years. The region’s temperate climate, coastal location and excellent food supply made it an ideal place for natives to subsist comfortably for most of the year. Many, including the Musqueam, Kwantlen and Squamish lived and thrived along the shorelines of Burrard Inlet. But then the white European settlers came and claimed the land as their own, altering years of relatively peaceful living.

The city’s transformation began with explorers seeking the Northwest Passage, a sea route through northern America. In 1791, Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez came through the waters but decided not to go ashore. In June of the following year, two more explorers showed up. England’s Captain George Vancouver led his ship, the sloop H.M.S. Discovery, into Burrard Inlet and later went on to chart the area’s waters. He exchanged information with Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcala Galiano, who showed Captain Vancouver maps he had already made of the area.

Though the British controlled the area, it wasn’t until 1808 that they sent Simon Fraser to set up trading posts in the region. The fur trade, which was followed by gold rush mania, would forever alter the region.

Settlers thrived on fish, lumber, fur and farming. In 1858, gold was discovered on the Fraser River and, within weeks, nearly 30,000 Americans had flocked to the area in search of bounty. Fearing a takeover by the Americans, the British declared the mainland a British colony, thereby keeping the prosperity under its control. In 1859, New Westminster (once called Sapperton because British sappers were stationed there) was incorporated and declared the capital of the province.

Meanwhile, a talkative gentleman named John Deighton pulled his canoe into Burrard Inlet and decided to capitalize on the area’s industry. The village he founded was eventually named Gastown after him, the name derived from his loquacious nickname: “Gassy Jack.” Deighton opened up a successful saloon, serving hundreds of thirsty mill workers and prospectors in the budding town. Gastown began to fill up with small shops and services. Deighton was more than just a notorious saloon owner, though. Some historians say he was the founding father of Vancouver because he had faith in its potential before anyone else did.

As the population grew, people moved outward to settle in areas now known as Burnaby and Delta. The first newspaper went to the presses in 1861, and the first hospital was built the following year. In 1865, the first telegraph lines reached here, and the first message to travel along its wires announced the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Other urban staples appeared including a rudimentary postal system and a stagecoach line for transportation. Extensive logging soon cleared the area.

Canada was confederated in 1867, and the sweeping effects of this change were felt almost immediately in Vancouver. One of the pivotal moments in the history of the city was the extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884. The railroad now reached clear across the country and brought thousands of people to the area to do business and settle. Rapid development began, and the population grew from 400 to 13,000 in four years.

In 1886, the city of Vancouver—population 1,000—was officially incorporated. Two months later, the Great Fire of 1886, driven by strong winds, destroyed virtually the entire downtown area in just 20 minutes. That same day, after the smoke had cleared, with just half-a-dozen buildings left standing, the citizens of Vancouver began to rebuild. Buildings erected that year still stand today. One of the most significant changes brought by the fire was the transformation of the town’s military reserve into the now famous Stanley Park, the city’s oasis. The opening of the Panama Canal, which facilitated travel, imports and exports to and from Europe, spurred growth of the city’s port, located in one of the world’s finest natural, year-round harbors.

By 1928, the Lower Mainland’s population had reached more than 150,000. Many memorable mayors governed the growing city; these included Gerry McGreer. McGreer was an enthusiastic politician who came into office in the 1930s with election guns blazing. He promised to eradicate gambling, white slavery, corruption and other issues important to the city’s wealthy residents. He promised the impossible, but he did succeed in building the Art Deco Vancouver City Hall in 1936.

Like everywhere else, the Great Depression took a toll on the city. Some growth, however, did occur in the 1930s, including the creation of the Vancouver Art Gallery and opening of a steel plant in Burnaby.

World War Two pulled the city out of its economic lull: shipyards, factories, parts exporting and real estate boomed. Human rights also got a positive injection when East Indian and Chinese-Canadian citizens finally got the provincial vote in 1947. Japanese-Canadians and First Nations people, however, had to wait until 1949 for the same right.

The 1950s was an era of rapid growth and prosperity, including the extensive development of suburban Vancouver. The population rose to 800,000 by 1961. The 1960s saw many additions to the city’s physical and cultural portfolio: the B.C. Lion’s won the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, the Vancouver Canucks debuted in the National Hockey League, and Simon Fraser University, the Second Narrows Bridge, 401 Freeway, and the world-class Whistler Ski Resort were built.

This young cosmopolitan city has a brief but exciting history. Many weird and wonderful events have shaped its urban personality, from the local raiding of the biggest LSD factory in the world to our newfound reputation as “Hollywood North.” The city has become the third largest in the country, with an international reputation as one of the best places in the world to live and visit.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport

Shuttle: The Vancouver Airporter Service (+1 800 668 3141) stands as the most popular form of ground transportation into downtown. Buses exit every 15 minutes from 6:30a-9:15p, and every 30 minutes from 9:15p-midnight. It services all major downtown hotels. One-way tickets cost around USD12.

Taxi: More than 400 metered taxis service the airport. Rides into downtown take 25 minutes and average USD25. They can be found outside of the domestic and international terminals and operate around the clock. Some of the more noted cab companies include:

Black Top & Checker Cabs Ltd (+1 604 731 1111)
Bonny’s Taxi (+1 604 435 6655)
Yellow Cab Company (+1 604 681 1111)

Car Rental:

Alamo (+1 800 327 9633 / http://www.alamo.com)
Avis (+1 800 831 2847 / http://www.avis.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700 / http://www.budget.com)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131 / http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368 / http://www.nationalcar.com)
Thrifty (+1 800 367 2277 / http://www.thrifty.com)

Another attractive ground transportation option is Zipcar, which operates in certain cities in Canada and the U.S. This new breed of rental car allows you to rent on an hourly basis rather than a daily basis. Be sure to register online before your trip. Zipcar (+1 866 404 7227 / http://www.zipcar.com)

By Bus
Pacific Central Station also serves as Vancouver’s main bus station. Greyhound (+1 800 661 8747 / http://www.greyhound.ca) arrives from all points north, south, east and west. Pacific Coach Lines (+1 800 661 1725 / http://www.pacificcoach.com) confines its routes to the surrounding Vancouver area with daily service from Victoria, on Vancouver Island, every two hours.

By Train
Via Rail (+1 888 842 7245 / http://www.viarail.ca) chugs into Pacific Central Station at 1150 Station Street three times a week. It services the eastern half of Canada starting in Toronto. Its scenic wander through the Canadian Rockies makes it extremely popular with tourists. Amtrak (+1 800 872 7245 / http://www.amtrak.com) also huffs into Pacific Central Station, but from the south, beginning in Eugene, Oregon. BC Rail (+1 604 631 3500 / http://www.bcrail.com) operates from northern Vancouver’s train station at 1311 West First Street. It services northern British Columbia and includes stops in Whistler, Lillooet, and Squamish.

By Boat
The port of Vancouver, managed by the Vancouver Port Authority (+1 604 665 9000 / http://www.portvancouver.com), ushers in more than one million cruise ship passengers a year through the Canada Place and Ballantyne Terminals. Waiting taxis are easy to find upon disembarking.

By Car
Highway 1, or better known as the Trans-Canada Highway, winds east out of the Canadian Rockies. Interstate 5 from the United States turns into Highway 99 at the border and snakes into Vancouver from the south and north. A drive from Seattle takes about three hours. Calgary, to the east, with good weather takes 11.5 hours.

Getting Around

Bus
Translink buses maze through downtown and the surrounding suburbs. Transfers are interchangeable with SkyTrain and the SeaBus. One-way fares cost USD2 and USD4 for rides to the suburbs.

Train
TransLink, The Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (+1 604 953 3333 / http://www.translink.bc.ca), eases the need for a car. SkyTrain features 27 miles of tracks that service the area in an east/west direction. Both lines, the Expo and the Millennium, offer stops that are serviced every five minutes. This represents the fastest way for maneuvering through downtown. One-way fares are USD2.

Ferry
SeaBus, another TransLink subsidiary, provides passenger-only ferry service across the Burrard Inlet. The 15-minute ride links downtown Vancouver with the North Shore and costs USD2. Bikes are allowed on board.

BC Ferries (+1 888 223 3779 / http://www.bcferries.com) connects Vancouver with 46 surrounding ports via 25 routes. Its boats service Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands, and the Saanich Inlet. One-way passenger fares are USD6.15 and cars are charged USD23.

Taxi
Taxis can be found at all hotels and are rather easy to hail in downtown. Some of the more prominent companies include:

Black Top & Checker Cabs (+1 604 731 1111) Bonny’s Taxi (+1 604 435 6655) Royal City Taxi (+1 604 521 6666) Vancouver Taxi (+1 604 255 5111) Yellow Cab Company (+1 604 681 1111)

Even though no major highways slice through downtown it is still fairly easy to negotiate and rewards drivers with ample parking. However, take every measure to avoid driving during morning (7a-9a) and afternoon (3p-6p) rush hours. Especially avoid the North Shore Bridges, the Massey Tunnel, and Highway 1 through Coquitlam and Surrey.

Bike
Vancouver enjoys legendary status for being extremely bike friendly. It features 19 bikeways, including scenic passages along the seawall and through Stanley Park. Routes are designated with green signs every other block. Keep in mind that helmets are mandatory. Spokes Bike Rentals (+1 604 688 5141/ http://www.vancouverbikerental.com) and Bayshore Bicycle & Rollerblade Skate Rentals (+1 604 688 2453 / http://www.bayshorerentals.ca) provide convenient rental service for downtown riders.

On Foot

Downtown is conveniently compact, making it conducive for walking.