Canada’s largest western city is full of unexpected surprises and a wilderness right in its heart!
If you think big cities are all about never-ending lines of skyscrapers that dot the skylines, museums and monuments set amidst a dense concrete jungle, then you have not visited Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. The city, a port located on the Pacific coast, surprises me with its canopy of green everywhere – not just manicured gardens and pretty parks, but forests located right in the heart of the city. It is not just the sights and sounds but the experiences that stay in my mind.
Here are my favourite five experiences in the city:
1. Fly over Canada
I arrive in Canada with my feet dangling in the air, flying from coast to coast, feeling the salts of the sea, the Niagara Falls splashing on my face. The weather suddenly changes as I am flying. The sun vanishes and I shiver a bit as the landscape changes to snow-clad mountains with skiers on its slopes. Welcome to Fly Over Canada, an experience you must not miss. Head to Vancouver’s scenic waterfront to experience this breathtaking virtual flight ride, which lets you see, touch and feel Canada. In one word, its just WOW!
2. A rainforest in a park – Stanley Park
The Canadian geese come calling. The totem poles are intriguing. The horse carriages take you into an old own charm. The views from the scenic 9 km-long-seawall path is breathing. And there is the Vancouver Aquarium, the largest in Canada that houses over 50,000 animals. In addition to all this, there are lakes, gardens, an outdoor theatre, a swimming pool and restaurants, biking and hiking trails set amidst 1000 acres of verdant greenery in one of the top ten urban parks of the world. This is Stanley Lake. I, however, lose myself in the temperate rain forest as I follow a trail by a lake and head into a world of woods. I am in no mood to come back. This is nature at its pristine best. And it is there right in the heart of Vancouver.
3. Gastown Food Trail
A tiny settlement, which is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, is now one of the most hip locales in Vancouver filled with bars, restaurants, boutique shops and buzzing with energy and events.
The first thing I see in Gastown is the statue of Gassy Jack Deighton, a sailor and a steamboat captain who first settled here in the 19th century and set up a saloon. Gassy Jack loved to tell stories full of “gas” and the town took his name.
His saloon, which was set near a maple tree, is no longer around, but the area around it is now called Maple Square. A pre-dinner food trail around the National Historic Site of Gastown takes us into bars and cafes as we sip cocktails and listen to stories of how Gastown reinvented itself after it was destroyed by fire. While you are there, do not miss the landmark of Gastown – the steam clock!
4. Kayaking around Granville Island
Island-hopping is a favourite pastime for most travellers in Vancouver. Decked in rainbow colours, the Aquabus picks us from Hornby Street Dock and cruises down False Creek before dropping us at Granville Island. It is the first time I am in a kayak and we spend a few minutes learning the ropes. It is a beautiful day and after some hiccups, we are on our way, kayaking on the water, hoping we wont bump into another boat. The arms hurt but excitement takes us around.
Granville is a village dedicated to local artisans, and my favourite pit stop is the brewery here where I taste maple beer. I meet an eclectic mix of artists, sculptors, theatre enthusiasts and culinary specialists who vary from chocolatiers to cheese-makers. The public market is an assault to the senses as I soak in both the colour and the flavours. If you are a foodie, do not miss Granville Market.
5. Take a sea plane
I started my journey into Canada with a virtual flight but I end it with soaring over the city in a seaplane. Taking off from Vancouver Harbour, the float-plane flies low over the city as we are strapped on to our seats and glued to the window. It is a tiny plane and perfect for just a handful of us. The views are stunning as we watch the mist float over the mountains, the ocean and the forests to present a fabric of blue and green. We fly over the skyline until the North Shore Mountains take over, hover above beaches and see tiny islands lost in a sprawling world of green.