IT’S a rare toasty day in Vancouver and the locals have turned the word languid into a live art performance. Even the grizzlies on Grouse Mountain – in name and in nature – can barely stifle their yawns. And who can blame them? The crisp Vancouver winter has finally conceded to a sassy summer and the city is celebrating. But don’t be fooled. Long lunches and laconic locals aside, Vancouver’s pulse rate is rapidly rising. One only needs to glance at its skyline to see evidence of a city which is so hot, it sizzles. Oh yes, Vancouver is quite the groover. And here are my top things to do in Vancouver.
Buckets of blueberries, wood chips of apple, and salmon the shade of a burnt sunset – Vancouver’s most famous markets at Granville Island are a kaleidoscope of colour.
Those chasing a smart latte flock here for their mid-morning caffeine fix, local chefs forage for ingredients and nosey tourists partake in that ancient art-form of people watching.
Struggling artists straddle quaint shop fronts subsidised by a city devoted to elaborate blown glass, intricate hand-made jewellery and printed scarves which are all created on site. But parents beware – the kid’s market is a treasure trove of toys and games and not only will it drive you a little crazy – you’ll no doubt leave feeling a few looney ($1 Canadian) and tooney ($2 Canadian) lighter.
Local first nation people once called Capilano suspension bridge, over Vancouver’s North Shore, the “laughing bridge” because of the noise it made when the wind blew through the canyon.
The wooden slats strung like a hammock over the deep canyon below are groaning under the weight of hoards of holiday makers and it sways like a hula dancer.
If you do manage to unfurl those knuckles and tip-toe across to the other side, there’s a platform among the 3000-year-old west coast rainforest treetops.
Who needs pretentious oxygen therapy when the air is the scent of cedar? There’s almost 200 metres of cable bridges suspended between the towering evergreens.
In the mid-summer afternoon sunshine the bears on Grouse Mountain are a little grizzly.
OK – so they may be in captivity but I’m reliably informed it’s the best-case scenario when it comes to encountering these beasts.
Locals reckon the herbivorous black bears sometimes knock on the doors of unsuspecting North Shore residents. But it’s the grizzlies you really don’t want to meet in the wild.
The Grouse Mountain bear carer informs me humans are not the first choice of entrée.
There’s a 1250 metre cable car ride up to the top of the mountain and once there, you can even have breakfast with the bears.
For another thrill, take the mountain zipline which soars up to 80kmh over the valleys below.
Chambar (586 Beatty Street) touts itself as “civilised debauchery” with a “carbon neutral” twist. It’s all about an “unpretentious fling with fine dining” at this establishment.
Sporting a Parisian-style interior and open for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and dessert, this French-inspired menu will literally roll off your tongue with delicious dishes such as mussels done three ways, as well as an impressive tapas offering.
The cocktail list is also fun and fruity and includes a wide variety of newcomers.
A light shower has forced the latte set inside at Caffe Artigiano – which opened its first store in downtown Vancouver’s Hornby Street in 2000.
This Italian-inspired concept – where the best beans are sourced from around the world and specially roasted by the coffee artisans – has since blossomed to a total of six locations around the city.
Today’s coffee is from Rwanda while the music is laced with a distinct Middle-Eastern flavour.
A conga line of patrons await their morning frapps and the artiste is busy at work.
They call this personal training without lifting a finger. Vancouver’s Skoah Spa specialises in a facial menu that will combat the effects of too many vodkas.
Try the oh-so-delicious “facialiscious” – a “workout” for your skin which includes deep cleansing, exfoliating, extractions (pimple popping), detoxifying, a stimulating masque and soothing massage.
The flagship store is cocooned in the trendy warehouse district in Yaletown and you’ll emerge, one hour later, with what locals call the Skoah glow-ah.
Ask any local where to shop in Vancouver and the answer is invariably Robson Street. Robson Street is to Vancouver what Oxford Street is to London, boasting three blocks of boutiques including Guess, GAP, Banana Republic and Steve Madden. And when your feet get too tired from trying on all those eclectic shoes, there’s plenty of places to grab a quick bite, or something more substantial.
7-Top Multicultural Experience
For great silk, wander down to Main Street and India Town where you can buy enough fabric to make drapes or purchase an exotic shirt.
For a good coffee, head to “little Italy” along Commercial Drive where all of the great original Italian cappuccino bars started in Vancouver.
People watchers will appreciate Havanna for lunch. Amble through China town and the Dr Sun Yet Sing Gardens which were specially built for Vancouver’s 1986 Expo.
The fire-engine red Vancouver Trolley company tour is the best way to navigate around the city sights.
I cheat a smidgen and start at the last stop – the Lookout – from where time-poor travellers can view all the city sights in swoop.
The Lookout is to Vancouver what Centrepoint is to Sydney (and that’s not the only similarity between these two cities) and the glass lift ride to the top is exhilarating in itself.
I peer down on all the Trolley stops – there’s 34 all up – and spy a luxury cruise liner in the Vancouver Harbour. And from my 360 degree perch, feel the loftiest of them all.
A sultry songstress tickles the ivories at the dimly-lit piano bar and the waiter shrugs in mock concern at the half-empty lounge chairs.
Vancouver’s Grand Dame – the Fairmont Hotel – is a patient mistress and come dusk she knows the masses will come home for a night cap.
One unexpected guest you may encounter is the Lady in Red, the hotel’s resident friendly spirit.
Rumour has it this high society gal, who once graced the halls in her elegant red dress, had such a blast she forgot to check out and can be seen exiting empty elevator shafts.
Originally opened in 1887, the hotel has undergone several reincarnations – in 1916 and again in 1939.
The Queen has stayed in the hotel with its handcrafted gargoyles which guard the exterior. But it’s the hotel’s underbelly which holds all the secrets.
10 new things to do in and around Vancouver
1-Shake off jet lag and perk yourself up with an adrenalin rush. Sea Vancouver’s high-speed zodiac sightseeing tour cruises in and around downtown Vancouver.
2-Snorkel, kayak and scuba dive in Howe Sound. Sea Dragon Charters offers guided tours and adventures. There’s a good chance of spotting harbour seals.
3-Board the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish. The gondola ascends 885m to sweeping views of the Howe Sound fjord, coastal rainforest and surrounding mountains. At the top you can wander around two interpretive trails with cantilevered viewing platforms, traverse the Sky Pilot suspension bridge, hike and rock climb.
5-Visit local distilleries and take a peek behind the scenes on an Off the Eaten Track’s Craft Distillery Tour.
6-Unravel a grisly murder while taking in some of the city’s most popular sights on a Vancouver Mysteries interactive whodunit. It’s a fun way to see Vancouver as you get those grey cells working while playing a game of Clue downtown.
7-Scenic Rush offers driving experiences along the Sea to Sky Highway. Experience the thrill of driving four luxury cars, including a Ferrari and Lamborghini, with stops along the way for stunning photo opportunities.
8-Tours By Locals has introduced several new tours, including the Social Enterprises Tour and Hang Out with the Locals Craft Beer Tour.
9-While at Vancouver International Airport fill your bag at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet. The luxury designer outlet centre has around 100 stores packed with European and North American luxury, designer and lifestyle brands. The factory outlet is three minutes from Vancouver Airport.
For more things to do in Canada see Best of Canada.