Clear skies and fluffy cotton-candy clouds. This picture of a vast blue with sudden interjections of white is what comes to mind when I recollect my time in Vancouver. From the moment of stepping outside the airport and driving down the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler, to making merry on the streets of Gastown and simply tucking into good street food—the blue sky was a constant. If you haven’t already guessed, clear skies and I have a long-standing romance. The internet throws up various matches on sky photography and, unfortunately, I am yet to master even the basics. But that has never stopped me from attempting to capture the beautiful blue, and Vancouver gave me enough opportunities to improve.
A melting pot of cultures, ethnically and linguistically diverse, the city is one of the prettiest in Canada if not on the planet. Beautifully manicured lawns and green parks, grizzlies and skiing trails, the most-happening Granville Island below its namesake bridge, petrichor in the forest that also houses the city’s tourist-attracting suspension bridge, harbours where the naked eye can see the skyline for miles, the youthful vibe of the city interjected with businesses and multinational corporation offices, and, of course, the allure of the sea—at first glance Vancouver seems to have the best of summer and winter.
There’s something so calming when I go down the memory lane. There’s a warmth that engulfs me when I recollect the various interactions with strangers, the smile on every face I encountered, the locals’ willingness to help tourists with directions when they are utterly lost, the freedom to keep walking on the streets past bedtime, and even a film shoot in Downtown where I hoped to run into Hugh Jackman. I wasn’t in the city for long, but it was long enough to understand why visitors keep coming back. If you’re visiting Vancouver for the first time for a brief period, these pit stops will help navigate your way through the mesmerising maze.
The Vancouver skyline is sold on postcards, key chains, magnets—you name it. Social media is filled with scenic views of the city. I had barely 48 hours to explore and be Instagram-friendly. The first choice was to go up Grouse Mountain. Close to the south of the city, rising 4,100 feet above it, the mountain offers some of the best views. The eight-minute Skyride to the top will not just give you ample photos of the cityscape and neighbouring peaks, but as the air thins, you’ll long for a hot chocolate at the top. And, if lucky, you might even be able to meet the resident grizzlies—Coola and Grinder—at the wildlife conservation centre.
Another beautiful cityscape capture can come at Canada Place near the port. Despite the crowd at the waterfront, you can bet on stunning views, especially as the sun sets. Then there is always Stanley Park, often compared to New York’s Central Park, with its many vantage points. First stop by the Rose Garden and smell the blooms, then walk past the various totem poles and centuries-old trees, before stopping by Prospect Point for the spectacular view of the Lions Gate Bridge and the inner harbour.
If you prefer being touristy, have a drink at the revolving Top of Vancouver (553 feet) restaurant that has 360-degree views of the city below, or head up the Vancouver Lookout (also 553 feet) in a glass lift to the observation deck to watch the city glimmer below. And if you are feeling adventurous, the Capilano Suspension Bridge should be on your list. As you sway to the other end of the 460-feet-long bridge, taking a photo amid the greenery of the West Coast rainforest ecosystem is a breathtaking affair.
Vancouver offers some experiences you cannot miss out on—like sitting on one of the logs on the Kitsilano Beach stretch eating ice cream and fresh berries from the farmers’ market. I was so stuffed by the end of it that the indulgence of a spicy potato tornado and a glass of kombucha was left unfulfilled. One can people-gaze here as the day goes by, or go swimming in the saltwater pool by the side.
Do head to Granville Island nearby to shop and eat. Located on a peninsula, in the olden days it used to be home to factories and mills. Today, it is one of the trendiest local hotspots. Sample freshly baked goods, meats and cheese at the public market or the various pop-ups, go to the nation’s first microbrewery, or simply grab a bite and listen to a live performance. And if you’re lucky to be there during Canada Day (July 1), you get to be part of a carnival atmosphere.
Gastown and Chinatown are two of the famous tourist trails in the city. The former has quirky souvenir shops, fashion studios, local grub and, of course, the whistling steam clock, a major draw; while the latter is the place to visit for dim sums and tranquil parks. And if shopping is what you love, take a walk down Robson Street.
Vancouver has some of the finest foods. One can plan a whole 48 hours just to eat 48 different things. From fine dining to street grub, fusion of flavours to clean eating, one should experience the city at least once. Poutine—the holy grail of fries, cheese and gravy—should be indulged in.
As a port city, seafood is enjoyed everywhere. I can suggest Coast in Alberni Street for some excellent tuna and prawns. If hungry on the streets, grab a Japadog on the go. The hotdog with Japanese dressings is unique to the city and a must-try. Mr Shawarma on Melville Street packs in a punch with their wraps and platters, and is one of the most sought-after food trucks, with long queues.
With such a diverse population, fusion Asian is one of the most popular food genres. I recommend Maenam, a Thai fusion joint on West 4th Avenue, which serves the most delicious drinks and fresh salads. And if after all the food, you’re in the mood for great cocktails, end the night at Prohibition, a speakeasy on Georgia Street. The 1920s-style bar with live music may burn a hole in your pocket but famous cocktails there will be well worth it.
Air Canada has a direct flight from New Delhi to Vancouver, plus there are a number of connecting flights like Lufthansa. Stay options include a slew of high-end hotels in Downtown, like the Hyatt Regency, Fairmont, etc. (from approx. `16,000). For budget stays, Airbnbs are good. To get around, the local transit system is excellent and the areas near Downtown are walking friendly. You can also rent a car. Do remember that Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada, so plan accordingly