Some love the beach, others adore outdoor pursuits and some of us can't resist a bit of shopping and celebrity spotting. In Vancouver you can do all of these things and more on any budget!
Vancouver was voted the world's best city to live in by the clever people at the Economist Intelligence Unit, so I was pretty chuffed to be offered a year's internship in the city. The minute my plane landed I stared open-mouthed at the gorgeous snowy mountains and wide sea, perfectly offset by the sparkle of the city lights. I knew instantly that I had discovered somewhere special.
Even with my terrible sense of direction I found Vancouver very easy to navigate; the city boasts the famous sky train - a combination of a monorail, train line and underground which you can hop on and off at your leisure. The sky train and bus services are linked so you can use the same tickets for both and once you have a ticket it's valid for any travel for a few hours. To save money I purchased a monthly one zone farecard, something I'd definitely recommend if you're planning to stay for a couple weeks or more, although you can buy a book of zone one tickets if your stay isn't quite as long. These can be bought in the copious Shoppers Drug Mart stores you'll see littered around the city. Directions to any destination using public transport can be found on TransLink's website (www.translink.bc.ca) or by phoning 604.953.3333.
Embracing the outdoors
You'll probably hear people talking about the Capilano Suspension Bridge (www.capbridge.com; 604-985-7474) in north Vancouver (across the water, you need to ride the sea bus from the Waterfront sky train station to get there), which gives visitors a chance to walk across the incredibly high bridge whilst taking in the rainforest surroundings. If, like me, you're short of cash then there is a similar, smaller bridge you could go across for free in a place called Lynn Canyon.
Undeterred by the 'beware of bears' signs at the entrance I ventured in the gate and to my delight discovered I had entered another world; the city soundtrack was eclipsed by the lapping of streams and enticing birdsong, instantly relaxing me. There are a number of walks you can go on and a small visitor centre and cafe but the swinging bridge was by far the main attraction and I bravely made my way across whilst attempting to swing it from side-to-side like some kind of Indiana Jones type character. To get to Lynn Valley simply go to the last stop on the number 9 Lynn Valley bus that departs from North Vancouver's Londsdale Quay bus terminal.
One Saturday some friends and I decided to follow the Baden Powel Trail at Deep Cove (www.deepcovebc.com), a moderately long but undemanding walk that lead to a "once in a lifetime" view of the whole of Vancouver at the top. I was encouraged with the reward of 'British style' fish and chips when I got back down and there are a number of different cafes to choose from.
If shopping's more your style then it's worth checking out Robson Street - downtown's best shopping area. As Vancouver is also known as 'Hollywood North' due to the number of movies filmed in the area you might be lucky enough to spot a celebrity or two.
Granville Street hosts Vancouver's nightclubs and bars and also some really cool retro stores that you could easily spend hours in, I know I did!
Towards the end of my stay the family I lived with bought me a season pass for Playland, the fair at the Pacific National Exhibition (www.pne.ca) which, I suspect, was because they wanted me to babysit for their two teenagers each weekend. Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time and spent hours whizzing around on 'Crazy Beach Party', holding on for dear life on the wooden rollercoaster and insisting that I would never again ride the 'Hellavator' (a 202-foot vertical tower which shoots you to the top at 75kph and then lets you freefall back towards the ground), although inevitably I always did because the view from the top was too incredible to miss, even if a good dose of G-force was the price you had to pay!
Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com/en/node) is home to a big open market with lots of theatres, gift-shops and restaurants. When I last went there were street performers doing shows, which added to the exciting, carnival-like atmosphere. If you love the theatre then bag some cut-price tickets from tourist information before you head over. The 'Theatre Sports' shows are hilarious and 100% improvised so anything could - and did - happen! I enjoyed the shows so much that I made visiting a weekly event.
I was lucky to live just off Commercial Drive (Broadway skytrain station is the one you'd get off at coming from downtown), also known as Little Italy, where I enjoyed the plethora of funky cultural stores and independent coffee shops. It's a very arty area and has lots of places to eat. I spent a number of afternoons at Joe's Cafe which has a very friendly feel and does amazing tall chi lattes. Details can be found at www.thedrive.ca.
I would highly recommend Frenchies Diner on 1018 Commercial Drive; it's like stepping onto the Grease movie set! I made sure I tried the Canadian dish 'poutine', a delicious mix of cheese, gravy, fries and meats and the staff were very friendly, I didn't even feel awkward eating alone. Visit their website on www.frenchies-diner.com/ or call (604) 728-2862.
The Old Spaghetti Factory (www.oldspaghettifactory.ca; 604- 684-1287) on 53 Water Street was also a favourite, mainly for their great value. We were kept topped up on bread, served a main and finished up with dessert all for $15! Bargain!
Where to stay
Although my own stay was long term, a number of my young and adventurous friends loved their stay at the HI-Vancouver Downtown Hostel on 1114 Burnaby Street. I was originally put off by the word hostel but found that it's actually a really clean, modern place to stay and offers great opportunity to meet new people as well as including a delicious breakfast every morning! It's positioned on the culturally vibrant Westside of downtown and a two-minute walk from English Bay beach, where I spent a number of evenings perched on a log with a Starbucks in hand watching the sun set behind the mountains - a perfect mix of city and nature!
There is so much more to Vancouver than can be written into a report. It provided me with a year of unforgettable experiences that I'll keep for years to come. As I watched the Science World expo dome get smaller and smaller as my plane back to London climbed higher into the sky, I knew I had found a place that had become, and always would be, home.