Make the most of an excellent public transport network to see the sights of the shining jewel of Canada’s West Coast
Vancouver is one of the world’s great waterfront cities. Jaw-dropping views are almost taken for granted, but this friendly, cosmopolitan city has so much more to offer than picture postcard looks. While it’s easy enough to explore downtown on foot, to savour the attractions found a little further afield you need transport. No need to look beyond Vancouver’s excellent public transport system, which will take you almost anywhere at a fraction of the cost of taxis or a rental car. A TransLink (http://tripplanning.translink.ca) day pass is great value at CAD$9 ($7 seniors), giving unrestricted travel on buses, SeaBus and SkyTrain.
Arrive by SkyTrain
From Vancouver International Airport, the quickest and cheapest route to downtown Vancouver is by the Canada Line, the 2009 expansion of the SkyTrain rapid transit system. A single fare costs CAD$8.75 ($7.50 concessions; cheaper after 6.30pm and weekends) and the ride to Waterfront takes 25 minutes. Day passes can be purchased at the 7-Eleven or the Pharmasave on the Arrivals level. Two other SkyTrain lines, the Expo and the Millennium, run from downtown to the Greater Vancouver cities of Burnaby, Surrey and New Westminster.
Ferry and bus to North Vancouver
The frequent SeaBus service takes 12 spectacular minutes to cross Burrard Inlet from Waterfront station to Lonsdale Quay, the gateway to North Vancouver. The choice for most tourists is Grouse Mountain and its all-year aerial tramway (604-980-9311; www.grousemountain.com) or Capilano Suspension Bridge (604-985-7474; www.capbridge.com) for the thrill of a 140-metre long cabled walkway which sways 70 metres above Capilano Canyon. Alternatively, take the #229 from the nearby bus station, alight at Duval, about 20 minutes away, and walk a short distance to the Ecology Centre at the entrance to Lynn Canyon Park (604-990-3755; www.lynncanyon.ca). The centre has helpful explanations of the local fauna and flora. And you can still enjoy the thrill of walking in the air - across Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, by no means as spectacular as its North Vancouver neighbour, but still an impressive 50 metres high, invariably far less crowded - and entry is free. A selection of hiking trails in the park caters for most ages and abilities.
Poles apart from the natural delights of Lynn are the man-made attractions of Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com) - a misnomer, as it's actually a peninsula. Several bus routes run southwest from downtown Burrard Street. Be sure to alight at Pacific Street, or you'll find yourself being whisked high above False Creek on Burrard Bridge (as we discovered on our first visit). The Aquabus ferry terminal is close by – not included in the TransLink pass, but the two-minute crossing of False Creek won’t ruin your budget. Granville Island is a reclaimed former industrial site, the old factory sheds now housing an array of arts, crafts and clothing shops.
The real highlight is the Public Market (1689 Johnston Street; 9am–7pm daily), a thriving indoor market with an amazing range of fruit, vegetables and delicatessen offerings, as well as artisan stalls of all types. You will be tempted, too, by the food outlets with treats on offer to suit all tastes. Elsewhere, good cafés and restaurants are plentiful; try Agro Café (1363 Railspur Alley; 604-669-0724; www.agrocafe.org) for breakfast, lunch or just a reviving coffee. For bistro-style dining, the popular Bridges (1696 Duranleau Street; 604-687-4400; www.bridgesrestaurant.com) has fine views of the North Vancouver mountains. Beer connoisseurs will gravitate to Granville Island Brewing (1441 Cartwright Street; 604-687-2739; www.gib.ca), Canada’s oldest microbrewery.
Culture beyond Kitsilano
Occupying a large site in West Vancouver, the University of British Columbia is a 30-minute bus ride from the city centre. A good half-day can be spent here, perhaps combined with a trip to Granville Island. From Granville, head for West 6th Avenue and hop on bus #84, which passes through Kitsilano, a fashionable neighbourhood with interesting shops (www.kitsilano4thavenue.com) and restaurants, including Sophie’s Cosmic Café (604-732-6810; www.sophiescosmiccafe.com). Unremarkable from the exterior, inside it’s a riot of kitsch memorabilia decorating walls and shelves - and their apple pie can fairly be described as cosmic.
In the middle of the campus is the UBC bus loop terminus. If time is limited, make straight for the Museum of Anthropology (6393 NW Marine Drive; 604-822-3825; www.moa.ubc.ca). It's the only place on this list of recommendations that charges an entry fee (CAD$14 plus tax; students/seniors CAD$12), but don't let that stop you. Vancouver’s finest museum, it houses a superb collection of First Nation totem poles and other artefacts. There's also a stunning array of exhibits from across the world, including masks, textiles, costumes, weapons and ornaments. Other public areas on the UBC site include magnificent gardens, a contemporary art gallery and intriguing alfresco artworks.
Get on your bike around Stanley Park
No stay in Vancouver is complete without a visit to the continent’s largest urban park (www.vancouver.ca/parks/parks/stanley), which occupies over 400 hectares to the northwest of the city. You can walk from downtown in 20 minutes, or take the #19 bus to the Stanley Park loop just inside the entrance. The best way to explore in a limited time has to be by bicycle. You can rent bikes close to the entrance. The 9-km perimeter seawall path tempts pedestrians, joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists alike, with its superb views across the water to the coastal mountains. Or you can opt to investigate the many paths and trails that traverse the park’s wooded interior.
Indie shopping on South Main
Robson Street has typical city department and chain stores, but don't ignore Vancouver’s independent shops, which are well worth exploring. Some of the best are located in the South Main neighbourhood. Main Street runs north–south through the old working class district of Mount Pleasant, which has been rebranded as ‘SoMa'. Its eclectic range of shops attracts hip locals, and you can join them by jumping on a bus (#3, 8 or 19) from downtown. We alighted at 20th and strolled towards King Edward Avenue. Front & Company (3772 Main St; 604-879-8431; www.frontandcompany.ca) sells trendy clothing and an off-beat selection of collectibles. For classy stationery, try Regional Assembly of Text (3934 Main St; 604-877-2247; www.assemblyoftext.com). Red Cat Records (4307 Main St; 604-708-7422; www.redcat.ca) boasts a huge range of CDs and vinyl, both international and local.
Feeling peckish, we headed back north towards Broadway. Having to wait for a table at lunchtime is usually a good sign, and so it proved at Foundation (2301 Main Street; 604-708-0881), an unpretentious vegetarian café that serves wholesome, inexpensive dishes.
Conveniently located away from downtown’s most expensive area is the Sunset Inn and Suites (1111 Burnaby Street). It’s a five-minute walk from main bus routes and the Granville Island ferry, while downtown is a just a 15-minute stroll.
Round the corner from the Sunset Inn is Melriches (1244 Davie St; 604-689-5282; www.melriches.com), one of Vancouver’s best coffee houses. La Bodega (1277 Howe St; 604-684-8814; www.labodegavancouver.com), a lively tapas restaurant, is a few blocks away.
Last but not least, for top quality casual dining at budget downtown prices, it's hard to beat the Gallery Café (Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby Street; 604-688-2233; 9am–6pm (9pm Tues); 10am–6pm weekends).