5 days in Vancouver
5 Days in Vancouver…
…heart of British Columbia!
What do cities such as Vienna, Osaka, Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver have in common? They all are classed as top places to live in the world. BBC, CNBC, Independent, Business Insider they are all quoting where you can live like a “goddess” haha. Or as close as you can. Annual Global Liveability Index measures the most liveable cities in the world. What does the list consist of? On the list you will find crime rates, healthcare quality, infrastructure and levels of corruption but also culture and education. So pretty much all, that is important to anyone living an adult life.
Perform a simple search on internet and you will find, that Vancouver is still in top 10 most liveable cities. From memory, a few years ago it was in top 3. In 2018 ranking it dropped, to still very respectable number 6. I have visited Canada and Vancouver in 2018. And I can tell you – that is definitely the case. I loved it so much, I would be prepared to drop my life in Derby, UK and move to Vancouver right away if opportunity arose. Maybe one day I will. It feels like one of those cities that has it all – nature, city that goes through proper seasons, you have ocean and mountains, great infrastructure, public transport, city that is green and bicycle friendly, amazing restaurants, bars, galleries, museums and shopping. It is not too big, not too small. I personally get uncomfortable in metropolis such as London or Paris after few days. It is too crowded, too loud, too busy for full time living. Vancouver on the other hand, has barely over 600,000 population, and even with its suburbs of Greater Vancouver, it is circa 2,5 million human beings. Compare it to London’s 15 million?
I had the pleasure to see the city in 2018. I have spent 5 days there and another full day while on layover, when flying back from Portland to London. I am writing this note, as a short guide to your Vancouver city break and what has the city best to offer. In my typical manner, I travelled solo but met some great people and had plenty of companion during my trip. I want to assure you that whether you a girl or a boy, you can travel solo and have as much, if not more fun, as when travelling as couple or group.
From the moment I landed in British Columbia, it was an easy breezy process. All it took to visit Canada, was a simple ETA application online costing around $7 CAD. At the airport, I literally walked through the immigration, without speaking to a single soul – all I did, was scan my passport at the machine. Whole immigration took about 3 minutes!!!! Unheard of in any other country, including my home countries of Poland and UK.
There is a great public transport infrastructure in Vancouver. There are airport staff everywhere, that will be happy to help you out, with getting right ticket for the Sky Train into the city, advising what is more cost-effective option, which routes to take and so on. Very helpful, and within half an hour from landing, I was on the train into downtown Vancouver. I was heading to Yaletown to my AirBnB. It is only about 30-40 minute journey from the airport. Below link to the Sky Train:
Yaletown is a great area – hip, quite modern, but not in the luxurious way but more of an industrial building turned modern flats, if you know what I mean. It is buzzing with life, hip bars and great eateries. Lots of vegetarian and vegan options. It spreads to the waterfront, with beautiful leisure areas, bike paths (the whole city is covered with fantastic bike routes, so this was pretty much the only transport form for me during my visit). I stayed in a beautiful 3 storey town house, with a local couple, who rented me their room via AirBnB. I had my own private bathroom, great company and advice from people who know the city, but also plenty of privacy when I needed it. My room hire came with a pass for Mobi - city bike application, which allows you bike rides for up to 1 hour, completely free. After the 50-55 minutes all you need to do is find a bike station, dock a bike, take another one and you can ride all day for free (see the link below for getting the application). I was lucky enough, since I didn’t even have to register, but it is a straightforward online registration and you will need to provide your credit card details or just buy a plan, that will suit your needs or duration of the trip.
On day 1, I have not done too much. After 10 hours on a plane, hitting different time zone, the usual issue came over me within few hours – jet lag. All I managed on the first evening, was a walk down Yaletown and round the waterfront. Nice, warm evening in May, overlooking False Creek, people watching – just what I enjoy the most. I also managed to fit in a dinner, with another single traveller – Diana visiting from LA, that I made friends via Coachsurfing (see my blog on benefits of using the Coachsurfing in Travel section). We wandered round Downtown and decided on the Thai restaurant. After filling dinner (portions are almost as “generously big” as in USA) and couple cocktails, I was ready to retire in my new home in Vancouver. I was so excited to be here!
I started day 2 slightly later than intended, after sleeping off my jet lag, but with a plan to see and do as much as possible. Weather was beautiful, sun was out, and I was ready to explore. Since the Mobi bike station was right outside my house, I got a bike and took a ride over to the other side of False Creek, and into Granville Island. If you prefer a shorter route you can also take a water taxi from Yaletown to Granville Island. They operate every 10-15 minutes and have multiple stops around False Creek – from Kitsilano to Science World Centre. There are two main companies operating on the Creek – Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, both with slightly different stops. You pay as you hop on, and can choose from a single ticket and a day pass. Really fast and convenient method of transport for tourists, but also a lovely way to see Vancouver from the water. Here are the links to both companies :
Back to Granville Island. It is a peninsula with a port, beautiful boats and yachts docked around. You can book a whale watching trip while in Vancouver (unfortunately, I have run out of time to do this), this is where most boats depart from. There is also an indoor market with great choice of food, chocolates, specialty tea, fruit and vegetables and crafts. Further down you will walk into an artisan crafts village – make sure to visit broom store! What a fantastic idea – they are all hand made brooms of all sizes and shapes. It would make a great wedding gift. Have you ever heard of broom jumping? Speak to a store owner, she will explain. Finish off by grabbing a coffee and sit at the waterfront overlooking Vancouver, boats and apartments on the other side of False Creek.
From Granville Island, I took a 20 minutes bike ride down the waterfront marina and towards the Maritime Museum (architecture is just amazing in VNC, no eye sores, all buildings whether single storey houses or apartment buildings are just fitting with each other, creating peaceful environment). From here you get a fantastic view over the city to West End side, Stanley Park in the distance, English Bay of course and Sunset Beach. In the far distance, on a sunny and clear day you can also see the Cypress Mountain. Once you get bored of beach life round English Bay, 30 minutes’ drive from Vancouver, you can enjoy winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding, mountain hikes and more (if you have more time than 4 days make sure to go on at least a day trip to Whistler).
I left my bike and decided to walk around Kitsilano. I instantly fell in love with this area. Beautiful detached homes, laid back atmosphere, yoga studios, cafes and swimming outdoor pool (on this later, I have been lucky enough to hang out that pool for a full day with another friend I made during my trip 😉). Lots of greenery, cute front gardens. Peace and quiet with beautiful views. How much I would like to live in the area like this. Unfortunately, that may remain a dream for now, since house prices in this area would set me back about 1 million CAD. Maybe it is time to go back to bed and dream about that new house of mine in Kitsilano…
The day ended with a drink and dinner in Pourhouse Restaurant in Gastown. Really lovely place, with live music and even better company. Diana joined me again and we met with another friend Jonny. A local lad, who was happy to tell us more about this great city. Jonny has remained a close friend of mine since then, and we had an opportunity to meet and hangout for a weekend in London in 2019. Yet again, Coachsurfing – thank you for allowing me to connect with some amazing people throughout the years.
On day 3 headed into Downtown, and after quick breakfast in a diner-like eatery in West End, it was time for a free city tour. In my opinion, it is one of the best ways to discover any city. Most major cities in the world offer this kind of tour now, just google it. People doing the tours are very knowledgeable about their cities, and it is great opportunity to meet other travellers. Tours usually last between 2 – 3 hours, and the only cost involved, is a symbolic tip for the time and effort of your tour guide. Well worth the money in my opinion. For the Free Tours in Vancouver I have included a link below. Erik was my tour guide on the trip round Granville Street and Gastown.
Granville Street is located in heart of Vancouver, full of bars, restaurants a main entertainment district – sleepy by day but buzzing and alive at night. With lots of neon’s, Vancouver was once one of the cities with highest concentration of those. Walk by the Commodore Ballroom or if you have more spare time, try and book yourself tickets for a show. Further down you will walk by Orpheum Theatre and Pacific Shopping Centre. With a quick pit stop at Waterfront Station, to look at paintings on the sealing, from there we walked into Gastown. With its Victorian buildings, cobblestones, vintage lampposts, it’s the oldest part of town – dating back to 1860’s. Very popular with tourist, you will find many souvenir shops here, but also art galleries and places to eat and drink. In the heart of Gastown, there is a Steam Clock built in 1977, that entertains tourists every quarter of an hour with whistling and shooting steam. That was the end of the tour and time to grab lunch. I decided on “MeeT Restaurant – there are in fact three of those around Vancouver. Tasty food, generous portions and friendly staff.
After lunch it was time to walk and discover more of the city. 10-minute walk from Gastown, I was back at the Fairmont Waterfront to see Canada Place. An iconic landmark in Vancouver. Place that nowadays hosts Ted talks, conventions, but it is also a main cruise ship terminal. You will see the planes landing on water, since it’s next to seaplanes harbour. Right out front there is also an Olympic Torch built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I even spotted mama goose and 6 tiny baby gooses hiding in between trees at the end of the Canada Place pier.
From there, I grabbed a Mobi bike and cycled all the way to Stanley Park. Surrounded by waters of English Bay and Burrard Inlet, this is the largest park I have ever been too. To me, it resembles more of a small forest and since there isn’t much human involvement, it does remain a very natural place. I did not have enough time to see everything, but it is a lovely cycle round the peninsula – make sure to stop at the First Nations art and totem poles memorial (the land was first used by the Indigenous people for thousands of years), take photos of the city and overlooking Canada Place, check out Lions Gate Bridge (a suspension bridge connecting city of Vancouver with a North Shore). Locals enjoy cycling, walking and jogging in Stanley Park. I cycled all the way round, from Zeus Beach, through Second and Third Beach all the way to English Bay. In here it was time to rest, people watch, grab dinner and quick selfie with laughing boys. “A-maze-ing Laughter” sculptures by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, are just on the other side of the road from the English Bay beach. This is also a home to annual Celebration of Light – a fireworks display taking place end of July/early August (I wasn’t lucky enough to see them, since I visited in May, but I watched plenty of videos on Instagram – it is a spectacular show!).
I don’t know how, but I managed to find a little bit more energy in me, after a busy day to cycle back home and retire for the night. I must have cycled circa 30 miles on that day, and for a serious couch lover like me, it was a proper workout.
For my last day in Vancouver, before catching a train at 5 am and crossing USA border, I decided to just explore city and see where my legs take me. Quick breakfast in Davie Village, a thriving LGBT community. I always enjoy the friendly vibe in different cities, in their gay and lesbian neighbourhoods. Chilled out people, rainbow flags everywhere, you can for sure be anyone and feel welcomed here. From here, I ended up cycling to the other side of town - China Town. I walked round Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, took a stroll around the neighbourhood and its commercial district, with plenty of stores, dim sum restaurants and of course Chinatown Millennium Gate. It is not as big and impressive as for example Chinatown in San Francisco (but then again SF is the oldest Chinatown in whole of USA), but still definitely worth a visit.
The one thing about exploring cities on foot, is at times you don’t know where they will take you. And it happened to me as well. I did not realise that Chinatown is bordering with quite a “sketchy” area of Vancouver – Hastings. Yes, I have seen homeless people there, maybe people with mental health issues, troubled people and people on drugs. Yes, it felt uncomfortable. But also, nothing bad happened to me. I have walked normally and did not look for trouble. Neither no one was bothering me or trying to hurt or rob me. I think media like to exaggerate how bad it is, but it is surely not somewhere where tourist will see beautiful landmarks. For those who like street photography you might want to try and get some great footage here. It also exposes the divide between rich and poor, and the scale of the problem, that even a rich country such as Canada is facing. Few blocks down the road and you are back in Gastown. It feels as though the “poor and homeless” are pushed more and more out of the city, to make room for the developers and expensive apartment blocks.
My final hours I spent strolling down through complete opposite to Hastings – at Robson Street. Shopping, eating and drinking. Or more like window shopping for me, people watching and looking for a cheap lunch. Beautiful city, amazing people, the vibe, the atmosphere…I don’t want to leave. I want to see more, experience more, I am ready to start scrolling through job adverts just to be able to stay a bit longer. If you haven’t yet – come here. Book your flight, train or bus depending where you’re coming from. You will fall in love with heart of beautiful British Columbia.
Unfortunately, my time in Vancouver is coming to an end. Early night for me, all packed and taxi booked for 3 in the morning. I am heading to Seattle next, and decided to cross the border on land this time and booked myself a 1st class seat on the Amtrak Cascades. But that is the story for next time. I will be back in Vancouver just for one more day, on 12 hours layover on my flight from Portland to London. I will have few more hours, to catch more sun rays, and sea breeze while chilling at Kitsilano Pool with my friend Patrick. Another kind soul met in this great city. Diana, Jonny, Patrick and others – I hope to see you again, and see you soon Vancouver!