This week in Postcard, Kate Ginn recommends Vancouver, Canada
A coastal seaport city in the west of Canada, Vancouver is officially one of my favourite places in the world. Its laid-back vibe and slightly bohemian air is a world away from its more uptight eastern Canadian cousin, Toronto. Its close proximity to America – Seattle is under three hours away by car – is another big plus.
Around 600,000 people call the city home, making it the eighth-largest Canadian municipality, and 2.4 million inhabits live in the Greater Vancouver area. The original settlement was named Gastown – elements of which still remain – founded on the edge of a logging sawmill property and named after the owner of a local tavern, Gassy Jack. As the waterfront developed with stores and hotels, it was renamed Vancouver in 1886. It’s grown to become, in my view, a wonderful example of how modern urban living should be: family friendly with plenty of green spaces, modern architecture blending perfectly with natural surroundings and vibrant, bustling nightlife.
Little wonder that Vancouver is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life.
One of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada – 52 per cent of its residents have a first language other than English – Vancouver embraces visitors with a huge welcome hug. Within a matter of days, you easily slip into the Vancouverite lifestyle and spirit. Whether you want parks, beaches, mountains, urban chic or sports, Vancouver has it all and more.
My favourite place:
Vancouver is all about the lifestyle and enjoying the outdoors and there’s no better example of this than Stanley Park. This magnificent 405-hectare park combines excellent attractions with a mystical natural aura. Stroll or cycle (rentals are available) around the 8.8km seawall, fringed by a 150,000-tree temperate rainforest, where you can enjoy fantastic views of English Bay. I took a guided tour, but you can just as easily make your own way around. There are also 27 kilometres of forest trails, winding through the park’s dense foliage. We had lunch in one of the park’s picnic areas before heading off to see the famous First Nation totem poles at Brockton Point.
A visit to Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood is an absolute must. The epicentre of Vancouver’s design, culture, food and fashion, it’s a mix of hip shops and restaurants. As Vancouver is the culinary capital of Canada, it would be a crime not to dip into the food culture and experience such gems as Japa Dog (a hotdog with seaweed and okonomiyaki sauce), the city’s quirky take on the classic American hotdog. The seafood is also fantastic, as is the coffee. Take a cable car up Grouse Mountain with breathtaking views of the city and have lunch at the very chic restaurant at the top or head across the water for whale watching to Vancouver Island, from where you can catch a 45-minute scenic flight to Seattle by seaplane. Whistler, the ski resort where the 2010 Winter Olympics was held, is just a 90-minute drive away (or take the train for incredible views). In summer, the resort’s cable car is equally spectacular.
Being on the west coast, Vancouver gets a lot of rain and the downpours can make for a rather miserable mood when they come. The roads can be choked with traffic and congestion – but coming from Oman that shouldn’t be a problem. It can be expensive too, so keep a tight rein on your budget.
Gastown is filled with cool, cutting-edge designer gear from fashion to contemporary interior designs. Jewellery with locally sourced gemstones such as jade, amber and quartz are a good bet. Aside from the usual tacky Canadian souvenirs (maple leaf-shaped anything and moose cuddly toys), it’s worth taking home a few bottles of original maple syrup.
Where to stay:
There are 25,000 hotel, B&B and hostel rooms in Vancouver, so you are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. In the summer months, the city is colonised by tourists, so booking ahead is essential – unless you want to sleep in Stanley Park. Spring and autumn are good times for cheaper deals. Word-of-mouth favourite Urban Hideaway Guesthouse is good for smaller budgets while at the other end, check into the five-star boutique Opus Hotel. My personal choice was the ivy-covered The Sylvia Hotel, built in 1912 with a prime location overlooking English Bay and plenty old-world charm.
Top five things to do: