Vancouver is the perfect combination of nature and metropolitan life. I don’t know whether the merge of these two concepts happened due to excellent urban planning or it was simply just God’s will, but it amazed me every single day how easy and enjoyable it was to experience both of them simultaneously. Maybe this is one of the reasons why it is in the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. Howsoever, I truly fell for the simplicity and sagacity of the place right away.
I traveled to Vancouver with a purpose. I went to this vibrant city to participate in the International Conference of Tourism and Leisure Studies organized at the University of British Columbia (UBC) by Common Ground Research Networks.
Sixty professors, students, researchers and professionals working in the field of tourism gathered to share their expertise and standpoints about the current issues and trends of the industry. I had a double stake in all this: first of all, I was chosen as an Emerging Scholar Awardee moderating some of the sessions and second of all, I got the opportunity to present the results of my Masters research about personal travel blog consumption in case of the millennials. It was a true joy for me to see that a topic so close to my heart was valuable for others too and to deliver decent content to all the inspiring people, who gave me plenty of ideas and advice for my professional career. The icing on the cake was that a former classmate of mine, Vicky, from Ohio University also participated in the conference. So, we could spend some quality time together, catch up and explore some parts of Vancouver together. The conference lasted for 2 days, but then we turned the tourist mode ON and were ready for some fun.
After all, the city was just as I expected, if not better. The nature was absolutely spectacular with all the snow-capped mountains framing a giant crib for the impressive skyscrapers and the sea slitting its way through the land, jagging the coast beautifully. I did my ‘mandatory’ research about the destination before I arrived, and I knew that Vancouver is a paradise for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. You can do hiking, skiing, rafting, kayaking, canoeing and whatever else you feel like. The only problem in my case was that I am simply not an outdoorsy person in its core sense. However, I love the urbanized options of green spaces, which Vancouver is absolutely not in shortage of.
My top two were:
This 405-hectare public park has a history that dates back thousands of years. It is one of the first areas explored in the city, and was used by indigenous people before the territory was colonized by the British in the 19th century. Indigenous heritage is well-respected and kept in Vancouver. You can find totem poles as one of the main attractions also in Stanley Park – totem poles can be found all over the city: starting from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. However, since Stanley Park is free and open to the public, it enjoys a large number of visitors on a daily basis.
There are 36 points of interest in the entire park. I spent three hours there and I was able to cover 9 of them. By bike it probably would have been easier, but whatever – a long walk alone along the seawall helped me clear my mind. Beside the totem poles, the two other favorites of mine were the Rose and Perennial Garden (which was truly stunning at this time of the year with the pink cherry blossoms and the sea of other colorful flowers)
and the Girl in a Wetsuit Statue (which is called Canada’s Little Mermaid, inspired by the ‘real’ Little Mermaid from Copenhagen).
Stanley Park is a must-see, if you are in the city. It is accessible and walkable, but you can drive through the park if you wish, rent a bike, or roll around with a skateboard. It doesn’t matter, because the infrastructure within the area is constructed perfectly. So, whatever transportation you choose, it is going to be easy to get around.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
This park is Vancouver’s oldest visitor attraction. It has three main highlights: the 137 meters long, 70 meters high suspension bridge, the adrenaline-pumping cliff walk and the 30 meters high walks on the tree canopies. All this takes place in a West Coast rainforest ecosystem.
This place is extremely family-friendly, again accessible by all means – especially because the park is right beside the road. However, you cannot really feel the closeness of city life after you enter the forest and plunge into nature. The park offers a free shuttle for all their guests to and from downtown; all you have to do is buy and print your ticket in advance, so the driver knows that you are a visitor. I didn’t have a pre-purchased ticket so I took public transportation there, which was convenient and quick, but on my way back I took advantage of the free service. I decided to visit the park on Monday at noon, which turned out to be a rainy, crowd-free day in the park.
However, I can imagine that during summertime, especially on the weekends, it is super busy, so if you ever decide to visit the place in the high season, do yourself a favor: buy the tickets online, because that will give you a bypass from the long queue at the entrance. For me, the Capilano Park was a place that you love on your first visit, but nonetheless you don’t go there for a second time.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a well-equipped, safe, interesting and unique place, but you can just cover it all at once. All in all, the 32 CAD entrance fee was all worth it: I loved the educational aspects of the park, which were enjoyable for children and adults as well, and for an amateur outdoor adventurer, as I am, this trip was a great option. And yes, you can find totem poles there, too.
Beside the abundance of nature, there is also an abundance of diverse cuisine in Vancouver. And this directly relates to the multifariousness of cultures and nationalities that are actively present in the city. A bit more than 50% of the residents have a first language other than English. What I realized immediately was that people of East and Southeast Asian origin form a big portion of the population. As it later turned out, almost 30%. It was a bit absurd being in Canada, feeling like I am in China, but still having a hard time realizing that I am not in Europe anymore, because I could see the European touches everywhere, on everything. This city just gave me the weird impression that the entire world had decided to meet in Vancouver. Perfect example is this picture below, where a Vancouverite, Puerto Rican, British, Indonesian and Hungarian enjoy the city together 🙂
Food Tour in Gastown
As far as food goes: you can taste uncountable foreign flavors without stepping outside of the borders of the city. On my second day, together with some of the early bird delegates of the conference, we went on a two-and-a-half-hour food tour organized by Taste Vancouver Food Tours in Gastown, which is the first downtown core of the city. This district embraces restaurants, pubs, art galleries, little fashion boutiques, souvenir shops, upscale housings etc. The most photographed spot in Vancouver can also be found here – the Steam Clock, which was built in order to cover a steam grate. But by now, it has become the number one attraction in the city.
Gastown was the perfect location for this tour. The meeting point was at Waterfront Station in front of a Starbucks, which turned out to be the first stop of the tour as well. At that moment, the promise of an authentic food adventure started to fade slowly, because as far as I was concerned Starbucks had nothing to do with local flavors. Shortly, it was revealed that this particular Starbucks was the very first international Starbuck in the world – which is pretty cool, considering that by now there are more than 17.000 of them. After this short intro, we got to the real ‘foodie’ business. We went to nine different places, and tasted homemade tortellini, organic soft scoop cream, Philippine fried mini bao bun with braised pork, maple syrups, Belgian beer, English fish and chips, cheesecake and pulled pork sandwich from Peckinpah.
No need to say that at the end of the tour I was stuffed with all the delicacies and I was satisfied with the service as well. This was my very first food tour, it cost me 50 CAD, but I totally recommend it to everyone, because it gives you an absolutely new perspective about the destination.
After having such a great experience on the tour, I felt like I wanted to eat up the entire city. Luckily, Vicky shared my enthusiasm and later that week we headed to Granville Island together to explore the fresh, homemade products the Public Market had to offer. We were not disappointed. The variety of aromas to choose from was crazy.
What is great about this island, beside the food, is its unique, colorful, and creative atmosphere. Its art galleries, craft stores and artisans create a special environment, which takes you far away from Vancouver.
Robson Street, which is in the heart of downtown, has plenty of Asian restaurants and takeaways. One day I had Mongolian, the next day Japanese and then Chinese. You just cannot get enough. Especially because eating out seemed really affordable, despite the fact that Vancouver in itself is considered as a very pricey city.
Over and above the nature and food, I highly recommend two things to do in Vancouver. First of all, go to Kitsilano District and the UBC Campus. Kitsilano is a residential area, where you can escape the mass tourism flow and the skyscraper jungle, and get a little sense of how Vancouverites live in this city. It is the perfect place to get lost and enjoy the tiny, local stores and cafes.
Relatively close by is the campus, which is enormous and it is located in a green paradise with a gorgeous view to the mountains. It has a modern, youthful vibe, which makes you want to stay there forever.
Second of all, walk through Granville Street at night (preferably during the weekend). This street is called the Entertainment District of Vancouver with dozens of theaters, clubs, bars and pubs. I haven’t been partying during my stay in the city so I cannot say much about that part, but the night lights were definitely impressive. It was like a little Broadway.
However, be cautious; the street is filled with homeless people, beggars, and you can smell marijuana wherever you turn. But don’t worry; as long as you rely on your common sense, you will be fine.
And who knows, you might be as lucky as I was, and bump into a celebrity on the streets of Vancouver. Jared Padalecki – Gilmore Girl’s Dean and Supernatural’s Sam Winchester – walked by after he had successfully escaped from the grasp of a group of teenage girls. That was a pleasant surprise. 😊
What else can I say? The Green Frog and I had fun abroad again!