48 Hours in Vancouver

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Get on the bus. It may sound just a tad too “touristy” but it really is a great way to get a feel for a city. And Vancouver is no exception.

Built around the water on Burrard Peninsula, shielded from the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island and controlled with strict planning laws that limit the height and placement of buildings, Vancouver is less crowded and frantic than many of its European cousins, offering a more relaxed city experience.

Vancouver

It has a strong cafe culture, as well as offering great food – whether you want to grab something from one of the ‘street food’ vendors or spend time over a meal with a glass of wine.

Vancouver’s reputation for quality food is steadily growing and many restaurants pride themselves on using local (within 100 miles) ingredients. For example The Rain City Grill sources almost all its food from within 100miles of Vancouver. C Restaurant certifies that all its fish adhere to the Oceanwise standard of sustainable fishing. And both restaurants offer good meals for vegetarians too.

Granville Island

But back to the bus… Vancouver has two hop-on hop-off bus tours – the Big Bus and the Pink Bus. Both trundle round the city, offering commentary and a view of some of the best sites, with the option to jump off if something takes your fancy.

I grabbed a seat on the Big Bus (red, with half the top deck offering open air seating). The commentary is pre-recorded, with mini dramatisations of key events. The audio is clear and offers a useful, if brief, introduction to the city’s history.

The tour covers all the major areas including Stanley Park (more on that later), Granville Island (hop off here for great food and some shopping among the stalls of unique and hand-made products), Canada Place (good view of the water and the ecologically sound grass roof of the new conference centre), China Town (take a walk through the tranquil garden), and English Bay (if the sun is out the beach will be full of people so you’ll need to hunt for a spot of sand to sunbathe on).

If you don’t have a lot of time then the bus will help orientate you and give you an idea of where you’d like to focus your activities.

I love bus tours and usually make them one of my first activities when I visit a new city, but they have one drawback – they can feel a bit “passive”; as though you’re watching the city rather than being “in” the city. Vancouver has a great solution to this – even for those with limited time. Take a cycling tour.

Spokes Bicycle Rentals on West Georgia Street, not only offers bicycle hire, it also runs a number of guided tours. A group of about nine of us, helmeted and astride our bikes, set out with Dan (who fortunately does not belong the lycra brigade) and took short ride to our first stop – Stanley Park.

Stanley Park Vancouver

Stanley Park (long before it was a park!) was originally home to the several Squamish tribes, but today it is an urban oasis with great cycle paths and plenty of places to stop and enjoy the flora – including giant cedar trees. The park operates a one-way policy for cyclists, which works very well. Dan was an excellent guide – I got the feeling that what Dan didn’t know about Vancouver, simply wasn’t worth knowing! He was passionate about both the city and its people. And don’t worry if you are not a strong cyclist – he offered advance warning of hills and made sure no one felt bad for getting off and walking if the incline was too steep.

cycling in Vancouver

Cycling is popular in Vancouver so not only do you get right “into” the city and experience it at street level, you’ll also be seeing it the way many of the locals do. You’ll need to keep a look out for your group as it’s easy to get caught up in the stream of cyclist peddling their way along the wall routes of Stanley Park. On a sunny day I really can’t think of a better way to spend your time.

Finally I’d recommend a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Their dedicated shuttle buses depart every 15 minutes from the city centre and offer a free ride the bridge. Entrance is around $30 for adults and I’d suggest allowing around two to three hours.

Costumed guides will fill you in on the history as they lead you to the bridge itself. Then over you go – grabbing the hand rails and walking with a strange wider-than-usual gait as you find your balance on the slightly swaying bridge. Pause to look down at the river rushing 230 feet below (if they stood the statue of Liberty in the gorge below her eyes would be level with yours on the bridge!) and, if you feel steady enough, pose for a few photos.

On the other side there’s plenty to do. Take a stroll through the treetops on the Treetops Adventure walk 100 feet above the ground and see the world as the squirrels do. At ground level walk the boardwalks through the forest and stop off to admire the birds of prey and chat with their handlers.

Then it’s back over the bridge and onto the cliff walk. The walkways jut out from the cliff side, and appear to hang precariously above the river below, and to add to the strange sensation much of it is paved with glass! It takes a bit of getting used to and part of the fun is watching other people tentatively take steps out on the glass while gripping the rails – their knuckles going white and their brows furrowed in concentration.

That’s how I spent my 48 hours in Vancouver … how would you spend yours?

Vancouver

FACT BOX:
Tourism Vancouver – www.tourismvancouver.com
Big Bus – www.bigbus.ca
Pink Bus – www.vancouverpinkbustours.com
Spokes Bicycle Hire – www.spokesbicyclerentals.com
C restaurant – www.crestaurant.com
Rain City Grill – www.raincitygrill.com
Capilano Suspension Bridge – www.capbridge.com
Air Canada – www.aircanada.com

About the Author
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.

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