What could be cooler than starting your frontier adventure in Vancouver? The easy-going West Coast Canadian city revels in a two-for-one deal with nature — mild temperatures at sea level, frosty alpine fun on the easy-to-reach mountain peaks. The snow, as locals like to say, stays on the mountains, and Vancouver is blessed with three local mountains right in the city.
Words by Craig Dixon
Even in winter, compact, walkable Vancouver earns its title as one of the world’s most liveable cities, and the locals love getting outdoors whatever the weather. When you visit, you’ll find yourself surrounded by Vancouverites when you get out and hit the fresh air for a walk or cycle around the Stanley Park seawall, a paved walkway with spectacular views of the city, ocean and mountains.
A National Historic Site and the city’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown’s heritage buildings have been repopulated by cool designer stores and some of the city’s best bars and restaurants. Hungry? Take your pick of wine and charcuterie, Pacific Northwest menus, modern Asian options, cool cocktail bars and craft beer pubs. Or stroll through Granville Island’s Public Market to taste Canadian culinary specialities.
Rich in history and architecture, North America’s third-largest Chinatown, in downtown Vancouver, is packed with vivid colours, exotic cuisine and a vibrant culture. In recent years the neighbourhood has welcomed a younger generation of the city’s Asian population resulting in modern new galleries, cutting-edge restaurants and bold cafés.
Winter is festival time in Vancouver and the excitement is palpable as the city hosts food and wine events including Dine Out Vancouver, Canada’s largest culinary festival, for two weeks in mid-January, and the Vancouver International Wine Festival in late February.
The downtown peninsula offers access to some of Vancouver’s lushest green spots. At the north end, 1001-acre Stanley Park is temperate rainforest with cricket pitches, rose gardens, totem poles, beaches, bike paths and trails, Canada’s largest aquarium, and the city’s finest sea-to-sky mountain views. Simply, one of the world’s great urban parks.
On the North Shore, cross the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, located in the cedar-scented rainforest, to begin a heart-pounding journey across Treetops Adventures, a series of suspension bridges high up in the trees and walk along the cantilevered walkway. During December and January, visit Canyon Lights at Capilano when the park is lit up with millions of sparkling Christmas lights. The nature adventure continues at Grouse Mountain where you’ll find jaw-dropping views of Vancouver as you take the Skyride up to the peak. Locals enjoy the ski and snowboard runs even into the evenings, as well as the Light Walk path for walking or snowshoeing in the forest. During the Christmas season, Grouse Mountain is transformed into the Peak of Christmas with ice-skating, reindeer, Santa and other seasonal celebrations.
Visitors seeking a little luxury will find plenty of ways to indulge in Vancouver. From five-star hotel suites with private rooftop plunge pools to world-class dining and glitzy champagne-and-dessert bars. In the heart of downtown, Robson Street is the city’s best-known shopping strip, where you’ll find the Pacific Centre mall and big-name stores. A block over on Alberni Street is Vancouver’s “luxury row”. Browse diamonds at De Beers, designer fashions at Gucci and Dior or head for Holt, Renfrew and Nordstrom luxury department stores.
Reach for the skies on a sightseeing flight from cruise-ship terminal Canada Place. Seaplanes (known here as floatplanes) spectacularly take off over Stanley Park and downtown, then climb over the snowy mountains – a truly breath-taking experience. Check out Harbour Air to explore the options.
For a more down-to-earth experience, head to Rogers Arena (just near Gastown and Chinatown) to see local hockey heroes the Vancouver Canucks strut their stuff. Make sure you have a ticket: these guys tend to sell out every match well in advance.
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