Why Vancouver is the greatest city on Earth
Vancouver witnessed its biggest ever year for tourism in 2016, with a record 10 million overnight stays – an increase of 9.8 per cent on 2015 – according to figures released this week. And with Canada celebrating its 150th birthday, 2017 could be even more successful.
Why is the Pacific city proving so popular? Many of you are already familiar with its charms, and more than 70,000 readers voted it the second best city on Earth at last year’s Telegraph Travel Awards (Cape Town pipped it to the top spot). For the rest of you, here are a few reasons why you should start planning a trip…
1. Everyone’s happy
When it comes to those annual rankings of the world’s most “liveable” cities, Vancouver is always at the business end. The Economist Intelligence Unit placed it third in its most recent report (behind Melbourne and Vienna); according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey it’s fifth (behind Vienna, Zurich, Auckland and Munich). Both take into account factors like safety, health care, educational resources, infrastructure and the environment. These aren’t exactly essential for overseas visitors, but staying in a thriving, happy city is usually a more enjoyable than staying in a down-at-heel one.
2. It’s surrounded by water – and mountains
Jim Perrin describes Vancouver as “a world-class city with ocean attached”. He adds: “The first thing you notice, flying into Vancouver, is the surrounding water. Creeks and inlets penetrate deep inland. In the airport itself back-lit cascades splash within the arrivals concourse and the air is heavy with ozone. The gardens of Robson Square pulse to the beat of a waterfall. Down every downtown street you glimpse an arm of the Pacific. Stanley Park, as big as the whole of Downtown and adjacent to it, is completely encircled. Snow-capped peaks ring the horizon. This is one of the great scenic cities of the world. No wonder Greenpeace started here – you learn to value the physical world when it comes as lovely as this.”
For the best view, take a bus or cab to the cable cars that climb more than 4,000ft up Grouse Mountain, from where you can see the island-speckled ocean, the wilderness on the city’s doorstep, and the distant mountains of Washington State.
3. It’s the world in a nutshell
Vancouver is one of North America’s most cosmopolitan cities. Mark Jones writes: “Everyone wants a part of Vancouver: families from Shanghai, high-achievers from Mumbai, film-makers from LA, CGI designers from London – and anyone in Canada who is a bit fed up with the cold. No Ontario blizzards, no LA smog, no Hong Kong chaos. Just mountains, sea, big skies and wide streets.
“So this is many places in one. In Douglas Coupland’s brilliant Vancouver book, City of Glass, there’s a helpful ‘Parallel Universe’ map, where the city and its surrounding region are divided into global doppelgangers. So you get Denver and Dallas, Auckland and Vermont, Bavaria and Liverpool, and a couple of dozen more places, all within the confines of the greater Vancouver area. We set off from Singapore for lunch in San Francisco, then stroll over to Sydney; or, in the real world, take a two-minute boat trip from False Creek to Granville Island, then a short cab-ride over to Gastown.”
4. There’s a passion for food
“Canada has embraced the farm-to-table philosophy with gusto,” explains Paul Wade. “And nowhere more so than the chefs in Vancouver. Arguably the best foodie city in North America, Vancouver’s chefs can source seafood landed 10 miles from the city centre, veg from the Fraser River valley plus orchard fruits and ever-improving wines from the Okanagan Valley. Offering value for money are innovative, well-priced restaurants and high-quality food trucks.”
Paul suggests joining a chef-led tour of Granville Island Public Market with Vancouver Foodie Tours (001 604 295 8844; foodietours.ca), while Kathy Arnold recommends eating out at Hawksworth or Blue Water Cafe.
5. Parks galore – and beaches
Stanley Park is one of the world’s largest (1,000 acres) and most beautiful urban green spaces.
Tim Jepson says: “This glorious area of forest, formal gardens and semi-wilderness crowns Vancouver’s downtown peninsula: walk or rent a bike and join the locals on its six-mile perimeter seawall. Or stroll, sunbathe or swim from one of the beaches. The park’s aquarium is western Canada’s most-visited sight.”
“Must-sees include the nine towering totem poles at Brockton Point,” adds Kathy Arnold. “Carved by First Nations artists, these depict traditional themes: thunderbirds, bears and wolves.”
There are many more parks scattered through the city, including the VanDusen Botanical Garden with its Elizabethan hedge maze, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, inspired by the gardens of Suzhou.
6. There are epic adventures on its doorstep
There’s plenty to lure wildlife lovers within striking distance of the city. Just take the car ferry (it’s a spectacular journey) over to Vancouver Island. Paul Wade explains: “Watching a grizzly bear snack on salmon is a classic David Attenborough moment. So is watching grey whales, orcas, sea otters, bald eagles and the marbled murrelet, a cousin of the puffin. All these are just some of the delights of Vancouver Island and its waters.”
The small town of Tofino, meanwhile, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, is heaven for surfers. There are yet more beautiful, and wilder, beaches, too.
7. And amazing skiing
There are three options a stone’s throw from the city – Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour. Lifts open in the morning, and some stay open until after dark, so there’s ample opportunity for a full day’s skiing. Or else venture just a little further north to enjoy the linked resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb, which make up one of the largest ski areas in the world. “Boasting dramatic mountain scenery and a lively après scene, Whistler, on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia, is much more European in flavour than most North American resorts,” says Nicky Holford. “Twenty years ago, it was more of a locals mountain than the top international resort it is now. But even though it’s grown, what made it so special then – sniffle stations, Belgian waffles on the mountain, pitchers of margaritas in resort and the sort of powder that makes you sing with joy – remain.”
8. It’s bike friendly
Vancouver is one of North America’s most cycle-friendly cities, with around 800 miles of bike lanes. Go with a group on Cycle City Tours’ daily five-hour ride, where you’ll explore Stanley Park, ride the ferry to Granville Island and its market, and see the Olympic Village, Chinatown and Gastown. Or do your own thing using a self-guided tour map. Bike rental from around £15.50 for a half day; cyclevancouver.com)
9. There’s an Art Deco masterpiece
We’re big fans of Art Deco at Telegraph Travel, and Vancouver’s Marine Building is up there with the best. Once the tallest skyscraper in the British Empire, it will be familiar to fans of the TV show Smallville: it was used as the headquarters of the Daily Planet.
10. And a working steam clock
“Gastown, named after local publican and raconteur ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood,” says Kathy Arnold. “Now gentrified, with brick pavements and Victorian-style street lamps, it also has a curious steam clock that toots the Westminster Chimes every quarter hour.
“There are chic boutiques along Water Street and on Carrall, West Cordova and Abbott Streets. Typifying Vancouver’s laid-back lifestyle are the smart-casual designs in One of a Few, The Block and LYNNsteven Boutique.
“Take a rest at Pourhouse (pourhousevancouver.com) and sample a glass of Laughing Stock Pinot Gris from the Okanagan Valley, a fine example of British Columbia wine.”
11. It’s got a modern answer to the Colosseum
Tim Jepson explains: “Don’t miss Yaletown, a newly trendy warehouse district of specialist stores, restaurants and funky bars; Library Square, one of North America’s finest pieces of new architecture – nothing less than a post-modern Roman Colosseum; and Science World, a high-technology, hands-on science museum.”