Beautiful green parks, wonderful wildlife on your doorstep, a fabulous food and drink scene, colourful markets – there are so many reasons to visit Vancouver. Having made a fleeting stop there last year, I had many reasons to return. Two things that I had not had a chance to do during my previous trip were now top of my list of things to do in Vancouver: a walk around Stanley Park along the sea wall, and crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I also wanted to revisit my favourite part of the city, Granville Island. There’s a great food market there and, having visited a number of microbreweries around British Columbia, I was eager to check out Granville Island Brewing.
above: View of Vancouver from Granville Island
I was on my way back to Vancouver for the start of another great adventure, this time with one of my oldest friends, Sara, from Travel Continuum. We were heading off on a road trip in an RV (motorhome) from Cruise Canada that would take us up along the beautiful Sunshine Coast, across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island, and through the mountains to Tofino on the west coast, before taking us south, via Nanaimo, back to Vancouver.
It really was one heck of an adventure, but before sharing that with you, I’d like to show you why Vancouver is such a wonderful city. It is the perfect stepping stone before embarking on a road trip, and exploring the many wonders that British Columbia has to offer.
My Top Three Things to Do in Vancouver
1. Capilano Suspension Bridge
On my first day back in Canada, top of my wish list was a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge in northern Vancouver. A free shuttle bus picked us up from Canada Place, which was conveniently close to our downtown hotel, and about twenty minutes later we were at the entrance gate of the park.
I was glad that Sara had decided to come with me to see if she could overcome her fear of heights. Having once had a pretty bad fear of anything higher than three rungs on a step ladder myself, I knew where she was coming from. I am now at the stage where I am actively looking for vertigo inducing challenges, hence my longing to visit to the bridge in the first place. Sara, however, was where I was a few years ago, and found the prospect simply terrifying.
above: The Capilano River, showing the shadow cast by the suspension bridge
The name Capilano comes from the First Nations word Kai’palano meaning ‘beautiful river’. The first suspension bridge was built across the Capilano River in 1889, and was made of hemp ropes and cedar planks. This was replaced with a wire cable bridge in 1903, and the first tea house was built here in 1911. In 1956 the bridge was completely rebuilt, and the tea house converted into the Trading Post Gift Store which you can still visit today.
The suspension bridge is the only way into the park, which we were both eager to explore. The views from the bridge of the river below are well worth seeing, but walking across it, as it wobbles to and fro, was exceedingly disconcerting, not unlike trying to walk while drunk. Sara was an absolute star and, despite her fears, managed to cross the bridge (sadly, but understandably, without stopping to admire the view).
The reward was a magical walk through the towering evergreens of this temperate rainforest. Flights of stairs and a further 7 suspended footbridges, while providing further challenges for Sara (pictured below), allowed us to view the forest from every level.
Safely back across on the other side of the park, we tucked into a juicy Canadian sirloin beef burger from the Loggers’ Grill, washed down with a local beer, in celebration of Sara’s achievement.
Satisfied with her conquest of the bridges, Sara was happy to enjoy the views of the park while I made my way to the newest attraction, the Cliff Walk. As I stepped out onto the first cantilevered, suspended walkway, no more than a narrow path jutting out from the cliff face over the river below, I remember thinking how, just a few years ago, nothing would have persuaded me out here. I was even happy (ish) to walk across the thick glass with a view of the canyon far below my feet.
Full price tickets cost $39.95 (Canadian Dollars), which I think is well worth it as there’s plenty to do here to keep to you busy for most of the day.
2. Stanley Park
The free shuttle bus took us back towards downtown Vancouver, but we hopped off by Stanley Park. Having been on our feet all day, and suffering from jetlag, our hotel room was calling, however, neither of us wanted to leave Vancouver without seeing at least part of the 400-hectare park and the famous seawall. The views were as promised: magical. The sea and forest, juxtaposed against Vancouver’s high-rise skyline are quite a sight.
Turning away from the sea, we followed just a fraction of the kilometres of trails running through the park in order to find one of its many landmarks – an impressive collection of totem poles.
The beautiful beaches, Canada’s largest aquarium and other highlights of the park would sadly have to wait for another visit, as tired but happy, we made our way back to our hotel.
3. Granville Island Public Market and Brewery
There was one more place in Vancouver that I was determined to visit that we didn’t manage to squeeze in before leaving on our road trip. Luckily we had a free afternoon in the city at the end of our adventure, and we chose to spend it in Granville Island, my favourite district of Vancouver.
I was looking forward to hooking up with Vancouverite, fellow travel writer and food fanatic, Johanna from TravelEater.net, not least because I love meeting friends I’ve made over the internet in person, but also because she had offered to show us around – our very own local expert.
During my time in Canada, I acquired quite a taste for British Columbian craft beer, so lunch at Granville Island Brewing, Canada’s very first microbrewery, sounded an excellent idea. Established in 1984, their mission, which still holds true today, was to “craft delicious, locally brewed beer that we were proud to share with our friends.”
The queue for a table didn’t deter us and it wasn’t long before I was tucking into their Charcuterie Board for $17, with a great selection of meats (from Oyama Sausage Co.) and cheeses (from Benton Brothers) and a fabulous beer bacon jam. Why they don’t sell the latter in their shop is beyond me. And, of course, I also tried a selection of their beers with a 4 x 5oz beer flight for $7. I enjoyed them all, but my favourite was their Hey Day Hefeweizen, a classic wheat ale with a distinct but not overpowering banana flavour. There’s a great atmosphere here and I’d have happily stayed all afternoon, but the local shops and market were calling us.
First stop was Edible Canada, a restaurant come take-away come gourmet food store and THE place to go in Vancouver for some edible souvenirs. I opted for a bottle of Noble’s handcrafted maple syrup, matured in oak bourbon barrels.
Johanna also showed us the very same Oyama Sausage and Benton Brothers, that respectively supply the brewery with their cold cuts and cheeses. She certainly agreed with their choice of these as the very best local suppliers. And for coffee, it has to be JJ Bean. I could easily continue, but you can read more of Johanna’s edible recommendations in her article, Appetite inducing Vancouver.
With an overflowing, abundance of two of my favourite things, nature and food, it’s no wonder that Vancouver is one of my favourite cities in the world. And with Air Canada flying direct to Vancouver from London’s Heathrow Airport, it was the perfect place to start our epic Canadian road trip.
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