From hockey and skiing to sushi and totem poles, naturally spectacular Vancouver, Canada, abounds with sporting, culinary, and cultural adventures.
Vancouver is among the world’s top whale-watching destinations. Tour companies such as Prince of Whales offer near guaranteed sightings of orcas spouting and breaching and promote marine conservation and education. High season runs March to October. While exploring Pacific waters in a high-speed zodiac or covered boat, you may also spot sea lions, porpoises, and cormorants.
On the mountainous North Shore, the Capilano River delivers one awe-inspiring spectacle after another. Admire the sparkling reservoir, which supplies most of Vancouver’s drinking water, next to the towering Cleveland Dam. The 1889-built Capilano Suspension Bridge offers an Indiana Jones-like, 450-foot-long walk over the river, and smaller bridges connect giant Douglas firs. Also, hike riverside to the salmon hatchery.
Perched on cliffs overlooking the Strait of Georgia, the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology’s setting is as stunning as the artwork it honors. The museum, designed by legendary Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, showcases enormous West Coast totem poles and canoes in its Great Hall, illuminated with floor-to-ceiling windows. Don’t miss Bill Reid’s iconic cedar sculpture, “The Raven and the First Men.”
Best Day Trip
Whistler, which lies just two hours north of Vancouver, is more than North America’s top-ranked ski resort. Bear-watching, hiking, and whitewater rafting also await active visitors. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola, with a 1.88-mile unsupported span, offers mind-blowing views. Driving up the highway, upgraded for the 2010 Olympics, next to vast, sparkling Howe Sound is a revelation in itself.
Most Iconic Place
Stanley Park is unmissable. It’s amazing that a 1,000-acre park with formal gardens and primeval rain forest exists at the western edge of downtown Vancouver. Bike or walk around the 5.5-mile seawall, stopping for photos of totem poles, the Nine O’Clock Gun (a cannon that booms nightly), Siwash Rock, the “Girl in the Wet Suit” statue, and the iconic Lions Gate Bridge.
Savvy hipsters flock to Main Street’s gritty, authentic music scene, from the Rickshaw Theatre’s punk and metal shows to the Biltmore Cabaret’s indie rock and hip-hop acts. Refuel with artisan coffee and old-fashioned doughnuts at Forty-Ninth Parallel, or dive into Vancouver’s flourishing craft beer scene at Brassneck Brewery or 33 Acres.
Vancouver boasts Canada’s oldest Chinatown. With traditional red lamp posts and recessed balconies, it’s retained much of its original 1880s character. Near the Millennium Gate, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden features floating lilies, tranquil bridges, and classical arrangements of rocks and plants. Feast on roast pork at Chinatown BBQ or smoked sablefish at Bao Bei.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Here, “doing the Grind” doesn’t involve dancing or coffee. It means the Grouse Grind, a thigh-burning yet exhilarating 1.8-mile climb up Grouse Mountain. Budget about an hour and a half. The incredible summit view of Vancouver is enhanced with nachos and drinks on the Altitudes Bistro patio. Lumberjack shows, paragliding, and zip-lining are also on the menu.
Neighborhood to Explore
Just east of downtown, Commercial Drive is home to Vancouver’s Little Italy and also offers a compelling blend of eateries, from Bandidas Taqueria (Mexican) to Cafe Deux Soleils (vegetarian). Check out counterculture havens such as volunteer-run Spartacus Books or Storm Crow Tavern, which features nerdy board games and sci-fi film screenings.
Renting a kayak at Granville Island and exploring urban English Bay is always enjoyable. But at Deep Cove, kayakers encounter an even more natural, raw experience. Paddle up Indian Arm past log floats with curious seals, and relish the deep silences and pristine waterfalls along this entrancing 11-mile-long fjord.