There’s a wonderful collection of unusual and cool things to do in Vancouver. After all, it’s a city that rumbles with creative energy on top of a rich, cultural history and the kind of scenery that other places would kill for. Let me share with you my favourite unusual and cool things to do in Vancouver.
Two things actually did take my breath away within my first few hours in Vancouver. The first involved those lakes and mountains, resplendent in golden green as the morning clouds parted and we came in to land.
The second was hearing Vancouver’s nickname: the no fun city.
What on earth? What on earth?!
A few days in this clean, nature-lined metropolis and I was still none the wiser. History, culture, a truly great great outdoors that almost counts as indoors it’s so close to where people live plus adrenaline, festivals and quirky cool bars.
The all-night humid revelry of Valencia and Seville there was not.
But no fun at all?!
C’mon. I’d like to meet whoever says that and introduce them to a few other places around the world far more deserving of the title.
In the meantime, to help newcomers relish a taste of what ranks in my mind as one of the ten best cities in the world, I’ve some handy suggestions.
Skwachay’s Lodge at the crossroads of Gastown and Chinatown combines three concepts in one: a residence for local aboriginal artists, a boutique hotel with swirling wooden bedsteads, self-catering options and bright salmon-leaping décor, and an art gallery open to all who pass by.
I loved the sugar-puffed bannock, complimentary tea and coffee and lively open area where you can chat with First Nations princesses.
Vancouver is a city near built on water, and when the sun shines, how stunning that water appears. Sea Vancouver whips you away from the quayside, splashing you thoroughly as you storm away from Coal Harbour, past Stanley Park, Granville Island and beyond.
Look out for splashing seals in the quieter moments – but be warned that there aren’t too many of those. Not for the faint of heart. Sorry, stomach.
For a calmer, more romantic experience on the water, try the sunset dinner cruise instead. And breathe…
Now, perhaps this is where the nickname comes from. Back in 1917, Vancouver became yet another part of northern America where “ hard liquor” became verboten. Forbidden Vancouver takes this interesting slice of history as the premise to stroll around the Gastown and Chinatown district, atmospheric today without the talk of rum runners and speakeasies.
Learn about corruption, chaos and cocktails – and how it was democracy and the introduction of votes for women that led to the end of all the madness.
Confession time: I’ve never liked beetroot. Apologies to all those hosts of British barbecues in the drizzly summers of my childhood. I nibbled only and sought to hide the remainder beneath unruly iced gem lettuce.
But that was before Vancouver.
Over at Big Trouble, a relatively new kid on the block, I had a complete change of heart.
In a crime against good beetroot, they have closed since I last visited. So why am I still including them here?
I live in hope, dear reader. Hope that Chef Felix Zhou will indeed begin a new project in Vancouver in 2016 as hinted at here. Watch, cross fingers, and eat.
First Nations can be a confusing term and as a non-native Canadian, I am terrified of inadvertently causing offence. It refers to the peoples and tribes that roamed Canada before the arrival of, well, predominantly Europeans; the nearest equivalence in the US would be the term Native Americans. Sometimes I see aboriginal populations used but terms change all the time, so please. If I’ve got it wrong, correct me gently.
Unlike in some parts of the world, decimation rather than outright destruction took place. What does this mean?
It means that in Vancouver, those cultures live on: making the steps to discover them no dry, academic thing.
You’ll find many museums and art galleries across the city but the one that stood out for me was the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art.
Reid himself had both European and Haida heritage, not to mention a background in broadcasting, before he turned to art.
Can’t decide what you fancy of an evening? A trip to The Belgard Kitchen should set you straight. Here you can ask for a “tasting menu” of craft beer, delivered to your counter top on a specially designed wooden rack.
Line your stomach with rock shrimp ceviche, ruby red beet dip and scallop and shrimp risotto from the tapas menu.
Be inspired by the active Vancouverites and take to two wheels. Ignore the cycle paths that considerately skirt around the edge of Stanley Park, the ones that offer views of the stunning coastline, brilliant First Nation totem poles, frolicking seals and ice cream stands.
Instead, choose to cycle up the tarmac on the brutally steep path through a forest dark enough to house vampires from tween pic Twilight.
Lose your balance as the cars zoom by and drop your camera into the undergrowth.
Bend the basket as the bike falls as you lurch for said camera.
Curse self as you attempt to fix both lens and basket in the dusty dreariness of the road.
Decide that, all things considered, this is one unusual thing to be avoided.
Advise readers to stick to the gentle cycle paths instead.
Ah well. It was all in training for my upcoming Austrian cycle event.
But still. Stick to the paths, dear readers. Perhaps Vancouver doesn’t mean “no fun.” It just knows that if you stick to its rules you will, they promise you, have much more fun.
It would seem that they know what they’re talking about.
And you have been warned.
Disclosure: I travelled to Canada as part of the #mustlovefestivals project with sponsorship from Expedia and Destination Canada. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, it’s just no fun!
Find more about things to do in Vancouver with Get Your Guide here. They offer free cancellation and last minute bookings and, well, their website is beautiful :-)
Plus, if you book through it I earn a small amount of commission at no cost to you. Cheers!
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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