By Joe Gaskin (UBC, Canada)
Vancouver isn’t even Canada’s biggest city but I was so surprised at the sheer amount of things to do in the city. All you needed was a spare few hours and you could go explore and experience a new thing in the city. The annoying thing is that in this blog I can only describe the things that I did, but there was so much to do in the city that I naturally wasn’t able to do them all (even with 9 months spent in the city).
First of all, there are the tourist attractions, naturally I visited these within weeks of arriving in the city (it takes a while to move from being a tourist to a local). The first thing I went to was the Harbour Centre where there is a 360 degree lookout tower. From here you can see the sheer size of the city that you have just moved into as well as comparing the urban scenery with the mountains over the estuary. Then there are the museums in the city such as Science World and Vancouver Aquarium. The Science World museum is a prominent sight on the city’s skyline as the building is shaped like a dome and always lit up at night. The actual exhibitions in the museum were probably more aimed at people slightly younger than myself but that by no means meant I didn’t find it hugely enjoyable – I spent a great afternoon there acting like a kid again (not on my own of course). The aquarium is also really fun and they’ve got some really cool animals/fish like the beluga whale. They also had an event at Halloween where they opened the aquarium to the public at night so you could see all the fish lit up in the dark (very spooky).
Different areas of the city all provide a different feel and have different things to do. In the city centre, there are plenty of clubs/bars as well as the main shopping centre of the city (where everything seems to be much cheaper than in the UK). Next to the city centre there’s the trendy (slightly hipster) areas of Gastown, where a lot of the nightclubs are, and Yaletown, with plenty and bars and restaurants. Yaletown is often busy with sports fans as it is situated right next to BC Place (the Olympic Stadium) and the sports arena. Vancouver also has a massive Chinatown due to the city’s large Asian population. With this comes great restaurants and a few peaceful and tranquil spots in the city like the classical Chinese garden and the Nitobe Memorial garden at UBC. One of my favourite places in the city is Granville Island, which has a huge food market (I probably visited it a bit too much sometimes). You can get all sorts of food and drink here as well some lovely gifts from the independent sellers. The island has a harbour as well where seals sometimes gather to try get some leftover fish from the fishmongers so that’s always a great sight to see.
If you truly want to engage yourself in Canadian culture then the ice hockey is a MUST. Canadians love their ice hockey (just hockey to them) and Vancouverites love the Canucks, the city’s NHL team. Unfortunately, when I was in Canada the Canucks were absolutely rubbish, but that didn’t stop me going to see them twice. They lost both times but it was still fun, mainly because of the random fights that kick off between players every 5 minutes. If hockey isn’t your thing, then there’s Whitecaps soccer (football to you and me) and Canadian football team BC Lions. UBC sports teams also attract relatively large crowds compared to Manchester (although nowhere near the crowds American college teams get). In fact the UBC Canadian football team did so well last year that they won the national cup!
If it’s nature you want to experience in the city there’s always Stanley Park, the largest urban park in North America. This is a great place to go for a walk, a picnic or a cycle along the sea wall and around the park. Vancouver is also home to some great beaches (which are obviously better enjoyed in the summer months). There’s English Bay right on the doorstep of the city, Kitsilano beach – a great place to hang out as it is lined with bars and restaurants, and right next to UBC is Wreck beach, which is actually a nudist beach… But this isn’t a major factor as it’s a great place to hang out (clothed obviously – most of the time) and it does have the best sunsets.
If you’ve got a bit of money and want to be a bit adventurous (I probably didn’t have the money but, hey-ho, when in Rome) there is the pretty unique experience of whale watching. You can be taken out in boats from Vancouver harbour on day trips to see pods of wild orcas which is definitely something I’d recommend. You can get so close to them so it’s a great photo opportunity. Another thing I did was fly in a seaplane. Of course the best part of this was taking-off and landing on water but whilst in the air you also get great views of Vancouver and the surrounding area so it’s not a bad photo opportunity either.
I can honestly say that I never thought that there could be so much to do just in the local area. There was never even the opportunity to get bored just because of the sheer amount of activities on offer.