Vancouver is Canada's third largest city and the largest in the province of British Columbia. It is surrounded by water on three sides and is nestled alongside the Coast Mountain Range which rises dramatically to 1500 metres. It has a busy metropolitan core, spectacular scenery and one of the country's mildest climates. Locals love to brag that they can snow ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon and be home in time for a night on the town.
The city was founded around a sawmill and a saloon. Its thick virgin rainforests of cedar, fir and hemlock created wealth and without them, it is doubtful Vancouver would have come into existence.
It has defined itself into a young and vibrant city, far from once being a frontier town on the Pacific coast. It has an abundance of parks, including two forest reserves, a mix of ethnic communities and enough arts, theatre, sports and eating places to keep everyone happy.
Grouse Mountain, just 12 kilometres from the centre of town, should be on everyone's list. Skyride Gondola takes the 1128-metre ride above the city within eight minutes. In summer it's great for hiking and walking, and in winter it is paradise for skiers, snowboarding, snowshoeing and ice-skating. Some runs are lit at night, which is spectacular even if you are just an onlooker. Grouse Nest Restaurant serves great food and has the best views of any restaurant in Vancouver.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge spans 140 metres across and 70 metres above North Vancouver's Capilano River. The original was built in 1888 by Scottish engineer George Mackay to gain access to some of his 2400-hectare property. It sways and creaks, but it is very, very strong. 850,000 visitors cross it each year in the company of costumed staff. On the western side, the Nature Park is a tranquil retreat with trails meandering through old-growth forest.
The tradition of placing colourful totem poles in the park began in the 1930s. At the Carving Centre you can watch a native Indian carver chiselling a centuries-old legend into a cedar log.
Of all of Vancouver's parks, none is loved more by locals than Stanley Park. The 405-hectare reserve has forests of cedar and fir, meadows, lakes, hiking, biking and jogging trails, including the 10.5-kilometre Seawall Promenade.
The park has many gardens roses, rhodendrons, wildflowers, herbs, a Japanese tea house garden, a wildlife sanctuary and plenty of picnic spots. As popular as it is, it is large enough to never feel crowded.
On the south side of False Creek is Granville Island, a small peninsula connected to downtown Vancouver by the Granville Street Bridge. A place of heavy industry since 1917 and a ship building centre during WWII, the site became unused and totally run-down.
In the 1970s, a couple of businessmen, with the help of the federal government, began to redevelop the area. Now a most pleasant place to visit, Granville Island has businesses, restaurants, galleries, theatres and an excellent hotel. There is even a brewery, which has great beer and tours.
Granville Island Markets are so highly regarded, top chefs go there to source their ingredients. Wander around and you will see freshly baked bagels, salmon, fruit and vegetables and stores selling craft, toys, home décor, jewellery and clothes.
Robson Street is Vancouver's most famous shopping street. In a three-block stretch there are dozens of outlets selling shoes, clothing, lingerie, gifts, hair salons, candy shops and, of course, restaurants, cafés and bars. It's fun to wander in and out of Ferragamo, Armani, Guess, Banana Republic, Nike, Gap and stop for a coffee at Starbucks or one of the other coffee shops. It could be a good thing that there are a couple of shops selling luggage on Robson Street!
Gastown is where Vancouver was founded in 1867. It was called Gassy's after a saloon proprietor, Gassy Jack Deighton. It was rebuilt after an 1886 fire and the whole village was renamed Gastown. As it grew into a city, it became Vancouver and Gastown became Old Vancouver. It became run-down but moves to tear down the entire historic site were overrun by community pressure. It became a designated historic area and today's Gastown, with its cobbled streets, is a beautiful place for strolling, shopping and dining.
You will never run out of enjoyable things to do in Vancouver. Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the first of its kind to be built outside of China. It offers a cultural experience and is a feast for the senses and the mind, providing peace and tranquillity.
VanDusen Botanical Garden is a 22-hectare living museum of plants from around the world. It is delightful year-round spring is coloured with rhodendrons, laburnum and ornamental cherries. Summer arrives with colourful perennials and waterlilies, Japanese dogwoods and roses. Autumn has brilliant colours that only Canada seems to do. Crocus, daisies and hydrangeas and in winter, witch hazels, hollies, winter-blooming Japanese jasmine and hellebores.
The garden's maze is made of 3000 pyramid-shaped cedars, and some of the 65 species of bird found there live in those trees. All lakes, streams and ponds are man-made, there is a children's garden, rose garden, heather garden a day is just not enough time to spend at VanDusen.
Culture isn't far away from you in Vancouver. The active arts scene has something for every interest. From June 1 to September 24, classical Shakespeare plays and special events are performed in open-ended tents on the waterfront in Vanier Park.