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Cool Cosmopolitan Vancouver

In-Depth Explorer
Cool Cosmopolitan Vancouver

Thrilling outdoorsy adventures, urban beaches, heaps of family-friendly fun. Canada’s most exciting city indeed has plenty to offer, served with a breathtaking mountain backdrop

Among Canadian cities, Vancouver is said to be the most cosmopolitan with a good mix of Asian and European cultures. The influx of immigrants from Hong Kong and China over the past decades has also brought excitement to the Asian culinary scene, which some say is the best in North America. Surrounded by nature and blessed with a mild climate, fresh air and water, the city often tops the list as one of the most liveable in the world. For decades, it has been a magnet for creative types, from movie stars and singers to writers and musicians because of its conducive environment with a vibrant arts and entertainment scene to match.

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WHERE TO GO

Every big city has its downtown shopping district, the place where it is always packed and decorated during festive season. In Vancouver, that would be Robson Street which is home to hundreds of shops both big and small. Running parallel to Robson Street is Alberni Street where you can find luxury brands. Some of the best restaurants in town can also be found here but expect prices to be at a premium.

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Robson Street is home to hundreds of shops both big and small (L); the iconic landmark Canada Place

Just 500 metres north of Robson Street is Coal Harbour which features a picturesque Seawall Water Walk, neighbourhood cafes, restaurants and a marina with lovely yachts. There are also some shops and waterfront pubs along the Seawall and you can walk all the way to the Vancouver Convention Centre East to check out Canada Place, an iconic landmark that resembles sails.

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Coal Harbour at sunset

Northwest of Robson Street is the beloved Stanley Park, which is worth a day’s exploration. The most popular route at the park is the 10-kilometre seawall, where you can walk, jog, rollerblade or cycle. Along the way, you can see centuries-old trees, totem poles, a light house and more surprises at every turn. The Vancouver Aquarium at the park is also a major attraction with its dolphins, sea lions, otters and other aquatic animals. And don’t forget the 800-year-old Hollow Tree which is Instagram-worthy.

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Enjoy a nice stroll through Stanley Park – and don’t miss the Hollow Tree!

From Robson Street, it’s a short hop to Chinatown, said to be the third largest after New York and San Francisco. The area has a history that goes back to the 1890s, a time when Chinese immigrants were making their way from mainland China to settle in Canada to work on the Trans-Canada railway. Within the neighbourhood, you can visit the Chinatown Heritage Alley, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the world’s narrowest commercial building, the Sam Kee Building at the corner of Pender and Carrall, and the International Village Mall for some shopping.

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Chinatown near Robson Street is said to be the third largest after New York and San Francisco (L); Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

You will also find many Asian speciality stores and Chinese restaurants along the sidewalk. Over the past few years, new hipster café joints and condo blocks have also emerged giving new life to the old neighbourhood. If you visit during August, you can catch the Vancouver Chinatown Festival to enjoy Chinese cultural events and performances.

It is hard to see a clear boundary where Chinatown ends and Gastown begins. The storied heritage area with cobbled walkways started as a wild frontier town and is later known for its haunted buildings and as a red-light district. The district has transformed again in recent years and the old buildings are now home to some of the city’s best boutiques, bars and restaurants. Don’t forget to check out the Gassy Jack Statue, Gastown Steam Clock and Vancouver Police Museum & Archives when you are in the area.

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Gassy Jack Statue (L) and the Steam Clock in Gastown, the storied heritage quarter with cobbled walkways that started as a wild frontier town

Moving southwest from Chinatown, you will arrive at Granville Island, which attracts both locals and tourists. The main attraction is the covered Public Market where you can buy local produce including fruits, seafood and meats from over a hundred vendors. There are also shops selling arts and crafts and a food court. Outside the Public Market, you can also find several restaurants including Sandbar Seafood, where you can dine alongside the dock with views of the yachts. During summer, the Water Park is a big hit among kids. If you love beer, there is a local brewery on the island, too.

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Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in Vancouver

You may want to check out Commercial Drive, also known as The Drive or Little Italy on the east side of downtown Vancouver. Within an area of 20 blocks, you can find boutique shops, theatres and many more. At the southern end of the district is John Hendry Park, which surrounds Trout Lake. On Saturdays (except during winter months), there is a farmer’s market where you can buy foodstuffs and have a picnic on the park itself. Along Commercial Drive itself, you can find a whole line up of restaurants from Italian, Indian and Thai to Japanese, Mexican and Tunisian. If you like street culture, shopping and dining, this is the place to be.

About 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver and near the airport lies what was once a suburb that has grown into a city on its own. Richmond, is home to 200,000 people, mostly Asians from Hong Kong and China. Local attractions include: shopping malls like CF Richmond Centre, Lansdowne Centre, Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, and Parker Place; a food street (or ‘wai sek kai’ in Cantonese) along Alexandra Road where you can find over 70 Asian restaurants; Lulu Island Winery, the largest in Vancouver; several museums and parks. For seafood lovers, there are also many restaurants along the marina at Steveston.

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Richmond Summer Night Market (L); the historic fishing village of Steveston

WHEN TO GO

Vancouver’s weather is considered mild compared to other cities in the country. Outside of winter, most months are pleasant with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 22°C. During winter (January - March), it is mostly wet with occasional snow and temperatures ranging between 0°C to 5°C.

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WHERE TO STAY

Vancouver has a range of accommodations to suit all budgets from bed and breakfast and Airbnb’s to boutique hotels and luxury stays. If you feel like splurging, stay at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, Shangri-la Vancouver or Rosewood Hotel Georgia. For a good traditional bed and breakfast experience, try O Canada House. A good budget recommendation would be the YWCA Vancouver which is affordable yet stylish and comfortable.

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Enjoy modern luxuries in a Victorian setting at the award-winning O Canada House Bed & Breakfast
(images courtesy of O Canada House)

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

There are no direct flights from KLIA to Vancouver. However, connecting flights to Vancouver International Airport are available via Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney, Brisbane, Seoul, Hong Kong, London, Taipei, Frankfurt, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Manila.
From the airport, you can take the SkyTrain to Richmond or downtown Vancouver at a relatively low price. The city is well-served by a good public transit system made up of a network of buses, the SkyTrain, and the SeaBus. You can also hail a ride using Uber or call a taxi.

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Get around via the SkyTrain or the SeaBus

TRAVEL TIPS

Unlike Asian cities, most stores in Vancouver close at 6pm daily except Thursday and Friday when they open until 9pm. Always bring extra clothes as it may be cold even during summer. While the city is generally safe for tourists, after dark you should avoid walking alone especially in deserted areas or at Downtown Eastside (which includes part of Chinatown and Gastown).

Photos © iStock by Getty Images

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