If you aren’t familiar with Vancouver, it’s a major port city on the west coast of Canada; famous for the mountains, the ocean and the year-round recreation in the great outdoors – due to the mild climate in comparison with the rest of Canada.
Since we only had the day (only a few hours, really) to explore Vancouver, we decided to take the train and see the sights on foot, in Vancouver’s downtown core. If you’re on a road trip or renting a car during your stay in Vancouver, you’ll be able to cover a lot of ground, but for us, sights like Kitsilano Beach, Grouse Mountain, Lynn Canyon or a scenic drive to Whistler Resort will have to wait for another time.
Before heading into the city, our day began with some great dim sum at Fisherman’s Terrace Seafood Restaurant in Richmond. They have some of the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong.
Travel Tip: Richmond is close to Vancouver International Airport, hotel rooms are generally more affordable than downtown Vancouver, and getting to downtown Vancouver is relatively quick & convenient with the addition of the Canada Line Sky Train in recent years.
We took the Canada Line to Waterfront Station and the first stop on our walking tour of Vancouver was Historic Gastown. Gastown was the original downtown Vancouver when a guy named “Gassy Jack” opened the first saloon in the area in the late 1800′s. He got his nickname because he was very talkative and liked to tell stories. Thankfully, it had nothing to do with an extreme flatulence problem.
Among the historic buildings and cobblestone streets, you’ll find souvenir shops, upscale furniture and clothing boutiques, internet start-ups and plenty of restaurants and pubs.
Gastown Steam Clock
The Gastown Steam Clock is a popular tourist attraction and landmark in Vancouver, although, I don’t think it really has any historical significance in the area. Instead of bells that chime on the hour like most clocks, it uses a steam whistle.
On the Vancouver Waterfront
When our stroll through Gastown was complete, we headed back up to the waterfront toward Canada Place, Coal Harbor and Stanley Park. Canada Place is home to the World Trade Center, the Pan Pacific Hotel, the Cruise Ship terminal and the original Vancouver Convention Center with the white fabric roof that look like sails, a defining visual of the Vancouver skyline.
Beside Canada Place is the new Vancouver Convention Center West Building and Jack Poole Plaza. The Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Winter Olympics is on display here and there are great views of Coal Harbor, the Coast Mountains and Burrard Inlet from the plaza.
Travel Tip: Vancouver is a pedestrian friendly city, but if walking isn’t your thing, you can see the sights on the hop-on/hop off buses like Big Bus and Vancouver Trolley Company, that make several stops around the downtown core, Granville Island and Stanley Park to name a few.
After walking Gastown, Canada Place and Coal Harbor; we realized we had been walking . . . a lot. According to the map at the entrance to the Stanley Park Seawall, it was about 9 km (5.5 miles) from where we were standing - to English Bay Beach. It was time to change our walking plan and rent bicycles. There are a few rental shops across from Stanley Park at Denman & Georgia Streets and along Coal Harbor. I recommend doing this – it’s a great way to get around the seawall and see the sights of Stanley Park.
Stanley Park is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Vancouver. According to Tourism Vancouver, This 1,000 acre park on the border of downtown gets over 8 million visitors per year and it’s easy to see why. From the Brockton Point Lighthouse, you’ll get spectacular views of the Vancouver city skyline, Coal Harbor, Burrard Inlet, the Coast Mountains and the Lion’s Gate Bridge that connects downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver. On the west side of the Stanley Park Seawall, great views of West Vancouver can be had from Siwash Rock and the Strait of Georgia from 2nd & 3rd Beaches.
In Stanley Park itself, there’s no shortage of attractions. There’s the Vancouver Aquarium – the kids really like this attraction. The Stanley Park Totem Poles, Prospect Point and Lost Lagoon are a very popular stop for some photos and on the weekends, you can catch a Cricket match on the field at Brockton Pavilion. If you feel like getting away from the crowds on the seawall and taking a hike, Stanley Park has 64 km (40 miles) of well maintained nature trails.
As we reached the end of our ride around the Stanley Park Seawall, we found ourselves in English Bay, a laid back neighborhood in the west end of downtown Vancouver where Denman Street meets Davie Street, there’s a good selection of local shops and restaurants. This area is also known for it’s vibrant gay community. Here, you’ll find English Bay Beach and the Inukshuk Inuit sculpture.
What’s a JAPADOG?
My lovely travel companion and I rode back down Denman Street to return our bike rentals and made our way over to Robson Street. Robson Street is the main shopping district in downtown Vancouver and is home to the usual multi-national chain stores and coffee houses you’d find in any particular city. However, we weren’t here for a cookie-cutter shopping experience, we were here to try a unique Vancouver creation – the JAPADOG.
I suppose you could argue that JAPADOG paved the way for the current food truck and food cart scene in Vancouver when they introduced a new spin to the conventional hot dog cart – Japanese style hot dogs. The concept worked because JAPADOG became a Vancouver institution in just a few short years.
I ordered the Terimayo hot dog, JAPADOG’s best seller. This dog is topped with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, and seaweed. It’s served hot & fresh and it’s pretty tasty. Besides, can you really call yourself a hot dog connoisseur until you’ve had one with seaweed and Japanese mayo? They’ve got several different hot dogs like the Kobe Beef Dog, the Yakisoba Dog, and the Tonkatsu Dog. Don’t forget to try the Ice Age ice cream sandwich with flavors like mango, black sesame, and green tea. JAPADOG (www.japadog.com) is located at 530 Robson Street and they have several hot dog carts stationed on street corners around Vancouver.
Richmond Night Markets
Like many of you, I’m a sucker for a good street market, so the night markets in Richmond are a must do if you’re in the Vancouver area during the summer. You’ll find lots of smartphone and tablet accessories, toys, gadgets, and clothing – reminds me of the street markets in Hong Kong. The real star of the night markets is the food. Bring your appetite and feast on assorted barbequed meat on a stick, bubble tea and Korean twister potatoes. You really can’t go wrong with Asian food on a stick.
There are two night markets Richmond, located just south of Vancouver. The Richmond Night Market is located at 8351 River Road, near the River Rock Casino. If you’re taking the Canada Line train, it’s a convenient location, since the Bridgeport Station is right in front of the casino. Parking is free, but there’s a $2 cover charge.
The International Summer Night Market is located at 12631 Vulcan Way behind the Home Depot. You will need to drive or take a bus to get to this market. Parking is $4 and admission is free. You can find free street parking around the area as well. Check out their websites for more details.
Vancouver is a picturesque city; a good mix of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, shopping and a great food scene. One day wasn’t enough, it left us wanting to see and do more.