8 reasons Vancouver is cooler than you think

written by Rachel Mills

updated 12.02.2019

Vancouver sometimes gets knocked for being a bit dull – and while it’s true that its residents can be earlier to bed than in the rest of North America, this is the city that brought us Flickr, Greenpeace and, according to some, the California sushi roll. Rough Guides writer Rachel Mills is coming to Vancouver’s defence. Here are her top reasons to visit this gleaming waterfront city.

1. There is some seriously delicious Asian food

Greater Vancouver is a multicultural metropolis with thriving communities from mainland China, The Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan – more than two thirds of Vancouver’s recent immigrants come from Asia.

Chinatown, just east of Downtown, is a great place to sample dim sum, pho, steamed buns and sushi; for sublime egg tarts drop into low-key New Town Bakery and Restaurant.

For a truly local experience search out a branch of T&T Asian supermarket or head to Richmond, 25 minutes south of Downtown. Suburban sprawl it might be, but in those shopping malls is a delectable selection of 400-odd Asian restaurants – and in the summer there’s also Richmond’s huge, kitsch, open-air night market.

Street scene in Chinatown, Vancouver. Canada.

2. Gastown has great café culture

Gastown has long been the city’s coolest enclave. Cobblestone streets and Victorian brick buildings offer a comforting contrast to the shiny Downtown high rises just next door.

In the streets spreading east from the landmark steam clock, bearded baristas compete to craft the best cup of coffee in the city. Excellent independents include Lost + Found, East Van Roasters, The Birds & The Beets, Nelson the Seagull, Prado and Revolver.

3. There’s a bunch of brilliant small batch breweries

Granville Island Brewing reignited Vancouver’s brewery scene in 1984 when it opened Canada’s first microbrewery. There are now brewpubs and tasting rooms across the city, with some of the most innovative and exciting in The Flats, a burgeoning arts district in the gritty industrial neighbourhood east of the Olympic Park, and Main Street, the historic focus of the city’s brewing culture.

Get a guide from toursbylocals to take you out to some of the newest and coolest on the scene: retro Red Truck Beer, hipster Brassneck, industrial Main Street Brewing Co. and Scandi-cool 33 Acres. Most of them have also got seriously good food menus featuring local produce.

4. You can marvel at the views from Kits beach and pool

The hip young professionals and yummy mummies who live here are too busy and cool to to use the neighbourhood’s full name “Kitsilano” – and so are we.

Kits beach is a lovely spot facing out to Burrard inlet with the stunning city skyline opposite, but the cherry on top is the outdoor saltwater pool. Open all summer, it’s nearly three times the size of an Olympic pool. And did we mention the views?

5. Granville Island Public Market is delicious

With 10 million visitors a year Granville Island is hardly under-the-radar. But it is cool. This once derelict industrial space got a shake up in the 1970s and is now the number one destination for West Coast foodies.

Take a tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours to get to the front of the queue for tastings, or wander the vast space soaking up the sights and smells of the local, seasonal produce showcased by BC farmers and artisans.

For handcrafted cheese head to Benton Brothers, for mouth-wateringly delicious light and fluffy donuts try Lee’s Donuts, or if you’re after cold meats then first stop should be Oyama Sausage Co. When you need to recharge, pop into the original JJ Bean for the best cup of French press coffee around.

Canada, Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Vancouver, Granville Island Public Market,

6. There’s incredible First Nations art and culture

You can’t talk about art in Vancouver without paying homage to First Nations culture – there are the intricately carved totem poles at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, the excellent Bill Reid Gallery, Gastown’s Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery and the curated collections at UBC’s outstanding Museum of Anthropology.

Staying in one of Skwachàys Lodge’s eighteen uniquely decorated rooms and buying from the downstairs Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery means you can support local First Nations artists living and working in the same building.

And don’t miss the staggering 33ft Trans Am Totem installation on Quebec Street and Pacific Boulevard; artist Marcus Bowcott aims to get you thinking about consumer driven society and the history and heritage of the land.

7. The city is going wild for cocktails

Vancouver’s bartenders are currently shaking and stirring all sorts of exciting concoctions. If you want tasty farm-to-table food and laidback city cool then try Royal Dinette, which is unusual as it sits in the Financial District and is busier on weeknights.

For a dimly lit, old-fashioned vibe, Gastown (of course) has a couple of great options; The Diamond (now with sushi) and Pourhouse.

If your tastes (and pocket) runs to exclusivity and world-class mixology, try Prohibition in Hotel Georgia – there’s no sign outside, just a closed door marked with a green light.

8. The seawall is still spectacular, no matter how busy it gets

We don’t care if it’s touristy, it’s beautiful. The 22km waterside greenway strikes a path from Canada Place around lush Stanley Park, tracking False Creek all the way to Kits (with the bike path going even further south).

Walking, biking or rollerblading offers a real Vancouver experience – just try not to be that person who walks in the bike lane. If you’re on foot, use Aquabus or False Creek Ferries to nip across the water and back to Downtown.

Rachel stayed at the OPUS Hotel. For more information on Destination British Columbia visit www.hellobc.com. Air Canada offers more daily flights from the UK to Canada than any other airline, as well as connections from the US, Europe and Asia.

Rachel Mills

written by Rachel Mills

updated 12.02.2019

Rachel Mills is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster based by the sea in Kent. She is a co-author for Rough Guides to New Zealand, India, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain a contributor to Telegraph Travel, the Independent, AFAR, DK Eyewitness and loveEXPLORING.com and an expert in sustainable, responsible tourism. Follow her @rachmillstravel on Twitter and Instagram and listen to her show Over Here on ramsgateradio.com.

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