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Vancouver's youthfulness, even by North American standards, remains visible even as the cityscape has evolved. Eras are stacked east to west along the waterfront, from cobblestone late-Victorian Gastown to the shiny postmodern glass cathedrals of commerce. The first Canadian Pacific Railway passenger train rolled into Vancouver in May 1887, after decades of relative quiet in this remote logging town. The railway, along with Canadian Pacific's fleet of clipper ships, gave Vancouver a full week's edge over the California ports in shipping tea and silk to New York at the end of the 19th century. Lumber, fish, and coal from British Columbia's hinterland also flowed through the port to world markets. Today Vancouver is home to more than 2 million people, and a makeover is in the works as it prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver is easy to navigate. The heart of the city—which includes the downtown area, the Canada Place cruise-ship terminal, Gastown, Chinatown, Stanley Park, and the West End high-rise residential neighborhood—sits on a peninsula hemmed in by English Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west; by False Creek, the inlet home to Granville Island, to the south; and by Burrard Inlet, the working port of the city, to the north, past which loom the North Shore mountains.
Canada Place. When Vancouver hosted the Expo '86 world's fair, this former cargo pier was transformed into the Canadian pavilion. Extending four city blocks north into Burrard Inlet, the complex mimics the style and size of a luxury ocean liner, with exterior promenades and open deck space. The teflon-coated fiberglass roof, shaped like five sails, has become a Vancouver skyline landmark. Home to Vancouver's main cruise-ship terminal, Canada Place can accommodate up to three luxury liners at once. It's also home to the luxurious Pan Pacific Hotel, and, for the time being, the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre. You can stroll the exterior promenade and admire views of Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, and the North Shore mountains; plaques posted at intervals offer historical information about the city and its waterfront. At the Port Authority Interpretive Centre you can catch a video about the workings of the port, see some historic images of Vancouver's waterfront, or try your hand at a virtual container loading game.The IMAX Theatre shows films on a five-story-high screen.999 Canada Place Way, Downtown.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The first authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden constructed outside China, this garden was built in 1986 by 52 artisans from Suzhou, China. It incorporates design elements and traditional materials from several of Suzhou's centuries-old private gardens. As you walk along the paths, remember that no power tools, screws, or nails were used in the construction. Guided tours, which are helpful in understanding the symbolism involved in the garden, are included in the price of admission. They're conducted on the hour between mid-June and the end of August (call for times the rest of the year). A concert series, including classical, Asian, world, jazz, and sacred music, plays every Friday evening in July, August, and September. The free public Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, next door, is also in the style of a traditional Chinese garden. 578 Carrall St., Chinatown. Admission charged.
Granville Island Public Market. Because no chain stores are allowed in this 50,000-square-foot building, each outlet here is unique. Dozens of stalls sell locally grown produce direct from the farm; others sell crafts, chocolates, cheeses, fish, meat, flowers, and exotic foods. In summer, market gardeners sell fruit and vegetables from trucks outside. On the west side of the market you can pick up a snack, espresso, or fixings for lunch on the wharf. The Market Courtyard, on the waterside, is a good place to catch street entertainers. Weekends can get madly busy here. 1689 Johnston St., Granville Island.
Museum of Anthropology. Set on a cliff top overlooking the Pacific, the MOA houses one of the world's leading collections of Northwest Coast First Nations art. The Great Hall displays dramatic cedar poles, bentwood boxes, and canoes adorned with traditional Northwest Coast painted designs; exquisite carvings of gold, silver, and argillite (black shale) are also on display. The museum's collection also includes tools, textiles, masks, and other artifacts from around the world, as well as a gallery of European ceramics. Behind the museum are two Haida houses, set on the cliff over the water. Free guided tours—given twice daily in summer, usually at 11 and 2 (call to confirm times)—are very informative. The museum is about 30 minutes, or a C$25 taxi ride, from Canada Place. University of British Columbia, 6393 N.W. Marine Dr., Point Grey. Admission charged.
Stanley Park. A morning or afternoon in Stanley Park gives you a capsule tour of Vancouver that includes beaches, the ocean, Douglas fir and cedar forests, and a view of the North Shore mountains. One of the most popular ways to see the park is to walk, rollerblade, or cycle along Vancouver's famous Seawall Walk, a 9-km (5½-mi) seaside pathway around the park's circumference. The seawall extends an additional mile east past the marinas, cafés, and waterfront condominiums of Coal Harbour to Canada Place downtown, so you could start your walk or ride from there.
At the Miniature Railway and Children's Farmyard, a child-size train takes youngsters and adults on a ride through the woods of Stanley Park. Just next door is a farmyard full of tame, pettable critters, including goats, ponies, rabbits, and pigs. Off Pipeline Rd., Stanley Park. Admission charged.
Pools with windows below the water level at Vancouver Aquarium let you come face to face with beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, and harbor seals at this research and educational facility. In the Amazon rain-forest gallery you can walk through a jungle setting populated with sloths, tortoises, tropical birds, and, in summer, hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Other displays, many with hands-on features for children, show the underwater life of coastal British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic. A Tropic Zone exhibit is home to exotic fresh and saltwater life, including moray eels, and black-tip reef sharks. Beluga whale, sea lion, and dolphin shows, as well as dive shows (where divers swim with aquatic life—including sharks) are held daily. For an extra fee, you can help the trainers feed and train otters, belugas, and sea lions. Be prepared for lines on weekends and school holidays. 845 Avison Way, Stanley Park. Admission charged.
Steam clock. The world's first steam clock was built in 1977, although the design dates from 1875. It's now said to be the most photographed structure in Vancouver. On every quarter hour a steam whistle rings out the Westminster chimes; on the hour a huge cloud of steam spews from the clock. Corner of Cambie and Water Sts., Gastown.
Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre. The lookout looks like a flying saucer stuck atop a high-rise. At 553 feet high, it affords one of the best views of Vancouver. A glass elevator whizzes you up 50 stories to the circular observation deck, where knowledgeable guides point out the sights. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island and Mount Baker in Washington State. Tickets are good all day, so you can visit in daytime and return to see the city lights after dark. A rotating restaurant above the Lookout makes one complete revolution per hour; the elevator ride up is free for diners. 555 W. Hastings St., Downtown. Admission charged.
Unlike many cities where suburban malls have taken over, Vancouver is full of individual boutiques and specialty shops. Antiques stores, ethnic markets, art galleries, gourmet-food shops, and high-fashion outlets abound, and you can find strong Asian and First Nations influences in crafts, home furnishings, and foods.
Robson Street, stretching from Burrard to Bute, is the city's main fashion-shopping and people-watching artery. Gap and Banana Republic have their flagship stores here, as do Canadian fashion outlets Club Monaco and Roots. Souvenir shops and cafés line the way; west of Bute, Asian food shops, video outlets, and cheap noodle bars abound. Shops in and near Sinclair Centre (757 W. Hastings St., Downtown) cater to sophisticated and pricey tastes. Bustling Chinatown—centered on Pender and Main streets—is at its most lively on weekend evenings in summer, when the Chinatown Night Market, an Asian-style outdoor street market, sets up along Keefer Street. There's an even bigger Asian-style nighttime market, also on summer weekends, south of Vancouver at the Richmond Night Market (12631 Vulcan Way, off Bridgeport Rd. at Sweden Way, Richmond). Granville Island has a lively public market and a wealth of galleries, crafts shops, and artisans' studios. South Granville, along Granville Street between Broadway and 16th Avenue, is lined with high-end fashion, home decor, art galleries, and specialty food shops. Treasure hunters should check out the 300 block of West Cordova Street, near Gastown, where offbeat shops sell curios, vintage clothing, and locally designed fashions. Yaletown, a gentrified former warehouse district centered on Davie and Hamilton streets, is home to chic fashion and housewares shops.
Pacific Centre Mall (700 W. Georgia St., Downtown), on two levels and mostly underground, takes up three city blocks in the heart of downtown. Mid-price, mainstream clothing stores predominate on the lower level; chicer, pricier items can be found on the upper floor.
The Bay (674 Granville St., at Georgia St., Downtown), founded as part of the fur trade in the 17th century, is now a mid-price department store. Holt Renfrew (633 Granville St., Downtown) focuses on high fashion for men and women. Sears (Pacific Centre Mall, 701 Granville St.) has mid-priced goods at its central downtown location.
Biking. Vancouver is a bike-friendly town. Helmets are required by law, and a sturdy lock is essential. For an hour's—or a day's—cycling, walking, jogging, or in-line skating, take a turn on Vancouver's Seaside Path. The most popular, and scenic, of Vancouver's many bikeways, this flat and car-free 39-km (23-mi) route starts at Canada Place downtown, follows the waterfront around Stanley Park, and continues all the way around False Creek to Spanish Banks Beach.
Bayshore Bicycles (745 Denman St., West End) rents bikes, in-line skates, and jogging strollers. Spokes Bicycle Rentals (1798 W. Georgia St., at Denman, West End), near Stanley Park, rents bikes, in-line skates, and jogging strollers, and offers bike tours.
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