11 Reasons I Fell Hard for Vancouver
A year ago, Canada brought to mind maple syrup, Niagara Falls, and Justin Bieber. Oh, and their Prime Minister, of course.
But that was it.
And I will now be the first to admit that holy cow, I completely underestimated this gorgeous, super friendly country to the north of us. I can't believe that every time I scanned Google maps for new, unexplored places to fly to, I never once considered looking up.
Thankfully, the many Canadian backpackers I met along the way showed me the true path. To Canada. And six months into my backpacking journey, I decided I would wrap up my trip in the country that reveres the maple leaf.
My first stop was Vancouver and I fell in love with this city at first sight. As my plane from Hong Kong barreled for the runway, I was enraptured by the pink and yellow clouds as the sun dipped low and the mountains loomed in the not-so-far distance. I was sold. Vancouver was already beautiful from seat 68A after an 11-hour haul.
So, here's 11 reasons why I fell so hard for this city in just three days (and why I'll be coming back!).
1. Its backdrop of mountains... The most breathtaking view I've ever seen - in all of my travels - was the night sky against the Colorado mountains five years ago. I've had a love affair with mountains ever since, so I don't take it for granted when I can turn a city corner and see mountains in the distance. The snow-capped North Shore Mountains hug Vancouver's northern coast and they are never far from sight. And with mountains comes all kinds of fun, like snowboarding, skiing, and hiking.
2. And beautiful beaches. How many cities have mountains and beaches? Not many. I love that Vancouver's west end beaches, English Bay and Sunset Beach, are only a 30 minute walk from downtown and devoid of cheesy boardwalk shops and condos. There are plenty of benches to sit on, sand to lay out on, and pavement to bike on. From any beach, you have an amazing view of mountains and boats.
3. Its ease of public transport. Vancouver's SkyTrain is easy to use and more importantly, cheap and safe. The subway connects most of metro Vancouver, with stations at many popular tourist spots. Not only that, but there's a huge network of public trams and buses. I used the SkyTrain to get from my Airbnb to downtown. I also used it to get me to the ferry terminal to Victoria, which included a bus transfer. The process was seamless. With a city as large as Vancouver, its public transport makes it easier to explore.
4. It's cool without the attitude. Vancouver has a cool, hipster, laidback vibe without the snootiness. I never got a whiff of an "oh, we're better than you" attitude. Everyone was super friendly, from the Canadian guy who struck up a conversation with me at a café to the bellhop who happily stored my backpack so I could keep exploring the city before leaving for Victoria. Everyone seems to be very down to earth, with an appreciation for hard work and play in a city as great as Vancouver.
5. It's got a lot of boats. Did I mention that I love boats? Boats of all kinds - from fishing boats to yachts to sailboats to cruise ships - line Vancouver's harbor. I couldn't believe the size of the cruise ships that made port at Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal or the many sailboats that took advantage of Vancouver's breezes every afternoon near Coal Harbour. Yacht clubs dot the coastline, with many offering sailing lessons and sunset cruises.
6. It's diverse. One of the misconceptions I had about Vancouver was that it must be a pretty homogenous city, because that's how I imagined Canada as a whole. Vancouver, in fact, is one of the most diverse cities in Canada. More than 50% of metro Vancouver's population do not list English as their first language and the city boasts a diverse Chinese population. Vancouver's Chinatown is the second largest in North America, behind only San Francisco. There are also many other multicultural neighborhoods, like Punjabi Market and Japantown. On a Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon the 2017 Thai Festival in front of the Art Gallery. I watched ethnic Thai dances, ate pad thai, and drank Thai iced tea while strolling through downtown.
7. It has Granville Public Market. Granville Island used to be a fishing area before it was converted into an industrial manufacturing area. After falling into disrepair, the island was revitalized with art, theatre, and shops. I spent an entire afternoon here wandering around, buying handmade crafts, and eating my way through artisan gelato. I loved this area and it was only a three-minite boat ride away.
8. It's got lots of things to do. Just outside of Vancouver, you can teeter over a bridge at Capilano Suspension Bridge or take in a view of the city from Grouse Mountain. The whole of British Columbia is teeming with activity, from visiting charming Victoria, taking in the stunning snow-capped scenery at Whistler, going whale watching, or wine tasting at Thompson Okanagan. There is no shortage of things you can do in BC, whether you're alone, on a family vaca, or with a partner.
9. It's liberal. I'm not going to claim to know much about Canadian politics, but one stroll through Vancouver and you can tell that this city is liberal by American standards and proud of it. In fact, Canada legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2005 - ten years before the US did the same with its landmark Supreme Court ruling. Marijuana dispensaries dot street corners with glowing neon signs (although marijuana is still illegal) and the city's government has pledged additional funding to help Syrian refugees settle and find employment.
10. It's got Stanley Park. Holy cow, Stanley Park. Here I was thinking Stanley Park was a cute little park nestled in the middle of Vancouver. I got a surprise when I finally wandered to the edges of the park and realized it's freakin huge. Stanley Park is 1,000 incredible acres of hiking trails, forest greens, the Seawall, Vancouver Aquarium, beaches, and lakes. It is almost completely surrounded by water. On my last day, I rented a bike and cycled the 6 mile Seawall that hugs the park (the Seawall actually extends 14 miles and is the world's lonest uninterrupted waterfront walkway, fact). Stanley Park was my favorite area in all of Vancouver.
11. All in all, Vancouver is my ideal city. Seeing as how I'm unemployed and open to applying to jobs anywhere in the US, I desperately wish Vancouver was a bit further south. Like, in the US. I would totally live here (lol, if I could afford it). But one of the reasons I fell so hard for Vancouver was for that very reason - why wouldn't I love a city that I would want to live in myself? With its mountain ranges, things to do, sandy beaches, friendly people, and active outdoor lifestyle, Vancouver is often ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world. And for good reason. But since I don't see myself becoming Canadian anytime soon (eh?), I'll have to settle for visiting this amazing city time and time again.
The boats of Coal Harbour.
The Steam Clock in Gastown.
- Where to stay: Check out Hostelworld.com for best hostel rates. And BOOK AHEAD! There was actually no availability when I tried booking 10 days out from my trip, so I had to look at Airbnb. I got lucky with a $30USD/night lodging just 10 minutes from Vancouver by subway, but it was also a couch in somebody's living room. If you've got the money, stay directly in Vancouver near the Waterfront, downtown, or Gastown neighborhood.
- If I'm being honest: Vancouver is one of the most expensive countries in the world, to live in and to visit. Luckily the American dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, but be prepared to spend $50-75USD a day on a backpacking budget. On the plus side, many activities are free or inexpensive since you're mainly playing outdoors.
Have you been to Vancouver before? What did you like / dislike about the city?