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Why go now?
British Columbia's only big city is beautifully located, remarkably laid-back and friendly, and full of life: the perfect place to spend a weekend on the way to nearby Whistler, an Alaskan cruise, or a Vancouver Island adventure. It offers great scenery, culture and a mild climate.
Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) fly non-stop to Vancouver from Heathrow. Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com) sells flights from Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow. The efficient airport is located right beside the water, 15km south of the city. The green Airporter bus (001 604 946 8866; yvrairporter.com) runs into the city every half-hour, taking around 30 minutes for C$14 (£7.50); but for two people travelling together, a taxi is not much more more expensive: about C$30 (£16).
Get your bearings
Vancouver is set on a peninsula washed by the waters of Burrard Inlet, with mountains to the north, the Fraser river to the south and the Strait of Georgia to the west. The Tourist Information Centre (1) is located in the Waterfront Building at 200 Burrard Street (001 604 683 2000; tourismvancouver.com); open daily 8:30am-6pm. A one-day travel pass can be bought here for C$9 (£4.80) for unlimited travel on the city's extensive network of buses, SeaBus and SkyTrain (TransLink, 001 604 953 3333; translink.bc.ca).
A two-day pass on the hop-on hop-off tourist Trolley Bus (001 604 801 5515; vancouvertrolley.com) or Big Bus (001 604 299 0700; bigbus.ca) costs C$35.25 (£19.50).
The Fairmont Waterfront (2) at 900 Canada Place Way (001 604 691 1991; fairmont.com/ waterfront) is fit for a king (in-waiting), having hosted Princes Charles, William and Harry. It has large rooms with excellent views over Downtown, the harbour and to Stanley Park and the mountains beyond. Doubles start at C$263 (£146), excluding breakfast.
For more flexibility, the Century Plaza (3) at 1015 Burrard Street (001 604 687 0575; century-plaza.com) offers spacious serviced apartments with a kitchen and living/dining area from C$171 (£95).
The Sylvia Hotel (4) at 1154 Gilford Street (001 604 681 9321; sylviahotel.com) is a creeper-covered heritage building overlooking English Bay. Homely and welcoming with comfortable doubles from C$115 (£64), without breakfast.
The Vancouver Art Gallery (5) at 750 Hornby Street (001 604 662 4719; vanartgallery. bc.ca) is the city's leading art space. The collection, housed in the Old Court House, contains a century's worth of art produced in British Columbia – ranging from 19th-century mountain and coastal landscapes to recent photo-based artworks by Vancouver artists. Current exhibitions include Emily Carr's views of forest landscapes of BC and the totemic sculpture of the First Nations (to September 13). Open daily 10am-5:30pm, to 9pm Tuesday and Thursday; C$20.50 (£11).
Just around the corner at 639 Hornby Street is the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (6) (001 604 682 3455; billreidgallery.ca). The work of this renowned Haida artist – who has his "Spirit of Haida Gwaii" sculpture depicted on the back of the C$20 banknote – includes paintings, carvings, sculpture and jewellery, supplemented with stories and film. Open 11am-5pm from Wednesday to Sunday, admission C$10 (£5.40).
Take a hike
Start by admiring the contrasting architecture in Robson Square (7): the copper roof of the historic Hotel Vancouver; the large department store, Sears; the Old Court House; the glass dome entrance to the largest underground shopping mall of the Pan Pacific building, and the Courts of Justice.
Walk down Howe Street to Canada Place (8), which hosts up to 380 cruise ships each summer. Take a look at the plaques telling the history of Vancouver, and admire the sweeping views of the harbour and the many helicopters, sea planes, ferries and cargo ships navigating this busy inlet.
Continue along Cordova Street and take a left into Water Street, entering historic Gastown – the place where Vancouver began after "Gassy Jack" Deighton. His statue (9) is on the corner of Water and Carrall Streets. He opened a saloon for forestry workers in 1867 and a community sprang up. There are also several art galleries and First Nations artisan outlets. Don't miss the steam clock (10) chiming and expelling steam every 15 minutes. Turn right along Carrell Street and left at Pender Street to finish in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown, the third largest in North America.
Lunch on the run
The Jade Dynasty Restaurant (11) at 137 Pender Street (001 604 683 8816) offers good-value dim sum, or just wander along the road and choose one of the many restaurants that takes your fancy. Expect to pay about C$12 (£6.50) for a selection of dim sum, plus tea. Open 11am-8:30pm daily.
The city has several distinct shopping areas catering for all tastes. Hop on bus 50 in the direction of False Creek and alight at the corner of Anderson Street and West 2nd Avenue for Granville Island (granvilleisland.com), a must-see for those looking for the unique and unusual – a former industrial area transformed into a warren of artisan studios and shopping nooks, where you can buy pottery, jewellery, glassware, clothing, books, wine and Native art.
Before you leave, head to the Public Market (12) at the end of Duranleau Street; the wooden ceiling provides reminders of its working past with pulley systems hanging above the brightly coloured stalls selling everything from herbs and ointments, to flowers, cakes, jewellery, and meats. Open 9am-7pm daily.
Take a View
The golden-sanded beach of Kitsilano (13), just a short walk along the sea wall from Granville Island, provides a great view back to English Bay, the high rises of Downtown, Stanley Park, the North Shore and the mountains beyond of Cypress, Grouse and Seymour. Take a pew and ponder in one view the diversity that Vancouver has to offer.
From the jetty on Granville take the AquaBus to Yaletown, every 15 minutes daily 8.45am-8.45pm, C$4 (£2.15) one-way; theaquabus.com. Try a local brew at the Yaletown Brewery (14) at 1111 Mainland Street (001 604 681 2739; markjamesgroup.com). Beers brewed on the premises include the Red Truck Ale (named after the 1946 Dodge delivery truck) and the Downtown Brown. Open daily 11.30am-midnight, later Thursday-Saturday.
Dining with the locals
The award-winning Chambar (15) at 562 Beatty Street (001 604 879 7119; chambar.com) is a sophisticated, funky restaurant serving innovative Belgium, French and Moroccan food using regional ingredients. Try the roasted halibut, shitake and lemongrass casserole with jade rice for C$28 (£15). Open daily 6pm-midnight.
For something a little cheaper head to Granville Island to Bridges (16) on Duranleau Street (001 604 687 4400; bridgesrestaurant.com), for a wild sockeye salmon burger with salad for C$17 (£9). Open daily 11am-midnight.
Sunday Morning: Go to Church
On the corner of Georgia and Burrard stands Christ Church Anglican Cathedral (17) (001 604 682 3848; cathedral.vancouver.bc.ca). This modest-sized cathedral was built in Gothic Revival style in the late 1800s and is a wonderful combination of old-world design and new-world materials.
Note the beautiful Douglas fir floor, arched ceiling beams of cedar, 32 stained glass windows and the 1930s lanterns hanging from the hammer beam trusses. Sunday Communion is at 8am; open 10am-4pm weekdays, admission free.
A Walk in the Park
Every city must wish it has an open space like Stanley Park (001 604 257 8400; vancouverparks.ca), comprising 1,000 acres of forest, gardens, flowers, trails, lakes, beaches and wildlife.
The park is a splendid complement to the high-rise buildings of the Downtown area, from where the park can be reached easily on foot or by bus. There are numerous marked trails through the jungle of giant trees, plus a six-mile seawall path providing great views.
Out to brunch
The SeaBus takes 12 minutes to cross from Waterfront Station (18) to Lonsdale Quay (19) on the North Shore. The Quay (001 604 985 6261; lonsdalequay.com) includes a public market, food court, restaurants and speciality shops.
Make your brunch choice and relax on the terrace with a different view of Vancouver. Market open from 9am, food outlets 10am-7pm.
Take a ride
Take bus 236 from Lonsdale Quay, leaving every half hour, to the foot of the Skyride gondola (cable-car) that lifts you to the summit of Grouse Mountain (20) (001 604 984 0661; grousemountain.com). Keen walkers can alternatively hike the "Grouse Grind", a steep two-mile uphill trek.
Activities at the top include trail walking, lumberjack shows and a refuge for endangered wildlife.
The gondola runs every 15 minutes, 9am-10pm daily; C$37.95 (£20.50) return including all activities.
Icing on the Cake
Stop on the way back at Capilano Suspension Bridge (21) (001 604 985 7474; capbridge.com), breathtakingly suspended 230 feet above the canyon, spanning 450 feet across and leading to a forest of cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock.
The interpretive Treetops Adventure takes you along a series of cabled bridges built 100 feet above the forest floor, giving a unique, up-close encounter with these giant trees. Open 8.30am-8pm (9am-5pm in winter); admission C$29.95 (£16.60).