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British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Air Canada (0871 220 1111; aircanada.com) flies daily non-stop between Heathrow and Vancouver. Winter prices start around £600 return, rising rapidly over Christmas. A cheaper option is to fly from Gatwick on Air Transat (020-7616 9187; airtransat.co.uk).
Vancouver's airport is 13km south of the city, with a 26-minute train link on the Canada Line ( translink.bc.ca; one-way fare C$8.75/£5.50) the best way to reach downtown's Waterfront Station (1). A taxi to city-centre hotels costs C$30-C$40 (£19-£25).
Get your bearings
Bordered by water on two sides and Stanley Park's vast woodland to the north-west, downtown Vancouver consists of compact, easily walkable neighbourhoods such as Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown. The centre is the busy intersection of shop-lined Robson Street and neon-twinkling Granville Street (2) – the nightlife party strip.
Hop on the transit system for neighbourhoods further afield: bus 50 for Granville Island's market and artisan studios; the 99B-Line for the museums and gardens of the University of British Columbia; and a 12-minute SeaBus boat hop from Waterfront Station (1) to the North Shore. An all-day transit pass costs C$9 (£5.70).
Tourism Vancouver's Visitor Centre (3) is at 200 Burrard Street (001 604 683 2000; tourismvancouver.com; daily 8.30am-6pm).
The heritage Victorian Hotel (4) at 514 Homer Street (001 604 681 6369; victorianhotel.ca) combines a central location with antiquey rooms and free Wi-Fi. En-suite doubles, without breakfast, start at C$114 (£72). Near Stanley Park, the chintzy Buchan Hotel (5) at 1906 Haro Street (001 604 685 5354; buchanhotel.com) has good bathroom-sharing budget doubles from C$63 (£40) excluding breakfast.
Contemporary élan and value-added extras combine at the boutique St Regis Hotel (6) at 602 Dunsmuir Street (001 604 681 1135; stregishotel.com) where rates include breakfast and, remarkably, free and unlimited international phone calls; doubles from C$171 (£108). Alternatively, push the boat out at the luxurious new Fairmont Pacific Rim (7) at 1038 Canada Place (001 604 695 5300; fairmont.com/pacificrim), where the best rooms face the North Shore mountains – don't miss the rooftop pool. Doubles start at C$290 (£182) excluding breakfast.
Take a hike
Start outside the slick new waterfront Convention Centre expansion (8), where you'll spot the Olympic Cauldron and Douglas Coupland's Lego-like killer whale sculpture. Then launch yourself south along Burrard Street. At the intersection with Hastings Street, check out the magnificent art deco Marine Building (9). When it was completed in 1930, it was the British Empire's tallest skyscraper. It is decorated with moulded seahorses, lobsters and ships' prows.
Continue south on Burrard and within three blocks you'll be at Christ Church Cathedral (10) (open 10am-4pm daily). Try the vestibule doorway on the first corner: it leads to a hidden William Morris Company stained-glass window. Return to Burrard and take the next left onto West Georgia Street, then the next left again onto Hornby Street. Here you'll find the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (11). It showcases the carvings and paintings of Canada's foremost Aboriginal First Nations artist – his work is on the back of the C$20 bill (11am-5pm Wednesday-Sunday; admission C$10/£6.30). The totems in the Great Hall are a highlight.
Cross to the other side of West Georgia and nip into the Vancouver Art Gallery (12) at 750 Hornby Street (001 604 662 4700; vanartgallery.bc.ca; 10am-5pm daily (Tuesday to 9pm), admission $19.50/£12.30). This is downtown Vancouver's best cultural attraction – look for anything here by photoconceptualists Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas. Then, for lunch, buy a bulging pulled pork sandwich (C$6/£3.75) at Re-Up BBQ (13) on the gallery's north side, (11.30am-5.30pm daily except Sunday).
Granville Island – actually a peninsula under the iron arches of Granville Bridge – is full of intriguing retail opportunities. Try the Public Market (14) at 1661 Duranleau Street ( granvilleisland.com) for deli treats; Edie Hats (15) in the Net Loft at 1666 Johnston Street ( ediehats.com) for snazzy headgear; and the Gallery of BC Ceramics (16) at 1359 Cartwright Street (bcpotters.com) for a kaleidoscope of well-priced local art. Finish up with a tour and beer tasting at Granville Island Brewing (17) at 1441 Cartwright Street ( gib.ca) – Lions Winter Ale recommended. Tours run daily at noon, 2pm and 4pm and cost $9.75 (£6.20).
Dining with the locals
Possibly Canada's best dining city, Vancouver has a belt-straining array of great eats. For local seafood perfectly prepared, hit Yaletown's swanky Blue Water Café (18) at 1095 Hamilton Street (001 604 688 8078; bluewatercafe.net) for oysters (C$2.75-C$4.75; £1.70-£3). Alternatively, sink into the candlelit ambience (and velvet-soft lamb shank) of Belgian-influenced Chambar (19) at 562 Beatty Street (001 604 879 7119; chambar.com). Or hit arguably the world's best Asian dining scene outside Asia. Bao Bei (20) at 163 Keefer Street (001 604 688 0876; bao-bei.ca) is a loungey new Chinese brasserie where the short-rib buns and inventive cocktails are justifiably popular. The West End's chatty Guu With Garlic (21) at 1698 Robson Street (001 604 685 8678; guu-izakaya.com) is an authentic Japanese izakaya (pub-restaurant) – tori karaage fried chicken recommended.
End the day taste-testing microbrews in Gastown's Alibi Room (22) at 157 Alexander Street (001 604 623 3383; alibi.ca) or in the venerable Railway Club (23) at 579 Dunsmuir Street (001 604 681 1625; therailwayclub.com), where there's nightly live music and great beers such as Central City Brewing's ESB.
Sunday morning: a walk in the park
A bracing Stanley Park seawall stroll is a Vancouver must. It's an 8.8km circuit but you'll be rewarded with shimmering ocean views, towering mountain backdrops and an accompaniment of swaying Douglas firs. If you're not up for the full walk, rent a bike on nearby Denman Street or cherry pick park highlights such as Brockton Point's totem poles (24) and the Vancouver Aquarium (25) (001 604 659 3400; vanaqua.org; 9.30am-5pm daily; admission C$24/£15).
Out for brunch
The Fish House (26) in Stanley Park (001 604 681 7275; fishhousestanleypark.com) opens at 11am at weekends (11.30am during the week) and offers a seafood-focused weekend brunch – go for smoked salmon Benedict (C$17.95/ £11.35). Or hit the art deco inspired Acme Café (27) at 51 Hastings Street West (001 604 569 1022; acmecafe.ca) for goat's cheese scrambled eggs (C$10.50/ £6.60). It opens 10am-9pm Sunday (from 8am during the rest of the week).
The region's best collection is at the Museum of Anthropology (28) (001 604 827 5932; moa.ubc.ca), which showcases a rich array of First Nations art and artefacts plus exhibits reflecting other cultures around the world. It opens 10am-5pm daily (Tuesday to 9pm), admission C$18 (£11.35). The free guided tours are recommended.
The icing on the cake
At the landmark Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (29), take the Hornby Street side entrance into the building. On the corridor's left wall, peruse the menu that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth enjoyed during the hotel's 1939 opening.
Vancouver is one of those rare cities where you can stroll beaches in the morning and hit powder-packed mountain slopes in the afternoon. The three peak contenders – Grouse, Cypress and Seymour – are on the North Shore where transit or shuttle buses to each run from Lonsdale Quay SeaBus terminal (30).
The 1,250m-altitude lodge complex at Grouse Mountain (001 604 980 9311; grousemountain.com) is the gateway to Vancouver's favourite winter playground. You can get there via the SkyRide gondola – take bus 236 from Lonsdale Quay or drive to the parking lot on Capilano Road.
There are 26 ski runs, but snowboarding is even bigger, especially during floodlit evenings when the slopes open to 10pm: expect to see Dakine-clad teens hitting the terrain parks en masse. A one-day lift pass costs C$63 (£40).
Along with a small outdoor ice rink, there's an excellent but often overlooked snowshoe park here (equipment rentals available), where you can crunch between icicle-covered fir trees before warming up in the glowing lodge.
The lodge's fine-dining Observatory Restaurant is quite posh but the adjacent hearth-warmed bistro has similar panoramic views over the city, twinkling in the ocean below.
Cypress Mountain (001 604 926 5612; cypressmountain.com) is accessed by car via Cypress Bowl Road or by shuttle bus from Lonsdale Quay and various other points in and around Vancouver; round-trip C$23 (£14.50). It was the venue for the 2010 Olympic snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.
With a 610m vertical drop, plus 53 runs equally divided between intermediate and advanced, Cypress Mountain is the area's biggest ski location. It also offers snowshoeing and a six-chute snowtubing course, as well as the North Shore's only cross-country skiing area: there are 19km of Nordic trails – including 7.5km set up for night-time access. A one-day pass costs C$67 (£42).
Mount Seymour (001 604 986 2261; mountseymour.com) is the least slick of the three operations and therefore attracts locals more interested in the slopes than the après-ski. You can get there by car via Mount Seymour Parkway, though snow tyres are required. There's also a shuttle bus from Lonsdale Quay (round-trip C$16/£10).
Along with its 39 runs – including lots of off-piste areas – there are four terrain parks. Family-friendly extras include snowtubing and tobogganing. Seymour is also the cheapest of the three: one-day lift tickets are C$55 (£35).