Vancouver, on Canada's Pacific coast, is primed to take the spotlight once more when the 2010 Winter Olympics open on Friday. Their effect has been to transform this city, not least with last summer's opening of the Canada Line SkyTrain, making it even easier for visitors to get around.
But while a mild climate and close proximity of sea and mountains make Vancouver a favourite with active outdoor types, it has also got great arts spaces with excellent galleries and museums to enjoy.
Plus the social scene is reaping the benefits of an increasing number of lively bars, cafés, restaurants and clubs opening up. Test out its growing foodie reputation, too, largely due to its 100-Mile Diet, which promotes locally grown, caught and produced foods.
The swaying planks of the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This footbridge hangs 230ft above the raging Capilano River and spans 450ft (capbridge.com/explore).
Stanley Park. A five-mile pedestrian seawall encircles this green space. There are also miles of sands and forest trails to take in on foot, in-line skates, or by bike – rental shops abound (vancouver.ca/parks).
The Grouse Grind, a mountain trail just under two miles long and known to locals as "nature's stairmaster". You don't have to walk back down – there's a gondola to the car park (grousemountain.com).
Granville Island. Grass-fed bison, home-made jams, and local crafts are all on sale in this indoor labyrinth. Grab some sushi to eat on the waterfront plaza, where you can watch the boats and listen to the buskers (granvilleisland.com).
Jericho Beach. This quiet stretch of sand is home to the Ecomarine Ocean Kayak Centre, a little shack where you can rent kayaks, windsurfers and all the gear you need – lessons are available, too (ecomarine.com).
The 2010 Winter Olympics Cultural Olympiad, which runs until 21 March, features theatre, music and art shows around the city (vancouver2010.com).
Vancouver's South Main area, known as SoMa, is home to some of the city's best restaurants, cafés, galleries, home decor and fashion boutiques – this is where the city's leading avant-garde artists and designers create and sell their wares. And best of all, many immigrant families – the Italian butchers and Arabic grocers – have remained in the neighbourhood, making it an eclectic, funky and vibrant destination. Don't miss Narcissist Design Co (narcissist.com), a women's fashion boutique featuring "The Pamela", a dress that girls here claim can solve all of life's problems. When you're done shopping, drink some chai at East Is East (eastiseast.ca), an Afghan-inspired eaterie decorated with carpets and pillows. At night, it lays on live music and dancing, from flamenco to classical Indian.
The city's latest luxury hotel occupies the first 15 floors of a 61-storey landmark building, the tallest in the city, in the heart of downtown. Both elegant and futuristic (you can push a button for everything), the hotel has been decorated in contemporary Asian style. There's a piano bar on street level and its restaurant, The Market, is the latest place to dine out. Don't miss the black truffle pizza and the ginger margarita created by internationally acclaimed, three-star Michelin chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Details: 1128 West Georgia Street; shangri-la.com/vancouver.
The Vancouver-based yoga-wear company has just launched its Lulu Lab, a glass-walled studio on busy Cambie Street. This fashion line of comfortable, stretchy exercise clothes has become the uniform of every Vancouver woman (and many men) and there are stores all over the city. But at the new Lulu Lab you can watch designers create sample pieces. Or you can play designer yourself and create your own form-fitting gear. Pick a colour and a style and watch them sew up your own pair of Groove Pants while you wait.
Details: 511 West Broadway; lululemon.com.
Inspired by LA's dining lounges, Vancouver's latest – and much touted – addition to the restaurant scene is Society in Yaletown, the city's refashioned, and very hip, warehouse district. Upscale and cosy, dining tables are covered with white linen tablecloths, topped with brown paper and lit by pink chandeliers. The unconventional menu offers comfort food with a gourmet twist. Don't miss their lobster shepherd's pie and the junk food platter featuring candy floss and ice-cream sandwiches.
Details: 1257 Hamilton Street; society-grg.ca.
Fortune Sound Club
Vancouver's hottest new nightclub is in the heart of Chinatown – look for the queue snaking around the block at Main and Pender Streets. Don't miss the eye-catching installation in the entrance by Shepard Fairey, who also created the Barack Obama "Hope" poster. They take their music seriously here – the Funktion-One sound system is the only one of its kind in Canada. Jay-Z, and the city's best DJs and dancers, are regulars.
Details: 147 East Pender Street; fortunesoundclub.com.
"I'm in love with this new shop in Gastown called Architect. It's super-funky and boasts its own very unique brand of wearable electronics. You can plug your iPod, BlackBerry or mobile phone into its hoodies, jackets or peacoats, and control your music from touch buttons on the arms of the garments. How cool is that?"
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