Vancouver is the gateway to outdoor activities as it is surrounded by some of Canada's best nature. But even if you're no great adventurer, this progressive & ethnically diverse city in western Canada and very close to USA's north border is worthy of a visit. We mostly stayed in the city center in the downtown peninsula, where most of the (historical) landmarks are.
Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighborhood, is where most of the tourist are. There's a (fake) steam clock & the statue of Gassy Jack, owner of Vancouver's first saloon. It's charming in that it somewhat resembles old towns like you'd find all over Europe, and it's probably the best place to find souvenirs and a lot of amazing restaurants
Speaking of restaurants: if you're into Asian food, Vancouver's got something in store for you! I'm the guy who used to not be too keen on trying out dishes with ingredients I had never even heard of, so I've never been too fond of Asian cuisine. But my group seemed to love it and we went for Himalayan, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian food. To my surprise, I discovered I liked about half of it.
I had also never really tried sushi before. Well, I had tried it once - I had promised myself to try out sushi on an earlier trip, but never got around to it. On my way back home, I ended up buying sushi from a gas station and it was horrible (what a surprise, right?) Anyway, we also had sushi in Vancouver and it was sublime: I had never before had salmon this good.
Other noteworthy Vancouver areas include Canada Place, whose white sails almost make it look like Sydney's Opera House, and the nearby Olympic Cauldron. Robson Street and the CF Pacific Centre malls are great for shopping. And for a nice aerial view, you can go to one of the 2 revolving restaurants: Cloud 9 in the Empire Landmark Hotel, or the Top Of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant. And Stanley Park, at the tip of the downtown peninsula, is always worth a visit if you want to walk or bike the trails or lay on one of the beaches.
But if it's nature you're after, the North Shore Mountains are where you've got to be! So we took the ferry north, across the Burrard Inlet for a day tour to 2 of North Vancouver's biggest attractions.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
70 m (230 ft) above the Capilano River hangs a 137 m (450 ft) long suspension bridge. It was constructed over 100 years ago, but it has since been rebuilt and turned into a park, with totem poles and other activities like the Treetops Adventuren and the Cliffwalk. The Treetops Adventure is a series of seven smaller suspension bridges in between viewing platforms on 8 250 year old Douglas-fir trees. The Cliffwalk is a suspended walkway that'll take you around the granite cliff above Capilano River.
The North Shore Mountains are a popular area for snow sports. While Cypress Mountain was the decor for some of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Grouse Mountain is the most popular ski resort. But by the end of May, the ski season was over.
But this is prime time for hiking, and some of us decided to hike up the mountain on the Grouse Grind. The hike is just under 3 km (1.8 mi), but with a 1 000 m (3 280 ft) elevation gain, you know it's going to be challenging! The Grouse Grind is a very steep hike and I was not in shape! It took me about 1:15h to reach the top, and I had to stop for a quick rest a few times in order to catch my breath. I know it can be done faster since a few people passed me on the way up, but I later found out that the all time record is 0:23h. Even that day, a bunch of people were coming in at a mere 30-40 minutes. I know I could easily knock off a few minutes from my own time if I were to do it again in better shape, but that is just insane!
After getting a well-deserved drink in the Grouse Mountain Chalet, we strolled around Grouse Mountain for a bit and visited the wildlife refuge, where the grizzly bears refused to reveal themselves to me. Going downhill is not allowed on the Grouse Grind (and I didn't really feel like wrecking my knees anyway) so we took the Skyride gondola down.