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Canada's most westerly province, British Columbia is sandwiched between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Its location on the Pacific Rim not only endows it with a diversity of topography but also ensures a rich blend of cultures, with cities and towns replete with both cosmopolitan ambience and indigenous heritage.
It is especially attractive to outdoor enthusiasts, who are able to access all of the province's spectacular wildernesses thanks to its great transport infrastructure of ferries, chartered boats, trains and well-maintained roads.
British Columbia is home to four national parks, seven provincial heritage sites, many nature reserves and the scenic Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, popular for its beautiful fjords and canoeing. The volcanic mountains of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park provide trekking opportunities, while the Kootenay Rockies boast some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Canada.
The provincial capital of British Columbia is the city of Victoria, situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. But its largest and most populated city is Vancouver, blessed with incredible vistas of forested mountains and staggering ocean views.
British Columbia's tourist attractions are a hard-hitting combination of stunning natural assets and cosmopolitan cultural experiences. The province stretches between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, encompassing some magnificent landscapes and protected areas of great beauty.
Parks worth exploring include Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, Kootenay National Park, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, and Mt Revelstoke National Park, to name just a few. Lakes, mountains, glaciers, epic walking trails, ski slopes, and hot springs await adventurous visitors.
The city of Vancouver attracts many travellers with its wealth of cultural attractions, fun nightlife, and spectacular setting. The historic hub of Gastown displays a Victorian character in this otherwise modern city. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria, draws visitors to Vancouver Island, which also boasts a number of quaint towns and the ubiquitous British Columbian natural beauty.
Ski resorts, like the famous Whistler Blackcomb, draw winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world, and there are also many friendly resorts with slopes for beginners, where the locals flock to learn.
The pride of Vancouver, Stanley Park covers 1,000 acres (405 hectares) and is one of the largest parks in any urban centre in North America. It's situated in the heart of Vancouver's densely populated West End and stretches out on a peninsula.
Stanley Park is at once a refuge for visitors seeking a brief escape from the urban jungle, a showcase for the natural beauty that surrounds the city and an entertainment centre. The park is criss-crossed through its dense rainforest interior by miles of wide gravel paths surrounding Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon.
It is home to hundreds of migratory birds such as Canada geese, swans and ducks, and large populations of racoons, squirrels, skunks and coyotes. The park has a miniature railroad, putt-putt course and an aquarium, as well as routes around the long sea wall perfect for a walk, jog, cycle or rollerblade.
At the University of British Columbia on the cliffs of Point Grey, totem poles mark the way to the Museum of Anthropology, world-renowned for its displays of Northwest Coast First Nations art. One of its main features is the world's largest collection of works by internationally acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid, including his famous cedar sculpture 'The Raven and the First Men'. In the museum's unique Visible Storage Galleries, more than 15,000 objects and artefacts from around the world are arranged according to culture and use. In the grounds of the museum are two Haida houses, showing the dramatic beauty of traditional Northwest Coast architecture.
Vancouver's Chinatown is not only a strong, established ethnic community, but also a popular tourist attraction and prosperous commercial district. Its bustling streets are full of colour and commerce; even the pagoda-topped telephone booths add to the atmosphere. Shop displays spill onto the pavements, and tables groan with the weight of exotic foodstuffs and the strange wares of the Chinese apothecaries.
The Sam Kee Building in Pender Street is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the narrowest building in the world, at only six-foot (two metres) wide. This was the result of a local property owner reacting to the expropriation of most of his land in 1912 for the widening of the street: Chang Toy decided to build what he could on the remaining tiny strip.
Another main attraction in Chinatown is the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, enclosed behind high walls, that was built in 1986 at a cost of C$5.3 million with the craftsmen and materials all imported from China. It is a quiet haven of walkways, pavilions, gnarled trees, water features, and natural rock sculptures. Next door to the Garden is the Chinese Cultural Centre with its elaborate gated entrance hand-painted in traditional colours.
Alongside Chinatown, the fascinating historic enclave of Gastown transports visitors back in time to envision the city as it existed in the days of old. Set in the central core of Vancouver, it has cobbled streets, antique gaslights, Victorian architecture, narrow alleys, courtyards, and hidden boutiques and restaurants. Jack 'Gassy' Deighton, Vancouver's first settler after whom the town was named, has been immortalised with a statue in Maple Tree Square in Gastown.
Another point of interest is the Lamplighter Pub in the Dominion Hotel, which was the first Vancouver inn to serve alcohol to women, while the Europe Hotel was the first fireproof building in western Canada, having been built just after the major fire of 1892. Gastown keeps time with the world's first steam clock, which plays the Westminster chimes every 15 minutes on five brass steam-whistles inside its cast bronze case.
The exquisite Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver boasts lush gardens bursting with flowers, live theatre and the Bloedel Floral Conservatory. The park receives about six million visitors annually who come to enjoy a 360 degree view of Vancouver from its highest point, 505 feet (167m) above sea level. The Bloedel Floral Conservatory, with its characteristic geodesic dome, is home to more than 100 species of tropical birds that roam free in the area, as well as hundreds of species of exotic plants and flowers.
Other highlights of the park include the Quarry Garden, J. Seward Johnson's sculpture 'The Photo Session', the Lions Clock and the arboretum, with its fine examples of indigenous trees from across Canada. Spring is an excellent time to visit the park as it becomes a riot of colour, with white and pink cherry blossoms on show.
The entertainment district of Granville Island is easily accessible, located in the middle of Vancouver under the Granville Street Bridge on the south shore of False Creek. While it barely seems separate from the city, it's nonetheless a relaxing break from the main bustle. The public market is a sensory feast, complete with a riot of energetic colours, delicious local produce and intriguing craft stalls. The separate Kids Market is a must for children, with toy stores and games, while the Maritime Market is a showcase for boat builders, with a museum, supply stores and tours. The Granville Island Brewing Company offers tastings for thirsty visitors while the island's theatre provides cultural treats and art shows at the Emily Carr institute. To cool off during a hot summer's day, the island has the biggest free waterpark in British Columbia, open from May to September.
Situated in North Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay offers spectacular views of downtown Vancouver, its harbour and the North Shore Mountains. There are also a variety of shops, restaurants and an excellent market. The best way to experience the quay is to catch the SeaBus from Waterfront Station on Cordova Street in downtown Vancouver. The fifteen-minute ride allows one to relax and enjoy the view, watch seaplanes land and spy cruise ships in the harbour.
The market boasts mouthwatering local produce, from seafood to pastries. There's also a wide range of restaurants covering Mexican, Greek and Asian cuisine among many others. Shoppers can indulge at a variety of stalls selling all sorts of arts and crafts, souvenirs and clothing, as well as plenty of boutiques, a kids play area and specialty kids stores, topped by the Lonsdale Quay Hotel.
Established in 1931 and housed in a turn-of-the-century heritage building in the centre of downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery boasts thousands of national and international exhibitions by a host of artists, sculptors and photographers. National and international touring exhibitions take place regularly at the gallery, with works from masters such as Picasso, Rodin, Andy Warhol and others. Whether you prefer the Old Masters or more contemporary artists, the Vancouver Art Gallery is well worth a visit. Check out the official website listed below for details on current temporary exhibitions.
Perhaps one of the best ways to begin one's visit to Vancouver is with a trip up the Harbour Centre Tower to the Lookout, where one can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city, the North Shore Mountains and neighbouring Vancouver Island on a clear day. A 45-second trip in the outdoor glass-fronted Skylift elevator delivers visitors to the Lookout and informative signs point out key attractions in the city and surrounds. Guests can enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the sun set from the Lookout or see the lights of the city begin to twinkle below. The tower is also home to the Top of Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, and visitors can enjoy the unique experience of dining above the city while the restaurant completes a full revolution every hour.
With 22 hectares (55 acres) and roughly 11,000 different plant species, VanDusen Botanical Garden is a spectacular showcase of the natural world, right in the heart of Vancouver. Landscaped gardens are laid out exquisitely and specific areas are cultivated to demonstrate botanical relationships or geographical origins, such as the popular Rhododendron Walk or the Sino Himalayan Garden.
One of the most popular events held in the garden is the annual Festival of Lights, when the beauty of the flowers is matched by over a million dazzling lights set up in order to celebrate the festive season. Choirs and carol singers, a Dancing Light display on Lake Island and the Golden Chain Walk are all part of this family favourite, running from 9 to 31 December each year. Daily walking- and cart tours are available in the garden from April to October at 2pm and also at 11am on Wednesdays.
Commercial Drive is about as non-commercial as it gets, being one of Vancouver's most eclectic and increasingly trendy neighbourhoods. Starting out as a skid row for its lumber industry in the late 1800s, it evolved over time with a steady influx of English, Chinese, Italian and Eastern European immigrants fleeing both World Wars. Diversity and energy are still the hallmarks of Commercial Drive, and an afternoon is well spent exploring its various cuisines, chic boutiques and live music shows. Enjoy a delicious Italian gelato or espresso, or simply grab a table at one of the many bars or restaurants. There are always plenty of festivals and events going on too, such as the Parade of Lost Souls, the Stone Soup Festival in May and the Eastside Culture Crawl.
With well over a million annual visitors, the more-than-a-century-old Butchart Gardens remain one of Vancouver Island's most popular attractions. Situated about 14 miles (21km) north of Victoria, the gardens were founded in the early 1900s by Jennie Butchart in an abandoned limestone quarry. Fifty-five acres are open to the public and visitors can wander the paths through exquisitely manicured gardens, including the Sunken Garden, a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden and Italian Garden.
The gardens become a riot of colour in the spring and autumn, although winter and summer hold their own delights. Every Saturday, from the beginning of July to the end of September, the Gardens are transformed by a dazzling fireworks show, as well as a recital on the self-playing, rare Aeolian Pipe Organ and the Night Illuminations light display.
Other attractions and events in the park include an ice-skating rink and Twelve Days of Christmas display in December, and afternoon and evening shows and concerts during summer. Opening times and admission costs vary according to season, so visitors should check the official website listed below for details.
One of the iconic images of Victoria is the much loved and well-visited Fairmont Empress Hotel, a fully restored Edwardian treasure visited by both royalty and celebrities. Set on the banks of Victoria's Inner Harbour, the Empress is a grand and majestic building with a storied history. It retains its British air through its traditional afternoon tea, popular with tourists and locals alike since opening in 1908. Reservations up to a week or two in advance are essential and the dress code is smart casual. The Empress is centrally located, and also enjoys a spa and golf course. It's a definite highlight of any visit to Victoria and well worth a stay.
Built in 1893, the British Columbia Government Parliament Buildings were initially criticised as an unnecessary expense, but has since become a major tourist attraction in Victoria, and also serves as the legislative centre for the province. Designed by 25-year-old architect Francis Rattenbury (who also designed The Fairmont Empress Hotel), these beautiful buildings and exquisite grounds are situated at Victoria's Inner Harbour, close to many of Victoria's other main attractions.
Various performances routinely take place on the grounds and visitors can enjoy the spectacular sight of the buildings at night, when more than 3,000 lights outlining the buildings create a fairytale picture. Tours of the buildings are available daily at regular intervals throughout the year and visitors can observe the House in session from the public galleries.
Tofino is swiftly becoming a popular holiday destination with international travellers. The resort enjoys natural beauty, a mild climate and plenty of outdoor activities, including kayaking, whale watching and fishing. In addition to hot springs and gorgeous beaches, it also serves as Canada's premier surfing spot.
Tucked away at the entrance of the Clayoquot Sound, Tofino is home to the Pacific Rim National Park and islands with ancient primeval forests. Home to only about 2,000 locals, it serves as an ideal spot to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Hot Springs Cove, accessible only by air and sea, is open year round and visitors can soak in naturally hot rock pools.
Other popular sights include the Eik Cedar, an 800-year-old tree that was rescued by residents after it was condemned to be felled; the Tofino Botanical Gardens with acres of forest, shoreline and gardens; and the Whale Centre Maritime Museum housing fascinating artefacts. The Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre, containing interesting information about the region and the area's first inhabitants, the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, is also well worth a visit.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is home to a vast array of aquatic creatures, ranging from otters, sea lions and penguins, to dolphins, sharks and whales. You'll find exhibits, displays and programmes geared towards kids, including Clownfish Cove, with small animals, play areas and costumes aimed at teaching children about the natural world and the importance of marine conservation. The aquarium features a gift shop, cafeteria and wheelchair access. Visitors of all ages enjoy a trip to this well-organised and large aquarium, which consistently receives rave reviews from travellers.
Animal lovers of all ages will have a fabulous time exploring the Greater Vancouver Zoo. It boasts more than 500 animals and 140 species, including lion, giraffe, black bear, bison, spider monkeys, coyotes, cheetah, hippo, lemurs and caracals, just to name a few. Children will simply love watching all the animals and naming the ones they know. Kids can enjoy meeting a selection of reptiles, take the safari mini train, listen to an educational talk or even watch the lions and tigers being fed. Refreshments are available from kiosks and restaurants so nobody will go hungry. Allow at least a few hours to explore the zoo properly.
British Columbia's climate is extremely varied due to its diverse topography. The coastal region has a comparatively mild winter climate, with lots of rainfall. November and February tend to be the wettest months, while May and September are probably the best times to visit the coast.
Vancouver enjoys a maritime climate, with relatively mild winters and warm summers. Although winters can be notoriously rainy, there are often long periods of continuous sunshine in the summertime when visitors come to explore the region's natural beauty. Snowfall is rare in the city, but is more than adequate for the ski slopes on the Coast Mountains to the north.
The interior to the east of the Coast Mountains has a much drier climate, with warm summers and cold winters. The Rockies enjoy a warm to hot summer from May to September, with heavy snowfalls during winter. The northern part of the province has generally much colder winters and cooler summers than the rest of British Columbia.
Offering a warm ambiance and a diverse menu to complement its urban environment, patrons at Brix can sample anything from a Four Cheese Cannelloni to Quebec Wentzel Duck. Accommodating night owls, Brix also offers a gratifying late night menu comprising spring rolls, Seven Spice Seared Ahi Tuna, and oven-baked pizza with loads of fresh toppings. Brix is ideal for dinner with friends or a romantic date. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Situated in trendy Yaletown, the Glowbal Grill and Satay Bar serves inventive and delicious cuisine in a stylish yet sophisticated setting. With the option of formal fine dining on white linen tablecloths or more laid-back feasting, this restaurant caters to a variety of people. Try the Kobe meatballs with truffled spaghetti or the Seven-spiced rare Ahi tuna, and round off with the warm Brazilian chocolate coffee cake or the Maple Macadamia nut flan. Reservations are recommended.
Serving the largest selection of oysters, lobsters and prawns as well as delicious steak, the Blue Water Café is frequented by local and international celebrities alike. With elegant décor and flawless service, this is the place to be when trying to impress a date or business associate. Try the White Sturgeon with red beet agro dolce, pumpernickel crust, chioggia beets and cauliflower puree, or the Beef Tenderloin served with porcini mushrooms, green chard and macaroni gratin with blue cheese. Reservations are recommended. The restaurant is open from 5pm till 11pm, with the Late Menu available till midnight.
Nestled away in an old mansion located in downtown Vancouver's Yaletown district, this stylish Italian eatery evokes a 1930s charm and sophistication while serving delicious, inventive and expertly presented dishes. Try the ossobuco, filetto di salmone or the filetto di manzo con porcini. You won't be disappointed. Lupo is open daily for dinner. Reservations are recommended.
Wraparound windows afford stunning views of downtown Vancouver and the surrounding mountains at this sophisticated Canadian restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park. Serving up tasty food at reasonable prices, Seasons in the Park is a Vancouver gem for both locals and foreigners. Try the Miso Soy Marinated Black Cod drizzled with pineapple chive vinaigrette and served with jasmine rice, and for dessert the much-loved Sunburnt Lemon Tart is a must. Dinner reservations offer views of the twinkling city lights and at lunch you can admire the leafy park and snow-capped mountains from the circular patio.
A charming Greek restaurant serving good no-fuss Greek food, Pasparos Taverna is a great place to meet with family and friends. A family business operating since 1974, Pasparos offers a warm atmosphere and mouth-watering homemade Greek cuisine, just as you'd find in Greece. With warm fresh breads, dolmades, roast lamb, superb Tzatziki, Avgolemono soup and a selection of souvlakia (kebabs), patrons are spoilt for choice. Combine that with top-notch service and a good Greek winelist (wine by the glass included) and you have all the ingredients for a successful restaurant. Open Monday to Friday for lunch, and daily for dinner.
One of Vancouver's best dining experiences, Guu with Garlic is part of a unique Japanese tapas chain that is taking the city by storm. With a perfect ratio of small portioned dishes at affordable prices, patrons can sample a handful of different dishes without breaking the bank. The open kitchen and cheerful waiters add to the electric mood, as do the exotic cocktails and experimental drinks. Recommended dishes include the duck salad, assorted carpaccio, baked oysters, prawns and calamari, as well as its daily specials. Open daily for dinner, reservations are recommended.
On Vancouver's north shore just a 15-minute drive from the downtown area across the Lions Gate Bridge, waits the year-round mountaintop playground of Grouse Mountain. Ascending the mountain is part of the adventure in the Super Skyride, a passenger tram that glides up the steep mountain slopes carrying visitors up 3,700ft (1,100m) above sea level in just eight minutes.
At the top, apart from magical views of the city below, is the Theatre in the Sky, which offers a high-tech presentation about Vancouver. There is also a cedar longhouse called the Hiwus Feasthouse that offers the chance to experience native West Coast culture with displays of dancing, storytelling and native cuisine.
There are hiking trails up the side of Grouse Mountain and on the east side one of them features the Grouse Grind, which is billed as one of the world's biggest stair-climbs. Mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding are also popular pursuits here.
Built in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of Vancouver's oldest and most popular tourist attractions, with plenty of activities and sights in the park for visitors to enjoy. Stretching 450 feet (137m) across and perched 230 feet (70m) above the Capilano River, it's a sturdy construction of reinforced steel and concrete, though still not for the faint of heart. A recent addition to the park is the Treetops Adventure, where elevated suspension bridges allow visitors a bird's-eye view of the rainforest, while they walk along the canopy of Douglas fir trees. Other attractions in the park include a story centre; a First Nations Cultural Centre where visitors can see carvers, weavers and beaders at work; a large collection of First Nations Totem Poles; and guided tours of the rainforest.
Tucked in the Strait of Georgia are the picturesque Gulf Islands. Home to artists and writers, many Vancouverites escape to holiday homes tucked away in the rainforest. Large parts of the islands have been designated as marine parks, preserving the land for the numerous endemic birds and animals that call the island home. Many of the islands host events and festivals each year, alongside a healthy art and shopping scene.
Bowen Island is only a 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay. Visitors can enjoy a stroll from Snug Harbour past the historic Union Steamship Company or take a walk in the Crippen Regional Park.
Galiano Island is the second biggest of the group and is about the size of Manhattan. Only 50 minutes away on the Tsawwassen Ferry on the Lower Mainland, Galiano Island draws all sorts of visitors who come to picnic in Bellhouse Park, take walks through the lush rainforest up to Bluffs Park or indulge in a spot of fishing, kayaking or a round of golf.
The San Juan Islands are a boater's paradise. Hundreds of islands are separated by nationality, but are part of the same scenic and rugged archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Washington State. Much of the area is in a rain shadow behind Vancouver Island, making a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest. Little island communities, great wildlife and the open water provide a real disconnect from the mainland.
Frequent government ferry services connect the mainland and larger inhabited islands to each other, but others can only be visited by smaller shuttle boats and yachts. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination. Anchorages are bustling throughout summer, but largely empty in other seasons. Yacht charters are available out of Bellingham.
Home to the celebrated Othello Tunnels, the Coquihalla Provincial Park lies just outside the town of Hope and about an hour's drive east of Vancouver. This quintet of railway tunnels which traverse the steep-sided Coquihalla Gorge were built for the Kettle Valley Railway and today offer visitors a fascinating insight into the history of the area, as well as a wonderfully scenic and unique hiking experience.
While the Othello Tunnels themselves are dark and dank (flashlights are recommended), the two-mile (3.5km) railway trail also crosses above thundering rapids and cuts through impressive, nearly 1,000-foot (300-metre) granite rock faces. The Othello Tunnels are an accessible and highly rewarding day trip from Vancouver, offering visitors of all ages a great mix of exercise and adventure.
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