We’ve all heard the reports of Vancouver winning numerous awards as “the world’s most livable city” – but what exactly is it that makes this place so livable, so likeable, so lovable, so…perfect?
I guess I should start out by saying that I don’t actually believe in perfection – something somehow can always be improved on in a small way. But during my recent visit to Canada, and my first to Vancouver, I was forced to admit that when it comes to comparing major metropolises around the globe, this city is damn hard to beat.
For a city renowned for its beautiful location, I thought I’d start with a view from up high – and it doesn’t come much higher than Grouse Mountain and its iconic Skyline Gondola ride. Now, there are gondola and cable rides all over the world, but this being Vancouver, they like to add a little more icing on the cake – only this time, YOU’RE the icing! Anyone who has dreamt of being James Bond can get their wish because, in a scenario reminiscent of Moonraker (thankfully, without the risk of a metal-jawed giant trying to kill you), rather than riding inside the cable car cabin you can actually make the journey while standing securely on the roof! Rather than fighting an evil henchman, all you have to do is take in the view and remind yourself that this is the only place in North America you can do this.
Once you reach the top, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d seen and done most of what the mountain had to offer – and you couldn’t be more wrong. Zip-lining, paragliding, cheesy but fun lumberjack shows, helicopter rides – there are enough activities to keep you occupied all day. The big draw are the orphaned grizzly bears Grinder and Coola, who were rescued in 2001 and have been living on the mountain ever since, under conditions designed to replicate their lives in the wild, but my personal favourite was being taught the art of axe-throwing. Even as a total pacifist, the joy of successfully landing a bullseye with a spinning Tomahawk axe brought a huge smile to my face and I could’ve happily stayed there for hours perfecting my technique. However, this was a mountain, and even more impressive views beckoned, from the Eye Of The Wind, a 65-metre high wind turbine and viewing pod.
Having seen the city from above, it was time to explore on ground level – and the best way is to join the locals and cycle around Stanley Park, the second-largest urban park in North America. This easy, delightful ride, allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the shoreline, beaches, and skyline of the city. If, like us, you’d been to the wonderful Granville Island market beforehand and stocked up on fruit, cheese and other picnic goodies, you can rest when you need to, soak up the view, feel the sun on your face, and contemplate if you’ve ever been this relaxed in any other large city.
Any place surrounded by this much water would usually suggest seafood is the way to go when ordering food, and Vancouver is no exception – from fresh, simple Atlantic Cod and chips to tasty tacos at Tacofino to high-end platters and towers of shellfish at upscale places like the Blue Water Cafe, washed down with a local craft beer at Alibi or the Storm Crow Tavern. With such a huge Asian population, make sure you also search out the full range of gastronomic delights from the Far East, whether it’s a Japadog food truck, or Gyu-Kaku’s Japanese BBQ.
With a few of the natural wonders ticked off, we hit the streets on foot in search of one of my other favourite quirks of a decent city – street art. You can start with A-maze-ing Laughter on the way up to Stanley Park, or the Granville Giants, both of which will have you itching for your camera. Trans-Am Totem is a modern take on a ubiquitous First-Nations sight, while Digital Orca at Canada Place, by one of Vancouver’s favourite sons Douglas Coupland, is certainly better than seeing a killer whale in any aquarium (and much more humane)! It’s also handily located next to the Harbour Air terminal, where a range of seaplanes are waiting to fly you over the city and nearby mountains for an astonishing view of this spectacular area. The thrill of taking off and landing directly on the water is a pretty unique experience, reminding me of the opening scene from Raiders of The Lost Ark (minus the snakes, thankfully).
So far, so good. The proximity to ski fields, the uncrowded metro system (even in rush hour), high-quality cultural venues like the fascinating Museum of Anthropology – surely this would be an ideal environment to raise a family too? It certainly seemed that way when we ventured up to Lynn Canyon National Park, with it’s smaller, free alternative to the pricey Capilano Suspension Bridge, where dozens of local families spent an afternoon wandering the forest trails.
As each day got better and better, I often thought “what’s the catch?” – maybe the rain (anywhere this green must surely get its fair share)? Maybe the nightlife wasn’t as hip or vibrant as Berlin or London? If true, these seem like small prices to pay to live somewhere clean without being sterile, interesting but not pretentious, beautiful but not arrogant. Vancouver is a city that seems quite content in its own skin, with its relatively remote location, without needing to shout about it. I’d urge you to go – just don’t blame me if you fall in love with the place and want to move there!