Lay of the Land
Vancouver is one of those cities that people love to love. And why not? It’s big, and densely populated, but it’s done such a good job at keeping itself livable that it routinely tops those lists of the most livable cities in North America. It’s definitely scenic, with swathes of high-rise towers posed against a dramatic backdrop of sea and mountains. The mountains are easily accessible and ski-able and the sea, which is here comprised of protected bays, beaches, inlets and a strait, accommodates everything from ferries, sailboats and float planes to giant cruise ships heading north to Alaska. Vancouver is a wonderfully walkable city, with a busy downtown, a giant park called Stanley, and some interested areas (like Granville Island) to explore. Did I mention that the food is fabulous? Yes, Vancouver, with its amazingly diverse ethnic populations, is one of the “foodiest” cities on the continent, offering local, international, and fusion cuisines of the highest caliber. Some refer to Vancouver as “Hollywood North” because so many films and television shows are shot there, and the film industry has definitely given Vancouver a glamorous see-and-be-seen quality. But for all its savvy and sophistication, Canada’s largest westernmost city remains an incredibly friendly place and a memorable travel destination.
Four different bodies of water lap at Vancouver’s edges, making it a somewhat complicated city to define. The urban areas of most interest to visitors—downtown, Stanley Park, Gastown, the West End, and Yaletown—occupy a peninsula that juts out like a thumb from a mitten-shaped mainland. The peninsular thumb is bordered to the north by Burrard Inlet, the city’s main deepwater harbor and port, to the west by English Bay, and to the south by False Creek. (Farther west beyond English Bay is the Strait of Georgia, part of the Pacific Ocean.) Just south across False Creek, on the mainland or hand of the mitten is the West Side, comprised of Granville Island, famous for its public market, and the beach community of Kitsilano with a western shoreline that looks out on the Strait of Georgia. North Vancouver is the mountain-backed area across Burrard Inlet from downtown.
Part of what makes Vancouver so wonderfully walkable is that there is no freeway running through it. On the downtown peninsula are four key east-west streets (to be more directionally precise, the streets run southeast to northwest). Robson Street, Georgia Street (an artery that runs along the eastern edge of downtown, through Stanley Park, and over the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver); Hastings Street; and Davie Street.Three north-south downtown streets will get you everywhere you want to go in and out of downtown: Denman Street, Burrard Street, and Granville Street.