Seeing the typical sights when you’re on vacation is part of the draw. But what about those out-of-the-way, most unique experiences you wind up wanting to write (or at least email) home about? These are what we’re after as travelers. In Vancouver there are plenty such experiences to enjoy alongside the main highlights. With that in mind, check out these ideas for your trip to this beloved Pacific Northwest city, mixing the iconic and popular with the more unique.
STAY: We love the vintage motor inn that Burrard Hotel converted into its trendy retro space. The bedrooms are spacious with nostalgic mid-century decor, and the in-house restaurant and coffee shop are well worth stopping in to enjoy.
For an upscale experience though, try the waterfront Fairmont Pacific Rim. Its modern architecture and high-tech luxury amenities are impressive, and the views of the surrounding mountains one can enjoy from within the glass tower are breathtaking. (And no, the hotel has no relationship to the Pacific Rim film franchise!)
EAT: There are plenty of unique restaurants in Vancouver, such as the proudly nerd-themed Storm Crow (where you can borrow board games to play while you’re eating) or the Afghan Horsemen, where you eat sitting on floor cushions in the traditional Middle-Eastern style. But if you really want an adventurous experience, there is no better option than Dark Table, where you actually dine in total darkness. The waitstaff is comprised largely of individuals who are visually impaired or blind, which gives them the ability to guide patrons through their meals using their other senses. It’s a whole new way to dine, and while it can be a bit unsettling at first, many have a lot of fun with it.
DRINK: Vancouver’s bar scene is varied, and far from subtle about its numerous themes. There’s much to choose from, especially the religious Hail Mary’s, where you “go to hell” when you visit the bathroom (and visit a confessional if you have too much to drink). Meanwhile, if you want something that feels less gimmicky, try Jackalope’s. You’ll find comfort food, a jukebox, and local art on the walls, to say nothing of a very appealing drink menu.
DISCOVER: Legendary Vancouver tourist areas and attractions can make for the perfect start to your itinerary, from Gastown with its steam clock to the water park on Granville Island. Many will also consider the aquarium, Butchart Gardens, and various other parks and museums. For those who have the stomach for it though, we’d also recommend climbing to greater heights for a more unique thrill – literally. The Capilano Suspension Bridge can be accessed via free shuttles from downtown, and once there you can walk across the Capilano River on a suspension bridge strung high over the water. The first iteration of the bridge was built in 1889, but it has of course been rebuilt and improved upon to provide a safe excursion for modern travelers (and locals for that matter).
EXPERIENCE: Vancouver’s entertainment and attraction scene offers much of what you’d expect, but the local casino may provide a more surprising bit of recreation. Throughout Canada, the easy availability of bonus-leaden slot games and poker tournaments online seems as if it might put a damper on live casino experiences. But in Vancouver you’ll find it’s quite the contrary. A few professional gaming and entertainment facilities exist, though we’d direct visitors to Parq Vancouver – a stylish complex with gaming facilities (and dining and spa options) that seem simultaneously classic and modern. It’s a lovely place not just for casino gamers, but for anyone looking for a bit of luxury in the city.
Soaking up all a city has to offer is a big job. With these suggestions, though, you’ll have a head start toward something approximating the full Vancouver experience, from the standard to the unexpected. And there are few cities more worth exploring.
— G. Dhalla