Vancouver may not be as high on your must-see travel list as, say, Paris or New York, but think again. The city in British Columbia, right there on the border to the state of Washington, won us over faster than you can say “poutine”. The reason? Location, location, location! Walking between the skyscrapers of Downtown, every intersection opens up the view to the massive, snowy North Shore Mountains that start right at the city limits to the North. Even as a die-hard city-dweller, you’ll feel the urge to climb right up there.
Then, there’s the Pacific Ocean. The Burrard Inlet is one of the world’s largest natural marinas. Even if you’re not into giant ships, the steady stream of water planes taking off and landing will draw you in. A big scene of young start-ups, creatives, and crafts people that surely but slowly transform the rusty Gastown district into something of a hipster haven don’t hurt, either, of course. Let’s spend 12 hours in Vancouver!
The Burrard is an old motel that has been completely renovated and refurbished in 2011. Now, it attracts a pleasantly mixed crowd of party people, travelers, and hipsters. There’s free, fast wi-fi everywhere, designer furniture all over the place, and the new white bathrooms are spotless. It’s in walking distance to the city center (just head down Burrard street) and right next to Davie Street, one of the nightlife epicenters and a hotspot for the gay community of Vancouver. You’ll find tons of friendly bars and restaurants there that won’t kill your budget.
As for breakfast: There is none. A quick coffee from the Nespresso machine in the room should be enough to get you going before you can grab a croissant or a bagel from one of the many bakeries down the street. One giant plus at The Burrard are the free bicycles that they rent out daily to hotel guests. Just go down to the front desk in the morning, and they’ll assign you one of their cruiser bikes. The earlier you make it downstairs, the better, since there is a limited amount available. So, hop on, and off you go…
The Burrard // 1100 Burrard Street // website
Biking the Sea Wall
Vancouverites spend a lot of time outside. While walking through the city, you’ll see a lot of people dressed in practical work-out wear or hiking boots, two things that would qualify as an eyesore in any other big city. Here, you just get it. There are so many things to do and explore outside that you will even learn to tolerate the occasional rain shower as long as you can soak in the scenery. On the top of the list for anybody visiting is the Seawall and Stanley Park. One of the largest urban parks in North America, it is at the North tip of the West End, about ten minutes by bike from the Burrard. Once you hit Stanley park, you’ll be in the middle of a real urban rainforest within minutes. With some luck, you can watch the Raccoons that live around the Lost Lagoon (what a perfect name for a pond, isn’t it?). Make sure to follow the little trails through the forest to the east side of the peninsula, the track around the seawall is one-way only!
Even if you’re not an experienced biker, you’ll have no problem making the whole tour. There is plenty to see on the way, and all those scenic stops will make sure you’ll have no trouble completing the roughly 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) long trail.
Frank's Hot Dogs
Your big bike adventure ends right back on Davie Street, on the road back to the hotel. The climb of the street is quite steep. So if you feel for a quick snack before heading to get lunch in Gastown, have a look around Second Beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot Frank and his Hot Dog cart. Some locals claim his hot dogs with everything are the best in town. If anything, Frank always has some great tips, he knows the weather report for the next couple of days and is quite well informed about international sports. Have a chat with him, then head up the steep Davie Street back to the hotel and to your next destination.
Meat & Bread
Time to head over into the city. Before you do some shopping, park your bike over at the student hangout Victory Square. On the corner of Cambie Street is the perfect lunch place after a morning of nature and biking, Meat & Bread. The employees here all look like they could be members in a hot indie folk band – and some of them probably are. As they’re restaurant’s name suggests, they basically only serve two things: meat and bread. And they do this amazingly well.
The house special is their Porchetta, which is hand cured and slow roasted right there behind the counter. The other menu items include a meatball sandwiches slathered in homemade Sambal and a vegetarian option like grilled cheese. Additionally, there are new soups and salads on the menu daily. There is always only one dessert option, but it’s a spectacular one. Some people only come here for the Bacon Maple Ice Cream Sandwich… The drinks on the menu include locally produced cider and lemonade, all mouth watering good. Since it’s 2.30pm, the big lunch rush should just be over. Still, prepare to wait in line a bit. It’s well worth it!
Meat & Bread // 370 Cambie Street at Victory Square // Mon-Sat 11am-5pm // website
Shopping in Gas Town
It’s time go shopping. Vancouver is big, but the different shopping areas are quite compact. It’s easy to walk around and explore by foot. Our favorite area by far is the Historic Gastown district. Just down the street from Meat & Bread, you’ll find this little gem. Don’t be fooled by the masses of tourists, if you know where to go, there are true indie shops to be found here! The sea plane terminal on the water and Douglas Coupland’s sculpture ‘Digital Orca’ are really close, so if you want to fit in some traditional sightseeing, now is the time. But then, it’s off to the shops.
Old Faithful Shop is heavily inspired by its surroundings. The shop is located where the city of Vancouver has its roots. An area that was known for trading goods and services more then 100 years ago, and is just now reclaiming these attributes. The owners view their shop as a modern version of a general store that could have existed on these streets a century ago. You’ll find home accessories, cosmetics from small factories all over the world and from local producers, and a carefully curated selection of books and magazines. The shop owners host their own little farmer’s market once in a while, have a look at their website for dates and times.
Just down the street, the focus is on fashion. At Roden Gray, you’ll find a great selection of mens and womenswear from labels such as Junya Wantanabe, Isabel Marant, and the very much hyped Surf NYC. Their sale items are in the basement, and don’t be shy to ask questions. The staff is amazingly friendly and kind!
Right opposite of Roden Gray, Secret Location opened in early 2012. Arguably Vancouver’s most avant garde concept shop is a bit on the posh side, but well worth a visit. They carry the usual suspects, from high fashion to trendy gadgets and artsy books, but also some hard to get local and European labels.
A bit down, but really just a stone-throw away, is the tiny stockroom and shop of Inventory magazine. This (Men’s) fashion print magazine is a staple on the hipster reading curriculum, and their tiny shop features a small, but lovingly selected assortment of items featured in their magazine. Head here for shoes by Mark McNairy, cozy cashmere sweaters by Margaret Howell, or some fancy scented candles for your loved ones at home.
Old Faithful Shop // 320 W Cordova Street // Mon-Sat 11am-6pm // website
Roden Gray // 8 Water Street // Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 12am-5pm // website
Secret Location // 1 Water Street // Tue-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun/Mon 11am-5pm // website
Inventory // 45 Powell Street // Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 12am-4pm // website
Pictures: Secret Location // Inventory Magazine
Nelson The Seagull
Shopping makes you hungry! At least it calls for a coffee. By far the best place to have a caffein fix in Gastown is Nelson The Seagull. Everything on the menu here is organic, the herbs are even grown in a tiny indoor greenhouse in the shop. You can watch the staff bake their own bread behind the counter, the whole place is filled with the smell of coffee and baked goods. So if you’re feeling hungry, go for it. Their homemade spreads and soups are heavenly. There is also free wi-fi, you find the password at the counter.
Nelson The Seagull // 315 Carall Street // Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-6pm // website
Time to hop on that bike again and head over to Main Street. This area is full of vintage boutiques and little shops, you just have to find them. Other than Gastown, exploring this area by foot alone is a bit more challenging. The long street stretches along, but with a bike, you’ll be just fine. Make sure to have a look at The Regional Assembly of Text and Front & Company. At the first shop, lovers of everything handwritten find papers, pencils and prints, and the latter sells some amazing consignment clothing and one-of-a-kind pieces at a fraction of their initial price.
12hrs’ favorite shop here, Mr. Lee’s General Store and Haberdashery on East Broadway, sadly closed in summer 2012. Its basement neighbor, The Belmont Barbershop, is still running and well worth a visit, though.
The Regional Assembly of Text // 3934 Main Street // Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm // website
Front & Company // 3772 Main Street // Mon-Sun 11am-6.30pm // website
The Belmont Barbershop // 111 East Broadway // Mon-Wed & Sat 10.30am-6pm, Thu-Fri 12pm-8pm // website
The Diamond & The Waldorf
Only 4 hours to go until your 12 hours in Vacouver are up. And what better way to spend these than with dinner and dancing? So, jump back on your bike one more time, and head back to the hotel. Change into your dancing shoes, and either take a bus or, if you’re feeling fancy, a taxi back to Downtown.
Dinner and drinks at The Diamond are a great start into Vancouver nightlife. If you can, pick a table by the window front on the second floor. You’ll have a great view of central Gastown. The cocktails here are made with lots of effort and care, and you taste that. The food is grubby, bodega-style.
Next, head over to the Waldorf (again, taking a bus or taxi). This former hotel has been reimagined as a hipster hangout, concert venue and nightclub. The Tiki Bar looks just like a scene from the Mad Men set, and the crowd is young and stylish. Some say that this place is almost too popular, but we love the relaxed atmosphere and big city vibe. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a concert of a local band or some international stars. They all end up here when visiting Vancouver, anyway.
The Diamond Restaurant // 2nd Floor, 6 Powell Street // Tue-Thu 5.30pm-1am, Fr/Sat 5.30pm-2am, Sun 5.30-Midnight // website
Tiki Bar at The Waldorf Hotel // 1489 East Hastings Street // Wed-Sat 7pm-2am // website
Picture: Waldorf Hotel
These were 12 hrs in Vancouver. To discover more locations and stories from here, head over to the Vancouver category of our blog! Just click HERE.