Suppose you're going to be in Vancouver for the first time -- but only for a day or so before boarding a cruise ship to Alaska or a flight across the Pacific.
What should you try to squeeze in while you're there?
Several passengers who were in that situation asked me that during a Banff-Vancouver rail trip last May. They were from Britain, Malaysia, Australia and Korea, and I was one of the few Canadians in the coach.
I offered a few suggestions, but when I got home I contacted three tourism professionals who know Vancouver inside out. What would they recommend to a first-time visitor pressed for time? I limited them to three choices.
All picked cycling or strolling the seawall in Stanley Park and hopping an Aquabus ferry to Granville Island.
Stanley Park packs beaches, gardens, an aquarium, a pitch 'n putt golf course and forested trails into a huge chunk of prime downtown real estate. (Visit Vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture).
Granville, centred around the Public Market, is a maze of craft shops, theatres and something like 70 places to eat, from food stands to restaurants by the water. One of the Vancouverites I polled suggested visiting the resident sake maker ("try three types of sake for only $5"), another said she loves "strolling through Railspur Alley to see all the local artisans." (See granvilleisland.com)
That left each with one other recommendation.
-- Take in the view from Grouse Mountain. (An aerial tramway system called Skyride will whisk you to the top. (See Grousemountain.com/skyride).
-- Explore Vancouver's neighbourhoods. "The top pick should be Gastown (especially for dining) and Chinatown (the third largest in North America).''
-- Visit the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. "The museum is extraordinary. They have an amazing collection of First Nations art, including many pieces by (acclaimed Heida artist) Bill Reid." (See Moa.ubc.ca/.)
My suggestions to the train passengers were remarkably similar: Stanley Park, especially the seawall path; Granville Island (that Aquabus has to be the cutest thing afloat, like an brightly painted, oversized bathtub); and the museum of anthropology. (To illustrate Bill Reid's work, I showed a British woman a $20 bill with his stunning sculpture Spirit of Haida Gwaii on the back).
To expedite sightseeing, I recommended Vancouver Trolley's Hop-On, Hop-Off City Attractions Tour. It's an easy and entertaining way of getting around. You can, for example, take it to Granville, get off and wander around, then hop another trolley to Stanley Park or any of several other popular spots and do the same, all on one ticket. (See vancouvertrolley.com)
Food is an attraction in itself. This city on the Pacific is famous for salmon. Local specialties recommended by one contact were salmon candy (or Indian candy), made by soaking salmon in sugar or maple syrup before smoking it, and Japadog, a Japanese hotdog sold by street food vendors.
A good, downtown hotel is a bonus when you're short of time. The St. Regis is more than just good, if my one-night stay in May is any indication: A friendly and enthusiastic welcome at reception, a comfortable, smartly decorated room, and a whopping big breakfast, one of several things included in the rate. No wonder the St. Regis has won TripAdvisor's Travellers Choice Awards for Service for Vancouver hotels three years running.
There are restaurants on either side, a Tim's and a wine store across the street. A block or so away is SkyTrain's Canada Line, which will take you to the airport for a fraction of the cab fare.
Canadian-owned and operated, the St. Regis was built in 1913 and underwent a $13 million renovation in 2008. Off-season rates start at less than $150. Visit stregishotel.com.
NEED TO KNOW
Tourism Vancouver is an excellent source of visitor information. Phone 1-877-826-1717 or visit Tourismvancouver.com.