In Part 1, I wrote about "Do-It-Yourself" touring in downtown Vancouver, when you have as little as an hour or two to spend before catching your cruise ship, or possibly after you have ended your cruise, and before you travel to the Vancouver International Airport to get your flight home. This month I am writing about venturing further than just downtown, although many of the things I mentioned will still not take longer than a couple of hours, or a half day at the most. You may want to read my previous article if you want to get your orientation to Vancouver from the Canada Place cruise terminal or the Ballantyne Pier Cruise Terminal.
The West End
As mentioned in my previous article, the premier above-ground shopping area of Vancouver is Robson Street. If you like walking and have an hour and a half or so free, then after you finish the main shopping area on Robson Street at Bute Street, continue walking west on Robson Street. Retail stores continue, but on your left and your right you will now pass residential areas, mainly high rises, the whole residential area being called Vancouver's "West End", an area surrounded by water on two sides, and downtown and Stanley Park on the other two sides. Turn left at Denman Street, and continue as far as it goes. You will then be at English Bay, and you will have a great view of the harbour, and can look across to the area of Vancouver we call "Kitsilano". You will also probably notice a low rise, round tower across the water on your left, which is Vancouver's Planetarium, and which is discussed below. You might see some freighters docked in English Bay and although interesting to look at, they reflect badly on Vancouver's economy as every freighter that is docked in English Bay is one awaiting a berth in the inner harbour, and the city pays a penalty of over $10,000 per day for every freighter sitting in English Bay. Next, turn left on Davie Street (which you will have just passed to get to English Bay) or left on Beach Avenue - which turns into Pacific Street - and you continue your trip. Davie Street has more retail, and is a slightly rambunctious street. Pacific Street will give you a better view of the harbour. Then turn right at Thurlow Street, Burrard Street or Hornby Street and you will end up back at Canada Place (on Thurlow Street, you will also need a small jog to the right when you get to the end of the street). If you elect to come back down Hornby Street, keep an eye out for Vancouver's Courthouse, which does not look like a courthouse: it is an all glass building with a slopping glass roof, and is worth a visit inside.
Granville Island and a Stand Up Ferry
After you leave the Canada Place cruise terminal, continue all the way down Hornby Street. When you come to the ocean (English Bay), you will find a miniature ferry which holds about 10 people, and you stand up. Take the ferry over to Granville Island - it only costs CAD$1.75. Granville Island is a former heavy industrial area, which has been turned into funky shops and restaurants, and you can easily spend an hour or two here. When you have had enough of Granville Island, you can return the way you came on the stand up ferry, or you can take the stand-up ferry over to an area of downtown we call "Yaletown". Yaletown is still a developing area, but also has lots of interesting stores and restaurants. From Yaletown, you might want to get a taxi back to Canada Place if you are getting tired, otherwise head generally north (towards the mountains), and west (towards Stanley Park) and you will eventually get on to one of the streets that take you down to Canada Place (Howe, Hornby or Burrard Streets).
Stanley Park has a multitude of destinations, many of which you will want to see by car or taxi unless you really have lots of time, and really like walking. From the Canada Place cruise terminal, you need to turn right on West Pender Street or Georgia Street to get to Stanley Park. It is a bit of a hike, and if you are mostly interested in visiting one of the attractions in Stanley Park, you may want to get a taxi. If you are into healthy stuff, you can rent a bike in Stanley Park and ride around the seawall surrounding Stanley Park, which is about five miles long. When you get to the end of the park, you will need to turn left and go around Lost Lagoon in order to get back to where you rented your bike. In addition, or alternatively, you can ride within the park itself on the many dozens of trails, and despite the fact that civilization quickly disappears, it is generally consider safe to bike ride throughout the park.
Vancouver's world-renowned Aquarium is the most common destination in Stanley Park. Many people know that the Vancouver Aquarium is famous for its collection of belugas (Arctic white whales) and killer whales, and there are two large pools where you can see the mammals in action. If you only have a limited time at the Aquarium, it is best to telephone first, and find out the best times to see the whales and the belugas. The Aquarium is not only famous for its whales, it also has "Arctic" displays, sea otters, and a tropical and Amazon gallery. Very few people ever seem to be disappointed with their Aquarium visit. There is an excellent gift shop on the way out. Admission cost is CAD$9.95 for adults; CAD$8.55 for seniors over 65/students with valid identification/children 13 to 18; CAD$6.95 children 4 to 12; No charge for children under 3. This price does not include 7% federal sales tax ("GST").
Other Places To Visit in Stanley Park:
When you first enter Stanley Park, if you turn left rather than right towards the Aquarium, you will come to a beautiful rose garden. From the rose garden you continue ahead and you will eventually run into the children's zoo, and miniature railway. Both are fun even for adults. When you finish with the railway or the children's zoo, you could then head over to the Aquarium. Maps of Stanley Park still show an adult zoo in Stanley Park, but it is in the process of being closed, and is no longer worth a visit.
Driving Stanley Park
If you have your own vehicle and you intend to visit Stanley Park, it is really important to stay in the right hand lane as you go along Georgia Street to Stanley Park, otherwise you will end up on the semi-freeway that takes you through the middle of Stanley Park onto Lions Gate Bridge, and to Vancouver's North Shore. If you stay right as you enter Stanley Park, you should stop near the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, and you will have a glorious view back to the cruise terminal. Continuing from there, you will end up at the Brockton Point Lighthouse, where you will have a good view of the whole of Vancouver's main harbour. Continuing from there, you can detour to the left, when you see the signs, and visit the Aquarium. After the Aquarium, return to the main road and follow it in the direction of Lions Gate Bridge. Along the way you will see Vancouver's version of the "Little Mermaid", and you will have a good view of the bridge itself. The road then detours to go under the freeway to Lions Gate Bridge, and be sure you follow the signs so you don't end up on the freeway. Just after you cross underneath the freeway (we actually call it a "causeway" not a "freeway"), you will reach Prospect Point, which is certainly worth stopping at to enjoy the view of the bridge, and of the North Shore suburb of West Vancouver. After Prospect Point, you can detour to see Siwash Rock, you can stop at the Hollow Tree for a picture, and it is probably also worth a stop at Third Beach to check the view out to English Bay. When you come to Second Beach, you then have a choice to turn back into the park and go around one side of Lost Lagoon, ending up back on Georgia Street. Alternatively, you can continue straight ahead and you will end up in Vancouver's West End and eventually you can turn left to come down one of the streets, such as Burrard Street, to return to the cruise terminal.
Seabus, North Vancouver and Lonsdale Quay
The "Seabus" is really an enclosed ferry, and takes commuters and tourists from the Vancouver side of the harbour to the suburb of North Vancouver, and the shopping area known as "Lonsdale Quay". The Seabus terminal is right next to the cruise ship terminal in the old Canadian Pacific Railway Terminal, the same place that you would catch the Skytrain (more about that later). The Seabus cost is CAD$2.25 adults; CAD$1.50 seniors and children 5 to 13; no charge for children under 5. Although the Seabus is enclosed, you will still get a good view of Vancouver's inner harbour. After exploring Lonsdale Quay, you can return downtown on the Seabus, or you can catch a taxi to North Vancouver's other great attractions, which are mentioned below. I'm guessing, but I would think a taxi ride from Lonsdale Quay to the Capilano Suspension Bridge or the Grouse Mountain Skyride, would be about CAD$15.00.
Skytrain and Nuclear Submarine
The Skytrain, Vancouver's computerized, driverless train service, runs from "Waterfront" station next to the Canada Place cruise terminal, through the suburbs of Burnaby and New Westminster, and terminates in the outlying Greater Vancouver suburb of Surrey.
If you have the time, take the Skytrain to New Westminster Quay and/or the Russian submarine which is docked at New Westminster Quay. As you come out of the cruise terminal, exit on your left, and the stairs down to the Skytrain station are about 50 yards in front. If your cruise ship happens to be docked at the alternate cruise terminal of Ballantyne Pier, then you will need to get a taxi to the Skytrain. Although there would be several choices of Skytrain stations you could go to from Ballantyne Pier, I would still recommend that you get the taxi to the Canada Place cruise terminal and Waterfront Station.
The Waterfront Skytrain terminal, and the two stations after that, "Burrard" and "Granville", are underground. Although the Skytrain starts off in a westerly direction heading towards Stanley Park, it does a U-turn underground, and generally the Skytrain is heading in a southeast direction.
The tunnel the Skytrain passes through used to be an old steam train tunnel, which was abandoned many years ago. The builders of the Skytrain reopened it, but found it wasn't wide enough to accommodate Skytrains going in each direction, so they built two levels in the tunnel. So if you hear that noise above or below you, you will know it is a train going in the other direction.
After the Granville station, you will come out into the sunshine (hopefully) at "Stadium" station. This used to be one of the two stations that gave access to Expo '86. From its name, you might guess that Stadium station is next to Vancouver's two stadiums, the giant B.C. Place where football is played, and the smaller GM Place, where basketball and hockey are played. If you can, try to sit on the right-hand side of the train at this point, as the view is more interesting.
The brief ride between Stadium station and the next station, Main Street, is the most interesting segment of the Skytrain trip. On your right you will see the remnants of Expo '86, now mostly taken over by high-rise apartment buildings, but still a lot of land to be developed. You will also see the geodesic dome from Expo, which now houses "Science World" (an interesting tourist sight by itself, especially if you have children).
From here on, you will pass through suburban Vancouver and the neighbouring suburbs of Burnaby and New Westminster. You will see a lot of backyards, but you may get a better feel for how people in Vancouver live, rather than just seeing the sights of downtown.
New Westminster Quay is the 14th station that you will stop at, and here you can detrain to see the Russian submarine, or visit the shopping area known as "New Westminster Quay". If you are interested in an exciting view from a railroad bridge over Canada's historic Fraser River, you can continue on two more stations to Scott Road, but you will pay a slightly extra fare for this privilege, as Scott Road is in a separate "zone", from New Westminster Quay.
On your way back on the Skytrain, you may want to get off at either Granville or Burrard, both of which stations will put you into the heart of downtown. You would only need to walk a maximum of 6 blocks to get back to the Canada Place cruise terminal. If you are heading back to the Ballantyne Pier terminal, it is easy to pick up a taxi outside any one of the many downtown Vancouver hotels.
Assuming that you are going during regular hours up until 6:30 p.m., the one way cost from the Waterfront station to the New Westminster Quay station, is CAD$2.25 for adults, and CAD$1.50 for children 5 to 13 years old. If you go the extra leg across the river, the total ticket cost is CAD$3.00 for adults and CAD$2.00 for children. Tickets are cheaper evenings and weekends. The time from the Waterfront station to New Westminster Quay is 28 minutes, and to cross the river is another 4 minutes. Skytrains run on a frequent basis.
Tip: Keep your Skytrain ticket. If the time on your ticket hasn't expired, you can use the same ticket to return to Vancouver.
Vancouver's North Shore definitely has some of the better tourist attractions in Greater Vancouver. While this article is a "Do-It-Yourself", you might want to consider an excursion that covers these places organized by the cruise ship, or a tour through a local company such as Grayline, which pick up at most major hotels, including the Pan Pacific Hotel above the cruise ship terminal, and the Waterfront Hotel across the road from the Pan Pacific. Another option is, of course, to rent your own car, and your travel agent should not have any trouble booking you a vehicle ahead of time, as all the major brands of U-drives in the United States are also available in Canada. I understand that most of the big U-drive companies will deliver the vehicle to you at the cruise ship, although you may have to make a telephone call first to advise that you have been able to get off the ship. Although Vancouver is no more difficult to drive around than any other major city, you may want to think twice before doing the U-drive option - you will no doubt get confused by Vancouver's many one way streets, and, depending on the time of day, you could have quite a hassle trying to get on to Lions Gate Bridge, and then back home across it.
If you don't take a packaged tour, I would suggest getting a taxi to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, another one to Grouse Mountain, and a third one to get you back downtown.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge, although sometimes sneered at by locals because it is a tourist trap, is a great experience. The pedestrian bridge is suspended 450 feet above the Capilano River, and is 200 feet long. The bridge certainly sways when you walk on it, especially if anybody is fooling around, and purposely making it swing. Nobody has ever fallen off it, so far as I know. Apart from the great views that you can see from the bridge itself, you should not overlook all the various trails through the forest that are on the other side of the bridge. The souvenir store at the suspension bridge is one of the better ones in Vancouver although you can buy most of the same stuff downtown, at about the same prices.
After visiting the Suspension Bridge, if you continue going north, you can detour at the sign to see the Capilano Fish Hatchery, and learn more about the growth cycle of salmon than perhaps you ever wanted to know. In spawning season, you can watch the salmon leaping the fish ladders underneath the hatchery. There is no charge for admission.
Proceeding further north again, you will end up at Cleveland Dam, one of the three sources of water for Vancouver. The dam itself is not out of the ordinary, but there is a magnificent view from the park behind the dam, up the valley where the Capilano River flows.
Grouse Mountain Skyride
At the dam, you will see signs pointing to the direction of the Grouse Mountain Skyride, and this is where I recommend that you head next. The skyride (gondola) is very large, and quickly transports you to the top of Grouse Mountain. The gondola whisks you up 3,700 feet in just 6 minutes. The ride leaves on a regular basis, and cost is CAD$16.95 adult; CAD$14.95 senior; CAD$10.95 children 13 to 18; CAD$5.95 children 7 to 12; no charge for children under 6. Grouse Mountain is one of Vancouver's nearby skiing areas, but its operations are very modest compared to the world-renowned skiing mountains at Whistler. You'll be there no doubt in the spring or summer, and can enjoy walking around the many trails, or checking the outstanding view back to Vancouver. It is also a great place to have lunch. Caution: while the gondola trip is an experience in itself, if you are going primarily to check out the view, then you should check the weather ahead of time. Even in the summer, it is possible for low clouds to obscure the view back to Vancouver. If you are staying in Vancouver overnight, you might want to save your visit to Grouse Mountain until the night time, when the view is even more spectacular.
If you have a scientific bent, or if you have interested children tagging along, then Science World is well worth a visit. The easiest way to get there is to catch the skytrain from the cruise terminal, and get out at the Main Street station. Alternatively, it's a relatively short taxi ride to Science World from downtown. The geodesic dome that contains Science World is one of the legacies of Expo '86. The science centre features hundreds of interactive exhibits, and three major galleries with themes of biology, physics and sound. Visiting exhibitions are also featured. Science World also has an Omnimax Theatre. Admission costs are CAD$13.50 adults; CAD$9.50 seniors and children.
Gardens and Flowers
The Rose Garden at Stanley Park was mentioned above. Queen Elizabeth Park (also known as "Little Mountain") has a great outdoor flower and shrub exhibition in the site of a former quarry. Many people consider this park as a junior version of the famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, which I will be discussing in another article. There is no admission cost to Queen Elizabeth Park, and it's about a 15 - 20 minute taxi ride from downtown. Also in Queen Elizabeth Park is the Bloedel Conservatory, containing over 500 varieties of exotic plants and flowers in a climate-controlled triodesic dome. The University of British Columbia ("UBC") has both a botanical gardens and a Japanese memorial garden called "Nitobe". UBC is somewhat of a longer taxi drive from downtown, but you will get interesting waterfront views if you ask the driver to go via Kitsilano and Point Grey on the way to the university. On your way back from UBC, you might want to stop in at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, which are at Oak and 37th Avenue.
Closer to downtown are the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens, at 578 Carrall Street. You can walk there from the stadium skytrain, or take a short taxi trip from downtown. You could even walk there from downtown, although you will have to pass through a number of quite unattractive city blocks to get there. The gardens are named for the founder of the first Chinese Republic, who visited Vancouver many times. Visiting there is a very relaxing experience.
Museums and Planetarium
A ten minute taxi ride from downtown Vancouver will get you to the suburban area called "Kitsilano", where you will find Vancouver's Planetarium, and the Maritime Museum. The Planetarium features astronomy and space-theme shows, beamed onto a huge screen. If you are interested in seeing a show, then you should phone ahead of time, to make sure of starting times. Admission prices, depending on the particular show, are CAD$12.00 adults; CAD$9.50 seniors; CAD$8.00 children 5 to 10; children under 5 are free. The Vancouver Museum, Canada's largest municipal museum, is next door to the Planetarium, and features the heritage, culture and natural history of Vancouver's Lower Mainland. The gift shop specializes in First Nation's art and jewellery. Admission prices are CAD$2.00 adults; CAD$2.50 seniors and children.
Within easy walking distance of the Planetarium is the Vancouver Maritime Museum. It's most famous attraction is the former RCMP Arctic schooner, the St. Roch, the first ship to navigate the Northwest Passage in both directions.
The Museum of Anthropology is near the University of British Columbia, and has one of the world's most impressive collections of First Nation's art from the Pacific Northwest. Many people consider this museum as a destination in itself, although you could certainly see it on the way to see the other sights at the University of British Columbia. This museum does not open until 11:00 a.m., so don't start your expedition too early. Admission cost is CAD$6.00 adults; CAD$3.50 seniors and children. The museum has an interesting gift shop.
On your way back to the Canada Place cruise terminal, or to the Ballantyne Pier cruise terminal, you may want to stop off at the "Lookout" at Harbour Centre, where there is a 360 degree view of the city from the observation floor near the top of the building. You will probably be able to pick out some of the places that you visited during the day. It's only two blocks back to the Canada Place cruise terminal from there, but you would be wise to get a taxi if your ship is docked at Ballantyne.
I hope you enjoy your stay in Vancouver!
Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.
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