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Destination Guide: Vancouver

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Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, has been voted one of the most liveable cities in the world. It has a mild climate, an easy-going vibe and a scenic setting, cradled between the Pacific and the Coast Mountains. It's also home to the largest urban park in Northern America (forget about lawns and flowerbeds, this is ancient rainforest, beaches and hiking trails).

The city is the third largest in Canada with two million inhabitants – and you'll find most of them outdoors. Biking, hiking, kayaking, sailing and skiing are a way of life here; the city hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010. Locals spend the evening going for a stroll (or power walk), sitting on the beach or catching up with friends at waterfront bars.

Although you may get the feeling everyone lives in lycra, hit the streets and you'll find sophisticated, cosmopolitan living. There's plenty of shopping and enough restaurants, cultural attractions and distinctive neighbourhoods to keep visitors busy.

Where to stay

If you want to push the boat out, and the watch boats (and floatplanes) come in, plump for the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel at Canada Place. From its roof terrace there are fabulous views of the harbour.

Most of the rooms also overlook the water and North Shore mountains. You might even spot a cruise ship docking beneath your window.

The Fairmont has a health club and an outdoor pool where you can take a dip surrounded by skyscrapers.

It has its own bees too – ask for a tour of the apiary if you like! The honey is used in the hotel's cocktails, syrups, sauces and truffles.

Join the hotel's Presidents' Club beforehand – it's free and you can sign up online – and you'll benefit from Express Check-in and complimentary wifi.

Vancouver: top shopping spots

Robson Street: renowned for die hard shoppers, offering everything from couture clothes to candies with lots of coffee shops in between

Gastown: for First Nations art and trendy trinkets

South Granville: for antique shops and art galleries

Granville Island: for arts and craft stalls and the city's famous vegetable market. A great place to pick up the odd tasty titbit for picnics

Food & Drink

Vancouver's restaurants offer a wide range of international cuisine, but fresh fish is a speciality. West Coast cuisine includes grilled sockeye salmon, mussels, oysters and Dungeness crab.

If you're looking for a local haunt, dine at the Italian Tavola on Robson at Denman Street in the West End. It's run by the owners of Nook, just round the corner - another neighbourhood favourite. Dishes include tonnarelli cacio e pepe pasta, a classic roman pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper plus gnocchi with pine nuts. But make sure you leave enough room for the chocolate fondant. There's little signage, but look out for the clock tower of Times Square Suites, – a bijou self-catering apartment block - Tavola is a couple of doors down.

Food carts are also all the rage. Japadog on Burrard Street was among the first - selling hot dogs topped with wasabi mayo and seaweed.

Other trucks offering Indian, Asian, barbecued and vegan food park outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Hornby Street.

For bars, head to Gastown where you'll also find a few microbreweries - a growing trend across BC. The waterside Steamworks brewpub is the only steam-powered brewery in Canada.

Vancouver: get active

The locals love being active, so why not join them? Here are a few suggestions:

Strap yourself in for a sea safari from Sewell Marina at Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver. Not for the faint-hearted, the experience combines adrenalin-charged boating antics with wildlife viewing. Look out for the whale pods and sleepy seals when you've run out of energy to scream.

• Join a guide from the Eco-marine Paddlesport Centre for half a day's kayaking followed by a guided hike through Stanley Park. A great way to experience the water and the shore. Wear suitable gear and take trainers or sporty sandals for the hike.

Hire a bike and cycle along the seawall. It's 22km of cycle paths with views of beaches, lighthouses and marinas. Don't miss the totem poles at Brockton Point, or the heronry further on, although watch where you park your bike. There are lots of rental bikes shops at the park's West Georgia Street entrance.

Things To See And Do

While Vancouver has several, unique neighbourhoods, Gastown is seen as its birthplace. It's named after the first pub landlord and self-proclaimed mayor, Jack Deighton, who was always gassing.

The most popular attraction here is the city's iconic steam clock which “chimes” every 15 minutes.

For culture, most people head to the Museum of Anthropology, but the Bill Reid Gallery, showcasing the work of the country's most revered Haida artist, offers a more intimate introduction to First Nations art. Reid's carvings, jewellery and paintings are exquisite.

One of the city's top-rated attractions is its aquarium and you can easily spend a day here. Look out for the otters, lazing on their backs, their furry paws crossed over their chests like grandads floating in the sea.

The Arctic section, highlighting the Canadian North, features beluga whales while the whale and dolphin shows illustrate how the aquarium is focusing on conservation.

Getting there & away

Vancouver International Airport is the main hub for international flights. It's a 30 minute drive (13km) to downtown and a 25 minute journey by Skytrain to Waterfront Station at Canada Place.

The Fairmont Waterfront offers double rooms from £150 a night including breakfast. It's a few minutes walk from Waterfront station.

Air Canada flies direct from London Heathrow to Vancouver. Prices from £730 return.

For more information: tourismvancouver.com; britishcolumbia.travel and the Canadian Tourism Commission keepexploring.ca

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