Vancouver is a place of contrasts. Frequently referred to as one of the world’s most livable cities, it’s definitely got a lot going for it. It seems to have everything in balance: urban life with rural tranquility; a diverse ethnic mix; upmarket tastes without being pretentious or snobbish.
No surprise then, that it’s becoming something of a tech/startup hub. Hootsuite is based in the city and Slack was founded here, plus more and more companies are looking to set up a base here as talented people gravitate towards Vancouver’s mild climate, outdoor lifestyle, and Canada’s more relaxed immigration laws.
However, let’s not be coy: Vancouver’s expensive. And while the Canadian dollar’s relatively weak against the £, €, and US$, things aren’t as cheap as you’d imagine. But for work travelers, it’s a great city to visit clients, network, and socialize in. If you’re working remotely for a few days, you’ll be spoilt for choice given the number of cafes and coffee shops there are.
Vancouver’s neighborhoods are, as in most North American cities, well-defined. There’s Chinatown, which is about as authentic a place you’ll find outside of Beijing; the neighboring Eastside, which is one of the poorest places in Canada; trendy suburbs like Yaletown and Kitsilano; and well-to-do Gastown, right in the heart of the city. Here, aside from tourist traps like the much-admired Steam Clock, you’ll discover some great coffee shops like Timbertrain and fancy-yet-unfussy eateries like The Greedy Pig — perfect places to grab an artisan sandwich or a nitro cold brew coffee with clients when they want to get out of the office.
Downtown itself, as you’d expect, has everything from shopping malls to convenience stores and fast food joints to fine-dining. If you’re looking to drop some serious cash, head to the Pacific Centre mall. But if it’s food and drinks you’re after, try Malone’s Social Lounge and Taphouse. A nice informal setting to enjoy a beer or two with colleagues or more relaxed clients. There’s an extensive menu of craft ales, lagers, and cider — including some exotically-titled delights such as ‘Electric Unicorn’ (!).
You’ll also see Tim Hortons everywhere in Vancouver! This coffee chain is something of an institution in Canada: one that you’ll find (literally) on every street corner. While Tim Hortons is held dear to Canadians (apparently it’s where kids are taken for a post-hockey practice treat), to the outsider, the hype may seem a little farfetched. But it’s a great alternative to fancier coffee establishments. Its main staple is ‘coffee with cream and sugar’ — though it has branched out to lattes. And there are few other places you’ll get a filling breakfast for less than $7 (Canadian).
And while you’re in Canada, you have to try ‘poutine’. While the prospect of French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy may not be the healthiest option you can have on a work trip, put it down to a ‘cultural experience’! Smoke’s Poutinerie is an established chain, but you’ll dig its quirky humor and the bewildering array of toppings. Get a medium size box and you’ll still be too full to eat for days after. You travel manager will no doubt praise your dining choices: but it’s not one for schmoozing clients.
Got a few hours on a sunny afternoon? What better way to while away some spare time than to explore Vancouver on foot. Tip: wear comfortable shoes. This trek covers a good few kilometers…
Stroll along the Sea Wall from the Waterfront Skytrain station downtown (right by the Canada Place) heading toward Stanley Park; an idyllic urban oasis that’s loved by both Vancouverites and visitors. As you veer around the Sea Wall you’ll find yourself in Coal Harbour, where you’ll get some great views of upmarket North Vancouver — but take a few minutes just to watch the seaplanes take off and land. Quite quickly, the city high rises give way to towering pine and cedar trees, and as you walk (or cycle — and there are plenty of bikes for hire) on round to the right you’ll soon discover a glade filled with Totem Poles; fantastic examples of a centuries-old First Nations art-form.
From this side of the park you’ll have some stunning views of downtown itself, and further on round, you’ll get a better view of Lion’s Gate Bridge; a landmark in its own right; linking the city proper with its well-to-do northern suburbs. Hang a left from the Sea Wall, and deviate on to the lush greenery. You’ll find yourself heading in the direction of the Stanley Park Pavilion, and eventually you’ll stumble upon the Vancouver Aquarium (great if you have time).
Keep heading west, skirting the Lost Lagoon, and soon enough you’ll discover Second Beach. A great place to picnic, barbecue, and swim in the slightly salty open air pool (the beach itself is more for chilling and kayaking). Here, you can pick up the tail end of the Sea Wall, which leads you all the way to Inuksuk; a statuesque Inuit monument. From there you can hop back downtown for a little retail therapy or enjoy an iced coffee or a late brunch at Cactus Club overlooking English Bay.
If you’re sent to Van City, you’re sure to have a great time. Book an extra day to take in some of the sights if possible. It’s fairly small and all the major sights are within walking distance. Just remember to take an umbrella with you — like other Northwestern cities (e.g. Seattle), Vancouver gets its fair share of rain (!).