Vancouver is the largest and possibly the most beautiful city in the province of British Columbia. Surrounded by water on three sides and nestled alongside the Coast Mountain Range, Vancouver offers a rare combination of action-packed city fun and spectacular nature adventures. Where else can you hike through a mountain rainforest in the morning, check out world-class shopping and museums in the afternoon, then hit the beach for an early evening dip?
With Vancouver's temperate climate and close proximity to ocean and mountains, there's no shortage of fun things to do any time of year. Warm weather fans should go in July and August, when the parks and beaches are at their best. Winter travelers will revel in the city's festive atmosphere in December and January, when temperatures remain mild but local ski resorts beckon with colder temperatures and snow. Or consider a trip in May to visit the Vancouver International Children's Festival, a huge family-friendly celebration of music, theater, storytelling, puppetry, and circus arts.
Vancouver enjoys mild temperatures all year thanks to warm currents off the Pacific Ocean plus the mountain ranges that protect it. While it's delightfully temperate year round, Vancouver does have a rainy season in the winter (averaging over six inches of rain each month) and a dry season in the summer (when the skies are clear blue and temperatures hover in the comfortable mid-70's).
U.S. and Canadian passport requirements have been in flux for several years. In general, if you are flying to Canada you need a passport. If you're arriving by car or boat, a driver's license and birth certificate will do, at least until summer 2009. For the latest passport and border crossing requirements, check www.gonorthwest.com/Visitor/planning/border/border.htm.
If you're flying to Canada, you'll probably arrive at the Vancouver International Airport, about half an hour's drive from the city. Vancouver is served by all major airlines and rental car agencies.
Driving from Seattle to Vancouver takes about 3 hours, depending on the wait to cross the border. The truck crossing on H Street is often much quicker, and passenger cars are perfectly acceptable.
You can also go to Vancouver by train or ferry; the high-speed Victoria Clipper (which travels between Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Whistler, Vancouver and other ports) is a fast and fun way for passengers without cars to travel.
Vancouver is rich in transportation options. The bus system is comprehensive and reliable, and runs from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. The SkyTrain is an Advanced Rapid Transit system operating fully-automated trains on two lines (lots of fun for kids). Since Vancouver is surrounded on three sides by water, it's no surprise that the ferry system is so robust. For information and schedules, see www.vec.ca/english/2/transportation.cfm.
Electrical outlets and voltage are the same in Canada as they are in the United States. No adapter needed.
Don't worry about exchanging currency before your trip. ATMs are plentiful and work fine with U.S. debit cards.
Canada has two official languages, English and French, but English is the predominant language in British Columbia.
The See Vancouver Smartvisit Card includes free admission to 50 attractions in the region. See www.seevancouvercard.com.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is the longest and highest suspended footbridge in the world, spanning 450 feet across and 230 feet high.
Vancouver's Chinatown is the third largest in North America, after the Chinese communities in San Francisco and New York. Rumor has it that Chinatown is riddled with secret underground tunnels. Some have been found; others are still mysteries.
The Lions Gate Bridge is named for the two spectacular mountain peaks overlooking Vancouver's harbor, which resemble the ears of a lion.
Vancouver has the most temperate climate in Canada and is consistently rated one of the top three of the world's most livable cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit survey.
Camping facilities close to Vancouver can be hard to find, but if you're willing to travel about an hour, the Fraser Valley offers breathtaking scenery and beautiful public campgrounds. See www.britishcolumbia.com/Campgrounds/ for ideas.