Vancouver is spectacular. It's as if the city was built from movie sets. It's a wet dream for Instagrammers and homegrown photographers. Vancouver's location is a big part of its appeal. The Pacific is to the west, mountains to the north and forests…all around, really. All that pristine nature is one of the reasons why Vancouver is one of the most livable places on earth. The crystal-clear air is the first thing people notice here. I know talking about trees might not be the most exciting thing. But wait till you see a 1000-year-old great cedar: that might change your mind. Go see the Stanley Park if you're short on time. Vancouver's famous urban park is more of a weekend retreat but within the city. This is where the locals go for a morning jog. There are all sorts of activities you can partake in here. You got the beaches, hiking trails, restaurants, even a golf course. It's also a historical site where indigenous tribes live long before Canada was discovered. There are replicas of totem poles they used to carve. The original ones deteriorated over time, but the new ones are rather accurate. I always thought they're just depictions of spirit animals. Truth is each totem tells a story and a pretty long one. They say that one such pole can amount to even 3 hours of storytelling.
Exit the park on the northern side and you'll have to cross the Lion's Gate Bridge. You might recognize it from the Final Destination movie. Lionsgate film company is named after this landmark. Capilano Suspension Bridge and Treetop Adventures are a bit further north. I bet you've already seen both somewhere on the internet: beautiful places, but certainly not for people with a fear of heights. You might even get to see the Grouse Mountain if you go high enough. That's one of the three hills with ski tracks in the area. You can see the other two from downtown Vancouver especially when it's dark. Cypress Mountain and Eagle Mountain are beautifully lit up during winter. Sit down at the harbor, grab a donut and enjoy the view. The place you're probably around now is the only dock in Canada capable of servicing cruise ships.
Gastown is the main tourist area of Vancouver and it's right next to the harbor. Locals say it's 70% bullshit and 30% souvenir shops. I find it very charming and unique. Gastown is where it all started. It's gotten its name from "Gassy" John Deighton, a steamboat captain who opened the first saloon in Vancouver. There's a statue in his honor where the establishment used to stand. The Steam Clock is another major symbol of Gastown. Locals laugh that it's the essence of how fake this place is. The clock isn't "powered" by real steam and it's not even old, just stylized. Check out the Diamond, Steamworks and the Portside Pub- some of the finest bars in Gastown. Food is also great, despite the "touristy" prices. Hit the Granville Island Market if you're on a budget. You can get anything from burgers to fancy poutine: French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. You cannot afford to miss on this classic Canadian dish originating from the Quebec region. Make sure you try local salmon. And the famous local donuts: the apple fritters, sweet Jesus!
Make sure you steer clear of east downtown Vancouver. It's full of junkies, homeless people, and lunatics. Visit Chinatown instead. There's a long-lasting friendship between Canadians and the Chinese. Both nations bonded during the construction of the Canadian railway and World War 2. There are numerous statues depicting that connection spread around the Chinatown. It might not be the largest enclave of that kind, but it's packed with interesting stuff to see. There's the slightly underwhelming Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It's very cool and very Zen, but it's also very crowded. There used to be koi fish swimming in the central pond. They say that a wild otter murdered most of them before the staff moved the survivors elsewhere. Vancouver's Chinatown is also the place to go for all sorts of merchandise. Chinese medicine, good food and the cheapest t-shirts with god-knows-what written on them.