Vancouver: Why I Preferred It to Toronto

Vancouver, British Columbia

Following on from my three days in Seattle, I boarded a train northbound to Vancouver. I’d heard the ride was supposed to be beautiful, but as I didn’t catch the train until 7pm, I didn’t get to see much of it!

The Airbnb I was staying in was on the edge of an area called Mount Pleasant, which is supposed to be kind of hipster. The house was very nice, and my bedroom was huge – I’d chosen well.

As I’d gotten to Vancouver at 11pm on a Monday night, instead of heading out into the city, I just went straight to bed.

Day One in Vancouver

I’d booked myself onto two walking tours, with the first one starting at 10am. But I was sooo tired, I overslept, so I missed the first one. Still, that extra sleep felt good. By the time I re-awoke, I was feeling much better.

Navigating the closest Canada Line to me, I managed to get lost a good few times, but it didn’t really matter as I didn’t have to be anywhere quickly.

I was only three stops from downtown, so the train took less than ten minutes – and the opposite way took you straight to Vancouver airport. Prices are pretty reasonable too – you can get a single ticket for $2.95 (zone one), or $10.25 for a day ticket.

Vancouver Harbour

Once I’d arrived in downtown, I wandered down Granville Street, which is supposed to be the main shopping centre. I walked it one way to the harbour, then turned back around and looked in the shops – stopping in at Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville first (obviously).

I went into the Pacific Centre, but it wasn’t a patch on the Eaton Centre! After having lunch, I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery, ready for my free walking tour at 2pm. The tour took us down Granville Street and Gastown, which is a historic area of the city. Whilst it used to be rough, it’s now full of independent shops, bars and restaurants – it reminds of me of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. When I saw that several shops stocked Acne, I knew it was the place for me.

Gastown Steam Clock

Walking around Vancouver, I instantly liked it more than Toronto. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes you just get a feel for a city. With Toronto, it’s basically like the city of London (as in, the area around St Paul’s – with none of the cultural, vibrant neighbourhoods). It’s smart, with wide streets and huge skyscrapers, but not much else – it’s all just so modern. In Vancouver, you had a small downtown, but it also had the history of Gastown (all of the bars and restaurants that I’m sure I would have frequented had I lived there), in addition to the abundance of nature nearby, meant that Vancouver just had more about it.

I went back to my Airbnb fairly early on the Monday night, so I could catch up on some work and chill. But the first day had been a pretty good day.

View from the ferry

Day Two in Vancouver

I’d booked myself onto a daytrip to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, at the last minute. The tour was with West Coast Sightseeing, and cost $205, which was pretty expensive, but it took away the hassle of trying to navigate everywhere by myself.

I was the first person to be picked up at 8.30am, and once we’d collected everyone else, we drove 45 minutes to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal (and considering how far out of the city it was, it would have been virtually impossible to reach by myself without a car).

The ferry crossing to Vancouver Island took an hour and a half, and it was beautiful. We passed lots of islands filed with trees, and it reminded me of being back in Scandinavia (I miss Europe!).

Butchart Gardens

We got to Vancouver Island at 12.30pm, and drove 20 minutes to our first stop: Butchart Gardens. Don’t get me wrong, the gardens were very pretty. You walked around a trail that took you to the Sunken Gardens, the Rose Gardens and the Japanese Gardens, via Butchart Lookout. The problem was, that we’d been given two hours to walk around these gardens, and I did it in half an hour.

Flowers at Butchart Gardens

Victoria was another 45 minutes away from the gardens, so we got there at 3.45pm. We were given just under two hours to spend there, which at the time, I thought wasn’t long at all… but I was wrong.

I’ve heard lots of great things about Victoria, but personally, I thought it was boring. It was tiny, with nothing going on. Yes, there was a harbour (like Vancouver and Toronto), and there was one pretty building… but that was it.

I (unsuccessfully) went on a hunt for Nanaimo bars, so I settled for two macaroons and some chocolate pumpkins instead, and I sat by the harbour eating them. That was literally all I did – I did attempt to look in some of their shops, but they weren’t really up to much.

Victoria, British Columbia

I feel like it was kind of a shame to have spent a whole day in Victoria and Butchart Gardens, when neither were particularly impressive to me. Instead, I could have gone on a tour to Whistler, or gone to the Capilano Suspension Bridge… still, I suppose at least I can say I went to Victoria. And it wasn’t all bad, as when we got back to the ferry it turned out our driver had bought mini Nanaimo bars for us all, so I finally got to try one (and unlike Victoria, it didn’t disappoint!).

We caught the 7pm ferry back to the mainland, and I was back at my Airbnb for 9.30pm.

Day Three in Vancouver

My final day in Vancouver was a full day, so I dropped my cases at the airport before heading back to the city on the Canada Line.

Cheese toastie at Pure Bread

After soaking up the sun by the harbour (I heard in Vancouver it rains a lot, but luckily for me it was sunny every day I was there), I went in search of lunch. Pure Bread in Gastown had been recommended to me, and it was sooooo good. I got there to see rows after rows of freshly baked cakes that all looked delicious. However, in a plot twist, I actually went for something savoury: a cheese toastie with pizza sauce. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say it was one of the best cheese toasties I’ve ever had in my life. Next time I’m in Vancouver, I’m heading straight back to Pure Bread for toasties and cakes.

View from Stanley Park

From there, I took a slow walk to Stanley Park, right on the edge of downtown. They have a five mile walk known as the Sea Wall, which (as you’d probably have guessed), is a wall by the sea. It was beautiful – every time you turned a corner, you had a different view. From Coal Harbour, to North Vancouver, beaches and the blue ocean… when you were halfway round the walk you wouldn’t even have known you were in the city. It was so peaceful.

Plus, it was really warm by this point, so it was nice to just sit down on one of the benches and read for a bit. I must have spent about three hours on the Sea Wall walk, and it was such a nice way to end my time in Vancouver.

When I’d finished my walk, I slowly headed back into downtown, got some dinner and went to the airport, ready to catch my overnight flight to Montreal.

Yachts in Vancouver

Vancouver vs Toronto

It’s funny, because when I got my visa for Canada, I never once considered Vancouver. In my head, Vancouver was tiny, and it was solely focussed on nature and going up into the mountains… and whilst there is that focus on the outdoors, I was wrong by the lack of a city feel.

In fact, as a city, I actually prefer Vancouver to Toronto. I think it’s because it doesn’t just offer skyscrapers, it has the hipster Gastown area (I don’t think I ever saw a hipster during my time in Toronto). Plus, Vancouver isn’t far from Seattle, and I’d love to visit there again.

After my first day in Vancouver, I had a look at jobs and places to live there, just out of interest. But to be honest, whilst one of my reasons for coming back to the UK was because I didn’t think much of Toronto, the other issues were the fact that you get minimal holidays when you work in Canada, and just how far away all of my friends were… and Vancouver couldn’t solve those last two issues. In fact, I was even further away (it’s an 8-hour time difference!).

However, I would LOVE to visit Vancouver again, for sure. Next time, I want to go to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and catch the cable car up to Grouse Mountain. I want to have a night out in Gastown, and then drive on and see Whistler, Banff, Jasper and Calgary (and yes, I know all of them except for Whistler are in Alberta, but still… not that far away.).

I’ve already been pricing up flights from the UK to Vancouver, so I don’t think it’ll be too long until I’m back.

 

Elle Pollicott

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