When Bollywood royalty arrives at Vancouver for yet another Bollywood awards ceremony, it will drag with it the spotlight, which has so far been on Toronto. Vancouver is seen as a haven for nature enthusiasts. This may work for some, but what if your idea of vacation is to wine, dine and pamper yourself to luxury heaven?
For this, and to know Vancouver more intimately, skip the clichés and uncover the city’s hidden urban appeal. Vancouver may not be known for its nightlife or sartorial choices (yoga pants are normal for nearly EVERY occasion), but the city is progressive, multicultural, creative and global. From the sexy and luxurious to the artistic and hip, here is an insider’s guide to Vancouver:
VANCOUVER’S HOTTEST DISTRICTS Similar to the trendy neighborhoods of Bandra and Colaba in Mumbai, Vancouver’s hip and diverse districts add personality and modern flair to the city.
Yaletown is home to the city’s trendiest restaurants, bars and yoga studios for the high style yuppie crowd. Surrounded by expensive condos and stylish locals accessorised with mini pups, this area is densely populated by the city’s young professionals. The two main entertainment hubs are located on Hamilton and Mainland streets, which are both walkable and accessible by skytrain. Yaletown is often frequented by the Vancouver Canucks hockey players as well as by local and international celebrities. (www.yaletowninfo.com)
Gastown, one of the city’s oldest downtown neighbourhoods, has been revamped as a lifestyle hub for the city’s creative types, independent businesses and the city’s up and coming restaurants and bars. Gastown is home of the historic steam clock and is set against the backdrop of grand Victorian buildings and brick warehouses turned into designer lofts and studios. With a mixed selection of trendy, casual and high end boutique shops, restaurants and bars, Gastown offers a hip and diverse alternative to Yaletown. Fashionable Mention: If you’re looking for carefully curated fashion and lifestyle products, shop at Ishara in Gastown – owned and operated by local Indian fashionista, Amrit Baidwan. (www.gastown.org)
Granville Street is central for young twenty-something clubbers looking for a fun night out dancing in the city. With a strip of nightclubs stretching from Nelson Street to Robson Street, it makes club hopping relatively easy. Weekends can be busy and line-ups long, so get there early. (www.granvillestreet.com)
South Main (SoMa)is located on Main Street, the divider between the East side and West side of Vancouver. After going through some major gentrification, Main Street is now the up and coming hang out of hipsters and all things indie. Independent coffee shops, casual restaurants, vintage finds and fashion boutiques line the streets between East 2nd and 33rd. (www.shopmain.ca)
Commercial Drive is located past Main Street in East Vancouver and was originally known as the “Little Italy” of Vancouver before attracting a large counterculture of hippies, punks, political activists, artists and bohemians in the 1980s. Today, “The Drive” as it’s popularly known, is what gives Vancouver its boho-chic personality. A unique blend of independent shops, ethnic restaurants, vegetarian options, family owned Italian eateries, affordable bars and pubs set against a backdrop of heritage homes gives Commercial Drive its neighbourhood feel. You will be hard pressed to find many tourists around here – weekends are busy with mostly locals frequenting the The Drive. (www.thedrive.ca)
WHERE TO STAY There are many luxury, boutique hotels to choose from that are both central and accessible. Stay at the Shangri-La Hotel (www.shangri-la.com/vancouver), which opened its doors in 2009 or the newly renovated Rosewood Hotel Georgia (www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotelgeorgia). The Sutton Place (http://vancouver.suttonplace.com) and Pan Pacific Hotel (www.panpacificvancouver.com) are a favourite with visiting celebrities. If you want to stay close to Yaletown, try The Opus Hotel. Fashionable Mention: If you’re staying at the Shangri-La and need some grooming while on vacation, try the Bombay Brow Bar – owned and operated by Indian brow sculptresses Ravy Mehroke and Amy Minhas.
WHERE TO WINE AND DINE Similar to Seattle and Portland, Vancouver is a foodie city and first time visitors can be overwhelmed with the amount of epicurean choice available. From Westcoast-inspired fine dining restaurants, unique food cart choices and fusion experimentation, you can’t leave Vancouver without trying a few local staples: Westcoast Seafood and Asian-inspired dishes. Satisfy your hunger with this sampling of local favourites:
- Minami + Hapa Izakaya for Japanese fusion in Yaletown.
- Hawksworth Restaurant at Rosewood Hotel Georgia for fresh local seafood and weekend brunch – frequented by the cast members of the Real Housewives of Vancouver. Located downtown by the Vancouver Art Gallery.
- Vij’s is the #1 choice for locals craving top notch Indian food, but the Naan Kebab food cart at Soho Road is also climbing the popularity charts of Vancouver foodies.
- Hail a cab and head out of downtown to try the Naam + The Acorn + Heirloom Restaurant for the best vegetarian and vegan eats in the city.
- Some favourite spots to sip on cocktails: Opus Bar in Yaletown + Chill Winston in Gastown + Vancouver Urban Winery in Railtown (two blocks from Gastown).
ENTERTAINMENT Vancouver has a wealth of talented musicians and artists in the city (although not always the same number of cultural venues to support all of them). Dig a little deeper and you can find the local hotspots. From indie rock to jazz music or modern art to renaissance, you can find options to suit your taste.
Try Guilt & Co in Gastown, Libra Room on Commercial Drive or The Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street for live music. On select Fridays, Vancouver Art Gallery’s Fuse Night brings together eclectic art, music and live performance with DJ’s, wine and eats.
URBAN THERAPY: SPAS, SHOPPING, DESSERTS With Bollywood’s A-list celebs landing in Vancouver this weekend, how will all the well-heeled Indian fashionistas be celebrating? By being pampered, of course. Escape the city mayhem with some much-needed urban therapy. Shop at Holt Renfrew for a new designer dress, relax with luxe treatments at Pan Pacific Hotel’s Spa Utopia, gather your girlfriends for afternoon high tea at Urban Tea Merchant or indulge in luscious chocolate dreams at the Sutton Place Hotel’s Chocoholic Buffet. Before buying the dress, of course.
BEST TIME TO VISIT Vancouver is a rainy city and like London, can be very grey. Bring a raincoat and buy an umbrella once you get here. Although it’s considered high tourism season, the best time to visit would be June-August. Take advantage of the many festivals taking place around that time including the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and the Indian Summer Festival (organised by the people behind the Jaipur Literature Festival).
Parm Johal is a travel writer living in Vancouver, Canada.
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