Vancouver First Impressions – City Guide for First Time Visitors

    Vancouver First Impressions – City Guide for First Time Visitors
    Last updated: March, 2019

    Welcome to Vancouver, Canada’s largest, densest and most ethnically diverse city! Vancouver has a lot going for it: a bustling downtown, delicious restaurants, a rich cultural life, and more. But if this is your first time here, get ready to be amazed by many other things. When you look at Vancouver with a fresh pair of eyes, you always tend to discover the “little things.” Things that Vancouverites most likely no longer observe. Like the waterfront, the pine trees, or the mountains.The store fronts, the sidewalk cafés, or the vibe of the streets. As a firs time visitor, it’s the little things that will catch your eye in this place and help you make your Vancouver first impressions. 

    the cityscape creates great Vancouver first impressions
    Vancouver cityscape

    Vancouver First Impressions

    What most impressed me about this city is its close proximity to some of the most beautiful places in Canada. For instance, you can drive from Vancouver to Whistler in just a short hour and a half! But Vancouver has way more to show for itself than just its proximity to other attractions. The first thing that strikes you as you arrive in Vancouver is how stunningly beautiful the cityscape is! The nearby mountains look like they climb right out of the ocean, the air is crisp and everything around you is clean and colorful. I always had a thing for cities with dramatic backdrops!

    The second thing thing you’ll probably notice is that despite being a big city, Vancouver is actually calmer and more laid-back than similar metropolitan cities, like San Francisco for instance. 

    Vancouver downtown at dusk
    Vancouver downtown at dusk

    A Short Insight into Vancouver’s History

    Vancouver is very young. Considering that only 150 years ago this place was a virgin forest, it’s amazing to see how far the city has come in such a short time. The first inhabitants of Vancouver were the British, but with the Gold Rush in the 1860s tens of thousands of Europeans, Americans, South Americans and especially Chinese came here to make money in the gold field. The city’s population is very diverse, with over 200 ethnic groups reported. But despite the diversity, only one group accounts for about half of all visible minorities: the Chinese.

    streets on downtown Vancouver

    Vancouver counts itself among the most attractive waterfront cities of the world. The city’s history began in what is today the trendy Gastown, a historic site at the northeast end of Downtown. Until 1867 this entire area was but a vast forest with huge trees. But within 3 years of the opening of the first saloon in town, a small community began growing up here. The community later became Gastown, being named  after “Gassy,” the funny and talkative steamboat captain who kept the saloon.

    Old Town Vancouver

    Gastown is a lively and fascinating area, with a great range of shops and restaurants. The streets are lined up with old-fashion lamp posts, attractive store fronts, flower baskets, and sidewalk cafés. It’s just perfect for wandering around and dining. The biggest attraction of Gastown is the Steam Clock. Every quarter hour, the clock shows off a bit by shooting steam from its whistles, and on the hour it plays a chime tune, marking each hour with a honk from each whistle.

    the steam clock in Gastown Vancouver
    The Steam Clock (photo credit: Can Stock Photography)

    The neighborhood is quite pleasant to explore during the day, but not particularly inviting at night. We saw many homeless people in some parts of Gastown.

    The Port Area

    Unlike other cities where the industrial ports have been moved outside the city limits, the port of Vancouver is still in the heart of the city. The port was architecturally transformed so that it can be part of the cultural and social life of the city. Although Vancouver is one of the busiest ports of the world, the waters here are surprisingly clean making fishing a great attraction in the area.

    Vancouver port area

    view of Vancouver cityscape from the water

    Interesting Vancouver Facts

    One of my first impressions about Vancouver was how crowded the city actually was. Give its relatively young age, the city seems overpopulated. There are lots of apartment buildings and there is even a house-boat community in Vancouver.

    Vancouver started as a place to make quick money. Real estate was cheap back then, but today housing affordability became the No 1 issue in Vancouver. In fact, housing is so expensive that Vancouverites spend about 50% of their gross income on it. The average house price is around $900,000, so the city struggles to create as much inhabitable space as possible. The drawback is the  size of the houses and the apartments which in time became smaller and smaller and smaller! Although lots of condominiums are being built, there are fewer and fewer rentals available. The cost of building these condos is greater than the rent that can be charged on them. But despite the fact that metropolitan Vancouver is becoming so overcrowded, people still keep trying to move into the city. 

    Another thing that you may notice when you first visit Vancouver is the high percentage of Asian population. the highest proportion of Asians per capita of any North American city. In fact, 40% of Vancouver’s total population is made up of immigrants. 

    Vancouver First Impressions of downtown at night

    The Outdoors

    Vancouverites love spending time outside and that’s no surprise. With such a spectacular nature around, it’s hard to stay indoors. Besides, when you live your life in a small apartment and such a crowded city, you want to spend as much time outside as you can. But visitors equally enjoy Vancouver’s outdoors, as the city brags about some of the best parks in the world. Visiting Stanley Park is one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids.  

    The range and number of outdoor activities in Vancouver is stunning. The city’s proximity to great mountains, lush forests, lakes, as well as the ocean makes it very easy for the people to access nature. No wonder that biking, kayaking, or skiing  is a lifestyle in Vancouver.

    There is also a great array of museums, parks, beautiful beaches and markets that make Vancouver a great destination for families. Vancouver caters to any interest throughout the year and is blessed with more natural beauty than any major city in the world.

    A Final Point

    There are many reasons why you should visit Vancouver: the bustling downtown, the vibe, the outdoors, the restaurants, the farmer’s markets. And if you happen to visit it on a sunny day, I’m sure Vancouver will easily become one of your favorite destinations.