With the 2010 Winter Olympics torch extinguished and top athletes from around the globe gone home; Vancouver now basks in the afterglow of its gold medal performance as host city of the world’s most famous Games.

Moreover, with the summer travel season approaching it’s my guess a goodly number of people from near and far will make this Pacific Coast metropolis their vacation destination of choice–thanks largely to the positive television coverage the city received over the course of the Olympics.

A few years have passed since I last visited Vancouver and while hosting the Olympics was then only at the bidding stage, it was clear it had more than sufficient attributes, natural and otherwise, to prevail over its competitors. Now, in the aftermath of the Games, first time visitors to the city will find it both exciting and eclectic–just as the athletes did– and those who have been there before will surely see plenty of Olympics-inspired enhancements.

Olympic fun remains

There are several venues where visitors can let their personal Games begin. In the Vancouver suburb or Richmond they can skate at the Richmond Olympic Oval where speed skating competitions were held.They can swim at the Vancouver Olympic Centre which houses a new, state-of-the-art aquatic facility and for memorable photos, you can be sure many will pose for pictures at the Olympic Cauldron in the heart of downtown where the torch that symbolizes the Games burned throughout the event. For seasons to come on Cypress Mountain, ski and snowboard buffs will be able to attack the same Olympic runs as the medal winning athletes.

Of course, around town there are a whole host of restaurants and trendy nightclubs where athletes and celebrities dined and partied.

Exploring Olympic city

While Olympics-related venues are a nice addition to the city, Vancouver has oodles of pre-existing attractions that shape the community’s diverse and engaging character. An alternative to self-drive exploring and a good, no-hassle way to see main attractions is riding with the Vancouver Trolley Company or Big Bus Ltd. which both offer on/off privileges.

Although they represent only the thin edge of what to see and do, here are a few must-see highlights beginning with the city’s famous Stanley Park. This 1,000-acre stretch of parkland is among the most impressive in the country with its majestic west coast trees, seawall path, totem poles, hiking trails and horse-drawn tours.

Almost nobody leaves Vancouver without visiting Robson Street which is a destination unto itself. Here world-renowned shopping is mixed with chic European-style cafes, restaurants and sushi joints. Moreover, what Robson Street is to modern, Gastown is to historic. This neighbourhood is the birthplace of the city and with its quiet streets and Victorian buildings, it serves as a reflection of Vancouver’s past.

One of the finest water features anywhere is the Vancouver Aquarium, the largest in Canada. Home to 70,000 awesome animals, visitors get close-up viewing of beluga whales, sharks, sea otters, turtles, sea lions and much more. This is an awesome attraction ideal for youngsters and adults alike. A change of pace is a stroll through Chinatown, second largest of its kind after San Francisco. Filled with fascinating shops and restaurants, this is the heart of the city’s Chinese community where you can buy everything from a Peking duck to a silk kimono. It’s a bustling neighbourhood during the day and its night market is equally popular.

For those unafraid of heights, another must-see attraction is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a narrow swaying bridge that stretches 450 feet across a deep canyon and over the Capilano River 230 feet below. Those who would rather keep their feet on terra firma can stroll through the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a sanctuary in the heart of the city that features the first authentic classical Chinese gardens ever built outside of China. Art lovers will be attracted to the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city’s premier museum that houses a vast collection of work by Emily Carr, British Columbia’s most famous and revered artist.

Always a fun place to visit is Granville Island where the main feature is a charming public marketplace where there’s abundant fresh produce, seafood and unique shops. Just 15 minutes from downtown, adventure awaits at Grouse Mountain where there are dramatic views of the city, a hiking trail up the mountainside, zip line rides at 50 mph, paragliding, helicopter tours, excellent restaurants and a Refuge for Endangered Wildlife where visitors can see grizzly bears and grey wolves in a sanctuary habitat.

The finishing touch

An outstanding way to cap off a Vancouver holiday is booking passage aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, a sightseeing train company that offers 70 vacation packages and four spectacular rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta including into Banff National Park. A Based in Vancouver and travelling during daylight to capture the stunning western Canada scenery, there are multi day itineraries plus a popular three-hour journey between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. where many of the Olympic skiing competitions were held. The Whistler Mountaineer is a sister train to the Rocky Mountaineer that takes passengers along the famous Sea to Sky corridor where the scenery is among the best in the West.

The Whistler Mountaineer has two separate trains, one featuring full length dome windows and the other an open-air observation car.

Travel Planner

Information: For more information about vacationing in Vancouver go to www.tourismvancouver.com or call 604-682-2222.
For Rocky Mountaineer information: www.rockymountaineer.com or call 1-877-460-3200.