Vancouver may be synonymous with a picturesque waterfront, The Great Outdoors and snow-capped mountains, but this is a city with grit beneath the glamour. Beyond the more obvious attractions, British Colombia's city contains diverse neighbourhoods, each with a distinct heritage, personality and style. From historic cobbled streets packed with trendy cocktail bars to revitalised rail yards and warehouse districts, there's way more beyond the guidebooks and tourism brochures.
WHY GO Named after "Gassy"Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman and steamboat captain, Gas Town is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood, serving as the original downtown following its inception in 1867. Today, it marries heritage with a glossy modern twist; the cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues remain, but the roughneck sailors and insalubrious taverns have been replaced with slick bars, boutique clothing stores and museums.
SEE + DO The Vancouver Police Museum offers an arresting insight into the city's crime history. Exhibits include a former mortuary room as well as counterfeit currency and weapons. To delve further into Gas Town's history, Forbidden Vancouver Walking tours offers an entertaining "Lost Souls of Gastown" walk. See forbiddenvancouver.ca.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP To bag yourself a "dope" looking pair of retro Nike sneakers head to Menu Skateboard Shop (114 Water Street) or Livestock (239 Abbott Street). Fortknight Men's Boutique (46 Alexander Street) is the spot to treat yourself to a cut-throat barber shave and load up on grooming products. Kit and Ace (151 Water Street) specialises in technical streetwear while Old Faithful Shop (320 West Cordova Street) puts a fun, contemporary spin on the old-fashioned general store.
EAT + DRINK Alibi Room (157 Alexander) has 50 taps of local and imported craft beers in a welcoming tavern setting, while just south-east of the iconic steam clock, Pourhouse (162 Water) embraces the history of the area in a century-old building while serving the best medium rare burgers known to man. For a classy, progressive cocktail paired with Vancouver street food, head to Clough Club (212 Abbott) or for more upmarket dining, L'Abattoir (217 Carrall Street) specialises in hearty dishes such as roast pork belly with crackling or braised veal shank tagliatelle. Cork & Fin (221 Carrall) is Gastown's seafood sanctuary with shared plates including seared scallops, corn and jalapeno puree and freshly shucked oysters.
WHY GO Named after the settlement of Yale, which relocated as the Canadian Pacific Railway set up shop along the northern end of False Creek, Yaletown was formerly a warehouse and train yard district, which underwent substantial redevelopment in the lead up to the city's Expo 86 World's Fair. It's now a happening hotspot packed with cutting-edge bars, museums and restaurants, and also hosts major cultural events throughout the year. With its waterfront setting, ubiquitous outdoor patios and bike paths, it's an oasis in the heart of the city.
SEE + DO Rent a bike or don your runners and hit the Vancouver Seawall, a 22-kilometre path flanking the waterfront. Or catch an open-air movie, live jazz (in summer) or watch them shooting hoops at the David Lam Park. Engine 374 Roundhouse (181 Roundhouse Mews) contains well-curated exhibits detailing the Canadian Pacific rail history.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP: Urban Fare (117 Davie Street) is the best spot for high-end and exotic produce, handy if you're in self-contained accommodation. The Cross (1198 Homer Street) offers whimsical homeware while Fine Finds (1014 Mainland Street) is ideal for a gift; it stocks anything from nifty picnic backpacks to leather and tobacco-scented candles. Mavens for style should head to Atomic Model (1036 Mainland) and Basquiat (1189 Hamilton Street), a Milan-meets-Melrose casual boutique for men and women.
EAT + DRINK Blue Water Cafe (1095 Hamilton) specialises in sustainably sourced West Coast-style seafood, Brix & Morter (1138 Homer) puts a classy spin on modern Canadian cuisine in a 1912 heritage brick building and Minami (1118 Mainland) is one of Vancouver's top Japanese restaurants. For late night cocktails, check out Hello Goodbye (1120 Hamilton), a slick set up recently opened.
WHY GO Vancouver's Chinatown is the third largest in North America (after San Francisco and New York City) and was among the earliest settlements in British Columbia. Though it fell into decline in the mid '90s, the neighbourhood is enjoying something of a renaissance thanks largely to an extensive revitalisation project. On the eastern side of downtown, it's a mix of heritage buildings, classical gardens, galleries, vintage clothes shops, and more.
SEE + DO Head to the the Wing Sang Building (51 East Pender Street), the oldest in Chinatown, to check out The Rennie Collection, an impressive compendium of art owned by collector Bob Rennie who spent four years refurbishing the building into his own museum. Visit one of Chinatown's authentic markets or snatch a few minutes of peace at the Dr Sun Yet-Sen Chinese Classical Garden (578 Carrall), an intricately crafted landscape said to be the first of its kind built outside China.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP For a superbly kitsch souvenir, take a stroll around Bamboo Village (135 East Pender) where you can browse the almost limitless stacks of knick-knacks and Maoist memorabilia. Chinatown is all about wandering with no fixed agenda, perusing the markets, dropping in on tea shops and pigging out at dim sum.
EAT + DRINK Headed by Chef Mah, whose cooking reflects his Malaysian roots and French training, Sai Woo (158 East Pender) pairs innovative Asian cuisine with cocktails to die for. To sample shared plates with influences from Shanghai, the Sichuan Province and Taiwan, try Bao Bei (163 Keefer Street) or a few doors down, the relatively new Juniper (185 Keefer) marries Cascadian fare with handcrafted cocktails. For a nightcap, The Keefer (135 Keefer) specialises in Apothecary-style cocktails.
WHY GO Known locally as Kits, this beachside suburb was once a hippie haven, frequently drawing comparisons with San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, but it has since been gentrified to reflect a more bourgeois sensibility. With outstanding views of Vancouver's skyline, a thriving arts scene and more parks and pools than you could wave a pair of Speedos at, it's a pleasant spot, especially in summer.
SEE + DO At the northern edge of the neighbourhood, Kitsilano Beach is among the most popular in Vancouver; surrounded by parks, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, and the largest outdoor pool in the city. Nearby 4th Avenue is a yoga mum's organic food paradise, with a multitude of cafes, book stores and restaurants giving it a welcoming, bohemian feel.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP Kitsilano's two major shopping hubs extend from West Broadway (between McDonald and Alma) and West 4th Avenue (between Burrard and Balsam). At the latter, swing by Zulu Records (1972 West 4th), one of Canada's best loved independent music stores, then sample some of the world's rarest and exotic teas at 05 Tea (2208 West 4th). For sharp footwear, Gravity Pope (2203 West 4th), stocks anything from desert boots to skate shoes and all things in between.
EAT + DRINK Mission (2042 West 4th) was widely regarded as among Canada's best new restaurants in 2015. With a nose-to-tale philosophy, the emphasis is on tasting plates with dishes such as "island shellfish, natural broth, roasted fennel" and "cauliflower porridge, brassicas and farro" complementing an extensive, predominantly European wine list. Similarly, Fable (1944 West 4th), owned by Top Chef Canada finalist Trevor Bird, is also making waves with an emphasis on gutsy Canadian fare in a stripped back, exposed brick setting.
Qantas offers three direct flights a week between Sydney and Vancouver during the US summer and winter periods in 2016. See qantas.com.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 West Georgia Street, is a historic property in the heart of downtown with culture, restaurants and shopping nearby. Rates from $240 a night. See fairmont.com.
Guy Wilkinson was a guest of Rocky Mountaineer and the Canadian Tourism Commission.
FIVE MORE COOL CORNERS
Up-and-coming area spanning the east and west sides of downtown. Head to Slickity Jim's for a breakfast of champions. See shopmain.ca.
More than 350 shops, cafes and bars where the intersections of Broadway, Kingsway and Main Street merge. Don't miss 33 Acre Brewery. See mountpleasantbia.com.
Vancouver's gay neighbourhood is a thriving mix of outdoor patios, shops bars and more. See davievillage.ca.
Catch a ferry to North Vancouver's market hub for stalls, food trucks, live music and more. See lonsdalequay.com.
The place for a hipster urban experience and the best spot to grab an authentic ethnic meal. See thedrive.ca.