It had been five years since I first visited Vancouver, but somehow the air felt the same when I returned in early June for a press trip sponsored by Tourism Vancouver. Cool, clean, and slightly electric, as if the breeze coming off the bay is sweeping a positive current through the city. Or maybe it’s just the energy of the city itself. It’s certainly plausible, as the city seems to be a magnet for those who think a little bigger, take a few more chances. On my first visit, back in 2014, the city was buzzing over hosting the TED conference for the first time. Now I was here while Vancouver was hosting the 8,000-plus attendees of Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality. And even though the crisp air hasn’t changed, many other aspects of the city have.
The city’s hotel inventory is one. Take our host hotel — the 202-room EXchange Hotel Vancouver, built on the site of the original Stock Exchange Building. The building is the city’s first LEED Platinum Heritage conversion, and even though the hotel is less than a year old, it feels much more storied due to the project’s preservation of the building’s original 1920s-era Gothic influences and 10-story facade. In the guest rooms, for example, the montage of colorful artwork and wallpaper fabrics are accented by clean, gilded lines and marble finishes. But the flourishes are sleek and modern — heated bathroom floors, in-room tablets, and floor-to-ceiling views of downtown.
On our first morning, our group was treated to a preview of the hotel’s new restaurant, Hydra Estiatorio Mediterranean Café & Bar, which held its grand opening a few days later. Our breakfast was a Greek-style feast of unholy proportions — muffins and scones made in-house; a platter of Kagianas, eggs scrambled with sausage and a tomato-feta sauce; a lobster frittata, the triumphant finale. The meal set the tone for the rest of a trip, one that begs the question: Is there a bad meal to be had in Vancouver? If there was, we didn’t find it. The Vancouver culinary scene has come into its own in recent years, drawing praise globally for its chefs who herald the region’s bounty of seafood (Blue Water Café) and Asian influences (Minami Restaurant), often with spunk and edge. At Burdock & Co., chef Andrea Carlson’s artfully plated menu changes regularly with the season (or whatever is fresh from the restaurant’s own garden). In Gastown, the meat-centric Wildebeast follows its popular bone-marrow plate with a sherry bone luge — shots of sherry funneled through beef bones.
If there’s a common thread connecting all of these dots, it’s that everything here seems to come back to the city’s literal roots. What’s on the menu, often, has been grown nearby. The walls of Vancouver Convention Centre, which is topped by one of the world’s largest living roofs, are lined with wood from sustainably managed forests in British Columbia. Like its convention center, the city regularly earns accolades for its eco-friendly efforts, and 11 percent of its footprint is made up of parks and green spaces. We spent an afternoon with Candace Campo, owner of Talaysay Tours, in Vancouver’s largest green space, Stanley Park. As we strolled, Campo pointed out trees, flowers, and plants of interest and shared how native Coast Salish people use them for everything from food to medicine. The leisurely tour, which can accommodate groups of up to 100, includes a stop to enjoy the tea Campo makes herself with local herbs and flowers.
Visitors can also easily explore the city by bike. Cycle City Tours offers guided tours of Stanley Park as well as craft beer–themed rides that wind through multiple downtown neighborhoods. Conveniently, the Seawall, a 17.5- mile waterfront paved pathway, starts at the Vancouver Convention Centre and ends at Kitsilano Beach Park. But perhaps the best way to see the city is from above. Harbour Air Seaplanes, which depart from a waterfront facility adjacent to the Vancouver Convention Centre, serve regular commuters as well as visitors who just want a bird’s eye view of the city.
What stood out the most to me about my experience visiting Vancouver as a convention attendee was how easily I fell into step with the city. For example, even though passport control at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) took longer than normal due to a computer malfunction and the taxi line, as a result, was also backed up, it was all too easy to hop on the SkyTrain’s Canada Line at the last minute for a 25-minute ride direct to downtown. From there, it’s an easy walk to most hotels, the convention center, and the downtown core. Vancouver has some ambitious group bookings coming up, including the 2025 International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, which will bring more than 48,000 attendees to the city — the largest event yet for Vancouver.
“For a lot of these large international organizations looking to host a meeting, there is a lot to consider when selecting a host city,” said Dave Gazley, vice president, meeting & convention sales, Tourism Vancouver. “In Vancouver, it all comes together — with our sustainable venues, world-class cuisine at your fingertips, and the walkability of the city. It makes it very attractive and easy for delegates to feel right and home and get outdoors between sessions to explore the city.”
The convention will take over the Vancouver Convention Centre and also BC Place, about a 20-minute walk away.
We spent an afternoon touring the 55,000-seat stadium, which revealed a facility well-versed in putting on special events beyond the soccer and football games it regularly hosts (BC Place is home to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the BC Lions). The culinary team makes everything from burgers to sushi in-house, and accommodating special dietary requests like vegan and halal is a regular occurrence for them. BC Place’s technology, lighting, and audiovisual capabilities are also impressive — a 70-foot-wide HD video-board, the second-largest in North America, hangs from the world’s largest cable-supported retractable roof. Wi-Fi is also free for visitors everywhere in the facility.
On our last evening, while nursing a rosemary-laced gin and tonic at the Botanist inside Fairmont Pacific Rim, I’m once again struck by the energy of the attendees spilling out of the convention center next door and into the lobby below us. The crowd is a kaleidoscope of ethnicities, the conversations spirited, alive, and unbounded. It takes a special kind of place to keep pace with a group like this, and Vancouver’s easy, positive spirit seems like the perfect fit.