Centered on Robson Street – Vancouver’s main retailing promenade and host to almost all of North America’s leading clothing brands – the city’s downtown core is often teeming with busy shoppers clutching their latest purchases and heading to their next credit card-friendly port of call. Shoes, high fashion and jewellery are the mainstays here, and there are also plenty of restaurants and coffee shops for those who need to refuel.
Aside from popular stores like Roots, Gap, Banana Republic, Aritzia, lululemon and Chapters, the area’s largest department store is the Bay at the intersection of Granville and Georgia Streets. It recently opened its own in-store Topshop capsule, bringing the popular London brand to local shoppers. And just a block down Granville, you’ll find Holt Renfrew, an all-Canadian department store focused on lux designer brands. If it’s raining, seek refuge at the city’s main shopping mall, Pacific Centre (www.pacificcentre.com).
Occupying a plethora of renovated brick warehouses bounded by Nelson, Homer, Drake and Pacific Streets, chichi Yaletown is stuffed with the city’s most glamorous designer clothing stores. When the new Mini Cooper was launched in North America, it was no surprise when the company opened a swanky showroom here to speak directly to the people with the visual élan – and money – to embrace it. But Yaletown is not just about designer gear for beautiful young things; this is also the location of the Coastal People’s Fine Art Gallery, showcasing some of the magnificent carvings, masks and jewellery of regional First Nations artisans (www.coastalpeoples.com).
Concentrated on the Main Street area between 19th and 25th avenues, this enticing strip of unique indie stores offers a great selection of clothing, homewares and jewellery created by local and nationally-renowned designers. A hotbed of quirky outlets – including Eugene Choo, Smoking Lily and Front & Co. – this is where the hippest Vancouverites come to dress themselves. But it’s not just about togs: look out for cool record and stationary stores, as well as hunger-busting restaurants and coffee bars.
Walk towards the mountains from the downtown core, and you’ll soon come to Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood. But Gastown’s cobbled streets and heritage buildings have been dramatically reinvented in recent years and are now home to some of the city’s most exciting independent stores – look out for unique art galleries, swanky designers, top clothing boutiques and First Nations artisan outlets. The area’s main Water Street thoroughfare is also Vancouver’s souvenir central, housing large gift shops in the shadow of the famed steam clock. This is the place to pick up your maple leaf T-shirts, jade jewellery and “moose dropping” chocolates.
A must-see for shoppers craving unique and unusual gifts, artsy Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com) is a former industrial area transformed into a warren of artisan studios and shopping nooks. It’s easy to spend a day ambling among the stores selling everything from pottery, jewellery and glassware to books, clothing and wine. While children will not want to miss the Kids Market of toys and activities, everyone should save time for the bustling Public Market. Teeming with deli counters, bakeries, fishmongers and pyramids of gleaming fruit and vegetables, it’s popular with browsers – and there’s a great on-site food court for a lunchtime refuelling stop.
A former 1960s hippy hangout transformed into a neighbourhood of pricey heritage homes, “Kits” has a comfy, laid-back feel and a selection of stores aimed at well-off urban professionals. Centred on 4th Avenue, these stores include bookshops themed around travel or children, fashionable outdoor stores, yoga wear boutiques and specialty shops selling everything from artisan chocolates to swanky cooking utensils. The area makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll and there are plenty of cafés and restaurants – plus nearby beaches – if you need a break.
Occupying the Granville Street area between 4th and 16th Avenues, South Granville is a popular, highly strollable shopping area. Once home only to family restaurants and small grocery stores, it’s now lined with designer fashions, cool interior accessories and tempting, must-have knick knacks. A kaleidoscope of small, independent galleries has also colonized its flanks – check out the Bau-xi Gallery and Uno Langmann Fine Art – while one of the city’s best high-end delis and grocery stores, Meinhardt Fine Foods, offers lots of local and international treats for visiting gourmands. A browser’s paradise, South Granville also has some superb restaurants and a live theatre (Arts Club Theatre Company, www.artsclub.com).
Given Vancouver’s healthy lifestyle, it’s no wonder that spas flourish here. The city’s day spas – no longer the pampered princess domains of the past – are being swamped with locals (male and female) begging to be wrapped in sea-weed, slathered with Moor mud, pummelled by jets of water and generally exfoliated, kneaded, purified and revitalized. Hotels and spas are responding to the demand by expanding and investing in the newest products and treatments.
If you fancy a treatment with a special Vancouver flavour, consider the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Willow Stream Spa for its Coastal Mountain Body Wrap; the Shangri-La Hotel’s CHI Spa for its West Coast Wave Massage; and the West Coast Seaweed Journey at the Pan Pacific Hotel’s Spa Utopia.
Among Vancouver’s popular spa outlets are:
- Absolute Spa (several locations, see www.absolutespa.com)
- Miraj Hammam Spa (South Granville; www.mirajhammam.com)
- Skoah (Yaletown; www.skoah.com)
- Spa Utopia (Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver; www.spautopia.ca)
- Spruce Body Lab (Yaletown; www.sprucebodylab.com)
- Vida Wellness Spa (three locations in downtown Vancouver; www.vidawellness.com)
- CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La (Shangri-La Hotel; www.shangri-la.com/vancouver)
- Willow Stream Spa (Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel; www.fairmont.com)
- Sense, A Rosewood Spa (Rosewood Hotel Georgia; www.rosewoodhotels.com/hotelgeorgia)
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