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atmosphere of downtown Van

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nashville, tn
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atmosphere of downtown Van

I was just curious as to how DT Van compares to some other U.S. cities as far as safety and atmosphere. Has anyone out there ever stayed in the French Quarter (New Orleans) or maybe downtown Nashville? Or any other major U.S. downtown area? I was kind of thinking DT Van had kind of a French Quarter feel as far as shops, eats, sites... but quite safer than the FQ. Please correct me if I'm wrong about the safer part. I just want to know what I'm getting into. The bars and clubs and strip joints and all that is no biggie to us. Just makes it a little more lively than usual. But our primary concern is safety. Thanks for any input.

Vancouver
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1. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

Vancouver is very multi cultural. Although French is one of our official languages you will not here it spoken in Vancouver. Vancouver does not have a "french" quarter per say. It does though have many ethinic areas that are interesting to visit. Our Chinatown is amazing. You will find Vancouver very safe. The bars and clubs are there for the finding. Have a great trip to Vancouver.

Vancouver
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2. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

Vancouver is very multi cultural. Although French is one of our official languages you will not here it spoken in Vancouver. Vancouver does not have a "french" quarter per say. It does though have many ethinic areas that are interesting to visit. Our Chinatown is amazing. You will find Vancouver very safe. The bars and clubs are there for the finding. Have a great trip to Vancouver.

Vancouver, Canada
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3. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

Hmm, that's an interesting comparison. I've never been to New Orleans, but from what I've gathered in the media and in photos, I'd say that Vancouver and New Orleans are about as different cities as you can get.

Vancouver's a much, much newer city (founded in 1886), with absolutely no French role in its history. It has a huge Asian community, and it's not particularly known for its nightlife or architecture, but better known for its scenery, laid back attitude, and easy access to nature. People in Vancouver tend to put more emphasis on daytime outdoor activities rather than extensive nightlife, however, that's slowly changing as new clubs, lounges, and restaurants open every year. The restaurant scene in Vancouver is excellent though - any kind of ethnic cuisine available, everywhere. Downtown itself has hundreds of restaurants to choose from - lots of variety.

Also note that drinking in public is illegal in Vancouver, and smoking is also banned in all public places, including inside restaurants, club, pubs, etc. You can only smoke in designated smoking rooms, or on the patio. So that's another difference in atmosphere between the two.

I also can't think of any area in Vancouver that would be similar to the French Quarter - there are certainly areas where there are a lot of nightclubs, and areas with a lot of restaurants and shops, but I dont' think it would have quite the same "wow" impact, nor are those areas really the central focus of the city's attractions.

As for downtown Vancouver, it's actually quite different than most downtowns in the USA. For one thing, there are no freeways within the city of Vancouver. Downtown Vancouver is really pedestrian-oriented. You can usually get around easier on foot downtown than by driving. The public transportation system is excellent, so even if you had to visit elsewhere, you could easily get around.

From the downtowns that I have visited in the USA, Vancouver also differs in the way that its downtown is higly residential. The only comparison in the USA I can think of is Manhattan. Unlike many downtown cities in North America, which consist of only office buildings (which empty out after 5pm), Vancouver's downtown is full of residential apartments... many of which are high end. As a result, there are always things open, and people strolling leisurely through downtown at all hours. The only places that empty out at night are Chinatown, and Gastown, but those are places you'd visit in the day, anyway.

Unlike many cities in the USA, where a dangerous neighbourhood might suggest gang activities, violence, muggings, and shootings, in Vancouver this kind of danger is incredibly, incredibly rare. However, in the downtown eastside which is a very, tiny part of downtown (in the extreme north-eastern corner around Main and Hastings), there is a lot of drug activity. Don't make any mistakes about the downtown eastside. It isn't an area you would find yourself in unless you purposely went out of your way to get there. But, what you get because of this are a lot of spaced-out junkies wandering around the streets by that area, and a lot of visual panhandling through high pedestrian corridors in the downtown core.

The drug addicts might look frightening, but they're not going to harm you. They aren't dangerous people... and I stress this. They might ask for spare change, but you shouldn't have to worry about your personal safety - these aren't violent people. These aren't members of armed gangs, but the poorest members of society caught in a drug addiction, doing whatever they have to do to get their next fix. As a result, there are a lot of car-breakins and theft in Vancouver. Not robbery/purse-snatching type theft, but... if you leave your luggage fully visible in the back seat of your car, or if you have left a bunch of CD's, or some money, or a jacket in your car, fully visible, you're risking the chance that your car can be broken into. More often than not, this kind of theft is associated with the drug addicts, who steal these things so they can pawn it off and use the money for drugs. A lot of tourists come here thinking, "Hey, we're in Canada!" and leave their car doors unlocked, or leave their belongings in full view in their car door, only to find the window smashed and items stolen when they get back. However, as long as you keep your belongings in your hotel, or out of sight, you shouldn't have any issues. I've had my car since 1998 and have never had my car broken into (knock on wood!), but it's because I've always kept that in mind.

This is the biggest "safety" issue in Vancouver. And this doesn't just occur in downtown Vancouver, but it happens in all neighbourhoods, and even the suburbs. It's more a part of a social problem than it is anything else. Since you were asking predominantly about safety, this is the biggest issue while downtown Vancouver. But I wouldn't say that downtown Vancouver is unsafe because of this. It's very, very safe. Anyone who has visited can tell you that. It's one of the safest places you can be in Vancouver. I've read many trip reports where people put emphasis on how safe they felt downtown, walking around at night, so I really don't think it'll be an issue for you, especially if you've been to cities where violence is the real safety concern.

Also keep in mind that downtown Vancouver is made of up several distinct neighbourhoods. Where you are in downtown will make a difference on how you experience the city.

There's the West End, which is west of Burrard Street - lots of green, leafy streets, character homes from the 1920's, older apartment complexes from the 1960's. There are several beaches, Stanley Park, the restaurants along Denman Street, Vancouver's gay community along Davie Street, and a large portion of the seawall. It's a beautiful area that's predominantly residential. You *have* to visit English Bay, which is a beautiful beach in the West End. This is essentially a "Vancouver" experience. Go there for the sunset!

Granville Street is a busy few blocks of hostels, hotels, night clubs and pubs, however, it doesn't offer a lot of variety, and tends to only attract the university students. If you like frat club party environments and Paris Hilton clones, this might be your scene. However, I typically avoid Granville Street, as do many of my friends, as we're all in our mid-late 20's and our 30's, and there are much better places around the city for nightlife.

Granville is probably the seediest street in downtown as well and doesn't really give you a good idea of what

Vancouver offers. It's certainly safe, but somewhat underwhelming. What I mean by that is, you could have this little strip in any city. It's only about 4 blocks long. There are other nightclubs scattered all over the city, but this is the only part of the city where you'll have several within a few blocks of eachother.

The Georgia Straight newspaper (www.straight.com) will give you a good idea for nightlife in the city. When you're in town, pick one up. They're available for free everywhere.

I should also mention that the area around Granville Street has a lot of hotels and a lot of office buildings. As a result, this area can feel somewhat empty at night. The northern end of Granville Street tends to be more of the financial district of the city, and once again, feels empty at night. That's why I suggested a hotel outside of this area in your other post. It's just not that interesting of a downtown neighbourhood when there are more vibrant and lively places to be in downtown at night.

Robson Street heads west-east along the city. It's a major shopping street with many kinds of restaurants in between. The majority of the shops on Robson are between Burrard and Bute Street. Once west of Bute, there are more hotels than shops. Once west of Denman Street, Robson is purely residential, but it's a beautiful areas, as it overlooks the tennis courts and Lost Lagoon at Stanley Park.

Gastown's Water Street is merely a tourist trap. SalmonSam (a poster on TripAdvisor)described it very well, saying that it's the oldest part of a very new city - all dolled up for the tourist trade. For example, there's a steam clock, which is the "must see" of Gastown, but it was built in 1977, and runs on electricity, so, it's somewhat of a gag. I find it somewhat tacky, and doesn't really represent Vancouver that well. There are, however, some really great boutiques and used book stores off from Water Street. (I saw Jerry O'Connell and Rebecca Rojmin-Stamos shopping at a vintage clothing store there yesterday afternoon!) These streets can be a lot more interesting, and less touristy/tacky than Water Street.

There are also some great restaurants off on the side streets. Incendio's, Jewel of India, Wild Rice, The Irish Heather, and Alibi Room are some places to visits if you're hungry!

Chinatown is also in the same area, and while it's a really interesting place, I think a lot of people expect it to be more than what it really is. This is the first Chinese community in Vancouver, so the buildings are historic. But it's mostly Chinese merchants selling dried goods, fresh produce, and fresh fish, steamed pork buns, etc, but there's not a whole lot if you're coming to do shopping for clothing or souvenirs. It's also not representative of the contemporary Chinese culture you find elsewhere in Vancouver. There are literally thousands of Chinese restaurants all over Vancouver, but many tourists think that they're all in Chinatown. The irony is that there are only a hand full of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown that remain open after 5pm, so the best experience for Chinese food in Vancouver isn't in Chinatown at all.

Yaletown is where I'm currently living. It's in the south-east corner of downtown Vancouver. It's a neighbourhood that used to be old industrial brick warehouses from the late 1890's that have since been turned into lofts, restaurants, cafes, lounges, pubs, and boutiques. A lot of people call it Vancouver's "SoHo", but I've never been to New York or London's SoHo, so I don't know how it compares. Yaletown is interesting in the way that the core buildings are low-level brick structures (brick buildings are rare in Vancouver), but the surrounding buildings are really new residential glass towers. The sidewalks in the old core of Yaletown are all elevated, as they're on the old loading bays, and all the restaurants have really nice patios. It's a very lively place to be in the evening and at night - the Yaletown Brewing Co is a great place for food/beer, and Section (3) is my personal favourite for drinks. Subeez is another favourite of mine, kind of half way between Yaletown and Granville Street, on the corner of Smithe and Homer.

There's also Coal Harbour, which is an upscale residential area in the north-west corner of downtown, by the entrance to Stanley Park. There's not a lot to do here as a visitor, but the sea wall here is beautiful. Note that the seawall is a walkway along the perimeter of downtown Vancouver. Downtown Vancouver is a peninsula, so by walking along the seawall, you'll always have the city on one side, and water and views on the other. The sea wall is a really unique Vancouver experience, which I highly recommend!

The nice thing about downtown Vancouver is that all these neighborhoods are within short walking distance of each other. So if you do happen to stay in one area, certainly explore the other neighbourhoods as well. And yes, no matter where you stay in downtown Vancouver, you will be safe.

I should probably give you the link to a website I've been working on for the past 4-5 years. members.virtualtourist.com/m/1b080/dc80f/ It's a community where people share their travel photos and tips. The page I've built is called "Vancouver - A Local's Perspective). The photos are all mine (unless stated otherwise), and all the tips are mine. All the tips are located in the headings at the bottom end of the page.

Wow. I think I just posted my longest-ever reply ever!

nashville, tn
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4. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

BC Robyn, you are the best! You are FULL of info! I know I'll be chatting with you again soon! Thank you so much for spending the time to fully answer my big-mouthed questions (and thanks to whomever else answers). I really appreciate it. I wish I could write more now, but I'm off to work. But I'll be checking out that link you gave me the next chance I get. It sounds like I won't have to be constantly worried about my butt while in Vancouver. Pan handlers/beggars are no problem. Geez, give the poor souls a little money, tourist of DT Van. It won't break you :-) We won't be renting a car so the theiving aspect of that concern is out. Thanks again, guys!

Vancouver, Canada
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5. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

You're very welcome iluvelvis! :) I'm sure you'll have a great time!

Vancouver BC
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6. Re: atmosphere of downtown Van

Vancouver isn't an American city. It's located on the West Coast of British Columbia in Canada. It's a very open, multicultural, liberal city with a great West Coast San Francisco/Seattle laid-back feel to it. People are friendly and helpful. The streets are generally very safe compared to major USA cities. All the common sense you use back at home, should be applied when visiting us too.