Vancouver: Gold standard
We make a return trip to Vancouver to find it reaping Olympic dividends.
A cityscape of shimmering high rise buildings
Set between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky mountains in Canada's west coast state of British Columbia, Vancouver has always been a stunning city simply by virtue of its location. But a municipal decision 20 years ago to make the downtown area more residential has paid huge dividends for tourists.
Aesthetically, the dozens of high-rise apartment blocks, largely glass towers that reflect the sky and water, create a shimmering cityscape.
In practical terms, the fact that there are over half a million residents in the downtown area means that when, as a visitor, you step outside your hotel in the evening, instead of finding deserted streets, there's a real buzz, with bustling pavements, shops open till late and restaurants, bars and cafes in this seriously foodie city are constantly full. The city benefits from the legacy of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. Having visited twice, pre-2010, and subsequently, the improvements are tangible and something tourists can look forward to.
It has newly manicured streets and water-side promenades, better city roads and fast and frequent buses.
The Skytrain is visitor-friendly, there is an enlarged fleet of affordably priced cabs and the district near Chinatown is no longer a no-go area.
First-time visitors should start their tour on a hop-on, hop-off bus, stopping first for a mooch in historic Gas Town and then strolling the streets of neighbouring, gentrified Yaletown with its modern cafés, espresso bars and shops with quirky and interesting fashion and home decor.
Set aside time for the much-improved Vancouver Art Gallery, where recent exhibitions have included a show of the major Surrealists, including Dali and Magritte. Even those with philistine tendencies should visit its Gallery Café for healthy foood or a Kir Royal and nibbles served inside or on the outdoor terrace, on weekday evenings. Nearby Robson and West Georgia streets are great for shopping, with international and local stores offering plenty of temptation, especially on the fashion front.
Granville Island, with its colourful indoor food market, craft galleries, children's market, water-park and playground, should also be on the list. Stop for lunch at one of the dozens of food kiosks or buy artisan bread, and deli items from the sprawling food market and picnic on one of Granville Island's many green spaces beside the sea.
At the other end of the city, Stanley Park is the second largest urban park in North America. Girded by the Pacific Ocean, it is a green oasis of 1,000 acres, containing a freshwater lake, beaches, playgrounds, landscaped gardens, carriage rides and an aquarium.
● British Airways flies to Vancouver from Heathrow from £529 return; premium economy from £981 return; and Club World, with use of the excellent Club World lounge at Heathrow and Vancouver, from £2,358 return.
● Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, 001 604 802 2733; Tourism British Columbia; 020 7930 6857; Tourism Vancouver
It also houses the Teahouse Restaurant which, ironically, doesn't serve tea. It does serve lunch and dinner, and from a table by the window, or on the sheltered, heated terrace, you can eat sublime food (including plenty of vegetarian and permitted fish dishes), and watch one of the northern hemisphere's most spectacular sunsets. Dinner with wine is about £40 per head, but eating pizzas and sharing dishes you can enjoy this spot for £10 a head.
Wherever you are in this city, there are hundreds of restaurants and cafes offering dishes from every corner of the known universe.
Among the best was the oceanfront LIFT, and the Mill Marine Bistro on Cordova Street West.
Away from the city centre, there's Grouse Mountain, served by a free tourist shuttle bus from Canada Place. In winter, Grouse offers skiing just 20 minutes from downtown, while in summer you can stroll the slopes taking in the city, ocean and Rocky Mountain views, watch the Lumberjack show, spy on the bears and dine or snack in one of five cafes and restaurants.
Heading back to the city, stop off at Capilano Park to walk the 450ft Capilano Suspension Bridge, the longest by height and span in the world, or the new cliff walk, suspended 300ft above the river and 30ft out from the cliff.
Summer visitors can also take in some Shakespeare at the annual Bard on the Beach festival held in the water-side Vanier Park. In July and August the city puts on four days of firework displays, viewable from many locations.