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If you’ve never been to Vancouver, this is a good place to orient yourself and see some of what makes BC’s largest city so special. With its five tall Teflon sails and bowsprit jutting out into Burrard Inlet, Canada Place is meant to resemble a giant sailing ship. Inside, it’s a convention center on one level and a giant cruise-ship terminal below, with the Pan Pacific Hotel perched on top. Around the perimeter is a promenade, offering views across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore peaks and nearby Stanley Park, with plaques explaining the sights and providing historical tidbits. Continue around the promenade, and you’ll get great city views and be able to see the older, low-rise buildings of Gastown, where Vancouver began. Bus sightseeing tours begin here, and there’s a Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre right across the street.

In 2013, Canada Place launched a spectacular new attraction, Flyover Canada. Hop on board and it will whisk you across a virtual Canada, complete with wind, scents, and mist. The simulated flight inside a dome takes about 30 minutes, and is truly a remarkable experience.

Just west of Canada Place is a new addition to the Vancouver Convention Centre, VCC West, which opened in 2009. With its “green” roof, light-filled interior spaces, and spacious plazas and walkways, it has transformed this area. On the other side of VCC West is Jack Poole Plaza and the Olympic Cauldron, which burned brightly all during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Today it’s lit only on special occasions, but the plaza itself has become a popular hangout, and a great place for taking photos of the North Shore Mountains. Note the mesmerizing trompe l’oeil sculpture at the northern end of the plaza, “Digital Orca,” by Douglas Coupland. This is also the beginning of the seaside pathway that meanders along Coal Harbour and becomes the Stanley Park Seawall.