Photos: Vancouver, B.C., 2010

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  1. Vancouver, British Columbia, played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Albert Normandin / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A couple strolls through Stanley Park on a spring afternoon near the city's main boat marina. One of the city's most visited parks, visitors can also enjoy the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center and zoo at the park. (Joe Mcnally / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Rowers glide past a line of yachts at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.It is said that in Vancouver, it is possible to ski in the morning, sail in the afternoon and take a sunset dip in the Pacific. (Mary Peachin / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Planning to soak up some art while in town? Consider staying at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which is located right behind the Vancouver Art Gallery. The hotel is located on the VIA Rail route for those who plan to travel to the city by train. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Granville Island Public Market is perhaps the most well-known market in Vancouver. Dozens of vendors offer food-loving tourists and locals produce, seafood, meats, sweets and European speciatly foods. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The steam-powered Gastown clock blows out clouds of steam during its hourly sounding of Westminister Chimes. Gastown is located in the northeast corner of Vancouver, and is known as the birthplace of the city. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is "acclaimed for its spectacular architecture and unique setting on the cliffs of Point Grey," its Web site proclaims. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Totem poles and other artifacts are on display at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The museum, founded in 1949, is world renowned for its collections. (Kevin Arnold / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. While in the city, check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. The bridge spans 450 feet across and is situated 230 feet above the Capilano River. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A totem pole decorates Stanley Park in Vancouver. The park covers about 1,000 acres, and offers residents and tourists a wealth of options, including walking, running or biking the 5.5-mile seawall path, a pitch-and-put golf course and more. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A young girl interacts with a sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tickets for adults cost $22, $17 for seniors (65+) and youths (13-18), $14 for children (4-12) and kids get in free. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pedestrians walk by Aritizia on Robson Street, the famous shopping street in Vancouver's west end. In the stretch of three blocks, tourists looking for retail therapy can find stores specializing in shoes, clothes, lingeri, candy, souvenirs and luggage, not to mention hair salons, currency exchanges and restaurants. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Library Square building in Vancouver houses the city's public library. (Danniele Hayes / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Patrons eat in the dining room of Six Acres, a pub and restaurant located in Gastown. Six Acres is "tucked in the oldest brick building in Vancouver," its Web site claims. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A traditional pagoda sits on the shore of a pond in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden in the downtown area of Vancouver. Though Canada's third largest city, Vancouver has historically been thought of as the "terminal city," the end of the line and the last remote town before the continent comes to an end at the Pacific Ocean. (Ross Barnett / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Granville Entertainment District is an area in Downtown Vancouver known for its vast assortment of bars, danceclubs and nightlife. The entertainment district is centered on a seven-block stretch of the Granville Mall and immediately surrounding streets. (Tourism Vancouver) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre was built in 1968, and was a gift from the lumber magnate to Vancouver's citizens. If you're visiting Vancouver on a Friday or Saturday night, you can catch laser shows to music from Green Day, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. (Christopher Herwig / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Olympic rings are illuminated in the harbor outside the Vancouver Convention Centre. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Olympic and Paralympic Village Vancouver is set on the waterfront of Vancouver. (Stephanie Lamy / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Richmond Oval, located south of Vancouver, served as the long-track speed skating venue for the 2010 Winter Games. (Ben Hulse / Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Skiers and snowboarders gather on top of Whistler Mountain. Whistler was the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic Games. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Norway's Johan Remen Evensensoars through the air during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup skiing event in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2009. The venue was the site of ski jumping events during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. (Darryl Dyck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Cypress Mountain hosted the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events during the 2010 Winter Olympics. (Tourism B.C.) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth zooms around a corner during the sixth training run for the World Cup skeleton race in Whistler, B.C., in 2009. (Frank Gunn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Vancouver skyline, Burrard Inlet and Lion's Gate bridge is pictured at sunset. The Lion's Gate Bridge connects North and West Vancouver with downtown. The suspension bridge is 5,890 feet in length. (Robert Giroux / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 2/10/2009 10:17:31 AM ET 2009-02-10T15:17:31

Hugging a spectacular bay by the Pacific Ocean and ringed by stunning, snowcapped peaks, Vancouver easily ranks as one of the world's most beautiful cities.

With its sandy beaches, Pacific waters, lush rain forests and a glittering downtown full of skyscrapers, Vancouver considers itself a world-class destination on par with cities like Sydney, Australia, or San Francisco.

The region embodies the laid-back West Coast lifestyle, a place where visitors can literally ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon. And, now, Vancouver is preparing to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

It's the most populous destination ever to host the Winter Olympics, with 2.1 million people in the greater Vancouver regional area, according to Canada's 2006 census. It's also Canada's third time to welcome the Olympics, having hosted the Montreal 1976 Summer Games and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. No Canadian has ever won a gold medal on home turf.

The Vancouver region has been home to First Nations peoples, and it's a heritage that's celebrated throughout British Columbia.

Europeans arrived in British Columbia in the 18th and 19th centuries with the advent of the fur trade and several gold rushes which brought prospectors from around the world.

Now, the region boasts a multiethnic makeup and vast cultural diversity. Several influxes of Asian immigrants have made it home to one of the largest Chinese populations outside China.

Old-world charm
Any exploration of the city would be incomplete without a stroll on the cobbled streets of Gastown with its old-world charm, much-photographed steam clock, quaint pubs, restaurants and galleries.

This is the heart of old Vancouver, which grew up quickly around a makeshift tavern established in 1867 by gold prospector "Gassy" Jack Deighton.

For the less well-heeled, the surrounding area is home to a number of hostels and cheap eateries.

Visitors should be careful not to stray too far south of Gastown lest they wind up in the city's notoriously squalid and poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside, where drugs and prostitution are rampant.

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It's here that the term "skid row" was born, as logs were "skidded" along roads from the waterfront to sawmills.

But that's just one small part of Vancouver.

Galleries in other areas are worth a visit. The Vancouver Art Gallery hosts international shows as well as a permanent exhibit of the work of Emily Carr, who documented West Coast native life.

The gallery steps are a focus of the city's leisure crowd, lounging to take in the scene and watch street performers.

From there, it's a short hop to casual Kitsilano, where Fourth Avenue was Vancouver's 1960s hippie haven. It's now home to an eclectic assortment of restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops.

Past Kitsilano is the University of British Columbia, home to the Museum of Anthropology, a temple of light perched atop cliffs over the scenic waters of Howe Sound.

And, at the bottom of the cliffs is Wreck Beach, in warm weather one of North America's favorite nude hangouts.

The night buzz in Vancouver is on glittering Robson Street, the city's Rodeo Drive North, lined with top-name boutiques, oyster bars and java joints. For the more adventurous, the award-winning restaurant atop Grouse Mountain accessible by a gondola offers unparalleled views of Vancouver and its harbor.

Awe-inspiring views
Grouse Mountain looms above the rainy mist that often blankets Vancouver from October to March.

On the way to Grouse, take a walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge if you dare. It spans 450 feet across and 230 feet above North Vancouver's spectacular Capilano River.

And, if Grouse's gondola piques the curiosity, the ski resort town of Whistler — which hosts the alpine events of the Olympics — has the Peak 2 Peak Gondola — which has the longest unsupported span for a lift of its kind in the world at 1.88 miles — and the highest lift of its kind above the valley floor at 1,427 feet.

Reaching Whistler is an event in itself.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway connecting Vancouver with Whistler has been redeveloped for the 2010 Games with the blasting of whole cliffs and widening of the once-perilous road.

The 90-mile drive offers awe-inspiring views of sea and mountains.

Be warned, though: The road is still subject to the whims of nature. Last July, a rock slide closed the route for three days.

The tony community of Whistler is a year-round playground but is best-known as one of North America's top winter destinations. The resort came under scrutiny in December when a tower on another gondola collapsed, injuring 12 and stranding others for hours.

Other issues have been in the news lately, too.

Vancouver's athletes' village is in limbo as city politicians struggle to refinance it due to the global economic crunch. The city has vowed it will be built on time.

A short walk from the village is Granville Island. It's a curious mix of restaurants and galleries anchored by the aromatic Granville Island Market.

Dinner here could also mean taking in a play or a comedy club.

And, after dinner, there is no better way to unwind than a stroll along the city's serpentine waterfront.

Water taxis ply the waves from Granville Island across False Creek to Vanier Park, where there are planetarium shows and the nearby Vancouver Yacht Club. While pathways ring False Creek area past Olympic hockey and opening ceremonies venues, the city's crown jewel is Stanley Park.

Lord Stanley is best known to the rest of the world for the National Hockey League championship cup.

In Vancouver, his legacy is 1,000 acres of primeval rain forest.

The park is crisscrossed with trails through towering firs and cedars and ringed by the Seawall, which offers stunning vistas in every direction.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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