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Vancouver

Green, clean, safe, affluent, happily multicultural and lushly nestled into the craggy northern Pacific coastline: that's Vancouver in a, well, pine cone. Home to about 600,000 residents, with about 30 percent claiming Chinese heritage, Vancouver today looks to Asia as often as it looks to Europe or the United States.

Europeans first came to Vancouver in the mid-1800's, and the city was incorporated in 1886. During the 20th century, immigrants arrived from around the world in significant numbers -- and that has propelled Vancouver's evolution into one of the world's most charming multicultural cities.

These days, it's a modern, sophisticated metropolis with a broad range of businesses and services. The film industry thrives, so much so that Vancouver has been dubbed "Hollywood North." And while the city harbors artists of every ilk, Vancouverites are also passionate about the outdoors (free-style mountain biking was born on the precipitous slopes of the North Shore).

The Seawall -- enjoying unofficial National Treasure status -- extends 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) around the downtown peninsula, including Stanley Park. It then wends south along an inlet known peculiarly as False Creek to Granville Island, Vanier Park (with the Vancouver and Maritime Museums) and Kitsilano Beach Park. Walking, cycling, in-line skating or otherwise self-propelling along the seawall is a great way to experience the city (in manageable bites).

Vancouver's downtown peninsula -- from the beach at English Bay through the city center to historic Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown -- is navigable by foot, bus and taxi. Trolleys and hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses are usually at hand, as are yellow and black cabs.

The newly livable downtown -- you'll notice the forests of glossy apartment towers from Coal Harbour in the north to False Creek in the south -- is a huge success. Streetscapes boast trees and green spaces, great lamp-lighting, comfortable benches, interesting public art, and lots of good restaurants, bars, coffee houses, theaters and clubs. City-dwellers are smitten -- and we think you will be too.

--written by Alison Appelbe; updated by Renee Ruggero and Sarah Schlichter

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