Worth a Trip: Vancouver's Summer Fair

Some of Vancouver's summer events and festivities have been around for several decades, but only one is still going strong after more than a century. Started in 1912, the Pacific National Exhibition – known simply as the PNE by locals – is held just a few blocks from the northern end of Commercial Drive (hop the Hastings St bus 14 for faster access) and it's an August tradition for generations of Vancouverites. Starting life as an agricultural fair and community festival, the PNE has done a good job of updating itself over the years. It continues to be a popular, family-friendly day out, and a great way for visitors to rub shoulders with locals; it's hard to imagine an event that caters so well to such a diverse range of interests.

Plan ahead for a successful visit: check the website to see which entertainment you'd like to catch, then arrive as close to opening time as you can in the morning. This helps beat the crowds but also gives you the chance to see as much as possible. The parkland site is crammed with exhibition halls and arenas; take time to check out the market halls lined with vendors selling 'miracle' made-for-TV products. Then head to the livestock barns: the PNE is an important agricultural show for regional farmers, and the barns are lined for the duration with prize horses, cows, goats and sheep. To keep things lively, there are also piglet races that get the crowds roaring. There are horse shows in the domed stadium, which also give a you a chance to take a seat and plot the rest of your day using the printed program.

Included with your admission (typically around $17 but cheaper if bought via the PNE website) is a wide array of performances running all day. In recent years, these have included Chinese acrobats, motorcycle stunts and – the star attraction – the SuperDogs show. These talented mutts perform races and stunts for hollering crowds in what has become a PNE tradition. But they're not the only ones showing off: there's live music on alfresco stages throughout the day, especially in the evening, with nostalgic acts such as Foreigner and Culture Club adding to the party atmosphere in recent years.

Not everyone wants to stick around and watch their parents dance, though, and there are other attractions. The Playland fairground offers more than 50 rides, from dodgems to horror houses, but the top lure for thrill-seekers is the 1950s-built wooden rollercoaster. Coaster aficionados from across North America frequently eulogize this scream-triggering boneshaker, which reaches speeds of up to 75 km an hour. It's usually a good idea to go on it before indulging in the final big attraction.

This is the one time of year when Vancouverites forget about their yoga-and-rice-cakes regimen, happily loosening their pants and stuffing themselves silly. The midway here is jam-packed with treats from giant barbecued turkey legs to two-foot-long hotdogs. Deep-fried everything is also a recent trend (from Oreo cookies to ice-cream) while just about everyone will be sticking their hands into warm paper bags of mini doughnuts at some point during the day.

Don't spend all your money on food, though, because you'll need some for the big lottery. Take a walk through the show home, then enter the draw; you might win a brand new house, furnishings included. Try fitting that in your suitcase.