Surrounded by snow-capped green mountains, blue waters of inlets and bays, and blessed with abundant rainfall, Vancouver deserves its “beautiful city” moniker. Site of the 2010 Olympic Games, Canada’s third-largest city is a busy port with 227 ship calls bringing 800,000 passengers to this cosmopolitan city each year.
Like many other visitors, my husband Rob and I had previously spent only a few hours in Vancouver pre or post-cruise. This time was different. Following a Princess cruise and before boarding a Rocky Mountaineer train, we had two delightful days to discover Vancouver’s beauty and diversity.
When our Princess cruise ship disembarked at Canada Place at 8 a.m., we immediately took a cab to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Not only was our Gold floor room ready when we arrived, but Diana, a helpful concierge, already had a custom map with attractions marked for us.
What to See and Do in Vancouver
From the Fairmont, we walked to Vancouver Lookout in the Harbour Centre building. On this clear sunny day we could see Coal Harbor, the giant sails on Canada Place ship terminal, Stanley Park and a forest of downtown buildings from the 550-foot tower. www.vancouverlookout.com
Next we walked to bustling Canada Place to experience FlyOver Canada. After a short wait we were strapped into seats for an exhilarating 8-minute 4-dimensional simulated ride over incredibly gorgeous Canada scenery. With our feet dangling in space, the gentle ride seemed real as we glided over massive waterfalls, towering skyscrapers, sprawling vineyards and snow-covered peaks.
Adding to the thrill of flying above the scenery, a gentle mist arose from the waterfalls. Those beautiful scenes evoked memories of previous Canada trips, and I cried happy tears. On a 1to 10 scale, I rate FlyoverCanada a 25. www.FlyOverCanada.com
Our planned third activity was riding the Skyride gondola to Grouse Mountain, a favorite place for locals and tourists to hike, dine or explore attractions in an Alpine setting. Grouse Mountain is very popular on sunny spring weekends. Because the complimentary shuttle bus broke down, we took SeaBus across Burrard Inlet, then a city bus to the Skyride’s base. www.grousemountain.com
On our second day, we boarded a Vancouver Trolley hop on/hop off bus. www.vancouvertrolley.com. In beautiful Stanley Park, we stopped at the Vancouver Aquarium where we studied numerous fish species, watched a 4-D movie about prehistoric sea monsters and lingered at the penguin and beluga whale exhibits. www.vanaqua.org
In the afternoon we visited the rooftop herb garden and bee hives at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. As we looked down at the water, we inhaled the fragrant scent of rosemary, basil, strawberries and other plants. We were surprised to see grapes growing for B.C. wines.
The gentle bees never bothered us as they went about their business of pollinating plants and producing honey. In addition to managing the bee program, Michael King, the hotel’s “Bee Butler” conducts free daily tours of the 2,400-square-foot rooftop garden and honeybee apiary from May through September. www.fairmont.com/waterfront-vancouver
On a previous Vancouver visit we took a ferry and bus from downtown to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park which is a five-minute drive from Grouse Mountain. In this beautiful rain forest, seven swaying suspension bridges at tree top level cross a deep scenic gorge. This family park is great fun for the sure footed, but may be a challenge for those with mobility or balance issues. www.capbridge.com
Other popular Vancouver attractions include Beaty Biodiversity, Vancouver Maritime and Police museums, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, plus numerous other museums, art galleries and gardens.
Visitors can ride a horse-drawn carriage through Stanley Park, rent bicycles or pricey sports cars, take a seaplane ride, tour a brewery, explore the McMillan Space Centre or snap photos at the Stanley Park totem forest.
Shoppers could spend an entire day on Granville Island and grab lunch at the Public Market. Upscale shopping downtown is found at Pacific Centre. Robson Street beckons shoppers with trendy boutiques, as well as book and jewelry stores. Friendly merchants welcome shoppers in malls and dozens of museum and hotel gift shops.
Want more active options? Snorkel with seals on a Sea Dragon charter. Do a Zodiac tour with Sea Vancouver. Try stand-up paddle boarding with Ecomarine. Or walk, jog, cycle or skate on the 28 km Stanley Park seawall.
Besides being a very walkable city, Vancouver has abundant land and water public transit options that make it possible to go from downtown to skiing down a mountain in 30 minutes.
If You Go to Vancouver
Vancouver’s food and beverage scene is as diverse as its population. Options range from familiar fast food outlets in food courts to high-end restaurants with celebrity chefs throughout the greater metro area. Many eateries and watering holes serve B.C. wines
We met friends at the ARC Restaurant in the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, where we enjoyed our best-ever seafood dinner. Attached to Canada Place, this cool hotel harvested 600 pounds of honey produced by 500,000 gentle resident honeybees. The bees forage 26 square miles to produce honey from 26 plant species. The hotel uses the honey in cocktails, desserts, salad dressing and their signature Fairmont ‘Stinger’ Lager.
Where to Stay in Vancouver
Fairmont Hotels operates three downtown Vancouver locations. All three are within walking distance of each other, and each is distinctively different. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver honors its railroad roots; Fairmont Waterfront is connected to Canada Place cruise ship terminal; the Fairmont Pacific Rim is new and edgy. www.Fairmont.com
Our stay on the Gold floor of Fairmont Vancouver Hotel was a joy with a daily deluxe European breakfast, concierge service, daytime snacks, free Wi-Fi and local calls, delicious evening hors’ d’oeuvres and cookies. After a long day sightseeing, the large indoor pool and spa soothed tired feet. The new lobby Notch8 restaurant & bar is an attractive, contemporary place to relax after a busy day. The term “Top notch” is derived from Notch8, the highest speed on a train.
Learn more about Vancouver at www.tourismvancouver.com
Author Bio: A widely published travel writer, Pat Woods enjoys visiting Canada destinations.