Vancouver Travel Guide
When the morning mist clears, the sun hits the glass skyscrapers of the Vancouver skyline making the city shine like a kaleidoscope. The glare is softened only by the monstrosity of the North Shore Mountains dwarfing the city and lulling its active residents for morning trail runs through ancient forests. Then, the city begins to buzz as the tankers come into Canada’s biggest port and its diverse communities begin their days preparing the kitchens of Canada’s best food scene and opening the gallery doors of an effervescent art scene. As Canada’s most sought-after city, many dream of making Vancouver home and their international tourism flourishes year round.
The best hotels in Vancouver
When it comes to hotels, we typically prefer to recommend a variety of brands, but in Vancouver, if you’re not staying at one of the four Fairmont properties, you’re probably doing it wrong. Fairmont has become synonymous with luxury and in Vancouver; visitors have four very different options to choose from, starting at the airport. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport is best experienced on arrival or departure, which can help with adjustment (depending on where one is flying in from) or makes sense for those early morning departures. Conveniently located inside the US departures terminal, the soundproofed luxury hotel and spa was recently voted #1 airport hotel in North America for the fourth year in a row. Rooms come with views of an active airport, so AV geeks will literally rejoice as they watch jets come and go, right from their bed. The Jetside Bar also provides a viewing gallery of sorts in addition to exquisite cocktails and tapas.
Within Vancouver city limits, the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel is located on the harbour front, which embraces a sustainable philosophy, with a “5Green Key” ranking by Green Key Global due to many of their initiatives including their rooftop pollinator hotel for honey bees, as well as their use of their own herb garden. Rooms here recently were renovated, and the views of Burrard Inlet and the coastal mountains from the property are breath-taking. The Castle in the City, also known as the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is a historic property that reflects the timeless luxury and history of the city. Situated in the heart of downtown, it’s located minutes from some of Vancouver’s biggest attractions. Inside the hotel lobby, high-fashion retail is available, including Gucci and Chanel. The brunch at Notch8 Restaurant & Bar is worth the entry fee but come with an empty stomach, as the tempting options are not limited.
The newest member of the Vancouver Fairmont collection is the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, which is a very different look and feel from the others. The sophisticated and contemporary features of the design and architecture will impress even the most finicky of hotel design connoisseurs. The suites here are designed for the elite traveller, including their new collection of Owner’s Suites, which incorporates elements of fashion, art and music. The Fairmont Gold lounge at this property is one for the record books and a must if staying here.
We understand that sometimes the smaller boutiques are the way to go; therefore we will include our favourites. The Loden Hotel is a 77-room luxury boutique with a modern feel and popular French bistro. Moda Hotel is in the upper-middle range of boutiques and is more reasonably priced, located near Robson Square. And the St. Regis Hotel (unaffiliated with the luxury brand) is another mid-range boutique in downtown with quaint yet modern rooms that come with free breakfast
You cannot avoid the outdoors in Vancouver
Things to do in Vancouver
You cannot avoid the outdoors in Vancouver. They have been woven into the city’s culture. Start a morning with a hike up Grouse Mountain (only fifteen minutes from downtown) and choose your difficulty. While a variety of more pleasant trails exist, as well as a gondola, the “Grouse Grind” trail is a local favourite, which ascends 2,800 feet in just under two miles giving it its nickname- “the natural Stairmaster.” Once at the top, have a coffee at the lodge, check out the wildlife refuge (full of grizzlies and barn owls), and in winter, ski or snowboard the small resort, day or night.
Of course, serious shredders already know that Whistler Blackcomb, voted the best ski resort (in the world), lies two hours North of the city and makes an excellent add-on trip in summer or winter while visiting Vancouver.
Another local favourite is an afternoon in Stanley Park where a multitude of hiking trails exist within the dense evergreen forests of the park. The park is a preserved jewel next to the urban city centre and allows for a quick escape from city life. Make the most of it by renting a bike for a self-guided jaunt around the 5.5-mile Seawall path, which circumnavigates the entire thousand acre park. Make sure to bring enough water and to pack a picnic for a stop (or perhaps you fancy a swim?) at Jericho or Locarno beaches. The cold water is a refreshing reward.
Looking to take advantage of the city blessed by a stunning coastline? Book a cultural, guided tour of the park by a first nations guide. Book with Talaysay Tours who outfit you with sea kayaks for half day tours on the Sunshine Coast. Look out for salmon, sea lions, and perhaps, a porpoise or two.
What to see in Vancouver
Vancouver’s long native history stretches back more than 8,000 years. The city, now more than ever in its modern history, is celebrating its first nation natives. The Museum of Anthropology greets visitors with a stand of totems by the modern industrial entrance. Inside, the works and cultures of the First Nations are spotlighted and complemented by rare artefacts from a plethora of other global cultures. For closer looks at historic and modern native art, Hill’s Native Art Gallery and the Reid Gallery display some of the best artists in British Columbia, if not all of Canada.
Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest in Western Canada and displays a wide variety of art from historic to modern in a variety of mediums. The museum is always rotating exhibitions from internationally recognized artists like Murakami and Kin-Wah.
Spend an afternoon getting lost in the Vandusen Botanical Garden’s Elizabethan maze composed of over 3,000 pyramidal cedar trees. After, stroll the Stone Garden modelled after Japanese zen gardens or tour the Korean Pavilion. Looking for a more exciting spectacle? Venture to the Capilano Suspension Bridge to walk among the tops of 300-year-old Douglas Fir trees or cross the gorge chasm by way of a precarious looking (but soundly safe) bridge.
Asian venues dominate the city from Filipino delights to authentic Indian and Chinese staples
Where to eat in Vancouver
As a city that prides itself on its diverse immigrant cultures, Vancouver brings world cuisine to Canada’s stunning west coast. Asian venues dominate the city from Filipino delights to authentic Indian and Chinese staples. Always, the city leads with its west coast sister cities’ farm fresh and healthy fair—it’s natural environment and outdoor lifestyles a constant reminder for sustainability.
Miku may be one of the city’s most popular sushi restaurants, specialising in Aburi sushi. An extensive sake list keeps guests warm as they look out the floor to ceiling windows at the harbour. Take advantage of more of the city’s seafood specialities at Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar, which prides itself on being “Fresh. Local. Inspired.” Seasonal tasting menus are creative and ever-changing, but regulars stick to their favourite seafood tower, which can be ordered for two or four.
For quicker, less formal bites, Dinesty Dumpling House serves some of the city’s best Taiwanese specialities. Their soup dumplings never disappoint. The Ramenman also delivers a quick but satisfying meal. The restaurant is packed all day with a line out the door, get in line before you get hungry smelling the chicken broth wafting from the kitchen.
Vegetarians will find thoughtfully presented, delicious, and filling meals at The Acorn in the main street neighbourhood. Who can say no to beer battered halloumi and memorable takes on classic vegetable appetizers? Inside the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, Botanist offers one of the city’s best dining atmospheres with a lounge, an outdoor terrace, a craft bar, and an extravagant dining space. From the pastry chef’s bread, the sommelier’s extensive list, and the chef’s local ingredients, everything is top notch. This is a beautiful experience not to be missed.
Shopping in Vancouver
The city by the sea is home to the headquarters of major active brands Arc’teryx and lululemon athletica. Both contain flagships stores Downtown and are worth a stop if you forgot any athletic wear for your Pacific Northwest outdoor adventures, or, to replace your raincoat that doesn’t seem to be keeping you dry on a rainy day.
Brooklyn Clothing Co. in Gastown is one of the best and most extensive men’s stores holding over a thousand pairs of jeans from top companies like Naked and Famous as well as G-Star. The store also carries Canada’s favourite luxury coat brand, Canada Goose, perfect for a chilly add-on trip to Whistler or Banff.
Immerse yourself in the pages of Dwell Magazine at Old Faithful Shop in Downtown. The clean lines of Scandinavian design are complemented by a garden of greens potted in gorgeous ceramics. Most customers spend a full hour daydreaming and finding ways to ship the store’s incredible interiors to their own home.
Vancouver’s best nightlife is concentrated into three areas: Yaletown, Gastown, and the Granville Entertainment District. Each has their own unique flavour. Think Hollywood for Yaletown, craft cocktails for Gastown, and clubbing for Granville.
Start with beers from a microbrewery 33 Acres Brewing Co., the most elegant of the myriad establishments the city hosts. Start your tab with the 33 Acres of Nirvana for a hoppy kick to lull you into the possibilities of the evening ahead. For phase two, venture over to Gastown to sip from Diamond Bar’s speciality crafted cocktails broken into categories: Boozy, Refreshing, Delicate, Proper, and Notorious. The place begins to bop as the night pushes on.
When it comes time for dancing, Celebrities offers the biggest space to experience the sounds of international DJs. Originally founded as a gay club, the venue now caters to a mixed crowd with a penchant for the best dance music in the city. When most clubs close at 3 am, catch your second wind at Gorg-O-Mish afterhours playing long house, and techno sets far past sunrise.
Exclusive Mr Hudson offers
The Diamond | Photo: Luis Valdizon
Old Faithful Shop
Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar | Photo: Leila Kwok
33 Acres Brewing Co.
Botanist | Photo: Luis Valdizon
The Acorn | Photo: Shira Blustein