We’ve been east and we’ve been south, but until now my husband and I had never traveled to western Canada. (Yes, I realize I left out a cardinal direction, but unless I get invited to Santa’s actual workshop that one isn’t high on my list.)
A few months ago, we decided that to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary (and combine business and pleasure with a travel story), we would cash in our Aeroplan points and head to beautiful British Columbia – more specifically the city of Vancouver.
Today I offer you the highlights of our four day trip, and top suggestions for what to see and what to do in Vancouver.
First off, I love technology. Online check-in and digital boarding pass? Yes, please!
If you fly to Vancouver, consider taking the Canada Line train (leaving every 7 minutes) from the airport to Vancouver City Centre (or whatever stop you might need). It was $9 each to get us downtown, and we ended up just blocks from our hotel. As we trekked the short distance with our wheeled suitcases, my husband turned and joked, “Do you think anyone can tell we’re tourists?”
Once you’re in Vancouver (click on subtitles to take you to websites):
CENTURY PLAZA HOTEL AND SPA
Out hotel was perfectly located on Burrard Street. We walked almost everywhere, and had shuttle buses right at the door. They were kind enough to accommodate our early check-in, and our room had a great kitchenette with a coffee maker, toaster, microwave, kettle and fridge – which made it easy to have a couple of grocery store meals (there’s a fantastic IGA down the street) and one of reheated restaurant leftovers! The on-site spa is another great perk – more on that later! The only thing that could make the hotel even better would be a hot tub along with the pool.
HOP-ON, HOP-OFF FROM WESTCOAST SIGHTSEEING*
This bus tour gives you a wonderful overview of the city highlights, and the guides are very informative (e.g., did you know the Lululemon owner has a 63 million dollar home – the most expensive in Vancouver?) Your pass is good for 24 hours, and really hits all the city highlights: Chinatown, Gastown, Granville Island, Stanley Park, Robson Street, Canada Place…the list goes on!
My massage was “absolutely” amazing, with incredible service throughout the spa. The change rooms were beautiful, there was a relaxation area for pre- and post-treatment, and even a mini cafeteria for free snacks after the service. Absolute Spa has several locations throughout the city, and you know, if it’s good enough for Emily Blunt (who commented, “Best spa day ever!”,) Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and Elle MacPherson then I think it’s good enough for me.
P.S. While I can’t speak for other extended health coverage, my plan covers treatments (e.g., massage from a Registered Massage Therapist) provided in other provinces.
STANLEY PARK HORSE-DRAWN TOURS*
When you take any sort of tour, the guide makes a big difference, and the young man who toured us around Stanley Park was terrific – knowledgeable and funny. Interesting Hollywood North note: the horses for the hit show Once Upon a Time are the Stanley Park horses – and we got a little glimpse of Prince Charming’s carriage too. (If you’re an entertainment junkie like me and want to try to see a movie or show being shot while you’re in the city, check out http://www.whatsfilming.ca/.)
If you go to Vancouver with kids, or you have a particular interest in aquatic wildlife, you can’t miss a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium (located in Stanley Park). I texted the photo below to my girls (who were back in Ontario with their grandparents) and said “We found Nemo!” My eight-year-old was quick to send back a cropped copy of the shot with the caption, “I found Dory!”
I also texted my Pittsburgh-fan brother a photo of the penguins…in the park that’s named after Lord Stanley…just like the coveted cup. Deep, I know.
CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE*
With a free shuttle right at our hotel door, how could we miss out on this huge tourist attraction? We were advised to go early or late to avoid crowds, so we were on the bus at the earliest pick-up time of 9 a.m. The morning was actually a bit misty and drizzly, which also helped with the crowds – we didn’t have to wait in any lines at all. Not for the faint-of-heights, the park offers breathtaking experiences like the Cliff Walk, and of course the famous Suspension Bridge (both shown below). My husband says this would be one of his biggest highlights of the trip.
HISTORICAL CHINATOWN TOURS*
Not a regular tourist’s view of Chinatown, Chinatown Girl Judy Lam Maxwell takes visitors behind closed doors, up staircases and into alleys to get an insider’s experience of Chinatown. She offers a thorough historical view and tons of informative tidbits plus customized tours. Ours ended with an interesting behind-the-scenes visit to 94-year-old Bill Wong at Modernize Tailors. Don’t just wander Chinatown yourself when you can have Judy as your guide.
VANCOUVER HARBOUR CRUISE*
I love getting out on the water, especially for a view of a new city (which may surprise people, since I’m not exactly the most outdoorsy girl). This tour was both fun and educational, and next time I would consider splurging for one of their dining cruises (the Sunset Dinner one looks great), in order to be out on the water longer and enhance the experience even more.
VANCOUVER ART GALLERY*
While I certainly can’t pretend to be a big art connoisseur, I may never again get a chance to see so much of Picasso’s work all in one place, so we made time for a trip to the Art Gallery. I learned a lot about Picasso and enjoyed a quick walk through the other exhibits as well.
This is definitely a “hop off the bus and wander” kind of destination. Cobblestone streets, unique shopping (as well as typical souvenir fare) and so many patios that you’ll have a hard time deciding where to stop to eat or drink. Why choose one place? Lunch at one, drinks at another, dinner at a third!
ADELE LIVE 2016
Not that this is helpful to future Vancouver visitors, but one of our trip highlights for sure was seeing Adele live in concert. (I got last-minute tickets through StubHub). The woman is entertaining, funny, beautiful and what a voice!
And now, for the food!
THE WINKING JUDGE PUB
Just a block from our hotel, we had super friendly service (I’m happy to be called “hon” by waitstaff), large portions (I saved half my meal for later) plus it’s always nice to get a bit of an Irish feel in every city we visit.
CACTUS CLUB CAFE AT COAL HARBOUR
Recommended by more than one of my Facebook followers, this restaurant – located at Canada Place – has incredible views…and even the bathrooms were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I recommend Rob’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich – it has a nice little kick to it!
JOE’S GRILL (on Denman St., near our hotel) and DEACON’S CORNER (Gastown area) for those who like a delicious, filling, inexpensive diner breakfast.
The Triple Chocolate Threat is hands-down the best donut I’ve ever eaten.
BLUE WATER CAFE
This is where we had the meal of our lives. I had asked Vancouverite Lainey Lui (who I know from my work with The Social) to recommend a favourite restaurant and this was her suggestion. I let them know it was our 15th anniversary celebration and from the moment we walked in we were treated with care. Price-wise this is definitely a special occasion restaurant (and while I saw some kids there, I wouldn’t take my girls until they’re older) but wow. Every course (including our after-dinner sorbet shown below) was delicious (“Have I mentioned how amazing this is?” my husband kept asking me) with a great atmosphere and convenient Yaletown location. This is the place for real seafood, though in a “you-can-take-the-girl-out-of-the-country-but…” kind of move, I ordered the beef tenderloin, which was incredible. Dessert? Of course! I indulged in the Warm Dark Chocolate Cake (come on, doesn’t just reading the name make your mouth water?) and I was not disappointed.
A final note: as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge outdoorswoman, though I enjoyed spending four days of beautiful weather walking all over the city. Keep in mind though that there’s so much more to see and do for nature lovers – including well-marked bike paths on city streets and trails. Be sure to visit Tourism Vancouver for a comprehensive guide to everything the city has to offer.
As always, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions (leave a comment, email me or message through social media) and please feel free to leave your own Vancouver recos that we may not have had time for!
Disclosure: I was provided with a media Experience Pass through Tourism Vancouver, and received free admission to several attractions. Opinions are, as always, my own.