Bristol Business News Travel – 72:00 hours in Vancouver

September 17, 2019

Nestling between mountains and the Pacific Ocean on Canada’s west coast and with breath-taking scenery, Vancouver is often said to be one of the world’s most liveable cities. Bristol Business News travel editor ANNE GORRINGE went on the tourist trail to explore its beaches in the morning, hike in the mountains in the afternoon and still be back in the city in time to take in a chic cocktail bar at sunset. 

CITY FACTS: Vancouver is famous for its impressive film industry, growing street food scene, laid-back vibe and historic links with the UK – which make it a welcoming place for British travellers. It is also where Greenpeace was founded and has ambitions to become the greenest city on the planet by next year. Recycling and the trend for buying local food is taken seriously here. So, despite its location just 30 miles north of the US border, Vancouverites appear to have more in common with Bristolians than they do with their American neighbours.

ARRIVING: An impressive rail link from the international airport called the SkyTrain whisks travellers directly into the city. Trains run every 12 minutes during the day and it’s an easy 30-minute journey direct to the harbourside’s Waterfront Station. Tickets cost C$8.75 (around £5) one-way. That’s a quarter of the price of a taxi, and probably quicker too. Uber doesn’t operate in Vancouver – only official, marked cabs.

GETTING AROUND: The city centre is compact and easy to get around for visitors – as well as its 631,000 inhabitants. There’s plenty to see and do. Sports, culture and an outdoor lifestyle are key to city living and bike hire shops are easy to find, making cycling a great way to explore. Public transport is good for tourists too. Buses heading north of the city, either up to the local Grouse Mountain or further afield to Whistler, are plentiful. However, as the greater Metropolitan Vancouver area is home to 2.5m people (most with a reliance on cars outside the city limits) this means that rush hours bring bottlenecks on the bridges going north of the city centre. To avoid these tailbacks, just plan your journey times accordingly.

LOCATION, LOCATION: If you want to be able to step out of your door to enjoy great views and be able to walk to most of the top tourist attractions, it’s definitely worth booking into one of the hotels on the harbourside.

The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel with the sail-like roof of Canada place behind it. All photos copyright Anne Gorringe

This is where you’ll find the float plane terminal for trips to Vancouver Island, Whistler and over the US border to Seattle – plus one of the most recognisable buildings on the waterfront, Canada Place. You can spot it by its iconic roof, created from five huge white sails. Right next to Waterfront Station, it is the terminal for all visiting cruise ships and a national landmark. Opened as the Canadian Pavilion for Expo ‘86, it now houses its own first-class hotel, convention centre and exhibition areas.

STAYING IN: I stayed in The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, within yards of both the city’s main tourist information office and Waterfront ‘metro’ Station. Ocean view rooms have magical vistas of the harbour and the hotel wins top marks for its sustainability programme, which includes free use of its bikes. The outdoor roof-top pool is a great place to relax and get over jetlag as you watch the float planes fly past. There’s also a roof garden, complete with beehives that provide honey for the hotel restaurant. Top tip: Sign up for the Fairmont’s complimentary loyalty program in advance of your stay. Benefits start with express check-in at a private reception desk and include complimentary high-speed internet access, free local calls and more. The hotel has a business centre on the second floor and is also just over the road from Vancouver’s major conference centre.

TAKE A WALK:  From Waterfront Station a 10-minute walk takes you to the trendy bars of Gastown (where the city first began).

The café at Vancouver Art Gallery

Walk in the other direction along the harbourside for the same time and you’ll reach the edge of Stanley Park. Head inland up Howe Street for the main shopping streets and Vancouver Art Gallery.  

OR CYCLE: Stanley Park is one of North America’s largest urban parks, covering 1,000 acres. It includes an aquarium, 22 miles of walking trails, cycle paths and totem poles carved by the local Coast Salish First Nation people. The trees of Stanley Park, a natural temperate rainforest wrapped around the end of the harbour, are framed by the stunning backdrop of the coastal mountains. Hire a bike to cycle round to the beaches of English Bay or 1st and 2nd Beach. The route from Canada Place along the harbour to Stanley Park is flat, easy and ideal for beginners who want to keep off the roads, while the park itself has a one-way system with paths divided into sections for pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders, pictured below.

CHECK OUT THE BEACHES: English Bay beach faces west and is a great place to watch the sunset. It’s also host to a number of popular public summer events including the largest offshore fireworks display in the world, the Celebration of Light Festival, each July. Kitsilano Beach is where swimsuit-clad volleyball players do their best to out-do each other in summer. You’ll also find an Olympic-size outdoor pool here. ‘Kits’ was the hippy area of Vancouver and is still very laid-back, though a more sought-after address today.

GO SHOPPING: In the city, you’ll find local brands Lululemon, Arc’teryx and Herschel – all of which have achieved global acclaim. But once you’ve visited the department stores in the city centre, jump on board the pretty multi-coloured Aquabus boat link at the jetty at the end of Hornby Street. The four-minute journey across the water at False Creek will take you to Granville Island. Despite its name, it is actually a peninsular which was once home to heavy industry. It’s now known for an impressive indoor market selling local maple syrup, cheeses and candied salmon plus a selection of interesting boutiques and art shops.

HAVE A BEER: Vancouver’s craft brewing scene has exploded in recent years and, while there are several microbreweries in the city, the first was Granville Island Brewery on Cartwright Street.

The Aquabus to Granville Island 

It’s won a host of awards since opening in 1984 and offers a ‘tap room tour’, finishing with a choice of three 4oz beer samples at the bar, ranging from Maple Cream Ale to Honey lager.

DISCOVER GASTOWN: Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood and where John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton – a seaman – opened the first saloon here in 1867. You’ll know when you get here as you’ll spot the quaint steam clock on the pavement on the main drag. This steampunk contraption is powered by underground heating vents and is a Gastown tourist attraction. Shoppers flock to the high-end Herschel store, selling retro backpacks.

GO ON SAFARI: Take to the water for a high-speed, two-hour sea safari from Horseshoe Bay. You might even get to spot a whale! Guides from Sewells Marina collect their passengers direct from their city centre hotel. Then it’s a 25-minute drive to their base in West Vancouver where their tour, out onto the waters of Howe Sound, begins. Look out for rocks full of basking seals and birds ranging from cormorants to oyster catchers. Spring and autumn are the best times to see whales and dolphins here. On the journey back into harbour, around Bowen Island, look out for Vancouver’s picturesque lighthouse. Our guide also pointed out a pair of bald eagles circling near the multi-million dollar houses on the cliffs of Lions Bay, plus the unusual Arbutus trees, recognised by their bright orange bark. Sewells’ high-speed two-hour sea safari costs C$87.15 per person (£50) with reductions for children.

MEET THE BEARS: Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouver, offers spectacular scenery and a few runs for skiers in winter. In summer, a free shuttle bus leaves from the harbourfront at Canada Place and takes 30 minutes, dropping passengers in the car park at the entrance to the Skyride cable car.

Bright orange ‘flotation suits’ keep you warm on the water 

This is North America’s largest aerial tramway system and the easy way up to the top of the mountain.  Around 1.2m visitors come to Grouse Mountain every year and on the eight-minute trip to the top travellers get great views over Vancouver and south, across the US border as far as Mount Baker. Attractions include a family-friendly lumberjack show, paragliding in summer, zip-wire ride and the chance to see grizzly bears (safely at home in their own paddock). A return ticket on the gondola costs C$41.95 per person (£24).

HAVE A COCKTAIL: After a morning cycling to the beaches around Stanley Park and an afternoon walking around Grouse Mountain, you’ve earned yourself a pre-dinner cocktail. The Botanist bar in another of the harbourside hotels, the Pacific Rim, is worth checking out. Tom Cruise fans may be interested to know that the street outside the hotel doubled as India in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Cruise was seen leaping over cars here in an exciting chase scene in ‘Mumbai’. Palm trees and Indian street signs helped magically transformed this Canada Place area.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: Vancouver attracts film makers, drawn by its dazzling Pacific Ocean location and beach-front views. The variety of the scenery nearby makes British Columbia an easy stand-in for other locations worldwide, plus there are state-of-the-art facilities at the Canadian Motion Picture Park studio in nearby Burnaby. Californian crews even dubbed Vancouver “Hollywood North”, back in 2000 when more than 200 films and TV shows were produced here in one year alone.

FLY TO WHISTLER: Whistler is famous for its skiing and, even in July, snowboarders and skiers take the cable car to the top to enjoy the snow on the peak of the mountain.

Snowboarders make the most of a grey summer day in Whistler 

Below the snowline, it is a playground for mountain bikers and walkers in summer. By coach, it’s a two-hour drive north of Vancouver. Catch a float plane with Harbour Air direct from the harbourside to the top of the mountain. Various ticket prices and special offers are available. My standard ticket, bought the day before, cost C$201 one way (£115). The float planes land on the lake at Whistler Golf Course.

DON’T MISS: Back in Vancouver, if you have time to spare, it’s worth taking the locals’ tip and head out for dinner at the restaurant in the Elizabeth Park (or, even just a beer at the bar at twilight). You’ll be rewarded by the very best view of the ocean, with the mountains rising up behind, from this spot at the top of the park. Simply stunning. Taxis are usually easy to find for the journey back.

KAYAK AT SUNSET: If you’re keen to take to the water, Ecomarine Paddlesports Centres operates year-round kayak tours and offering SUP boarding from both English Bay and Jericho Beach, pictured below.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS: A number of airlines fly direct from the UK into Vancouver, including Air Transat – sold in the UK through Canadian Affair and flying from London Heathrow and Gatwick airports, plus Manchester and Glasgow. Heathrow is the base for Virgin Atlantic flights  also Air Canada and BA

LEAVING VANCOUVER: If you’ve got an early morning flight back but want to maximise your time in Vancouver, one option is to spend your last night staying at a hotel right in the very heart of Vancouver’s International airport. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel is a three-minute stroll to the luggage carousels and your flight home. Check into your room in the afternoon, dump your luggage and then simply head back into the city on the Skytrain for a final night out. In the morning, it couldn’t be simpler to get straight up and check in.

DON’T FORGET: All British visitors arriving by air in Canada need an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) costing C$7 (£4).  It’s valid for five years and can be bought online at

MORE INFO: Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre tel: 001 604-682-2222

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