‘O, Canada!’ So goes the national anthem, and anyone who has ever visited this captivating country, especially the state of British Columbia. But has anyone told you just how family-friendly it is? Most of the things that make it so great are also reasons why it is a 'must-visit' for families. We chose to visit the West coast British Columbian city of Vancouver.
What to expect? The very best in outdoor living
When visiting Vancouver, expect to meet people with active lifestyles, an array of healthy and delicious foodie fare and wondrous, incomprehensibly beautiful sights that no camera will ever entirely do justice. Also, there aren't many places in the world that you can go for a hike, ski down mountains, and then scoot on down to the beach in the same day.
As a major city, Vancouver is relatively compact. Downtown is fairly contained, surrounded by seashores and with multiple sandy bays to offer entertainment. Almost immediately, we decided that Vancouver had echoes of any large American city, but better. For example, the easy-to-navigate, grid like street systems, the giant food portions, which in Canada consist of sushi, seafood and vegetables, and the (genuinely) friendly nature of strangers.
Where to stay in Vancouver: The Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel
The waterfront is a great place to navigate a family holiday from. The hotel we stayed at, the Fairmont Pacific Rim, is located next to the Convention Centre and Canada Place. Don't be fooled, this may be the business end of the city but there is no industrial estate in sight. Business here means glossy high-rise buildings, a harbour filled with gleaming fleets of glittering yachts, seaplanes taking off and the tourism hub ready to arrange your sightseeing needs. Directly across from the hotel, the Olympic torch sculpture stands proudly in the piazza, adjacent to a towering digital orca sculpture, before reaching the viewing platform. From which you can take in the breathtaking view of Stanley Park and over the sea in-between to North Vancouver. Needless to say, plenty to keep the whole family amused and inspired as you decide what to do first.
We had our first view of the mesmerising harbour scene from some 16 floors up on our first morning in the city. I could recommend arriving at night, since going to bed straight away means sleeping off some of that jet lag. Make the most of the dramatic 'first reveal' in the morning. Ask for a harbour view room, and line the family up on the bed while using the touch controls on the iPad (in every room), and watch their faces light up. Floor to ceiling windows mean you can take it all in.
Breakfast is a big deal in our household, and we were keen to tuck into the feast of a buffet downstairs at the ORU restaurant. Staff are keen to attend to guests’ every need, discussing with us the local dishes on the menu and accommodating any food intolerances. They can also provide colouring activities for children. While the kids don their swimwear and child-sized robes and head to the glam pool deck with one parent, the other might like to take a trip to the hotel’s Willow Stream Spa on the fifth floor: an 8,500 square-foot modern, elegant spa with 9 treatment rooms and a huge patio area with two Jacuzzis. On a warm day it is a real suntrap and the massages are nothing short of blissful: I ended up falling asleep, during mine.
What to do in Vancouver: Get out and about!
The Pacific Rim’s hotel concierge organised tourist passes and mountain bike hire for us, so we could get the sightseeing underway. One of the biggest draws for us to visit Vancouver was to be able to explore the city by bike. The city is set up to be safe for cyclists, thanks to the introduction of cycle lanes nearly everywhere around the grid-like streets, as well as the scenic 22km seawall along the harbour, through Stanley Park and over the Burrard Bridge to Kitsilano.
We easily cycled the one-mile to Stanley Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks covering 1000 acres. You can follow the Seawall, or meander through the park, stopping off to see the stacks of Indian Totem Poles, visit the Aquarium or Children’s Farm. There are also 22 miles of hiking and walking trails throughout the park, which is almost an island of it’s own.
If cycling isn’t for you, there are lots of ways to see the city. Walking is a great way to see all the sights, and the grid street system is simple to navigate. There is also a hop on and off trolley and the hotel is also located nearby the Float Plane, Skytrain and Seabus Terminals. Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown are some of the top areas to explore. We enjoyed the old world charm of Gastown – the oldest neighbourhood in the city, featuring cobblestones and a steam-powered clock.
As well as Downtown, we also stayed with friends in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver, known locally as ‘Kits’. A highlight was our walk along the Seawall at sunset to catch an open air screening of the film Dumb and Dumber in Stanley Park. It was easy and cheap to catch a taxi back for the sake of tired, old and young, legs. Kitsilano has a relaxed, almost hippy, vibe with lots of local shops and extremely good café restaurants that love to welcome families – our favourite brunch spot is Chewies. From the main street it is a short stroll to the beach, and the giant seaside lido. Don’t miss the chance to do some paddleboarding. As well as being fun, and good exercise, it offers unspoiled views of the city, the beaches, the park and the mountains beyond.
Other city attractions:
Granville Island Public Market – read more about this food-lovers dream destination
English Bay – if visiting in August, this is a great place to watch the fireworks competitions
Vij’s – book a table for the best Indian curry meal in Vancouver
We stayed at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver which offers a Family Affair Package (50% off second room)
Book two luxurious rooms or suites and the second room is 50% off. Available all year round but is subject to availability. Rates from $349CAD per night for the first room ($174.50CAD per night for the second room) – based on a Fairmont City View Room, double occupancy. No charge for children under 18 years old who share the room with an adult. Excludes tax and gratuity.