Over the past few months on AU Abroad, we’ve been taking you in and out of the West Coast Canadian city of Vancouver, from a look at the Airport’s incredible Fairmont Hotel, to reviewing our flight from Vancouver Airport back to Sydney with Air Canada. We filled you in on the airline’s expansion to Brisbane, and have reported on their sales to get you into the US via Vancouver.
As much as Vancouver is a city very well worth your time and attention as any other – I spent half a year living there in my University days and know its excellence first hand – Vancouver is becoming an important hub city in its own right, and like Singapore or Hong Kong, there is plenty you can do if you have 24 hours to kill during a stop over. Last Summer, on my way back from Canada and the US, I did just that and with those experiences bring you my tips to perfect the stop over in Vancouver this Summer.
Stay at the Airport
There’s nothing worse than having to lug your bags around, to and from an airport, when you’re not spending long in a city. Luckily, the Fairmont Hotel at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is one of the city’s best hotels, and sits inside the terminal. This means you can drop your bags off in your room before venturing out into the city; leaving your bags with the concierge the next day to do the same.
Getting into the city from the Airport couldn’t be easier. Without having any bags to lug around, and with no Ubers yet available in the city (#BC4UBER), jump on the “Canada Line” Sky Train to the city centre. And with Air Canada’s direct service to Sydney running close to Midnight (11.20pm at the time we flew out), this gives you the full day to enjoy the city of Vancouver – which, if you have a good 24 hours there, actually gives you two solid nights in the city.
The Canada Line launched just in time for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and is a gamechanger for travel to and from the airport. It runs every 6 minutes for about 20 hours of the day, from 5am to 1am, and the trip to the city will cost you $9, including a $5 Airport Charge, depending on your destination (fares a zone based, with up to three zones in Vancouver). You’ll only pay $4 to get yourself back, and you can use your ticket to connect to another train so long as your destination remains within the two zones.
It was a comfortable ride, and mobile phone signal worked through most of the train ride (I’m with Fido when in Canada), even when it was underground, which was the majority of the short 20-25 minute trip. Though this is still a cash system, “Compass” transit cards are being rolled out, much like Oyster in London or the recently introduced Opal in Sydney.
A morning stroll in Stanley Park
One stop before Canada Line’s terminus is Vancouver City Centre, which is the best point for shopping and easy transit to buses to Stanley Park, where you can rent bikes and explore the stunning waterfront scenery and wildlife. It’s a stunning way to start the day, and a favourite spot for Vancouverites and tourists alike, especially in the Summer months. Give yourself a good 90 minutes in the morning to enjoy the Park and surrounds.
FlyOver at Canada Place
After you finish at Stanley Park, head back into the city towards Canada Place, which is a few minutes walk from Waterfront – the terminus station of the Canada Line. From there, you can get free shuttles to two of the city’s most popular destinations: Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but before you jump on the bus, you can experience the acclaimed attraction FlyOver Canada.
Walk the “Canadian Trail” along Canada Place to get to the attraction, and keep your eye on the ground, which is spotted with names of the most populated cities in every Territory and Provence in Canada. Introduced for the 2010 Olympics, the FlyOver Canada attraction has become one of the cities most popular. It was produced by the team who brought us the Soarin’ Over California experience at Disney’s California Adventure, and sees you experience the sensation of hang gliding over the Country as you smell the pine of the Pacific forests, feel the mist of the Niagara and the wind on your face as your feel hang over a massive screen.
The attraction starts off with a 180 degree video, keeping us on land for about 5 minutes in an initial room, then we see a safety video in the loading room. The total experience takes about 25 minutes and will cost you around $20. If this is literally your only day in Canada and Vancouver is a stop over to another country, it’s a fantastic way to “see” the entire country in under half an hour. It’s a spectacular experience for young and old. But the young will probably find it even more amazing; “Mum, is this real?”, said a 6 year old girl seated near me, as we sailed over trees with the smell of the pine sprayed into the air alongside the faux wind that helped to simulate the experience of flying. A must do during any visit to the city.
Head to Grouse Mountain
There are free buses to Grouse Mountain running every half an hour during peak seasons (Summer/Winter) out the front of Canada Place. From here you can also jump on a shuttle to Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is about five minutes away from the mountain. If you left early enough you could do both, though if you have to choose, Grouse Mountain is the definite choice, and you definitely want to get as much time there as possible. If you miss the bus to the Mountain – and especially if you miss the bus in a time of year it only arrives hourly – there are plenty of other options through Vancouver’s excellent and affordable public transport system. Keep in mind, too, that your ticket from YVR will be valid for travel across two zones on bus and trains for 90 minutes.
The drive to the mountain took about 25 minutes at midday, but give yourself a bit more time if leaving at a peak hour. Once you get there, the trip to the top of the mountain via an incredible cable car ride to “The Peak of Vancouver” takes only 4 minutes. When you’re up there, you have a myriad of things you can do in the Summer months – during Winter, this is covered in thick layers of snow, covering much of what you’re able to explore in the warmer climate, as the area lends itself more towards winter sport activities.
Some activities are an optional extra: you can go ziplining, paragliding or you can take a helicopter tour. Other activities are included with the price of every admission. There are bird watching tours, lumberjack shows, films, and you can watch the Birds in Motion show, which happens at set times during the day – don’t worry, you’ll get a timetable as soon as you enter the park.
During the Birds in Motion show, we got to see Raptors in action, a Bald Eagle soar around the park, meet a Turkey vulture alongside an Owl and a Falcon. All the while taking in this incredible view. And nearby are two beautiful Grizzly Bears, who live permanently in an enclosure on the mountain. There is even an option to have “Breakfast with the Bears”, but we obviously didn’t make it up early enough to do that.
Another optional extra is one of the mountain’s newer attractions, incredible 360 degree views from “The Eye of the Wind”, which sends you up into “the world’s first and only wind turbine that allows you to stand in a clear glass viewPOD at the top of the tower, three metres from its massive, rotating blades.” The glass pod is covered in facts about the blades and the electricity generated from the turbine, which sites on a higher point of the Mountain. You have to get in a ski lift to get up there, which is an enjoyable ride in itself.
Once you finish up with your day on the Mountain, you can head back down and jump on the shuttle back to the city. You’ll likely be in peak travel by this point, so give yourself extra time to get back to Canada Place. The shuttle also offers to take you to the Suspension Bridge en route, which is open until 9pm. The bridge is quite magnificent – sitting 140 metres long, 70 metres above the river. If you’ve got enough time before your flight, definitely spend some time hanging above the trees.
End your day with a meal on Granville Island or Yaletown
Alternatively, no trip to Vancouver is complete without a trip to Granville Island, with a public market open until 7pm, retail boutiques open until 6pm, and restaurants and bars open well into the evening. The Keg Steakhouse + Bar is a popular spot, and if you can make it to Siegel’s Bagels before they close at 7pm we definitely recommend grabbing a bagel from this Vancouver mainstay.
If you end up with enough time to head into the city across both nights, we’d also recommend exploring Yaletown, which has a superb selection of restaurants and bars, on the other side of False Creek in Downtown Vancouver. The Flying Pig is a personal favourite, and we’d also recommend the Blue Water Cafe and the Yaletown Brewing Company.
Not for you? Looking for something completely different?
Don’t want a day of Vancouver’s natural (and digitally simulated) Splendour? The Fair at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) is happening from August 20 through September 5, 2016. Artists such as Culture Club, The Steve Miller Band, and Canada’s own Simple Plan will be playing as part of the Fair, which sits alongside the Playland Amusement Park, which is a fun way to pass away the afternoon, especially for a family looking for a few thrills – they have some very old roller coasters there and Summer is definitely the best time to enjoy it – though it remains open through Halloween.
And that’s a wrap…
It’s quite remarkable just how much you can get done in a day here in Vancouver. And when you’re finished, just jump on the train back to the Hotel, pick up your bag and get ready for one of the world’s longest flights – with Air Canada flying you home nightly, direct from Vancouver to either Brisbane or Sydney.
For more details about the attractions mentioned, head to their official websites:
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver Airport: fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond/
FlyOver Canada: flyovercanada.com
Grouse Mountain: grousemountain.com
Granville Island: granvilleisland.com
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park: capbridge.com
The Fair at the PNE: pne.ca/thefair
The author visited Vancouver as a guest of Vancouver Tourism and Destination Canada, and spent a night at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver Airport courtesy of the hotel. Grouse Mountain was kind enough to host us for the afternoon. We flew with Air Canada. Photos by the author on the LG G4 Phone, except where mentioned.