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Hitting British Columbia's Hot Spots of Whistler, Vancouver and Victoria

Travel to British Columbia for Charming Destinations

by Suzanne Carmel

The Lion's Gate Bridge, Vancouver.

Rain in Vancouver, British Columbia might seem an inauspicious beginning for a trip to spots that together were once touted as the "Golden Triangle". Even so, there is something golden about a rainy day in this westernmost Canadian province's biggest city -- a traveler's urge to explore a new city, despite the rain. The best way is with one of the two-hour city tours. Colorful trolleys pick up and drop off at many points in this vibrant city. Even without getting off at the stops to investigate further, you can still get a good overview of the city.

Most tourists who come to British Columbia (B.C.) visit Vancouver and choose between Victoria or Whistler, but those who make it to all three distinct destinations will be rewarded for their efforts. In fact, the province is so diverse you can spend several weeks here and explore many other fascinating regions as well, such as the Canadian Rockies and the Okanagan Valley. B.C. is the third largest province in Canada, with only 30 nations in the world and one U.S. state (Alaska) bigger in size.

British Columbia is known for its incredible scenery. More than three-fourths of the province is considered mountainous; 55 percent is covered by forest; and there are 675 provincial parks and recreation areas in which to explore the great outdoors.

The province's ties to Great Britain are also noteworhty. Over 90 percent of the land is owned by the provincial government as Crown land (a British term signifying government interest). Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia since 1868 was established in 1843 as Fort Victoria, the outpost of Hudson's Bay Company. It sits at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and was the first Crown Colony in 1849. The mainland of British Columbia was declared a Crown Colony in 1858 and given its name by Queen Victoria.

British Columbia is known for the diversity of its population and cultures. Aboriginal people have lived in this province, where you'll find the majority of Aboriginal land claims in Canada, for thousands of years. First Nations people represent 3.4 percent of the total population. As the gateway to the Pacific Rim, British Columbia also has a thriving Asian population.

The variety and vibrancy of British Columbia makes it the perfect vacation destination and these three hot spots should be must-sees on everyone's itinerary. Vancouver

Vancouver, B.C.

British Columbia's largest city is located across the Strait of Georgia, 60 miles southwest of Victoria. This cosmopolitan and multicultural city is pulsing with life day and night. Downtown Vancouver and city neighborhoods are best explored by city transportation and on foot, as traffic can be slo at times. The aforementioned city trolley is a good way to map-out your interests; you can get on and off it all day.

Stanley Park is one of the most famous attractions in the city. At 1,000 acres, it's the largest city park in Canada, with an impressive seawall that is frequented by runners, walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers. The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center in Stanley Park is an almost equally popular attraction. The aquarium houses more than 20,000 marine life in a variety of recreated habitats located both indoors and outdoors.

Stroll along the historic cobblestone streets of Gastown and be sure to get a glimpse at its famous Gastown Steam Clock, located on Water Street and the only one of its kind in the world. Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown, then head over to Robson Street for some of the most fashionable shopping in the city. Vancouver's Chinatown, the third largest in North America, is a great place to get out for a walk, especially through the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Take a ferry or taxi over to Granville Island, once a mudflat on False Creek and now a hub of shopping, dining and entertainment. Nibble on treats from the Granville Island Public Market, watch free live entertainment in the waterfront courtyard, and browse through a variety of eclectic craft shops and galleries.

Dine on one of 25 different ethnic cuisines at one of more than 4,000 restaurants. The newly revived Yaletown is a nightlife and dining hotspot. Visit the trendy Opus Hotel for a drink at the swank bar or to dine on traditional French brasserie fare at Elixir. Seafood and sushi enthusiasts will enjoy dining with a waterside view at the Sandbar on Granville Island, while Italian cuisine devotees shouldn't miss Quattro on Fourth, located in the heart of the Kitsilano neighborhood. There are so many restaurants, it's best to seek advice and then set out to find your own personal favorite.

Though nightlife in Vancouver is certainly worth exploring, save at least one evening for the popular Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival that takes place all summer long in Vanier Park. An audience of about 300 sits in Shakespearean England-style tents to view a performance with the mountains, ocean and city skyline as a backdrop. Other attractions in Vanier Park include the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, the Vancouver Museum and Archives and the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

For more information, call 800-HELLO-BC or 250-387-1642 or visit the website at

Suggested Side Trip

There are plenty of attractions outside of downtown Vancouver worth a closer look. Rent a car or book a tour through a company such as West Coast City and Nature Sightseeing for a trip across the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Stop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the longest and highest suspension footbridge in the world at 450 feet across and 230 feet high. Originally built in 1889, this is Vancouver's oldest attraction. In addition to the bridge, there are trails to hike, a park with totem poles, exhibits detailing the history of the bridge, concessions, a gift shop and a Long House where you can watch aboriginal artists create masks and totem poles.

Continue on to Grouse Mountain for a view of the city from 3,700 feet above. Either hike the strenuous Grouse Grind trail to the top or take an eight-minute trip on the Grouse Mountain Skyride aerial tramway system. After taking in the vistas, walk to some of the attractions, such as the two orphaned grizzly bears rescued by the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, the Theatre in the Sky - Canada's first high-definition film theater, and the híwus feasthouse and cultural center. Go on guided interpretive walks, take in an entertaining lumberjack show, or simply sit and enjoy the observatory.


Whether you travel by road or by sky to Whistler, the scenery is breathtaking. Take a two-hour ride north of Vancouver on winding roads or soar over the lush mountain landscape in a helicopter. The contrast between bustling, cosmopolitan Vancouver and the adventure playground that is Whistler is both refreshing and inspiring. It is no wonder that Whistler and Vancouver won the bid to be the host cities for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Whistler, B.C.

The mountain resort of Whistler is nestled in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, with the hub of activity in the alpine village spread out at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Though Whistler is known as the largest ski area on the continent, it's also a fairly impressive summer destination with four championship golf courses, summer glacier skiing and snowboarding (on Blackcomb Mountain's Horstman Glacier), guided hiking and mountain biking, horseback riding, river rafting, rock climbing, fishing, off-road driving and more.

The best way to begin a summer stay at Whistler is to take the gondola to the top of Whistler Mountain, at 6,000 feet. During the 20-minute ride, watch for black bears, deer, whistling marmots and other wildlife that call these mountains home. For a more thrilling lofty view, try the excitement of North America's first zipline eco-adventure tour, where you'll ride across five cables joined by bridges, trails and aerial stairways. A third option will have you soaring above the Coast Mountains Range on a helicopter tour.

Back on the ground, mountain bikers can rent equipment from Whistler Mountain Bike Park adjacent to the Whistler gondola and either go it alone on the trails or bike with a guide. There are also many hiking trails from the top of the gondola for those who prefer to travel at a slower pace.

Those wishing to explore the manmade attractions within the village can browse through more than 200 upscale shops, art galleries and trendy boutiques, dine at more than 90 restaurants, and take in the nightlife at nightclubs, pubs, piano lounges and late-night outdoor cafes.

For more information, call 800-944-7857 or 604-932-3928 or visit the website at

Suggested Side Trip

Cool off from the summer heat in one of the many area rivers and five local lakes. Adventure tour companies, such as Whistler Eco-Tours, will drive visitors to nearby Alta Lake and the River of Golden Dreams for a guided kayak or canoe paddle. Guides will point out flora and fauna - perhaps even a black bear or two if you're lucky enough to see one at the water's edge.


British Columbia's capital city has a distinctly nautical flavor in addition to the British influence. Of course, on an island destination this is to be expected. Walk along the Inner Harbour for stunning views over the water and of the city, which spreads out from this central point. Tourism Victoria's Visitor Info Centre is conveniently located right at the Inner Harbour with tips, maps and other information for tourists.

Fairmont Empress Hotel

Major tourist attractions are not far from the Inner Harbour, such as the Royal British Columbia Museum, highlighting 12,000 years of natural and human history in B.C. In addition to visiting the museum, watch at least one of the films at the adjacent National Geographic IMAX Theater. A little over a block from this attraction, tour the impressive Legislative Buildings. For refreshment, take part in the very British tradition of afternoon tea at the nearby Fairmont Empress Hotel, built in 1908, or stroll several blocks from the Inner Harbor and grab fish & chips at Barb's on Fisherman's Wharf.

Investigate the shops, galleries and restaurants along Government Street, Wharf Street, and Fort Street, known as Antique Row. Hanging baskets of flowers are as colorful as the streets they decorate. Pay a visit to Bastion Square, once the site of Fort Victoria, and to Market Square, where shops are housed in buildings constructed during and after the Gold Rush. Stop in Chinatown, one of the oldest in North America, for a glimpse down Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada, and at the Gate of Harmonious Interest.

A few minutes from downtown, visit 39-room Craigdarroh Castle, built in 1887 by Robert Dunsmuir, a B.C. local baron. Another famous attraction, Butchart Gardens, is just 30 minutes from Victoria's city center and is perhaps the most visited attraction on Vancouver Island. The Sunken, Rose, Japanese and Italian Gardens are in vibrant bloom all summer.

Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can hike and bike in what is considered the "Cycling Capital of Canada". The Galloping Goose Trail and scenic coastal routes are perfect for bikers. Beneath the scenic waterfront, Vancouver Island features some of the world's best scuba diving. Water lovers can also kayak, sail and fish. Wildlife viewing is a popular pastime in city parks, and out on the water in Zodiacs or yachts, where you can spot Orcas (there are three resident pods in the area) or migrating gray whales.

For more information, call 800-663-3883, 250-953-2033 or visit the website,

Suggested Side Trip

Vancouver Island is 320 miles from its southeast to northeast ends, with plenty to explore. For a day trip out of the city, rent a car and travel 45 minutes north to the Cowichan Valley, where you can visit some of the island's vineyards. South Vancouver Island is the second largest wine region in B.C., next to the Okanagan Valley. Chalet Estate Winery in North Sannich is one of the wineries offering tastings, and there is a chalet across the road where you can dine on French food with a waterside view. Then drive onto the BC Ferry and take it from Brentwood Bay across to Mill Bay. Continue up to picturesque Cowichan Bay and stop at "Udder Guy's" Ice Cream Co. for a sweet treat before continuing up toward Duncan. For a glimpse at First Nations art and culture, it's worth a stop at Arthur Vickers Works of Art in Koksilah to view his impressive work in serigraphy and gold-leafing, or to pick up one of his painstakingly produced masterpieces to bring home. From here continue north to Duncan and the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre owned by the Cowichan Tribes. Exhibits and presentations give visitors a glimpse into rich cultural traditions and craftsmanship. Drive back to Victoria along Highway 1, perhaps stopping for dinner at a highly acclaimed restaurant with an equally impressive view at The Aerie Resort in Malahat.

Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria - B.C.'s Golden Triangle. Rain or shine, your vacation here will indeed be golden.

Getting There

Vancouver serves as a national and international hub in British Columbia for most airlines. From Vancouver International Airport, there are approximately 176 flights daily to 30 destinations throughout the province. For more information call 604-207-7077 or visit the website at

BC Ferries is a government-owned vehicle and passenger fleet, operating one of the largest and busiest ferry systems in the world. Some of their ferries carry as many as 470 cars and more than 2,000 passengers. Ferries depart frequently between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. The ferry is a leisurely way to travel from Vancouver over to Victoria, passing the Gulf Islands. For more information call 800-BC-Ferry or 250-386-3431 or visit the website at

Helijet flies from either Vancouver Harbour or Vancouver Airport to Victoria Harbor, and from Vancouver Airport to Whistler. The helicopters also fly from Victoria Harbour to Whistler. For more information or reservations, call 800-665-4354 or 604-273-1414 or visit the website at

Perimeter's Whistler Express bus travels from Vancouver Airport and several city hotels on Whistler several times a day. For more information or reservations, call 604-266-5386 or visit their website at

From Vancouver to Whistler, travel by car, bus or helicopter. From Whistler to Victoria, travel by car or bus and then ferry or by helicopter. From Victoria To Vancouver, travel by ferry, helicopter or plane.

Travel Time
Hours Driving
Hours Flying
Vancouver - Whistler
76 miles
30 minutes
Vancouver-Victoria (incl. ferry)
43 miles
25 minutes

Staying There

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, Vancouver

The Fairmont hotels, formerly Canadian Pacific properties, evoke the history, romance and luxury of early travel through Canada via the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many of these incredible properties were built at strategic destinations en route. I stayed at two of these properties in Vancouver, and one each in Whistler and Victoria. Whether an older, established property, such as the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and Fairmont Empress Hotel, or a more recently built property, such as the Fairmont Chateau Whistler or the Fairmont Waterfront, all are upscale and cater to a traveler's needs. As an added plus, three of the four hotels have top-notch spas to sooth a weary traveler's nerves and limbs before or after a day spent exploring.

Superlative experiences include waking up to a harbor view at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver; digging into a hearty brunch buffet at Griffins in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver; savoring the curry buffet at the Bengal Lounge or sipping afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hotel Empress; and swimming the indoor-outdoor lap pool at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Of course, don't forget to pay a visit to the spas. Signature treatments, such as the Deluxe Rose Hip Infusion Wrap at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, and the Island Senses treatment at the Fairmont Empress, will transport you almost as much as the vacation itself.

For more information on Fairmont properties, call 800-257-7544 or visit the website ar

ll photos (with exception of Fairmont Waterfrom Hotel) courtesy of Tourism B.C.