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Why you need to visit Vancouver and Victoria, Canada

5 min read

Why you need to visit Vancouver and Victoria, Canada
From culture and nature to wellness and culinary delights, there are plenty of things to see and do in the beautiful Western Canada cities of Vancouver and Victoria
Vancouver and Victoria are on a large inlet from the Pacific Ocean. The water is a way of getting around both cities, a source of adventure and numerous activities, a doorway to nature, and a great backdrop for your memories.
Start in cosmopolitan, diverse Vancouver for a few nights, then jump into a Harbour-Air seaplane to get to Victoria, taking in some great views from the air. In Victoria, kick back and savour its tangible laid-back energy, and the mildest climate in Canada.  

Chinese Canadian culture

The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Chinatown is an important link to Vancouver’s history. Three stops give you different perspectives on that link.
The Chinese Canadian Museum leads you through the vital role that Chinese immigrants played in developing Vancouver from as early as 1788. Many people came for the Gold Rush, and 15,000 Chinese helped build the CP railway, often doing the most dangerous work. A colourful mural by local artist Marlene Yuen sets the scene for the museum which opened on July 1, 2023, one hundred years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, which curtailed Chinese immigration until its repeal in 1943.
"The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden leaves you feeling more at peace "
A short walk takes you to the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Its design encompasses three philosophies; Daoism (with its focus on nature), Buddhism (thoughtful humility) and Confucianism (peace and coexistence). Features made of rock and water, stone and bamboo, and circles and squares emphasise the contrast of emotion and intellect, with the intent that you leave feeling more at peace. 
The Chinese Storytelling Centre pulls your visit together. I was there for the launch of the 168 magazine in which individual stories added personal and emotional perspectives to the histories of the Gold Rush, the Exclusion Act and the CP railway.  Every new generation adds a layer.   

Nature 

The Capilano Suspension Bridge
Grab a free shuttle bus from many places in central Vancouver to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. At 430 feet, it is the longest foot suspension bridge in the world, high above a raging blue river. It is strong enough to hold 110,000kg, which is reassuring to know as you weave your way across, and is a far cry from the original 1889 rope bridge it used to be.
"Whale watching in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a breathtaking way to experience nature"
In Victoria, whale watching in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is an authentic and breathtaking way to experience nature on the West Coast, even if you don’t see a whale. We were lucky, being treated to the sight of five adult and one juvenile humpback whale swimming around our boat and lunge fishing. They rolled on their sides, opened their jaws and took in large schools of fish and tons of water, causing the sack under their jaws to balloon to over twice its normal size. When one was directly beside the boat with his mouth wide open, I was so in awe I couldn’t breathe and my eyes filled with tears. According to Captain Andrew Lees, of Five Star Whale Watching, we were in the middle of a “phenomenal situation” referring to the “comeback of the humpback.”

Wellness

A welcome retreat from the bustling Vancouver streets is the Fairmont Pacific Rim Nordic Spa. Surrounded by harbour and mountain views, I took full advantage of the warm fires, cosy robes, pool and hot tub. From the cedar plank sauna to the cold plunge pool I spent blissful moments soaking in the rooftop hot tub listening to birds. 
"Surrounded by harbour and mountain views, I took full advantage of the warm fires, cosy robes, pool and hot tub"
At the Fairmont Empress Spa in Victoria, I had a spa treatment called "Into the Lavender Haze," I was massaged, exfoliated, rinsed off and wrapped in a cocoon-like wrap to doze. A blissful memory to savour. 

Culinary 

Afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria
Vancouver recently received its first Michelin Guide entry recognising 60 outstanding restaurants, so there’s never a bad time for foodies to visit the city.
I cannot wait to return to: Notch 8 at Fairmont Vancouver with its unique menu, the Acorn Vegetarian restaurant could easily convert me to vegetarianism, Salmon n’ Bannock makes my mouth water just thinking about my meal there, ARC restaurant turned a meal into a customised treat at the Fairmont Waterfront and the Courtney Room in Victoria had incredible food, dinner at the Q restaurant inside the Empress Hotel was a gastronomic experience I won’t forget anytime soon.  
Afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel is a must do experience that has been going on for 115 years. 

Victoria Miniatures Museum 

The biggest tourist attraction in Victoria Miniature World  is the wonderful world of miniatures, with 85 miniature dioramas and displays of popular tourist attractions from all over the world.

They include castles of Europe, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and a miniature replica of the Great Canadian Railway in the 1880s. 

History 

The impressive Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria
Craigdarroch Castle was built in 1887 on the hill overlooking Victoria by Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who became wealthy from Vancouver Island coal.
The opulent castle includes beautifully detailed carved wood and magnificent stained glass windows. 

Indigenous culture

Shay and Kelly, guides on the Talking Trees tour in Stanley Park
On a meditative Talking Trees tour, through beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver, guides Shay and Kelly of Talaysay Tours related how the plants, trees and berries contribute to food, medicine, art and technology. Local indigenous cultures hold all trees as sacred, having a purpose which has long helped their society thrive. Douglas fir trees are massive, contributing smokeless, hot-burning firewood, and materials for housebuilding. Cedar wood is used for canoes,  paddles, masks and hats. The walk shows you how to slow down and pay attention to the plants, trees and berries that are a daily part of life. 
"The Talking Trees tour shows you how to slow down and pay attention to plants, trees and berries "
Other examples and acknowledgement of indigenous culture in Victoria include: a new Coast Salish signage display in front of the provincial legislature which links a traditional village site and modern seat of political authority; the Cowichan totem pole, which was raised for the Commonwealth Games, and the Seven Signs of Lekwungen, bronze replicas of spindles formerly used to spin wool.

Where to stay 

Victoria skipper Andrew Lees, his whale watching boat and the Fairmonyt Empress hotel in the background
In Vancouver I stayed at centrally located Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and couldn’t have asked for a nicer experience. From the room to the service and the on-site incredible concierge, it offers tremendous value. Within walking distance of many other restaurants and shops, it’s an easy choice to make. 
In Victoria, I stayed at the Fairmont Empress, named in 2021 by National Geographic as one of the most iconic hotels in the world. Treated like a celebrity on the Gold floor,  the renovated design pays homage to the currents of the local Salish Sea and the building’s original fixtures from 1908. Both hotels are filled with luxury and comfort. 
Banner photo: Vancouver (by Jeremy Lee)

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