When planning a vacation, no one can blame you for wanting it all. If you’re looking for a holiday experience that blends vibrant cities and incredible landscapes, Western Canada might just be your perfect destination. Booking flights into Calgary or Vancouver is easy, but where to from there? You can, of course, plan a route and navigate your own way through the wild west, but that takes a lot of energy and careful attention to the road.
The most exciting—and efficient—way to explore this part of the world is actually by train.
Rail tracks wind through some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in British Columbia and Alberta, affording you unique viewpoints and highlights that you might not even see by car. Traveling this way takes the stress out of planning all your stops and accommodations, allowing you to maximize your time. Plus, with the itinerary suggestions below, you’ll get to see beautiful cities and towns and enjoy the best of Canada’s wilderness. If your must-do trip includes big mountains, rushing rivers, glacier-fed lakes, and outdoor adventures, world-class dining and cultural experiences, this holiday checks all the boxes.
Where to Start
To start your adventure in Canada, head straight to Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest metropolis. It’s an ideal hub to whet your appetite for all that this part of the world has to offer: myriad iconic sights, delicious bites and unique cultural experiences. Here’s how to make the most of your time in the city that consistently tops bucket lists.
Stay in an Elegant Hotel
The glamorous Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is one of the city’s most-requested hotels. With its prime location overlooking downtown and 521 luxury rooms and suites, it’s often called the “Castle in the City.” But this is just one choice among many beautiful places to stay, since Vancouver boasts a wide variety of well-appointed and centrally located accommodations to suit your personal travel style. The Pan Pacific Vancouver’s desirable waterfront locale offers expansive views of the harbor, while the new JW Marriott Parq Vancouver has a sleek, modern design and is situated near the city’s entertainment district. Travelers seeking a classic, European style gravitate to The Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver. No matter which you choose, these properties will help ensure that you’re well rested and ready to enjoy your adventure.
Explore Granville Island
Foodies and design enthusiasts flock to Granville Island, one of the city’s shining examples of urban revitalization. What was once an industrial area was cleaned up in the 1970s and transformed into a thriving home for more than 300 businesses including artisans, food purveyors and designers.
At the covered Granville Island Public Market, tempting scents of fresh-baked bread, rich espresso, and just about every kind of fare you might crave blend together to create a feast for the senses. Stop by The Liberty Distillery and sample artisanal gin, vodka, and whisky made from 100% organic British Columbia grains. To see one example of the many designer wares on the island, visit the Granville Island Hat Shop, which has been selling stylish hats for more than 30 years.
Visit Stanley Park
Vancouver is a top city for outdoor enthusiasts, due in no small part to the water and mountains that surround it, and Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre public space bordering downtown. The park itself is almost surrounded by water and is home to miles of paved walking and biking paths. It offers spectacular views from its beaches and is a beautiful place to explore year-round. The park is such a draw that nearly 8 million guests visit each year, but the expansive area allows it to feel blissfully uncrowded. Don’t miss a walk along the 5.5-mile Seawall, a paved loop overlooking the water. Hike the Siwash Trail to see Siwash Rock, an enormous rock outcropping that juts up from the water and is believed to be some 32 million years old.
After you’ve seen Stanley Park’s most notable attractions, dig a little deeper. Head to Brockton Point to view nine vibrant totem poles, including designs by Haida, Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nisga’a and Nuu-chah-nulth Indigenous groups. Just off the Rawlings Trail, you’ll also find two faces carved into a massive tree stump, created by an anonymous artist and dubbed Two Spirits. If you have time to further explore the city’s adventurous side, Grouse Mountain (part of the Coast Mountains range) is a top pick. A 20-minute drive from downtown over Stanley Park’s Lion’s Gate Bridge and into North Vancouver, the iconic Skyride gondola will take you on a comfortable eight-minute trip up to the mountain’s 4,100-foot summit, while you take in sweeping views of the city and the surrounding land and sea.
Stroll through Gastown
Arts, culture and top-notch shopping are on the menu in historic Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, which grew around a tavern founded in 1867. A walk along Water Street will feel like a journey back in time, thanks to vintage streetlights, cobblestone streets, old buildings and one of the few surviving steam clocks in the world (instead of chimes, it has a steam whistle to mark the time). Built in 1977, the clock’s original piston engine has since been replaced with an electrical motor, but it still puffs out steam on the hour. The 12-block neighborhood has plenty more to see, including the six-story flatiron building and scores of boutiques and restaurants.
Savor Incredible Cuisine
Vancouver has become a fertile environment for cutting-edge craft beer and distilleries, street food, locally sourced ingredients and international and fusion cuisine. Guests may want to start with a food tour to match their interests, perhaps through the city’s famed Chinatown or downtown, where many of Vancouver’s best food trucks and carts are often parked.
For a taste of sustainable sushi, visit Miku, where chefs introduced the Aburi (or “flame-seared”) style to Canada in 2008. At Chinatown’s Kissa Tanto, some of the city’s best fusion cuisine—Japanese and Italian, in this case—is served in exquisitely plated dishes along with inventive craft cocktails. Luxury-lovers will want to score a table at Hawksworth, the upscale dining room serving creative Pacific Northwestern cuisine in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. St. Lawrence, a French Canadian-inspired eatery, is also worth a visit. Save room for a sweet treat of decadent cream puffs and painted chocolates from Beta 5.
Where to Go Next
Vancouver is a destination worth visiting on its own, but there are even more amazing adventures to be had in Western Canada, notably the remarkable Canadian Rockies. And once you’ve come out west, why not explore further on one of our three unique rail routes
We offer unique train journeys that take you past astonishing vistas to iconic and spectacular Rockies towns like Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta, all with minimal stress. Our all-daylight journeys allow you to view incredible landscapes through glass-dome or oversized windows; enjoy delicious, chef-prepared meals; relax in spacious coaches with plenty of legroom; and enjoy personalized service and stories about the regions you’re passing through from our attentive onboard Hosts. Pick from our three routes—First Passage to the West, Journey through the Clouds, or Rainforest to Gold Rush—and enjoy unique and unforgettable sights and scenery along the way.
Explore the All-season Resort Town of Whistler, B.C.
Hop on the three-day Rainforest to Gold Rush rail route which passes through Whistler, an award-winning, all-seasons resort town known for its skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking, golf and mountain biking in the summer. Whistler and Blackcomb mountains dominate the views here, as you’re surrounded by the Coast Mountains. Spend the afternoon exploring the village, with plentiful shopping, both casual and high-end restaurants, and cultural spots like the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre and Audain Art Museum. Or, soar above the forests and look down through a glass-bottomed cabin on the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which offers 360-degree views from an elevation of 1,427 feet as it travels between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Travel through Desert-like Landscapes Near Kamloops
Our First Passage to the West and Journey through the Clouds rail routes pass through the town of Kamloops, British Columbia, before continuing on to their Rockies destinations. If departing from Vancouver, watch the landscape change as the Fraser River meets the Thompson River. Along the Thompson, marvel at the semi-arid, desert-like terrain and mineral-tinted hills. Onboard Hosts will point out the highlights, including the narrow, churning passage of water aptly called Hell’s Gate, Cisco Crossing (two rail bridges where the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways exchange sides over the Fraser River), and the Thompson River. Closer to Kamloops, look out for “hoodoo” rock formations, the beautiful Kamloops Lake and, if you’re lucky, bighorn sheep. Once you arrive in British Columbia’s second-sunniest city, have dinner at one of the local restaurants or pubs, where you can sample excellent wine produced by wineries in the surrounding Thompson Valley, including Harper’s Trail Estate Winery, Monte Creek Ranch Winery, and Privato Vineyard and Winery.
Become Awestruck by the Beauty of Banff and Lake Louise
Our First Passage to the West route takes you to some of Canada’s most beautiful and photographed areas, and it’s easy to see why Banff and Lake Louise are so popular. In Lake Louise, the turquoise surface of the water reflects majestic Victoria Glacier towering above. Whether you go for a leisurely walk around the lake’s perimeter or rent a canoe or kayak to drift along the water, keep your camera handy because these moments deserve to be captured.
Rugged mountains rise all around Banff’s main street, so you’ll feel one with nature while experiencing downtown’s charming boutiques, art galleries and cafés. To get even closer to wilderness, there are plenty of outdoor activities to try Banff is actually in Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park). Ride the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, with gorgeous peaks and valleys all around you, or explore the glacier-fed Bow River with a guided boat trip or a walk along its banks.
Marvel at the Views in Jasper
If you choose Journey through the Clouds, you’ll end your trip in Jasper, tucked into Alberta’s famed Jasper National Park. While on the train, prepare to be wowed as you slowly pass highlights like rushing Pyramid Falls, formed by two dramatic drops totaling 300 feet, and the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, Mount Robson. In Jasper, take the Jasper SkyTram up to an elevation of 7,425 feet for bird’s-eye views of the Rockies. Or plan a day trip to explore the area, including a visit to Maligne Lake: at nearly 14 miles long, it’s the longest, natural glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies. When the sun goes down, a dazzling show begins as you find yourself in the middle of a Dark Sky Preserve, designated as such for its supreme stargazing opportunities.
There are many ways to tour Western Canada, but none are more enjoyable—in terms of pace, luxury and style—than a train journey where every detail is taken care of, so you can simply enjoy your holiday.
Ready to plan your unforgettable vacation to Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies? Explore our different types of packages.