Surrounded by water and mountains, Canada’s third largest city, Vancouver, is so beautiful you’ll definitely want to stay a few nights before or after your cruise holiday, says Liz Jarvis.

Snowy Vancouver skyline

From its snow-capped mountain backdrop to the green oasis of Stanley Park, Vancouver is simply breathtaking. And sailing away under Lions Gate Bridge towards Alaska at sunset is an unforgettable experience. For anyone who loves the great outdoors, this is the perfect city for you. 

First settled by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, the Vancouver area was explored by Europeans including British naval Captain George Vancouver in the late 18th century. In 1867, during the gold rush, a former river pilot, John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, spotted the opportunity to make money from miners on their way to the Yukon. He built a saloon that was quickly surrounded by shacks, and from there Gastown was born. In 1870, Granville, the town that would become Vancouver, was officially laid out.

Today, with its open spaces, spectacular scenery and cultural diversity, Vancouver is considered to be one of the best cities in the world for quality of living.

Must-sees

Cherry blossoms in Vancouver

There aren’t many ports where you can cruise right into and out of the city, and what makes Vancouver particularly special is its magnificent mountain backdrop. Stroll along the waterfront, past the 65-foot tall statue known as The Drop, and sit for a while watching the little seaplanes taking off and landing. 

Stanley Park is where you’ll find First Nations’ Totem Poles, and it’s also home to performing arts, dining and a public market offering fresh food and artisan crafts.

Another attraction is the Grouse Mountain Skyride, which takes you high above majestic Douglas firs on a one-mile aerial journey to the Alpine Station, 3,700 feet above sea level.

Built in 1889, the softly swaying Capilano Suspension Bridge hangs 230 feet above Capilano River and is 450 feet long. After crossing, guests can explore the Treetops Adventure (a series of seven suspension bridges erected high in the trees) and Cliffwalk, a hair-raising cliffside journey that takes visitors on a connected series of suspended walkways jutting out from a granite cliff face rising above the Capilano River. 

Eating

flame-grilled sushi in Miku Restaurant in Vancouver

Vancouver’s superb gastronomic scene has Asian and Pacific Northwestern influences, and there’s a strong emphasis on local produce, so fish and seafood feature heavily. Coquille, in the heart of the historic Gastown District, serves an inventive menu of freshly caught seafood and shellfish dishes, as well as wines from British Columbia (coquillefineseafood.com).

For dinner with a view of the harbour, the Japanese restaurant Miku (mikurestaurant.com) is excellent, offering delicacies such as its signature Aburi (flame-seared) sushi to tanatalising meats tenderised by Sumiyaki grilling, and all organic, local ingredients, paired with fine wines and sake.

Shopping

Steam Clock in Vancouver

It may have started off as a saloon bar and shanty town, but today Gastown is one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, with boutiques galore, as well as its famous steam clock, which plays music every 15 minutes (it looks Victorian but was made in 1977). Granville Island, reached by mini-tugboat ferry, has a fabulous market, plus artisan studios with everything from glass-blowing to pottery. Robson and Granville Street are where you’ll find most of the big US names, including Nordstrom. 

Where to stay

Fairmount Hotel in Vancouver

Known as the ‘castle in the city’, the iconic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is incredibly glamorous, and boasts a brilliant location just a few steps from attractions including Robson Street and Granville Island. Completed in 1939, the historic building has a Chateauesque-style copper pitched roof, though the interiors are decidedly contemporary. 

Notch8 Restaurant & Bar, located in the hotel’s lobby, offers nature-inspired Canadian cuisine (the smoked tuna benedict is not to be missed). 

The spacious rooms are elegantly appointed, furnished in soothing tones of gold, cream and bronze, with covetable Le Labo Rose 31 amenities in the bathroom (rooms from £314 a night (fairmont.com/hotel-vancouver). You can find out more about exploring Vancouver at tourismvancouver.com.

For inspiration on starting or ending a cruise in Vancouver, read our Princess Cruises Alaska review.

Alternatively, discover your perfect holiday with our cruise finder.