A world-famous ski scene, the northern lights, classy cocktails and wild, wild terrain – there’s no shortage of wonders to behold across Western Canada.
From silver cityscapes to towns teetering on the edge of pure wilderness, Western Canada is as diverse as it is full of surprises. Whether you’re snowboarding in Whistler, sampling Vancouver's thrilling culinary scene, exploring a winter wonderland by horse-drawn carriage in Banff National Park at Lake Louise or witnessing the jaw-dropping Northern Lights in Yellowknife, there’s something to spark the soul of every type of traveller. This is our guide to the most unmissable things to do in Western Canada.
For snow bunnies and outdoor enthusiasts, world-famous Whistler should be high on your list. It’s a breathtaking alpine playground for skiing, snowboarding, hiking and mountain biking, with a vibrant pedestrian village in the valley between the two mountains perfect for shopping and dining between adrenaline bursts. If you’re around at Christmastime, Whistler Village becomes something from a fairy-tale.
Stay: A luxury twist on a traditional mountain lodge
When seeking that classic alpine lodge accommodation with a sprinkling of five-star luxury, look no further than Four Seasons Resort Whistler. Imagine a classic stone-and-wood ski lodge design, crackling fireplaces, poolside sauna cabins and wool and leather accents – the vibe is cosy meets couture. Facilities are designed for post-mountain adventures: there’s a 75-foot outdoor heated swimming pool with two whirlpools, a sumptuous spa (try the signature treatment, which includes a Canadian maple and brown sugar body scrub), and three onsite restaurants and cafés.
Eat: From caviar to cosy pub meals
What could be better than a succulent steak and medium-bodied red wine to shake off the frost after a day on the slopes? Whistler’s dining scene is a heady mix of comfort foods, laidback après and fine dining delights. Feast on oysters and caviar while champagne dances across your tastebuds at Araxi, peruse the fresh produce and artisan treats on a Sunday morning during the summer months at Whistler Farmer’s Market, and warm up with a steaming Thai curry or ribeye steak at 21 Steps Kitchen + Bar.
Experience: Classic winter sports
You’ll find your adrenaline rush at the top of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains with an abundance of winter sports on offer. Get your heart racing on the ski slopes, zip down a mountain with ease aboard a snowmobile, and follow snow-dusted trails on a snow-shoeing expedition. And after all that? Top it all off with après-ski. Warm up your soul with toe-tapping live music, happy hour drinks and mouthwatering pub food (Canadian poutine, anyone?).
For a splash of cosmopolitan cool on the coast, it’s got to be Vancouver. Discover the ultimate juxtaposition of rugged outdoor lifestyle with sophisticated city living: snow-capped mountain peaks are less than 20 minutes away by car, so a quick sojourn on the slopes is totally achievable, and you can be back in the city for cocktail hour without breaking a sweat. It’s all about balance.
Stay: Five-star downtown luxury
For a sky-high escape with equally high standards, Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver is our top pick for a five-star stay. Occupying 15 floors of the tallest building in Downtown Vancouver, close to high-end shopping and a wide range of restaurants, the hotel is ideally located for all your Vancouver explorations. Top tier facilities include a state-of-the-art fitness centre, outdoor pool, the luxurious Chi, The Spa, celebrated Italian fare at Carlino restaurant and freshly squeezed juices at Ginger Juice Bar. Shall we say Shangri-ooh-la-la?
Eat: The best sandwiches in Vancouver
Vancouver’s thriving culinary scene is a tug-o-war between incredible Asian fusion and freshly caught seafood, but what comes out on top? Unassuming and unbeatable bread. So versatile and deliciously carb-loaded, humble bread takes the cake in the form of the city’s best sandwiches at Meat & Bread. There are four Vancouver locations, each serving up a tantalising menu: grilled cheese with aged white cheddar and sliced red onions, pulled pork and mac’n’cheese, meatballs… For the best pizza, head to Nicli Antica, a former jail and horse stable turned Neapolitan-style pizzeria serving up a variety of woodfired wonders.
Experience: Marvels from sea to sky
In Vancouver, there’s something to do no matter what your holiday vibe is. Wildlife lover? Go whale watching (May - Oct). Feeling active? Walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Craving fresh air and breathtaking views? Take the Sea to Sky Gondola over Howe Sound, where at the summit you’ll find a viewing deck, walking and hiking trails and the Sky Pilot Restaurant.
Banff & Lake Louise
The quintessential winter wonderland experience includes landscapes that sparkle with fresh snow, horse-drawn carriages and ice queen castles – you’ll find all this and more in Banff National Park and Lake Louise in Alberta. Canada’s oldest national park is the gateway to the country’s Rocky Mountains, where mountains, forests, wildlife and glacial lakes are in abundance.
Stay: A winter palace
The iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is worthy of royalty. This five-star property places you in the heart of Banff National Park by the shores of Lake Louise, surrounded by majestic mountains and glaciers. During a stay here, you’ll be treated in signature Fairmont style with an incredible day spa, exquisite dining (including a traditional afternoon tea) and winter-themed activities on offer.
Eat: Dinner delights and a view
Take a seat at Fairmont Château Lake Louise’s signature restaurant, Lakeview Lounge, for an exquisite meal coupled with equally enthralling views across Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier. Sip a Lakeview Old Fashion cocktail (made with Canadian Bearface seven-year-old whisky) while dining on a seasonal menu curated by head chef Nicholas Issel – order culinary masterpieces like pistachio-crusted salmon, chilli prawn spaghettini, and umani mushroom on an open-plate sandwich. During the warmer months, sit out on the patio and breathe in fresh mountain air while soaking up the surrounding views.
Experience: Winter fairy-tale moments
One not-to-be-missed activity is a magical sleigh ride through the Rockies, in a horse-drawn carriage of course. Snuggle under warm woollen blankets as a team of horses pulls you through sparkling, snow-covered meadows. If you have little ones in tow, delight them with the Ice Magic Ice Carving Competition to admire glittering ice sculptures at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in January. If you’re an aspiring photographer, tour Banff’s most iconic photography spots and wilderness areas with an expert and learn how to take an incredible, gallery-worthy snapshot.
Northwest & Yellowknife
Head away from the city lights where road turns into wilderness in Canada’s Northwest Territories and its gateway city of Yellowknife. Balancing on the precipice of wild, here’s where you’ll find nature in true form. For the ultimate bucket list experience, catch the Northern Lights. For a dose of indigenous culture, visit Aurora Village, an aurora viewing location just 20 minutes from the town centre.
Stay: Where adventures meet
Be welcomed back from days exploring Aurora Village with a stay at The Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife. Find comfort in warm, modern rooms (for extra opulence, the Aurora Suite includes a telescope for Northern Lights viewings, cosy fur blankets and a private deck), and enjoy public spaces filled with fireplaces to warm your hands and applause-worthy dining options. Get a taste for the northwest at Trader’s Grill with dishes like elk goulash, coffee-rubbed boar tenderloin and miso poached local ling cod.
Eat: Like a local
Yellowknife is a far cry from the cosmopolitan likes of Vancouver – and the easiest way to experience this is through the tasty fare on offer. Be sure to sample local dishes – game meats and wild fish are featured often in traditional Northwest cuisine. Long hours in summer means an abundance of fresh root vegetables and greens, which are preserved over winter. A must-try for the curious gourmand is Arctic char, freshly caught trout, bison and moose.
Experience: The Northern Lights
Watch the skies shimmer and dance with ribbons of green lights – the Northern Lights have come out to play. Your best chance to glimpse this phenomenon is during winter (late December to mid-March), as the nights are longer, and the skies are incredibly clear. On this 12-day luxury winter tour, you can witness the natural wonder with ease, with winter clothing and a visit to Aurora Village included. Keep your camera close at hand (we recommend a GoPro or fast lense camera) to catch the magic in action.
For an exhilarating, traditional experience, do as the locals do and hop on a dog sled, where a team of enthusiastic and beloved canines will take you on a thrilling ride over Aurora Village’s frozen lake and through the white, wooded trails.
Looking for more Canada winter inspiration? Read Tick the Northern Lights Off Your Bucket List: 6 Reasons to Tour Canada in Winter.
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