I have been living in the United States for a month and a half now, but before that, I spent two weeks travelling the western side of Canada with my family over the Christmas period… and I thought that it was about time I blogged about that incredible experience. Being Australian, we never had a white Christmas before this. In fact, my parents and sister had never even seen snow at all before. So, we set off to Canada in December to fulfil our biggest family dream – spending Christmas at Lake Louise in the glamorous Fairmont Chateau. We added several other destinations to our itinerary in Canada (and Seattle in the US!) too. So, here is the condensed trip report of what was truly our holiday of a lifetime! Click on any of the locations below to be taken directly to that part of the review.
Accommodation:Best Western Plus Uptown Hotel This hotel was mistakenly booked by my dad. Whilst it was an adequate hotel, it was located outside of the downtown area, so I would probably advise staying somewhere else.
Experience: Vancouver is a beautiful city, but we experienced its famously rainy weather every day. My favourite place we visited was the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The rainy mist actually added to the enchanting nature of the forest. The park was particularly spectacular when its Christmas display was lit up at night. Gastown was easily the nicest area of the actual city. It was quite charming. The Christmas light display in Stanley Park was great. Conversely, the Christmas Markets in the city seemed a bit overrated. Shopping along Robson Street was decent. We also attended our first ever ice hockey game, which was very entertaining. If I could change one thing, we would have probably stayed for one less night.
Accommodation:Crystal Lodge and Suites I loved staying here. It has the perfect location in Whistler Village and the hotel itself is beautiful. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to stay in the heart of the village.
Transportation: To get from Vancouver to Whistler, we took a Greyhound bus.
Experience: Whistler was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip. It was the first place we saw snow. In fact, it started snowing within about an hour of us being there, which was absolutely magical. Walking through the village felt surreal. It was like we were living in a postcard of a winter wonderland. The whole village has such a great vibe – I can see why so many Aussies go there to work! My sister and I learnt to ski for the very first time on Whistler Mountain, which turned out to be quite fun. However, be aware that ski lessons are quite expensive there. Considering that my family are not avid skiers or snowboarders, two nights was enough time to spend in Whistler.
Accommodation:Sandman Hotel Calgary City Centre We only stayed here for one night, so I do not have a lot I can say about this hotel or Calgary in general. The hotel seemed well-located in the city, but our room was very basic.
Transportation: To get from Whistler to Calgary, we took a Pacific Coach bus to Vancouver airport and then flew directly to Calgary.
Experience: Honestly, we only used Calgary as a stop in getting from Whistler to Lake Louise, so we spent very little time there. My first impressions of Calgary is that it is quite a boring city and I have no desire to go back.
Accommodation:Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
In writing about our time at Lake Louise, it is difficult for me to separately review the hotel and the lake itself. They are completely intertwined, as all of the activities we did were organised through the hotel. The Fairmont Chateau hotel is simply magical. Being the only hotel located on the lake, its setting is second-to-none. We paid extra to have a lakeview room and it was definitely worth the money. The staff were also great – both in the hotel and out on our activities. If you come to Lake Louise, especially for Christmas, you must stay at the Fairmont. It is an experience in itself.
Transportation: To get from Calgary to Lake Louise, we took a Greyhound bus.
Experience: Just like Whistler, Lake Louise is the perfect winter wonderland. Not only is the lake one of the most spectacular locations I have ever visited, but there are so many activities on offer to fully enjoy it. Some of our highlights included hiking to Johnston Canyon Ice Falls, roasting marshmallows by the lake on Christmas Eve and going on a sleigh ride around the lake on Christmas Day! We also had our own Christmas tree in our room and ate a delicious Christmas buffet lunch in a gorgeous ballroom. My biggest travel dream of all-time has been to visit Lake Louise and I can truly say that it did not disappoint. I would definitely like to come back in the summer to see it when it is not frozen as well!
Accommodation:Banff Aspen Lodge This is a nice hotel, well located on the main street in Banff. It had a good buffet breakfast included in the price of the say.
Transportation: To get from Lake Louise to Banff, we took a Brewster bus.
Experience: Banff is a quaint village. There are plenty of shops and restaurants. Mt Norquay is a short bus ride from the village and is one of the main skiing destinations for Banff visitors. We went snowtubing there, which was extraordinarily fun. I definitely recommend it. We also went to lunch at a restaurant at the top of the mountain. The view was breathtaking. I felt like we spent an adequate amount of time in Banff.
Accommodation:Admiral Inn This inn is very basic. However, it is very affordable and has a great location on the harbour.
Transportation: To get from Banff to Victoria, we took a Brewster bus to Calgary airport and then flew directly to Victoria.
Experience: Victoria is simply gorgeous. The city has such a laid-back vibe and a lot of the architecture is so beautiful. The harbour area is particularly nice, so I would recommend staying around there. When visiting Vancouver Island, the Butchart Gardens are a must-see. Their Christmas display was unbelievable. One of the surprising highlights of our time in Victoria was our spontaneous trip to the Royal British Columbia Museum. It has some of the best exhibits I have ever seen in a museum. Victoria is the sort of place where you can spend lots of time just strolling the streets.
Accommodation:Homewood Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown The hotel itself is great and our room was very spacious, with a separate lounge area and kitchenette. However, in hindsight, it probably would have been better to stay somewhere in the heart of the city, instead of being close to the Space Needle.
Experience: Yes, I know this is not Canada, but it was the last stop on our trip, so I had to include it. Seattle exceeded my expectations. We were very fortunate in getting clear weather for the length of our stay. We spent New Year’s Eve there and the firework display off the Space Needle was stunning. We also had the typical tourist experience of going to the top of it the following day. The view was great. Next to the Space Needle is Chihuly Garden and Glass, which I would thoroughly recommend for anyone with even the slightest appreciate for glass blowing. We also hired a car and drove out to the Boeing Factory. It was insanely cool to witness a production line of aeroplanes – and hard to believe that they will all be carrying hundreds of passengers in the air soon! The Future of Flight Aviation Center at the facility also had some fantastic exhibits.