Plenty of hotels claim royal trappings -- names that conjure up palaces, or suites that are “fit for a king.”
But how many of them were opened by an actual king? Or have counted a king and queen among their first guests?
Part of the fun of a stay at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, is the well-documented fact that kings and queens really have visited, and one -- England’s King George VI -- was on hand for the grand opening of the hotel back in 1939, along with his wife, Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother to the current Queen Elizabeth).
Photographs and historic documents are showcased in a gallery on the hotel’s lower level. The dapper King George can be seen walking the carpet at the hotel’s entrance, accompanied by his chic queen carrying an armful of flowers and wearing a fashionable slouch hat.
Of course, another part of the appeal of the Hotel Vancouver is that it doesn’t have the feel of a stodgy museum. Step into the resplendent lobby, and you are immediately engulfed in sleek elegance.
Over the years, the hotel has undergone a number of renovations, including a $75 million project that was completed in 2019, just in time for the hotel’s 80th anniversary. Today, the ambience is a cool balance of history and modern luxury.
When I visited the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver in early February 2020, I was struck by the numerous subtle touches that made me feel a bit like a royal myself.
I can think of few better respites than a step back into the Hotel Vancouver’s era of glamour.
An Iconic Landmark
You can hardly walk through downtown Vancouver without being awed by the towering hotel that sits right in the center of it all. Topped with its green copper roof, the hotel is known as the Castle in the City
On my recent birthday trip to Vancouver, I decided to treat myself to a night at the iconic hotel. I wanted to soak up the history, and also to sample some of the other offerings -- the sumptuous dining, the luxurious pool and sauna, and the incomparable location.
I was initially intrigued by the history because of the timing of the hotel’s grand opening. Certainly, 1939 was a dark time for much of the world. The effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s still lingered, and World War II was on the horizon. It was a bold move to open a new hotel -- and a bold time to take a royal tour.
In fact, the visit by England’s king and queen is said to have been a build-up to World War II. The popular king and queen attracted huge crowds wherever they went on their May/June 1939 tour. Just months later, in September 1939, the war with Germany was officially underway.
I loved the fact that this history is so well preserved and so celebrated at the Hotel Vancouver. The hotel’s photo exhibit captures 80 years of iconic moments, starting with that majestic grand opening. Since then, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver “has watched the city grow up around it,” according to the hotel’s website.
The hotel’s unique chateau-style architecture -- inspired by the picturesque castles of France and Scotland -- has stood the test of time, and today the building is a registered heritage property.
An Auspicious Location
Another of the Hotel Vancouver’s charms is that it is so close to many of the city’s other attractions. A quick bus trip or bike ride will get you to Vancouver’s famed Stanley Park -- a not-to-be-missed experience.
After checking in, I spent the early afternoon walking along the park’s scenic seawall, taking in the famous Girl in a Wetsuit bronze statue that is positioned on a rock in the water along the north side of the park, and gazing at the gorgeous waters of Coal Harbour.
Shopping opportunities also abound -- both inside the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s lobby, and outside along the bustling streets of downtown Vancouver. From upscale designer boutiques to trendy multilevel bookstores to quirky souvenir shops, the downtown area has virtually every shopping experience covered.
Pro Tip: The Hotel Vancouver offers a BMW Bike Service where guests can borrow a complimentary bike and helmet to explore the city. Also within walking distance is the Fairmont Pacific Rim, where e-bikes are available for a small additional fee. The bikes are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so check in with your concierge about availability.
The Hotel Vancouver is also known as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, and the hotel’s restaurant pays homage to that legacy. It takes its name, Notch8, from a train’s top speed, achieved only by the most skilled conductors.
The restaurant features regional fare such as a whole trout entree served with baby leeks, summer pole beans, and brown butter emulsion, or lamb with chickpeas, pistachio, mint, and yogurt. For a happy-hour appetizer, try the small-plate ahi tuna tostada served with ponzu marinade, cilantro, and pineapple, or the squash gnocchi served with pine nuts, brown butters, and sage.
Notch8’s drinks take guests back to the days before and after Prohibition. Consider taking a trip back in time with a bee’s knees, a mai tai, or a Harvey Wallbanger.
Or for a true afternoon indulgence, check out the high tea that is served in Notch8’s private dining room. With quarterly themes such as the springtime Raincouver at Notch8, the teas feature decadent selections including scones and clotted cream, finger sandwiches filled with cured salmon or Dungeness crab, and chocolate tarts and fruit buns.
Getting The Most From Your Stay
Staying in a luxurious hotel tends to present a dilemma for me: Do I stay in and take advantage of everything the hotel has to offer, or do I go out and explore the city?
For me, a carefully planned combination is best. If you’re staying for just one night, like I did, I recommend asking for an early check-in and then spending the early afternoon exploring some of what Vancouver has to offer. You can easily fit in a bike ride around the Stanley Park seawall and a bit of shopping in downtown Vancouver before heading back to the hotel.
Then, depending on the time and whether you have a reservation, indulge in the afternoon tea or a happy-hour appetizer and beverage at Notch8. Or skip happy hour and have an early dinner before heading out for some of Vancouver’s lively nightlife.
The nearby Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Lobby Bar features live music seven days a week, with the occasional guest performance. On weekend nights, the Lobby Bar is abuzz with dancing and chatting.
The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s beautiful pool area, which is encased in soaring glass panels that offer great views of the city, is open until 10:30 p.m., so a late-night swim and a relaxing visit to the sauna are a possibility before turning in for the night.
A stay at a grand hotel like the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver can be a bit of a splurge, so expectations tend to be high. Going in, I was hoping for the full extravagant experience, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even with a single-night stay, I got a great taste of the history, the food, the atmosphere, and the stellar service.
For the best value, consider booking a stay during Vancouver’s off-season months of November, January, or February.
Of course, the weather won’t be at its warmest during those months, but when I visited in February, I was happy to have mild high-40s temperatures and no rain. The downtown streets were busy but not crowded, and I had the hotel pool all to myself for my late-night swim.
Overall, my birthday treat was well worth the expense, and I would definitely do it again if the opportunity were to arise. The royal lifestyle is hard to resist!
For more to see and do in Vancouver, visit this page.