Vancouver Harbor
Vancouver Harbour (Photo credit: Robert Nathan Garlington)

Vancouver Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Located on Canada’s west coast (British Columbia), with a population of ~600,000.
  • One of the most diverse cities in the world – over 35% of residents are foreign born.
  • The second largest film production center in North America (after Los Angeles), and the third largest for television (after Los Angeles and New York City).
  • With its great quality of life and clean air, Vancouver consistently ranks at the top of world liveability rankings. One of the most desirable destinations for expats.
  • Nicknames: Vancity, Hollywood North, Raincouver, Terminal City, Hongcouver.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD).
  • Spoken languages: predominantly English. Cantonese/Mandarin also widely spoken.
  • Best time to visit: from March to May, and from September to November (mild weather, lower hotel prices).
  • Winter months are perfect for skiers and snowboarders. Grouse and Cypress mountains are close to downtown, and it’s only a 2 hour drive to the world-famous Whistler/Blackcomb Mountain Resort.
  • Arriving via airport: the Canada Line light rail takes visitors to and from the airport to downtown in 26 minutes (it also stops at Waterfront and Richmond). A regular fare costs $3.25, though there is a $5 airport charge for journeys from the airport. Taxi fare to downtown is approximately $35.

WHERE TO STAY

The downtown core offers the best position for many landmarks and tourist attractions. For the budget traveler, there are cheap and lively hostels, such as Hostel International Vancouver or The Samesun Backpackers (both are located on Granville Street). For more upmarket options there are number of hotels downtown, particularly around Robson Street, or the Coal Harbour area. The latter offers great views and easy access to the marina and Stanley Park. 

GETTING AROUND

  • Vancouver’s transit system is TransLink Vancouver and consists of the trains, buses, and the North Vancouver ferries.
  • A single ticket costs $2.75 and is valid for 2 hours (unlimited use) across all modes of transport. A surcharge is applicable when traveling in outlying zones.
  • There are several taxi companies operating in Vancouver, including Black Top, Checker Cabs, and Yellow Cab Company. Fares start at $3.50, and go up by about $2 per km. Vancouver’s transit system is so well integrated and efficient that it is best to avoid taxis where possible. They will always be more expensive, and in some cases could be slower than taking public transport.

VANCOUVER NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 19, last call is 3 AM.
  • The main club scene is along Granville Street and will be busy most nights of the week.
  • For music fans, check out Main Street and further afield on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. Both areas offer live music venues, such as The Biltmore Cabaret or The Libra Rooms and play host to a variety of local and touring bands.
  • Gastown offers a variety of brewpubs and great restaurants, particularly around Gastown Square. This is a very fashionable neighborhood, so be prepared for higher prices.
  • On sunny summer evenings, check out the restaurants and bars around English Bay, which offer spectacular ocean views and a relaxed atmosphere as the sun sets.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Canada Place – designed as a combination of a cruise ship and a convention centre, with a hotel inside. It is located on the waterfront, with a great view of the city and surrounding mountains.
  • Vancouver Lookout is a tower that sits on top of Harbour Centre. With its 360 degree observation deck, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. There is a revolving restaurant at the top.
  • The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a suspension bridge running through cedar trees situated in a forest in North Vancouver. The park is open from 9am to 9pm during the summer.
  • Grouse Mountain, known as “The Peak of Vancouver,” is open all year round and is a must-see, offering spectacular views of the the city and the entire Greater Vancouver area. As well as this there are a number of year round attractions such as the famous Lumberjack Show and the Birds of Prey display.
  • Check out the Gastown Steam Clock. Situated in historic Gastown, this unique steam powered clock is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. Steam powered whistles chime the time every hour and blow steam high into the air.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Gastown makes for a lovely walk. Named after Gassy Jack, a legendary past resident, the area is a good mix of arts and entertainment with a good dose of history thrown in.
  • For fitness fans, try the “Grouse Grind” hike. This 2.9 km hike has an elevation of 2,800 ft and takes you from the base of Grouse Mountain to the peak. Average climb time is around one hour and it can be at times a very challenging ascent. The climb is commonly referred to as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. Novice climbers should allow for two hours.
  • Take a stroll through Stanley Park. A former marine base, it was turned into a park over a century ago. The famous Vancouver Aquarium is located within the park limits. For lovely scenery, walk the 9 km Seawall around the perimeter of the park from Coal Harbour to English Bay. It is the most popular recreational spot in the city and is very busy on summer evenings.
  • Robson Street. For those visitors who love shopping, Robson Street is a three block stretch of shops, fashion stores, fine dining options, and coffee shops.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Vancouver’s 20 sq. block of West End is the most densely populated area in North America.
  • Vancouver has some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Canada. Overall, it has the highest real estate prices in the country (and a very high average cost of living).
  • One of the few cities in North America with no downtown freeways.
  • Instead of paying for the attractions at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, take the bus to North Vancouver and check out Lynn Valley Canyon Park. Here you will find a beautiful cedar forest park with stunning geography and a very similar suspension bridge completely free of charge! 
  • Take the bus over the Lions Gate Bridge into West Vancouver to Lighthouse Park. Discover a variety of forest trails, breathtaking ocean views and beachfront cliffs. Swim, picnic and explore this beautiful park and make sure to check out the lighthouse! This really is a must see and truly is a hidden gem in West Vancouver.
  • Where to find good cheap eatsGranville Street offers a number of bars where all meals on the menu cost $4.95. Check out the Save-on Meats diner on Pender Street, a legendary local diner and butcher shop offering affordable dishes all day and a particularly good breakfast!
  • Dangerous Areas: even though Vancouver has one of the highest crime rates in Canada, it is still quite safe Use common sense and exercise caution at night. You will constantly be asked for money by Vancouver’s many homeless, but these are mostly non-threatening and you will quickly become accustomed to this. Visitors are advised to avoid Downtown East.

RECOMMENDED VANCOUVER GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days


SEE ALSO:
Vancouver Travel Guide was last modified: September 22nd, 2016 by Nick
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