For all your questions when it comes to visiting this Canadian city, here’s a quick Vancouver guide full of tips!
When I was planning my fall, post-Korea travel plans, my friend, Maggie, messaged me to ask if Vancouver was on that list. Ever since Maggie and I said goodbye in Korea 2 years ago, we’ve been trying to plot a reunion.
I figured, why not include a little week in Vancouver in the middle of my other plans? September was a nice enough season to visit, and I’d get to hang out with Maggie and our other friend, Nathalie. Plus, I hadn’t yet traveled through Canada at all. My family was supposed to visit Nova Scotia when I was a kid while we were camping in Maine, but the weather was too crappy for the ferry.
Suffice to say, this trip has been a long time coming! I already have my Vancouver food guide out, but here’s a more logistical guide for those of you trying to iron out the details of your own trip!
A Quick Guide to Vancouver
Where is it?
Vancouver is a city along the west coast of Canada in the lower area of British Columbia, quite close to the Washington State border in the US.
What is it?
Vancouver, with Toronto and Montreal, is one of Canada’s largest and most populous cities. It’s also incredibly international — many residents speak English as a second language and around 30% are of Chinese heritage.
Recently, its most notable claim to fame is as the setting to the 2010 Winter Olympics. There are also a TON of movies and TV shows filmed here, from Deadpool to “Riverdale” and more. (Also for those who get this pop culture reference — Agent Cody Banks)
When should you go?
I think September was a lovely time to go as it wasn’t the main touristy, summer season, but it was still nice enough to go hiking and sightseeing without freezing or sweating to death. Also late September and early October mean fall foliage!
Of course, if you’re hoping to go skiing or snowboarding, then winter is your best bet.
How’s the weather?
I went to Vancouver in late September, and it was around 50-60F (10-16C). I wore everything from hiking shoes and sweaters to a skirt and sandals one day. Fall and spring can be quite rainy, summer is beautiful and hot, and winter is, well, winter.
How Do You Get There?
I flew into Vancouver from Providence, and it’s pretty straightforward! The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is actually in Richmond, which is in Metro Vancouver. I could easily get to my hostel downtown from the airport on the metro too.
Canada does have a train system, but I’m not too familiar with it. You can get more on Canada train travel via Seat61.
Depending on where you’re coming from, there are different Greyhound or Boltbuses that go into Vancouver.
How Do You Get Around?
Like most cities, Vancouver has all the transportation options. Its public transportation is under TransLink, so if you buy a regular metro card, it’ll work on both buses and the subway.
There are two kinds of buses, the regular kind and the trolley buses. The trolley buses run through the main part of downtown and have 13 routes in all while the regular buses will run through downtown and Metro Vancouver.
Vancouver has a pretty decent subway system along with its bus system. I only used it a few times since downtown is so walkable.
This is so weird, but the taxi system in Vancouver is wildly inconvenient. Besides being expensive, there never seem to be any open taxis. It looks like each taxi company has their own app, and my friends told me they’ve rarely ever taken taxis around the city.
I downloaded the Vancouver Taxi app. However, the only time I used a taxi was to get to the airport, and then I just called a number to book it.
What’s even more annoying is that Uber and Lyft aren’t legal yet!
You can get around Vancouver with a car, though it might be a little hectic trying to drive it downtown. My friend drove around North Vancouver, Mayne Island, and some towns in Metro Vancouver just fine though.
Tip: If you do drive into the city but don’t want to constantly pay for parallel parking or be limited to one or two hour slots, check out the area behind Science World! There are a lot of side streets with free parking. Some are only an hour but keep looking, there are some with no limits. You can walk 15-minutes to Gastown and Chinatown or get to Main Street Station within minutes.
Vancouver Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus
If you don’t want to bother with transportation or are traveling with family, then Vancouver does have a nice hop-on, hop-off bus option. You have three options for a 24-hour pass:
- City Route – Goes through 14 stops in Gastown, Yaletown, Davie Street, Chinatown, Olympic Village, the Sports District and more.
- Park Route – Goes through 21 stops including Stanley Park, Granville Island, Gastown, Robson Street, Coal Harbour, English Bay Beach, Vanier Park, Chinatown, the Sports District, and more.
- Dual Pass – Includes stops on both the city and the park.
They’re between $40-55 CAD per 24-hour pass. Check for more details here.
Top 5 Things to Do in Vancouver
Stanley Park is a giant public park that faces Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. You could easily spend the whole day wandering around as it’s massive. I only walked along the Vancouver Seawall as it was quite cold, and I had to meet my friend in Chinatown for lunch!
- 2-Hour Photography Tour of Stanley Park – A photographer will guide you around the park to help point out the best spots. They’ll also help teach you if you’re a beginner to photography. Check details + availability here
- Vancouver Walking Tour – Coal Harbour and Stanley Park – This is best if you want to learn more about Stanley Park’s history instead of just roaming around. Check details + availability here
You can take a ferry ride over to Granville Island for about $5.50 CAD round trip and wander around this very cute, quirky area for the afternoon or morning. It used to be a big industrial area, and it’s now, basically, a big market area with boutiques, galleries, and a public food market. It’s fun to walk around because a lot of the architecture is either made from former containers, or that’s where it drew its inspiration from.
- 2-Hour Market Tour – Walk around the big market on Granville Island and sample the different food and drinks from local farmers. Check for more details + availability here
- Granville Island Night Photowalk – Considering how industrial the island is along with having such nice views of downtown Vancouver, I can imagine night photography here would be stunning! This walk takes you around, and it even offers guidance for beginner photographers. Check here for more details + availability
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a 140-meter long bridge in North Vancouver. It looks absolutely beautiful, but it’s also like $50 CAD to enter! If you’re dying to go, then definitely go, but my friend took me to Lynn Canyon instead.
- Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge – This tour takes you up Grouse Mountain, around Capilano Suspension Bridge and Fish Hatchery, and to views of Lions Gate Bridge. Check for more details and availability here.
- Vancouver & Capilano Suspension Bridge Sightseeing: Half-Day – This tour covers Stanley Park, Lions Gate Bridge, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Gastown, Chinatown, Robson Street, Granville Island, and the 2010 Olympic Cauldron. Check for more details and availability here
Gastown is a really cool neighborhood that reminds me a ton of New York City. It even has its own mini flatiron building.
The neighborhood is considered Vancouver’s first downtown area, and it sits along the waterfront. It’s just a fun area with pretty streetside buildings, good restaurants, and some cool history.
- 2.5 Hour Gastown Food Tour – This tour will go through 10 eateries and include everything from sweet to savory. Check for more details + availability here
- Gastown Food, Craft Beer and Wine Tasting Tour – This tour is more like a dinner in different restaurants than a sampling tour, so make sure you wear some eatin’ clothes. Check for more details + availability here
Get a Bird’s Eye View of the City
There are a lot of places to get a bird’s eye view of the city! Nathalie and I drove to a lookout point near Mt. Seymour, but you can also do different hikes, like hiking Mt. Seymour or Grouse Mountain.
Where Should You Stay?
Best bet is to stay in downtown Vancouver as it’s easily walkable to major sites and has a lot going on itself. I was on a budget, so I stayed at HI Vancouver Central. It was right on Granville Street, so it was actually pretty perfect in terms of location. If you’re used to hostels, it’s on par in terms of bathrooms, space, and amenities. I stayed for 2 nights before switching to stay with Maggie and then Nathalie for the weekend, which was enough for me haha.
Because my flight was super early leaving Vancouver, I also stayed at Marpole Guesthouse, which was lovely. It’s kind of in a house, but you have a private room and I only shared a bathroom with one other room.
Money, Safety, and Internet Matters
Everything is CAD, and, actually, right now (2018), the US dollar is pretty strong against the CAD, so your money will go pretty far.
I just used my US debit card to take out money at an ATM when I got there instead of worrying about transferring money.
Vancouver was fairly safe, though, of course, it’s still a big, international city. Be smart with your belongings, and find somewhere lit up and safe if you feel uncomfortable walking around at night.
I should also note: It’s also going through a huge homeless and opioid issue. I like to think I’ve traveled around a lot of cities in the world, and I never noticed it as strongly as I noticed it walking from my hostel downtown to areas around Vancouver. When I mentioned it to my friends, they told me the city is going through one of its worse homeless and opioid addiction issues. I found this article just so there’s a little more information for you guys.
Internet in Vancouver was pretty good wherever I went. Data and coverage are spotty in the more mountainous areas, but that’s to be expected.
You actually can’t really get a SIM card at the airport or apparently, it’s tricky to do. When I asked at an info desk, he said to just go to a Best Buy or London & Drugs store to get one. I wound up getting a SIM with Public Mobile for $55 CAD. It came with 8GB of data and unlimited call/text.
If you’re in the US, check with your cell company to see if they have plans or allowances for Canada, it might wind up being cheaper.
And that’s it for this Vancouver quick guide! Hope you found it helpful, let me know if you have any questions!