Vancouver Travel Guide

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Updated: December 19, 2020

The 2021 Vancouver Travel Guide

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Vancouver

    Where is Vancouver?

    The largest city in the province of British Columbia (B.C.), Vancouver is located on Canada’s rugged West Coast. Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the towering North Shore Mountains, it is 35km north of the US border, 230km northwest of US city Seattle, and 115km from Victoria, B.C.’s historic island capital. Vancouver International Airport services busy routes from London (9.5 hours), Los Angeles (2.5 hours), Beijing (10.5 hours), Toronto (5 hours), and many more.

    How big is Vancouver?

    Metro Vancouver’s population is almost 2.5 million but this includes other suburban cities such as Burnaby, Surrey, and New Westminster. The population of the city of Vancouver itself is around 675,000. The city’s land area is 115 sq. km (Paris, by comparison, is 105 sq. km) and a direct drive from the westernmost University of British Columbia campus to the easternmost boundary with Burnaby would take around 40 minutes.

    How old is Vancouver?

    Named after British sea captain George Vancouver, who navigated into the region in 1792, the city was officially incorporated in 1886. Before then, trappers, sawmill workers, and colonial pioneers had been slowly developing the shoreline of Burrard Inlet, interacting with Indigenous communities and building timber homes on dirt roads. These new locals included John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, whose tavern formed the hub of what became known as Gastown, the forerunner of modern-day Vancouver. This cobbled ‘old town’ area is now popular with visitors and has a large statue of ‘Gassy Jack’ himself.

    How do I get to Vancouver?

    More than 50 airlines serve Vancouver International Airport (YVR), which is actually in the neighboring city of Richmond. Frequent flights arrive from Canada, the US, and most major international destinations. The airport is a 30-minute drive (taxis cost around $35) from downtown Vancouver. Canada Line rapid transit SkyTrain services also run from YVR to downtown Vancouver (25 minutes; up to $15.50). Many visitors drive to Vancouver from other parts of Canada or the US: there are several US border crossings less than an hour from the city including the popular Peace Arch Crossing. Cross-border and Canadian bus services arrive at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station, which also receives VIA Rail national train services plus Amtrak rail services from the US.

    What’s the best time to visit Vancouver?

    July and August are the height of Vancouver’s visitor season, with accommodation rates at their peak and leading attractions often crowded. It’s warm and sunny at this time of year, with temperatures averaging 22°C. It’s often only slightly cooler in June and September, though, with lower hotel rates and reduced crowds. Mild temperatures characterize the rest of the year. It rarely falls to 0°C but rain is common between October and April when rain gear is recommended.

    What are the main Vancouver neighborhoods?

    Downtown Vancouver houses most of the city’s hotels plus the major thoroughfares of Robson Street and Granville Street, where restaurants and chain stores abound. Alongside is the West End, where tranquil residential streets fringe Stanley Park, a jewel-like oasis of woodland trails and oceanfront views. South of the city center, one-time railyard Yaletown now houses chichi stores and restaurants. It’s a short walk from here to Gastown and Chinatown, Vancouver’s main historic districts, where heritage buildings house great stores, bars, and restaurants. This area is part of the larger Downtown Eastside, where drug problems, mental health issues, and homelessness are major challenges: it’s generally safe for visitors but street smarts are required.

    A short drive, bike ride, or transit hop connects visitors to other recommended city areas: Granville Island is a stroll-worthy haven of artsy stores, theatres, and the popular Public Market; Main Street is an indie shopper’s paradise; Commercial Drive is a bohemian strip of cool restaurants; Kitsilano includes heritage houses, beaches, and Vanier Park museums; and the University of British Columbia houses cultural attractions including the top-rated Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Click here for more in-depth information on Vancouver’s neighborhoods.

    What’s the best way to get around Vancouver?

    A car is not essential here. Neighborhoods are walkable and each can be reached on foot, by bike (there are designated bike lanes), or via public transit. From downtown, bus 19 services Stanley Park; bus 3 covers Chinatown and Main Street; bus 50 stops just off Granville Island; the SkyTrain trundles to Commercial Drive. There’s also a scenic, 15-minute transit ferry SeaBus service from downtown to the City of North Vancouver, home of several additional attractions. A transit DayPass costs $10.50. Taxis are relatively easy to find in Vancouver and both Uber and Lyft also operate here.

    What are the best things to do in Vancouver?

    The best things to do here include exploring distinctive neighborhoods from Chinatown to Granville Island; dining out on everything from fresh-catch seafood to authentic international cuisine (Asian food is especially well-represented here); accessing the great outdoors from spectacular Stanley Park to the rainforest trails of the North Shore; checking out top-notch attractions including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology (MOA), Granville Island Public Market, and Capilano Suspension Bridge; diving into guided or self-directed hiking, biking, and kayaking experiences; and discovering the region’s rich Indigenous heritage via museums, galleries, and more. Looking for guided tours? There are several great options to choose from in Vancouver.

    What are the best ways to experience Indigenous culture in Vancouver?

    Hugely popular with visitors, there are many ways to encounter the culture and heritage of those who have called this region home for thousands of years. Start with a Talaysay Tour guided walk in Stanley Park; explore the exquisite and evocative artifacts at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art; and try an authentic indigenous meal at Salmon n’ Bannock bistro.

    What are the best ways to explore the outdoors/wildlife in Vancouver?

    Start by walking the 8.5km Stanley Park Seawall, a forest-backed waterfront trail with dramatic ocean views––watch for herons, bald eagles, and tiny hummingbirds en route. Next, follow the park’s internal trails to encounter raccoons, beavers, Douglas squirrels, and more. Additional urban nature areas in Vancouver include Pacific Spirit Regional Park, which has lots of forested trails, and the Arbutus Greenway, a former rail line now transformed into a flora-fringed walking and biking route. Across Burrard Inlet from downtown Vancouver, the North Shore is striped with rainforest and mountain-framed hiking and biking trails: start at Grouse Mountain and also add the trails around Seymour and Cypress. Click here for more on Vancouver-area nature walks and hikes.

    Are there any winter activities in Vancouver?

    The city itself typically doesn’t see much snow. But the mountains on the edge of Vancouver are a haven for those who love skiing, snowboarding, and more. Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, and Mount Seymour are each less then 30 minutes by car from Vancouver and all have great facilities for wintertime powder fans. Celebrated ski resort Whistler is also just a 90-minute drive north of Vancouver via Highway 99.

    What’s the dining scene like in Vancouver?

    The city is a smorgasbord of enticing eat-out options covering all price ranges and almost every cuisine. As an oceanfront city, seafood is not surprisingly a huge hook here (sushi fans are especially well-served). Asian dining is also a strong point with highly authentic dishes from China, Korea, Japan, and beyond. Almost every other global cuisine can easily be found in Vancouver with great Mexican, French, African, Italian, and South American dining readily available. Food trucks are also popular (although they’re not always the best value) and food courts are a great option for budget travelers.

    How’s the nightlife in Vancouver?

    As the craft beer capital of Canada, Vancouver has dozens of delicious microbreweries. And most of them have inviting tasting lounges that operate like small neighborhood bars. Consider planning an easy microbrewery hop in East Vancouver (top options include Andina Brewing, Strange Fellows Brewing, Parallel 49 Brewing) or around the Olympic Village and Main Street areas (R&B Brewing and Brassneck Brewery recommended). Vancouver’s best bars are in Gastown and along Main Street, while popular live music venues include the Commodore Ballroom, Guilt & Co., and Biltmore Cabaret.

    What are the best festivals to check out in Vancouver?

    The biggest festivals take place in summer here and include the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Pride Week, and July 1’s Canada Day celebrations when the city is a sea of flag-waving and maple leaf tattoos. September’s Vancouver Fringe Festival and October’s Vancouver International Film Festival also lure thousands, while November’s Eastside Culture Crawl is a great way to hang with the locals and immerse in the city’s art scene.

    Where should I stay in Vancouver?

    Downtown’s multitudinous chain and boutique hotels provide hub-like access to most city areas and attractions as well as key transit routes. In contrast, the West End and Kitsilano areas offer charming, mostly higher-end heritage house B&Bs on quiet residential streets. Keep in mind that July and August availability is often tight so book as far ahead as possible.

    How many days should I stay in Vancouver?

    A week to 10 days is ideal to fully explore the city’s attractions and neighborhoods. But add another week or two to discover some of British Columbia’s additional destinations. Vancouver is a great springboard from which to explore Vancouver Island (don’t miss B.C.’s capital Victoria); the laid-back Southern Gulf Islands (check out the giant Salt Spring Island Saturday Market); the outdoorsy alpine village of Whistler; and even the bucolic lakeside charms of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley wine region.

    Is Vancouver expensive?

    Peak summer hotel accommodation is pricy in Vancouver but traveling slightly off-peak can easily save visitors a lot of money. Drink and dining costs are generally reasonable here and there are plenty of value-priced options for keeping budgets in check. The most expensive attractions include the Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver Art Gallery, and Capilano Suspension Bridge but free or lower-cost alternatives can also be found––and there are plenty of cost-free parks and trails to explore as well. Hiring a car is not required in Vancouver; the local transit system is cheap and easy to use.

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