Travel better with our tourists' guide to Vancouver
This is our Vancouver travel guide; a place to find out what the best things to do in Vancouver are as well as transport tips, advice on money and generally some really cool stuff we found during our last visit.
Here's what you can expect from this Vancouver travel guide:
- Facts about Vancouver
- International travel to Vancouver
- How to get to Vancouver from the airport
- Public transport in Vancouver
- Food in Vancouver
- Money in Vancouver
- Vancouver's Weather
- Things to do in Vancouver
Firstly, some facts about Vancouver
Vancouver is located on the north west coast of Canada in the province of British Columbia. It's 142 miles north of Seattle in the United States of America, and 526 miles west of the Rocky Mountains and tourist mecca, Banff.
Vancouver is one mighty metropolis of culture, with an outrageous amount of things to see and do in and around British Columbia's largest city, such as nearby Grouse Mountain, Granville Market, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Canada Place, Gastown and a whole lot more, which we'll cover a bit later on.
Every Vancouver travel guide, local or tourist will tell you what an eco-friendly and generally green place the city is. And with good reason; protecting the environment and making the city an easy place to live are principles that go back 150 years, when the early settlers first arrived. It's thanks to this mantra that Vancouver consistently ranks among the highest in cleanest and best places to live polls, due to little pollution, amazing health care and generally high living standards.
In 2017, Vancouver was awarded the world's greenest city by both the World Economic Forum and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thanks to plenty of lovely trees in the famous Stanley Park.
Not only is Vancouver green, The Economist ranks this city as the best place to live in the whole of North America, while Mercer's Quality of Living Survey says it's the third-best place to live in the world after Vienna and Zurich.
Having travelled to Vancouver, take it from us, we can genuinely see why. So, let's get on with this Vancouver travel guide...
International travel to Vancouver
Travelling to Vancouver from the UK is a doddle; here's how our trip to Canada went.
Flying to Vancouver from Gatwick
We flew from Gatwick airport, and our trip was made all that bit easier thanks to staying in an airport hotel the night before and leaving our car with one of our helpful airport car parks in the morning.
Airport Lounges at Gatwick
Having arrived at the airport and checked in, we made a dash for the Clubrooms airport lounge at the South Terminal, where we stocked up on breakfast, unlimited coffee and a few pastries before embarking on our 10-hour flight.
If you've never used an airport lounge before, check out this guide. And don't just take our word for it - we flew during the school holidays when the airport was packed with tourists making their way to their well-deserved summer holidays, so being able to shut the door on the masses outside was absolutely glorious! For more information about airport lounges, click here.
How to get to Vancouver from the airport
Getting out of Vancouver International
Vancouver International airport, or YVR, is less than 10 miles from Downtown Vancouver and is Canada's second busiest airport, after Toronto Pearson International. Getting to the city centre from the airport, both by taxi or by public transport, is pretty straightforward. Here's what you can do.
Trains to Vancouver from the airport
The SkyTrain is Vancouver's above ground metro system which, like London's DLR, has driverless trains taking commuters across the city. It's roughly a half-and-hour journey for less than $7 on the Canada line.
You can read more about public transport in Vancouver later in this travel guide.
Getting to Vancouver by car from the airport
If you plan on hiring a car through us for your time in Vancouver, perhaps as a way of getting from the the airport to your hotel, the route is approximately 10 miles to the city-proper and takes around 20 minutes in good traffic.
Alternatively, a taxi will cost around $45.
Hiring a car in Vancouver
On the subject of hiring a car to get about, this piece of advice has got to be a first for us... we would thoroughly recommend a car over public transport in this city because driving in Vancouver was an absolute breeze making it a perfectly viable option for getting around during your trip.
We hired a car and absolutely loved the freedom; parking is ample, the roads are wide and easy to navigate, plus the locals were generally patient and good mannered.
Public transport in Vancouver
That being said about hiring a car, getting around Vancouver by public transport is just as easy and relatively cheap in comparison, plus the services are clean and reliable as well. Your four options to get around Vancouver are:
- The SkyTrain
- Public buses
- The Sea Bus
Getting around Vancouver via public transport
How to use the Vancouver SkyTrain
Vancouver's metro system has three lines operating all over the city. They are the Expo line, the Millennium line and the Canada line:
- The Canada Line is the route we took from the airport. The train goes directly north from Vancouver International to Waterfront, which is downtown Vancouver. The Canada Line also has another route which operates between Waterfront and Richmond-Brighouse stations in the south.
- The Expo Line also has two routes serving the south east areas of the city centre; Waterfront Station and King George are one route, and the other runs between Waterfront Station and Production Way-University Station.
- The Millennium Line runs from East to West between VCC-Clark Station and Lougheed Town Centre Station.
Vancouver's public buses
TransLink buses run a continuous service throughout the day, with some express lines that make fewer stops so you can get about even quicker. Vancouver also has environmentally friendly electric trolley buses, or trams, that operate in a north-south direction on major routes through the city.
The Seabus is a pretty nifty way to get across the Burrard Inlet. The Seabus connects Lonsdale Quay to downtown Vancouver, offering some pretty awesome views of the the city skyline.
The journey takes less than 20 minutes, the ferry departs every 15 and it's clean and spacious.
Tickets for Vancouver public transport
The great news is that the same tickets will work on all of Vancouver's public transport, which makes life super-easy when it comes to getting about seamlessly.
There are two things you need to know:
- The price of a single journey depends on the zones you travel across - Zone 1 costs $2.85 (£1.60), zone 2 is $4.10 (£2.30), zone 3 is $5.60 (£3.19). If you travel across zones, just add the prices together. For example, a journey from zone 1 to 2 will cost $2.85 (£1.60) plus $4.10 (£2.30) for a total of $6.95 (£3.90). Also, a 'single' gives you 90 minutes of unlimited journeys starting from the time you touch in on the first one.
- A 24 hour unlimited travelcard will set you back $10, or $15 to include a journey to the airport.
Best apps for getting around Vancouver
We can hand-on-our-hearts swear that navigating your way around Vancouver is super easy, thanks to Google Maps. Also, we're big fans of Citymapper, which was as reliable and useful whenever we fancied a change throughout this trip.
What's the food scene in Vancouver?
Errr... the food in Vancouver is totally super-awesome. It's a paradise for any self-respecting food-lover with no shortage of amazing places to eat. In fact, local foodies refer to Vancouver as the culinary capital of Canada - try saying that with a mouth full of poutine.
What is poutine?
FYI, poutine is a traditional Canadian dish which is essentially meat-based gravy on fries dashed with lashings of chewy cheese curds. All you need to know is that it's delicious and can be found in pretty much any self-respecting diner, including large chains like McDonald's.
Places to eat in Vancouver
As far as finding decent restaurants in Vancouver you won't be hard-pushed to find somewhere to chow down, like Steamworks Brewing Co. near Gastown and Waterfront. We highly recommend the pork and peach sandwich.
Vancouver Street Food
The street food in Vancouver is world class and one place to definitely check out is Granville Market. This thriving market lies south of Vancouver and is home to, and we're not joking, hundreds of amazing stalls, eateries and vendors selling high-end street food that includes everything from soda to sushi, and it's bloomin' marvellous.
Our friends at Vancouver Foodie Tours told us to head to Lee's Honey Dipped Donuts, so we did. Now, we're telling you to go as well if you're after what can only be described as the fluffiest, chewiest and probably most delicious deep fried treat known to mankind. These donuts are delicious and reason alone to visit Granville Market.
Other treats are canadian smoked salmon bagels with cream cheese, capers and onions, and British Columbia cherries are their best during the summer and rival the good ol' British variety.
Granville Market is right on the False Creek inlet, meaning that there's a fair few seagulls looking to pinch a free lunch. Fortunately, there's indoor eating space and Granville Market is one of our favourite places to eat in vancouver, no less. However, you've been warned about those seagulls.
Japanese food in Vancouver
As the gateway to the Pacific ocean, It's fair to say that Asian food has had a major influence on the gastro-scene in Vancouver and the sushi here is probably the best outside of Japan. In fact, sushi is so popular among Vancouverites that the ubiquitous California Roll ACTUALLY originated in Vancouver. This type of sushi was extremely popular with tourists from LA and that's where it got it's name.
Japanese food is so popular that it's even merged with a popular North american staple; the unusual, but incredibly popular Japadog takes japanese delicacies and loads them on a hotdog. It's a funky fusion treat that just has to be tried.
You'll find vendors all across the city, each with a deliciously fused menu of hotdogs topped with seaweed, noodles and tempura prawns.
How to make the most of your money in Vancouver
What's the currency in Vancouver and Canada, I hear you ask?
Well, Canadians spend dollars, but not any old dollars, Canadian dollars – which aren't to be confused with their U.S counterparts.
Having been to Vancouver and spent lots of money and time there, we have to tell one of our favourite things about money in Canada: the common penny is no longer in circulation, with products and services always being rounded up to the nearest 5¢. This is great if you're like us and hate carrying loads of change around.
What's a Loonie?
You might hear locals talking about a Loonie. No, it's not an insult, but rather the local term for a $1 coin, which bears the picture of a bird, the common loon, on one of its sides.
In French-speaking parts of Canada, you might hear this same coin referred to in its French translation, a huard. Other slang terms include bucks and another French term, Piastre. Don't be confused; they're all the same thing.
Oh and a $2 dollar coin is called, yep, you guessed it, a Toonie.
Do Canadian dollars smell of maple syrup?
Apparently, Canadian dollars smell like maple syrup, however officials, which include the Bank of Canada, deny that there are artificial fragrances added.
That being said, we put the rumours of canadian money smelling like maple syrup to the test and can indeed confirm that yes they do. So there you have it, the word is out on that one.
Can I use my credit card in Canada?
Most major debit and credit cards are accepted across Canada and throughout Vancouver, however, you'll want to watch out for any additional fees or interest rates, depending on your account and card type.
Your normal debit card will work at ATMs and at the POS machines in shops and restaurants by tapping, swipe-and-signing and chip 'n' pin where available.
Vancouver widely accepts credit cards, with Visa and MasterCard being the most popular, followed by Amex and Diners Club, which are used, but not as widely.
So which is best, cash or card?
We suggest bringing a combination of cash and your card to Vancouver. If you want to use an ATM, make large cash withdrawals from your debit card from the ones at banks, rather than those in malls or supermarkets, since they'll charge less, if at all.
Big chains or established shops are likely to be more accommodating with your credit and debit cards than smaller shops or market stalls, though this isn't always the case and is best to check.
Also, just a point on courtesy, smaller, local shops or stalls in say the market, find it really annoying and inconvenient to have to break large bills like fifties and one-hundred-dollar bills. We've all been when the Bureau du Change give us our holiday monday in massive denominations - break them in restaurants or ask the bank or your hotel reception to change them up.
The thing to remember about the currency exchange in Vancouver when spending on your card is that it won't necessarily be the best, especially credit cards who can charge as much as 3% per transaction.
We recommend phoning your bank or going into your local branch ahead of your trip and checking how much interest you're likely to pay. While you're at it, get them to put a note on your file with your travel dates in case they flag up any unusual spending - this'll safeguard you against them stopping your card when you need it most.
Alternatively, pre-paid credit cards like FairFX and the Travel Money Card from the Post Office are a safe and reliable alternative. They have work like debit cards and can be used in shops, restaurants and ATMs. The offer competitive exchange rates, can be topped up online and can be used on more than one trip.
Do you have to tip in Canada?
A lot of people might ask if tipping is as big of a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S and we can tell you that yes it is. Tipping in Canada is expected, however, we have a slight clause on this custom...
Unlike the U.S, where service workers rely on tips to subsidise their minimum wage, tipping in Canada is not compulsory as people here are paid higher minimum wages.
As far as tipping goes, it's not compulsory but it is expected, and here's why.
It's fair to say that as a nation, Canadians pride themselves on their great manners and friendly attitude, especially in the service industries. By tipping poorly or not at all, say after a meal, you'd be telling the server that you received poor service and were massively dissatisfied, which is seen as a tad insulting.
Generally, 15-20% is a good benchmark, especially when it comes to restaurants. Hotel staff such as concierge, housekeeping and valet would also expect to be tipped, while 10% is a good guide for taxis.
If you see a tips jar on the counter on a shop, it's worth mentioning that these are not expected in the slightest, though a great place to donate your loose change.
Here's an approximate breakdown of what we've spent during our time in Vancouver:
- Flights - $700 per person (£399)
- Seabus and SkyTrain day pass - $10 (£5.70)
- Zone 1 single ticket - $3 (£1.70)
- Coffee - $4 (£2.30)
- Lee's Honey Dipped Donut - $2 (£1.15)
- Lunch for 3 people - $57 (£32.50)
- Hire car - $320 (£182)
- Airbnb - $290 (£165) per night between 3 people
- Maple syrup - $5 (£2.85)
What's the weather in Vancouver like?
Describing the weather in Vancouver is pretty simple. The city has what you could call traditional seasons, meaning that you can expect nice warm summers and cold, cold... cold winters.
We visited in early August, at the height of summer, and the weather was absolutely glorious. It was hot, sunny and generally very beautiful - perfect weather for exploring Vancouver, sightseeing the major hotspots and generally being outside.
Being on the sea, expect coastal breezes in Vancouver all-year-round, though it's quite reasonable to be walking around in shorts and a t-shirt through the warmer months, and then layered right up through the snowy winters.
Many people have asked us "when's best to visit Vancouver?" and we have to say that it genuinely depends on what you're after from your trip to Vancouver.
If you're after skiing in Vancouver and snow in Canada, then winter is your best bet.
In Autumn, Stanley Park is beautiful -in fact- Canada in general is beautiful in the Fall, especially as the leaves start turning around October, plus the autumn months are the best time for hiking thanks to the cooler weather. Grouse Mountain in particular, lies north of Vancouver which is well worth the 1,200m trek for a stunning view of the city. Don't forget that places like Banff national park are begging to be explored.
Of course, the best weather is from May to September during the spring and summer months.
In summary, we have to mention that there's a running joke among the Vancouver locals that say you'd be wise to carry an umbrella with you at all times, just in case.
Things to do in Vancouver
There's a tonne of awesome things to do in Vancouver; attractions and places of interest include:
Stanley Park is an absolute must for anyone visiting Vancouver! And the best bit is that it's really easy to get there. Stanley Park lies north of Vancouver, and is an epic park that's ideal for walking, running, rollerblading and cycling along the 5.5 miles of promenade and seawall.
If you're after something a bit off the beaten track, there are also gravel and dirt trails for off-road biking and hiking.
Thanks to a forest of approximately 150,000 trees, this part of Vancouver is teeming with plenty of critters, so expect to see plenty of wildlife in Stanley Park, like:
- Black squirrels
- Harbour seals
- Bald eagles and
Stanley Park is a designated national historic site of Canada and the world-famous totem poles mark the former settlement of a First Nations village. These ginormous colourful wooden structures are replicas of the original totems, which are currently being preserved in storage.
There is plenty of parking at Stanley Park, with clean toilet facilities and several coffee shops and restaurants to kick back and watch the world go by.
The Granville Island Public Market is a haven of shops, breweries, pop-up street food and even a water park.
We definitely recommend sparing a few hours to casually stroll the bustling market and grab a bite to eat from any of the stellar food stalls. We also picked up plenty of traditional maple syrup to bring back to the UK, as well as plenty of snacks for the rest of our trip.
Granville Market is super popular with locals and tourists alike. If you want to real experience, definitely speak to our friends at Vancouver Foodie Tours for a real taste of the Vancouver food scene.
We mentioned earlier how much of a multicultural city Vancouver is, and Chinatown is testament to the city being a friendly and diverse city that openly celebrates every walk of life.
For one thing, Chinatown is absolutely huge and is the place to find the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It's open all year round, though times vary depending on the season, so be sure to check the website ahead of your visit.
A final thing about Chinatown; there are a lot of homeless people, which can be quite intimidating to even the most seasoned traveller. Travel in large groups, keep belongings with you at all times and try to avoid walking late at night through this borough.
Shopping in Gastown
Gastown is Vancouver's oldest town, founded in 1867 by an English settler, 'Gassy Jack' Deighton. It's the place to come for Victorian architecture, cobbled streets, the iconic steam clock, First Nations art galleries and generally plenty of charm. It's also the place for trendy boutiques and where to buy your souvenirs.
If you're hungry, North west of Gastown, near Waterfront Station, is Japadog - a japanese-infused hotdog stand which is definitely not to be missed.
Grouse Mountain SkyRide
Grouse Mountain is one of the North Shore Mountains overlooking Vancouver and is a great place to visit if you're after epic views. You could take the stairs - around 100,000 people do every year, but the Skyride, a giant airborne gondola, will let you climb that 850m incline without breaking a sweat.There are x3 types of ticket - Alpine, Peak and Ultimate Experience. Alpine is about $45 and will get you on the Skyride, entry to Lumberjack Shows, bird demonstrations, Ranger Talks at the Bear Habitat. Peak Experience is $49 and includes all this and entry to the chairlift ride and Ultimate Experience includes everything mentioned AND entry to the Eye of the Wind glass view pod and is $59.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Probably one of the best tourist attractions in Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge; a breathtaking adventure that's definitely not to be missed!
Once you've braved the 140m walk along the suspension bridge, 70m above the river, you're met by plenty of things to see and do, like the tree-top bridges, birds of prey displays and the terrifying cliff walk.Visit Vancouver
So that's pretty much all the stuff you need to know about Vancouver. Travel guides don't come any better than this one, but even we don't know everything, so get in touch and leave a comment if you've got some tips or advice to help other Vancouver travellers.
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