Canada’s third largest city and the jewel of British Columbia is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world. Home to incredible green spaces, natural beauty, a huge commercial harbor and a wonderful walking downtown, Vancouver attracts tourists from all over the globe for its mild weather, outdoor adventures, and spectacular food scene.
So what do visitors need to plan the most fun and effective Vancouver itineraries? This guide will help you balance fun with exploring the unique features that make Vancouver a world-class destination.
A major city, Vancouver is an easy place to visit by plane. Air Canada and WestJet fly there from most every major US gateway, and other flag airlines make the journey from their countries to this corner of Canada.
Customs is pretty efficient at the airport. I was in and out in under 30 minutes. (Oddly enough, US immigration has a station at the Vancouver airport, so you’ll go through customs before flying to the US.)
The airport is well south of downtown, which is likely where you’ll be headed. If you don’t want to shell out for a cab, try the Sky Train. The Canada line goes from the airport directly to downtown, and will run you about $5.70 (plus a surcharge leaving the airport). Best part is it’s payable through Apple Pay or its equivalent so you don’t need to worry about getting a ticket from a machine. Just tap on and off.
An easy ride on the Sky Train will take you into downtown, home of some awesome glass skyscrapers
Most things you’ll want to do in Vancouver are downtown, or in the adjacent areas. That said, these neighborhoods are somewhat spread out, so while they are walkable (and I walked), one could easily walk 5-10 miles per day getting from place to place.
Public transportation downtown is pretty much buses, so if walking isn’t your thing, cabs might be a better way to go. One thing is clear: don’t bother with a rental car. Even if you want to go out of downtown, the Sky Train can accomplish that, or a variety of shuttles to some of the farther out sights.
(Edited to reflect that Uber does not exist in Vancouver at this moment in time. Thank you to my readers for pointing that out!)
If you want to explore like a local, look into renting a bicycle. There are bike paths all over!
You can bike the sea wall in Stanley Park
Where to Stay
In Vancouver, there are two options of where to stay. You can stay on a budget outside of downtown and “commute” in for your tourist activities. Or you can stay downtown and be near the action. I recommend the latter. Even though hotels can be pricy – the city is not known for being inexpensive – the ambience and ability to walk makes it worthwhile in my opinion.
Most major hotel brands have properties in downtown Vancouver, so you’ll have your pick. This is a good city to use free nights from credit cards.
What to Do
Let’s start with the obvious places. Stanley Park is an expansive green space just north of downtown. Walk along the sea wall for the best views of downtown across the harbor, check out the totem poles, and just enjoy being outside, one of the top Vancouver pastimes. For a bit more culture, make sure to check out Gastown, the original part of the city, and Chinatown, one of the largest and most vibrant in the world.
If weather is in agreement, consider taking a ferry to Vancouver Island, or even just a harbor or whale watching cruise. You can even rent a car for the day and head to Whistler, about two hours north.
Most importantly, make sure you just enjoy the vibe of the city. Vancouver is filled with some wonderful people. They love their city, and most are very willing to talk to visitors all about it!
The steam powered clock in Gastown is a popular spot to see
What to Eat
Vancouver has some pretty great food, especially of varying Asian varieties due to its huge population from that part of the world. So if soup dumplings are something you like, make sure to head to Dinesty Dumpling House to grab an order or three. (If soup dumplings aren’t something you like, you should probably still have some.) Numerous options for Chinese street food exist in Chinatown, so follow your nose and the crowds.
The other “must have” of Vancouver can be found a short boat ride from downtown. The Granville Island Public Market is the place to go to try some amazing local delicacies. From produce to donuts to poutine (not as good here as in Montreal) to a delicious wild salmon chowder, take an hour to wander through the rows of vendors and try something new.
Granville Island Public Market
Vancouver has routinely ranked as one of the happiest cities in the world. What does that mean? Are the standards used to judge such things logical?
Other Useful Information
Vancouver is similar to American west coast cities. It is diverse, fairly progressive politically, and has a distinct hippy vibe in places.
French may be the second language of Canada, but it isn’t used at all outside of official purposes in Vancouver. Chinese dialects are much more useful.
Vancouver is a truly wonderful city. It combines some of the best features a visitor can ask for: mild weather, nice people, good food, and fun neighborhoods to explore. One can easily spend a week, but it can be adequately seen in just a couple days, making this a great destination for both short and long trips.
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