Last updated: April 14th, 2020
When people ask me what I think is the most beautiful city in Canada, Vancouver is top of mind. Although it’s one of the most densely populated cities in North America, it’s also surrounded by such stunning natural beauty, including lush forest, mountains, and the Pacific ocean. It’s because of it’s setting that I often rank Vancouver as one of the prettiest cities on Earth.
Vancouver is also vastly urban, with hundreds of skyscrapers dotting the landscape. You can easily be surrounded by a concrete jungle in the morning and out in the forest in the afternoon. This is what makes it such a great place to visit. However, it’s also one of the most expensive cities in Canada, especially when it comes to real estate and accommodation.
If you’re looking for a vibrant art scene, delicious Japanese cuisine, historic districts, thriving markets, incredible urban parks, and beautiful vistas, Vancouver should be on your bucket list. In this Vancouver Travel Guide, we’ll share with you some of the best things to do in Vancouver while also sharing some tips on saving money, how to get around, where to stay, and more.
Getting to Vancouver
If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Vancouver, here’s some practical advice on how to get here.
Getting to Vancouver by Plane
If you’re flying into Vancouver, you’ll most likely be flying into Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Although there are other smaller airports around, this is the one that gets used by most visitors. It’s located just 25 minutes from downtown, is rated as one of the best airports in North America, and offers easy access into downtown Vancouver, including the Skytrain.
From the airport to downtown, take the Canada Line for just $13 CAD.
Getting to Vancouver by Car
Vancouver is also a great place to visit by car. Most people would be either driving west from interior BC or the mountains or driving up from the USA. Vancouver shares one of the busiest border crossings in the country and lots of people traverse the border for work. The drive between Seattle and Vancouver is less than three hours. If you’re on a Canada Road Trip, the drive from Calgary to Vancouver is one of the most scenic drives in the country, passing through numerous national parks and jaw-dropping scenery.
Getting to Vancouver by Bus
Although western Canada lost the service of Greyhound, there are still a few options for getting to Vancouver by bus. From Calgary, there’s the Rider Express, which takes just over 13 hours. From Seattle, the bus takes around 4 hours and is served by Greyhound, Bolt Bus, and Quick Shuttle. The easiest way to check options is by using Busbud.com.
How to Get Around Vancouver
Vancouver is probably one of the best cities in Canada for public transportation. This is due to the fact that the city is so densely populated, similar to places like New York. Because of this, tourists will find it quite easy to use the train, buses, or other modes of transportation.
Train: Both the SkyTrain Rapid Transit system and the Canada Line are common ways of traversing the city of Vancouver. You can get almost anywhere with one-way tickets ranging from $3 to $5.75 CAD. You can also buy a day pass for $10.50 CAD or a Compass Card for loading money on to. For schedules and more, visit Translink.ca.
Bus: Vancouver’s bus system also works well but only operates on one-zone fares, which can be annoying at times. Tickets between the trains and the buses are non-transferable either unless you use the Compass Card. However, if you’re travelling around at night, the buses run later than the trains, so they might be your best choice.
SeaBus: If you’re travelling by water, such as from Downtown Vancouver to the North Shore, you can jump on the SeaBus, which is also run by Translink.ca.
Taxi: Like most of Canada, taxis are not cheap but they can be convenient. Prices start at $3.50 CAD and it’s $1.89 CAD per kilometre after. As of January 2020, Uber and Lyft are also possible in downtown Vancouver.
Bicycle: Vancouver is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country and there are many places to rent them. We definitely recommend renting one to bike around Stanley Park, but traversing the city can be a good option as well. The public bike rental system is called Mobi, which costs $12 CAD per day for unlimited 30-minute rides.
Weather in Vancouver (Best Time to Visit)
Vancouver is one of the mildest cities in Canada, receiving very little snowfall and rarely dipping below 0°C. It does, however, get a lot of rain, especially in the winter months.
The busiest time to visit Vancouver is just like all cities in Canada – the summer! It gets quite hot and sunny during the summer months, averaging around 25°C. Like all Canadian cities, this is when the city truly comes to life. However, prices are also highest at this time.
As mentioned, the winters in Vancouver are milder than almost anywhere else in Canada, with temperatures averaging just 6°C. However, you can still enjoy a “classic winter” by hitting the slopes of the world-famous Whistler Mountain Resort or Grouse Mountain.
Other times to visit would be the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. These can be rainy times to visit but are generally warm in temperature. Not hot. However, prices are less, crowds are fewer, and certain activities are in their primes, such as whale watching, which is best between April and May.
What to Do in Vancouver
Vancouver is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada, which creates loads of attractions, activities, and other things to do. Below is a list of some of the best things to do when visiting Vancouver.
Explore Stanley Park
Whenever we go to Vancouver, we always make sure we take time to ride a bike or go for a walk around Stanley Park. It’s Vancouver’s first urban park and remains the largest with over 400-hectares of natural West Coast rainforest. It’s filled with beautiful beaches, local wildlife, and historical landmarks. It’s also home to the incredible aquarium. Whether you walk within Stanley Park while marveling at magnificent trees, or take the seawall for stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Stanley Park is a great place to go to be immersed in nature while inside the city. The park is open from 6 am until 10 pm unless otherwise posted.
Visit the Vancouver Aquarium
While visiting Stanley Park, you may want to pay a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium as well. This is Canada’s largest aquarium with more than 70,000 beautiful creatures, such as dolphins, anacondas, sea otters, sloths, and more. The Vancouver Aquarium is also well respected for its research and marine stewardship and is a great place to learn about the region’s marine life.
Visit Granville Island
Located right in the middle of the city is a little peninsula that’s become a popular hub for food and drink. Granville Island has a wonderful food market, a famous brewery, and a variety of cool shops. In the summer, it’s also alive with boat taxis, paddle-boarders, and kayakers.
Quite possibly Vancouver’s top outdoor attraction, Grouse Mountain is a great place to go for grueling mountain hikes or even an easy gondola ride to get jaw-dropping views of the city and the surrounding mountains. In the winter, it’s also popular for skiing and snowboarding. The gondola costs $60 CAD.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Another popular attraction is the 450-foot long Capilano suspension bridge, which hangs over the Capilano River. For those afraid of heights, it’s quite the thrill. The bridge, along with the surrounding trails and lush forest makes for a great attraction for those visiting the city. Cost: $54 CAD.
Hike around Lynn Canyon Park Suspension Bridge
If you’d like to live like a local and go for a hike in a beautiful area complete with another suspension bridge, Lynn Canyon Park is a great option. For one, the suspension bridge here is free and it’s still 150-feet high! There are also short scenic hikes, swimming holes, and waterfalls. It’s a great place to spend a good half day.
Vancouver Whale Watching
If you really want to see something magical while visiting Vancouver, consider a Vancouver whale watching tour. Vancouver and Vancouver Island are famous for Orca whales, including resident orca whales and transient orca whales. We’ve had spectacular whale watching experiences around Vancouver and also out in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. While nature can be unpredictable, your chances of seeing them are very high. Tours cost approximately $145 CAD.
Stroll around Gastown
No visit to Vancouver would be complete without visiting Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood. Once home to a single tavern back in 1867, it’s now a very trendy part of the city with a plethora of restaurants, cafes, vars, and shops. It’s also home to beautiful historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and the famous Steam Clock, which goes off every hour.
Take a Historic Walking Tour
If you really want to learn about Vancouver’s history while taking in the shabby East Village and Gastown districts, consider taking a Forbidden Vancouver walking tour. You’ll learn all about Vancouver’s dark history, including bootlegging, opium dens, corruption, and riots.
Walk down Robson Street
If you’re visiting Vancouver, you probably want to spend some time in the city itself and one of the best streets to walk around ios Robson Street. It’s full of delicious international restaurants, hipster cafes, and shops. It’s a great place for people watching and feeling the soul of Vancouver. For lovers of Japanese food, there’s no shortage of it in Vancouver and you’ll find plenty of sushi bars, ramen shops, and Japanese bars to enjoy here.
This recently-converted industrial neighborhood is now home to some of the city’s most popular pubs and eateries. It’s one of those places where you can eat lunch on a patio, go for a walk along the neighboring Seawall, admire the street art, or just hang out in one of the nearby parks, such as David Lam Park or George Wainborn Park.
Watch a Sporting Event
If you’re into professional sports, Vancouver’s a great place to be. Vancouver is home to both a Canadian Football Team – the BC Lions – as well as a National Hockey League team – The Vancouver Canucks. If you’re visiting in the summer, football is on the agenda, whereas in the winter, it’s all about the Canucks. Vancouver is also home to the White Caps soccer team.
Go Nude at Wreck Beach
If you’re looking for a nude beach, this is the only one in the city. Here you’ll find naked folks just “hanging” out, sunbathing, swimming, and listening to music. It’s places like this that made Vancouver famous back in the ’70s. It’s located in Pacific Spirit Regional Park.
Be Creative at the Vancouver Art Gallery
If art is your thing, you won’t want to miss the collection of national and international artwork at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It’s home to more than 9,000 works of art, a whole exhibit devoted to Emily Carr (BC’s favorite historical artist) and late-night parties with live music. Admission is $24 CAD but is pay-what-you-want on Tuesday’s.
Visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Did you know? This was the first authentic Chinese garden built outside of China. It’s also been named the top city garden in the world by National Geographic and is located right in the heart of the city. Admire the ponds filled with koi fish, the 150-year-old miniature trees, and the various covered walkways as you walk around the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It’s made even more special considering it was made using 14th-century methods, which means no glue, power tools, or screws! Admission is just $14 CAD.
Get a View from the lookout
If you’re looking for a view of the city, head on over to the downtown Harbour Centre’s observation deck for panoramic views over the city, mountains, and ocean. Admission is $18 CAD.
Explore the Museum of Anthropology at UBC
If you’re looking for one of the world’s finest displays of Northwest Coast First Nations arts, this is the place to go! Located in the University of British Columbia just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, you’ll find spectacular carvings, weavings and contemporary artworks inside a gorgeous building overlooking the mountains and sea. You’ll also find the world’s largest collection of works by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid, 9,000 objects from around the world, a collection of European ceramic unique to North America, and monumental Haida houses and totem poles on the museum grounds. Admission is $18 CAD.
Admire the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art
This Gallery is the only public Gallery in Canada dedicated to contemporary Indigenous Northwest Coast Art, making it a spectacular place to witness art from the region. Inside you’ll find the Bill Reid SFU Art Collection, as well as special exhibitions and programs that build bridges between all peoples. It’s located in downtown Vancouver, walking distance from the Pacific Centre. Admission is $13 CAD.
Eat at the Richmond Night Market
For all the foodies out there, one of the coolest – and tastiest – spots you can visit in the city is the Richmond Night Market. Open between May and September, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped foot into Asia, enjoying a wide range of Asian food, culture, and shopping. Snacks start at $2 CAD.
Go on a Food Tour
Vancouver is a great place for food lovers and Vancouver Foodie Tours is one of the most popular food tours in the city. They’ll take you to as many as eight different spots around Gastown and Granville Island, making sure your tastebuds are satisfied. Tickets start at $95 CAD.
Best Breweries in Vancouver
Trying to decide the best breweries in Vancouver is like trying to decide the best pizza joint in Italy. There are so many breweries in Vancouver and all of them are good. You can’t go wrong. However, we reached out to a local and asked them to name 5. Here they are:
Brassneck Brewery: According to many locals, Brassneck Brewery makes the best beer in the city. Whether you order your favourite pint or a flight of four, the prices are very reasonable and they have a great location on Main street.
Main Street Brewing: Another brewery on Main street, this one is known for its great beer and comfy, laid back room.
33 Acres Brewing Company: If you’re looking for coffee and beer, this is the place to go. It’s now become so popular, they’ve had to expand…but not too much.
Callister Brewing Company: Located walking distance from must-see Gastown, this cool little brewery creates tiny, collaborative brews. People love it not only for their great beer but because 4 microbreweries share the same space, giving you lots of options. We’ve also heard great things about the bacon cheese board.
Powell Brewery: If you love tiny and Old Skool, this is the place to go. This husband-and-wife-team-owned nano-brewery won “Beer of the Year” from the Canadian Brewing Awards for their Old Jalopy Pale Ale. Suddenly, they weren’t so small, as more people requested their all-natural, hand-crafted beers.
If that’s not enough for you, consider a day trip out to Port Moody or North Vancouver for their walkable brewery districts. Both are accessible by transit. Cheers!
Tips for Saving Money in Vancouver
When it comes to costs, Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada, especially when it comes to real estate. However, there are still some ways you save some money.
Free parks and gardens: There are loads of free parks and gardens to enjoy around the city, such as world-famous Stanley Park. Spend some time outside, enjoy the fresh air, and don’t spend a dime.
Free Walking Tours: Every time we take a “free” walking tour somewhere in the world, we’re impressed. It’s just a great way to learn some key facts and stories before enjoying the city at your own pace. You should definitely be prepared to tip but still, it’s a cheap way to enjoy a new city.
Discounted Entertainment: If you want to experience the entertainment side of Vancouver, check out ticketstonight.ca to look for half-priced entertainment tickets.
Enjoy Happy Hour: Eating and drinking during happy hour is a great way to save money and most bars and restaurants have discounts at certain times. Search for the Ultimate Happy Hours website for updated info across the city.
Same-Day Sports Tickets: If you want to watch a sports game and save money at the same time, the Tourism Vancouver Visitors’ Centre actually offers “Tickets Tonight”, which is half-priced tickets for events that haven’t sold out.
Spend Tuesday evening the Vancouver Art Gallery on a Tuesday: Want to check out some incredible art for cheap? After 5 pm on Tuesday nights, the Vancouver Art Gallery is by donation only.
Coupon Sites: Like most cities, Vancouver has lots of deals on sites like Groupon and Living Social.
Purchase Tickets Online: Vancouverattractions.com lets you purchase tickets in advance, saving you up to 30%!
Where to Stay in Vancouver
Vancouver is home to a plethora of accommodation, ranging from budget hostels to super high-end hotels and everything in-between. For those on an extreme budget, you might want to try Couchsurfing, which can be great to meet like-minded people as well. Other recommendations include:
Samesun Hostel: For those on a budget, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better hostel than Samesun Vancouver. It’s centrally located, near the Skytrain, and is walking distance from Granville Island and Gastown. It’s one of the most popular hostels in Vancouver and for good reason.
Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre: Way back in 2010, we scored this beautiful hotel on Priceline for a 50% discount. While I’m not sure you’d find a deal like that anymore, all I can say is that the views from our balcony on the 27th floor were hard to beat. Like any Sheraton hotel, it’s beautiful inside and out.
If you want to try something new, check out Airbnb for unique accommodation around the city.
Fun Things to Do in Vancouver and Beyond
Another great part about Vancouver is that there are so many things to do outside of the city as well. From taking the ferry over to magical Vancouver Island, road tripping up to Whistler, driving to wine country around Kelowna, or going all the way past the Canadian Rockies to Calgary, Alberta, there are so many things to do for all types of travellers.
For more on what to do outside of Vancouver, check out these articles below: