Explore Vancouver, Canada
Explore Vancouver the largest metropolitan area in Western Canada, and third largest in Canada, with a population of 2.6 million. Located at the southwestern corner of the coastal province of British Columbia, it is well known for its majestic natural beauty, as it is nestled between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It is frequently ranked as one of the “best cities to live in” and is certainly a beautiful destination to visit.
Vancouverites broadly split their city into three: the Westside, the Eastside (or East Van) and city centre. This split is simply geography: everything west of Ontario St is the Westside, everything east is East Vancouver and everything north of False Creek is the city centre. Each of these areas has their own attractions and neighborhoods, so time permitting, explore as many as you can. The areas in the city of Vancouver are frequently confused with the separate cities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver. North Vancouver and West Vancouver are north of Burrard Inlet and are not part of the city of Vancouver itself.
The financial, shopping and entertainment centre of the city. It has many of Vancouver’s most notable landmarks and easy connections to other parts of the city and the Lower Mainland. With its multitude of accommodation and restaurant options, it is the ideal, if pricey, place to base yourself for exploring the city.
Stanley Park and the West End
- One of the most popular places to hang out in the Vancouver, with its beaches, Stanley Park and lots of little shops and eateries.
- The original town site of Vancouver. Gastown is a mix of kitsch, heritage and urban chic. Chinatown is one of the largest Chinatowns in North America.
- Reclaimed industrial land that is now modern trendy neighborhoods with some fantastic views along False Creek. The district hosts Vancouver’s major spectator sports and is home to the Athlete’s Village from the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Kitsilano & Granville Island
- The very popular Kitsilano Beach, art studios, the famous Granville Island Public Market and fantastic urban style shopping – particularly 4th Avenue, 10th Avenue and Broadway where chain stores mix with unique independent shops.
- The University of British Columbia campus has a number of attractions, including two sets of gardens and the acclaimed Museum of Anthropology. Nearby is Pacific Spirit Park, and further east in Point Grey, are two large beaches, Jericho and Spanish Banks. The UBC campus is also home to the popular clothing optional beach, Wreck Beach.
Mt Pleasant-South Main
- Main Street is an up and coming artsy part of the city filled with unique shops. Nearby is Queen Elizabeth Park, which is the highest point in Vancouver and has some excellent free gardens.
Commercial Drive-Hastings Park
- A mostly residential area of the city. Commercial Drive is a trendy neighborhood containing many ethnic restaurants and unique boutiques.
- A mostly residential area that includes the Kerrisdale, Dunbar, Oakridge, Marpole and Shaughnessy neighborhoods.
This list covers only the city itself. For its many suburbs, see Lower Mainland.
While Vancouver is a comparatively young city, at just over 125 years, its history begins long before. The Coast Salish indigenous peoples (First Nations) have lived in the area for at least 6000 years, and Vancouver’s namesake Captain George Vancouver sailed through the First Narrows in 1792. The first settlement on the downtown peninsula was Granville, located on the spot of today’s Gastown. In the year of Canada’s confederation a saloon was built on this site and gave birth to a small shantytown of bars and stores adjacent to the original mill on the south shore of what is now the city’s harbor. A seemingly endless supply of high quality lumber was logged and sold through the ports of Gastown and Moodyville, across the inlet. Some of the trees were gigantic beams which were shipped to China to construct Beijing‘s Imperial Palace, and one account maintains that the world’s windjammer fleets could not have been built without the trees of Burrard Inlet.
With the exception of Victoria, Vancouver has the mildest climate of any major city in Canada; even palm trees grow here. It rains a lot in Vancouver, especially during the winters, but during the summer months Vancouver gets less rain than most other Canadian cities. During the winter months it can go weeks without seeing the sun or a dry day, but the temperature rarely goes below freezing. Heavy snowfalls are common in the nearby mountains, but unusual in the city itself and leads to major traffic congestion when snow accumulates. In the early summer the days often start out cloudy, due to marine air, but becomes clear by noon. Contrary to Vancouver’s wet reputation, during the summer it is actually the second driest major Canadian city (after Victoria). Summer temperatures are not extreme, the typical day time high between June and August is around 24-25°C (75-77°F) away from the immediate seaside cooling effect.
There is one word to describe Vancouver’s weather: unpredictable. The weather can be completely different depending on what part of the region you are in. It can be pouring rain on the North Shore and sunny in White Rock.
Vancouver has two official languages, English and French. The majority of the population speaks English, either exclusively or in conjunction with another language. Owing to the city’s racial makeup however, travelers can expect to hear conversations in Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), Punjabi, Tagalog and a variety of European languages.
Vancouverites, as they themselves admit, are a complex bunch. Outwardly, and to tourists, they are a genuinely friendly people. They’re happy to point a traveler in the right direction or recommend a good restaurant. New residents find them to be a bit cliquish, slow to accept newcomers. To paraphrase one journalist, Vancouverites will happily direct you to a coffee house; just don’t ask them to join you for a cup.
Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre, 200 Burrard St. 9AM-5PM. Offers maps, brochures and other information for visitors.
Vancouver International Airport is located immediately south of the city of Vancouver. It is the second busiest airport in and serves as the hub airport for Western Canada with frequent flights to other points in British Columbia, major cities across Canada and the U.S., Asia and several to Europe.
There are a number of ways to get into town from the airport.
SkyTrain – The Canada Line provides the only direct rapid transit public service downtown, in 25 minutes.
Taxi – Taxis line up just outside the baggage claim areas. A taxi ride into town should take under half an hour. All taxis that serve the airport are required to accept credit cards.
Limousines – Limojet Gold offers comfortable sedan and limousine options for getting into town. Rides into the city centre cost depends on where you are going and whether you are in a sedan or limo.
Vancouver is one of the few major cities in North America without a freeway leading directly into the downtown core (freeway proposals in the 1960s and 1970s were defeated by community opposition). As a result, development has taken a different course than in most other major North American cities resulting in a relatively high use of transit and cycling, a dense, walk able core and a development model that is studied and emulated elsewhere.
The Compass Card is a convenient way to store cash value which can be used to pay for fares and transfer between services. Having one of these cards reduces the need to have exact coin fare when paying on buses. In addition, when using Compass Card to pay for fares, a discounted fare is used. Compass Cards can be purchased at vending machines at SkyTrain/SeaBus stations, or at Fare Dealers across the region for a $6 refundable deposit. The deposit can be refunded at the Compass Card Customer Service Centre at Stadium SkyTrain Station, or at the West Coast Express office at Waterfront Station (or by mail).
Vancouver’s road network is generally a grid system with a “Street” running north-south and an “Avenue” running east-west. Arterial roads follow the grid fairly well (although not perfectly), but side streets frequently disappear for blocks at a time and then reappear. Most of the “Avenues” are numbered and they always use East or West to designate whether it is on the East side or the West side of Ontario Street. Some of the major avenues use names rather than numbers (Broadway would be 9th Ave, King Edward Ave would be 25th Ave).
Downtown Vancouver has its own grid system and doesn’t follow the street/avenue format of the rest of the city. It is also surrounded by water on three sides, so most of the ways in and out require you to cross a bridge. This can cause traffic congestion, particularly at peak times (morning and evening commutes, sunny weekend afternoons, major sporting events), so factor that into any driving plans, or avoid if possible.
The city of Vancouver is a very bicycle-friendly city. In addition to the extremely popular seawall bicycle routes along Stanley Park, False Creek and Kitsilano, there are a whole network of bicycle routes that connect the whole city. The City of Vancouver provides a map of the bicycle routes that is available at most bike shops or online. For those who are less mobile, Vancouver also has pedicabs which offer tours of Stanley Park. Also, all buses have bicycle racks on the front to help riders get to less accessible parts. North American visitors will find that drivers in Vancouver are well accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists.
Bicycles are available to rent by the hour, day or week. Many places also rent tandem bikes.
Renting a scooter is a good compromise between a bike and a car. Scooters are not allowed on the famous bike path, but it is possible to travel in the inner roads, park and walk at all the attractions.
What to see. Best top attractions in Vancouver, Canada
While Vancouver is still a young city, it has a variety of attractions and points of interest for the visitor. Many of the city’s landmarks and historical buildings can be found downtown. Canada Place, with its distinctive sails, the Vancouver Convention Centre located just beside it, the intricate Art Deco styling of the Marine Building and the old luxury railway hotel of the Hotel Vancouver are in the central business district. Stanley Park (the city’s most popular attraction), along with its neighboring Coal Harbor walkway and the Vancouver Aquarium are in the West End and Gastown, the original town site of Vancouver, has a number of restored buildings and its steam clock is a popular spot to visit. Modern architecture worth visiting also includes Shangri-La, currently the tallest building in the city, and the Sheraton Wall Centre. Another popular city landmark, the bustling markets and shops of Granville Island, is just to the south of downtown in South Granville.
If you’re looking to learn a little about the people of the Northwest Coast and some of its history, one good spot is the impressive Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which houses several thousand objects from BC’s First Nations. The museum is also home to significant collections of archaeological objects and ethnographic materials from other parts of the world. The Vancouver Art Gallery, located downtown combines local with international through a variety of exhibitions and a permanent collection that focuses on renowned British Columbia artist, Emily Carr. The Vancouver Public Library, located downtown at Homer and Robson Sts, is modeled after the Roman Colosseum, and houses the city’s largest library. Another downtown sight is the small Contemporary Art Gallery on Nelson Street, which features modern art. Also located nearby, on the east side of False Creek is the shiny geodesic dome of the Telus World of Science (commonly known as Science World), which has a number of exhibits, shows and galleries aimed at making science fun for kids. Another great spot to check out is the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum located at Gate A of BC Place Stadium. The BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum preserves and honors BC’s Sport heritage by recognizing extraordinary achievement in sport through using their collection and stories to inspire all people to pursue their dreams. There are also some smaller sights in Kitsilano, including the Vancouver Maritime Museum, Museum of Vancouver, and H.R. Macmillan Space Centre.
The city has a wealth of parks and gardens scattered throughout. The most famous is Stanley Park at the tip of the downtown peninsula. Its miles of trails for walking and cycling, beaches, magnificent views and the attractions (including totem poles) within the park gives it something for everyone. The most popular trail is the Seawall, a paved trail that runs around the perimeter of Stanley Park and now joins with the seawalls in Coal Harbor and Kitsilano, totaling 22 km in length. The Vancouver Aquarium is located within Stanley Park. Other notable parks and gardens include VanDusen Botanical Garden in South Vancouver and Queen Elizabeth Park near South Main, the Nitobe Memorial Garden (commonly known as the Nitobe Japanese Garden) and UBC Botanical Garden at the University of British Columbia and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown downtown.
Admission to Vancouver’s various attractions can range from $10 to up to $30 per person. There are a variety of attractions passes available that help visitors save on retail admissions such as the Vancouver Five in One Card.
Finally, a trip to Vancouver wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse of the skyline and the Coastal mountains rising above the city (clouds permitting, of course!). Popular spots to view it include Stanley Park and the Harbor Centre downtown, Spanish Banks and Jericho Beaches in Point Grey and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. Other interesting views can be seen from City Hall at 12th and Cambie, the Vancouver LookOut Tower, Queen Elizabeth Park and East Van’s CRAB Park.
In case of an Emergency, dial 9-1-1 from any public phone for free. Be advised, however, that with the rise of cell phone use, many public phones have been removed, and can therefore be hard to come by (especially in the suburbs).
A good travel tip to remember: Dialing 1-1-2 from a cell phone automatically connects you to the nearest cellular network and calls the emergency number, regardless of its combination.
Internet cafes are not as popular as they once were, having been replaced by free wireless found in many hotels, cafes and restaurants; However, there are still many around the Vancouver area and are generally quite reasonably priced.
For those who have brought a laptop, free wireless points are abundant in the downtown area, and reasonable paid service is also available in a pinch.
Vancouver is a great place to visit if you use common sense like keeping an eye on your possessions, knowing where you are going and avoiding alleys and unfamiliar areas at night should keep you out of trouble. Unless involved in illegal activities (such as the drug trade), it is highly unlikely you will fall victim to any sort of violent crime. If you need emergency help, dial 911.
Explore day trips from Vancouver, Canada to a number of nearby municipalities.
Official tourism websites of Vancouver
For more information please visit the official government website: