There are so many reasons why you should visit Vancouver!
As the largest city located on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver is both naturally astounding and abundant in arts, culture, and diversity. For visitors, it’s a year-round treasure trove of activities and experiences. It’s possible to go boating in the morning, skiing in the afternoon, and watch your favorite band performing in the evening.
So if you’re heading to Vancouver, here are 100 essential travel tips to help you get to know the city a little bit better, plus useful info on where to stay, what to do, things you should pack, and more!
What you should know about Vancouver
1. In general, Vancouverites (and Canadians for the most part) are friendly, helpful, and don’t mind answering questions if you’re lost or need directions.
2. Vancouver is an ideal mix of nature and big city. Just a half-hour drive outside of downtown you’ll find plenty of hiking trails in the mountains and along the beautiful Pacific coastline.
3. It’s an incredibly active city. You’ll find bike lanes almost everywhere, people toting around yoga mats or sporting Lululemon clothing (the company was founded in Vancouver), plus you can cheer on local sports teams like the Canucks, Whitecaps, or BC Lions at stadium venues such as BC Place and Rogers Arena.
4. You can eat a different cuisine every day of the week. There are Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Italian, Greek, Ethiopian, and German restaurants – to name but a few.
5. Many top-notch ski resorts are only a short drive away from downtown Vancouver. Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour are close by, while Whistler (home of the 2010 Winter Olympics) is only a two-hour drive away.
6. Vancouver is home to one of the Canada’s largest gay pride parades and the city has a large gay community in the downtown West End neighborhood of Davie Village (you’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the lovely rainbow crosswalks on Davie Street).
7. Thinking of moving to Vancouver? It’s a fantastic place to live, but also one of the most expensive cities in North America!
8. While summertime is undoubtedly the most beautiful season to visit Vancouver, the winter provides tourists off-season rates and a quieter pace. Spring and fall are lovely, too (if you don’t catch a rainy streak).
9. Although there are some sketchy areas with a higher drug use and crime rate, for the most part the majority of the city is very safe to explore, even if you’re traveling alone.
10. The Vancouver International Airport is the perfect springboard if you’re looking to explore more of British Columbia. You can catch flights to the interior, to the north, and to Vancouver Island.
Where to stay in Vancouver
($ – affordable / $$ – moderate / $$$ – pricey)
11. HI Vancouver Downtown ($) / I’ve stayed here on a number of occasions both in the summer and winter. I think it’s safe to say that the HI Vancouver Downtown is the best hostel in downtown because of its quiet location, close proximity to many attractions, price point (about $120/night for a private room for two people in the summer high season), and free daily breakfast (it’s nothing to write home about, but it does the job).
12. Fairmont Pacific Rim ($$$) / On the other end of the spectrum is the gorgeous and luxurious Fairmont Pacific Rim, which overlooks Coal Harbour and Canada Place. It’s perfect for special occasions or if you simply want to treat yourself!
13. The Burrard ($$) / A boutique hotel with a vintage vibe, The Burrard first opened its doors in 1956. Today this updated retro hotel is the place to stay for all kinds of travelers looking for an ultra-cool accommodation only minutes from restaurants, shops, and attractions. The Burrard offers guests free Wi-Fi, dog-friendly rooms, free bike rentals, and a gorgeous inner courtyard perfect for lounging in the warmer months.
14. HI Jericho Beach ($) / This hostel is located right at scenic Jericho Beach, just a little ways outside of downtown. While it might not be as centrally located as the HI Downtown, the rooms at HI Jericho Beach are a tiny bit fancier, plus some of the private rooms come with their own bathroom.
15. Opus Hotel ($$) / Located close to the seawall in trendy Yaletown, Opus Hotel is a modern boutique-style hotel. They are a pet-friendly property and offer guests the free use of bicycles (ideal for touring Vancouver in the summer).
16. Rosewood Hotel Georgia ($$$) / Ultra-luxurious with old-world glamour, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia is both an investment and an experience. Located in the heart of downtown, the hotel is only steps away from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Pacific Centre shopping mall, and numerous restaurants.
17. Gage Apartments at UBC ($) / The Gage Apartments on the University of British Columbia grounds are a cost-friendly alternative for those seeking the luxuries of a hotel but the price of a hostel. The only slight sacrifice is the location, which is about a 20 minute drive from downtown.
18. Victorian Hotel ($$) / A character hotel in a heritage building near Gastown in downtown Vancouver, the Victorian Hotel features clean rooms, friendly staff, and a location close to many major attractions.
Which Vancouver neighborhoods should I visit?
19. Downtown / Downtown Vancouver is an area that is often referred to as a laid back west coast “mini Manhattan” that contains plenty of attractions and things to do. Although this is clearly the most tourist-y area, it’s still a must see.
20. Gastown / Originally the birthplace of Vancouver, today Gastown is home to beautifully restored heritage buildings, unique galleries, one of a kind boutiques, intimate restaurants and bars, numerous coffee shops, and one infamous steam clock. It’s especially pretty to visit at night when the old school street lamps and twinkling lights strung in the trees illuminate the brick buildings on Water Street.
21. Chinatown / Colorful, detailed, and full of history, Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Canada. With street and shop signs in Chinese, bright red lanterns dangling from buildings, and a gorgeous and well cared for Chinese Garden, Chinatown is truly one of the most unique neighborhoods in Vancouver.
22. Mount Pleasant / An up and coming (aka gentrified) neighborhood that was once home to early industry in Vancouver. Today, Mount Pleasant contains interesting heritage buildings, an eclectic shopping district, and several arts-focused festivals.
23. Kitsilano / The flower child of Vancouver, Kitsilano is full of green spaces, quiet residential areas, a popular shopping street full of local businesses, one beloved beach, and over 15 public parks. Known among locals simply as “Kits”, this laid back neighborhood is perfect for a day of shopping, sun bathing, or simply relaxed exploring.
24. Commercial Drive / Multicultural and colorful, “The Drive” feels as if it’s a community separate from the rest of the city. Located in the heart of East Vancouver, Commercial Drive contains a plethora of ethnic restaurants, European style cafes, and heritage buildings.
What to see and do in Vancouver
25. Granville Island / Located on a peninsula in False Creek, Granville Island contains a Public Market with diverse food and art vendors, plus plenty of other shops and restaurants nearby. It’s perfect for visiting on a rainy day.
26. Vancouver Aquarium / Dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life (they recently announced that they would no longer be keeping dolphins and whales in captivity), the Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park and interesting for all ages.
27. Grouse Mountain / In the summer, the physically fit can hike up Grouse Mountain on the grueling Grind and be rewarded afterwards with a cold beer and breathtaking views of the Lower Mainland (there’s also a gondola you can take to the top instead). Afterwards, you can explore the grizzly bear habitat, bird of prey presentation, and lumberjack show. In the winter, Grouse is ideal for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.
28. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park / The park not only contains a suspension bridge strung high across Capilano River, but also the fun Treetops Adventure and gravity-defying Cliffwalk. If you’re visiting in the winter, don’t miss the Canyon Lights display when the whole area is decorated with thousands of lights! Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers a free shuttle that picks up and returns guests all day from certain points in downtown Vancouver.
29. Science World / The gigantic globe found at the easternmost end of False Creek is Science World, a fun place to take the kiddos that features various exhibits covering nature, space, and science, plus an in-house OMNIMAX theatre.
30. Museum of Anthropology / The Museum of Anthropology contains displays of international art and cultures, in particular works by First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The museum is located in the University of British Columbia grounds.
31. VanDusen Botanical Garden / This 55-acre green oasis in the heart of Vancouver contains over 7,500 plant species and varieties from around the world. In the winter months, VanDusen Botanical Garden is intricately decorated with thousands of lights for their annual Festival of Lights.
32. Vancouver Lookout / For 360° views of the city, the North Shore mountains, and sometimes even Vancouver Island (on a clear day), the Vancouver Lookout at the top of the Harbour Centre building is a must. There’s also a revolving restaurant at the top for those who want to dine while enjoying the views (the food is so-so, but the experience is still quite nice).
33. Vancouver Christmas Market / From the end of November until Christmas, you can find the Vancouver Christmas Market open at Jack Poole Plaza next to the Convention Centre. This outdoor market features more than 75 wooden huts filled with authentic German sweets, treats, and handicrafts.
34. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden / The serene Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was the first garden of its kind to be built outside of China! The garden was constructed using traditional techniques and authentic materials from China to incorporate Ming Dynasty architecture.
Free Things to do in Vancouver
35. Canada Place / The white sails of Canada Place are one of the most iconic landmarks of Vancouver. Walking all the way around this building provides fabulous views of the North Shore, plus you can learn all about Canada at the outdoor exhibit titled The Canadian Trail.
36. Vancouver Public Library / Built like a modern day Colosseum, the Vancouver Public Library is architecturally gorgeous and contains an inner courtyard with cafes and eateries to relax in.
37. Crab Park / Walk through quiet Crab Park for a view of the Vancouver skyline, the white sails of Canada Place, the North Shore mountains, and the gritty industrial side of Gastown.
38. Lynn Canyon / Lynn Canyon is the quieter, free version of Capilano. You’ll find a suspension bridge, lush green forest, and plenty of hiking trails.
39. Vancouver Seawall / Nearly a century old, the Vancouver seawall is the world’s largest uninterrupted seaside path. Totaling 28km, you can walk, bike, or run the seawall all the way around downtown, Stanley Park, False Creek and Kitsilano.
40. Vancouver Art Gallery Tuesday Evenings / Take advantage of Tuesday evenings at the Vancouver Art Gallery (5-9pm) when admission is by donation.
41. Stanley Park / An 8.8km seawall, 400-hectare rainforest, beautiful beaches, wildlife, and restaurants make this huge public park hard to beat. TripAdvisor rated Stanley Park as the “#1 public park in the world” in 2014. It’s easy to spend a whole day roaming around in this huge green playground.
42. Lighthouse Park / With panoramic views of Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound, and Vancouver Island, Lighthouse Park is the best place to go for beautiful Pacific coastal views with rocky cliffs staggering off into the ocean, seashells littering the pebbly beaches, and plenty of hiking trails to explore the rugged landscape.
43. Richmond Night Market / The outdoor Richmond Night Market is on each year from late spring to early fall, and features various Asian food vendors, kitschy games, and cultural performances.
44. Beach-combing at Spanish Banks / The beaches at Spanish Banks have an exceptionally low tide, which provides a huge expanse of sand perfect for whiling away an afternoon strolling along the ocean. Views of English Bay, downtown Vancouver, and the mountains make it a picture perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day.
Day trips from Vancouver
45. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park / From Vancouver, Joffre Lakes is about a three-hour, one-way drive along the incredibly scenic Sea to Sky Highway – through Squamish, past Whistler, and the little village of Pemberton.
46. Whistler Blackcomb / Drive two hours north of Vancouver and you’ll find Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in North America, and one of the main sites of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. While winter is undoubtedly the busiest season, in the summer you can still head to Whistler for hiking, mountain biking, and riding the scenic Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
47. Squamish / Framed by the majestic mountains at the northern end of Howe Sound, the town of Squamish has world-class rock climbing routes, an abundance of hiking trails, and the impressive Sea to Sky Gondola.
48. Bowen Island / Only a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, Bowen Island is a quick escape into solitude from the oftentimes hectic big city. This little island is great for kayaking, swimming, hiking, boating, or to simply enjoy the quieter way of life during a weekend getaway.
49. Sunshine Coast / The Sunshine Coast is one of the most beautiful regions of British Columbia, stretching along 180 km of land from the towns of Gibsons to Lund with many quaint, tiny communities in between. To navigate the entirety of the Sunshine Coast, you’ll need to catch a ferry to shuttle between islands or peninsulas at certain points. On a clear day, you’ll have gorgeous views of Vancouver Island from across the Strait of Georgia.
50. Garibaldi Provincial Park / Garibaldi Provincial Park is located between Squamish and Whistler, almost a two hour drive outside of Vancouver. Although the trek up is tiring, the views at the lake are entirely worth it. The lake is a surreal turquoise color due to the glacial flow coming down from the surrounding mountains.
51. Steveston / Located south of Vancouver in Richmond, the little seaside community of Steveston exudes a nautical charm. From spring to fall, you can expect many visitors exploring the historic buildings, delicious eateries, and unique shops.
52. Deep Cove / Deep Cove is a small, quaint community just past North Vancouver. On sunny weekends the cove and surrounding mountains are filled with kayaks, canoes, boats, paddle boarders, hikers, and sunbathers.
53. Victoria / The capital of British Columbia is located at the southernmost end of Vancouver Island and draws visitors in with its colonial style architecture, Parliament buildings, and abundant nature. The quickest ferry connection from Vancouver to Victoria is from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, about a two hour crossing. While you can do Victoria in one day, it’s best to extend your trip over a weekend so as not to feel too rushed.
Where to eat & drink
($ – affordable / $$ – moderate / $$$ – pricey)
54. Mom’s Grilled Cheese ($) / The street food scene has grown tremendously in Vancouver over the last few years. Specializing in home style gourmet grilled cheese, Mom’s Grilled Cheese is the ideal stop to satisfy a comfort food craving on a rainy day.
55. Stepho’s Greek ($) / Big portions, reasonable prices, delicious, fast service. What more is there to say about Stepho’s? They have two locations, one on Davie and one on Robson Street.
56. Cafe Calabria ($) / Not only a great Italian coffee shop, but also a kitschy experience that must be had. Don’t miss visiting Cafe Calabria around Valentine’s Day for an explosion of red and pink decorations.
57. La Casita ($) / A casual, friendly restaurant located on Abbott Street, La Casita serves some of the most authentic Mexican food in the city. Sit down, enjoy a margarita, and try the delicious tortilla soup.
58. Swiss Bakery ($) / It may not look like much from the outside, but this European style bakery is a treasure chest of baked goods. Head to Swiss Bakery to try their best selling frissant, a fritter and croissant hybrid much like the popular American cronut, with two different varieties offered daily.
59. Sal y Limon ($) / Mouth-watering, delicious, spicy, flavorful – there’s no better place to grab something to eat than at Sal y Limón. This lively yet casual restaurant on Fraser Street serves authentic Mexican dishes at reasonable prices and features colorful skull artwork on the walls. Their extensive menu contains items such as tacos and tortas, and they also have gluten free and vegetarian options. A second location is also open in Surrey.
60. Granville Island Brewery ($) / Located in False Creek, Granville Island Brewery first opened it’s doors in 1984 to become Canada’s first microbrewery. The seasonal Lion’s Winter Ale (creamy, chocolate-y) and the False Creek Raspberry Ale are standouts you absolutely need to try. In the Taproom, you can also sample Granville Island Brewery’s Small Batch ales, which rotate on a regular basis.
61. Nuba ($$)/ One of the best lunch spots in Vancouver, Nuba is an authentic Lebanese style taverna that serves a ton of delicious vegan and gluten free dishes. Don’t miss out on trying the Najib’s Special plate, crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and salt, served with house made tahini.
62. Turk’s Coffee ($) / A hole in the wall coffee shop located right on Commercial Drive, Turk’s Coffee makes unbeatable hot and iced beverages. They are also the creators of the ultimate summer drink: the Turksicle. Just try it, you won’t regret it.
63. Absinthe Bistro ($$$) / An intimate 22-seat restaurant with a French menu composed of three starters, three entrees, and three desserts that changes on a regular basis and is well-priced for the value of the meal, Absinthe Bistro is a must for anyone looking for the best food and service in a familiar environment. Officially my favorite restaurant in all of Vancouver.
64. Earnest Ice Cream ($) / A Vancouver staple. Earnest Ice Cream features flavors like Matcha Green Tea and Whiskey Hazelnut. You can expect a line up in the warmer months, but it’s worth the wait.
65. Phnom Penh ($$) / A hidden gem tucked away on East Georgia Street, Phnom Penh is a must for foodies or anyone with an appreciation for a good meal. Don’t miss their signature garlic chicken wings, and be sure to arrive early as there is always a long line up during dinner.
What to pack for a trip to Vancouver
66. Waterproof Jacket / Without a doubt, the most important item to bring! Although it’s relatively dry in July and August, the remainder of the year can be quite wet. Stay warm and dry with a waterproof jacket like this women’s North Face jacket and this men’s Patagonia jacket.
67. Travel Umbrella / It rains a lot in Vancouver. Be prepared for a sudden downpour with a compact travel umbrella that takes up minimal luggage space.
68. Comfortable Hiking Shoes / Vancouver is a completely walkable city. You’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. These waterproof Timberland hiking boots are the perfect mix of rugged and stylish.
69. Backpack / If you’re traveling minimally with only a backpack, I can highly recommend the Osprey Farpoint 55L, which is really two backpacks in one (a 40L bag and a 15L daypack). For only a daypack, this one is practical and comfortable.
71. Guidebook / Smartphones are great for looking something up in a hurry, but I prefer to bring along a guidebook that I can reference anywhere without the need for a Wi-Fi signal. This Lonely Planet Vancouver guide contains all the latest attractions, insider info, and travel trips.
72. DEET-free Bug Spray / If you’re planning to do any kind of hiking in and around Vancouver, grab a spray bottle of environmentally friendly bug spray to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
73. Rain Boots / Visiting in the fall, winter, or spring? Go all out with a colorful pair of Hunter rain boots (you’ll fit right in with the locals).
When to go to Vancouver
74. January / Off-season prices and a relatively quiet once the holidays are over. The weather is hit or miss – either gloriously sunny and cold or rainy and grey.
75. February / Similar to January. The weather remains chilly and it typically snows in the mountains (a perfect time for skiers and snowboarders).
76. March / The temperatures are slowly rising and the beautiful cherry blossoms are blooming in full force by the end of the month. This is the arrival of spring in Vancouver, yet there are few tourists at this time.
77. April / On average, expect lots of rain.
78. May / The sun is shining, it’s warmer outside, and the city feels busier. It’s pre-tourist season in May, not yet super busy, but the tours groups are slowly trickling in. Expect prices to be high from now until September.
79. June / Sunshine and plenty of festivals/activities happening from the annual Dragon Boat Festival to the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which usually begins at the end of the month.
80. July / Tourist high season, sunny, warm (sometimes humid days).
81. August / Still high season, sunny, and warm. From the Vancouver Pride Parade to the Celebration of Light, this month is full of events all over the city.
82. September / This is my favorite time to visit Vancouver. The days are slightly cooler but still sunny, and the majority of tourists have left the city.
83. October / By October, it’s time to bust out the umbrella again. Rain is back, generally for much of the month. On the rare sunny days, the foliage around the city is admirable in yellows, oranges, and reds
84. November / Expect lots of rain and dark, grey days.
85. December / While not as busy as the summer months, December does see an increase in visitors and prices towards the holidays, like most elsewhere. That being said, it’s a festive month and worthwhile a visit. Check out the Vancouver Christmas Market or the Van Dusen Garden Festival of Lights.
Getting there and around
86. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is located just south of Vancouver in Richmond. YVR is the main airport on the west coast of Canada, for both international and domestic flights.
87. If you’re flying into YVR, you can easily catch the Skytrain directly from the airport and ride the Canada Line all the way to downtown Vancouver (and vice versa). It only takes 20 minutes and saves the cost of a taxi!
88. Vancouver, especially downtown, is exceptionally pedestrian and cyclist friendly. If you wanted to, you could discover most of the attractions on foot, by bike, or taking public transit.
89. To use public transit in Vancouver, you will need to purchase a reloadable Compass Card, where you can add a specific dollar amount, a day pass, or monthly pass. You can buy a Compass Card at SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express stations, as well as various London Drugs stores. Compass vending machines accept cash, credit, and debit.
90. The fully automated Skytrain (the Vancouver rail system) is a quick way to get around. The three major lines, Expo, Millennium, and Canada connect Vancouver with Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, and Coquitlam. The trains run from 5 am to 1:30 am daily. During peak business hours it can be quite busy, but a train comes along every 2-5 minutes.
91. The public transit system in Vancouver is divided into three geographic zones for the Skytrain and Seabus. One-zone tickets cost $2.85 per adult, two-zones cost $4.10 per adult, and three-zones cost $5.60 per adult. All bus trips count as one-zone fares.
92. After 6:30 pm, and on weekends or holidays, all public transit trips count as one-zone fares and cost $2.85. Children under five travel for free on all transit services at all times.
Other Things to know about visiting Vancouver
93. Vancouver is multicultural. While there is clearly a large Asian population in the city and suburbs, you’ll also find a broad mix of various other cultures and oftentimes hear many different languages spoken on the street.
94. Don’t be surprised if you find someone bringing their dog into a store or café. Vancouver is (for the most part) very dog-friendly!
95. Although some might disagree, Vancouverites are notoriously laidback when it comes to dressing up. If you’re exploring the city in hiking boots and Goretex you’ll blend right in.
96. The housing market is a topic of frequent discussion among locals because Vancouver is considered one of the most expensive cities to live in the world and has a rental vacancy rate typically hovering below 1%!
97. Uber is not currently available in Vancouver. Taxi or public transit is the only way to go, unless you want to sign up for a car share service like car2go or Evo, which may be worthwhile if you’ll be spending more than a few days in the city.
98. Wi-Fi can be found all over Vancouver, in coffee shops, restaurants, stores, shopping malls, or various hot spots.
99. Even before recreational marijuana became legal in Canada, the city was pretty weed-friendly. There are dispensaries everywhere, and you’ll often come across people selling joints or edibles at the Art Gallery, beaches, or 4/20 events.
100. Homelessness in Vancouver is a real problem, and if it’s your first time visiting you may be shocked by what you see. The Downtown Eastside in particular is plagued by poverty, drug use, mental illness, prostitution, and crime. Unfortunately, politicians have only made empty promises and not done much to aid this growing crisis. If this shocks, surprises, or saddens you during your visit, get in touch with the City of Vancouver or the Tourism Board and share your thoughts! If enough people speak out, perhaps things will slowly start to change.
Planning a trip to Vancouver?
Find more relevant travel info in one of these handy guidebooks: