Last Updated: March 15, 2021
We love living in Vancouver and are proud to call this city home! Known as the “City of Glass” due to all the tall glass condos, Vancouver is a world renowned city that draws visitors all over the world due to its unique setting against a backdrop of awe inspiring nature, interesting but underrated dining scene, and the wide range of activities within the city and just beyond. We won’t spend a lot of time convincing you why should visit and will instead offer 10 tips that aren’t commonly found in travel guides to help you plan your trip.
10 Tips for Visiting Vancouver:
- We FINALLY have Uber and Lyft! …And other ways to get around!
- When to Visit – It’s very expensive in the summer!
- Where to Stay – Information About Air BnB!
- Arts and Culture – Where to go for arts and culture!
- Nature and Hikes – Where to go for a hike and to experience nature!
- Craft Beer – A quick guide to our breweries for hop lovers!
- Sushi – Don’t leave without having sushi!
- Foodies – A few budget friendly ideas for unique eats!
- Beyond Vancouver – Day trips and long weekend trips accessible from Vancouver!
- Random things you need to know that don’t fit into any other category!
Getting Around – We FINALLY have Uber and Lyft! …And other ways to get around!
It took awhile but we finally have Uber and Lyft in Vancouver! And yes, you can take an Uber or Lyft from the airport to get where you need to go. That being said, Uber and Lyft fares are based on a formula and not the set zone guide so it might be more expensive to take an Uber or Lyft or taxi from the airport at certain times of the day.
As reported by the CBC:
Rate structures for the two companies are 33 cents a minute, but Uber will charge 70 cents per kilometre while Lyft charges 65 cents, and base and services fees for Uber are $4.50 compared with Lyft’s $5.
It is best to compare the fares when you plan on riding to find the best deal. Here are the latest fare zones from the airport as of January 24, 2020 from the official website:
Transit: For those arriving at YVR Airport, if you’re traveling with more than one person and have a lot of luggage, you may want to consider taking a taxi as it costs about $9 per person to go downtown and the set fare taxi fare is $31. If you plan on taking transit more than once in a day, consider getting a day pass for $15.25 (the day pass is $10.25 but a $5.00 fee is added for all trips departing from a Sea Island station). Popular places like the Grouse Grind, Lighthouse Park, and ferry terminals are accessible by transit but you will need to plan for long transit times depending where you are. Translink has a really handy and accurate trip planner to give you an idea of how long it will take to get places: https://tripplanning.translink.ca/.
Bike Share: Mobi is the bike share we have in the city and a good option for those who don’t feel like walking or biking more than 30 minutes at a time. A $9.75 pass is valid for 24 hours and includes unlimited 30 minute rides and rides over 30 minutes cost an additional $5. For example, a 1.5 hour ride will cost $19.75. If you’re planning on riding the Stanley Park Seawall, it might be a better option to rent a bike instead.
Car Coops: Recently, car2go shut down and there are no other known car coops that accept international driver’s licenses or that affordable for a short visit.
Car Rentals: If you are planning on driving to Squamish, Whistler or even spots in North Vancouver, a car rental is recommended but book far in advance as rentals are limited in the summer and sell out. It can also be quite expensive to rent a car in Vancouver in the summer.
Shuttles: For some attractions, a shuttle is available either for free at a cost. For example, the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish offer a shuttle for a fee from Vancouver and the Capilano Suspension Bridge offers a free shuttle when you buy a ticket. Like most cities, we also have a Hop-on, Hop-off bus that takes people to the popular spots in the downtown core. Those wanting to go to Whistler can also take a bus to make it more affordable.
Scooters: For those who are very adventurous, you can rent a scooter to get around which is super fun on a nice day. Since most scooters are 49cc or less, a regular driver’s license suffices. We recommend planning your route and avoiding really busy streets where speed limits are higher than 60 KM/H and advise everyone to read the laws for scooters prior to renting one. Before purchasing our own scooters, we always rented from Cycle BC.
When to Visit – It’s very expensive in the summer!
Summer is the busiest time with hordes of tourists coming to visit Vancouver and also those who will be taking a cruise to Alaska, which is why things tend to be super expensive and it is not uncommon for hotels to be sold out. Vancouver is stunning in the summer and it is the time when we are most likely to get sunny weather and temperatures that range in the 20C-30C with the average temperature being in the low to mid 20s. We recommend to visit in early to mid-may or mid-to end of September to find better deals and also have a higher probability of good weather. If you visit the last week of January, it is very likely it will rain everyday all day because that’s how the weather is here at that time of the year so beware!
Where to Stay – Information about Air BnB!
Due to the housing situation in the city, Air BnB is not as popular or present anymore and the municipal government has been imposing stricter rules on listings and who can list properties, which has led to a decline in the number of properties available. Since the new rules were implemented on September 1, thousands of property listings have been removed. In an effort to tackle housing affordability, the government requires that the property be the primary residence of the person renting it and a valid license is required to rent it for less than 30 days. Regardless of how you feel about this, you have to understand that many condo buildings had 10+ Air BnB rentals in it and lots of people were unhappy about all of this. Since our place is too small to host guests, we definitely miss having access to numerous affordable Air BnB rentals in our building and neighborhood but as residents, we’re relieved to not have to deal with the problems they also bring. If you are planning on using Air BnB or other vacation rental sites, make sure they have a license when booking and that “exempt” is not listed as this is not the case.
In our post about maximizing hotel points, we talk about how it might be worth using some of your points to stay in Vancouver during the summer to avoid paying $300+ a night for a hotel during peak times.
Arts and Culture – Where to go for arts and culture!
Compared to other large cities, we’re not known for arts and culture but those seeking it, will find it. For anyone interested in First Nations peoples, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has some nice exhibits and often hosts world cultural exhibits too.
For those interested in urban art, Mount Pleasant has numerous murals to visit. There are also a number of public art installations across the city, including my personal favorite, Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca(see photo at the top of this post for a preview).
As for architecture, I recommend a visit to the Marine Building, an art deco historic building in downtown Vancouver that has a really nice lobby for the public to enjoy. Believe it or not, this was the tallest building in Vancouver from 1930 to 1939. For a self-guided tour, have a look at this architectural walking tour map to learn more about some of our skyscrapers and older buildings.
Nature and Hikes – Where to go for a hike and to experience nature!
Even if it gets very crowded at times, biking the 10 km long Stanley Park Seawall is a nice to see the park and Vancouver and we highly recommend doing this early in the morning to have the most leisurely experience.
The Grouse Grind, a 2.9 kilometer 853 meter vertical gain hike with close to 3,000 steps is a rite of passage for fitness buffs and anyone who is competitive. If you can complete the hike in less than 1 hour, consider yourself very fit; Justin Trudeau tackled this hike and completed it in 54:55 and my personal best record is 48:18. Thankfully, you can take a gondola ride back down for 15 minutes.
The Pacific Spirit Regional Park has lovely trails that are suitable for everyone and it is very easy to access them from Spanish Banks Beach or UBC. For those wanting a bit more of a strenuous workout, take the stairs that lead down to Wreck Beach, known as one of the best clothing optional beaches in the world but be aware of things you may or may not want to see. Those who are clothed should also be respectful of those who aren’t and want to enjoy the beach. Clothed or naked, Wreck Beach is a nice place to see the coastline to the west and enjoy a sunset.
In North Vancouver, Lynn Valley Canyon Park is a nice place to experience a suspension bridge and to access spring-fed pools that you can swim in. The trails here can be strenuous at spots due to having to go up and down stairs so anyone who cannot walk up about 3 flights of stairs should avoid this trail.
One of the most popular easy hikes is Quarry Rock in the scenic town of Deep Cove where you can also kayak and stand-up paddle board. Due to the popularity of this hikes, you need to start very early or be prepared to be denied entry.
Buntzen Lake in Anmore is about a 40 minute drive from Vancouver and a great place to go for a hike and swim on a hot summer day. The 10 km trail that goes around the lake is shaded and suitable for anyone looking for a moderate hike. Effective June 27, 2022, you need to make a reservation to get access to the park. More information available here.
Anyone wanting to kayak or stand-up paddle board can also find rentals at Jericho Beach, Granville Island, and False Creek.
For a beach picnic, we really recommend going to Spanish Banks because it is very large area and so it is easy to escape the crowds and find your own space. Kits Beach and English Bay are more convenient but get a lot busier. If you want to grill your own food, consider one of these compostable Casus BBQs as most parks don’t have common use BBQs.
Craft Beer – A quick guide to our breweries for hop lovers!
There is a reason East Vancouver is known as “Yeast Van”: as Canada’s craft beer capital, there are 15+ breweries for craft beer fans to visit! Due to the prohibitive liquor laws in the city, not many place have patios and so it can be hard to even snag a spot on the patio on a nice day. If you are looking for a patio, R&B, Parallel 49, Red Truck, and Brew Hall are your best options. We like the beers at most of the breweries but feel that Brassneck, Main Street Brewing and Strange Fellows really stand out as far as the quality and variety of beers consistently offered.
In Mount Pleasant on Main Street, we also recommend newly opened Sing Sing Beer Bar for craft beer, pho, pizza and other snacks. With about 20 taps that rotate frequently, you will get to sample some great BC craft beers without having to visit each brewery in a space and setting that’s very Main Street. In addition to daily specials, they also have a happy hour If you’re looking for happy hour deals between 15:00-18:00 when select beers are $4. Even outside of happy hour, the prices are very reasonable, making it a great casual place to hangout. We did not try any of the pho, pizza or other snacks yet but really enjoyed the calamari ($8). We did see and smell the pho and it looks delicious, as do the chicken wings and pizza. In the summer, they will open up the garage doors to let the fresh air into the bright and airy space and install a patio. Sing Sing is definitely one of our hangout spots now and a welcome addition to Main Street!
Another good spot to visit breweries is the small suburb city of Port Moody accessible via Sky Train in 45 minutes from Vancouver. Known as “Brewers Row”, there are 4 breweries within a few blocks of one another and all of them have patios! We always find something we like at all of them but it’s really newcomer The Bakery (great beer, patio, and snacks but the staff need to be friendlier), Twin Sails and Parkside that stand out for us as far as the beer.
It is not very accessible but Four Winds is worth the 45 minute drive to Delta from Vancouver due to how fantastic the beer and tacos are. This tiny little tasting room makes solid beers and some of the best tacos we’ve ever had. The menu changes daily and is never consistently posted but we guarantee you’ll enjoy what’s on offer and they usually have an option for vegetarians.
Sushi – Don’t leave without having sushi!
Vancouver is known for its sushi and some go as far as saying that it rivals what you find in Japan, at a fraction of the price. With 600+ sushi outlets in the Metro Vancouver area, there are many options for all price points. For us though, our two favorite places are Toshi Sushi and Kishimoto. The salmon and saba at Toshi really standout and for more creative rolls, Kishimoto is the place to go. Both of these places get busy and often have line-ups so consider getting takeout.
Foodies – A few budget friendly ideas for unique eats!
Vancouver’s food scene tends to be expensive and a little fancy and it can be hard to find casual places that are affordable and not part of a chain. Here are some of our favorites:
- Pizza and Beer: We highly recommend ordering a pizza from Pizzeria Farina and eating it at The Boxcar, a fun, friendly, and quirky bar with a great selection of craft beers. Pizzeria Farina makes some of the best pizza in town in their tiny space that’s renowned for their Neapolitan style thin crust pizzas. We especially love The Boxcar in the because you can order a pizza for pick-up from Pizzeria Farina and enjoy there, with draft craft beer. During happy hour from opening to 19:00, beers are $2 off.
- Spot Prawns: Every May for about 6 weeks, you can buy fresh spot prawns from the boats at Granville Island. Considered a local delicacy, these gourmet prawns have a cult following and fetch a hefty price of about $20-$30 per pound. Everyone has their favorite way to enjoy them and we boil them for 1-2 minutes or grill them on a Big Green Egg.
- Authentic Carnitas Tacos: We highly recommend visiting Chancho Tortilleria, a small Mexican style taco restaurant that serves up freshly chopped carnitas with fresh tortillas. This is no frill place where you order at the counter and take a seat.
- Soft Serve Ice Cream: If you like soft serve ice cream, you need to go visit Soft Peaks, a gourmet ice cream parlor. The soft serve here is made local organic milk and is minimally processed. They have fancier offerings but for us, the original with honey comb is our favorite.
- Public Market at Granville Island: Similar to the famous Pike Place Market, Granville Island Public Market is a nice place to enjoy a leisurely walk and some snacks. We highly recommend the pickles at Kaylin and Hobbs, cured meats and cheeses at Oyama Sausage Co. and the baked goods at Terra Breads. Beware of the seagulls who are aggressive when you’re trying to enjoy your food outside.
- Street-style Indian Food: We highly recommend Mumbai Local in Davie Village for street-style Indian food. You won’t find butter chicken on the menu here but instead your taste buds will be excited by all the flavours, textures, and spices in dishes like the Chaat sampler, the Darga Galli Kebab Pav (pork sliders), the creamy and delectable Chicken Malai Kebab, and the awesome beer snack of Kanda Batata Bhajji (fried onion and potato fritters with chutney). They have a great happy hour here and find it the funnest and most affordable place to have Indian food of this caliber in the city.
- Spanish Tapas: We really recommend checking out Como Taperia in Mount Pleasant for happy hour, dinner or both happy hour and dinner if you are interested in high quality Spanish food in a fun setting. We have tried other Spanish spots in Vancouver and they really don’t compare which is probably why Como placed 2nd at the Air Canada enRoute Magazine Best New Restaurants in Canada awards ceremony. Between 16:00-17:00 daily, there is a happy hour with drinks specials and for every drink you order, you get a small snack. We loved the fried squid snack! A meal here can add up fast so only go for happy hour if you are budget conscious.
Beyond Vancouver – Day trips and long weekend trips accessible from Vancouver!
- Whistler: Whistler is about a 2 hour drive from Vancouver and it is nice to spend a day exploring the village and surroundings. Adventure seekers will also find activities year-round: skiing, mountain biking, hiking, etc. The Scandinave Spa is a must-do for those who enjoy hydrotherapy: with hot and cold baths and massages, it’s a relaxing place to rejuvenate after a hike.
- Squamish: If you are going to spend money going up a mountain, we recommend skipping Grouse Mountain and heading to the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish. About a 45-60 minute drive from Vancouver, the summit has beautiful views of Howe Sound, there is a suspension Bridge and some hiking trails. Unfortunately, the Sea to Sky gondola is closed until further notice due to extensive damage as a result of someone deliberately cutting the cable which sent the cars crashing to the ground. Those who want a tough workout can hike the trail to the top over about 8 kms and an elevation of 918 metres and pay about $15 to take the gondola back down. Those who enjoy craft beer should also visit Squamish where there are three breweries: Backcountry Brewing , A-Frame Brewing , Howe Sound Brewing. Backcountry by far has the best beers if you like interesting names and hazy-style IPAs but there is no patio and it gets really busy. We really like A-Frame because they have a nice patio and things are more casual. We like Howe Sound Brewing sweet potato fries and view of the mountain from their patio. There are also two cideries: Northyards Cider Co and Geo Cider. We like Northyards Cider because their ciders taste really fresh, the service is fantastic, they have a nice menu of farm-to-table healthy foods (vegetarian and vegan options), and the ciders are delicious. While we were not impressed with the ciders at Geo as they were not to our taste, they do have a nice patio and menu with food that others would enjoy. We also highly recommend visiting Sunny Chibas for black sesame habanero fried chicken or Tex-Mex food in a fun space that’s very community oriented.
- Lindeman Lake: Located in the Chilliwack area about a 2 hour drive from Vancouver, Lindeman Lake is a stunning glacier lake that is accessible via a an easy-to-moderate 3.5 km trail trail. Compared to other glacier lakes, this is one of the more accessible ones in the area as most require long hikes.
- Okanagan Valley: Wine lovers will enjoy visiting the wineries here to sample some fantastic British Columbia wines. The Okanagan area is a 3-5 hour drive from the Vancouver area and depends where you’re going. For more information, have a look at my guide on planning a trip to the Okanagan here.
Random things you need to know that don’t fit into any other category!
- Flashing Green Traffic Lights: In Ontario, flashing green means you have the right of way to make a left hand turn like a left-pointing arrow but that is not the case here in Vancouver so we were very confused when we first moved here. In British Columbia, when you see a flashing green traffic light it means the pedestrian signal is activated and to use caution.
- Downtown Eastside: Main and Hastings is at the heart of what is known as the Downtown Eastside and its borders are near gentrified blocks with restaurants and bars in Gastown and Chinatown. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Downtown Eastside might be in shock if they follow their GPS by foot or vehicle in this area where there is homelessness, drug use, poverty, and crime. We’ve become somewhat accustomed to it throughout the years but it is still unnerving at times due to some of the people you encounter that can be aggressive and loud.
- Forest Fire Smoke: For the last 3 years, forest fire smoke has affected the city throughout the summer for weeks at a time. It is really disappointing for residents and visitors to not be able to spend a lot of time outside or see those majestic views during these periods. There is no way to predict when the smoke will blanket the city and the surrounding areas other than it does tend to be more common in July-August.
- Crow Migration: If you’re outside around sunset, you might start to freak out when you see swarms of crows flying over you but don’t worry, it’s the nightly crow migration, not a horror movie. Every night, some 6,000+ crows migrate back towards Burnaby where their roost is after spending the day in the western parts of the city.
- City of Glass: If there is one book you should read prior to visiting, it’s Douglas Coupland’s “City of Glass”, a series of short essays that answers many of the questions visitors have when visiting Vancouver.
We’re a little biased but we recommend that first time visitors to Canada visit Vancouver to get the most varied Canadian experience. In Vancouver, you have access to stunning natural beauty in a relatively small city that is approachable for those who don’t like big cities. It sounds cliché when people brag about being able to ski in the morning, run/bike the seawall in the afternoon, and have a nice dinner at a Michelin star restaurant on a nice February day but it does happen here! We hope you enjoyed this guide and found it useful as a supplement to popular travel guides. We love talking about Vancouver and all the wonderful things to do here, so feel free to message us for specific questions and tell us of other things to add.
- Airbnb: Pros and Cons
- Destination Guide: Okanagan Valley in British Columbia
- Air Canada’s AC Bid Upgrade: Is it worth it?
- Reviews and Guide: Priority Pass Lounges at YVR – Vancouver International Airport
- Airline Review: Why you should fly EVA Air
- Tips to Maximize Hotel and Airline Points for Travel
- Tips: How to Travel with a Toddler
8 thoughts on “Planning: 10 Tips for Visiting Vancouver”
I sadly haven’t been to Vancouver since 6th grade, except for a short day trip on the way to Whistler. I hope to make it there again soon. It seems like such a great city!
I think you would like it because Vancouver has some similarities to Portland. If and when you do make it out here, let me know!! I can also recommend some vegeterian restaurants. 🙂