Dos and Don’ts for Getting Around Vancouver as a Tourist

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The ABCs of Going from Point A to Point B in Vancouver

Cover more ground in less time and at a lower cost with our dos and don’ts for getting around Vancouver.

Car speeding past city hall

Learn how best to get around Vancouver then continue on our Vancouver travel blog to figure out where to go, including the best neighborhoods to explore and stay in, inside travel tips, unique restaurants, non-touristy things to do, and true must-dos.

Man walking in rain
Vancouver is rainy from October to May, but it rarely pours so hard you can’t still go outside.

✗  Don’t worry about the rain (…too much)

Contrary to its “Raincouver” reputation, Vancouver is one of the driest cities in the country from June through September.

It does rains frequently during all other months, but rarely so hard that you can’t walk wherever you’re going and enjoy the outdoors. For a few years while growing up in Vancouver, I didn’t even own a rain jacket!

Google map of walking directions in downtown Vancouver
You can walk one extreme corner to another of downtown Vancouver in about 45 minutes.

Keep in mind that Vancouver is tiny

People who visit Vancouver are always surprised by how compact the city is.

To walk from one extreme corner of downtown to the other only takes forty minutes. And it’s mostly flat. So if you’re in the middle of downtown nothing is more than an easy twenty-minute walk away.

You definitely shouldn’t spend all your time downtown, though, but even then every neighborhood’s within biking distance, some are walkable, and they’re never more than 40 minutes away by bus.

✗  Don’t bother trying to use Uber Do bother!

Finally, in January 2020, seven years after Uber first tried to enter Vancouver but was quickly given the boot, ridesharing is here. Lyft, Uber, and other companies have been the go-ahead to start running so people can finally get around Vancouver like they do pretty much everywhere else in the world.

Don’t rent a car

Vancouver is tiny, difficult and expensive to park in, and easy to get around by foot, bike, or public transit, so a rental car is not the best way to explore the city.

Only consider renting if and when you’re heading out of the city. For our top-recommended places to go, check out our 11 Essentials for Visiting Vancouver.

Don’t be afraid to walk at night

Like any city, Vancouver has its share of opportunistic criminals, so don’t be a complete idiot and wave your valuables around while drunkenly stumbling down dark alleys.

But as long as you don’t do that, you’ll be fine.

Vancouver is super safe night and day, no matter which part of town you go.

The West End, viewed from Kits, is the most convenient place to stay for getting around Vancouver.
Those buildings make up the West End, the most convenient place to stay for getting around Vancouver.

Pick a conveniently-located base

The most convenient place to stay for getting around Vancouver is the West End.

It’s a relaxed but densely-populated local area within walking distance of everything downtown and close to the SkyTrain to the airport.

Specifically, look to stay in the square between Davie, Denman, Robson, and Burrard. The Burrard is a good bet for a funky and perfectly-located hotel.

See our guide to Vancouver’s best neighborhoods, where we rate each area on criteria like dining, location, and local feel, to pick the perfect base for your needs.

Vancouver mountains and buildings
Whenever you’re lost, look for the mountains. They’ll tell you which way’s north.

✗  Don’t ever get turned around

If you get spun around and forget which way’s which, look for the mountains. That way’s north.

East Hastings street sidewalk
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is not a pleasant place, but don’t be afraid to go there to see the city’s underbelly.

Beware of Skid Row

The area between Gastown and Chinatown, centered on the intersection of Hastings and Main, is called the Downtown Eastside.

For fellow fans of the TV show The Wire, it’s Vancouver’s version of Hamsterdam. It’s where all the city’s—and really much of Canada’s—drug addicts and untreated mentally ill people are concentrated.

If you go, you will see people injecting themselves with drugs in broad daylight and high out of their minds, screaming at everyone and anyone.

✗  Don’t avoid Skid Row, though

The area is heavily policed and totally safe.

We actually recommend walking through it once to experience the gritty underbelly of beautiful Vancouver.

Bonus fun fact:

The term skid row, which now refers to an impoverished urban area, originates from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In Vancouver’s early days, that’s where they once skidded, i.e. dragged, logs.

Kim on a ferry heading to Vancouver Island
Getting from Vancouver to Vancouver Island is scenic but longer than many think.

✗  Don’t expect to do a day trip to Vancouver Island

Many visitors we’ve met think Vancouver Island is super close to Vancouver and an easy day trip.

It’s not.

A couple of them pulled off a day trip nonetheless, but that’s crazy. If you want to go to Victoria or Vancouver Island, go for a few days. Or fly.

Skytrain and plane.
The SkyTrain is a quick and handy way to get to the center of Vancouver from the airport.

Take the SkyTrain to and from the airport

The SkyTrain, Vancouver’s light rail / subway system, directly connects the airport and downtown. Often, it’s faster than taxis and it’s cheaper for individuals and couples.

For groups of three or more, a taxi costs about the same.

Use public transit

 Many tourists we’ve hosted during our time as Airbnb hosts, Americans especially, tend to disregard public transit as an option because back home it’s dirty, unreliable, and inconvenient.

It’s the opposite here in Vancouver.

Everyone rides public transit in Vancouver and you should too.

Know how to pay for public transit before you ride

Vancouver’s transit system accepts contactless Visa and Mastercard credit cards and Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

If you don’t have such “high-tech” payment methods, you’ll need to pay exact change ($2.95 for one zone).

Your best bet if you’re staying longer or planning to use public transit a lot is to get a Compass Card. For $6 (refundable only at the Stadium-Chinatown station) it gets you about $0.50 off each ride and can be prepaid or linked to your credit card for automatic reloading.

✗  Don’t throw out your transit receipt

You can transfer and ride on Vancouver’s public transit system as many times as you want during the ninety minutes after you pay.

It’s more than ninety minutes, really, because as long as you’re on the bus/train/ferry when you’re ninety minutes expires, you’re fine.

Keep transit zones in mind

If you take the SkyTrain or the SeaBus outside of Vancouver’s city limits, you’ll need to pay extra for going into different zones. Check this map to be sure.

Note that all buses are one zone, so you don’t have to pay extra for crossing zones when you’re taking the bus.

Friendly Vancouver bus driver
Don’t be scared to ask the bus drivers for directions.

✗  Don’t be afraid to ask the bus drivers

Unlike in many other cities, Vancouver’s bus drivers are generally friendly and helpful, so don’t be scared to ask them for directions or to let you know when it’s your stop.

You can even ask them for directions if you’re not taking the bus.

Kim getting around Vancouver by bike.
Bikes are the best form of transportation in Vancouver when it’s nice out.

DEFINITELY Rent a bike if it’s nice out

Vancouver’s so bike-friendly that car-lovers always complain that bike lanes are taking over the city.

You can’t beat ’em, so join ’em.

The cheapest way to do so is to use Vancouver’s shared bike system, Mobi, which costs about $10 a day.

For bigger bike rides, like our top-recommended route that we share in our post on 7 Cool Things to Do in Vancouver, rent a better bike for $30 to $50 a day.

Bike on the front of a Vancouver bus.
If you rent a bike, don’t be scared of putting it on the front of buses. It’s easy.

Put your bike on the bus to really get out there

If you rent a bike (which we highly recommend) don’t be scared of putting it onto the racks on the front of busses or taking it on the SkyTrain. This allows you to cover more ground with one-way bike routes.

Bikes locked to a fence in Vancouver
Bike parking is a free-for-all in Vancouver.

Lock your bike just about anywhere

There are tons of dedicated bike parking spots along the streets of Vancouver, but if none are nearby don’t hesitate to lock your bike to the nearest sign, parking meter, tree, or whatever looks secure and doesn’t get in the way of pedestrians and traffic.

Bike that's been stripped in Vancouver
If you leave things unlocked in Vancouver, they will disappear fast.

✗  Don’t ever leave your bike unlocked

Bike theft is a huge problem in Vancouver.

To avoid being a victim, don’t ever leave your bike unlocked and out of your sight and don’t leave your bike locked overnight on the street unless all the wheels and the seat are locked too.

Find our favorite spots in Vancouver with our Treasure Map

Using Google Maps’ way-overlooked Saved Places functionality, we put together a complete list of our forty favorite restaurants, attractions, and more.

In just one click you can save this treasure map to your Google Maps on your phone for quick reference—even if you’re offline—when moving around Vancouver.

Vancouver treasure map Google Maps screenshot
Get the map to our favorite Vancouver locations, with tips for each, right on your phone’s Google Maps.

Free Vancouver Treasure Map

Find of 40 our favorite Vancouver restaurants, cafes, attractions, and more directly on Google Maps when you’re traveling, even offline!

It’s free and super easy: just one click!

Getting Around Vancouver Quick F.A.Q

Vancouver taxi driver stopped on the street.
Vancouver taxi driver stopped at Vancouver’s legendary New Town Bakery, an honorable mention in our post on Unique Vancouver Restaurants and Foods.
Is it easy to get a taxi in Vancouver?

It’s not as quick and easy as Uber, which the taxi mafia has successfully kept out of town, but you can use an imitation app called eCab.

You can also try your luck at hailing a cab on the street, but we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re right downtown by Granville and Georgia streets. Otherwise you might be stuck waiting a long time.

How expensive are taxis in Vancouver?

The meter starts at $3.25, then you pay $1.88 per kilometer and $33.55 an hour.

So a 10-minute, 2-kilometer ride would cost 12.60 CAD, or about 9.50 USD. You’re expected to tip a dollar or two on top of that.

You can pay with a card or cash.

View of Vancouver you'll get if you take the SeaBus to North Vancouver

What’s the SeaBus?

The SeaBus is a 15-minute passenger ferry that crosses Burrard Inlet between downtown Vancouver’s Waterfront Station and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. It’s part of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, Translink.

Lonsdale Quay has plenty to see and do, plus great views of downtown Vancouver, definitely consider it during your Vancouver visit.

Aquabuses with Sunset Beach in background

What are the little boats that go around False Creek and Granville Island?

There are two private companies, False Creek Ferries and the Aquabus, that run similar, competing services.

They are the most convenient—and quirky—way to get between downtown, Olympic Village, and Granville Island.

What if I have another question about getting around Vancouver?

Ask us in the comments and we’ll gladly help.

Read This Next:

✗  Don’t miss our other Vancouver travel tips!

If you found some of these tips helpful, you’ll find a lot more where that came from here:

Kim shops at Essaouira carpet market

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Chris and Kim
KIM AND CHRIS

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3 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts for Getting Around Vancouver as a Tourist”

  1. We wanted to stay in the West End near Stanley Park, but also wanted to visit the Richmond area for the Asian food and tea. We are not planning to rent a car. Google maps seems to estimate close to an hour using public transportation from West End to Richmond. Any recommendations for better/faster way to get from West End to Richmond?

    Reply
    • Hey D.M. What makes it take so long is that the West End and the main dining areas of Richmond aren’t right on the SkyTrain. If you want to speed up your trip without taking a taxi the whole way, you could a taxi to/from the stations. The SkyTrain ride itself is fast, 20min.

      Reply

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