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.
These transportation tips are a subset of our extensive list of Vancouver Travel Tips You May Not Have Heard Before.
✗ Don’t bother trying to use Uber
There is no Uber, Lyft, or any ridesharing platform in Vancouver.
Uber tried to break in back in 2013, but the politically influential taxi companies succeeded in making Vancouver one of the rare cities in North America to have banned ridesharing apps and kept them out.
✗ 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!
✓ Do 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 (like we recommended in tip #3), 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 by bus.
✗ 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.
✓ Do consider by-the-minute car rental
Vancouver is one of the world’s largest users of car2go, a car-sharing program that allows you to get into and drop off vehicles wherever you’d like within the zone and pay by the minute. It costs as little as $0.32 per minute, including gas and parking.
If you’re already a car2go member in another city in North America, you’re already cleared to use the service in Vancouver.
If not, you can still sign up. It’s a bit of a hassle—you have to send them your local driving records—but if you’re in Vancouver for a while it may be worth it.
✗ 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.
✓ Do 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.
✗ 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.
✓ Do 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 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.
✗ 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.
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.
✓ Do 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.
✓ Do 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.
✓ Do 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.
✓ Do 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.
✗ 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.
✓ (DEFINITELY) Do 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.
✓ Do 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.
✓ Do park 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.
✗ 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.
✗ 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 on our Vancouver page and in these posts: