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Know Vancouver Like the Back of Your Hand
You can put your full faith in these Vancouver travel tips because Kim and I know the city like the back of our hands.
We grew up here, worked in tourism (Kim in restaurants, me as a hostel owner), and rented our downtown apartment’s second bedroom to hundreds of guests on Airbnb (…before we were forced to leave).
Over these experiences, we’ve helped a lot of people with a lot of questions about Vancouver.
And now it’s your turn!
Let’s see if we can get some of our Vancouver knowledge from the back of our hands onto yours with these Vancouver travel tips.
Vancouver Travel Tips Outline
Top 10 Vancouver Travel Tips
1. Don’t worry about the rain
Contrary to its “Raincouver” reputation, from June through September, Vancouver’s one of the driest cities in the country.
It does rains frequently during all other months, but almost never so hard that you can’t enjoy the outdoors. A good drizzle can even add to the rainforest ambiance.
2. 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 you don’t need a car.
3. Look to stay around Burrard and Robson
The area around Burrard and Robson streets the most convenient location for most visitors.
If you have a bigger budget, just look for the best deal in the area and if you’re on a tight budget, look to stay in the West End, near Davie St. somewhere between Burrard and Denman.
Check out our first-time visitor’s guide to Vancouver for more tips on where to stay.
4. Know that you’re safe everywhere but your stuff isn’t
There is no unsafe part of the city, no matter at what point of day or night.
Never leave any personal items unguarded or unlocked in Vancouver, though, because they aren’t safe anywhere. There is a large underworld of thieves who prowl the city waiting for the chance to grab anything that’s not properly protected.
5. Know that we’re Vanc-Uber-less
There is no Uber, Lyft, or any ridesharing platform in Vancouver.
You have to ride public transit, walk, bike, use car2go, or take an old-fashioned taxi (use their Uber-imitation eCab app) to get around.
Scroll down to the Getting Around section for tips.
6. Don’t just say “Thank you”
In Vancouver—and across Canada—you’re expected to tip for hotel services ($1-2 per bag to the bell boy, $2-5 per night for the maid, $10-20 to a helpful concierge), at restaurants (15-20%), at bars ($0.50-2 per drink), spas and beauticians/barbers (10%), and taxi drivers (10%).
For more guidance on this silly but unavoidable tradition of tipping, check out this TripSavvy post.
7. Go to a dining district
Instead of trying to decide on a restaurant online, head to one of Vancouver’s dining districts like Gastown, Main Street, or Alexandra Road and follow your nose (or taste buds) once you get there.
For a list and map of our favorite dining districts, see our Vancouver travel blog for first-time visitors.
8. Just wear something
Vancouver is possibly the world’s least-stylish city. People often wear whatever they feel like in public. You can fit in by doing the same.
Or go to Wreck Beach, one of our favorite beaches in Vancouver, and wear nothing at all!
9. Plan to explore Can-Asia
Many guests we’ve hosted thought they’d landed in the wrong continent when they got to the airport because Vancouver is the world’s most Asian city outside of Asia. Forty-seven percent of its population is of Asian descent.
This Asian-ness is a huge part of our culture, so plan to explore it (especially the food) as part of your trip.
10. Know 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.
Tips on Things to Do
✓ Take advantage of the free Wifi
Save on roaming fees and enjoy free internet throughout the city by connecting to any of the 550 (and counting) #VanWifi hotspots.
✗ Don’t miss the grizzlies
If you’re visiting Vancouver in the summer, we highly recommend you go up Grouse Mountain.
And when you do, don’t make the same mistake as too many of our guests did and miss the grizzly bears. It is really cool to see them up close (…through the protection of a fence.)
To get to the grizzly enclosure from behind the main building up top, all you have to do is follow the paw prints on the sidewalk.
(Bonus tip: Definitely hike up Grouse if you can, but strongly consider taking a less-busy route like the BCMC instead. Our Vancouver must-dos post has more info on this.)
✓ Avoid the Seawall on peak periods
The Seawall gets insanely busy with people who haven’t ridden a bike since they learned how and can be unnecessarily frustrating and slow, so avoid going on weekends (unless you go early) and in the middle of any day when it’s nice out.
✓ Check out the other suspension bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is cool and all, but it’s super expensive ($50!) and insanely busy.
We recommend Lynn Canyon instead. It’s not quite as busy, not as built up, and it’s free.
✗ Don’t be fooled by Gastown marketing
Gastown isn’t as old as they want you to believe.
The buildings date back to the late 1800s and early 1900 but the famous steam clock only dates back to 1977. It was put there to attract tourists to Gastown after they revitalized the area.
The same goes for the cobbled streets and the old-looking-but-actually-new lamps. And claims that “Blood Alley” is named after butcher shops aren’t true; it was given its name and legend purely to attract more tourists.
✓ Try stand up paddle boarding
You get two birds with one stone by stand-up paddle boarding: exercise and an unforgettable view of the city.
In the summer, go to Kits Beach on Monday for half-priced rentals ($10/hour, the $5 every hour after), two-for-one Tuesdays, or 30% off Wednesdays.
✓ Take the plunge
The ocean water is clean and not even that cold, especially when the tide is out in the summer. Jump in.
If you’re in Vancouver over New Years, join 2,500+ others in the annual Polar Bear Swim.
✓ Join in on some free exercise
You’ll be impressed by how active Vancouverites are. It will likely motivate you to join and fit in.
For doing so, there are tons of options, many of which are free. Most yoga, spinning, or whatever style of fitness is in style these days studios offer free or steeply discounted first classes.
✗ Don’t sleep on Squamish
Squamish is halfway between Vancouver and Whistler (an hour away) and is where all the young outdoorsy people in Vancouver are migrating to.
If you’re an adventure traveler looking to get into the outdoors and meet a bunch of like-minded adventurers, consider spending some time there .
✓ Shop for souvenirs at these places
Kitschy souvenirs are most easily found in Gastown.
Get maple syrup or packaged smoked salmon from a supermarket instead of a souvenir shop to save money.
✓ Use the north
star mountains to guide you
If you get spun around and forget which way’s which, use the mountains to find your bearings. That way’s north.
✓ Beware of Skid Row
The area between Gastown and “Chinatown”, centered on the intersection of Hastings and Main, is called the Downtown Eastside.
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 be scared of Skid Row, though
The Downtown Eastside is heavily policed and totally safe.
In fact, we recommend walking through it once to experience the gritty underbelly of beautiful Vancouver. Plus you can buy really cheap stuff they’ve recovered from dumpsters and stolen and sell on the sidewalk.
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 (or dragged) logs.
✓ For the real Chinatown, go to Richmond
Chinatown is not Chinatown. Not anymore. The epicenter of the Chinese community has moved south to Richmond (by the airport).
What was once Chinatown now has more hipster cafes and shops than Chinese stores.
✗ Don’t do a day trip to Vancouver Island
We’re amazed by how many visitors think Vancouver Island and everything on it is super close to Vancouver.
It takes a good five hours to get to Victoria from Vancouver, for example.
One or two visitors we met 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.
Getting Around Vancouver
✓ Take the SkyTrain into town from the airport
It’s sometimes faster than taxis and cheaper (unless you’re a group of three or more, in which case a taxi costs about the same).
✓ Use public transit
Many tourists we’ve met 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.
✓ Ask the bus drivers, even if you’re not taking the bus
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.
✓ Move swiftly around Vancouver
For tips on how to zip around the city faster, for less money, and with less stress, head over to our Dos and Don’ts for Getting Around Vancouver.
Food and Drink
✗ Don’t get your hopes up about “Canadian” food
There isn’t such a thing as “Canadian cuisine,” especially in Vancouver. Reflecting Vancouver’s immigrant population, the city’s food is just a hodgepodge of cuisines from around the world.
Nevertheless, there are some foods here in Vancouver that you’ll have a tough time finding outside of Canada. Among them are Nanaimo bars, Caesars, poutine, and Aboriginal cuisine, which our must-do in Vancouver post explains in more detail.
✓ Bring ID
No matter how old you are, if you want to drink alcohol or smoke, ensure you carry one piece of picture ID and another with your name on it (like a credit card). Everyone checks. Without ID, you’re outta luck.
✓ Experience some one-of-a-kind Vancouver dining
For our recommendations on unique and unforgettable food experiences like subs from the Sandwich Nazi and crazy bubble tea, don’t miss our post on only-in-Vancouver dining experiences.
✓ Learn these Vancouver foodie dos and don’ts
Learn what, where, and how to best indulge in all of Vancouver’s tastiest treats in our Dos and Don’ts for Foodies Visiting Vancouver.
✓ Be Green
Being so close to nature and the home of David Suzuki and Greenpeace has made us Vancouverites very environmentally sensitive. You should be too, at the very least while you’re here.
If you have empty bottles or glasses, look for a recycling bin to put them in. And only get bags from stores if you really need them.
✓ Please don’t use an umbrella
Most Vancouverites wear rain jackets instead of carry umbrellas. Or they don’t use any rain protection because, as we said before, it rarely rains that hard.
(Note: Not all Vancouverites agree with this tip, but some, especially taller ones like Chris, will hate you for threatening their eyeballs with umbrellas.)
✓ Don’t worry about standing out as a tourist
Vancouver is such a multicultural city that regardless of your accent, skin color, fashion, or whatever, as long as you don’t have a big camera around your neck and an “I ♥ VanCity” hat on, nobody will think you’re a tourist.
✗ Don’t call them “Indians”
…unless they’re actually from India.
Refer to the area’s original inhabitants as Aboriginal people or First Nations people instead.
✓ Beware that things cost more than they appear
Listed prices never include tax, which is normally an extra 14%. On top of that is the tip you’re expected to pay at restaurants and bars and for other services. (See tip on tipping.)
✓ Favorite sites for more Vancouver travel tips, info, and events
- Airbnb’s City Guide: It compiles the insider tips from hosts around the city. It’s better than Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, Yelp, or whatever else.
- Tourism Vancouver’s info sheets they share with media are better than anything the media then shares with the public.
- The Daily Hive is a good resource for seeing what events are going on in the city today.
✓ Essential guide
✓ Favorite things to do
- Our favorite non-touristy things to do in Vancouver
- 7 things everyone must do in Vancouver in the summer
- A local beach bum’s guide to all the beaches in Vancouver, the (sometimes) best beach city in the world
✓ A couple of our favorite hikes
✓ Favorite foods
- 8 only-in-Vancouver dining experience
- The best California roll in Vancouver (It was invented here!)
- Vancouver’s best ice cream / gelato
- General tips in our Dos and Don’ts for Foodies Visiting Vancouver
Please Comment Below!
If you have any questions, or if you have any Vancouver travel tips to add, please share them in the comments below.